Wednesday, October 5, 2011

OTI post #7 - Primacy of Existence

Wrapping up metaphysics is the integration into a key point: the primacy of existence.

The context is everything so far, but specifically it is the dicussion of Existence, Consciousness, Identity, and Causality. We will find that this discussion does not add anything new to these, but helps us to keep them and their proper interconnections in mind.

The phrase “the primacy of existence” is just a means of treating as a single abstract entity a particular relation for the purpose of exposition and its contrast against alternative entities. The root statement is “existence is primary”, and this is what will be tackled.

Reduction of the concepts
In the three-word statement “existence is primary”, two have already been reduced and reconstructed, though a quick recapitulation is instructive.

Existence is the grand totality of that all that is, was, and will be, the “all that” which may be said in reference to what is indicated when swinging one’s arms about demonstratively. What we can now also add is that includes the fact that all existents are of certain natures, and that these natures include all the causal laws applicable to those natures. By reference to existence we are bringing to mind the facts that there is this total of that which is and that every single thing that is exists in a certain way and acts according to that way in which exists.

The context of this word is not reference to being qua being, but its more grammatical sense of indicating some element of being, of indicating the word that follows is to be held as part of the identity of the subject. That is, it is being used to indicate that primacy is to be recognised as being an element of what it means to exist. I don’t think I need to examine this further.

This is the key and new word. The root is the Latin for “first”, which is reflected in all its use in English. For our purposes, the relevant definitions from are:

1. first or highest in rank or importance; chief; principal
2. first in order in any series, sequence, etc.
3. first in time; earliest; primitive
7. original; not derived or subordinate; fundamental; basic

14. something that is first in order, rank, or importance

Some relevant English synonyms are: elementary, underlying, essential, principal, foundational, cardinal, pivotal, and so on. The meaning intended by the statement is clear enough: that which is the first, independent, and upon which all else is dependent or derivative. These are the lesser concepts from which the intended meaning is obtained.

We can divide the reduction of primary into two related paths: the epistemological and the metaphysical. The epistemological path comes from noting that primary is a reference to a position in an ordered series of priorities. It is referring to the fact that something is properly the first thing to be considered and counted upon, which has no meaning except in contrast to that which comes later and counts upon that referred to as primary. More specifically, to say that something is primary is to give emphasis to that fact of firstness, so that one may think about that fact as against considering something else as holding that position and the present thing having a lower priority. So, we must learn primary at the same time as secondary and tertiary, though with the later ranks being of increasingly lesser importance (pop-quiz to be answered WITHOUT looking it up or making an educated guess of a construction: what is the comparable word for fifthness?). Instances of this are discussions of why something is the primary objective in some complex plan involving multiple goals, of what primary industry is, of a contrast between primary and secondary windings on a transformer, and so on. Some judgements of primacy are heavily dependent on express standards of value (eg determining the primacy of objectives), which is an out-of-hierarchy consideration, so I won’t examine those other than to note the connection.

Before we get to primary and secondary etc, we must learn the less abstract terms of first and second, etc, since the -aries give emphasis to the relevant positions in a more abstract sense. (A child of say seven years, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, can legitimately utter the word “primary” in a few delimited contexts, and know it is a real word, though without knowing what it actually means beyond a vague sense. This is discussed later.) Now, I do not believe that it is strictly necessary to learn the cardinal numbers before one learns first and second etc, although for practical reasons it is likely that the cardinal numbers are learned before the ordinal ranks, and how - in English - from “fourth” onward the hints at connection are too blatant not to be missed. To learn the ordinal sequence it only needs a physical demonstration, be that in ordering the letters or blocks of different sizes, or the child himself be first to finish something (eg race or a task), or in being lined up so that a whole group can do something in an orderly fashion (eg teaching kids how to line up and then the first in line is first in the class room etc), or be himself is given first choice of something or perhaps himself being the first choice (both as in team-picking, these being the picker and the pickee respectively), and so on, all without that child necessarily connecting this with the numbers or even knowing how to add two and two. So I hold that, in English, instances of the first three ordinal ranks are perceptual level for primary etc (first second and third are not obviously linguistically connected to one two and three in the way that fourth and fifth are more obviously connected to four and five), that the cardinal numbers have their own perceptual level referents on their own terms separately from consideration of ordinal systems, and that the connection of cardinal with ordinal is a later feat of integration.

The metaphysical side comes from how we learn to apply this system of thinking to real-world applications. We have to see that there are reasons for why we must do or consider something first and something else second. For instance, we have to identify reasons why mining and agriculture/aquaculture are called primary industry, why which winding on a transformer is the primary, and so on. Each of these has its own metaphysical answers which necessitate the epistemological judgement. For instance, primary industry is the beginning of all material processing, with secondary industry not being possible without it because it processes the output of primary industry, and that the primary windings on a regular three-phase transformer are those that take in the power from the high-tension transmission lines and step it down to lesser voltages (and higher currents) output on its secondary windings, and so on.

Yet it would be mistake to think that there are facts more important to reality itself than others. As far as reality itself is concerned, all facts that are true at a given point in time are true simultaneously. They just are so. To get to primacy in the world we have to consider time and causality, both of which we have already seen before. Things happen in sequences: there are things that happen first, and things that happen later because of the first - the later events are dependent on the earlier ones. The consequences that come first can be referred to as the primary consequences, those that follow because of the primaries as secondaries, and those that follow from the secondaries as tertiaries, and so on. For example, military pilots bombing something are frequently concerned with looking for secondary explosions to follow the primary explosions caused by the bombs they drop, because the secondaries indicate that the primaries have hit an intended target that is expected to blow up as in the case of a supply of fuel or ammunition. In the Dune novels it is said that while the majority can see primary consequences, and the more intelligent can see secondary consequences, only Mentats are adept at the accurate identification of tertiary and quaternary consequences of the actions being contemplated by their masters.

There is also a form of causality that does not expressly refer to time. This relates to the division of causality into its four kinds, which I will cover properly some other time. Of the four kinds, the efficient and final are concerned with time directly whereas the formal and material are less so. Of these latter two, material is more primary, for the formal has no meaning except as the form taken by that material, and also that the formal is still related to time and concerns the interplay of efficient and material causes in definite patterns. Thus metaphysically, the material cause of something is a primary in its own right, which leads to an investigation of what the ultimate components of existence are. But that is less of a metaphysics issue than it is a plain physics one. For metaphysics it only matters that there are fundamental constituents, that whatever form they take (be that substantial or topological or whatever) they exist and they are of certain natures - the concepts existence and identity we have also already seen. The rest we can leave to physics, though noting with a smile that among the special sciences physics is the primary upon which the others, such as chemistry and astronomy, are properly dependent - which is itself a fact that had to be discovered.

I think the metaphysical reduction of primary as an isolated word can be left at that. After the above, it just a matter of recognising the various actual facts of time and causality to achieve the proper metaphysical application of judgements of ordinal ranking as identified in the epistemological reduction.

Reduction of the principle
Reduction to facts
In philosophy, at the height of abstraction and universality, primaries are the first and foundational statements to be made in a system, that is, the axioms. But this is an epistemological use of the word. Metaphysically, the primaries are the actual facts described by those axioms. It is because these facts are held to be metaphysical primaries that the axioms describing them are the epistemological primaries. The point in asserting the primacy of something is to invoke the metaphysical facts so as to guide epistemological activity.

Before one can concern oneself with primaries, one must be first concerned with facts as such. So the first reduction of the principle as an integrated whole is to the facts of reality. There are zillions of them: chlorophyll is green, the sun is a star, consciousness is conscious, crocodiles are big lizards, sulphuric acid is highly corrosive, all things that exist are of certain natures, black swans have white flight-feathers, the mean pressure of the air at MSL on Earth is 101.3kPa, and so on. All of these we obtain in one way or another from observation and induction, and each in its own way reduces to direct perception. The how will be examined in future under epistemology, as it only matters for the moment that this is so.

Reduction to competing alternatives
Of all the facts that are so, a philosophy does make a distinction between them on the basis of their epistemological position in the system of that philosophy (whether that system be express or implied in the works of the relevant philosophers, and independent of their protestations on the matter). There are facts that are held to be the base of the system and facts that are of lesser importance. But not all philosophies profess the same primaries.

Going back to philosophy and the idea of primaries, there is a distinction between sets of facts held to be primaries in general on the one hand and reference on the other hand to the single fact that is held to be the primary of primaries. To the extent that a given creed even concerns itself with both issues, all creeds as far as I can tell have one of two alternatives as the explicit or implicit primary of primaries: existence or identity. Recall that the point of the express statement of the primacy of existence is to deny the primacy of consciousness, so both existence and consciousness must be examined.

Reduction to existence
The meaning of the primacy of existence is that existence comes first. The statement is saying that existence is the most fundamental fact to which all others are related, that it is existence that sets the term for all else, and that all else is a subset of or in some other way derived from existence and hence subject to all the principles of identity and causality etc as pertaining to existence in general. The statement is thus saying that we must recognise that fact and incorporate it into all of our thought processes, beginning with recognising that thoughts are only valid to the extent that they are attempts to think about existence in some way. It is an explicit underscoring of a fact that had long been implicit in all actions undertaken since the day of birth (and perhaps before even that, too).

But although existence is held to be a primary, as an express abstraction it is far from being directly cognised. The primacy of it has to be a conclusion, which must come from observation of how various facts of existence are so independently of consciousness. All facts are expressions of identity and causality, where the latter reduces back to identity anyway, so the reduction of the primacy of existence comes by way of reduction to identity in the concrete. From there can one reduce back to existence, as already described under both existence and identity in previous posts.

The summary of that conceptual reduction, which we will need later is: existence qua being (“exists”, “there” versus “not there” etc), existence qua being something in particular (“is a something”), concepts for broad classes of things, concepts for successively narrower classes until one reaches first-level concepts for entities, express recognition of entities, perception of entities, and so back to the awareness of existence, identity and consciousness on the implicit level that an infant is capable of.

Reduction through anthropomorphism
Again, the express statement is also made as a contrast to the idea that consciousness is primary, the claim that it is a consciousness of some kind that that comes first and is somehow the creator of all else. The statement is made so as to recognise formally the subordinate nature of consciousness to existence. There are two aspects of this to consider.

The first aspect is direct perceptions of the world about us and our place within it. When we look at the world we see a whole pile of actions, many of which are taken to be examples of consciousness in action. In most cases, however, consciousnesses are only imputed to exist, rather than perceived directly. The only direct perception we can have of a power of consciousness is that of our own: one can directly observe as regards the power of consciousness is one’s own capacity to move one’s own body. We may then infer the same capacity on the part of other beings such as family and friends, people down the street and at school, one’s own pets and other people’s pets, and all manner of creatures in the rest of the world, as a conclusion from direct perception of actions, such as creatures appearing to observe other things, our ability to communicate with them (not just people, but also to entice pets for TLC or to make noises and motions we know will scare away pests, etc).

A problem is that inference of consciousness to things easily runs amuck. We saw that before in the discussion of causality: the problem of anthropomorphism. Note that it is not just a problem for primitive man, as our increasing familiarity and intimacy with robots is showing. This problem arises because of the eagerness with which consciousness is imputed to things. Primitive man saw that his consciousness had causative power over his body, and in child-like manner imputed consciousness to other entities that he observed causative powers. This alone lead to premises laid so deep in the culture it took several centuries of professional effort to overcome it sufficiently to give us our existence-oriented industrial civilisation (and, of course, the need for work here is not yet over).

Yet even so, never has there ever been any direct perception of any clearly conscious being affecting reality in any slightest way through a sheer exercise of will. Zero, zip, nichts, nada, nothing. History shows that there never has been any evidence, and causality and identity shows that there never will be. All professed belief in it has always been some mixture of charlatanry, gullibility, hallucination, and outright insanity.

In all cases, further, every blessed observation from which we have ever concluded anything, rightly or wrongly, about the nature of consciousness clearly points to causality, identity, and existence. Both when inference is correct and in error, what direct perception of consciousness does show, and has always shown, is the definite nature of consciousness as something to which causality and identity apply, that consciousness too is part of existence rather than the other way around. With that, both of the facts directly perceived in relation to consciousness and of the prior-seen reductions of causality, identity and existence to yet more facts, we are at the perceptual level.

Reduction through abstractions
The question of an alleged primacy of consciousness does not lie exclusively through conclusions of an anthropomorphic nature from direct perceptions. There is also the realm of abstractions to cover, that of realising that one possesses ideas, emotions and concepts without knowing how one acquired them.

For the most part we take abstractions for granted, and it takes an overt mental act to bring them into question. At first glance we seem just to know, because of their immediate availability as the need requires without needing to build them from anything every time we need them. It is this, in one way or another, that availability has given rise not only to a primacy-of-consciousness viewpoint and sophisticated mystic creeds, but also of a clash between a consciousness that tries to assert primacy and an existence that is recalcitrant to some degree.

The combination of this in the primitive man, plus ignorance of the origin of abstractions in the earliest of sophisticated man, inevitably leads to the first instances of a primacy of consciousness viewpoint among those who begin thinking systematically. The anthropomorphism of primitive man gave us witchdoctors, soothsayers, bizarre rites, and the like, but the addition of sophisticated thinking turns this into more organised priestcraft, prayers and other magical incantations, ceremonies with all the seriousness that sophisticated intellectuals can muster, sacred writings and complex codes, and so on. These are the elements of the more formal primacy-of-consciousness viewpoint we associate with that phrase, and it is from these that we get actual religions rather than mere shamanism and witch-doctoring.

Yet as with the pull-back from blunt anthropomorphism into recognition of a difference between intentional and non-intentional causation, and how this knowledge of causality was a major factor in the development of our modern society, this self-same society gives each of us plenty of material from which to begin questioning the origin of our ideas and concepts in a manner that does not devolve back to fear-driven nonsense (be that fear of the unknown world or fear of elders’ punishing us for insisting on asking the wrong questions). We are nowadays educated for long enough in a complex enough manner to recognise that we did indeed learn all these ideas, both complex and simple. Even when we think we ‘just know’ something and take it for granted, we can often see when we first learned something and then worked with it so much that it became automatised. It needs no detailed analysis to see any of this, we just need to recall our own time - at least a decade - spent in formal school and then remembering being taught things outside of school by parents, going back to before any schooling began. When we look at the same with others, we clearly see that even the simplest words and ideas have to be taught. If kids are taught different things then it is these different things that become automatised and taken for granted. This is why there is a diversity of languages and cultures around the world, including how there are ideas easily expressed in one language that are less easily expressed in another (eg panache, schadenfreude, and siesta have no single-word equivalents in English that capture their proper meanings).

This applies to whole ideas and hence the feeling of “just knowing” that such and such is true. Religious belief has to be adopted, and usually requires it being constantly nurtured. People of even the same racial stock, indeed of the same family, raised from children to believe different religions will in time “just know” that their respective religions are true - unless they are the more heroic and questioning kind and their tormentors teachers don’t threaten dire physical consequences for expressing doubts. Not for nothing did the Jesuits come up with the adage “give me a child for the first seven years and you may do what you like with him afterwards.”

All up, then, in a manner yet to be explored more fully, clearly the existence of abstractions of all kinds has to come back to education and observation, which ties back to the identity of consciousness as a definite thing (chiefly, here, that it includes the capacity for automatisation and then forgetting the process, to the extent one even recognised it taking place in the first place) on the first count and directly to perception of entities and others’ teachings on both counts. Again, we are back to the perceptual level, which includes the relevant connections to causality, identity, and existence, so as to obtain these abstractions.

Reconstruction of “primary”
The beginnings of the path specifically to reconstructing “primary” begins when a child is being taught numeracy. Now, as I said, as it happens the cardinal numbers are taught first and the ordinal numbers are taught second but I don’t think the former are strictly necessary for the latter. That being said, I don’t think it a particularly important point, so I won’t explore that further.

The first level, then, is direct observation of one, two, three etc, and of first, second, third etc. Cardinal numbers are easy to show: the sequences “I, II, III”, “A, AA, AAA”, “X, XX, XXX” etc all have in common that they are examples of what 1 2 and 3 mean. Ordinal numbers require a little more effort, such as going out of one’s way to show that in the word “dog” the first letter is d, the second o, the third g, and in “cat” the first is c, and so on. What is a little easier and less artificial than that is actual use in real life as applicable to kids, through a bit of judicious use of time and sequences in time, as shown already in the reduction of the word, eg races (side note: perhaps the assault on winners-and-losers and ranks in races etc has, as one of its lesser destructive consequences, the effect of undermining conceptual growth in knowing what the ordinal ranks mean? It won’t be much of a contribution, but nevertheless it is there and the younger the kids that this assault is directed at the greater the harm caused to their minds through the deliberate withholding of education.)

After that, knowing what primary means outside of philosophy is not much more than hearing it and connecting it with the concept of “first”. In Australia and New Zealand at least, the first time a child will hear this word is in reference to the school he goes to after he turns five: here, we go to Primary School from grades 1 to 7, with the first three usually being in a Junior Primary School facility that is semi-separate from the rest of Primary School. I know that this is not the terminology used in the US (American kids go to Grade School), and I don’t know about other countries. For us, then, Primary School is the first real school we go to, whether or not some of us go to kindy or pre-school beforehand.

However, although first exposure to the word is likely to be at age three or four it will be just an empty sound at first, and then treated only as part of a multi-word abstraction representing a class of nouns. This means the proper understanding, of connecting it with “first” through proper differentiation and integration, is apt only to be understood by all kids (in general) in western countries much later, more or less at the same time, irrespective of whether they go to Primary School or Elementary School or whatever.

Then we get to the more adult uses. This is where we see phrases such as primary ignition, primary windings, and then connect them together to finally understand why primary schools are called such. All of these are directly related to the meaning of “first”, which, being etymologically related to “prime”, connects us to how “prime beef” is of a quality generally held to be the first choice of the discerning consumer, and so on. So in the general sense of the word, we may define primary as: that which is the first or main bearer of work in some physical system, and so is the first thing (and often most important or central thing) to bring to mind when examining that system. This must be used in recognition of how the system in question may be part of a larger structure, meaning that it is not as though the primaries of some small subsystem necessarily have to be thought of at the very start of consideration of an entire structure.

It is with the latter half of that definition that the philosophical use arises. The actual system being considered is the whole of some field of study, and in metaphysics the whole of all there is to be studied (ie all reality). Thus in philosophy a primary is a principle that must be among the earliest considered in some branch or topic of investigation. The primary of primaries is that which is the very first in that topic, with the most primary of all being that principle which is the very first that must be established and on whose basis all others depend for their validity. Here it is most clear why both “basic” and “fundamental” were listed as part of the thesaurus elements in the definitions provided by, which we can now see is perfectly justified.

And with that we must move to consideration of what that proper primary of primaries is.

Induction of the principle
Primacy of existence in the initial implicit awareness
The instant that the new mind first turns on there is experienced a constant flow of evidence of how that there are things that exist. Everything else that is ever experienced and ever done always comes back to this: there is something. The fact that existence is primary is implicit right from the beginning, and is treated as such not just in all action at this stage of a child’s development but for the rest of life.

Let us start from early on, here, working inductively. At the concrete level, the awareness of the existence of a wide variety of individual existents is explicit from the moment that perception of entities begins - indeed, it is this that leads to explicit awareness of the fact of existence as such, which we saw before when looking at that concept. The young child is inquisitive, looking, poking, prodding, licking, smelling, moving around, or otherwise inspecting - frequently causing glorious mischief in the process. The world and everything in it is new to children, all of it a discovery, and most of it exciting and interesting (at least at first). This world (other than art and mess) was not created by them, exists independently of them, and in most cases existed before they did as we can plainly see for ourselves. On the latter score, we know the same applies to us, given the similar testimony of our elders of whose words there is no good reason whatsoever to doubt the principle behind since we observe our own growth and own eldership over those younger than us. I can safely leave the rest to the discussions of existence and identity already made, all of which scream “primacy of existence.”

At this concrete level the principle is not restricted to humans only, either. The same perceptual-level discovery is observable on the part of many other animals, too. The world is as much a new and exciting place to a puppy or kitten as it is to a toddler. Puppies discovering that they can run out rolls of toilet paper, and kittens misjudging their capacities to jump distances, are both classics here, and both are equally evidence how existence is primary over their perceptual-level minds just as it is for toddlers’ minds. It is that fact, and all the concrete examples of it, that bring a smile to our faces, even if we sometimes have to clean up the mess that the young leave behind them - and that, too, is itself evidence of the primacy of existence over our own minds as adults observing the proceedings and their aftermath.

As we grow older, development consists of being more sophisticated in the same basic principle and process. There are things in the world that we then discover, investigate, and learn about. The nature of what we learn also grows ever more intricate, and begins being integrable with what we’ve previously discovered. We learn implicitly about the Law of Causality early on, and we learn about ever more complex forms of the law as we progress. Within that law also is the primacy of existence, this being so because it is an application of the Law of Identity and hence is traceable back to existence. Things are what they are, do what they do, and that’s a fact. With that, as a proportion of outcomes of our actions the frequency of innocent mishaps falls and of deliberate mischief increases, both as a result of incorporating causality into thoughts about the world - ie again accepting a primacy-of-existence view, albeit on a level that is still not an explicit formulation.

Primacy of existence in self-discovery
Awareness of the existence of consciousness is also implicit in our action from very early on, but this implicit awareness does not arise except on the background of the prior established implicit awareness of existence. This is a long process over the course of years that proceeds in inductive fashion over many areas, all parts of which imply a primacy of existence.

To begin with, observe that for the first few weeks and months of life all the motions of the limbs are chaotic, happening outside of the conscious control of that infant. The initial control takes months to learn, and taking full control is an achievement that takes years. This, too, is directly the result of existence being primary in fact: our limbs are parts of existence, parts which one later discovers one can control by an act of will, yet which one can only move in certain ways even if one wanted to do more than they are capable of.

Concurrent with that is the discovery of one’s five primary senses. We experience all five before we discover that they are part of us specifically, that we have material organs specific to each sense, and that we later learn we can act to influence what they sense by means of controlling what happens to or with those material organs. The fact is that perception of existence precedes identification of the act of perception itself, because the thought “I can perceive!” (be this worded or not) is conceptual level and first requires the perceptual level concretes - ie the individual acts of perception - to be observed before they can be integrated into awareness of the process. Indeed, in between those concretes and that conceptual conclusion it is necessary for there to be at least two lesser but still conceptual-level integrations involving the acts of sensing themselves, such as “I can see” and “I can hear”. And all five sense organs are in the same boat as our discovery of the rest of our body: they are definite things with definite capabilities that have certain ranges no more and no less. The very notion of control over them already presupposes an implicit primacy of existence view, through implicit recognition that each of the means of them is part of existence and hence subject to identity and causality, even though they are our consciousness’s points of contact with existence.

Then, as we get older, as we explore more, observe ourselves more, and later still are taught more, we discover that we have what we later call the mind’s eyes and the mind’s voice. With the mind’s eye we can imagine things to see, and with the mind’s voice we can imagine things to hear – sometimes this is within our control, other times not, but we do eventually recognise that we have the phenomena and that what we see and hear in such a fashion is in our heads rather than in the world itself. Although a rare few begin exhibiting disorders, the bulk of us recognise a personal capacity for what it is and start using it as such. It is with express discoveries like these that we begin to identify our minds explicitly, through recognising our possession and manipulation of mental content. In time, we gain concepts, the ability to speak, the ability to read, the ability to think, and express awareness of the fact that we have these powers.

From there we expand our powers of body and mind more deliberately. We at last expressly recognise in words our power to move body parts and practice skills, and also that we can choose to go on practicing or giving up in the face of failures. We at last recognise that that there are things we know and things we don’t know yet can and should learn, and that we can choose to think or not (eg by watching TV instead). Either way, we begin recognising that what happens to us is in part up to us and in part set by the nature of the world around us, and that if we want various things and outcomes then we have to accept certain facts for what they are and act certain ways with respect to those facts. In sum, we start to recognise our own existences within a world impervious to acts of consciousness other than via one’s body ever more thoroughly. But unfortunately, for the most part this is grasped concrete by concrete and the integrations tend more to be pushed into automatised behaviour and sense of life than conscious conviction about the nature of what is so. As a result, particularly because of lingering (growing) supernaturalism in the culture, for a long time there still remains for many the temptation to evade the imperviousness of reality...

Express recognition of the primacy of existence
At some point, prior to the previous paragraph, we begin to gain notions of a distinction between that which is and that which we would like to be or would like not to be. Slowly at the start, we begin recognising that our wanting what is not does not change that which is. Yet I find that this is no binary recognition, and instead that there is a gradual movement towards recognition of this as a universal – that is, it is a principle that has to be painstakingly induced. For instance, a very young child begins to understand that shutting his eyes wont make a mess he made cease to exist just because he doesn’t see it or wants to pretend it is not there, that when we get sick we just have to take the icky medicine for it (“Brondicon”... *shudder*), and so on, but that an understanding of that nature wont stop him from believing that God will convert a toy model motorbike from one type to a preferred one if he wishes hard enough and leaves it overnight at the foot of his bed. Been there, done that, don’t want to go back again. As strange as it might sound, that was a turning point for me – circa age 8 I think – and I am glad I never spoke to anyone about it because then I would have gotten some spiel about God not doing frivolous miracles, where instead (as best as I can remember it) I just absorbed the disappointment wordlessly and added it to my non-miraculous sense-of-life. Steps like that were how I moved along to the full recognition of the primacy of existence.

And this brings us to the key point: this movement towards recognition is a process that many people never complete, including among so-called atheists. It is this topic of completion versus non-completion that is the point about stressing the primacy of existence. From what I can see, those can finish it themselves mostly do it on a sense-of-life level, where most of their express commentary is rather concrete-bound and frequently cynical, with these people limiting their appreciation of the philosophical profundity of the matter to being merely dismissive of negatives such as supernaturalism. As valid as such dismissals may be, they are not enough to prevent one from falling afoul of primacy-of-consciousness viewpoints – a sad testament to this is the continued implicit belief (in a few different variants) among many atheists that feelings are some kind of magical connection to an infallible standard of truth and value. The final step on the gradual process is not dismissal but affirmation, and then going on to use this affirmation to identify equally expressly all that follows.

It takes genius to identify and state the positive that what is is and acts accordingly, and to tease out the implications of these facts. This is the legacy of Parmenides, Aristotle, and others, both in Europe and the Middle-East. As I’ve noted before, it is from working from their teachings that the modern, secular world springs. As great and powerful as this was, one last identification remained to be made: the actual statement of the primacy of existence in such a fashion that integrates everything.

The means of doing so is to recognise all the axioms for what they are, inducing each from observations and then integrating them into a consistent whole by integrating observations and identifying their relevant interconnections. We recognise that existence exists, consciousness is and can only be conscious of existence, that identity and causality are universals from which nothing – including consciousness – is exempt. There is no evidence whatsoever of a consciousness capable of manipulating existence except by means of the physical body of which each instance of consciousness is an element. Moreover, all the evidence available rules out consciousness having pure will-power – even the most plausible of fantasies, such as the disembodied energy fields one finds in science-fiction, still rely upon existence existing independently of consciousness and these consciousnesses still being subject to that fact by being of definite limited natures.

Working from the above, we can further analyse the connection of existence and consciousness. It is quite easy to understand the possibility of existence without consciousness. Indeed, all observation (with or without the aid of science) shows that this was once actually so. We know that the world was around before each of us was born, is still around when people die, and will continue to be around after we’re gone, both individually and as a species – a denial of that is and can only be wishful thinking, not reasoning. Science – such as biology, astrophysics, and palaeontology – started from this basis and then went on to underscore it with observations and integrations that span more volumes than a single individual can read in the whole of his lifetime.

Now, what about the reverse, a consciousness without existence? Simple reflection shows this to be an absurdity. In the first place, the idea of there having ever been a consciousness where nothing at all exists is not worth taking seriously, so I wont. In the second, the idea of their being a consciousness where nothing else exists, which consciousness could thus only have been aware of itself, is also absurd, for it is suggesting that at one point there was a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of. Consciousness is an activity as much as it is a faculty. A consciousness cannot become aware of itself until it notices itself in action observing something other than itself: a lone consciousness as the only existent would be a blank staring at a blank, undertaking no actual conscious activity, and hence effectively unconscious and in no position whatever to do anything about it. Even if we ignore the brazen defiance of the laws of identity and causality involved in willing things into existence, this consciousness could not do so even if had the power because it has no content of consciousness to work with and can never obtain any. A consciousness observing itself is akin to a video camera focussed exclusively on a monitor showing only what that self-same camera is picking up. It will be a blank staring at a blank, and only the effects of outside forces - ie elements of existence existing independent of consciousness – could this blank feedback loop obtain content and so cease being blank. The idea of a consciousness independent of existence is not just contradictory to all evidence (which is fatal in itself, and is the main means of trashing primacy-of-consciousness) but is also utterly self-contradictory.

So, every blessed piece of evidence and non-contradictory thought all leads to the same one conclusion: since existence exists, consciousness is conscious of something that exists in some fashion (even mental content), that existence must be implicitly identified before consciousness can be implicitly identified, A is A and A does what A does both irrespective of conscious wanting otherwise, and that ideas contrary to these are in defiance of evidence and reason, it can only the case that existence is primary and consciousness can only be used properly by working with that fact either implicitly or explicitly in mind.

In sum, the induction of how existence is primary consists of little more than formally recognising the processes of forming the initial concepts with extra consideration for the order of doing so, formally recognising the relation of consciousness to existence, connecting this with other aspects of reality that are also readily observed, and integrating it all into a single sum describing undeniable facts. If one has done all these things right, the final conclusion should be no revelation but greeted with a simple “of course.”

Some implications
So, what we’re doing here is not, as Dr Peikoff rightly notes, is not identifying a new axiom. Rather, we are underscoring that each is so, that the first is and has to be identified first chronologically (albeit in implicit form), and that all else that one identifies after that is only valid if consistent with that first. The other axioms are parts of a system where existence takes the lead and sets the terms. In explicit form, the axioms could be identified in any order chronologically, but this is only possible because of having already identified in implicit form the fact that something exists and then using that to identify implications. A critical role for identifying the primacy of existence, therefore, is in properly grounding all knowledge.

This grounding is about both method and content: existence exists, and one must act accordingly within one’s mind as well as with one’s body. Thus in method, the primacy of existence means that to gain knowledge of existence one must look at existence, of seeking to determine what the identity of something is by gaining awareness of its attributes and how they relate to each other. For instance, to know how an electric motors work you have to examine them for yourself, discovering the connections between magnetism, electricity, metallurgy, chemistry, insulation, energy transfer, mathematics, and validating as best you can the work of others from whom you may more quickly learn. The primacy of existence also rules out any such thing as revelation or just knowing, rules out the use of feelings as infallible indicators of the true and the good, and rules out trying to determine how the world works by looking at how consciousness works.

And in content, it means that all that one thinks one has identified has to be an integrated whole that is never at variance with any of the axioms. For instance, it rules out the fabled perpetual motion machines, rules out any and all forms of supernaturalism, rules out life after death, and many other forms of denying or contradicting any of the axioms. Further, if we go back again to the epistemological discovery of the concept of existence, we can recall how it is the widest integration possible. It is that which covers everything that is, was, and will be. It is the one key universal. It is that which is everywhere, from which there is no escape, not even in death. All else that is valid is predicated on it. Thus it has to be the first thing to identify: before it is valid to wonder about the nature of something one must first have evidence of that something existing, or else one is indulging in fantasy. It does not matter how tenuous that evidence is, so long as there is that evidence of at least something existing so as to make it valid to ponder what and how. That is primacy of existence at work.

What now?
What is, is. To know what is, go find it, examine it and think about it. That is the essential lesson of the primacy of existence. How? That’s epistemology, which I’ll start on next time.


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