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Need a headache?

The author of this article is from the same department at Notre Dame as my religious philosphy prof.  I recognized the name, but I also immediately recognized the style, and the horrible headache I had the day we covered the idea of things existing as long as you can conceive of them existing.

 

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/did-zeus-exist/

 

I'm pretty sure I  brought it up here back when I was taking the class, but it's been a while.  Give it a read, then the question - does something exist if you can conceive it and explain the concept to someone else?  We know there is no such thing as a unicorn, and yet, a cartoon image of a unicorn exists, and is recognizable immediately to anyone who sees it, without requiring a caption or an explanation to  say "this is a thing called a unicorn".  The same is true of Daleks, Hobbits and perpetual motion machines.

It is also true of certain celestial objects that we know exist only because of the absence of something else - we cannot see a particular planet trillions of miles away, but we can see the absence of light when it passes in front of another object.  We cannot see it, touch it, taste it, smell it, or hear it, but we can understand the concept of its existence.  Same with assorted sub atomic particles or even the very thoughts in our heads.  We cannot isolate those thoughts, but we can be sure they exist - or can we?

Answer Question
 
NotPanicking

Asked by NotPanicking at 11:26 PM on Aug. 12, 2013 in Religious Debate

Level 51 (421,172 Credits)
Answers (12)
  • I read the article, first off.

    I know this will come as little surprise but I immediately thought of Pratchett and how he regularly states (in his books) that gods exist ONLY because people believe in them. That they begin as an idea but grow to reality through belief and that their strength and staying power are dependent upon the NUMBER of people that believe in them.

    I think this applies here. A concept starts as a non tangible idea. That idea is disseminated to more and more people. Many of those chose, or deny, the possibility. As the possibility grows, the concept becomes more solid and more acceptable. Physical characteristics can be attached, defining qualities assigned and, in the end, what was a concept is a reality.
    Mrs_Prissy

    Answer by Mrs_Prissy at 11:38 PM on Aug. 12, 2013

  • *scratches head*

    I think my smart is broken.

    PartyGalAnne

    Answer by PartyGalAnne at 11:43 PM on Aug. 12, 2013

  • in the end, what was a concept is a reality.

    And it goes back to the issue - does a deity exist in any less of a way as a planet which failed to fully accrete and instead became our solar system's asteroid belt? We see the debris field, but we cannot say how much of a planetoid, if any, ever managed to form.
    NotPanicking

    Comment by NotPanicking (original poster) at 11:44 PM on Aug. 12, 2013

  • "And it goes back to the issue - does a deity exist in any less of a way as a planet which failed to fully accrete and instead became our solar system's asteroid belt?"

    I'm not sure....to be honest. How does one prove a negative? And this is a hard concept for me to wrap my head around because I COULD say that science at least provides some proof of the possibility of a some sort of interstellar object.

    On the other hand, as the author states, who is to say that there wasn't the same sort of evidence (at least acceptable by the Greeks) regarding Zeus? And, does the lack of evidence definitely point to the lack of a god?

    I think though, that for the purposes of this discussion, I don't think a deity WOULD exist in any less of a way if I apply the same logic to both situations.
    Mrs_Prissy

    Answer by Mrs_Prissy at 11:55 PM on Aug. 12, 2013

  • No thanks, I do not find headaches to be all that much fun for me but you feel free to go ahead.
    Dardenella

    Answer by Dardenella at 1:07 AM on Aug. 13, 2013

  • I didn't read the whole thing. But to answer your question "does something exist if you can conceive it and explain the concept to someone else?"

    I think the concept exists, if you can conceive and explain it. I don't think me explaining what a unicorn is and what it looks like will make a unicorn suddenly pop into existence in a forest somewhere, but because I can explain what it is and what it looks like, the concept/the idea of a unicorn does exist.

    However, I also wonder if things (such as unicorns) that don't exist but we can describe/explain have existed at some point. For us to be able to so clearly and easily explain something and have it be so easily recognized by others, and for it to have been happening for...what, centuries now? It seems like at some point maybe the things we describe did actually exist. Using the unicorn as an example, maybe once upon a time...
    wendythewriter

    Answer by wendythewriter at 8:11 AM on Aug. 13, 2013

  • horses did actually have a horn in the middle of their forehead, and as a part of evolution, the horn disappeared. Because none of us were around all those centuries ago, we've concluded they were a different species and thus dubbed them "unicorns."

    The same could be applied to many other things. Vampires could be a race of people who, for whatever reason, drank blood, disliked garlic and were allergic to sunlight, and the race died out. Over the centuries, we've embellished the idea and given them the power to fly and turn into bats and concluded the only way to kill them was a stake through the heart and slicing off their head.

    I'm not saying I actually believe in either of those things, just that maybe it's a possibility that this could be what happened.
    wendythewriter

    Answer by wendythewriter at 8:14 AM on Aug. 13, 2013

  • Vampires could be a race of people who, for whatever reason, drank blood, disliked garlic and were allergic to sunlight, and the race died out.

    That's an interesting one. The vampire stereotype ala Bram Stoker was based on a real guy, not one who snuck into women's rooms to seduce them, but a local noble who had a thing for torture and was a real sonofabitch to his enemies. Ignoring that, though, there are vampire stories in every culture going back as long as we have stories passed on. Same with dragons - the details very, but every culture knew about them and had their own version.
    NotPanicking

    Comment by NotPanicking (original poster) at 10:01 AM on Aug. 13, 2013

  • This made me immediately think of Terry Pratchett, too. I love his work!

    Another similar concept is that something cannot exist without a name. Just think how many gods have disappeared over time because cultures were lost and no written language recorded it.

    I think you have to make the distinction of existence being subjective vs. objective. Objective things can be detected by sight, sound, smell, taste, by microscope, etc. Everything else like gods and Bigfoot are up for speculation.
    anng.atlanta

    Answer by anng.atlanta at 11:26 AM on Aug. 13, 2013

  • Unicorns are also the National animal of Scotland....but, No the "I think, therefore I am" or "I can conceive it therefore it exists" reasoning of Renee Descartes (though technically originating from Anselm of Canterbury, later attributed as well to Godel, Leibniz, etc) does not hold true as proof of the existence of something as an actual, physical entity.
    KristiS11384

    Answer by KristiS11384 at 11:58 AM on Aug. 13, 2013

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