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Hobosnake's avatar

Does nonexistence exist?

Asked by Hobosnake (789 points ) September 14th, 2009

Just for philosophical recreation, really. A funny question that forces you to come up with a definition of existence, and one that I’ve asked more than a few people (only one of which has actually argued with me extensively).

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26 Answers

holden's avatar

How could it? That sounds a paradox.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

In one definition of the word “nonexistent”, yes. As in, Does water exist in that empty cup.. to which the answer is no, and therefore water is nonexistent within that cup.

On a deeper level it just gets ugly… like talking about time travel.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Death may be viewed by some as nonexistence, so I say… Yes.

@holden Life is a paradox, yet here we are…

mattbrowne's avatar

The nonexistence of computer programs solving the halting problem is real. If you see this kind of “reality” as existence then the answer to your question is: yes.

Hobosnake's avatar

I say it does. By virtue of the fact that, if nonexistence does not exist, then something doesn’t exist. If something doesn’t exist, then the essence of nonexistence is, well, there. And therefore it is existent by virtue of being what it is… instead of being nonexistent by virtue of being what it is.

It’s confusing, but that’s the fun of it!

However, the teacher who actually argued the point with me pointed out nonexistence’s substantivity. Because nonexistence has no substance, no perceivable effect, etc., even if it does exist, it doesn’t matter that it does, but he held the point that it doesn’t.

Interesting point: according to my definition of existence (and @NaturalMineralWater ‘s):
if nonexistence did not exist, then everything would exist everywhere at all times, on all dimensions, having all possible (even conflicting) characteristics, etc.

The definition of existence is the real question you get to after a bit of arguing. But it’s fun to theorize.

Another problem:

can a characteristic of something be the opposite of what that something is?
(in this example, can a characteristic of nonexistence be that it is existent, or is that contradictory?)

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@Hobosnake You think like me. People say I think in loops, and I can only reply, “Well… Yeah. It makes sense.” It just confuses most people. :D Welcome to Fluther.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

You may as well ask “What if a paradox didn’t exist?”

oratio's avatar

Can a paradox be a non-conflicting? Could I be my own father? Does the universe only exist when I am awake?

Questions are fun. Going loopy is not. Don’t go loopy.

Hobosnake's avatar

@oratio But going loopy is fun…

oratio's avatar

True. At times. Doing a Ford Prefect in Earth’s pre-history is probably healthy now and then. But in the end, the reward is electro therapy.

tigran's avatar

non existence is just the stuff before and after something exists

Hobosnake's avatar

@tigran things phase in and out of existence?

tigran's avatar

well if we are talking about things that are composed of matter, then there are levels of organization that phase in and out of existence. What other things are you referring to?

cbloom8's avatar

Yes, but it’s all or not at all.

critter1982's avatar

Existence only exists as the phyiscal. So no, non-existance does not exist.

Harp's avatar

I’d say that non-existence does exist, and here’s why:

Non-existence doesn’t refer to a complete void. In order for something to be non-existent, you have to first describe that thing. That description might be an image that I form in my mind, or a written description in literature, or it might even be a set of randomly selected parameters (say a chemical formula generated by some computer algorithm). In any case, one must base a determination of non-existence on this description. Simply put, if I don’t first define what I’m talking about, I can’t say that it doesn’t exist.

Once I have this description, I can set about trying to determine whether or not there is anything in the phenomenal world that matches this description. If I find some correlate to my description in the phenomenal world, then I can say “this thing exists”; if I determine that such a correlation is impossible, then I can say “this thing does not exist”.

The description exists, even if the phenomenal object it describes does not. So we can say that non-existence is a condition in which there is a description for which there is no phenomenal match. So when we talk about non-existence, we’re really talking about a certain property of an actual thing, namely the description.

Hobosnake's avatar

@critter1982 Nice, a definition popping up.

But that’s a narrower one than most people take… a bit too materialist.

@Harp Nice epistemology in there. Very interesting points! I’d never thought of it that way. However, your definition of existence seems to imply that a tangible connection in the real world is needed. That’s a common one (I’m somewhere around there too, but a bit more on the metaphysical side of it). Your definition of nonexistence seems to encompass all ideas that do not have that tangible connection. The new paradox is (and maybe I’m just getting a bit too confused here) that nonexistence doesn’t seem to have that very connection you specify. Clarify if you can.

Harp's avatar

@Hobosnake It is confusing because of this odd semantic twist. When we say that “X is non-existent”, it sounds as though non-existence is a property of X. But of course you can’t go out and find any Xs that have this property. That is because non-existence is not the property of X at all, but a property of how X is described.

Does a stit exist? That question is meaningless, and there’s no way to affirm or deny the existence of the stit because we have no description of one. But without leaving my chair here, I can make certain that stits never exist just by how I craft my description of what a stit is. I could say, for example, that “A stit is a brick that has no mass”. My little mental exercise here isn’t changing anything out in the material world; all I have created is a description.

Clearly the description itself exists and it purports to lay out the properties of a stit. It doesn’t include non-existence among those properties, but the non-existence is the necessary outcome of the description and is inseparable from it. I can easily recognize that this description has this property. I can create other descriptions that clearly do not have this property. That leads me to think that this property exists.

Hobosnake's avatar

Geez philosophy is fun. Normally I’m the one confusing other people, though. @Harp, you’re insane! (in a good way)

just for laughs:

http://acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/STIT
http://tb.becket.net/writ-stit.html
http://www.springerlink.com/content/u5q385465177082x/

Couldn’t find anything other than names and acronyms. You picked a good non-word.

And your definition of existence is still a bit fuzzy here. Does a description really exist? Not according to @critter1982 up there.

According to the teacher who argued this point with me, for example, existence was defined by a perceptible effect on the world (although we are both devout Christians, so I’m sure his definition leaned a bit more to the metaphysical side than that definition may seem to at first). Nonexistence, by its nature, did not meet this criteria for him.

Harp's avatar

I would certainly say that thoughts and ideas (including the conceptual “descriptions” I’ve been talking about) do exist as thoughts and ideas. That doesn’t mean they have no physicality, though. Neuroscience tells us that they are firmly rooted in the actual physiology of the brain. Whenever I cook up some description, that description then exists in the changed electrochemical state of my neural circuitry. And that does constitute a perceptible effect in the world, since brains are part of the world. I can tell you my idea and change the state of your neural circuitry, too. Somewhere in your brain, a few miserable neurons have the ignominious task of storing the idea of a stit.

What complicates the picture is our frequent failure to recognize ideas and thoughts for what they are.

Hobosnake's avatar

@Harp, Are ideas really firmly rooted? I read that memories aren’t (there are theories that they might rest in the synapses; I just started psychology this year, so I’m not exactly an expert on the subject, but it interests me.). Scientists (even nowadays) have a bit of a habit of being more presumptuous than they’re willing to admit, and neuroscientists may have rushed into this conclusion due to their perspective. Have a reference or a contrary opinion? You’ve caught my interest.

Of course, I don’t deny that there is probably a link between idea processing and the brain, I just don’t know about the claim that they’re “firmly rooted”.

This is starting to go off on a slight tangent… but I love it.

Harp's avatar

By “firmly rooted”, I don’t mean to imply that they’re in any way permanent (that’s sure as heck not the case). What I mean is that thoughts and ideas are none other than neural states having an actual physical basis. The idea isn’t floating in some incorporeal “mind”; if you in some way disrupt the neural circuitry responsible for an idea, then the idea is gone, uprooted.

Here is an example of research in this area.

google's avatar

You worded the question in such a way that both yes and no are correct.

lloydbird's avatar

Absolutely not.

Except conceptually, as in the way that the ‘Indescribable’ can be ‘described’!

nicklepro's avatar

The answer… to an philosophical question… is a question.(and the loop is created)
To me philosophy is perception.
In the perception of an ultimate observer nonexistence doesn’t exists. Therefore everything exists in all dimensions.
In the perception of an individual observer nonexistence exists. Therefore things can have no value to a person and not exist.
Can you see what perception I took? and what perception other people took?

nicklepro's avatar

In the second line I meant to say,
To me reality is perception.

It is what it is.

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