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If it is true that there is no such thing as non-existence, that which exists is not brought about from non-existence, if there are only modifications to the arrangement of existing existents, and if time has no beginning (being time is strictly cognitive), then what does this mean for physical death of the body/brain and self-awareness? How does material brain begat immaterial free will? Would an objectivist agree that there is such thing as non-existence for immaterial mind/free will?

Aristotle made a distinction between material brain and immaterial mind. The brain collects and presents data to the mind but only the mind has understanding. The brain doesn't hold knowledge. Exercising free will is a function of immaterial mind, not material brain. But obviously there is no more action to take after death of the body. What does this mean for existence vs non-existence?

asked May 10 '12 at 13:02

Marce11o's gravatar image


edited May 14 '12 at 11:43

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

The brain does hold knowledge, making it accessible to the mind. The brain is the seat of memory.

Also, do not equivocate on "non-existence". Yes, it is not a thing. But things (specific arrangements of matter) can stop existing. For instance a cup-cake stops existing when you eat it. A fist stops existing when you open it.

(May 10 '12 at 21:35) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

How do you know to equate "memory" with "knowledge"? Yes, the brain holds memories but memories are only recordings. Its just data. You can capture a memory with a camera but you need a mind to make sense of that memory. What meaning does the memory have? Is meaning in the brain, too? There are the code symbols and then there is the meaning of the code symbols. Where in material existence does meaning reside?

(May 10 '12 at 21:44) Marce11o Marce11o's gravatar image

an answer from the Ayn Rand Lexicon entry for "Life":

"There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not..."

(May 10 '12 at 21:57) Marce11o Marce11o's gravatar image
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Metaphysically, this question expresses the idea of an immortal soul as the essence of consciousness. Epistemologically, this question offers a completely rationalistic defense of the immortality of one's soul, taking the meaning of "existence" out of its proper context and applying "non-existence" to an individual existent. I.e., if non-existence doesn't exist, then how can a soul cease to exist?

On the issue of immortality of soul (or life after death), the Objectivist view is well stated in Galt's Speech (p. 134 in the Signet paperback edition of FNI):

Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence.

Objectivism also identifies consciousness as an attribute of certain living entities, with consciousness in a living entity ceasing to exist any longer after the entity's "life goes out of existence." This should be read as an empirical observation (a generalization from evidence), not some kind of a priori premise or axiom that Objectivism merely "asserts." The Objectivist view of life after death is a summation of the essence of overwhelming evidence accumulated over millennia of human existence. Man can certainly imagine an alternative, but imagination can never be a viable substitute for knowledge, not if living on earth is one's goal. (Religions, of course, question whether living on earth should be man's goal.)

Here is a more detailed point-by-point analysis of the question's formulations.

... there is no such thing as non-existence....

Objectivism holds that "existence exists," as a principle validated as perceptually self-evident by ostensive example, and cognitively inescapable (all-pervasive and fundamental, implicit in all knowledge, and hence, axiomatic). If something else also exists, then it is part of existence and it is just a "something," not a "something else." But "non-existence" does not mean that an individual existent never comes into, or goes out of, existence. Any particular existent, non-living as well as living, can cease to exist under certain conditions, or come into existence for the first time, never having existed in that form before.

The excerpt from Galt's Speech describes matter as "indestructible." This is true of matter, i.e., the stuff of which entities are made. It is not true of entire composite entities as such. (Technically, it is true of matter if one excludes nuclear reactions in which a miniscule amount of matter is converted into energy, and even there the energy still exists even if the matter that was converted no longer exists in the form of matter. The reverse process, energy converting to matter, evidently is possible at the quantum level, as well.)

... that which exists is not brought about from non-existence ....

True, provided that we are clear on what we mean by "non-existence." A thing that comes into existence and didn't exist prior to that might be said to come from "non-existence," meaning that it did not previously exist. But existence as a whole existed, and always has.

... there are only modifications to the arrangement of existing existents....

Objectivism does not prescribe the specific manner in which new existents come into being, or formerly existing ones cease to exist.

... time has no beginning ....

Existence has no beginning. Time exists within existence. Objectivism does not prescribe whether or not "time" in some form might have a starting point within existence, but the fact that time is part of existence normally would imply that as long as there is change of any kind in any of the existents comprising existence, then there must be some form of time, i.e., a means of measuring what comes before something else, what comes after, and by how much.

... physical death of the body/brain and self-awareness ....

Objectivism recognizes that death occurs. Objectivism also recognizes that all evidence so far available to man leads to the conclusion that any particular instance of self-awareness cannot continue to exist without the living body and brain in which it arises and resides.

How does material brain begat immaterial free will?

Objectivism classifies the mind-brain relation as a question for the special sciences to study and eventually answer. Huge strides have already been made on this issue by science over the centuries, although much remains to be explained more fully. Objectivism denies that this issue is beyond man's power to comprehend through the persistent, uncompromising application of reason, i.e., of conceptual generalization from observations.

Would an objectivist agree that there is such thing as non-existence for immaterial mind/free will?

Objectivism disputes any claim that "immaterial mind/free will" exists separately somehow, in some alternative, "spiritual realm," apart from existence as a whole, as known to man through sense-perception and reasoning. Objectivism also recognizes that all evidence available to man today and throughout the millennia points to the conclusion (through reason) that when one dies, one's mind also ceases to exist.

... Aritstotle ....

Objectivism does not endorse everything that Aristotle said. Objectivism views Aristotle's greatest achievement as the discovery of logic. His ethical views are also like "a breath of fresh air" compared to the sordid ugliness, pain and suffering wrought by the rise of altruism in later millennia, even though Objectivism does not agree fully with all of Aristotle's reasons and methodology for his ethical views. His theory of a "Prime Mover" is particularly erroneous, according to Objectivism (see OPAR, p.23).

More broadly, Objectivism's basic moral outlook can be summed up as follows: I'm here (in existence). I'm alive. I want to stay alive. How can I do that, not only immediately, but for the whole of my natural lifespan, by methods and policies equally applicable to everyone? One will find that reason is man's basic means of survival in the earthly realm, and that any form of belief based on faith, in defiance of reason, hinders and opposes man's capacity to use reason for his earthly survival. Given a choice between life and happiness on earth, or the promise of some fantasized eternal "communion" in some fantasized, elusive "afterlife" -- after a lifetime of sacrifical pain and suffering on earth -- reason and evidence lead man to choose the earthly life and this-worldly reality over any hypothetical, fantasized mythologies, whenever and wherever there is a conflict. And on an issue this fundamental, conflicts with the objective, reality-based requirements of man's existence on earth are inevitable.

answered May 11 '12 at 15:25

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

How does a material brain beget immaterial free will?

You seem to be suggesting that free will has no material component. We may not yet be able to point at it, and say "there it is," but it's clear that free will is the result of material somewhere in or perhaps all over the brain--just like memories, thinking, ideas, concepts, and the mind itself, which are all held in the brain. One way we know this because materials can only act on other materials, and drugs (a material) can have obvious effects on all of those things.

answered May 16 '12 at 08:33

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Rick ♦

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Asked: May 10 '12 at 13:02

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Last updated: May 16 '12 at 08:33