A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

I know that I actually exist, hence physicalim is false

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on November 24, 2008

I actually exist. I know that I actually exist. I’m aware of my actual existence in such a way,that I know for sure that I actually exist. I claim here that I actually exist *because* I actually exist. My actual existence, and my awareness of my actual existence has direct consequence on my behavior here, namely writing this paragraph.

Imagine now that you know all the relevant physical facts about my body (and all relevant physical facts about relevant environment maybe). A nice physical description. According to the physicalists, there aren’t any further facts… that is the whole story.

Now imagine that I didn’t exist, but that you still have the physical description in question. In this case it would be a physical description of a potentially existing, but not actually existing person.

In that description you should still be able to see the reasons for me pronouncing – “I actually exist, I know that I actually exist, I’m sure that I actually exist… ” (the whole first paragraph of this post)

Whatever reasons those are, they aren’t related to actual existence, and even less they can be related to any direct awareness of actual existence, simply because there is NO actual existence – the thing described in the physical description doesn’t actually exist.

However, if it is not the actual existence and awareness of actual existence that are reasons for the behavior in that description, and if physicalists are right that there are no further facts about the actual me, my actual existence and my awareness of my actual existence also can’t be reasons for my actual behavior where I say “I actually exist, I know that I actually exist, I’m sure that I actually exist… etc…”.

Similar argument can be given to establish that according to physicalism, my actual existence and my awareness of my actual existence, can’t be reasons for me thinking or knowing that I actually exist.

This is silly, hence physicalism is false.

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12 Responses to “I know that I actually exist, hence physicalim is false”

  1. Trey said

    Well, if you didn’t exist…then while there might be the description, it would not be you providing the description. What gives the description force in the opening paragraph is that it is you stating it.

    Perhaps a better way to state the physicalist thesis would be that if something exists, then the physical facts are sufficient to establish this existence. And, furthermore, the physical facts are all the facts of its existence. In other words, if you exist then the physical facts are sufficient to establish this, but just having some physical description isn’t sufficient to establish that the entity in question actually exists (technically, if the description was specifically directed to you, and you did not exist…then the description would not be ‘facts’ at all, right?)

  2. stephen said

    Delightful riticisms from a token physicalist:

    1: You say “(1) my awareness of my actual existence has (2) direct consequence on my behavior here, namely writing this paragraph.” So, that means that if (1) is an event in the mind and (1) yields physical actions, viz. “writing paragraphs” on your computer, then is (2) a causal relationship? If so, then (1) is not and cannot be an epiphenomena and instead, if (2) is taken as causal, then “awareness of my actual existence” indicates a physical occurrence.

    2: “Actually exists” and “actual existence” are tautologies (Think: Kant’s response to the ontological argument)

    #: “all relevant physical facts” about your body and environment is incredibly vague. There are gravitational forces being exerted on your pinky finger and your hippocampus right now from Jupiter (not to mention everything around you). Billions of neutrinos are streaming through your body every second. You ate clams for dinner last night and they have a lot of zinc in them which affects your entire brain and central nervous system. Are these relevant facts? Do these facts have to be present, or is “all physical facts” mean a knowledge of your whole life history? If, somehow, The Battle of Hastings lead deterministically to your birth, are all the events of the battle, including the trajectory of certain spears used, “relevant physical facts” about you? If not, then are the conditions that lead to your conception irrelevant? (In my case, a blizzard plus too much wine are relevant physical facts concerning my conception! (TMI?))

    3: “Now imagine that I didn’t exist, but that you still have the physical description in question.” What physical description? Of whom? There are no facts, physical or otherwise, about “potentially existing persons.” If so, then this violates the principle of bivalence. Are there physical facts about Santa Claus or my child to be born in 2015?

    4: “[A]ccording to physicalism, my actual existence and my awareness of my actual existence, can’t be reasons for me thinking or knowing that I actually exist.” Could you tease out the argument here?

    5: “[A]ccording to physicalism, my actual existence and my awareness of my actual existence, can’t be reasons for me thinking or knowing that I actually exist [...] [H]ence physicalism is false.” This is a non sequitur.

    6: Like all ontological arguments for the existence of god, nearly every ontological argument against physicalism (Nagel, Jackson, Chalmers, etc.) that I’ve come across define their terms so as to make their arguments question-begging for (god) or against (physicalism) their opponents. This argument seems no different.

    7. This argument has elements remarkably similar to Jackson’s “Mary’s Room” argument in “Epiphenomenal Qualia”; does it sustain the attacks made against it? How does it differ? Is it superior?

    Sincerely,

    “Happy to see a post on physicalism somewhere in the blogosphere”

  3. Trey said

    You might consider arguing that physical facts alone cannot provide the metaphysical grounds for ‘your’ existence. Is there something about you, as a conscious experiencing being, that would not be possible in a physical world?

  4. Hi Stephen and Tray,

    Thanks for the helpful comments. First let me admit that my argument was not thought through properly, it was more an attempt to formalize an vague intuition I had. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t quite succeed in that, but also I’m open to the possibility that there is some underlying confusion behind that vague intuition. Because of that, I won’t try here to defend the argument against your comments, but merely to explain somewhat my position and motives for some things that I said. I will try to capture my intuition better in separate comment or post…

    To Stephens comment:

    1.I’m not arguing for any kind of dualism (be it epiphenomenalim or not), simply arguing against physicalism. So, I’m ok with saying that my awareness of my actual existence has consequences on the physical aspect of what is going on. That doesn’t however imply that my awareness of my actual existence and it’s being reason for me writing that paragraph can be formulated using physical facts alone.

    2. I thought that I need to distinguish the “actual existence” from the “possible existence” to make my point. That’s why I used “actual existence”. However, I think that I didn’t quite clearly draw the distinction and what kind of role it plays in the argument.

    #As for relevant physical facts, I was thinking of physical facts relevant for understanding that specific behavior – writing of that paragraph. It was supposed to be vague, as I didn’t want to go into the complex issues of which are the relevant physical facts, or what does an explanation of some physical fact in terms of other facts consist of.

    3.The description was supposed to be description of a possible being. On another side I wanted to make relation with myself to contrast to my direct knowledge of my existence. However as I didn’t want to discuss being same as me in another possible world, I thought I may do similar thing by introducing a possible world in which I didn’t exist, but the description of me did. Anyway, I think it ended up being confused, so probably will give up this kind of scenario.

    5. The argument “The consequence X of the view Y is silly, hence Y is false” is not supposed to be a logical argument, but something close enough :) (of course given that one accepts that X is really consequence of view Y, and that really X is silly)

    7.Hmm, that is interesting, I didn’t think about potential similarities with Jackson’s knowledge argument. Might be that there are common things. I know of one dissimilarity – Jackson’s argument is pretty clearly flashed out.

    Trey,

    On the issue of the relation between description and existence, the description was supposed to be in a possible world where I don’t exist, however where it is still about possible being and possible facts about that being (given that the description of the being in the actual world is a description of a possible being). However as I said to Stephen, I think it ended up being confusing (and confused).

    Your comment about physical facts alone not being to provide metaphysical ground for my existence, does in fact to some extent capture my intuition of the issue. But not in the direction that you propose – “Is there something about you, as a conscious experiencing being, that would not be possible in a physical world?”, but instead of how the physical facts can’t be metaphysical ground for my *direct awareness of my existence*, which I in turn take as a reason for me writing that specific paragraph.

    I know this is again vague, will try to formulate it better. Thanks for the help :)

  5. Trey said

    Well, in that case, you are just saying that the ‘something’ about you that cannot be grounded in a wholly physical world just is this direct awareness of your existence. In other words, that you believe that physical facts cannot ground your self-consciousness.

    Is that a correct appraisal?

    Consider this thought experiment. Let’s say that an evil genius has a super computer that (however it does it) has every physical fact about you (in this actual world) inputed. Furthermore, along with Stephen’s idea, let’s say that this computer also has all the physical data that is relevant to you in his strict sense…which I presume would be the totality of the world. Every action, thought, itch, you ever experienced (except it is written in data form – quantum physics and bio-chemestry- as well as your mom and dad’s, every pet you’ve had, your grandparents…the whole world from ‘alpha to omega’ – you get the point. Now, my question is then…is there still something that would be missing from this computer’s information?

    And it seems to me, we can have the same scenario, but in a world in which you do not exist. In that case, the description is just not about you – but about a possible you.

    Next let’s consider…let’s call this computer the ‘God-machine’. If the genius prints out the information then all the information is instantiated in physical reality. Would you not then exist in all of your feeling and depth?

  6. clarkgoble said

    This sounds like a zombie argument trying to pretend it’s not a zombie.

  7. Trey said

    I was actually just thinking that about Zombies after I posted on it. The question basically is whether it is possible to have an entity that is a full physical replica of a conscious entity embedded in an actual physical world but at the same time this entity not have ‘direct awareness of one’s experience’. It seems to me that if you claim that the physical facts are not the metaphysical grounds for consciousness then you must say that yes, this is possible. Which leads to the question…what is the addition that actualizes this possibility? Ahem…a ‘mind’. J/k

    I guess my elaborate thought scheme is just a round about way of asking whether it is possible to make Zombies. My personal hunch is, if you have all the neuronal, physiological, chemical, physical elements in place (and its embedded in an actual world – that’s important for me) – then it’s impossible for such a being to be a zombie. I guess this rides on my hunch that some form of mind-brain identity theory is probably true. Although it might also be the case that none of that can be proven (and surely not by me).

  8. Trey said

    Sorry…that was a little vague…I didn’t mean to ask whether it is possible to make zombies…but if we had a God-machine..and it produced perfect physical replicas…is it possible that these replicas be zombies.

  9. Will L. said

    What if I argued as follows:

    The Pantheon actually exists.

    Imagine now that you know all the relevant physical facts about my body (and all relevant physical facts about relevant environment maybe). A nice physical description. According to the physicalists, there aren’t any further facts… that is the whole story.

    Now imagine that the pantheon didn’t exist, but that you still have the physical description in question. In this case it would be a physical description of a person with a false belief.

    In that description you should still be able to see the reasons for me pronouncing – “The Pantheon actually exists, I know that the Pantheon actually exists.”

    Whatever reasons those are, they aren’t related to the existence of the Pantheon simply because there is NO Pantheon.

    However, if it is not the actual existence of the Pantheon that is a reason for the behavior in that description, and if physicalists are right that there are no further facts about the actual me, the existence of the Pantheon and my awareness of its existence also can’t be reasons for my actual behavior where I say “The Pantheon actually exists, I know that the Pantheon actually exists, I’m sure that the Pantheon actually exists”.

    Does this reveal anything?

  10. Will L.,

    The relevant difference between the two cases (the one I was discussing and the one you presented) was supposed to be the difference between:
    1)the way in which we know about our own actual existence (which might be e.g. said to be direct, or infallible), and that being reason for us pronouncing the words.
    and
    2)the way in which we know the existence of other things (that is, in the one case we *are* the thing, in the other case we discuss the being of some other thing).

    In the second case, we can imagine the physicalists picture of the situation, in which we can imagine drawing the relevant causal relations which come in the end to the specific behavior – pronouncing of the words. So, to say, we can see the reasons EVEN if the thing doesn’t exist. Just analyzing it as a possibility. That is *if* this situation existed, this would happen.

    But in the first case, what I’m motivated by is the actual existence. Not some imagined existence. The explanations within the physicalists picture can’t make difference between actual existence and imagined existence. We can, hence physicalism is false.

  11. kurtis said

    The very fact that your post was intended for others to read, (as opposed to yourself alone) means that it doesn’t matter what you think,

    Because none of US know that you exist,

    Because we are limited to our own experience of your existence (i.e. this website),

    and all our experience is entirely sensory,

    we don’t know that our sensory experiences are just creations of the brain or an external factor etc. (see plato’s cave allegory),

    therefore “I” know that you may not exist.

    and even cooler is the idea that if our sensory experiences are created by the brain then your post was my thought, you are me, etc.

    but the fact that you have seen my post means that you do not know that i exist,

    thus:

    for all we know we could just be having one long conversation with ourselves! thus YOU do not know that YOU exist.

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