Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Universe Doesn't Exist

If the universe did exist, it would be composed of you and I, trees, birds, rocks, planets, and whatever things exist in space more generally.  If it were composed of you and I, we would be parts of the universe.  But I am a substance--either a living organism that has parts or an immaterial soul.  Either way, since I am a substance, I am not a proper part of anything else.  This just follows from what it is to be a substance.   If we follow Aristotle in thinking that living things are substances, none is a part of the universe.  As well, if fundamental particles are substances, they are not a part of the universe either.  But then from the first statement above, the universe does not exist, since if it did, the things mentioned would be a part of it.

One could hold, alternatively, that there is only a single material substance, the universe, everything else being a part of it. 


  1. How are you defining Universe?
    If one defines the universe as the totality of consistently interacting things, as Fr Jaki does, then it is not obvious why a substance could not belong to the universe. The notion of "part of the universe" that is in conflict with the notion of being a substance --this notion needs to be clarified. The universe is perhaps more like a heap and the parts of a heap can be substances. Eg. a crowd of people, a herd of animals.

  2. I don't think of a heap or crowd as something which exists. A heap or crowd is not some thing in addition to the granules of sand or people, their spatial relations, etc. To say that the universe exists like a heap is just to say that there exists all the substances and their properties and relations which we refer to as "the universe"--but we could just as well say "all the substances...."

    In this short (and perhaps cryptic!) post I was ignoring that a universe is just a heap (which is nothing in addition to all the substances, etc.) and supposing that it was something over and above its parts, but nonetheless had parts. But if it did exist, it would have substances as parts (i.e. if we assume that it's not the only substance). But whatever a substance is, a substance exists in its own right possessing its own substantial form--the parts not possessing a substantial form, otherwise, if they did, each part would be a substance and there would be no substantial (dominating) form organizing the parts. This is controversial, but everything is in philosophy.

  3. But why suppose that "universe is something over and above its parts."
    Where is this supposition coming from? General relativity?

  4. If the words "the universe" just refers to the collection of physical things, then there is no thing, the universe. "The universe" just refers to all the physical things.

    So if "the universe" refers to a thing, that thing presumably would be whatever is composed of the collection of physical things (the trees, planets, atoms, etc.) But that can't be because its parts would be substances.

    So we should think that there is no thing to which "the universe" refers. There is no universe. There is just the collection of physical substances and their properties and relations.

  5. Modern science and the best of the ancient esoteric Spiritual Wisdom tells us that everything is light, that all of reality - every person, every object, every iota of space and time - is nothing but waves in an ocean of light.
    But what science does not tell us is that light is not merely an impersonal force or a mass of energy. It is CONSCIOUS:it is ALIVE - in fact, it is a Great Person of Light, a Radiant Being of Infinite Brightness.
    Even better put, in REALITY, Light is the DIVINE Person, the Great One, Living as every-"thing", Appearing as everyone and every-"thing", and yet, paradoxically, Always and Only Conscious Light.

  6. Could one say of a heap that it does not exist?

  7. Difficult question. It depends what you mean by "of." If you mean can we sensibly refer to a heap that does not exist, I think the answer is "no." But "heap" refers not to some thing over and above a group of things but to those things and their spatial relations.

    Round-squares don't exist but we can sensibly talk about the property of being a round square which can't be instantiated by anything without referring to an actually existing round square. Centaurs probably don't either (though it's possible that they do).

    Or take a hole in the ground. We can sensibly talk about stepping into a hole even if we think that there is no thing--a hole--there is just the dirt and the air where the dirt normally is. There is not some third thing there, a hole. "That hole" just refers to the space where the air is and the dirt normally is to be expected. "The universe" refers to all the material substances and their properties/relations. Either that or when we talk about the universe, we're committed to there being something over and above the substances and their properties; what we say is literally false but it's a useful fiction.

  8. Anon,

    Modern science tells us that there are photons (light), gluons, weak force, neutrinos, up quarks, down quarks, etc. It also tells us that there are molecules which perhaps are substances in their own right. And it tells us that there are biological organisms which seem to be substances in their own right. But science doesn't tell us what all the substances are; science doesn't offer a complete ontology. Chemistry just takes for granted that there are molecules--it doesn't tell us (at least not yet) whether all of the properties of a molecule can be accounted for from the elements and their properties or whether the molecule has properties/causal powers in addition to the properties/causal powers of the elements.

  9. A distinction needs to be made between a chemical substance, for instance, this lump of salt, and the molecules that comprise it.

    You don't seem to use the terminology of "virtual existence". May I ask why? It seems pertinent.
    The molecules are said to exist virtually in the chemical substance, i.e. this lump of salt. So couldn't we say that substances exist virtually in the universe?
    So, various senses of the verb "to exist" needs to be distinguished. For instance "time" does not exist in the same sense things do.

  10. Gyan,

    I have no opinion about whether there are chemical substances over and above the atomic ones (if indeed there are atomic ones). But if there are substances, then they aren't parts of another thing.

    I don't use "virtual existence" because it seems ad hoc and I don't understand what it means.

  11. Well, you do say that "I am a substance" and presumably you believe your body to be composed of chemical substances, molecules etc.
    So, by your reasoning, the chemical substances in your body, say water does not exist.
    So, there is need to consider the question Do the molecules that comprise you exist?

    It may be that the concept of "virtual existence" would show its utility.

  12. This heart that my body has is a part dependent on my body for its existence. Remove the heart for a matter of minutes or hours (or replace it) and what you have is no longer this heart.

    Similarly I would say that the parts of this heart do exist--it has chemical parts--but THIS chemical which is a part can't exist without being a part. It can't change into being a substance existing in its own right.

    So too if atoms are substances then they can't enter into parthood relations--since they would be dependent on the substance of which they are parts for their existence and hence not substances. This atom ceases to exist and this atom-as-part now exists if a new molecule comes into being. If this atom is a substance--and something is a substance essentially--then this atom couldn't exist virtually.

    Perhaps, though, you deny that substances are substances essentially.

  13. Does it matter that atoms or molecules are never found to exist in a isolated fashion?

    I find it curious that you are willing to confer substantial reality to molecules. What does it even mean? Is a single molecule a substance? Or is it just a shorthand way of saying that a given lump of chemical is a substance and that lump consists of the molecules, chemically speaking.

    I am trying to understand your idea of a substance by which atoms and molecules could be substances, living things could be substances.

  14. I don't know if any molecules are substances. Living things are substances and if there are atoms (i.e. matter is not ultimately divisible) then they are substances arranged in the shape of a rock, etc. There are molecules that are substances if the molecule has causal powers that can't be accounted for by the atoms (if there are atoms).

  15. "if there are atoms (i.e. matter is not ultimately divisible) then they are substances arranged in the shape of a rock,"

    What is "they" referring to?
    I am trying to make the point that a substance is something that exists by itself but an individual molecule/atom does not exist by itself. The lump of salt exists by itself but the molecule NaCl does not. Properties of a lump of salt can not be reduced to properties of a molecule of NaCl e.g a molecule of NaCl would not taste salty.

    Thus, your point about molecules being a substance, I don't think carries.

  16. "They" refers to atoms (if there are any).

    "Properties of a lump of salt can not be reduced to properties of a molecule of NaCl e.g a molecule of NaCl would not taste salty."

    No individual molecule can be tasted but that doesn't by itself show that the taste of salt can't be accounted for by a heap of NaCL molecules which is not itself a substance.

    An H20 molecule in the form of steam is a candidate for independent existence (though I can't say for sure).