February 16th, 2012 by Edward Miller

Young & Old | Alex Grey
Young & Old | Alex Grey
Existence is the most fundamental thing which is taken for granted. When we actually think about it, we all find it pretty mysterious, but I wonder if you realize just how mysterious it really is. Here’s a few things to consider.

The first is Occam’s Razor. A simple logic tool, right?

Well what if we take Occam’s Razor to its ultimate destination and simply assume that there is really only one thing. If you suspend your disbelief for a moment, this brings us to monism. Specifically, Neutral Monism, which is a core component of many religions and spiritual beliefs. You hear it all the time: “All is One,” “We are all One,” the “Cosmic Oneness.” If you truly think about what that entails, then what you are left with is actually very strange.

It implies that everything, even the consciousness of everyone we see around us, is really just all one thing. All matter and consciousness itself, then, at the ultimate level of reality, are just one unified whole. We are not manifestations of some cosmic essence, but rather, we are the cosmic essence. We are also our own brothers, and our own worst enemies, and Hitler, and Gandhi, and Shirley Temple, and Carlos Mencia. We are all of the above, frightful as that may be.

To rebut that claim one could attempt to use all sorts of empirical or anthropic reasoning, but the absurdities can just grow and grow. Strict empiricism actually would tell you that our consciousness is discontinuous, because our brains are not a unified whole, but a hodgepodge of surprisingly independent subsystems that don’t even persist in their patterns or atomic structures very long, let alone understand their fellow subsystems. It is just a rapidly changing mishmash of atoms that may have produced what you perceive as consciousness, but considering the rapid change, your existence may be more like a still in a movie reel. Forget Last Thursdayism, try Last Secondism.

Ok, so maybe you’re retreating from strict empiricism and want to get back into rationalist mode? There are various possible selection assumptions which can also allow you to escape Neutral Monism. Unfortunately, accepting any one of them likewise causes the world to become strange. Like Donnie Darko strange.

There are two main selection assumptions. The Self-Sampling Assumption (SSA) and Self-Indication Assumption (SIA). Now, the core tenet of the Self-Indication Assumption is as follows:

SIA: Given the fact that you exist, you should (other things equal) favor hypotheses according to which many observers exist over hypotheses on which few observers exist. – Nick Bostrom

If that is true, then it becomes dramatically more likely that we are in fact living in a Multiverse… in fact, we are most likely to be living in a multiverse with an unimaginable amount of people, with every combination of circumstances imaginable being played out. Including all the worst possible horrors. Billions of Holocausts.

Unfortunately, if the competing SSA is true then we are statistically likely to be close to Doomsday. Though that seems almost merciful compared to the SIA.

Ought we judge things by considering only what is empirically existing at that moment, or on the basis of possibility? Or ought we just go with Occam’s Razor? Pick your poison.

You’re not in Kansas anymore.

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One Response to “Which Strange Existence Do You Prefer?”

  1. I know you’re just taking the piss. The logical fallacy (I don’t know them by name) here is that you are using tool for purposes for which they were not designed, and for which they possess quite limited utility. I had a recent conversation about how supply-side people tend to see efficiency as a strategy, when it can really only be a tactic, at best.

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