The most fundamental question: Do I exist?

The answer is Yes. But there is more than one possibility for the nature of the world around me.

This article is written about me, but, assuming that you are thinking, you can take the 'I' as referring to you.

I think, therefore I am . . . or at least I think I might be.

Renee Descartes was worried about whether he exists. We know the answer to that now: he doesn't; he died in 1650.

I know I exist, at least as a perceiving, conscious, thinking entity. And that statement can't be wrong because that would mean I don't exist, and someone who doesn't exist can't say something that's wrong.

But existing as a conscious entity doesn't mean that I have a body. And it doesn't mean that anyone else exists - except maybe as a figment of my consciousness.


My World

I perceive things. In that sense I know I exist – at least as a perceiving entity or mind.

My perceptions, of course, aren't random (like white noise), but instead have patterns which allow me to formulate rules (3 space dimensions and time, A is always followed by B etc.). Thus I perceive an ordered and fairly self-consistent 4D universe whose extrapolation is to some extent predictable in all dimensions.

This is a perceived universe. I will call it my world. It is what I am conscious of. It is all I know, all I can know.

My world might be objective or subjective.

Objective means that it exists independently of me and that the people I perceive in it are probably people just like me experiencing the same world.

Subjective means that my world is just a perception that I am receiving; the people in it are just features of that perception and don’t have their own independent existence in the way I do.

If my world is objective and other people do exist in the way I do, then there is value in being nice to people, even if only because experience tells me that they are then more likely to be nice to me. If my world is subjective, and other people don’t have objective existence, experience tells me that being nice to the perceived people in my world tends to make my world more pleasant for me. So, either way, it’s good to be nice.

Ultimately, I can’t know whether my world is objective or subjective and I don't need to know: it makes no difference to me either way; it won't change my experiences or the way I feel about those experiences or the value to me of those experiences; and it won't change how I react to those experiences or to the other people in my world. I try to get the maximum pleasure out of my existence. I would go about that exactly the same way whether or not other people have independent existence, whether or not the world I perceive is independently real, whether my world is objective or subjective. My morality would be exactly the same either way.

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Image Acknowledgements

People on street: Photo by Kaique Rocha