Does this plant exist?

A bit of a different post today – art with a side order of philosophy. Firstly, here is a digital drawing of a corner of my living room. I thought I’d try out the tablet again, see if I can get the hang of it. I think my approach will be just to use the pen and pencil tools exactly as I would if I were drawing on paper. For now anyway, we’ll see how it goes.

IMG_20170805_225512_114

Now on to the more unusual part of my post. I’ve recently been having a discussion on twitter around reality and existence. We were arguing whether particular things were real or not when I thought that the issue between us might lie more in differing criteria of what it means to be “real”. Twitter is very limiting and difficult to express a nuanced position so I thought I’d post my view of what “real” means. Here goes:

For something to be said to exist it needs to have some interaction with the physical world that can be consistently measured. So a physical object is easy – I can experience it with my senses in a repeatable, consistent way. That is to say I can see it, feel it, smell it, hear it, etc. It is directly observable. But things do not have to be directly observable to exist. “Invisible” things can still exist. As long as they have some interaction with the physical world that we can consistently measure. So magnetism, for example, is not a physical object but it has repeatable, predictable effects on the physical world that can be measured. If something has no interaction with the physical world then that thing does not exist because it has no measurable effects. 

Do you agree? If not then what alternative method do you use to navigate the world and decide which things are real? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

55 thoughts on “Does this plant exist?

  1. Your suggestion does not feel quite right. What about inner experience, which we surely feel as real – but is not necessarily objectively measurable, although materialists might say that in principle they are.
    I suggest that the inner is as real as the outer, and there is no reason it should be measurable by objective science.

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    • Interesting, thank you. However real your inner experience feels to you, if I cannot interact with it in any way then it does not exist in a way that matters. I don’t mean that dismissively. I mean that if something is incapable of interacting with the physical world then there is no difference between existing and not existing.

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      • I don’t see that there is a shared projection. Each person has their own individual inner experience and then what is actually real exists despite it all.

        Like the old story of the blind men feeling different parts of an elephant. The one who feels the leg says it is a tree, the one who feel the tail says it is a brush, the one who feels it’s body says it is a wall. Regardless of their individual experiences, there is still only an elephant. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have an experience. But that experience is fully and forever contained in their head.

        I think maybe we are getting toward the same point but from different directions? I don’t doubt that I have an inner experience (and therefore why would I doubt you also have an inner experience). But I view that experience as consequence of processing reality (interpreting sensory data) rather than part of reality itself.

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  2. I took a one-year philosophy module at Uni, and an aspect of your question was the one we began with – what is reality and how do we know what’s real? It’s a good place to start, albeit a bit of a head-wrecker. I look forward to hearing more discussion…maybe I’ll eventually be able to understand my own existence?! :)

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    • You’re the expert then! Far more than me anyway. I’d love to study philosophy properly. If I won the lottery or something so that it was just for fun and no pressure.

      Any suggestions for reading? Any time I’ve tried to read an intro to philosophy book its been more like a history lesson. X said this, Y said something else. Or it’s an impenetrable text that seems to be not quite English 😐

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      • Hmm, the philosophic discussions that I can remember most about (and that’s scant little, I confess, rather too many years ago now) were those of Bertrand Russell and Rene Descartes. But I don’t remember which textbooks I had, and they are long since gone. However, with the benefit of the Internet I’m sure you’ll be able to get some decent background reading about their main concepts if you’re interested – happy researching, it’s a fascinating subject! :) :)

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      • I have a vague memory of reading an essay by Bertrand Russell in the library on a rainy afternoon when I was about 12. Something about whether chairs still exist when you’re not looking at them. Perhaps that’s why I have this interest now…

        Thanks, I shall rediscover him via the power of the internet :)

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    • I agree that at a certain point you have to just live and you can never be 100% certain about everything. But picking a method that gets you as close as possible is important.

      Say there is a ravenous wolf headed towards me from the east and another from the west. If I know that one is real and the other fiction then having a reliable way to try and find out which is very important!

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  3. Thank you for taking the time to work this out and write about it. I appreciate our conversation.
    “For something to be said to exist it needs to have some interaction with the physical world that can be consistently measured.”
    Walk along with me…what you say is real removes thinking and reasoning as real (as you previously said in our twitter conversations). What that leaves is chemical processes in the brain which causes muscle to be moved and vocal cords to produce sound or fingers to move producing typed words.
    If this is the case then you have no reason to believe things are real, but words on a page produced by chemicals in the brain. There is no reason in your words because reason is not real. All of the physical words on the page amount to this:

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    • I’m usually wary of clicking YouTube links from internet strangers but that was brilliant, thanks! :)

      I think I follow your first point – this is similar to the discussion I was just having with barryh in the comments:

      I think we have our own inner experiences that arise as a result of processing sensory input. But they do not interact between people. Your experience of the world is fully and forever contained in your head and I cannot be a part of it. Your experience of the world does not and can not change the world.

      You lost me a little in your final paragraph. The reason I would believe something to be real is if I had some demonstrable evidence as in my original definition.

      Why/when/for what reason would you believe something to be real?

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      • Glad you didn’t mind clicking it :)

        I hope to reiterate my point well enough to show that you do not have, if your way of seeking to know what is real is true, any reasoning, thoughts or concepts in your mind.

        “For something to be said to exist it needs to have some interaction with the physical world that can be consistently measured.”

        All you have are chemical reactions in your brain which produce more physical phenomena, like the coke and chlorine. You have no thoughts because thoughts are not physical. Take thoughts out of the equation, you have no reasoning therefore no measuring (Measuring requires reasoning) consistencies in the physical world.

        What you wrote in this blog post what not a result of reasoning because reasoning is not real. It is a result of random chemical processes moving around in your brain.

        I want to answer your question, but I wanted to talk about this first, if that is ok.

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      • you wrote: “reasoning is not real. It is a result of random chemical processes moving around in your brain.”

        The processes in your brain are not random. They happen as a result of external stimuli.
        “thinking” is the label we give our experience of our brain changing in response to external stimuli.

        thinking / reasoning does not exist separate from that processing. If there is no processing then there is no thinking. General anaesthetic reduces brain activity to near death levels and thinking stops as a result.

        two contrasting arguments could be:
        1. thoughts = brain processes. brain activity can be measured therefore thoughts are real. thoughts interact with the physical world.
        2. brain activity is the real part. thoughts are tools for understanding the world – they only exist in the same way as justice or negative numbers (which is to say, they don’t).

        both of these are consistent with my definition of “real”. I happen to lean towards 2. but I’m open to discussions with someone arguing 1 or any other consistent view.

        The most important point is that thoughts cannot both interact with the world (physically change it in some way) *and* not be measurable. This is a contradiction.

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  4. “The most important point is that thoughts cannot both interact with the world (physically change it in some way) *and* not be measurable. This is a contradiction.”

    Alright. Here is my point (If what you say is true): The shapes that your fingers placed on this website was a result of the sight from your eyes interacting with the shapes my fingers typed. It was a result of nerve fibers of the eyes interacting with your brain which in turn fired some synapses, then fired signals to your fingers to type shapes on a website. No concepts, not thought, no reasoning, because that is not real and it is immeasurable.

    Conclusion: You have no reason to believe anything you type on this website, it is just matter interacting with matter.

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  5. Exactly what thoughts/ideas/our inner experiences are and whether they can be said to exist at all is a vast and fascinating subject discussed at length in the fields of neuroscience, philosophy and more. I hope to find time to read more about the different propositions soon. I’m not claiming to know what thoughts are, it was you who brought them into the discussion. I will read the books and consider the evidence and arguments and go from there.

    My only claim this whole time has been that if something, anything, can and does interact with the world then that is measurable in some way. Otherwise how do you know it is interacting?

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  6. “My only claim this whole time has been that if something, anything, can and does interact with the world then that is measurable in some way.”

    And I am saying you have no logic or concepts in your brain because you cannot measure them.

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  7. Ok, let’s say that’s true – why does it matter?

    Two possible options are that I either thought up this reply using my reasoning and rich interior world or my brain just mechanically made my fingers type an automatic response. If the outcome (the reply you’re reading) is the same in either case then why do you care which is true?

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  8. Because one is self refuting. The other isn’t.
    1. Reasoning does exist, therefore there are invisible and immaterial entities in the world (my mind is in the world). When we argue (thankfully, civilly so) it matters.
    2. Reasoning does not exist because it cannot be measured, therefore, what I am typing is not reasonable, but shapes that mean nothing and my brain is deluding me into thinking that what I am typing means something, when it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t mean anything then why am I here trying to make my words reasonable?

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    • Suppose it was somehow discovered that 20% of the population have no inner experience. They are pure automatons but are indistinguishable from anyone else. Scientists have discovered a single gene which can identify these people.

      If you found out that your best friend or partner were one of the identified automatons what would you do? When you talk to them they behave just as they always have, they laugh at your jokes, cry at sad films, except that now you know they have no “real” feelings or opinions. Would you treat them differently now? Refuse to speak to them because they have no reasoning so what would be the point?

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      • Your view logically reduces everyone to automatons without reason, that means there is not interpretation of crying or jokes or film. All there is are sounds and movement of matter. Your view erases reason, therefore when you try to reason you are going against what you say you believe.

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      • My view does no such thing.

        My position is that whatever you assume about someone is based upon your observations of that persons actions. You know nothing of the inner workings of their mind.

        As an example, when I read I sound out the words in my mind. For me that is the inner experience of reading. I recently found out that some people don’t do that, some people don’t think in words at all.

        People’s inner experiences of the world can differ but the reality that they are experiencing is independent of that.

        I’m not saying inner experience doesn’t exist I’m saying that how or if you experience something does not change the thing.

        I really don’t know where you are trying to go with this.

        Way, way back at the start of the twitter debate you said that God is exempt from needing proof. I simply asked why. I’m still patiently waiting for any type of answer.

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      • “I’m not saying inner experience doesn’t exist…” You have said that concepts are not real, this whole time.

        My point in all of this is to show that you believe in invisible and immaterial things, like reasoning, sounding out words in your mind, conjuring up concepts in your mind, etc. But you cannot prove this scientifically like you would if you asserted that you could fly.

        You need to provide an epistemological argument for why you know immaterial and invisible things exist just as I would need to do the same thing as to how I know God exists.

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      • Concepts do not interact with the world. Have not, will not, can not interact with the universe. They are abstracts. They have no agency. They do not *do* anything.

        Does God interact with the universe in any way?

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      • “Concepts do not interact with the world. Have not, will not, can not interact with the universe. They are abstracts. They have no agency. They do not *do* anything.”

        concepts don’t interact with your brain? Your brain is in the real world, no?

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      • How did you get the concepts into words and onto a webpage if they do not interact with the real world?

        God interacts with the world, yes.

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      • Fictional characters don’t interact with the real world but we can write about them.

        How does God interact with the world? (i.e. What form does this interaction take?)

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      • See, am incredibly confused. If I were to say “There is no such thing as a unicorn” and then you said “Sure there are,” you make it extremely apparent that you believe unicorns are real, but when you say “Sure there are” when it comes to concepts, you seem to be trying to communicating that concepts are not real. I am not understanding you.

        God speaks through the Bible. God holds your body together by His words. Through creation He speaks of His existence. All circumstances in this world is a result of His control.

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      • If I claim that unicorns interact with the world (maybe I say they eat grass and you can ride them) then yes I would need to prove that. If I say that unicorns do not interact in any way with the world then that is just the idea of a unicorn.

        Regardless though, you say that God does interact with the world so we’re talking about something that is not just a concept.

        How do you know God speaks through the Bible?

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      • “How do you know God speaks through the Bible?”
        1. His words are self authenticating. When God speaks everyone knows it.

        2. God caused me to become born again because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit and enabled me to stop suppressing the knowledge that He speaks through the Bible.

        3. The impossibility of the contrary. All worldviews (Besides the Christian worldview) can’t account for logic and reasoning. They make it impossible to know anything at all, let alone knowing whether God speaks or not.

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      • I don’t think the bible qualifies as a self authenticating document. That is a specific US legal term that has some strict rules of use. I think you are saying self authenticating because it sounds better than “I don’t have any proof” or “the bible says it is the word of God so it must be”.

        I don’t really want to argue over the meaning of words again. It gets very dull.

        I want to understand why you believe in God. How did you decide he is a real thing, interacting in our world?

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      • I know what I meant and it is not what you say it is. If God placed His words in writing and it depended upon another authority to determine those writings to be true, well, then He wouldn’t be much of a God. If He depended on my judgement, He would not be a God worth believing in.

        I explained to you already how I know He is real. You can address the points if you like.

        “There are no such thing as concepts?”

        “Sure there are…”

        Please prove it.

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      • I still don’t understand how you know. I assume you don’t believe everything you read so what about this writing makes you believe it. It’s not like it’s some handwritten testimonials signed by eye witnesses. It’s just words printed on paper like every other book. The claims in your book are incredible and if they were true would have enormous implications for our place in the world and yet there is no evidence outside of the book to back up these claims?

        Concepts are ideas, constructions, abstractions, perspectives, opinions. Useful labels we give to actions, situations, processes to make it easier to communicate. There is nothing there to prove. They do not do anything. They do not interact with the world. I keep repeating this. If God is the same type of thing as a concept then I admit, he needs no proof, in the same way that the idea of a unicorn needs no proof. If you say he is a type of thing that interacts with the world then that is not a concept and needs proof. A physical (even invisible) unicorn needs proof.

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      • “It’s not like it’s some handwritten testimonials signed by eye witnesses.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bN1DesOzum8

        “Concepts are ideas…” This simply makes no sense whatsoever if you claim that concepts are not real. You do keep repeating yourself. You should be saying “Concepts are nothing.” “Concepts are not, because they are not real.” You use language that makes me believe concepts are something and if they are something you are to prove it.

        “The claims in your book are incredible and if they were true would have enormous implications for our place in the world and yet there is no evidence outside of the book to back up these claims?”

        The claims in the Bible provide the only means of beginning to provide meaning to the word “Evidence.” Evidence depends on truth. In a materialist world all there is, is matter. There is no truth because it is immaterial. Truth is not real because in a world that only is material, immaterial truth cannot exist.

        God who is Spirit and Truth created man to think and act like Him. Since man is a spirit and body, we can understand why immaterial truth can exist in a world that is material in nature as well.

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      • “It’s not like it’s some handwritten testimonials signed by eye witnesses.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bN1DesOzum8

        ***The guy specifically says the majority of the manuscripts are within a thousand years of the events supposedly happening. He says a couple of them are within a hundred years. So he agrees with me that the bible was not written by eye witnesses.***

        “Concepts are ideas…” This simply makes no sense whatsoever if you claim that concepts are not real. You do keep repeating yourself. You should be saying “Concepts are nothing.” “Concepts are not, because they are not real.” You use language that makes me believe concepts are something and if they are something you are to prove it.

        *** the opposite of real is not nothing. The opposite of real is imaginary. you want me to prove that something is imaginary?***

        The claims in the Bible provide the only means of beginning to provide meaning to the word “Evidence.”

        ***Evidence is something we use all the time, we use it in court to show that someone committed a crime. How does that have anything to do with the bible?***

        Evidence depends on truth.

        ***That’s backwards. Evidence is needed to demonstrate that something is true. think of the court example again.***

        In a materialist world all there is, is matter. There is no truth because it is immaterial. Truth is not real because in a world that only is material, immaterial truth cannot exist.

        ***Truth is a concept***

        God who is Spirit

        ***what is a spirit and how do you know God is one?***

        and Truth created man to think and act like Him.

        ***concepts can’t create anything***

        Since man is a spirit and body

        ***what is a spirit and how do you know man is one?***

        we can understand why immaterial truth can exist in a world that is material in nature as well.

        ***if you can answer the above questions on what a spirit is then maybe we can move on to what we might be able to understand from that. until then this is meaningless.***

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      • “So he agrees with me that the bible was not written by eye witnesses.***”

        No he doesn’t. Following his argument would show that either we deny all works written before the Middle Ages or accept the Bible for what it says and part of what it says is that they were written by eye witnesses.

        “you want me to prove that something is imaginary?***”

        No, I want you to prove that you have specific concepts in your mind. As I have been asking for this whole time, whether imaginary concepts or concepts that match what is physically in the world.

        ***Evidence is something we use all the time, we use it in court to show that someone committed a crime. How does that have anything to do with the bible?***

        I did not claim that people who reject the bible have no ability to use evidence. What I did say is that the Bible provides the only worldview that accounts for the meaning of words, like “Evidence.”

        “In a materialist world all there is, is matter. There is no truth because it is immaterial. Truth is not real because in a world that only is material, immaterial truth cannot exist.”

        So, you concede that there is no truth, is true?

        Follow my argument, there is no truth in an only material universe, therefore their is no evidence.

        “the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.”

        Facts cannot be real if truth is not real.

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      • Truth is the label we give to a claim which can be demonstrated.

        You seem to be trying to use bizarre linguistic misunderstandings to “prove” God on a technicality.

        The situation is very simple. When anyone says to me “X exists in reality, it interacts with the world” then I would ask “what form does this interaction take and how did you attribute it to X?”

        If the answer to that question is some version of “X is the meaning of reality” or “interactions couldn’t even happen without X” or “a book said X exists and I know the book would not lie” then that is not answering my question. It’s just talking in circles and confusion.

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      • You don’t put labels on things unless there is a reality their. If you put a label on a jar that says “Pickles” but there are no pickles on the jar, the label is useless.

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      • Exactly. The label “pickles” is only useful if the jar actually has pickles in. If there’s no label on the jar then you look inside, say to yourself “oh, I see there are pickles in here” and then write out a label. Truth is the label you put on a claim once it has been demonstrated. Until then there is no label. If you don’t open the jar you don’t know what’s in it so it remains without a label.

        If I claim “my cat is orange” then I can demonstrate it in a similar way to the pickle jar. Maybe I send you a photo of me holding an orange cat. Or the cat’s insurance documents in my name. Or you come over and pet the cat. When you are satisfied that I do own an orange cat then the statement gets the label truth.

        You say there is a thing called God which is a spirit that interacts with the world. That gets no truth label until it is demonstrated.

        We never really even got that far in our discussion because I don’t know what you mean by spirit or what the claimed interaction is.

        As a comparison if you didn’t know what a cat was or my meaning of the word “my” in this context then I could elaborate by saying that a cat is a small furry mammal with a long tail that purrs. When I say it’s my cat I mean that it lives in my house, l feed it and care for it.

        If you can’t expand on your claim or even say how it could be demonstrated never mind actually demonstrate it then I agree that the discussion is no longer productive. Your claim is an unopened jar and remains without a label.

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      • “Exactly. The label “pickles” is only useful if the jar actually has pickles in. If there’s no label on the jar then you look inside, say to yourself “oh, I see there are pickles in here” and then write out a label. Truth is the label you put on a claim once it has been demonstrated. Until then there is no label. If you don’t open the jar you don’t know what’s in it so it remains without a label.”

        So, there are no pickles in the jar until a human being puts a label on it. So, the claim is not true until it is labeled true?

        I have made plenty of arguments against your claims that were not understood. I have sought many times to elaborate my argument but you still seem to not understand. This is why I am not sure it is productive. You have not even understood what I have been claiming.

        “If I claim “my cat is orange””

        Lets so you say “If I claim that “my concept is an apple” I would hold you to that and demand that you prove you have that concept in your mind. But you can’t do it.

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      • The jar contains whatever it contains. If you’ve not looked inside then you can’t label it “pickles”, you can’t label it “nothing” you can’t label it “red ping pong balls”. Because you do not know what is in there. Whatever is in there is in there. You can claim that anything or nothing is in there but I’m not labelling the jar until I’ve looked inside.

        I’m not making any claims for you to argue against. YOU are claiming God is in the jar but won’t let me look inside.

        “my concept is an apple” is just a meaningless string of words!

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      • Again and again I’m asking you simply how I tell that God is a real thing that interacts with the world and you respond with meaningless word salad.

        I thought the character limit of twitter was not allowing you to express yourself in an understandable way but it seems you are just not able to answer straightforward questions.

        What is God?
        What is a spirit?
        How does God interact with the world? What is it you see / touch / smell / hear that you label “God”?

        If your next reply does not attempt to answer each question in a straightforward way I’m just going to close comments for both our sanity.

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      • Sure there are – examples include the concepts of freedom, justice and reasoning.

        None of these interact with the world.

        Does God interact with the world?

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    • I came across this video that pretty much condenses our discussion down into a 20 min phone call – even down to claims of pets and robots and dragons!

      I think, as they sum up at the end, what you essentially have is an opinion that God exists.

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