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I fear I don't exist

I had a dream last night, the details of which aren't important, that convinced me that I don't actually exist. The troubling thing is, upon waking up the logic sort of stands. Sitting in the loft before I got up, I muzzily looked around wondering if I really exist, or whether I am just an accidental series of electrical firings that experiences the illusion of existence.

What convinced me (mostly, not entirely) that I and other people actually exist is art. Maybe my thoughts are an illusion that don't really indicate my own existence...but can something as moving and sublime as this really be an accident or an illusion? The experience of the sublime is both individual and universal, repeatable, and can only be experienced not taught or described.

I'm still feeling sort of uncertain about the nature of my own existence, though.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 9th, 2009 06:19 pm (UTC)
If your existence is an illusion, but you perceive it as reality, what difference does it make?
Sep. 9th, 2009 06:22 pm (UTC)
That implies that perception IS reality, which has some pretty heavy consequences. On the other hand, I feel sort of freshman year philosophy "whoa, what if we don't have souls!"

Too, I thought, I don't have very sophisticated taste in classical music.
Sep. 9th, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)
As a philosophy major, I'd like to say that you have to exist, because you claim to be experiencing something, and are conscious of experiencing something. An "accidental series of electrical frinings" might experience things, but would not be aware of eperiencing them.
Further, your senses must also be valid, otherwise you'd have no way of know how they could be invalid.

Sorry if this got too technical.
Sep. 9th, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Existence
Let's examine the claims implicit in what you're saying here. (That's what rhetoric majors do to philosophy majors.)

If one claims to experience something AND is conscious of experiencing it, one must exist. But why does that necessarily follow? And why is the claim important? What if I am conscious of experiencing something but don't claim to experience it - do I still exist? Let's assume I do, and that it's consciousness that makes the existence.

But your consciousness is, literally, a chemical reaction. It's a very complex one, but it is. And from moment to moment, those reactions are never the same twice. Buddha attained enlightenment when he realized that his consciousness, his ego, was but a flame passing from torch to torch - and "he" ceased to exist at each moment. That his "self" was an illusion. Modern neuroscience actually bears this out - what we think of as our consciousness, our choice, is far more predetermined than we ever suspected. Can we really be conscious of something?

Next - a non-existent consciousness would experience things, but not be self-aware. But...many things can be made to be self-aware. What does that mean? I can write a program to monitor a condition (say a light is on or off) and not only monitor it, but report on its monitoring. Is it aware? What does it mean to be aware of an experience?

Lastly - senses must be valid because there's no way to know how they were invalid. A must be B because there's no way to prove not B. That is not logical. Can anything that can't be disproved necessarily be true? There are lots of things that can't be disproved - by that logic, for instance, every faith is true since it's not based on a claim that can be proved or disproved.
Sep. 10th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
I will simply direct you to Rene Descartes and his famous bottom line: "I think, therefore I am."

You think too much, therefore you really, really are.

Sep. 10th, 2009 12:03 am (UTC)
But that's my point - it's not an argument, it's an assertion. But modern neuroscience shows that "thought" is a lot more complicated than just conscious decision-making or ruminating. In fact, thought happens sub-consciously in a mechanistic way, that suggests that the way we consciously think about things is very much after-the-fact.

In short, science thinks you're putting Descartes before the horse.
Sep. 10th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
That is an *almost* unforgivably bad pun.

Science owes a LOT of the way it thinks to Descartes.

But what you are talking about is reminding me of something ancient and Greek. The cave with the shadows on the wall? Plato?

Sep. 10th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
But this dream happened in a context of a recent article about neuro-physiology I read, thinking about Buddha's revalations and how they actually fit with very recent research, and profound neurosis.

Science suggests that "free will" is an illusion, at least in as much as we think the part of our mind that consciously thinks is something separate from the mechanical function of the brain. It turns out it's just putting "words" or a conscious thought wrapper on something that the brain has spit out without conscious volition.

And Buddha suggests that our self, our ego, is an illusion - that we are like a thousand torches, passing fire from torch to torch and calling the fire "me". But is it?

So if all the stuff I ever think is just spit up from some automatic brain function over which I have no control ... it sort of supports the notion that "I" am just an illusion of how my brain works. That "I" don't really exist.

But then I thought about art, and how profoundly it affects people - not just one at a time. And while maybe I can dismiss my own internal chatter as just an illusion, can shared experience like the experience of the sublime really be a coincidence?
Sep. 10th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
And then I had coffee, and it seemed less important.
Sep. 10th, 2009 02:09 am (UTC)
This is completely appropriate, since this conversation *should* be taking place late at night in a cafe in Montparnasse. We should probably have Andy Warhol there to explain how he finds art in the mundane like soup cans, and some Impressionist to expound on how the suggestion of the thing really is the thing and Rodin because he bathed even mythological themes in total realism.

But, since you are talking about neurons firing... Maybe art resonates with human beings because it strums just the right cord in our brains to stimulate some novel response? We are both more complicated and less than we think we are.

But we do, absolutely, exist.
Sep. 10th, 2009 12:16 am (UTC)
And here I thought I had it bad, with those dreams wherein I was convinced that the dream was the real world.

On further reflection, I can't decide which is worse.
Sep. 10th, 2009 12:17 am (UTC)
You are a butterfly. Wake up.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


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