Reason as the Leading Motive

Epistemic Urges–II

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.

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16 Responses to “Epistemic Urges–II”

  1. Jason said

    So nothing is nothing unless it is something? :D

    Actually, very nice and consice. I think, though, that being aware of being aware is circulatory, in that it is ad infinitum to be aware of yourself, much like standing between two mirrors facing each other. You see yourself forever into nothing (well, not nothing), much like when you think about thinking. When you think about thinking about thinking…

    But then again, maybe not. You can, I suppose, stop thinking about the thinking only 1 level deep, but then, are you really thinking that hard about your thinking?

    I’m doped up on lots of med’s right now for this damnable flu-like thing I’m experiencing, so don’t mind me if this makes no sense…

  2. Rob Heusdens said

    It is quite clear and proper to say something that exists, like let us say my coffee cup, is clearly opposed to this same coffee cup, which does not exist. In fact, since this coffee cup is once manufactured, we can think of a time in which this coffee cup was not existent (but was projected or planned to become in exactly the same fashion as I have no available to my senses). So it is not unphantomizable to think of non-existence , as in this case of this not yet existent coffee cup, as was the case before it was made.
    We can then ask ourselves, in what way is this coffee cup, now that it exists and is available to my senses, different from the coffee cup at the time it did not yet exist.
    First we need to notice that what determines the identity of this coffee cup (like the material of which it is manufactured, the size and colour and all it’s distinguishable characteristics) is in both cases the same.
    Next we might notice that whatever feature of this identified coffee cup would have been taken different (different size, different colour, different material), this would not matter in regard to it’s existence. It would be a different coffee cup, with a different identity, but still in one case an existent coffee cup (one available to one’s senses) and in the other case a non-existent (but alltogether same) coffee cup.
    What we can work out of this is that altogether the existent coffee cup and the non-existent coffee cup differ in nothing (they have exactly the same features and characteristics that make up it’s identity), and from which we conclude that existence and non-existence is the same.
    If two things (in this case: two concepts) differ in nothing, they are clearly the same.
    At the same time however we have to say that existence and non-existence are not the same, since they are each others exact opposite (or to say the least, they ought)!

    [ The above is of course an abstract reasoning. It is taking things abstractly, as one does in formal reasoning. It abstracts from any determination of what exists, but just focuses on the aspect of existence itself, which is an empty abstraction, which in nothing differs from it's opposite: non-existence, and at the same time is directly opposed to it. Their only reality is in their unity which is becoming. In fact becoming is the only reality. ]

  3. Rob Heusdens said

    As a side remark: your notion of existence is something altogether different as mine, as yours is understood as the eternity (uncreatability and indestructability) of matter itself in eternal motion/change. That is in fact what the world is.

  4. Ergo said


    Abstract reasoning (divorced from reality), as you have illustrated with the example of a non-existent coffee cup, is perfectly useless in informing your mind about reality. It is perhaps why you reach the conclusion that existence and non-existence are the same thing–a blatant contradiction of the law of Identity, which, perhaps, is permitted by dialecticism.

    A non-existent coffee cup can only be meaningfully discussed once the existence of a coffee cup (with certain qualities) is either assumed, conceptualized, or ascertained. In other words, non-existence cannot be discussed without relation to existence. For example, in order to discuss “God” we have to commonly assume what we mean by such a concept, i.e., assume that such an entity exists in abstraction or conceptualize such an entity in order discuss the concept. We can do similarly with the concept of Superman or Batman or the Alien God Thor! :)

    As I said in my post, non-existence cannot exist by definition, and our consciousness cannot be conscious of (be aware of) non-existence as such. That would be a contradiction (being conscious of nothingness). Our minds can only think of non-existence in relation to something, i.e, existence.

    In any case, abstract reasoning is pointless, and I’d rather discuss matters more pertinent to reality and our relationship to/with it.

  5. Rob Heusdens said

    There is reality in dialectics, but my example was perhaps unclear.

    We live in a world of change, so existent things turn into nonexistence and vice verca. This already means that these two are somehow connected aspects of reality and not totally seperate.

    I should perhaps have chose a better example. Let’s say a cloud of hydrogen turns into a star by the attractive gravitation.
    At the same time as the cloud of gas ceases to be, the star is formed. The nonexistence of the star turns into existence.

  6. Ergo said


    I understand what you’re saying, and therefore, I disagree. To claim that “non-existence exists in reality” is a blatant contradiction between each term in that statement. Either that, or the terms used have no meaning. THe concept “non-existence” acquires its meaning as the “negation of existence”; “reality” is synonymous with all things that exist in the real world. Ergo, by definition, non-existence does not (cannot) independently exist in the real world but only in the *mind* of a conceptual being (i.e., man) for whom “non-existence” is a methodological *concept* he invented to differentiate existents.

    In a manner, you are harkening to the classical physics’ notion of space as the backdrop, background, or context within which objects move, exist, interact, etc. You think of non-existence as independently existing as the backdrop for the existence of objects. But that notion has been demonstrated as false: Einstein demonstrated that space is an *object* in itself and that it is in active, dynamic interaction with other objects in space. In other words, space is an existent too, thus, demonstrating that no such thing as non-existence (which we tend to [inaccurately] imagine as “empty, blank, black, space) can exist by definition.

    As a test, I challenge you to be conscious on non-existence, i.e., have the whole of your mental awareness be occupied with non-existence. Indeed, this is precisely the topic of my post: I argued that it is impossible for man to be conscious of non-existence. I assume we have gotten into this discussion because you disagree with some point I have made therein. Therefore, please let me know if/how you manage to become conscious of nothingness.

    P.S.: your point about the non-existent coffee cup or the hydrogen atom still requires your conceptual faculty, i.e., consciousness, to be aware of a *coffee cup* or a *hydrogen atom* that does not exist (but that did or may have previously). This still does not refute my argument. You are still resorting to an *existent* in order to mentally conceptualize non-existence. Thus, non-existence cannot (does not) objectively and independently exist in reality outside the conceptualized framework of man’s consciousness.

  7. Dexter said

    I agree.

    Something can be said to be nonexistent because it existed at some point in time. In other words, our faculty has registered its nonexistence *because* it existed at some point. Therefore, if something does/did not exist, it cannot nonexist; rather, to put it in another sense, that “supposed” nonexistent entity does not belong to our realm of consciousness. Nonexistence is dependent on existence, which is why we cannot be *independently* conscious of nothingness.

  8. Rob Heusdens said


    That’s the point, they belong together like two sides of a coin, like the north and south pole. They are not asolutely seperate.
    If we were only to claim the world exists (there are existents) this would neglect the fact that those existents once were not there and at some point will cease to be, so non-existence changes into existence and existence changes into non-existence.

    This is even more so for the identity of things, since to say that something has an identity neglects the fact that there is also opposition to that, and because of that: change.

    If you say that a ‘thing’ identity is immutable, (a fish is only a fish and only begets a fish and never change into something else) we could not possibly explain why things do change, why evolution happened (long time macro evolution from the first DNA living organism to all other forms), why hydrogen changes into all the other elements, etc.

  9. Rob Heusdens said

    In other words: there is not something instead of nothing (being instead of non-being), as absolutely seperate, but being and nonbeing belong together, form a dialectical unity of becoming (cq. ceasing to be) which is their truth.
    Pure being (being as such) as well as nonbeing, are themselves merely empty abstractions, and are in fact nothing.

  10. Ergo said


    I get what your saying, but you’re still not getting my point. I’m not denying that things can come in and go out of existence; it would be foolish to argue against that. I am saying that the metaphysical concept of non-existence is not an *independently* or *objectively* existing existent. It is purely an invention of man’s mind to clarify things for himself. If not for the conceptual consciousness of man, the concept of non-existence would not be–though reality would still continue to exist. In other words, all our conceptions of non-existence have to necessarily be in relation to man’s mind involved in contemplating some*thing*.

    Moreover, your understanding of identity is confused, and wrong.
    You said: If you say that a ‘thing’ identity is immutable, (a fish is only a fish and only begets a fish and never change into something else) we could not possibly explain why things do change, why evolution happened (long time macro evolution from the first DNA living organism to all other forms), why hydrogen changes into all the other elements, etc.

    The law of identity states that A is A, and the law of causality (which implies change) says that to be something is to act accordingly. Thus, when a fish begets a fish, all is fine. However, when a fish begets a creature that is radically and essentially different than itself, then we have to create a new concept to refer to such a creature, say for example, a reptile.

    Indeed, this is the way evolution actually works. We do not go around referring to ourselves as hydrogen atoms because that is not what the *identity* of *man* is, i.e., his most essential differentiation. Thus, when a chimpanzee begat a creature resembling a man, we invented the concept “neanderthal man” (as an example) to refer to this creature.
    Thus, we are not denying that change has occurred. Nor are we foolishly insisting that identity is immutable (as you seem to understand the Law of Identity claims). We are saying that insofar as an entity’s essential identity has not changed, it cannot (should not) be referred to as another thing. Sand is sand until it is made into glass, and then it is sand no more.

    Thus, reality *is* and *becomes* according to its nature. Dialecticism blatantly ignores the first part and loves to get lost in a whirling mess of change and flux.

  11. Rob Heusdens said


    Yes, but if fish changes (and that change is far from radical, only small and smooth and gradual changes occur) into amphibian and later on reptile, it means the identity of “fish” is mutable since there is a line of organisms that in many generations evolves from fish to amphibian to reptiles.
    A fish begets a fish, but a slightly different fish.
    The “nature” of fish is therefore not a fixed identity, and not even part of it’s own nature, since the environment is the driving force that makes a fish change into amphibian and later on reptile and so on. If the environment would be different the fish would not change into an amphibian (but instead maybe become extinct or a different fish).

    And for sand that becomes glass: how does the identity of sand change into glass, where does this new identity come from?
    What is it that the same material (silicium) is in one case sand and the other case glass?

  12. Rob Heusdens said

    The Essence lights up in itself or is mere reflection: and therefore is only self-relation, not as immediate but as reflected. And that reflex relation is self-identity.

    This identity becomes an Identity, in form only, or of the understanding, if it be held hard and fast, quite aloof from difference. Or, rather, abstraction is the imposition of this Identity of form, the transformation of something inherently concrete into this form of elementary simplicity. And this may be done in two ways. Either we may neglect a part of the multiple features which are found in the concrete thing (by what is called analysis) and select only one of them; or, neglecting their variety, we may concentrate the multiple character into one.

    If we associate Identity with the Absolute, making the Absolute the subject of a proposition, we get: The Absolute is what is identical with itself. However, true this proposition may be, it is doubtful whether it be meant in its truth: and therefore it is at least imperfect in the expression. For it is left undecided, whether it means the abstract Identity of understanding- abstract. that is, because contrasted with the other characteristics of Essence — or the Identity which is inherently concrete. In the latter case, as will be seen, true identity is first discoverable in the Ground, and, with a higher truth, in the Notion. Even the word Absolute is often used to mean more than ‘abstract’. Absolute space and absolute time, for example, is another way of saying abstract space and abstract time.

    When the principles of Essence are taken as essential principles of thought they become predicates of a presupposed subject, which, because they are essential, is ‘everything’. The propositions thus arising have been stated as universal Laws of Thought. Thus the first of them, the maxim of Identity, reads: Everything is identical with itself, A = A: and negatively, A cannot at the same time be A and Not-A. This maxim, instead of being a true law of thought, is nothing but the law of abstract understanding. The propositional form itself contradicts it: for a proposition always promises a distinction between subject and predicate; while the present one does not fulfil what its form requires. But the Law is particularly set aside by the following so-called Laws of Thought, which make laws out of its opposite. It is asserted that the maxim of Identity, though it cannot be proved, regulates the procedure of every consciousness, and that experience shows it to be accepted as soon as its terms are apprehended. To this alleged experience of the logic books may be opposed the universal experience that no mind thinks or forms conceptions or speaks in accordance with this law, and that no existence of any kind whatever conforms to it.

    Utterances after the fashion of this pretended law (A planet is a planet; Magnetism is magnetism; Mind is Mind) are, as they deserve to be, reputed silly. That is certainly a matter of general experience. The logic which seriously propounds such laws and the scholastic world in which alone they are valid have long been discredited with practical common sense as well as with the philosophy of reason.

    Identity is, in the first place, the repetition of what we had earlier as Being, but as become, through supersession of its character of immediateness. It is therefore Being as Ideality. It is important to come to a proper understanding on the true meaning of Identity; and, for that purpose, we must especially guard against taking it as abstract identity, to the exclusion of all Difference. That is the touchstone for distinguishing all bad philosophy from what alone deserves the name of philosophy. Identity in its truth, as an Ideality of what immediately is, is a high category for our religious modes of mind as well as all other forms of thought and mental activity. The true knowledge of God, it may be said, begins when we know him as identity — as absolute identity. To know so much is to see all the power and glory of the world sinks into nothing in God’s presence, and subsists only as the reflection of his power and his glory. In the same way, Identity, as self-consciousness, is what distinguishes man from nature, particularly from the brutes which never reach the point of comprehending themselves as ‘I’; that is, pure self-contained unity. So again, in connection with thought, the main thing is not to confuse the true Identity, which contains Being and its characteristics ideally transfigured in it, with an abstract Identity, identity of bare form. All the charges of narrowness, hardness, meaninglessness, which are so often directed against thought from the quarter of feeling and immediate perception rest on the perverse assumption that thought acts only as a faculty of abstract Identification.

    The Formal Logic itself confirms this assumption by laying down the supreme law of thought (so-called) which has been discussed above. If thinking were no more than an abstract Identity, we could not but own it to be a most futile and tedious business. No doubt the notion, and the idea too, are identical with themselves: but identical only in so far as they at the same time involve distinction.
    [b] Difference

    § 116

    Essence is mere Identity and reflection in itself only as it is self-relating negativity, and in that way self-repulsion. It contains therefore essentially the characteristic of Difference.

    Other-being is here no longer qualitative, taking the shape of the character or limit. It is now in essence, in self-relating essence, and therefore the negation is at the same time a relation — is, in short, Distinction, Relativity, Mediation.

    To ask ‘How Identity comes to Difference’ assumes that Identity as mere abstract Identity is something of itself, and Difference also something else equally independent. This supposition renders an answer to the question impossible. If Identity is viewed as diverse from Difference, all that we have in this way is but Difference; and hence we cannot demonstrate the advance to difference, because the person who asks for the How of the progress thereby implies that for him the starting-point is non-existent. The question then when put to the test has obviously no meaning, and its proposer may be met with the question what he means by Identity; whereupon we should soon see that he attaches no idea to it at all, and that Identity is for him an empty name. As we have seen, besides, Identity is undoubtedly a negative — not however an abstract empty Nought, but the negation of Being and its characteristics. Being so, Identity is at the same time self-relation, and, what is more, negative self-relation; in other words, it draws a distinction between it and itself.

  13. Rob Heusdens said

    (the above is a quote from Hegel on Essence, Identity and Difference, taken from Hegel, Science of Logic, Doctrine of Essence).

  14. Ergo said

    From your quote from Hegel: ”

    If we associate Identity with the Absolute, making the Absolute the subject of a proposition, we get: The Absolute is what is identical with itself. Identity in its truth, as an Ideality of what immediately is, is a high category for our religious modes of mind as well as all other forms of thought and mental activity. The true knowledge of God, it may be said, begins when we know him as identity — as absolute identity. To know so much is to see all the power and glory of the world sinks into nothing in God’s presence, and subsists only as the reflection of his power and his glory.”

    What nonsense is that!? There can be no concept of “identity” divorced from a conceptual mind grasping the essential nature of existents. The Law of Identity is an epistemic principle (i.e., in man’s method of knowing) that describes the metaphysical nature (objective fact) of reality.

    So, the rubbish that Hegel peddles in obfuscated language is to first reify “Identity” as a floating abstraction, and then, to legitimize the floating abstraction by fusing it with some mystical notion of “Absolute” or “God” and rubbish.

    I cannot possibly assume that you are engaging in a rational discussion with me if you subscribe to such nonsense (i.e., meaninglessness, or devoid of rational elements).

    So, in rational terms that are proper to the nature of our minds, i.e., conceptual minds, define to me what Hegel means by “Absolute.” What is “God”? What are Hegel’s proofs for arriving at the conclusion that such a thing as “Absolute” and “God” exists *and* that Identity is associated with the Absolute.

    Explain how is “Identity in its truth” without first recognizing the fact that “truth” derives its meaning only from and for an epistemically active agent, i.e., a conceptual and rational mind.

    P.S. And since our discussion has gone beyond the scope of this particular post, I’d ask that we either take this discussion over email, or that you post your responses on your own blog under a topic you choose, and I could engage in it there.

  15. [...] A proper epistemology reveals that “cause” is a concept that hierarchically depends on existence in the first place. Thus, you cannot extract “cause” from the domain of existence in order to enquire what “caused” existence in the first place. Existence is primary and axiomatic; “cause” and causality are concepts that are only relevant within existence. There is no such thing as a “cause” of existence, nor is there anything “outside” existence because any such existent would then become part of reality, i.e., existence. Further, non-existence does not exist by definition, and don’t imagine it as some black void because that is not what non-existence is. By definition, human consciousness is incapable of imagining non-existence. [...]

  16. [...] Related Posts: Epistemic Urges-II [...]

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