Saturday, December 8, 2007

Do I exist?

Sometimes I get into interesting conversations with my children, like this afternoon. While driving home from a store, we passed by an area where something was being constructed, a bridge or something. My daughter asked, "What's that?" To which I replied, "I don't know." And she said, "But I thought you know everything?" To which I said, "I do." And she gave me a funny look, so I further added, "So that's obviously nothing, or I would know what it is."

This spawned a conversation about existence, as she said, "Obviously it is something." And I said, "No, it's not." And she said, "But it was there! It exists!" I asked her what it means to "exist."

"Um..." She tried to define existence as "being there" - well, I'm not there (obviously, since I'm here), thus I must not exist, since I'm not there.

"Ok, something exists if you can see it." Well, you can't see air, so air must not exist. And how many people see various illusions, such as the "water on the road up ahead" on a hot day that turns out not to be there? I'd say that simply seeing something doesn't define its existence.

"Ok, if it's made of matter, it exists." Light isn't made of matter; radio waves aren't made of matter; thus, they must not exist.

"Look, if we go back there, I can touch it, and prove it exists!" Perhaps; but you don't know that it exists. "Yes, I do!" No, you don't; you think it exists; you believe it exists; you have faith that it exists; but you don't actually know if it exists (since seeing doesn't necessarily imply existence).

In fact, think about the matrix for a moment: the "bad guy" in the first Matrix movie talks about his "steak" - the steak that really is only a set of electrical impulses fed to his nerves and brain to make him think he's eating a steak. The steak doesn't exist, but it feels, tastes, and looks real to him since his senses have told him it's there, it's good, enjoy! Similarly, your senses could be fooled (e.g., the aforementioned optical illusion that causes you to think something does exist - like the "water" on the road on a hot day; or doesn't exist, like when David Coperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear - see the video below).

I love the old lady's comment: "I have never seen a Statue of Liberty disappear the way this one did!"

According to Merriam-Webster OnLine, "exist" means (first definition seems most pertinent to this discussion):

1 a: to have real being whether material or spiritual <did unicorns exist> <the largest galaxy known to exist> b: to have being in a specified place or with respect to understood limitations or conditions <strange ideas existed in his mind>

Anyway, that's my deep thought of the night: do I exist, or am I a figment of your imagination? Do you exist? Apparently not, as I never seem to have any comments on this blog... :)


Valerie said...

Then does commenting prove my existence??

Tony M said...

In my mind it does... :)

Anonymous said...

So if a tree falls in the forrest and no one's around to hear it.... you're stating that type of logic, no? It's weird that I just said in the awana office that SC is a figment of your imagination, and I haven't even read this blog yet - spooky! But aren't you concerned that you if have those type of discussions w/ your kids that they will begin to doubt the existence of God since He cannot be seen or felt physically? Just wondering, hope I'm not offending you. Christy

Tony M said...

First, don't worry - you're not offending me. I'm not sure I'm "offendable" (I think I made up that word just now).

Second, I must admit, when we (the kids and I) have "these" types of conversations, we're doing it in jest. Mainly I'm trying to encourage their thought processes (I think), to help them become proficient at defending their points of view. That may be difficult to infer from the way I wrote this particular blog post - it seems somewhat serious here. But it was, at the time, filled with good humor. Similar to the discussion we had about whether there is really any difference between a frog and a laptop computer (which centered on what it means to be a "living thing" - this discussion started in O'Charley's one day between my daughter and me, and actually has somewhat continued ever since, being periodically revived; she never could convince me, through the logic she was stating, that a laptop computer is not a living thing). So, no, I never really had any fear of dissuading their belief in God - I think they're well grounded there, and they have experienced His working enough to know He's real.

She never, by the way, admitted to not knowing that the bridge or whatever wasn't real or didn't exist. I, of course, never admitted to not knowing everything. :)

Oh, and I think I exist, too...

Tony M said...

By the way... does it make a sound? Guess that depends on your definition of sound... is sound the vibration of the air? Or is it the sensation and interpretation of those vibrations?

Thus, unless I know what you mean by the term "sound" I can't know whether or not the tree made a sound when it fell if no one was around to hear it.

amateur said...

You sound like Peter Kreeft sounding like Socrates. I love reading things broken down logically but usually can't get my mind to act the same way. With time, yes...a great deal of time I sometimes can. I'm a very slow thinker.

Tony M said...

Never heard of Peter Kreeft before - will have to look him up on Google. Funny thing: back in high school my three friends and I used to jokingly call me "Socrates" - but with long O and A sounds (and only two syllables).

amateur said...

Like Bill and Ted.

"Between Heaven and Hell" is the first book of his (P. Kreeft, not Bill or Ted) that I read. It's excellent.

Tony M said...

Yeah, but I did it first (Bill and Ted comment). Of course, somebody probably did it first before me, but I didn't (and still don't) know about it at the time, so it was still original to my mind.