Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ponderous Ponderings


Where do we start when we look for the most basic unit of knowledge?

Well, Descartes’ famous maxim was “I think, therefore I am” but I believe there’s a better starting point. Namely:
“I perceive, therefore I am.”

Perception does not necessarily require thought, and therefore is a more basic starting point.

So what does it mean to say “I perceive”? First, we note the subject is “I.” This is critical, because this limits the scope of the argument. “I”, as the subject, have direct knowledge of perception, so this is not saying you perceive nor does it say I can perceive what you can perceive. So this is very limited in scope, but it is essential.

Secondly, what is it to perceive? We might say that it is using our senses to take in sensory data. But this is not an accurate definition to begin with, for there is no way for us to know yet whether or not what we perceive is valid or real. It is, after all, possible that the entire external world that I perceive is a hallucination, albeit a very convincing one. Thus, the existence of perception does not actually prove that we have senses nor that the sensory information we perceive is valid.

Nevertheless, the simple fact of perception requires that there be something to perceive such a perception; in this case, the subject “I.” And this leads us to the same place Descartes started from—proof of some kind of existence. For it is the case that if I exist in order to perceive something (and I have direct access to this knowledge since I am the subject and I do, in fact, perceive) then something exists. We do not yet know what my attributes are, other than that I have some kind of existence. It is possible that I exist immaterially, as a spirit who is deluded into thinking the physical world is real. It may even be possible that I exist as a self-aware thought in the mind of some higher being, such as God. Or it could be that I exist exactly as I perceive myself to exist—as a physical being with an immaterial mind.

None of those things can, as of yet, be proven. But for the sake of understanding the most basic unit of knowledge, my direct experience of my own perceptions proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that something does in fact exist. And because something does exist, by the brute fact that what exists cannot not exist, we have established two logical truths as being necessary:
1. Identity. A is A. That is, whatever exists, exists. We can go further and say that while we do not know what attributes to apply to me, we do know that whatever attributes are a part of my existence do, are in fact attributes of my existence. If I have an attribute X, then it is the case that I have the attribute X.

And this brings us immediately the corollary
2. The law of non-contradiction. A is not ~A. That is, whatever attributes I do not have are, in fact, attributes I do not have. I cannot both have and not have the same attribute at the same time and in the same relationship.

So we see very quickly that the two foundational laws of logic are established simply by virtue of the fact that I exist in order to perceive something. And if these two attributes of logic exist, then we can begin to probe logic itself to see what it is that logic must require in order for logic to be valid.

As we’ve seen, logic is established by existence. In this case, the only thing I know exists (at this point) is myself. And as you read this, the only thing you’ll know exists is yourself. We cannot prove to the other person that we exist, for we do not have direct access to others’ perceptions.

But we can still learn important information. If we are to assert that logic is a meaningful tool to probe the rest of reality, then we know that logic must be grounded in something. If it is grounded in existence, then logic is only valid insofar as existence “exists” (for lack of a better word). Now, existence itself cannot exist; rather, objects have the property of “existing.” So to say that existence “exists” is really to say that there must be some kind of existing object. And, as I’ve stated, if that is the grounding for logic, then the scope of logic is identical to the scope of the existing object.

If, therefore, we are to say that logic is universal, then we must stipulate that there is a universal existence. That universal existence must transcend all other existing objects, and indeed must be the basis for which other existing objects have their existence. There must be something that is transcendent, such that if you and I both exist as separate objects then we both have the same rules of logic we must obey. If that assumption is true, then logic is grounded in an existence that is bigger than either of us individually. We must seek the transcendent.

This path also seems reasonable when we consider that our own existence, which we know is real for we have perceptions, must either be a self-existence or a derived existence. That is, whatever it is that makes me exist must be either something that exists with the essence of being within itself (hence, self-existent) or else whatever makes me exist must come from some other more foundational form of existence. Yet it is clear that if there is a more foundational form of existence, then either that foundational form is self-existent, or else derived from another even more foundational form of existence. Yet the cycle cannot be infinite, for that would cause an infinite regress fallacy, which would violate the very standards of logic we are trying to establish. Therefore, my existence proves something must be self-existent. And that something must be either myself, or something more foundational than myself; and if it is more foundational then myself, then it is transcendent once again.

So we see that either I am the sum of all existence, or else there is existence that transcends me. What else can we demonstrate?

Well, obviously the issue of time comes to mind. And this can present some real conundrums. For instance, when it comes to being there are two different classical strains of thought: Whatever is, is; and whatever is, is becoming. The first sense gives us a static universe; the second gives us one which is never the same (yet, ironically, it becomes static in its ever changing nature—that is, if it always changes then it never doesn’t change, which means it’s always the same after all). In any case, the questions that result from this discussion are fundamentally based in a concept of time.

Time cannot be infinite, for the same reason that we cannot have an infinite number of more foundational existence. It causes a regress fallacy. If time is not infinite, then it had to have a beginning. Regardless of how we come down on the topic of “whatever is, is” and “whatever is, is becoming” it seems plain that time must exist as soon as there is physical existence.

Now time is inherently tricky to define. Ultimately, time cannot be defined except in relation to movement; yet movement is defined in relation to time. For instance, in physics we know that velocity is distance divided by time. And using math we could say that time is therefore distance divided by velocity. But that doesn’t give us a definition of time, because velocity requires time to define what velocity is! But in the end, this is the only satisfactory definition of time that we have. For instance, Einstein once quipped: “Time is that which clocks measure.” But all that essentially means is that time is defined by the rate in which one arm on a clock moves a certain distance. Thus, when one hand moves all the way around the clock face, it is said that 60 minutes have passed.

Since all definitions of time require movement, it seems most likely that “whatever is, is becoming” is the most accurate concept of being, even though paradoxically it leads to a different form of stasis (as I indicated above). This means that not only does time require existence, but also change. If something existed but never changed, there would be no time. But if time is the “space between changes” so to speak, then time cannot be eternal for if it were, there would have to be eternal change. And if there were eternal change, then we could trace it back an infinite distance. But if we traced it back an infinite distance, it would take an infinite amount of time to return to our present position. Which means if time began an infinity ago, the present would have never arisen—for we would still be an infinite number of years in the past.

On the other hand, time is also relative…and it is precisely relative in its relation to motion! Indeed, the faster an object moves, the slower time appears to go (from the perspective of someone not moving). More precisely, if only two objects exist, Adam and Mary, and they are moving away from each other, then Adam will perceive time move more slowly for Mary (for from his perspective, she is moving while he is standing still) while Mary perceives time moving more slowly for Adam (for from her perspective, he is the one moving while she is standing still). So the relative motion between objects gives us the rate of time. And yet this requires one to have a view from inside the universe, so to speak, which immediately begs the question: how fast does time go for the observer outside the universe who looks at the universe as we would look at an ant colony? If all motion is internal to the universe, then perhaps in the end “whatever is, is” becomes true after all—for if no motion escapes the universe, then from outside the universe, the universe itself is static.

So from all of that, we can come to this firm conclusion: time makes no sense.

In fact, I believe that the inconsistencies actually prove that time doesn’t exist, at least not in the way that we think it does. Therefore, the perception of time is an illusion, useful as it may be. Time is not transcendent. And therefore, in order to ground logic, we must step outside of time. The ground of logic itself must be atemporal.

Similarly, the existence that grounds logic cannot be physical existence either, for physical existence is tied up in the paradox of “whatever is, is” and “whatever is, is becoming” for the same reason that time is so fluky. Therefore, whatever grounds logic must be aphysical or, in this case: immaterial.

So by using simple logic, we’ve discovered that the grounds of logic must be transcendent, immaterial, and atemporal. These are three attributes that can only be found in divinity. Speculating further might give us more information, but in terms of identifying Who the divine is, that is something that cannot be grasped from these principals. Instead, we require Revelation from the divine.

And that is to be expected. For if we exist, and if we are not ourselves divine (as does not seem likely, although logically that has not been ruled out yet), then that means we were created. And if we were created, the very act of creation itself implies a purpose for creation. That is, there must be a reason for it. And if there is a reason for creation, then we ought to think that the One who created us may very well provide that reason to us.

Naturally, there are competing claims as to Who the divine creator is. Some say Yahweh, some Allah, some The Great Spirit. But it seems plain that atheism cannot be true. At least, not if we are to remain rational adherents to logic.

Important Note: I am not the author of this blog. This is a reposting of Peter Pike's thoughts on "The Basic First Principles of Knowledge." However, please know that this post may or may not accurately reflect his current opinion.


Silas Reinagel said...

What marvelous plagiarisation you have treated us to.

While I haven't thoroughly dissected this post, one passing thought that occurred to me is simple that it has not been established that time itself is relative. All we can logically state is that time is perceived as relative.

Even temporal experiments conducted concerning the relative nature of time have not conclusively established that time itself is relative. At the very strongest they merely suggest that clocks measure time in relation to the gravitational forces to which they are subjected.

In any case, it hardly seems a firm conclusion that time makes no sense.

Skarlet said...

If it was plagiarism, I'm sure it would be marvelous plagiarism, but I don't believe that it actually qualifies as plagiarism since I gave credit to the original author.

I actually agree with you that the idea that "time makes so sense" was not proven. But I did find the proposal of such an idea very thought-provoking which I find enjoyable.

JD said...

Well, I was going to comment one thing that's already commented on before Silas commented. And it's this, I think it's going way too far to say that time makes no sense. I do see why he says it, and from what he states, I can see why he says that, but, I have never found time to not make sense. In fact, from a practical standpoint, time makes sense to everyone, for everyone uses it and tries to abuse it, and you can't very well abuse something immaterial if it makes no sense.

My second thought is this, I find it entirely unproven that perception doesn't require thought, and all of my life's experience tells me otherwise. I both think before, during and after I perceive something. Going something like, hmm, what is that? (a question) Oh, it's "X" (observation) and now what do I think of "X"? (a query of myself). Now, all of those are thoughts, which all help me during the process of apprehending the nature of something.

Peter Pike said...

I've been working on responding to one of the three long emails Skarlet sent to me, and decided to take a quick break and see if she had written anything new; and then, when I got here and saw it was still on this post it suddenly dawned on me that maybe there were comments! And lo, there were. :-)

So first, hello Silas! And I believe I've spoken with JD before, although under less ideal circumstances--if not, hello to you too! For that matter, hello even if it WAS you I spoke with before!

Anyway, when Skarlet asked if she could post this, I did ask for her to include that note that I haven't fully finished thinking through the position. Ironically, however, you guys both commented on the place I think I've got the most support.

For instance, Silas said:
Even temporal experiments conducted concerning the relative nature of time have not conclusively established that time itself is relative. At the very strongest they merely suggest that clocks measure time in relation to the gravitational forces to which they are subjected.

Now it is certainly true that this is all that has been established by scientists; yet consider the implications if we are to say that this does not establish time itself as being relative. It essentially means that whatever it is that clocks measure, they do *not* measure time. We're left with one of two conclusions: either time is relative and clocks accurately measure that, or else time is not relative and clock inaccurately measure it. In either case, clocks are unreliable *as is*.

And JD said:
In fact, from a practical standpoint, time makes sense to everyone, for everyone uses it and tries to abuse it, and you can't very well abuse something immaterial if it makes no sense.

As Silas pointed out, time is perceived as relative. Absent clocks, time is a subjective thing. We experience hours that seem to take minutes and minutes that seem to take hours. So even if I say a clock measures time accurately, it doesn't fit with my subjective experiences of time.

Furthermore, I've never experienced the future, nor have I ever experienced the past. I only experience the present. I can imagine the future and I can remember the past, but I am only in an eternal present that somehow "slips" from future to past. Indeed, to paraphrase an argument St. Augustine made (I believe in "Confessions"), since the future exists only in imagination, then it does not exist; and since the past exists only in memory, it does not exist. The present, if it were to be any length at all, would have to be divided where part of it was future and part of it was past. Therefore, the present has no duration, and something that has no duration cannot be said to exist. Therefore, time does not exist.

Oh, and one thing I did want to clear up is when I say that perception doesn't require thought, what I mean is that perception occurs even if the one who perceives is incapable of saying "I think, therefore I am." JD is correct that there is still thought of some kind, but it is not rational thought (and that is a good clarification to make). For example: a fish perceives a shark and runs away from the shark; perception has occurred and my argument is established; yet the fish never gets to the point of saying, "I think, therefore I am."

Of course, ultimately the distinction is trivial since the argument requires a subjective examination of the perception, which requires conscious thought to probe the perception. I would merely maintain that perception itself is more basic than rational thought, and therefore a better starting point.

JD said...

Interesting remarks, Peter, and I like them. Though, I think an better starting point, now that I've had time to think it over, is mere observation. That might be splitting hair's, but you observe slightly before you percieve, and if often irrevocably colors your perceptions, so I think it's more basic and a better place to start at. Of course, this is slightly off topic of your original post, but I stil felt like putting the point up for discussion.

JD said...

Oh and yes, I am the JD from before, so hello again, and hopefully this time goes better than before. (I don't see how it can't...)

Peter Pike said...

Hello JD,

First, yes I agree that it would be difficult to not have this round be better :-)

As regardings observation/perception, that may very well be a semantics issue. I tend to think of observation as fairly synonymous with perception. If I were to try to come up with a differentiation there, I would lean toward observations being perception of something "real." That is, I observe my desk in front of me. But I wouldn't typically use the word "observe" to describe, say, my dreams or imagination.

As far as that goes, then, I would not use "observation" language since that seems to imply the actual existence of the real world, which is not proven (that is to say, not proven in the argument--I have no *actual* reason to doubt its existence).

However, you may very well be defining "obseration" differently than I would. Just to clarify, then, I view observation as a specific kind of perception, but the kind of perception that presupposes the actual existence of what is being observed. I could guess at what you might define it as, but I figure I might as well let you define it yourself rather than put words in your mouth for you :-D

JD said...

Well, I make no differentiation between what is real and what not real. I would define observation as anything that merely see, no matter where or in what state is in. (and as side note, I am wondering why you make the differentiation) Perception, I would define as taking that which is observed and making a characterization, a judgement or an opinion based on what is observed, again, no mattter the state of whatever is being observed and perceived.

For example, I observe, that the computer is black, I percieve that the computer has a nice black sheen to it and that looks nice. The first is mere data, the second has some sort of conclusion to it, even if it it incomplete.

Oh and yes, of course, this is schemantics, but schmantics, or minor details are important, after all, that is how history is properly examined, looking how the minor details form a larger narrative, and if you have any understanding of history, you know full well what I mean. :)

Skarlet said...


I actually have to agree with Pike on the usage of perceive and observe. However, the technical definitions may serve to support your usage more --

1. to see, watch, perceive, or notice: He observed the passersby in the street.

2. to regard with attention, esp. so as to see or learn something: I want you to observe her reaction to the judge's question.

3. to watch, view, or note for a scientific, official, or other special purpose: to observe an eclipse.

Perceive --
1. to become aware of, know, or identify by means of the senses: I perceived an object looming through the mist.

2. to recognize, discern, envision, or understand: I perceive a note of sarcasm in your voice. This is a nice idea but I perceive difficulties in putting it into practice.

When I use the words, I only use observe in relate to real life facts and objects, whereas perceptions extends to hallucinations as well. However, the way it's defined, perception relies on recognizing or becoming aware of something (which really exists).

Observation also seems to take the real object or fact as granted (else how could you see it, learn from it, or pay special attention to it?)

Let me ask you this then, JD, what word would you use to describe a person's so-called perception of something that isn't real?

Peter Pike said...

Hi again, JD.

The main reason I make the differentiation in "observation" (and one could argue whether I should differentiate "perception" instead of "observation" I suppose--but that's a different issue) is because I do believe what I call the real world is real, while what I dream is not. I would say I perceive both. Yet, even in perceiving both, I do not perceive both by the same manner.

While this is beyond the scope of my original argument, it's still fun to talk about. It does require certain assumptions though (such as the true existence of the physical world), so don't try to link this back to my original argument, where those assumptions have not been argued for yet :-)

Anyway, when I view the world, to use a specific type of observation (vision), I view it because my brain is taking external sensory data and processing it. When I dream and see something in the dream, my brain is *creating* the sensory data itself. So if I "see" my desk in the real world, it's because light is reflecting off the surface of the desk and causing a chemical reaction in my retina which sends an electrical impulse to my brain, which is then interpreted by my brain (with tons of steps and details I'm skipping involved too).

But when I imagine a desk in my mind, the entire process is different--including my brain activity, since I access memory and creative centers (or whatever they are these days) rather than my brain interpreting live "input." So when I "see" a desk in my mind, even if it is as vivid as what I see through my eyes, it comes to me by a completely different process.

Now I would maintain that the end result might very well be indistinguishable. I remember reading something along those lines in the book "A Beautiful Mind" when Nash (who had Schizophrenia) was asked how such a smart person could be deceived by the delusions he had and he responded (paraphrased) "The false data came to me in the same way that real data came to me." So I would say it's at least possible the end result could be impossible to *subjectively* differentiate, but *objectively* the brain activity would be different, and obviously a hallucination does not exist for light to reflect off of either (so the chemical processes in the eye would be different too).

Anyway, that's my reasoning. I should add that I believe it's perfectly fine for us to have conflicting definitions here as long as we both understand how the other person is using the terms.

JD said...

Well, based on those specific defintions, I don't see that you have to limit things to actual, real things. Okay, let me modify, observe's defintion part 3 does limit things to the actual, but the other two parts, don't make what seem to be a false dichotomy. And so does perceptions definition part 1 limit, but not part 2. I fail to see why such a distinction between the real and non-real (is that proper english?) would even be considered. It seems to me lead to all sorts of unneccessary difficlties that are not only unhelpful, but actually cause more confusion, becuse the new terms that won't be consistent on a wide-scale will have to be used.

I'm also realizing that I think I have a different view on what is real. Real is anything that is. Whether is have shape, no shape, be idea, be thought, energy, hallucination etc. Now true, the things in the hallucinations may not be real, as in physical, or even in existence, but still the stimuli for it and what observations that come from it and the possible inpirations based off perceptions are still very real, in that they all happened. And if you make it that things have to be real as you defined, what do you do with thoughts, ideas, inspirations, or even dreams? They would seem to fall out any category that you have left for them. For they can't be scientifically observed or identified by the senses, for they aren't tasted, touched, smell, seen or heard.

Okay, hope I'm not coming across as rude to anyone here. JD

JD said...

of course it's fine to different defintions! I'm not a facist afterall!

To the point though, it seems irrelevant of how the process happens, though I like knowing WHY you think these things. But I would say, even though they are different processes, did not you still oberve things, or at least you had the chance, the oppurtinity to? And didn't you still percieve? And didn't you do two seperate things there? (observe, percieve) and was that fact changed changed by either of them being "real" or "unreal" or happening by a different process? Stages or events or levels or activity can and do happen many ways, but they are still the same level or actvitity. For example, I can run many different routes, but I am still doing the same marathon. Or, I can use the naked eye or some object to help me see something, but I am still oberving and perceiving all the same, even the method or process was rather different. (I realize these analogies break down after a point, but were the best I could think of in a hurry, it's not my forte.)

Peter Pike said...

Hello once more, JD,

As I said, I typically use "observation" and "perception" as synonymous, and it's only if I needed to distinguish them for any particular argument that I would do so the way I do. So as far as that goes, I would never get dogmatic on that particular definition.

Regarding the term "real", I would agree that there is a sense that dreams and thoughts are real. And so the distinction there is the difference between what is subjective and what is objective. When we are loosely using the word "real" we tend to mean "objectively real." But, of course, that's a hidden assumption that needs to be stated clearly in any proper discussion.

JD said...

I must say, that sounded a lot like a lot dodge to what I said. Maybe it wasn', but I didn't hear much that was any response to anything really brought up. Not trying to be, but honestly that's what I read.

Peter Pike said...


Can you give me specifics of what you want me to respond to?

JD said...

Your previous response focused on what the discussion is about, but I didn't hear you say anything about what you had thought of the last post I had made. Perhaps you did and it was just a little too cryptic. If so, it's prolly me, for my brain is on and has been on the reserve power setting this week. Hope that clarifies, if not, just drop it, it's not worth going any longer on it.

Peter Pike said...

Hi JD,

Well maybe it *is* time to drop it since I'm not sure what else to respond to in the post you referenced! :-) I guess I just didn't understand what you were asking. But if you don't think it's worth going on, I'm not going to argue :-D

JD said...

Okay then, consider the matter dropped! (has image of something falling off cliff in a cartoonish sort of way)

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