Saturday, 2 June 2012

Do You Exist?

This may seem somewhat ludicrous to even consider that you may not exist. I mean, you do things, you interact with people, you feel things so obviously you exist, right? Well, not necessarily...

The problem with proving whether or not you exist is that it is very hard to even pin down what existence actually is. It is defined in the dictionary as "objective reality or being", but that poses yet more questions; if we do not know what existence is how can we begin to comprehend reality?

Within mathematics in order to prove something you must only use something that is an already proved axiom. Multiplication works because it is essentially multiple additions (2 × 3 is the same as 2 + 2 + 2). And in fact addition can be proved to be true using something simpler, something more fundamental than itself; logic. You can prove that one plus one equals two (or if you prefer a well explained video), and from this simple fact all other vastly complex mathematics can be used and proved in the knowledge that it is correct.

But existence can not be tackled in the same manner, it is the most fundamental property. Existence precedes even the most basic mathematical principles. We must exist for anything to hold true, including maths. It has to be taken as a given for our principles of logic, maths, science, everything to be true. But this does not prove that we exist. Unfortunately everything else functioning so well because of one assumption does not prove the assumption, it could just be that everything else is radically wrong.

And the main problem of trying to understand our existence - you cannot attack it with maths. You cannot break existence down into a mathematical problem so ones perception of what does, or does not constitute existence is merely subjective. When opinions are the dominant factors of an argument you can never reach a correct answer because essentially, there is none.

I can feel the philosophers amongst you grinding at your teeth, beginning to pound at your keyboard reciting Descartes quote as if it were the ultimate truth. For those of you who do not know of Descartes, he also pondered whether or not he existed but then saw that if he was able to actually ponder his existence then there must on some level be something that exists to do the pondering; hence his quote "I think, therefore I am". It is a well constructed argument, it concisely answers the question using a very logical approach. But that in itself is it's downfall, it uses logic. Logic is something that can only function as a tool if in fact there is existence on some level, so actually he uses the fact that we exist to prove that we exist.

Also, why does the property of thinking create existence? This plays on the difficulty on defining what existence actually is. It almost defines existence as thinking, then citing the fact that we do think to be a proof of existence, which is fundamentally wrong.

So, do you exist? Probably. There is no real means of actually answering the question when we cannot truly define existence. But if you do not exist and your whole life and world is not truly there, you are none the wiser and will never truly know, so why does it matter? Ignorance is bliss as they say. If you wish to believe that you exist, then you exist.

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