Posted by Jerry on August 14, 2006
Upon a second reading of my previous post titled Epistemic Urges, I felt that there were a few things I needed to clarify, or state more explicitly. So, I decided to pose certain questions to myself and answer them. I believe it helped me in not only clarifying my thoughts but also in making my thought-process more robust, logical, and reality-oriented.
Here is my Q & A with myself:
If nothingness is unfathomable, how do I *know* that it is; in other words, how can my consciousness *know* that it cannot be conscious of nothingness?
I know it in the same way I know that all bachelors are unmarried men, or that all men are mortal. It’s a reduction to definition: nothingness, by definition, cannot permit the existence of consciousness because then there would be no “nothingness”—there would be something, i.e. consciousness. Further, if one admits that consciousness exists, then one must answer the question: what is this consciousness consciousness of? What are the contents of this consciousness?
Note that consciousness is not a vessel that is “filled” with contents and memories and ideas. Consciousness is itself the contents, the memories, the ideas.
It is by this reduction to the identity of what consciousness is, that I can say with absolute certainty that consciousness cannot fathom nothingness.
How then do we know what we mean when we use the concept of nothingness?
We can understand the concept of nothingness only because we have a solid concept of somethingness. The concept of nothingness is only the negation of somethingness, and as such, its identity is wholly dependent on the identity and concept of somethingness. We use the concept of nothingness for purposes of speaking and explaining our ideas—it is purely for methodological purpose. Nothingness does not exist as such. In fact, such a proposition is meaningless and nonsensical because you cannot negate the concept of existence and yet speak of its (the negation’s) existence in the same proposition.
If consciousness is itself the contents, the memories, and the ideas, then how is consciousness conscious of it being conscious? Wouldn’t that be an absurd circularity, or alternatively, an infinite regress?
There is no infinite regress of circularity in the fact that the content of consciousness can be consciousness itself. My awareness could be of myself being aware of myself. There isn’t any more need of regressing further, nor is there any circularity here.
So, if the argument is that because we cannot fathom nothingness (or non-existence) our consciousness has tendencies of imagining continued existence (because our consciousness is epistemically boundless), then how is it that I as an atheist have been able to curb my “epistemic urge” and have realized that there is indeed no such continued existence, and that when we die, everything ceases to exist?
By realizing the nature and identity of consciousness, i.e., that it is dependent on the primacy of existence, I come to the conclusion that when entity that is conscious ceases to exist, then its consciousness (which is an attribute of the entity’s own identity) must also cease to exist (because of the primacy of existence). Thus, I realize that there is no continued consciousness by an entity after the entity has ceased to exist, nevertheless, I also realize from reality (prevalence of religious and after-life beliefs) and introspection, that consciousness is fully capable of imagining a continued existence even after death.