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.
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.
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.
There is a name we have for everything that exists. It is called the universe. There is nothing more than what exists. If the universe is everything, what the hell does it mean to have 2 universes. You have contradictory concepts throughout your worldview.
The only place in the universe knowledge can exist is in a brain or other sufficiently complex representational machine. Two trees in a forest with no observers is not knowledge of two trees. It is just two trees. A person, whether he or she is right next to the tree or somewhere else after seeing tree, can have knowledge of it in their head, but two trees existing is not knowledge of any kind, until integrated by a mind. It is only knowledge when a person recognizes it as validly and truly representing reality. Knowledge independent of a mind is just irrational.
For you to notice your discontinuity of reality you must be outside this reference frame or attempting to peer below the limit of our perception. You cannot properly use your confusion about these conditions to show that the causal law your interpretation and thought depends on is not valid for the parts of this world that we can have valid knowledge about. "See, since I cannot know what is irrational, our process of knowledge acquisition is never certain."
Why must you continue to write about an origin? What do you mean origin? Like a beginning? What beginning?
Change up the words all you like, things only do what is in their nature to do, based on their structure and momentum. This is universally true about things we can have valid knowledge about and when we measure anywhere near the microscopic distance or accuracy limit of our perception is the only place that the world appears to demonstrate discontinuity or randomness, but we do not have and likely cannot have enough information to fully integrate this stuff, therefore, you cannot use the results of your double-slit experiment to negate the very laws that allow you to set up any experiment.
Your sentences do not make sense often; it is hard to follow. You write that statements are atemporal. Right off the bat, I cannot follow since a statement implies and depends of changing thoughts and concepts that are inter-related. All things have change of some sort as a necessary essential characteristic. There is no place knowable that there is no change, even your static qualities, like say, green or greenness, is dependent on time. There can be no greenness or reflection of a particular wavelength of light without temporality. If you are not talking about temporality without time, then use another word. I suspect however, that you are using it as a metaphor and just denying the essentially partially incorrect representation that goes with all metaphor.
We do not speak mumbo-jumbo, so if you wish to make sense, stop making up more and more qualifiers, as you think you are not, and speak plainly. Try to make a sentence that doesn't hold a contradiction in itself.
The question itself, whether or not there is a 'god,' is built on the false premise that there is a supernatural being to begin with. The ontological argument for the existence of 'god' does not even qualify as a hypothesis, because by definition, a hypothesis must be first and foremost testable and falsifiable. That's why all religions are a philosophy, or a strain of biased thought process.
An Atheist may rationalize that the Universe (or a fabric that built Universe(s)) always has been, and always will be (perhaps), so why transpose on top of that observation that there is a magical being built coincidentally like a bipedal hominid that has the exact same properties? Both conjectures lead to an infinite series of non-explanations, so why keep projecting fairy-tales on top of fairy-tales to an already convoluted question? Adding complexity (and silliness) to this or any question does not make the answer any more tenable. Why stop with one 'god'? Why not create one more that created the first one, etc...etc...? It adds nothing.
The question may be framed wrong in the first place. Just because two possibilities are given in the question, doesn't mean that choosing one will produce a proper answer. Chances are, the question is nonsense to begin with. Which came first, the chicken, or the egg? Answer: Neither, it was complex aromatic molecules built in star dust that came first.
Look at the size of our thinking organ compared to the size of the Earth, and then compared to our galaxy. It is utter nonsense to think that our species just happens to be equipped with the computational power to even approach the question in the first place. What I've observed, is that religious philosophies thus far has only projected the human fear of death and a need for primate survival. Any sentient beings in any Universe will always face the same dilemma.