Friday, January 26, 2007


My video response to the blasphemy challenge with actually legible text went up here almost two weeks ago. While nobody has commented on the new version, the only real question that seems to need answering, judging by the comments on the blurry-text version, is what do I mean when I say "I deny the existence of reality"?

Before I state my actual position, I would like to demonstrate the necessity of involving semantics in the matter by presenting something which appears problematic but is not key to my belief.

Let us take the common sense notion of reality, somewhat formalized, that reality is defined to be everything that exists. Obviously, we should then ask what is meant by existence, but we will ignore this question for now.
It seems natural to me, a mathematician, to formalize this definition further by defining the term "reality" to refer to the set consisting of all things which have the property of existence. Now, let us ask the question: does reality exist?
Strictly speaking, our definitions tell us that this is, in essence, asking whether "reality" is an element of the set "reality".
Supposing that "reality" is an element of itself, we may construct a version of Russell's paradox, rendering this supposition untenable.

An obvious change to our interpretation of the question appears to resolve this issue, but raises another: "is reality a subset of itself?"
In this case the answer is clearly yes, but in order to interpret the question "does reality exist?" in this fashion we must assume that the property of "existence" applies not only to all elements of reality but also to all subsets. By our definition of reality, this means that all subsets of reality must also be elements of reality and so reality must contain its own power set, bringing us back to the previous problem.

The above argument does not in itself prove the nonexistence of reality, rather it points out that we must develop a good understanding of our concepts and questions before it can be meaningful to ask questions about our concepts.
Unfortunately, I do not believe such a thing is possible in our current conceptual framework.

I would like to jump back to an earlier point and say that the intuitive notions of reality and existence suffer from a major flaw in that they are circularly defined.
"What is reality?" "Reality is everything that exists."
"What does it mean for something to exist?" "Something exists if it is real."
Obviously, these concepts will not suffice in conforming to whatever may actually be.

Concepts of "reality" range between the very vague and the very precise. The very vague notions are useful for everyday living and thought and probably include some measure of correspondence with the universe but they are too fuzzy for ontological questions, in my opinion. I have never heard of or concieved of a concept of reality with even moderate precision that I believe is internally consistent, let alone corresponds to the universe (except the nihilistic concept, which seems like a cop-out). I cannot even develop vague notions of characteristics that such a moderately precise concept of reality might have. As such, I believe that my current understanding (and, unless I hear otherwise, that of others) is insufficient to form a coherent question which could take the place of the meaningless "does reality exist?" and therefore I must conclude that neither "reality exists" nor "reality does not exist" are true (whatever true may mean), given our current concepts behind those words.

It was pointed out to me earlier today, that perhaps "I deny the existence of reality, but I don't quite mean it that way" was not the best way to concisely get across my beliefs. This may be the case, but it's something I can't change now.


bugsbunny said...

I saw your video and decided to comment here instead of signing up for an account there.
saying you are willing to condemn yourself to hell as a moral protest is fine, IF you don't believe it exists.
If you thought there actually was a hell and it hurt as much as a toothache, I think most of your moral convictions would evaporate, unless you're a masochist.

Yiab said...

If I thought there was a hell, I would still go there out of moral conviction since my moral convictions are stronger than my fear of physical pain (in the same way that, as a pacifist, I would allow myself to be shot rather than shoot another human being). Since I cannot at present imagine what eternal suffering would be like, I may give in to the pain after a time, but fear of it ahead of time would not deter me.

blayzebright said...

Mr. BugsBunny makes a valid point. Will evil masochists go to Heaven rather than Hell, since Hell would be eternal bliss? :)

Also, I think that talking like you do in this post, you are going to have a serious problem communicating with a person of average Christian intelligence.

As for me, what I believe is irrelevant, because having a myriad of belief is what makes life beautiful. The only problem comes when people try to force their beliefs on others. After all, loving only people like me is not true love, since loving someone that is like me is really only loving myself.

Yiab said...

Blayzebright, I think I agree with everything you said in that comment.

Not being a masochist, the question of where evil masochists go when they die is irrelevant to me, but I would still be interested in hearing a well thought-out Christian answer.

If I were to always talk the way I do in this post, I would have serious difficulty communicating with anybody in real-time. Fortunately, I don't have to talk that way and I don't have any trouble communicating with anybody who is willing to move slowly and think about things.

I agree that people who try to force their beliefs on others are a problem, but trying to get them to realize this is practicing the very evil against which you preach. This is what has led me to my current action, which is to put my beliefs in a place where they can be read by anybody who wants to and ignored by anyone who does not. A side benefit of this act is that people can bring challenges and objections to my beliefs which may wind up changing them.

Also, I find it relatively easy to care about people who hold beliefs that I don't and while my beliefs are complicated they are rather singular and so there are a lot of people who don't share them.