Archive for the ‘Philosophy Discussion’ Category

The Ontological Proof of the Existence of God?

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Anselm of Canterbury

I had a discussion tonight with the Professor. The Professor said that there is an ontological proof of the fact that there is a most perfect being (meaning God, of course).

Ontological proof? I thought, that already doesn’t sound too good.

“Look,” he said, “to prove it, let’s assume the opposite, that there is no most perfect being, in which case it means that there is another most perfect being, which is the proof that there is a most perfect being.”

“Huh?”  I hiccupped. “This is pure nonsense.”

“You don’t understand. If there is no most perfect being, then there must be a more perfect being, but since there can be no more perfect being than the most perfect being, this then is the proof that there is a most perfect being.”

“It’s still nonsense. Let’s say, ‘the most perfect being’ is A, and that it exists, is e. So you want to prove A(e). So you say, If not A(e), then B(e) – (where B is an even more perfect being), but since B cannot exist because nothing can be more than the most, then A(e) is true. And you say, this is an ontological proof, the proof of existence, that the existence of A is being implied by your argument. But there is no implication here whatsoever! No proof!”

“You think you are smarter than the great philosophers of the past 600 years? They see it as proof.”

“If so, they are wrong. This is no proof. The first statement, that a most perfect being exists, is a belief. Second, the negation of the existence of a most perfect being, could awaken the thought of a less perfect being just as well, which of course, does not imply whether a less perfect being exists or not. Also, I can conceive of a more perfect being than the most perfect being (which is indeed a paradox), but let’s not go into that now. Suffice to say, that by saying, there is no most perfect being, nothing is implied.”

“You are stupid,” says the Professor. “If you assume there is no most perfect being, then this implies that there is an even more perfect being, and this cannot be, so this is the proof, there must be a most perfect being.”

“OK. Let’s start from the bees and flowers. Your argument is like this: you want to prove that A exists. How? By assuming not-A, you say, if not-A, then B. B is impossible, so A must be true. It’s like saying, let’s prove that you are the smartest person in the world, by assuming that you are not the smartest person in the world which, according to you, implies that there is someone that is smarter, which cannot be true, so this is the proof that you are the smartest. Now what’s the difference between this argument and yours? The structure is the same, I only replaced the contents, but kept their structures. When you look at it this way, you see it is nonsense, because when you stated, ‘there is a most perfect being,’ you already believe in it, and need no proof of it. Logical proof is not dependent on beliefs, and if it relies on these, then it is not logical proof.”

“You don’t understand.”

“The negation of something that awakens a let’s say, an impossible association in your eyes, is no proof of the existence of this something you negated. Let’s say, you argue that there is ontological proof of the existence of the biggest number. Using your arguments, let’s say, there is no biggest number, which immediately awakens the association of there being a bigger number, which is not possible, so this the proof that there exists a biggest number?”

“You don’t understand.”

“If what you said was proof, then anything, but anything could be ‘proven.’ And then, ‘proof’ would be meaningless.”

“You don’t get it.”

And on and on it went…

Inception – an upgrade of Matrix?

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

The multi-layered plot of Inception, a sci-fi action film, parallels its multi-layered meaning. Our sense of reality (the ability to differentiate between dream and reality) is based on several factors. First, continuance of what we consider reality. Most of us wake up into the same reality we left when we went to sleep. Another factor that differentiates reality from dreams is the agreement of others, that what we perceive is indeed, reality. There is also the “feel” of reality, which makes lucid dreaming feel very real. A major factor that allows lucid dreams to stay dreams is our knowledge while dreaming, that indeed, we are dreaming. If however, in lucid dreams we would meet up with others, time after time with these same others, and we would experience together the same lucid dream, then the border differentiating reality from dream would shrink and we would lose the ability to differentiate dreams from reality. This is one of the points made in Inception.  If we accept the assertion that what we perceive to be reality, is in fact reality, and that there can be no proof of the existence of an external objective reality – external to our perception, then the notion of shared lucid dreaming is a likely candidate for alternative realities.

The film is rich in Freudian and Jungian symbolism. Ariadne (Ellen Page) descends with the elevator into the unconscious mind of the protagonist, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio). The name, Ariadne, is meaningful, as she was the princess of Crete in Greek Mythology, the mistress of the Labyrinth where the dreaded Minotaur was imprisoned. Ariadne helped her lover, Theseus, by giving him a sword and the ball of red thread that she spun, so he could get out of the labyrinth after overcoming the Minotaur who demanded human sacrifice. In the film, Ariadne draws the labyrinth and helps Cobb get out from the depth of his unconscious where he is trapped by guilt over the death of his beloved wife. The symbolism of likening the mind to the labyrinth is enticing.

Reaching the deeper levels of the unconscious mind and dream reality, the protagonist comes face to face with the Freudian Todestrieb, the death drive, impersonated by his dead wife. This is an interesting phase in the script due to the dual nature of the Eros/Thanatos concept that comes to emphasize the paradoxical duality of reality/illusion (dreams). Of course, sleep is the brother of death, as represented by the half brothers Hypnos and Thanatos in Greek Mythology. This creates a paradoxical situations where dream states, without an external reality factor that can point out that it is a dream, take place in limbo, in a potential that is neither life, nor death and also both. Is the wish for another reality, to live in a dream reality a death wish?  Cobb’s wife dies to continue living in her dream reality and she keeps tempting him to come and be with her forever in dream reality, which now, is real reality for her. So whenever he wants to be with her, he has to die,  which he does symbolically whenever entering the lucid dreaming state, like Orpheus going to the land of the dead, to retrieve Eurydice.  

Another strong symbolism referring to the workings of our minds is the Penrose paradox, the stairs that ascend and descend in a continuous loop, impossible in three-dimensions, as depicted in M.C. Escher’s Ascending and Descending. (The image is the copyrighted property of the M.C. Escher Company – Holland – presented in accordance with fair use under United States copyright law.)

Just as the Penrose stairs cannot be described with certainty as leading up or down, neither can dream reality be defined with certainty as either being reality or illusion, as we learn from the last scene (the parameter throughout the movie for establishing whether they experience reality or a dream is a top that in reality stops wobbling, whereas in dream reality, continues to wobble).

I find Inception a refreshing alternative to Matrix, which left me dissatisfied; Matrix said, reality is not what it seems to be and what we experience as our reality, could be a computer program, which is a great idea. However, what ruined it for me in Matrix was being told that nevertheless, there is a real, objective reality, even if I am not aware of its existence. Inception restores this simplistic view by introducing uncertainty into what we believe we perceive and know, and just as in Holophany, this uncertainty arises from inner paradoxes of the mind and of the process of perception.  The real question should not be, “What is the real reality?” which question presupposes the existence of an objective reality out there, but rather, “What parameters within our perception create our reality?” In other words, if everything we perceive, we do so from within our perception, then our perception of reality is reality. And then, when our perception is a self-referent closed system, it will necessarily be based on paradoxes, (which is what Gödel had proved in his Incompleteness Theorem).

What happens then in a world that is a closed self-referent system? In a world devoid of a viewpoint from beyond this world, for there can be no such viewpoint if the world is the entirety of existence? Such a system will be riddled with paradoxes, inconsistencies and indefiniteness. But wait, this IS our world! Then how can we find consistency, how can we live with the uncertainties, and how can we utilize the paradoxes at the fundament of such a system, so instead of a dead-end they become tools of creativity? This is the subject matter of Holophany.