• noAxioms
    581
    I found that all my views have come from exploring two simple questions, one of which is “Why is there something, not nothing?”. This seeming paradox has been brought up in many threads, including the cosmological argument for God, but they all seem like rationalizations. So I noticed the question presumes there is something. What if there wasn’t? What empirical difference would that make? While difficult to get past the bias that there needs to be something, it turns out there is no difference.

    It seems the position is a form of “Ontological Relativism” or possibly “Relational Realism”. I want to explore this view, but can find little if any references to how I envision it. What it is NOT is an epistemological stance or idealism or any other stance where reality supervenes on mind or concepts. Things exist only in relation to something (anything) else. There is no objective existence of anything, thus solving the problem of why existence exists. It doesn’t. Humans don't matter at all. The moon exists in relation to Earth, even if there was no life to observe it.

    So I started with something like Ontic Structural Realism, except without the objective realism. The universe is a mathematical structure and things within it are real to each other. It is not platonic realism. Numbers are abstract (not real) to us, but relate (are real) to each other. 7 exists in relation to 9, or to the set of integers, but our universe is not existent in relation to them any more than numbers are real to us. 13 is prime, and doesn’t require objective existence to be prime. Similarly, we don’t require objective existence to relate to other parts of the structure. This is a key concept, demonstrating why objective ontology (or lack of it) makes no difference in the relations between different parts of the same structure.
  • noAxioms
    581
    This is a spin-off thread from a side discussion in Wayfarer’s thread on particle-wave duality.
    I think I'd like to take this offline and start a new thread since it only has small bearing on Wayfarer's OP. The relational QM bit was very relevant, and is a good answer to the OP, but what I'm pushing here goes way beyond the confines of QM, and thus seems off-topic. I want relational everything.

    Give me a day or two to frame it.
    noAxioms
    I'll leave the rest for now and we can pick it up in the new thread.Andrew M
    I guess it was far longer than a day or two, but I wanted to attempt some research first. I found some dubious leads. The Stanford entry on Relativism doesn’t really go into it. It’s mostly about relativism of morals, aesthetics, truth and such. There is section 4.2 concerning conceptual relativism, but it seems to be again a form of idealism on concepts, not necessarily mind.

    I found a Q/A on the Research Gate site.
    https://www.researchgate.net/post/What_are_the_terms_for_various_ontological_positions_Are_realism_and_relativism_ontological_positions_If_yes_what_do_they_mean

    They ask the question you see there in the link. Most popular answer was this from Luca Igansi,
    Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos:
    We need to draw a clear line between ontology and epistemology. Ontology regards the existence of facts and objects, while epistemology regards whether we can know them or not, and if objectively or subjectively.
    OK, I am on track with that one. We’re not talking epistemology.

    Ontologically, either you're a realist or an anti-realist. Either you accept facts are real independently of the "human mind" (realist), i.e. objective, or you accept that reality is only subjective (anti-realist).
    Here I must disagree, and this seems to be the point of my OP here. He says the only alternative to an objective reality is one relative to (or supervenes on) human mind. How very anthropocentric. Ontological relativism means relative to anything, but not supervening on that thing.
  • Andrew M
    419
    Things exist only in relation to something (anything) else. There is no objective existence of anything, thus solving the problem of why existence exists. It doesn’t.noAxioms

    By "objective" here, do you mean "absolute"?

    So I started with something like Ontic Structural Realism, except without the objective realism. The universe is a mathematical structure and things within it are real to each other. It is not platonic realsim. Numbers are abstract (not real) to us, but relate (are real) to each other. 7 exists in relation to 9, or to the set of integers, but our universe is not existent in relation to them any more than numbers are real to us. 13 is prime, and doesn’t require objective existence to be prime. Similarly, we don’t require objective existence to relate to other parts of the structure. This is a key concept, demonstrating why objective ontology (or lack of it) makes no difference in the relations between different parts of the same structure.noAxioms

    On your view, numbers seem to have an existence independent of matter (and mind) which would qualify as Platonic realism about universals.

    "Ontologically, either you're a realist or an anti-realist. Either you accept facts are real independently of the "human mind" (realist), i.e. objective, or you accept that reality is only subjective (anti-realist)." [from Research Gate]

    Here I must disagree, and this seems to be the point of my OP here. He says the only alternative to an objective reality is one relative to (or supervenes on) human mind. How very anthropocentric. Ontological relativism means relative to anything, but not supervening on that thing.
    noAxioms

    I agree that absolute/relative is a different axis to realist/anti-realist (objective/subjective). Einstein's theory of relativity is a realist theory, for example.
  • Wayfarer
    6.2k
    So I noticed the question presumes there is something. What if there wasn’t? What empirical difference would that make? While difficult to get past the bias that there needs to be something, it turns out there is no difference.noAxioms

    The fact that the question can be asked rules out the possibility of there not being simply nothing. There could be no empirical anything if there were not anything to begin with. And it turns out that in order for someone to be around to even ask this question relies on there long having been a causal sequence that seems inextricably interconnected with what exists now.

    7 exists in relation to 9, or to the set of integers, but our universe is not existent in relation to them any more than numbers are real to us.noAxioms

    That doesn’t allow for the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics. Mathematics is predictive in the sense that it enables you to know things about the Universe which you would otherwise not be able to know. Why this is, is another matter, as Wigner points out. But Einstein also mused that ‘the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it’s comprehensible’.
  • TimeLine
    2.7k
    While difficult to get past the bias that there needs to be something, it turns out there is no difference.noAxioms

    There is a difference, since you exist.

    The universe is a mathematical structure and things within it are real to each other. It is not platonic realsim. Numbers are abstract (not real) to us, but relate (are real) to each other. 7 exists in relation to 9, or to the set of integers, but our universe is not existent in relation to them any more than numbers are real to us. 13 is prime, and doesn’t require objective existence to be prime. Similarly, we don’t require objective existence to relate to other parts of the structure. This is a key concept, demonstrating why objective ontology (or lack of it) makes no difference in the relations between different parts of the same structure.noAxioms

    I am having trouble distinguishing this 'clear line' between epistemology and ontology vis-a-vis this mathematical structure and you would need to explain this further. The problem I am having is that mathematics is our way of interpreting the world and not that mathematics itself exists outside of us. It is a useful heuristic we created to translate the patterns of physics and nature using numbers. This physical reality exists independent of you and I, but for you to claim this physical reality is a mathematical structure imposes the very invention of describing the universe you seek to avoid and thus quasi-empirical, particularly since mathematics is limited in articulating all possible realities in a cohesive formal system. Is realism and constructivism mutually exclusive? I have my reservations with mathematical realism and you would need to do somewhat better, however alluring Tegmark or Plato are.
  • noAxioms
    581
    By "objective" here, do you mean "absolute"?Andrew M
    Absolute, sure. I mean as opposed to exists-in-relation-to, not as opposed to 'subjective'.

    On your view, numbers seem to have an existence independent of matter (and mind) which would qualify as Platonic realism about universals.
    Platonic realism says they have absolute or objective existence in a third realm of abstract things. The relativist view says they are real only to each other. This is independent of matter, sure. Something like the color red (universal) has existence under platonism, but is probably not independent of mind/matter since the 'red' is pretty meaningless outside that context. I explored platonism (lower case) for a while, but it is still a position of absolute reality.

    "Ontologically, either you're a realist or an anti-realist. Either you accept facts are real independently of the "human mind" (realist), i.e. objective, or you accept that reality is only subjective (anti-realist)." [from Research Gate]

    I agree that absolute/relative is a different axis to realist/anti-realist (objective/subjective). Einstein's theory of relativity is a realist theory, for example.
    This view is not the objective/subjective axis either, so your initial comment is relevant. Absolute/relative is the axis in question here. Einstein's theory of relativity works on all sides of the objective/subjective axis, so it doesn't necessarily seem to be a realist theory. It is a relational theory, but not an ontological one. Time is relative to a reference frame, and there is no absolute time. Similarly, I am proposing that ontology is relative to something, but not anything in particular. It is not limited to being relative only to consciousness, but that is one valid thing to which the relation can be expressed. Idealism is a subset of relational ontology.
  • snowleopard
    128
    This Leibniz question of 'why is there something rather than nothing?' it seems can't be answered unless we first agree on what precisely is meant by the terms 'nothing' and 'something.' As for the idea of 'nothing', the very act of giving it a name -- i.e. a 'mathematical structure' -- seems to render it as 'something', in an abstract sort of way. And talking about it at all implies some 'state' that can think and talk about it, therefore denying its nothingness. In a sense the question could be reframed as: why is there something that can conceive of 'nothing vs something' as opposed to there not being anything that can conceive ... aka 'the hard problem' and hence the attempt to resolve it with Idealism, positing the primacy of Mind.

    Buddhism addresses this seeming paradox, or dilemma, with its revelation that emptiness, or formlessness, or no-'thingness', is not other than form, which seems to imply an ontological primitive that must account for both, but then is unwilling to apply a name to whatever that is, perhaps recognizing that language, being a subject/object modality, is inadequate to resolve the apparent duality.

    What I'm getting at here in a very cursory sort of way, is elaborated upon in the following blog post, which is surely of relevance and interest here: The Inconsistency of Nothing. Subjective or Objective?
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    Ontologically, either you're a realist or an anti-realist. Either you accept facts are real independently of the "human mind" (realist), i.e. objective, or you accept that reality is only subjective (anti-realist)

    What is "real", and is "reality" which must be for us, the same as the "real".

    How we know what we know must precede what we know, even if what we know provides the conditions for how we know.

    No?
  • snowleopard
    128
    Ontologically, either you're a realist or an anti-realist.

    So why not a 'real' Mind that emanates its 'real' ideations, being in essence not-two, as per Idealism?
  • noAxioms
    581
    Thank you all for responding to my thread.

    So I noticed the question presumes there is something. What if there wasn’t? What empirical difference would that make? While difficult to get past the bias that there needs to be something, it turns out there is no difference.
    — noAxioms

    The fact that the question can be asked rules out the possibility of there not being simply nothing. There could be no empirical anything if there were not anything to begin with. And it turns out that in order for someone to be around to even ask this question relies on there long having been a causal sequence that seems inextricably interconnected with what exists now.
    Wayfarer
    You are presuming the very bias of which I spoke in my quote taken above. This view stands in opposition to that premise, so asserting it is just begging a different position. Demonstrate why it leads to contradiction, without at any point presuming this absolute realist premise.

    Let us presume for simplicity a single-world deterministic interpretation of QM and a monist interpretation of mind. In that view, the universe is a 4D mathematical block structure, but not one requiring absolute existence. A person in that block is a worldline, and there is another worldline for an apple. The person worldline is a series of states, and a state has no experience. Thought is a process, and process is the difference between states. So the person-worldline in this structure would have the exact same experience in an existing structure as it would in the same structure without absolute existence. The structure is no different, only the ontology of it, and the experience depends only on the difference between states within the structure, not the ontology of the structure itself.
  • Sapientia
    5.6k
    So I noticed the question presumes there is something. What if there wasn’t? What empirical difference would that make? While difficult to get past the bias that there needs to be something, it turns out there is no difference.noAxioms

    No, it doesn't turn out that way at all, and for you to reach that conclusion, my conclusion is that you're confused somewhere along the line.

    There is of course something. There's you and I, and the world which we inhabit, and everything in it. This is known, at least in part, empirically. I can see people and other stuff.

    If there was nothing, however, I wouldn't see people or other stuff or anything at all, because there would be nothing there to see. It would be impossible.

    That's the difference.

    You can call it "bias", but it's what I know. What we have here is another case of what philosophy can do to you: make you doubt what you know - which is not a good thing. My advice: resist it. Don't let yourself fall into the trap.
  • noAxioms
    581
    There is a difference, since you exist.TimeLine
    I exist in relation to my thoughts. "I exist" (in any absolute sense) does not follow from that. This is pretty straight-forward relativism, except it is ontology this time, a topic rarely covered. Usually it is about morals or aesthetics or something. But a relativist would say that just because it is not objectively wrong to do act X, it doesn't follow that it isn't wrong. I still bear responsibility for doing X in the context in which X is wrong. Similarly I exist in relation to my thoughts despite absence of absolute existence.

    I am having trouble distinguishing this 'clear line' between epistemology and ontology vis-a-vis this mathematical structure and you would need to explain this further. The problem I am having is that mathematics is our way of interpreting the world and not that mathematics itself exists outside of us. It is a useful heuristic we created to translate the patterns of physics and nature using numbers. This physical reality exists independent of you and I, but for you to claim this physical reality is a mathematical structure imposes the very invention of describing the universe you seek to avoid and thus quasi-empirical, particularly since mathematics is limited in articulating all possible realities in a cohesive formal system. Is realism and constructivism mutually exclusive? I have my reservations with mathematical realism and you would need to do somewhat better, however alluring Tegmark or Plato are.
    Tegmark did a pretty good job of demonstrating how our universe could be nothing more than such a mathematical structure. I think he then went a bit into Plato territory and presumed the existence of this structure. Not sure of this, since the structure itself is all that matters, and that doesn't change with ontology. A square still has 4 equal angles whether it has platonic existence or is just abstract.
  • noAxioms
    581
    This Leibniz question of 'why is there something rather than nothing?' it seems can't be answered unless we first agree on what precisely is meant by the terms 'nothing' and 'something.' As for the idea of 'nothing', the very act of giving it a name -- i.e. a 'mathematical structure' -- seems to render it as 'something', in an abstract sort of way.snowleopard
    Well, it has a name relative to me, but it isn't a mathematical structure. Nothing is the lack of anything. There is no thing that has objective existence, not even the fact of there not being anything. Not only is the set of things that exist an empty set, but that set itself doesn't exist.

    And talking about it at all implies some 'state' that can think and talk about it, therefore denying its nothingness. In a sense the question could be reframed as: why is there something that can conceive of 'nothing vs something' as opposed to there not being anything that can conceive ... aka 'the hard problem' and hence the attempt to resolve it with Idealism, positing the primacy of Mind.
    We are talking about it in the context of this current Earth state which part of the structure that is this universe. I've attempted to illustrate just above how that is not impossible just because the structure itself exists no more than does the square that nevertheless has relations.

    Buddhism addresses this seeming paradox, or dilemma, with its revelation that emptiness, or formlessness, or no-'thingness', is not other than form, which seems to imply an ontological primitive that must account for both, but then is unwilling to apply a name to whatever that is, perhaps recognizing that language, being a subject/object modality, is inadequate to resolve the apparent duality.

    What I'm getting at here in a very cursory sort of way, is elaborated upon in the following blog post, which is surely of relevance and interest here: The Inconsistency of Nothing. Subjective or Objective?
    Will read the post, and hope it contains the sort of analysis that attempts to demonstrate the inconsistency for which I am seeking.
  • noAxioms
    581
    What is "real", and is "reality" which must be for us, the same as the "real".Cavacava
    What is real for us is each other and the moon, but none of that is just 'reality' since that is not a relation, so they're not the same.

    How we know what we know must precede what we know, even if what we know provides the conditions for how we know.

    No?
    Try to say it fast!. Kindly rephrase a bit. Got lost there. Sounds like an argument I might have expressed in opposition to idealism.
  • snowleopard
    128
    Well, as just a teaser from the blog post, what do you make of this? ...

    "Badiou simply gives "this nothing" a name (namely, "the empty set"), et voilà, here we have our first being, the empty set, on the basis of which all other sets can be created. Now it will be obvious that, as an answer to Leibniz' question, this is totally unsatisfactory. I greatly admire the set-theoretic construction of mathematics out of the empty set. I'm even sympathetic to the idea that this construction may have some real ontological weight to it. But to answer the question "Is there something rather than nothing?" by simply giving a "proper name" to nothingness seems nothing more than a bad joke. Badiou's fallacy illustrates something of importance concerning the paradoxes surrounding the concept of nothingness. As soon as we start using "nothing" as a referring noun, we are in trouble: nothingness becomes a referent, an object. In that case, if we say that nothing exists, we imply that there exists this object called "the nothing", which is contradictory. It is clear that this contradiction is not an objective fact concerning the state where nothing exists. The contradiction is merely an effect of our objectification of this state. Just like Badiou cannot conjure being out of nothingness by giving the latter a proper name, so nothingness cannot be made inconsistent merely by our objectification of it." ~ Peter Sas
  • noAxioms
    581
    Ontologically, either you're a realist or an anti-realist.

    So why not a 'real' Mind that emanates its 'real' ideations, being in essence not-two, as per Idealism?
    snowleopard
    'Realist', unqualified typically refers to the position that there is an existence independent of human mind. Anything else would need qualification, so idealism is 'realism of mind', and a theist is a realist of God, and a presentist is a realist of a preferred present.
  • noAxioms
    581
    There is of course something. There's you and I, and the world which we inhabit, and everything in it. This is known, at least in part, empirically. I can see people and other stuff.Sapientia
    Those are all relational observations. Subjective observation has zero access to absolute reality, else platonism would not be philosophy, but would be empirically verified one way or the other by noting if something like numbers actually exist.

    If there was nothing, however, I wouldn't see people or other stuff or anything at all, because there would be nothing there to see. It would be impossible.
    The nonexistent structure would still have those relations. There is something to see.

    You can call it "bias", but it's what I know.
    Isn't that what a bias is? You know it, but can't demonstrate it without presuming it. I've given examples of how structures have relations independent of their ontology. To assert that an abstract square does not have right angles unless instantiated seems to be just that, an assertion that is a different interpretation. Show why it is a contradiction of logic for the angles of an abstract square to be right angles, or why the analogy is invalid.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k


    How we know what we know must precede what we know, even if what we know provides the conditions for how we know.

    How we know what we know is epistemic (the starting point as Descartes showed), it must precede (in time) what we know, our ontology, but once we have decided on our ontological stance, then we can understand how it formed the conditions of our epistemology.
  • snowleopard
    128
    'Realist', unqualified typically refers to the position that there is an existence independent of human mind. Anything else would need qualification, so idealism is 'realism of mind', and a theist is a realist of God, and a presentist is a realist of a preferred present.noAxioms

    Yes, I see what you mean. In terms of Idealism it seems it can only be resolved by positing a 'real' Mind that emanates 'real' ideations, which immanently exist whether or not there is a finite locus of mind as its subject -- or in other words, a human locus of Mind, or a bird locus, or a locust locus, etc, etc.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4k
    I found that all my views have come from exploring two simple questions, one of which is “Why is there something, not nothing?”. This seeming paradox has been brought up in many threads, including the cosmological argument for God, but they all seem like rationalizations. So I noticed the question presumes there is something. What if there wasn’t? What empirical difference would that make? While difficult to get past the bias that there needs to be something, it turns out there is no difference.noAxioms

    I think the assumption "there is nothing", would need to be supported, and this would be impossible to support. All the evidence indicates that there is something, therefore "there is something" is a more sound premise than "there is nothing". And, "there is something" is the premise which supports the cosmological argument.

    Aristotle explains in his Metaphysics, that when we separate the potential for existence from actual existence, and realize that the potential for a thing necessarily precedes that thing's actual existence, then the inquiry as to why there is something and not nothing is to question something in which the answer is necessarily inaccessible to us. It is a futile question because we cannot grasp "the potential for existence" except through the analysis of what actually exists, and this requires the assumption that there actually is something. To assume simply the potential for existence, is to assume nothing, and this leaves us with no premise to proceed from. This is why we must start with the premise "there is something", and the appropriate metaphysical question, he says, is the question of why there is what there is, instead of something else.
  • fdrake
    1.1k


    This post has two components, one is an attempt to sketch the construction of a ridiculously inclusive mathematical object which serves as the background 'model of things' in the OP, and the other attempts to situate what an ontology is in relation to the ridiculously inclusive object.

    If you take any particular, there will be various different types of relation that apply to it. Every event can be related to any other event through the relations of antecedence and subsequence - occurred before and after interpreted as an ordering relation. Each proposition can be related to every other proposition through the relation of consistency partitioning arbitrary well formed logical formulae into consistent and inconsistent models. I think it's reasonable to posit that every particular can be related to every other particular in some way, and all relations can be related (and so on).

    Imagine that we have access to the set of all particulars and every n-ary (generalised) relation between them (a construction similar to this but allowing 2-morphisms to map to 1-morphisms and introducing such 'cross' relations of arbitrary order and scope). This collection is a mathematical abstraction, but let's say that all of its elements are as real as any other, and every concrete particular and every relation between concrete particulars and abstract particulars (including all higher n-ary relations thereof) is contained within it. This is essentially the universe as considered in the OP. It's a jumble of everything in the broadest possible (or at least ridiculously broad) mathematised sense of a jumble of everything. Unsurprisingly that kind of object is not well understood.

    Examples of elements in the jumble to remove the jargon - rocks are in it, the relationship between rocks and hills as 'currently rolling down' are in it, the relation between 'currently rolling down' and every possible physics-based description are in it, the individual rock's relation to every physics-based descriptions are in it, the rock's relationship to the mathematical abstraction of a group are in it. The abstract relationships between groups and every possible pairing and sub-pairing between these abstractions and rocks are in it. Everything in it is considered as an object in the same sense. Is anything interesting gained by asserting the existence of the whole thing or denying it? Probably not, as Quine noted:

    A curious thing about the ontological problem is its simplicity. It can be put in three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables: ‘What is there?’ It can be answered, moreover, in a word—‘Everything’—and everyone will accept this answer as true. However, this is merely to say that there is what there is. There remains room for disagreement over cases; and so the issue has stayed alive down the centuries.

    in terms of giving an account of this 'everything', nothing about the properties of this giant jumbled object is determined by any insistence that the whole object exists. Rather, the properties of any subobject are determined conditionally upon their relation to any other subobject. In the giant jumble object itself (assuming we're allowed recourse to true and false as binary...), they'll be partitioned into subobjects consisting of obtaining relations of other subobjects and non-obtaining ones. If it is possible to construct (or assume there is) a choice function (or collection thereof indexed to subobject types) which acts on the giant jumble object in order to select every and only obtaining subobject relations, this gives a model of what there could be in terms of a sense of what obtains about it.

    Unfortunately, the task of ontology is not to decide whether the giant jumble object exists or does not exist, it is to filter what obtains (questions of relation) and how/why it does so. In this formal sense a question of whether something exists in any sense is really only answerable to the sense in which it operates - Pegasus and a stick operate differently, who cares what we call existent and not, the operational difference suffices. Ontologies give fundamental ways of structuring questions about (and thereby elucidating) chains of relations and usually have their own native problematics. EG Heidegger's ontology isn't an ontology of dynamic ontical changes - and concerns the relation of human and Being, Democritus' atomism doesn't place much emphasis on the emergent relations of composites -it's concerned with the fundamental constituents of stuff, Hegel's doesn't place too much emphasis on the realities of social change - it's a historico-logical syntax of ideal development... Russel spent a lot of time dealing with fictional objects as problems for reference as a fundamental issue, others are indifferent to this problem - seeing fundamental issues as conceptual clarification with philosophical language as the medium for that clarification. It's conceivable that someone, perhaps like Jordan Peterson, would stress the reality of Pegasus in terms of its mythical-discursive structure - the relation between human and myth holds indifferent the contrast between Pegasus and a rock.

    They all contain within them an idea of appropriate emphasis on what the fundamental questions are - the filter - and an account they deem appropriate (or at least in the right direction) for those questions [the constructed choice function].

    Ontology neither begins nor ends with a decision on what exists, it concerns itself with the hows and whys of those things. So when you say 'it doesn't matter whether it exists or it doesn't' - you're missing the sense of why in question. Even if it doesn't matter there's still a hell of a lot of work to do interpreting the thing.
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