Monday, December 03, 2012

Why do I exist?

Of all the millions of people in the world, only one of them  me, and only one fo them is you. What kind of fact is this, and how would science explain it naturalistically?

16 comments:

ozero91 said...

Reminds me of MavPhil's post on why we can't be the source of our own existensial meaning.

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2012/09/if-our-lives-have-meaning-we-cannot-be-its-source.html

Bilbo said...

I think science would say that you and I are both unique because our DNA is different and we've been brought up in different environments.

I'm not sure what science's explanation is for identical siblings.

Mr. Mcgranor said...

Merely life itself.

Steve Lovell said...

I think one naturalistic approach (though I'm no naturalist) would be to

(a) explain the existence of people, and then
(b) say the you/me thing is a feature of language and especially of indexical expressions.

Saying only one person is "me", would on such an account be no more mysterious than saying on one place is "here".

Now one might argue that indexicals are themselves naturalistically problematic, and perhaps that's where the OP is headed ... but I'm not sure that such arguments succeed. At least, I'd need persuading.

I'd be pleased to hear other views on this.

B. Prokop said...

Maybe this is why I am not a philosopher, but I fail to see any problem in need of an explanation here.

I see two rocks on the ground. One of them is "this one", and the other is "that one". End of story.

Now for a real puzzler, try this one on for size:

The are umpteen bazillion electrons in the universe. An electron is regarded as an elemental particle, i.e., it has no structure smaller than itself. This (to me, at least) would imply that all electrons are identical to all other electrons. But how can this be possible? In such a case, it seems there could only be one electron, and not myriads of them.

THEREFORE: there must be some means of distinguishing between individual electrons. But without a finer structure, how can they different from each other?

im-skeptical said...

Bob,

I don't get the logic. Why can't there be more than one electron if they are indistinguishable? I don't think they have to have a unique identity. They are utterly interchangeable.

B. Prokop said...

As Lincoln said (quoting Euclid) in the latest Spielberg movie, "This is self evident." In order for there to be two objects, there must be some means of distinguishing between them. But lacking any characteristics other than their own being (no internal structure), how can one distinguish between two identical electrons?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this question is unsolvable - I believe it is. I just personally don't see how. I'm honestly asking others here for a solution.

Syllabus said...

I see two rocks on the ground. One of them is "this one", and the other is "that one". End of story.


I think there may be a difference between the two instances since, whatever consciousness is, humans seem to have it and rocks do not.

oozzielionel said...

I find the "why" questions perplexing. I never know if they are asking about past causes, future intentions, or some present state of being?

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"But lacking any characteristics other than their own being (no internal structure), how can one distinguish between two identical electrons?"

If they differ in some accident (and given that they are elementary particles, this is the only way they can differ), e.g. position or momenta, then by indiscernability of identicals they cannot be identical.

QM poses some epistemological constraints on our ability to distinguish electrons, but this seems to be good enough.

B. Prokop said...

grod,

Let me make sure I understand you. You're saying electrons differ only in their relationship to something else? Nothing intrinsic to themselves sets them apart from any other electron?

So if I have before me two electrons, and I have no data on how they relate to each other, it is inherently impossible to tell them apart?

Josh said...

Hello B. Prokop,

Nothing intrinsic to themselves sets them apart from any other electron?

Consider humanity and its relation to each human. Humanity is intrinsic to each human, and therefore is the same in every human; and so therefore, two humans can only differ with respect to features that don't belong to humanity per se, such as color, position, baldness, etc.

So if I have before me two electrons, and I have no data on how they relate to each other, it is inherently impossible to tell them apart?

I think this question unanswerable as you put it. It seems like saying, suppose object A and B exist with (apparently) no distinguishing characteristics, accidental or essential. Then you're either saying A is B (ontological identity), or we don't know if A is B (epistemic limitation in us).

William said...

Look at paragraph 26 here about all the same electron :).

B. Prokop said...

Brilliant! Thanks very much for that link.

It's like what I wrote in an earlier thread on this website. Sometimes when dealing with the elemental particle level, it appears that we're not working with "matter" at all, but with pure information.

Mark Frank said...

A more interesting question is why would anyone think this needed explaining?

Or more philosophically - what kind of response would count as an answer to this question?

Dan Gillson said...

To build off of Mark Frank's comment: what qualifies as a 'naturalistic' explanation? Or, what would disqualify an explanation from being 'naturalistic'?