Philosophical skill ●●○○○
When born, we know nothing. Not how the world works; not even that a world exists.
Then we open our eyes for the first time. We can see!
And hear, feel, smell and taste. We can sense that there is a world out there. Things moving, colliding, melting. Bacon frying, birds tweeting, fires burning. The world clearly exists; otherwise we would not be sensing anything.1
For the human context, a thing exists if it can be sensed.Don Tipon2
What exactly does it mean for something to exist? The concept of
- space seems essential – without it, everything would happen at the same place.
- Time seems essential – without it, everything would happen at once – and
- quantity seems essential – without it, everything would be the same.
Time exists so that everything doesn’t happen at once. Space exists so that it doesn’t all happen to you.Arthur Power Dudden3
These three concepts seem essential for our idea of existence.4 Maybe there are more,5 but this is what we can think of for now. These three seem very fundamental to this world and are deeply inherent in our language – in English for instance,
- in our daily lives, we talk about ‘space’ with other words like ‘place’, ‘location’ and ‘position’, ‘displacement’ and ‘distance’,
- we talk about ‘time’ with words like ‘past’, ‘present’, ‘future’, ‘now’, ‘later’ and ‘never’, and
- we talk about ‘quantity’ with words like ‘count’ and the ‘number of’ things.6
Different languages, subjects, work fields and cultures name things differently. But surely, the world works the same regardless of how we speak about it. These three fundamental concepts – space, time and quantity – seem deeply ingrained into language and life across cultures, nations and peoples, which might be why they seem so obvious.
Our universe seems to tell a story that is independent of the words in which we have always chosen to express it.Kate Becker7
Note, in these courses we focus not on people – not on ourselves – but on what is around us. We focus on how the world works even in our absence. Let us call that the technical world. The technical world is thus the part of our world that works the same way whether we are here or not. That world and its rules governs our lives and our very existence.
- ‘The Matrix’ (film, starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne & Carrie-Anne Moss), Lana Wachowski & Lilly Wachowski, Warner Bros., 1999, www.imdb.com/title/tt0133093
- ‘The Truman Show’ (film, starring Jim Carrey, Ed Harris & Laura Linney), Peter Weir & Andrew Niccol, Paramount Pictures, 1998, www.imdb.com/title/tt0120382
- ‘Is existence physical, metaphysical, or both?’ (web page, answer to forum post), Don Tipon, Quora, 2018, www.quora.com/Is-existence-physical-metaphysical-or-both (accessed May 2nd, 2019)
- ‘Time Is What Keeps Everything From Happening At Once’ (web page), Quote Investigator, 2019, www.quoteinvestigator.com/2019/07/06/time (accessed May 3rd, 2020)
- ‘What Is Nothing? Physicists Debate’ (web page), Clara Moskowitz, Live Science, 2013, www.livescience.com/28132-what-is-nothing-physicists-debate.html (accessed May 2nd, 2019)
- ‘Lexico’ (dictionary), Oxford Dictionaries, www.lexico.com
- ‘Are Space and Time Fundamental?’ (web page), Kate Becker, Nova by PBS, 2012, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/are-space-and-time-fundamental (accessed May 1st, 2019)