I wanted to put this question out there to see how strongly everyone feels on this subject. Being that most of us trust in scientific fact and reasoning, I was wondering if everyone is absolutely, undeniably, 100% sure that a god doesn't exist.  I personally take into account that there is no proof of any cosmic creator so therefore I am about 99.9999% sure that there is no god. However we all agree that science is an ever evolving field and I don't think that there will ever be any proof to support the existence of a supreme being, but I can't be 100% sure until there is concrete proof against one. I would like to know what all of your thoughts on this.  

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Perceiving "literal and complete representations" of objects in reality, not obtaining knowledge of reality as a whole. Two different things there.

 

Perhaps incidentally, you are actually using the "Cogito ergo sum" line of argument to establish necessity as a component of your unproven axioms. However, the operation of the mind is demonstrably discontinuous, so the necessity of thinking cannot support your axiomatic belief in physical non-contradiction. Nor do we have the scientific capability to prove that the absolute entirety of mental function and identity is constructed from sensory experience. That would require an enumeration that cannot be completed, so you have not conclusively eliminated the possibility of non-causal factors (generally considered the basis for Free Will arguments). That means that the necessity of thinking also provides insufficient support for your axiomatic belief in physical causality. 

 

So you're stuck with one of the fundamental philosophical problems: you have a viable argument for the mind's existence, but you still have not proven the existence or axiomatic basis of the physical world. You have room to argue that the mental and physical realms are synonymous, but as shown above this would not support your stated axioms. Otherwise, we're back to exactly what I've been pointing out: simply sensing the world is not enough to prove that the world exists independent of your perceptions.

 

I already countered your point about math before you brought it up. I specifically excluded the sensory-based construction of the human mind as part of the question; the issue is whether mathematical conclusions stand regardless of the thinker. In three billion years when all the humans have died, does 7 + 5 = 12 still? Has the geometry of a triangle changed at all? If some far-flung alien race discovered the scribblings of human mathematicians, would those conclusions necessarily match their own species' mathematics, or could this alien race have 7 + 5 = 96? Clearly not. A priori knowledge is static, so who does the thinking is irrelevant. If the birth of these far-flung aliens would not change the fundamental basis of mathematics, then neither has the birth of our own species. Regardless of whether someone was there to find it, that same knowledge was still available even before the first picosecond of the universe. That's kind of the whole point of it being a priori, it's non-temporal knowledge, the exact type we need for considering the origin of the universe.

Your request for perfection heralds your postmodern retreat. I've seen this many times before. I need more proof than concrete demonstration and when that's not good enough, you want perfection. We do not need complete representations of the whole or perfect knowledge of everything to know one or some things or a part of reality. We use our power of conceptualization to have objective understanding after we perceive part of something. Literal and complete are your words. I say we need to be literal when talking about knowledge. I don't know what a literal perception is, but our eyes do not lie to us. We may incorrectly interpret our senses for some time, till we learn the truth, as in the case of the sunrise, but our senses sense reality directly, there is no interpretation between a thing's identity and our senses. Again, we may be mistaken for a time about how we interpret it, but our eyes do not lie, even if they are damaged. Matter and energy act in a causal fashion, even as they appear not to while measuring the limits of our perception.

A consciousness without a reality is meaningless. We are, not because we think, but because we can verify it. Reality exists, because we observe it and can verify that. It really is silly to think otherwise. If we are not perceiving reality, or a part of it, then what could it be? A non-reality? Whatever it is, it is a part of reality. The first bit of awareness is not that you are thinking. It is of something. Something in reality. You sense first, then you think. It takes a multitude of sensations before you can have thought, or the manipulation and integration of concepts. As such, the very first statement, if you will, or thought you can make or the base of all cognition, epistemology and therefore philosophy is not 'I think therefore I am', but 'there is something I am aware of'. This entails an existent with identity and a consciousness to be aware of it. Existence comes before consciousness. There is one reality and we perceive it. Our view is subjective, but the world itself is not.

Again, a consciousness without a reality is meaningless and so is something acting noncausally.

Thinking is dependent on neurological activity, which might appear noncausal when trying to measure the very very small and precise, but to think we must breath, perceive and conceptualize, all causal interaction of matter and energy. The brain stem must stimulate the rest of the cerebrum and basal ganglion structures, the sensory cortex must communicate with other sensory and motor association areas, with varying inputs from other areas like the frontal lobe. All this must transpire through time/space or thought couldn't be. A consciousness without a brain in reality is folly. You continue to completely ignore basic stuff, like blood flow, the fact that memories and personality are stored physically and that in order to have a thought of a concept you must have had appropriate perceptions. There is no magic going on in the brain. There is no room for freewill in a rational worldview. Choice is dependent. Freedom and control are relative terms describing a relationship between entities, not an essential characteristic of choice.

You keep saying that I cannot scientific prove my axioms. Although, I think I can and have over and over and over and over, I do not think that is necessary since the concept of proof, that which we use to verify our conclusion, the reduction of something to perceptual evidence, presupposes the validity of the axioms. Every word you write depends on noncontradiction and causality.

You cannot have math, or the mental manipulation of particular concepts, without a brain of any kind. 7 does not exist before humans or other thinking beings. Concepts came after humans or other sufficiently designed conscious beings. And with the aliens, please. Whatever the brain, it takes a brain. You absolutely cannot have the mental manipulation of concepts without thought. No variation of logic existed before thought. Reality is objective. It has been here since before us and things have existed before us, but not the mental grouping of things. There was no mathematics. Assuming all humans are dead in 3 billion years, and all other thinking beings, then there will be no understanding or conceptualization of the sum of 7 and 5. 7 and 5 and 12 are concepts. There isn't a 7 running around somewhere in nature, separate from humanity (or some other alien, since you apparently require the qualification). Without us, or aliens, there is no calculation or measurement that would necessitate the mental grouping of things that are similar, for the purpose of prediction. Math would be the same for any aliens species because mathematical concepts are valid representations of the nature of the universe, of causal law. Meaning, representation, calculation, choice and math are human constructs, oh excuse me, mental construct from any species that can think.

If the world did not exist independent of my perceptions then how did it get along all those years without me? Man, you make your mistake right out the gate. Existence has primacy over consciousness. That is the only way it can work. Consciousness coming before existence makes no sense. Consciousness is a product of a brain in reality.

When you start believing blatantly contradictory things like the universe might not be here or that only your consciousness might exist or that a priori knowledge can exist before, without or independent of a brain or other type of thinking machine, you really need to go back and check your premises. All the way back, like before you got brainwashed by the postmodern collegiate elite. Remember what you first learned, and still know implicitly, and build on that. Reality exists independent of us, for if it didn't, we could not exist, even if this was the matrix, as silly an idea as it is.

Knowledge available before the first pico-second on the universe? Knowledge to be had without a brain. Wow! Are you not ashamed by that? I'd be. And I would openly admit it was a dumb thing to write. What do you think?

The origin of the universe again? Really?

Non-temporal knowledge? Oh, boy, you really are getting creative! Too bad creativity is not a criterion for knowledge or making any sense what-so-ever.

Considering that I'm playing out 17th century arguments for you, I find it quite unlikely that I'm falling prey to 20th century postmodernism. It's not a matter of perfection (a nonsense concept, really), it's that we can't know how much we don't know. If you can't prove something with certainty, then you have no means of determining if you're only 1% off, 20% off, or 99% wrong about your information. You'd like to believe you're 99.99% accurate in your assessment so that your errors are negligible, but you have no grounds for justifying that belief, which means you can't argue it to anyone else (but you can preach it all you like).

 

By the way, our eyes do in fact lie to us. Nor do we have literal perceptions of the world; when you look at a computer screen, do you perceive objects on it which you manipulate, or do you see a completely passive surface of colors? It's why angry people hit their monitors instead of their PC towers; they perceive the figurative representation as being literal entities. So clearly, human perception is not a reliable and direct way to determine objective reality.

 

"Matter and energy act in a causal fashion, even as they appear not to while measuring the limits of our perception."

 

So let me see if I have this straight: the physical world is completely causal except for the 'fringe' areas where it's not so much, like in quantum physics? Or are you saying that our perceptions are unreliable, and thus not to be trusted, when we observe those 'fringe' areas?

 

But you know what? I reject your assertion that cognition is the basis of all knowledge. I don't need all this pointless repetition of the obvious processes by which a human mind is constructed by the developing brain because, while the concept of consciousness presumes physical existence, the concept of objective reality does not entail consciousness. So I would be entirely justified in asserting that consciousness is a non-literal representation of the electrical signals in the brain, much like the colors running across a computer screen are an empty reflection of the electrical processing.

 

If consciousness, and therefore thought, are not concepts in their own right but simply secondary phenomena of physical structures then they have no axiomatic validity. In effect, if consciousness can be conceived as an illusory element then any axiomatic arguments based on its literal conception are invalidated.

 

Example: "I moved the My Computer icon six inches to the right" implies the physical existence of that entity, a body which can be moved, and a spatial location-- but it is an illusory element which possesses none of those properties. The only actual property of the literal form is the orientation of a series of electron spins, so all of the axiomatic conclusions from that statement are invalid despite the statement being true.

 

Why can't you use your conclusions to prove their own axioms? Because it's a logical fallacy. There's literally nothing to argue on that point. You must use arguments without those axioms as the basis for proving them. You're simply wrong if you think your personal conviction about the truth of the conclusions is a valid excuse to use circular reasoning. 

 

To extend your arguments on the temporality of math, does that mean that when I was young I had no toes at all until I learned to count to 10? That's total crap. Clearly my cognizance of how many toes I had was irrelevant to the objective reality. To follow with my earlier assertions, the human mind is irrelevant to objective reality. Any knowledge which could be acquired by a mind was necessarily present before those minds developed. 

 

"Reality exists independent of us, for if it didn't, we could not exist."

 

Here's the root of the problem: you have no proof that we exist which isn't predicated on the assumption that we exist. You can't ignore that in favor of a circular argument to falsify justification for your personal beliefs.

 

But take my redirected argument here; I say that we are not independent of reality, not even as 'conscious' minds, but are instead part and parcel of a universe which arose by non-temporal mechanisms which have no cause because they leave no event (logically similar to CTCs in physics). Continuity (your non-contradiction) is not a property of this universe, but rather an illusion from insufficiently sensitive perceptions of planck-scale discontinuities. The mind, as an indistinguishable part of physical reality, provides a macroscopic demonstration of such phenomena through contradictory ideas, patchy memory, and a plethora of other discontinuities.

 

You don't seem to understand that a priori means "independent of experience." Even with no universe at all (zero experiential data), a priori statements are inherently valid descriptions of what form that experience will take, regardless of whether it already has taken that form. Read up on your basics and a proper explanation of the details. I'm not here to teach you Philosophy 101 and Intro to Logic. 

 

Bolding is to highlight a key few points due to a lengthy post.

I think what you are attempting to do is invalidate language itself and deny what it means to know. For if we can have knowledge without a brain, then, hell, I can shit invisible pink unicorns and you would say that you can't know that I don't.

I just had a full urinary bladder. And I had the knowledge that since 'the universe can only be commanded if it is obeyed', I knew that I would continue to feel this sensation in varying degrees until I went to the bathroom or pissed myself. I was properly sure of this. I say that if you cannot say that I had proper certain knowledge about the consequences of relieving myself, then you need to rethink your worldview.

I say knowledge is that which we can integrate conceptually without contradiction and reduce to perceptual evidence. I believe that once we have enough knowledge of reality, we can know explicitly, a posteriori, if you must, that these axioms are true and valid. You may call it circular reasoning, but I don't think that is an appropriate metaphor. If something must exist, it does exist. I think the self-evident axioms are provable, well that really is redundant, and I realize what this sounds like to you, but I do not define the following three main ideas as merely axiomatic, but also able to be demonstrated through reduction to perceptual evidence and contextually valid noncontradictory conceptual integration. Self-evidence is proof enough. We also have the above.

Existence must exist. Existence not existing makes no sense and there is no third option. If existence did not exist, then in this non-realm which the thoughts we're having don't exist, what do you call that? There is no possible reality, consciousness present or not, that does not exist.

Existence comes before consciousness. The converse is completely irrational. Epistemologicaly and metaphysically, a thing to be aware of precedes the perception of it. Perception is information about the real world, not about the awareness of the perception itself, that comes later.

And to exist, a thing must have identity. How could it possibly exist without it? Not only has no one ever demonstrated that some things, or even one thing, can or could do something other than what is dictated by their or its structure, but it is impossible to do so. How would one even achieve this theoretically and then show it? Through noncausal mechanisms? Oxymoron.

By your reasoning in your first paragraph above, if I let a balloon filled with helium go, in this atmosphere and I predict it will go up in relation to the buoyant, wind and gravitational forces applied, and it does 100 out of 100 times, can I have no idea how sure I can be that it will continue this way the next time, the next 100 times, or a thousand or indefinitely? We can have certain knowledge that reality works this way. I am not purporting to be able to know the future or everything, but even if a super-duper alien moved the balloon another way, it would still have to interact with it through the causal chain, a way that could be studied. If the balloon appeared to move random, it would not be our eyes that are misleading us, we would use our eyes further to find out why and with sufficient science and technology could spot the once hidden variable. We can make errors in conceptualization, but not perception. Something is right or wrong as it represent reality and when you open your eyes whatever changes the eyes state contributes to the number and type of signals sent from the eye to the brain, no choices are made. If your eye is damaged in a way to change the perception, the sensations with portray this as well, if not at first obviously, then upon reasoning. If you hold only the essentials of what an eye is you should see that the organ receives whatever signal it gets, not just the ones you are focused on. Mistakes are made not by the causal nature of EMR from an entity to the relatively simple electrochemical neurotransmission of that signal to the brain. A rock rolling down a hill does not make mistakes. Mistakes happen in the cortex, when attempts are made to interpret what a signal means, by comparing it to patterns of perceptual stimuli it has learned about before with the one it has predicted.

So you think that we cannot be sure of anything? Are you sure of that? Are you sure you know what your name is? What if you didn't have a brain, would you not have that knowledge still?

I am saying that causality is universal, but I am not saying except at the fringe. I am saying our ability to perceive something smaller than size can go, in reality, not in your imagination, is limited. Things appear random and I would say this is consistent with my causal worldview and every bit of science, not scientist's perspective, that I have read. When we gained the ability to do relatively advanced science and probe smaller and smaller, do you expect us to have found the ultimate nature of all things? Consciousness and knowledge are limited due to the local physical nature of these things. Again, you seem to be begging for perfection. That our perception and therefore knowledge of the sub sub-atomic realm is limited, is not a reason to reject all knowledge. True randomness of an entity in reality cannot manifest; that would be magic. Couple all the sub-atomic particles you like, your actions will still be causal.

Your argument boils down to this: "So I would be entirely justified in asserting that consciousness is a non-literal representation of the electrical signals in the brain, much like the colors running across a computer screen are an empty reflection of the electrical processing."

-More metaphor. That's why cognition is not the basis of all knowledge? Are you suggesting that cognition is not a necessary part of knowledge? That knowledge was around before we were? I guess you are. You started off good in that paragraph with consciousness presuming the existence of reality and reality itself being independent of consciousness, but then, seemingly out of nowhere, you bring out a metaphor as evidence. Consciousness is those signals in the brain. We are locally organized self aware parts of the universe. Empty reflection. That's pretty, but irrational. Every representation is made up of something, even patterns on a computer screen. We can learn about objective reality by conceptualizing our subjective perceptions, a talent that has evolved to be specifically suited for this task. You describe errors in human thinking, not perception.

Consciousness and thought are concepts in their own right, but they do not exist, as entities or concepts, unless a brain does. Once it does, the implicit grasping of the axioms leads to concept formation and off we go to a point when, if intellectually honest enough, we can see that the axioms are true and valid because they are necessary, self-evident and rationally cohesive. Consciousness being conceived as an illusory element would change nothing, imaginative as that might be.  There can be no consciousness without a reality.

Of course a fully grown infant has 10 toes, but does not recognize them as 2 groups of five or one group of ten. They first need to store the concept of group and toe and such. It is not knowledge until it is in the brain. Knowledge did not exist before people. We can have some knowledge now about what happened then, when there was no one around to store concepts in a noncontradictory fashion.

Non-temporal mechanisms is an oxymoron. If it has no cause and no effect, then it has no existence.

Man does not use contradictory ideas to achieve knowledge about reality. Quantum theory does not negate this, it requires it. Any finding of particle physics will have to be explained in a causal fashion consistent with the law of identity to make sense. It is the way our brain and the acquisition of knowledge works. Fuzzy metaphor will not cut it.

You say insufficiently sensitive perceptions of plank-scale discontinuities and I say you are asking for omniscience. That we have a limit to what we can perceive does not at all mean that our perceptions are invalid. They are how we build knowledge about the world. They are how we interact with the universe and program our learned concepts. By the law of identity, this happens in a necessarily causal way. Our senses are not perfect, but they are valid and necessary sources of information from which to build knowledge. We may run into something that appears to be contradictory, but knowledge doesn't come from something not being able to be integrated, other than how it is not possible. That some very very small thing appears contradictory or random is no reason to deny the building blocks of what makes interpretation of the interaction of entities possible to begin with.

And I'm pretty sure that if there was no universe at all, a priori statements, which are sentient cognitive constructs wouldn't exist. You start with the qualifier of no universe at all and then begin to offer knowledge about something that exists within this non-realm. And you're telling me to read up on the basics. You're up-side down, pal.

More fundamentally, Drake, despite your obvious education in philosophical matters, it's not clear to me that you really understand what an axiom is. You say,

Why can't you use your conclusions to prove their own axioms? Because it's a logical fallacy. There's literally nothing to argue on that point. You must use arguments without those axioms as the basis for proving them. You're simply wrong if you think your personal conviction about the truth of the conclusions is a valid excuse to use circular reasoning.

Er, the whole idea of an axiom is rather that it is a self-evident starting point, no? That existence exists is self-evident. It is a tautology. This is MCT's starting point, because, well, duh. What alternative is there? None that can be rationally discussed.

 

Further, you state,

Here's the root of the problem: you have no proof that we exist which isn't predicated on the assumption that we exist. You can't ignore that in favor of a circular argument to falsify justification for your personal beliefs.

We need no proof that we exist because it is self-evident, and as a special bonus because all other knowledge is based on that assumption. Again, what alternative is there that can be rationally entertained? None whatsoever. If we are merely brains in a vat, a la The Matrix, by Rene Descartes, Esquire, then the vat must exist. Even if it is turtles all the way down, there are still turtles. Introducing an infinite regress doesn't ruffle the feathers of existence at all, though it seems to be rather pointless. Questioning the existence of existence is madness. It is utterly irrational and cannot possibly form the basis of any useful or even intelligible argument. You appear to be tilting against a tautology. Sounds like Postmodernism to me. Or at least, Postmodernism as Descartes proposed (and rejected) it back in the 17th century. Protopostmodernism?

"Er, the whole idea of an axiom is rather that it is a self-evident starting point, no?"

From Wikipedia, "an axiom or postulate is a proposition that is not proven or demonstrated but considered either to be self-evident or to define and delimit the realm of analysis". Neither causality nor continuity (non-contradiction) are necessarily true, but rather appear well-justified because of the believed exclusivity of the extended results. That makes them axioms of the latter type, which require external arguments from purely self-evident premises to provide a proper, non-circular proof.

 

And "existence exists" is a trivial statement because the issue at hand is determining the proper contents of existence. The central goal for this discussion is the indication of which sources of data are conclusively real and thus form the primary grounds for analytical proof.

 

Additionally, I reject your application of the Ontological Argument in these conditions. In the same way, you're assuming that simply defining a concept as "exists" makes that necessarily true. I contend that you are instead making a null (or potential) statement which is indeterminate in the sense that it is insufficient to define its contents, and thus cannot be considered physically actionable. Until you can locate entities which conclusively exist, "existence exists" and "God exists" are value-less statements which can neither be affirmed nor refuted (they take a Null value instead).

 

It's not Postmodernism in any sense to argue against epistemological sloppiness. I ascribe to an Objective Reality philosophy, which is directly contrary to Postmodernistic tendencies, but it also happens to discard the concept of Physical Necessity at the epistemic level. So while my philosophy is generally very compatible with MCT's (I would agree with most points), I consider his unsupported axioms to be incorrect and falsely limiting to his analytical scope (the initial issue of non-temporal or origin-related topics).

The axioms are supported by reality. They square with observation. They square with reason. There is no contradiction in them. It is not sloppiness. I'll tell you what's sloppy, non-temporal mechanisms. How can you say that ascribe to an objective philosophy, when you favor contradiction over certainty? Every time you open your eyes, pay your taxes or breath, you are affirming that reality exists.

Causality is those things, but your non-contradiction (my continuity) is nothing of the sort. It has been refuted by observation and only serves as an intellectual shortcut in simple analysis. Further, your strictly subjective, humanistic epistemology is utter nonsense for a purportedly objective approach. Certainty is what your framework is least capable of providing, for all the exhaustive reasons I have shown you, but I understand that dogmatic belief can fill in even the widest gaps.

 

I have been unusually exact and comprehensive in the arguments I have provided, so I'm calling this the point where I'm done dealing with your ceaseless Straw Manning. If you can't actually follow a coherent argument without spinning off into your own tangent of deprecating assumptions (as Aaron R already explain to you), then there's no reason to pretend we're arguing over the same topics any longer.

Drake it's hard to see how you ascribe to an objective reality if you refuse to accept any possible axioms as starting points.

As I very plainly stated, self-evident axioms (rather than delineative ones) are the "ultimate" foundation you should attempt to find for any complete philosophy. As this discussion is specifically about epistemology and foundational questions, that was the central focus of discussion.

 

In later-stage analysis it's common and reasonable to use delineative axioms to set your scope and resolution, but we were not discussing topics with that kind of leniency.

I tell you what, Drake. You go ahead and continue playing word games with yourself and tell yourself you're making progress advancing the state of human knowledge. In the meantime, I'm going to go ahead and admit to myself that reality is real.

Bleh, I managed to wipe out my original reply with a Back hotkey, so this will have to be more of a cliffnotes version:

 

1. I'm arguing that the knowledge has literal form as interactional patterning and structural arrangement in physical entities, while the mind attempts discover knowledge by emulating physical systems. The mental acquirement of knowledge is a representation, not a literal form, so it is irrelevant to the functioning of knowledge itself. This leads me to reject your subjective perspective of learning knowledge in favor of an objective reality in which knowledge implicitly exists in physical systems.

 

2. Despite the impression from our biological sensory equipment that the physical world is continuous, advanced machinery has aided us in extending our perceptions until we were able to observe physical discontinuities. I am only concerned with physical data, not the subjective limitations of the natural human senses, so I am by no means demanding "omniscience" for you to acknowledge what we have already observed.  

 

3. Causality and continuity are unsupported delineating axioms which you justifying by the effectiveness of the conclusions and your belief that they are exclusively true. I have demonstrated a contrary framework with comparable effectiveness that directly invalidates the exclusivity of your post-justification. Even without a specific counter-example, there are fundamental logical constraints which prevent you from proving the exclusivity of a solution, so your post-justification is strictly inconclusive. That only leaves the remaining option of additional arguments from purely self-evident grounds that conclusively support your delineating axioms, but no such argument has ever been historically successful in proving either causality or continuity (non-contradiction).

 

4. The 'basics' you missed is that a priori statements are atemporal as an existent property, not extra-temporal as an existent state. The physical form of a priori knowledge is embedded metadata, so it cannot exist pre-temporally even though the conclusions are atemporally true. To be technically exact, a priori knowledge requires a multiverse with at least one universe (which then sustains speculation about other universes). That support condition leads to the secondary requirement of a posteriori confirmation to connect a priori conclusions to our particular universe without a hanging dependence on unconfirmed universes. 

 

5. "Non-temporality" is a variation of the a priori multiverse condition that recognizes that Null states (as unactualized form or "Nothing") are indistinguishable across all universes. This uniformity allows for automatic satisfaction of the a posteriori localization requirement, so temporally-generated, experientially-localized, atemporal knowledge about Nothing can simply be reduced to "non-temporal" knowledge. That's how one discusses the origin of the universe and other such topics without becoming mired in excessive qualifiers. 

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