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Metaphysics—Part 1

If you managed to wade through the introduction, you know its emphasis was on the exact meanings of the words existence and reality. I confess one of the reasons for the protracted treatment is because these words are continuously abused in philosophy and are always in question whenever they are used and I wanted to avoid the necessity of explaining them every time I used them. I especially wanted to avoid that since I intend to use those words to explain the most important concept in all of metaphysics, which is what the ultimate existence actually is.

The Really Real Existence

What I mean by the, "really real existence," is that aspect of reality that is primary, the fundamental existence without which there is no other existence. Most philosophies that consider this question assume it is either an ontological question (what is the ultimate stuff or nature of existence?) or a cosmological question (where did everything come from or how did everything come to be.)

The question is neither ontological or cosmological, because the "really real existence," is what ontology and cosmology (which is not part of philosophy) are actually ways of studying.

The ultimate reality, the absolute is, the "really real existence" is the physical reality we are directly conscious of. All consciousness is perceptual consciousness and is the only consciousness human beings (or any other creatures) have. Physical existence is all that consciousness can be directly and automatically conscious of, and it is that physical existence we are directly conscious of which is the ultimate reality (though not all of it).

[Note: Material existence is all that exists independently of anyone's knowledge or consciousness of it and is absolute, in the sense that its nature is what it is whether that nature is or is not known or understood. As such, physical existence is a subset of material existence, which includes the non-physical aspects of reality, life, consciousness, and volition. The emphasis in this section is the elimination of those philosophical errors that regard any aspect of reality as some kind of illusion.]

Physical existence, as the ultimate reality, is not physical existence as the scientists describe it, but as we perceive it. Furthermore, existence as it is perceived is exactly what that existence is, and our perception of it is never wrong or mistaken. The remainder of this philosophy will demonstrate the unquestionable truth of these assertions.

Reality Doubted

There is likely not one educated person who does not, or has not, doubted the above assertion. Most people doubt perceived reality is the ultimate reality. Most have been taught and believe something more, "fundamental," like the fundamental particle's of physics, for example, or some ultimate "force," is the ultimate reality. Most people doubt the reliability perception (which they mistakenly refer to as the senses), as well. They are certain perception is subject to distortions, illusions, and deceptions. Almost no one really believes reality is the world we directly perceive or that it is exactly as we perceive it.

Except for some pre-socratic philosophers, this view has never been held explicitly and unambiguously by any philosopher since the sophists began to question it and Plato utterly repudiated it, obliterating it from all future philosophical consideration. There is probably not a serious philosopher today who does not consider that view naive.

In fact, it is naive. It is the view implicitly held by all unsophisticated people, when they are not thinking in terms of their religion. The reality they see and directly experience is reality, for most people, and if philosophers, scientists, and theologians did not come along and give them reasons to doubt it, there would be no reason at all to question that naive view.

Reality is the cold hard earth, and soft green grass, the trees, rocks, rivers, oceans, and mountains we see, feel, hear, and smell. It is the the onions, peppers, and fish we smell frying; it is the heat of the stove we feel; the shiny silverware on the table we see and the clinking we hear when the table is being set; it is the softness and texture of skin and clothing we feel. These are reality and the way these things look, and feel, and sound, how they smell and taste are what they really are.

It is that reality all intellectual inquiry is about. It is what the sciences study and philosophy attempts explain. When science tells us those things are not real, that some discovered fundamental particles or forces are real and the world we experience is only an illusion caused by them, the scientist is admitting what he studies is unreal, and all his conclusions are based on an illusion. When the philosopher tells us the physical world is not real, but only an illusion caused by the function of our brains, the philosopher is admitting that he and his brain are not real and that all his conclusions are caused by that which does not really exist.

In our naiveté, we know this world we experience, and are part of, is the real world. What sort of sophistication ever makes us doubt it?

Why Reality is Doubted

Religion says there is something "more" real than this world. More real would mean food that has a more real taste, objects that more really solid, and people and places that are somehow more real, more sensuous, more of whatever makes them real. But the religionists do not mean "real" in that way, they only mean this world is not quite, "real," without saying exactly what "real" means.

Philosophers tell us our perception is unreliable and the world we are conscious of cannot possibly be real as we are conscious of it, because our perception is the product of a physical neurological system and brain, which necessarily distort our perception of the world. Our conscious perception of the real world cannot be what it is really like, because our perception of it only represents it, is only a picture of it, not reality itself.

The Scientists assure us the world of appearance is not the real world, because it is only a manifestation of the much more real atomic and subatomic particles and forces which determine their behavior.

If we didn't have all these authorities assuring us the world we see, experience, and live in is not really real, there are the so called optical and perceptual illusions we have all experienced which convince us, the world, as it appears, is not as it appears to be.

I intend to demonstrate there is no basis at all for any of these assertions that cast doubt on the reality of the world we directly experience, exactly as we experience it. The specific sections of this philosophy that will do that are "Ontology" (beginning with the next section), "Consciousness", and "Perception".

Modes and Categories

In classical logic, the manner or way in which something exists is called a thing's mode of existence. In logic, the importance of mode is usually epistemological and relates to how words are used, or their "supposition." (For example the word "book" may refer to the concept book, "I found this book in the library," or the definition of book, "an opera's book is the libretto," or the word itself, "book is one of many words containing a double letter.")

Metaphysically, mode refers to existents. The metaphysical modes are also crucial to logic because they pertain to context, which when ignored leads to whole schools of logic that are mistaken, like logical positivism and linguistic analysis.

Questions of logic are essentially matters of epistemology, not metaphysics, and these questions will be addressed there. But the validity of knowledge and reason depends on the nature of the metaphysical realty we reason about and have knowledge of. The modal nature of reality is a necessary foundation to both a correct epistemology and system of logic.

The previous section described the importance of identifying an existents mode of existence to the meaning of "real." The following two examples illustrate that relationship and set the stage for the elimination of some common philosophical mistakes caused by dropping modal context.

A is A and Bent Sticks

This example illustrates the importance of "modal context" in reason, as well as illustrating the fallacy of the "perceptual illusion."

There is a kind of argument that may simplified as follow: "A is A is doubtful because a stick inserted in water looks bent; therefore, if A is, "a sticks appearance," A is not always the same, therefore, A is not always A." It is obvious there is a mistake here; it is not so obvious what the mistake is, partly because there are two mistakes:

The most important mistake is "context dropping," made possible by a confusion of modes, which is the second mistake. Nothing exists independently of its context. There is no such thing as just a straight stick. A "straight stick in the air, " is not a "straight stick in the water." A stick is also not its appearance. A stick is a stick, but its appearance is only one aspect of the stick, and that aspect is contingent on the stick's, "context."

Since "a sticks appearance" is contextual, "a stick's appearance," implies (and would be better stated), "all other relationships being the same, a stick's appearance is a stick's appearance," A is A.

The second mistake concerns mode (as well as supposition). If A is, "a sticks appearance," means A is the phrase, "a sticks appearance," or the concept, "a sticks appearance," A is A, because A only means, "a sticks appearance," whatever that appearance might actually be. This is the kind of mistake linguistic analysis makes, but in this case it is reversed, because the argument is that A is not always A, which is only plausible because the meaning of A is switched from A, the concept (in which case A must be A) to A, some particular extension or particular of the concept, in which case no two A's are going to be identical.

The so-called bent stick illusion is a mistaken argument against the validity of perception. It is not a mistake about the nature of perception, (about which there a many mistakes made by philosophers). In this case, the mistake is one of logic, but more importantly, a metaphysical mistake.

Metaphysically, nothing exist independently of anything else that exists. To ignore the fact of anything's relationship to other things always leads to error's, like ignoring the fact that a stick not in water, and a stick partially in water are not the same thing, metaphysically. If our perception of the actual existence is truly reliable, perception cannot ignore those metaphysical facts. If a straight stick appeared the same both out of the water and when partially submerged, that would be a perceptual illusion.

The so called, "bent-stick illusion," is a deception, but it is not perception that is deceived, it is all the philosophers and pseudo-intellectuals who try to press it into service proving the unreliability of perception. A stick in water and a stick not in water are metaphysically different things and perception unerringly and perfectly perceives that metaphysical difference.

A is A, But Is It Knowledge?

This question may seem far afield from metaphysics. It is, but the metaphysical significance will be apparent.

The question of whether "A is A" adds anything to human knowledge is another example of context dropping. What about the real world does A is A enable us to know? This question takes many forms, and may be asked of all mathematics and logic, for example.

A is A, like 2+2=4, does not add anything to our knowledge of the material world, at least no directly. They are not metaphysical concepts. When applied to things metaphysical they are actually knowledge about knowledge we already have about the world, put into a form that makes that knowledge useful.

We are indebted to Ayn Rand for making the greatly underappreciated observation, that disciplines like logic and mathematics are methods, not research, and as methods they tell us nothing, in themselves, except how the methods work. It is only as those methods are applied to actual facts of existence the validity and utility of the methods can be established. Logic and mathematics are real knowledge, just as the alphabet is real knowledge; but, they are knowledge about a human invention, not independent ontological existents. The fact the methods work when applied to our understanding of the metaphysical is proof only that the methods are appropriate for dealing with those aspects of the metaphysical which are amenable to them.

Logic and mathematics are correct methods; they, "work," because the world and our minds have specific natures, both of which must be discovered. It is by studying those natures that correct methods for further study and examination of the metaphysical can be developed. But they are only methods. The metaphysical has no mathematical or logical qualities or attributes. The metaphysical has attributes that can be counted and measured and identified logically, but the attributes of logic and mathematics are not themselves, metaphysical, they are conceptual. Logic, mathematics, and their attributes are real and exist, but they belong to a completely different category of existents than metaphysical ones.

Categories of Existents

An existent's category is determined by its mode of existence, and where in the hierarchy of existents that mode fits. Physical existents are primary; all other existents are logically, and really, dependent on physical existents. I said, "physical existence is all that consciousness can be conscious of, and it is that physical existence that we are directly conscious of which is the ultimate reality or primary existence." By, "conscious of," I mean, "directly perceive," and exactly what that means needs to be made unambiguously explicit.

By direct perception I mean all that we are conscious of involuntarily and includes both external percepts (what we see, hear, feel, smell, and taste) and internal percepts (general sensations such as internal pains and pleasures, as well as, nausea, and vertigo.) Internal percepts include the emotions, not as they are experienced, but the fact that what is experienced is physical (See Feelings). By involuntarily, I mean what we will perceive and how we will perceived it, if it is perceived. We can voluntarily look or not look at something, or close our eyes to avoid looking at all, or cover our ears, and we determine what we put in our mouths to taste, but what we will see, if we look at some thing, or hear, if a sound is there, or taste, if we put it in our mouth, is determined by the nature of the thing being perceived and the nature of our perceptual equipment and is totally automatic and involuntary.

We also have indirect percepts. Some indirect percepts are voluntary, such as imagination. Others are involuntary, like dreams and hallucinations. The difference between direct percepts and indirect percepts is the source of the percepts. The source of direct percepts is that physical existence that is being perceived. The source of indirect percepts are percepts or perceptual "data" that is stored in memory.

Physical Existence and Perception

It must not be supposed the physical existence is physical existence because we are directly conscious of it. Physical existence, and the wider concept, material existence, is independent of anyone's knowledge or consciousness of it.

Furthermore, physical existence is all we can be conscious of. Perception is perception of the physical and perception is the only consciousness we have. This fact is not readily apparent however, because some things we are conscious of do not seem to be consciousness of the physical. To explain them I must digress briefly from metaphysics to psychology.

There are three things that are most commonly thought of as percepts or consciousness that is not of the physical, the emotions, dreams, and concepts. These are obviously very large subjects and I will only address that single aspect of them that makes them seem, "disconnected," as though they were conscious experiences of nothing, but "just experiences," all by themselves; and why psychology has made the terrible mistake of treating such things as though they were the "product of the mind," or worse, the, "subconscious."

I have already explained the physical nature of emotions in the Feelings article, and more in the Desires article, so, here, I will first address the nature of dreams and concepts.

Dreams and Memory

Dreams are indirect perception and are distinguished from direct perception of physical existence by the fact there is no physical existence to perceive. They are consciousness of physical qualities recalled from memory. That process is very complex and will be covered as part of consciousness; what is important in the current context is the nature of the "memories" that are recalled as the percepts of dreams.

While dreams are not direct perception of physical existence, they are nevertheless perception of the physical; the physical thing that is being perceived as dreams is that behavior of the physical brain which we call memory. The mechanism which is memory, and how it functions, is not withing the scope of philosophy, but the fact it is a mechanism and physical is a philosophical matter. The nature of that mechanism from a philosophical view must also be discussed in another place, but the fact it is a function of the physical brain belongs here.

The fact memory is a function of the brain is well understood, and I think, not doubted generally. The function is not well understood at all, but it is obvious, memory exists as a function of the brain, and anything that affects those aspects of the brain related to that function affect memory, and depending on the severity of the effect on the brain, such effects can cause everything from minor disruptions in memory to total memory loss.

What we are conscious of, when we are conscious of any "memory" is the physical function of the brain which is memory. What we perceive in dreams, therefore, is certain aspects of that memory function that constitute the perceptual content of dreams. The unique characteristic of percepts derived from memory is the fact, while they are percepts of a physical event (the memory function of the brain) those percepts are, as we are conscious of them, reproductions or recreations of direct perception.

In one sense, all memory, including that involuntary kind that produces dreams (and hallucinations as well) is direct perception, because it is direct perception of physical events of the brain. But as direct perception, they have no meaning to consciousness. It is the indirect (recreated) consciousness of "stored" or "remembered" direct perceptions, that is, the way the direct perception is perceive, that has meaning to our consciousness.

Words and Concepts

Conception, which is frequently treated, if not actually thought to be, a different kind of consciousness from perception, is also an aspect of memory. The unique characteristic of human memory is that it can, within certain limits, be controlled voluntarily and consciously. That control of memory is the aspect of volitional consciousness that makes conception (knowledge and thought) possible.

It was Ayn Rand who observed concepts cannot be fully formed without language. But in fact, concepts cannot be formed at all without words. The role of words in concept formation will be fully discussed under epistemology, but that role can be seen from these three quotes by Ayn Rand. I will also point out an important mistake Ayn Rand first avoids, then makes.

"Words transform concepts into (mental) entities ...." [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, "Concept-Formation."]

First, by the mind, I mean, as Ayn Rand did, human consciousness. Human consciousness is different from the consciousness of other creatures, because it is volitional, but it is the same kind of consciousness, that is, perception.

Notice that Ayn Rand say words transform concepts into "mental entities." Since perception is the only consciousness we have, those mental entities can only be percepts. There are no other kinds of mental entities.

"A word is merely a visual-auditory symbol used to represent a concept; a word has no meaning other than that of the concept it symbolizes ...." [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, "Definitions."]

A word, which is a visual-auditory symbol, is usually learned by hearing it said by someone else or reading it. Those direct perceptions of a word are remembered. When one wants to use the word, the word must be recalled from memory, and what is recalled is an indirect precept (how the word looks or sounds).

"I have stated that words are perceptual symbols which stand for these products of the mental integrations [concepts].

"And in case this isn't clear, I would like to add one thing. Why did I say 'perceptual'? Because words are available to us either visually or auditorially. They are given to us in sensory, perceptual form. And by means of grasping them, on the perceptual level, we are able to operate with concepts as single mental units. In other words, every time we think of the concept 'table,' we don't have to add up the sum of all the tables we have seen or visualize them. 'Table' as a sound or a visual image is on the perceptual level. Mentally, it stands for that particular integration of concretes which we have called 'table.'

"So the word is not the concept, but the word is the auditory or visual symbol which stands for a concept. And a concept is a mental entity; it cannot be perceived perceptually. That's the role played by words." [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, "Appendix—The Role of Words."]

Here is the best description of how a concept which Rand describes as a mental integration, is grasped by means of a percept. I have the concept table by means of the perceptual symbol "table." The concept is the integration (not in my opinion the best way to describe it) of all the tables I have (or might) perceive. Unfortunately, at the very end, she wipes out this whole excellent analysis with these words, "a concept is a mental entity, it cannot be perceived perceptually."

There is throughout the writing of Ayn Rand, a view which is never explicitly stated, but is more or less obvious, that concepts are something we are conscious of in some direct fashion. Her last statement above is an example of this implicit view. "A concept is a mental entity," she says, but almost makes the critical connection, because she adds, "it cannot be perceived perceptually." But perception is the only consciousness we have, and the only "mental entities" there are, are percepts. If we cannot perceive concepts "perceptually," we cannot be conscious of them at all.

But we can be conscious of concepts, by means of words. Words are the means by which we make that abstract identification (of a thing or class of things) concrete, words make the conceivable perceivable, because words are our only means of being conscious of concepts.

Words, in themselves are not concepts, but concepts are words used as symbols for things or classes of things determined by the concept's definition. We can only be conscious of concepts by means of words, which are percepts. There is no special kind of consciousness which is conceptual consciousness.

While this digression has, for most, probably raised more questions than it has answered, partly because I have attempted to keep it as brief as possible, the intended point, I think, has been made, that even those percepts that seem most removed from consciousness of physical existence, are nevertheless, percepts of the physical, however detached or ephemeral they seem. It is misunderstanding the true nature of those kinds of percepts, like the emotions, dreams, and concepts, that are the major contributors to all those imaginary and philosophically disastrous concepts, like the supernatural and the subconscious. It is understanding the true nature of those percepts that will eliminate them.

The importance of understanding the physical is all we can be directly conscious of to metaphysics is our understanding of the nature of existence itself. If we were conscious of anything other than the physical, metaphysics would have to address the question of what those other kinds of existence are, and how we are conscious of them.

Not Materialism

The conclusion of my digression can easily be mistaken for the philosophical error called materialism. In fact, this philosophy is materialism, as I define material. By material, I mean, existing independently of anyone's knowledge or consciousness of it. That of course, includes the physical, but includes more than the physical. It includes, for example, consciousness.

The philosophical error called materialism is really physicalism. The philosophical physicalist or naturalist believes all that exists is the physical or "natural". I have already addressed one mistake in this view, because obviously memories, history, knowledge, and fictional characters all exist, in different modes, but so long as the mode is specified they exist and are quite real. But that is not what I mean by the error of physicalism.

While the physical is all that exists which we can be directly conscious of, consciousness also exists, else we would not be conscious. But consciousness, itself, is not physical, because consciousness and that which consciousness is conscious of cannot be the same thing. Also, since the physical is all that we are directly conscious of, and we cannot be directly conscious of consciousness itself, it cannot be physical.

The fact that consciousness is not itself physical will be fully explained both as part of ontology and the discussion of human consciousness. For now, consider the fact that consciousness in all creatures is only inferred. It is impossible to directly observe the consciousness of any other creature, including any other human being. It is supposed that we can, however, be directly conscious of our own consciousness by introspection. But introspection is not direct perception, it is a conceptual process. Just as we know we see, because we do, and not because we can actually perceive "the seeing,:" we know we are consciousness, because we are, not because we can directly perceive the consciousness. Of all the creatures that are conscious, only human beings know they are conscious, because only human beings posses the indirect means of knowing it, that is, conceptual identification.

This does not mean that consciousness is something supernatural or immaterial. Consciousness is perfectly natural and "material" because it exists independently of anyone's knowledge or consciousness of it (except, of course, for the conscious individual, himself). It is just not physical.

—Reginald Firehammer (9/8/04)

Summary

  1. Primary existence is the ultimate real existence without which there is no other existence.
  2. Physical existence, as the ultimate reality, is physical existence exactly as we perceive it and our perception of it is never wrong or mistaken.
  3. Mistakes in both metaphysics and logic are frequently the result of dropping metaphysical context.
  4. The metaphysical has no mathematical or logical qualities or attributes.
  5. The metaphysical has attributes that can be counted and measured and identified logically, but the attributes of logic and mathematics are not themselves, metaphysical, they are conceptual.
  6. Dreams are indirect perception and are distinguished from direct perception of physical existence by the fact there is no physical existence to perceive. They are consciousness of physical qualities recalled from memory.
  7. Words, in themselves are not concepts, but concepts are words used as symbols for things or classes of things determined by the concept's definition. We can only be conscious of concepts by means of words, which are percepts. There is no special kind of consciousness which is conceptual consciousness.