To exist

What does it mean to exist? I obviously can’t answer that ― no one can. But permit me, if you will, a perspective. I think existence can be subdivided into genres of existence, and not everything that is ‘true’ necessarily exists. There is the most obvious kind of existence, which is a physical presence in this universe; there is a more abstract existence, where a shared reality motivates people to action, but that reality is known to be a fiction; then there is a completely unknowable “existence”.

The obvious type of existence still has some interesting comments to be made about it. Although they are not the main point of this post, it is interesting to point to a few thoughts I have on the issue. There is a basic physical universe we observe, but the physical universe extends all the way down to quantum and all the way up to the relativistic. Those two ‘modes’ are not verifiable by traditional empiricism (the 5 senses); instead, they are verified through models of understanding and equipment that extends our sense. Empiricism, as a philosophy, has extended to include measurements from equipment: energy so faint our eyes could not see it, from quanta and from distant stars; heat so hot our bodies would never survive the sensation. This is the foundations of Model Dependent Realism: a model of understanding the physical universe that permits devices to extend our senses, to give further progressive models of reality.

This means that quantum particles can only be said to exist in this universe as a consequence of Model Dependent Realism, which is to say people have a firm understanding of the macro-world and the sensors and measuring devices they have built and what their readouts and the maths actually mean.

There are things that are true about this universe which do not exist, and that is why Physicalism (or even Materialism) are not adequate models of all that is “true”. I would argue that ethical statements fall under this category: about that which is true, but not that which exists. For example, there are wrong behaviours to practice if one’s goal is rational discussion. Many of these have been written down as “fallacies”. The difference between these is true, even if it doesn’t ‘exist’, per se. It is a valid description of how rational conversations happen, but it doesn’t refer to things that exist.

Immediately from the physical existence, there is emergent existence. These are properties that exist as a result of other things. For example, “blue” is not out there in the universe, wavelengths of energy are; “blue” is what happens when the right wavelengths hit a nervous system in the right way. Similarly, a sport emerges from players with an intent, in the same place, bound by agreed rules. Sports don’t physically exist, they emerge. (That is not to say they can’t be described in rational terms with reference to strategy and rules.)

But, take an entity like Harry Potter: does Harry Potter exist? No, the physical body does not exist in this universe. I don’t see that a defence could be make that Harry Potter exists in either of the senses described already in this post. However, Harry Potter is a motivating force, that compels people to cosplay and buy merchandise and draw fan fiction and buy the films. You could say the idea of Harry Potter exists, but then definition of ‘exists’ is stretched slightly further again, as the idea is shared and relates to an agreed realty. Plus, an idea is a personal thing, and yet Harry Potter is a shared concept. Which leads me to ponder whether it is defensible to consider a second type of existence: in conceptual reality. The ideas which compel people to action can be said to exist in this conceptual reality.

This may seem like a stretch, but consider for a moment that everything, eventually, is part of this conceptual reality. I have only had conversation like this in real life with people who I have a conception of as being interested in and able to have such a conversation. I could be mistaken, but it’s the conception I have. My concept of reality is what motivates me. Everything I think I know about reality is actually a conceptual reality. Even useful heuristics that teachers use to support understanding are a distant model compared with nuanced and accurate understanding. Don’t get me wrong, I see the distinction between my concept of reality, which is a model of the universe bound by the empirical evidence and testimony from dedicated experts, and the conceptual reality, which is a motivating fiction; these are at clear ends of a spectrum. But I do think acknowledging this blurs the line between physical and conceptual existence.

In this context, there are clearly ways to argue that a God exists. God is a motivating idea to many people, just like Harry Potter (but to more people and to a more encompassing level). God even exists in people’s conception of the universe. But, that point comes with caveats. Even if you accept my idea of a spectrum between an existing universe and a motivating but fictional concept, each point on that spectrum requires different rules of discussion. The closer one is to the ‘actually exists in reality’ end of the spectrum when they make a claim, the more heavily defended the claim should be by empirical evidence. The further to the it’s a fiction I like to arrange the project of my life around end one is, the more the discussion deserves a moral and ethical slant. But then one has to be careful about where on that spectrum they believe their claim lands. Harry Potter exists insofar that some people to organise themselves around the idea, but that is not the claim that they meet Harry Potter.

Which takes us slightly deeper into the the question of whether a God exists. Although I may concede that God exists in a conceptual reality, that is not what most people claim: people seem to claim that God exists outside of this reality, but exists in the same sense (though not bound by the same limitations) as my laptop. That claim requires evidence. If you think God is as real as the Great Pyramids, then you should engage in the discussion using similar rules: empirical evidence, rational discussion and reasoned doubt. Defences of God’s existence which talk about “God is a journey” or “God is how we understand humanity” or even “God grounds morality”… these place the claim of God’s existence at the fiction people organise their lives around end of the spectrum. The defence you try to use places the claim on the spectrum, and the validity or your argument is how it rises or falls.

75 thoughts on “To exist”

  1. God exists outside of space and time … because there is no evidence of it existing withing space and time. A far crime for the old timey gods who got down in the dirt with us. Riding a god to power has resulted in consolidation (fewer gods means more power to mine) but that means more and more has to be manifested withing one god and the evidence just doesn’t hold up. So, our god is defined by what we want and by a lack of evidence, which results in some bizarre results. We want “Him” to be all-good, because we don’t want some all-powerful god who is inclines to fuck us, but that doesn’t explain evil. So, other “gods” are created (Satan, Lucifer, etc.) for that but, whoa, those are not gods, they just act like them. We even have a triune god because only one is allowed even though there are three. Now that is a philosophical nest of snakes that is so daunting that most people resort to “It’s a mystery, my son.”

    On Wed, Aug 30, 2017 at 10:17 AM, Allallt in discussion wrote:

    > Allallt posted: “What does it mean to exist? I obviously can’t answer that > ― no one can. But permit me, if you will, a perspective. I think existence > can be subdivided into genres of existence, and not everything that is > ‘true’ necessarily exists. There is the most obviou” >

    1. There are more daunting snake nests tied up in the confused philosophy that underpins monotheism still. Paradoxes of omnipotence and omniscience, the idea of Good (i.e. which came first, Good or God?) —
      But that means the claim fails to stay on the ‘Actually exists’ end of the spectrum I propose. So, we have see how it fares on the ‘a fiction I like to organise my life around’ end of the spectrum, and see how it fairs on moral defence… But that starts asking people about why they need the idea of ‘Good’ prescribed to them and, perhaps, a little textual analysis. I think God fails to hold our credulity here, either: people have an antecedent goodness that allows them to sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of good and bed in religious texts — or they become moral monsters.
      Either way, God fails to be a moral message one can defend organising their life around.

      1. That’s a touchy subject especially when it comes to Science and God. If you wanted to get stuck into numerous Quantum mechanical and physics theories which seem to not only speculate the forces of existence but the intricate details behind the term of ‘actually existing’ on a single plain, be my guest…

    2. Steve,

      “God exists outside of space and time … because there is no evidence of it existing with in space and time.”

      As usual, you are exactly wrong. Why?

      1. Since God, by definition is First Cause, there is no “because.”

      2. There is plenty of evidence, scientific proof, in fact, of God’s existence.

      The bottom of line is that atheism is a 100% faith-based creed with absolutely no evidence to support it.

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed this post Allallt. Thank you! Once again it caused me to read, then reread, then a third time trying to digest/process what I was understanding as well as struggling with picturing that spectrum of empirical evidence to motivational fiction/concepts and examples in between. Honestly, I needed to dumb-this-down some for my feable, half-comotose early morning brain. 😛

    I did some extra (albeit quick due to my current schedule) reading about Model-Dependent Realism and found what I thought was a good complimentary Time magazine article about Stephen Hawking’s book “The Grand Design” to your post here. Here’s the link if interested:,8599,2017262,00.html

    Beginning the article they referenced the barring of pet owners recently in Monza, Italy of keeping goldfish inside a curved round bowl because gazing out the fish would have a distorted view of reality. This immediately reminded me of the 1998 film “The Truman Show.” In reflecting on your post, the article, and that film, a reaffirmation of all humanity’s dependence on our current measuring machines we’ve built, really does drive (a LOT of!) our models! Why is this? Because of our VERY limited human biological-neurological receptors. Period. Which also suggests (as I know we/you already realize & accept) that without our GROWING network of peer-reviewed & scrutinized (thankfully!) scientific models, we’d eventually be right back where the human race was 120,000 years ago, maybe/probably 1,000 – 2,000 years ago — the terrestrial and cosmological systems would far surpass our survivability going backwards.

    I personally find the future extremely exciting and wonderfully daunting, especially on the Quantum levels! Hopefully humanity and science can keep up. 🙂

    1. John,

      Since both the atheist and the theist are human beings, objective moral facts can be stated that both agree upon.

      For example, cold blooded murder is wrong.

      That is a moral fact that both the atheist and the theist can agree upon.

      In this case, the moral fact that cold blooded murder is wrong, is based upon the human nature that the atheist and theist share.

      1. It’s kind of a semantics game, because if we were to consider the taking of a life adequately justified, we’d stop calling it murder.

      2. Allallt,,

        Morality is not semantics.

        And taking a life in self defense or the defense of others is an act of good.

        It would be evil to let one’s self or others be ravaged by a marauder.

      3. So — use of the word “murder” (instead of ‘taking a life’, for example) puts us in a weird area of semantics where “murder” is the morally abhorrent flavor of taking a life.

      4. Allallt,

        You are the one hung up on semantics.

        If you can’t comprehend the meaning of cold blooded murder you are either stupid or just desperate to win the argument.

        My goodness, but atheism makes such demands on that the soul forsake its intellect!.

      5. Zande-

        Cold blooded murder and defense are not even in the same universe. A judge would laugh you out of his courtroom for such a stupid lack of reasoning.

        Care to try again.

      6. Ah yes, the great sleight of hand by zandini, he who makes parlor tricks by Houdini look like child’s play.

        Perhaps even the blog host has the courage to agree with me, first, in pointing out the obvious bankruptcy of your ‘cold blooded killer’ lack of common sense which was levelled by myself and shot to pieces, and secondly,

        ….that your sideshow is irrelevant to the argument.

        Once more, you have been defeated by a believer. That must hurt. Then again, even an atheist who is impartial should have no problem agreeing with this assessment.

        Self defense is not cold blooded murder. Try sports for 200?

      7. Well, since you are deaf………..I challenge the host………and the so called prof………and ANYBODY else to put the dunce cap on YOU for such childish petulance……….and be willing to cite you for blogging malfeasance……..which should be rather easy to do, that is………

        ……if people have the courage to be fair.

        From your FIRST comment until now, I dare anybody to agree with my line of thought, that you are out to lunch, and you have infested this post with a sideshow.

        C’mon Allalt, take the dare. Improve the blog post.

      8. No allalt. The context defines the distinction.

        Cold blooded murder……….as in your neighbor putting a knife through your wifes heart………..for no reason……………is a far cry different than you killing your neighbor who is attacking your wife with the intent of killing her.

        Context. And if you agree with zande, you are wrong also.

        But I still do not see you slapping zande silly for his irrelevant pictures on YOUR site…..

      9. You don’t need to see it, I have his contact details. If I object strongly enough to make something of it, I still don’t need to make it a public shaming game.

        When I’m at a computer I’ll write a longer comment.

      10. Storm,

        Since the atheist has no moral compass, what is ethical is anything that makes them feel good.

        John is a case in point.

        Where was he when Bill Clinton was actually raping women and sexually harassing the interns who worked for him?


        Nowhere to be found.

      11. As Allalt rightly pointed out, you’re simply playing with semantics. In capital punishment, a man or woman is “murdered” by people not directly in threat. In war, soldiers often have to kill the enemy on the enemy’s soil, after they’ve been routed on some other (perhaps foreign) battlefield and are in full retreat, fighting rearguard actions. And let’s make this even more intimate: is euthanasia murder, or the merciful ending of a person’s unbearable suffering?

        If there is any conjecture at all, then we do not have a moral fact.

        So, long story short, I’m still waiting for a theist to show me a single moral fact…

      12. John,

        Capital punishment is about justice.

        He commits cold blooded murder, loses his own life in return.

        Our entire justice system is based on the punishment fitting the crime.

        That is no semantics.

        Whether capital punishment fits the crime is a moral question, not a play on words.

      13. Euthanasia: It is fundamentally immoral to let a person suffer in perpetual agony if you have the means to end that suffering, regardless of its legality.

        Is it moral or immoral for a mother to kill her baby girl (infanticide) if that child was born into a state of perverted slavery where the “masters” rape girl children?

        That “cold blooded murder” is not only moral, but necessary.

        The fire and atomic bombing of Japanese cities long after the Japanese ceased to be military threat was cold blooded murder… Unnecessary killing made moral by the argument that Hirohito stubbornly (pointlessly) refused to capitulate.

        I can keep presenting cases, but there’s no reason to. The point has been demonstrated. You have not presented a moral fact.

        So, I’m still waiting for a theist to show me a single (objective) moral fact…

      14. John,

        You are bringing up great ethical questions that are very perplexing.

        Notice that semantics has nothing to do with the thorny issues you so aptly point out.

      15. John,

        No it isn’t.

        An ethical choice, that is, a choice that leads to good, is not cold blooded murder.

        Cold blooded murder is characterized by it’s evil nature and has nothing to do with hard ethical choices.

      16. John,

        Ethics is not semantics.

        Before you crack open that book on the evils of Imperial Japan, go to the dictionary and learn the difference between ethics and semantics.

        John, you are proving once again that atheists are complete strangers to morality, discerning what is good and evil.

      17. And also notice that the moral fact I brought up about cold blooded murder is still remains a fact.

        Your arguments for euthanasia are based on mercy, not cold blooded murder.

        And if you still haven’t figured out the moral good of the US use of the atomic bomb on Imperial Japan, I suggest you crack open a book and study the War in the Pacific and the Bushido Code which governed the Imperial Japanese military.

        I refer you also to the Rape of Nanjing as a guide to the Imperial Japanese mindset on war.

      18. No, the argument for euthanasia is murder. The patient is killed, in cold blood.

        So, still waiting…

        Remember, if there is conjecture, any conjecture at all, then we do not have a moral fact.

      19. John,

        As I stated in a previous comment, euthanasia seeks a moral good based on mercy.

        Cold blooded murder on the other hand, has no good end in mind.

        It is pure evil, not an ethical choice whose purpose is some good end.

      20. John,

        War is about kicking ass and taking names.

        The Allies agreed among themselves to fight until the Axis surrendered unconditionally,

        President Truman sent out overtures of peace before ordering that the Bombs be dropped.

        The Japanese saw those overtures as weakness and were encouraged to keep fighting.

      21. I’m well-aware of the arguments morally explaining the cold blooded murder of 100,000 civilians.

        In fact, the very existence of those arguments makes my point perfectly.

        So, still waiting for a moral fact.

      22. I know. The low-level fire-bombing of dozens of Japanese cities was murder on a horrendous scale.

        Curtis LeMay is famous for saying I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.

      23. John,

        Even if Lemay did say that, just stop and think about it for a second.

        Had Japan won the war, the entire American command from the President on down and from McArthur & Eisenhower on down would have been ceremoniously butchered.

        Any American was considered a war criminal in the eyes of the Imperial Japanese.

        So your quote of Lemay is a commentary on Japanese brutality, not Lemay’s efforts to vanquish the enemy.

      24. No, it’s a commentary on LeMay’s brutality in response to brutality…. Yet brutality after the origin brutality had ceased to be a threat. So it was cold blooded murder, which you’re justifying, and by doing so, demonstrating that you have not yet named a single moral fact.

      25. Oh, please, John!

        You actually think modern war is a game of patty cake?

        The Allies had to be absolutely ruthless otherwise they would not have been able to defeat the Axis.

      26. John,

        I have not proved your point!

        And either you aren’t reading my comments or you don’t have the intellectual capacity to understand them.

        I’ve already responded to your stuck on stupid comment twice.

        If you don’t get it by now it’s because you can’t.

        Thumping the moron one more time isn’t my cup of tea.

      27. If you remember SOM, Australia was fighting Japan for three years before the American’s even rolled out of bed. We stopped them in New Guinea before you guys even got to the South Pacific.

        Glad you got involved, though. Many thanks for that.

      28. John,

        The Auzzies did no such thing.

        They were about to be overrun by the Japanese.

        That is why the US 1st Marines landed on Guadalcanal and kicked Imperial Japanese ass.

        The Japanese were so surprised that the way they were getting their asses kicked that they thought the 1st Marines were inmates from insane asylums and prisons.

      29. You might want to look up Kokoda track campaign (21 July – 16 November 1942)

        Guadalcanal was August.

        But yes, our main army had been in Africa (stopping Rommel at Toobruck and el Alamein), then shipped en masse to Singapore to reinforce the Brits there, who fell. Kakoda stopped the Japanese, but Australia was open for invasion. The US navy arrived just in time, and the Battle of the Coral Sea staved off an invasion.

      30. John,

        After all that, the Japanese began building an airbase on Guadalcanal.

        From there, they could cut off the South Pacific supply lines to Australia and begin preparing for an invasion of Australia.

      31. That’s why they wanted Kakoda, SOM. The invasion was already on its way. Darwin was bombed over 40 times.

        Like I said, the US arrived just in time. We were in big trouble.

      1. Okay – so you know Liam Newton.
        My money is still on you being Isobel, except Isobel has already denied it.
        So, unless she lies pointlessly…

  3. Okay, I promised I’d weigh in here.
    Firstly, Zande knows I don’t appreciate the memes, I’ve told him over email. It’s some dumb feud you have with each other that spills over here occasionally. It’s never productive. But, as I do most of this through the notifications, I don’t see the pictures — so I just see empty comments from Zande.

    To the meat of the matter, though: is “cold blooded murder is wrong” a moral fact?
    I see what you are getting at SoM, but the problem is that the comment is so close to a tautology that most thoughtful people worry about assenting to it, and how it deviates from being a tautology is culturally relative. Here’s why:
    Taking a life is not necessarily wrong. Self defence allows it, unamibiguously. So does war.
    Not even the cold-blooded taking of a life is necessarily a moral wrong. In war, we expect a soldier to be able to kill despite being in no danger, with a calculated and obedient head, because it is the tactical thing to do. That is the cold-blooded taking of a life.
    The difference is tied up in the difference between “murder” and “taking a life” — and the difference in meaning is the moral different. Murder is necessarily morally wrong, because it is the verdict given if a life was taken intentionally, without justification. “Taking a life” is an action, “murder” is a verdict.

    That is the reason it is difficult to assent to the idea that murder is morally wrong. Not because the statement “murder is morally wrong” is inaccurate, but because it is tautologically the case.

    And then the differences between murder and taking a life are all social decisions. The death penalty is not a murder is some states and countries, but in the UK it would be considered a murder; self defence laws are not as liberal in the UK as in the US, so what is self defence in the US could be murder in the UK.

    Your statement doesn’t actually venture far off being “that which has been deemed morally wrong is morally wrong”; nothing about your statement gets us into fact or out of relativism — which is what your goal was (I think).

    1. This is just a question, not an opinion. Taking a life and murder can be categorised as two different things with the same conclusion. But with the argument of assisted suicide, wouldn’t it be categorised as the same thing as the action of ‘taking a life’ which resulted as a verdict of ‘murder’?

      1. Murder is a subset of ‘taking a life’. You cannot murder without taking a life.

        Now we have to split hairs on the difference between a moral and a legal definition of murder:
        Legally, the difference between murder and ‘taking a life’ — in the assisted suicide debate — is literally whether the law permits assisted suicide. So, it would be murder in some countries and not in others.
        (Arguably, you could say that assisted suicide is not ‘taking a life’ but ‘being given a life’. But that’s a semantic way around ‘ending a life’.)

        But, morally, it is different. I argue that morally voluntary euthanasia is not murder. But, morally and legally are different.

      2. Okay, i understand that. Because you’re not choosing to assist in the suicide but in the contract. The Human rights dignity of life is subject here. However murdering a person has no dignity. The amount of media that somewhat ‘glorifies’ murder is slightly disturbing e.g. Scream, American Psycho, Hannibal. But i would agree that morally both are different. But both are choices, one of which isn’t forced.

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