On the Ontological Argument

Oh, for fuck's sake...

Ontological Argument

When you say that no evidence is offered by this argument, you seem to be ruling out immediately the possibility of an a priori argument for the existence of God. As a methodological conclusion, a bit more is required.

In any event, I agree that there is something wrong with this argument. Then again, there may be forms of the argument that get past your objection that it also proves the existence of any imaginary kind of thing. Consider this simple form:

1. God is, by definition, the most powerful person.

2. Persons that exist are more powerful than persons that do not exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

The argument goes through for the most powerful person, but not for just any most powerful thing. For example, the following does not work:

1.1 Uni is, by definition, the most powerful unicorn.

1.2 Unicorns that exist are more powerful than unicorns that do not exist.

1.3 Therefore, Uni exists.

This second argument fails to introduce existing unicorns because there is a hidden third premise to the effect that at least one unicorn exists. Whereas, it is possible that all unicorns do not exist. Conversely, because God is introduced as the most powerful person that exists, and there are existing persons, God must therefore exist in order to be more powerful than them.

Even if that is not granted, it will become important for my position on 2 of the other argument forms for you to say where it is that this argument actually goes wrong. Suppose for a moment that I would actually be willing to contemplate the existence of the perfect unicorn on the basis of an ontological argument for such a unicorn (cracks about what Christians are capable of believing aside). What would you then say to counter the ontological argument?

David, David... you disappoint me. you also make me sad, because now I'm going to have to rip you into tiny shreds, and it's going to take me ages because you are fractally wrong. You are wrong on so many levels that it's actually difficult to separate out the individual problems from each other

You've come to my house, and you've done a great big pseudo-intellectual shit right in the middle of the rug, and now you're sitting next to it hoping I'll give you a fucking biscuit.

You do not deserve a biscuit.

By the way, David, I fully expect you'll be unmoved by the actual counter-arguments interspersed among the abuse here. After all, you're a christian. However, you will certainly not get to whine, BAAAAAW or claim some sort of default victory just because I upset you. You were warned before you came that this is not the kiddie pool. If you want polite discourse, fuck off to SydneyAtheists.org and they'll deal with you gently. They're nice people, and they have mercy. I am not, and I do not.

David footbullets himself with false equivalence and unwarranted conditions

First of all, the low hanging fruit. By using the Uni The Unicorn argument as a counter argument, you've blasted off your own foot. For several reasons. This has multiple problems, but I'll try and wrap them up together.

You've introduced an extra, invalid contingency by over-defining the properties of the subject being examined

To be more specific, you've added assumptive properties to the second statement, that being the assumption that the Christian god is a 'person'.


Am I misunderstanding the christian position, David? Surely God is a transcendent being? Surely, subject to whichever wacky sect you belong to, he's omnipotent, omnipresent, all that fucking jazz? So, like, you know, not a person. AT ALL.

Your illogic is showing, David, cover it up before the children see it.

Now, according to you, when the argument is pointed at unicorns, the hidden assumption is that unicorns must exist, as some fucking weird standard of comparison from which to judge the posited perfect Unicorn.

But god gets a free pass and gets to be redefined as something we already know to exist. So while you're accusing the poor unicorn of having a hidden assumption of existence, you've left a great big glaring obvious assumption right in the middle of the god version. FAIL. Here's a version which would line your unicorn argument up with your god argument:

1 A Unicorn is, by definition, the most perfect form of horse.

2 Horses that exist are more perfect than horses that do not exist. (especially when they have a fucking big horn)

3 Therefore, at least one Unicorn exists.

 Nonsense, isn't it? Now let me re-write the actual ontological argument to match with your Unicorn version

 1. The christian god is, by definition, the most powerful god.

2. Gods that exist are more powerful than gods that do not exist.

3. Therefore, the christian god exists.

Again, fucking nonsense. Take it away and do something with it.

I'm pretty sure you're whining even as we speak, going "well, obviously god is a person, BAAAAAW. He made us in his image. BAAAAW"

A replica, or image, is not the same as the original. Your god does not have the same posited set of properties as a person. Don't even try that one.

Or you may be whining "WAAAAAAH, BUT UNICORNS AREN'T HORSES!". I don't even want to address that idiocy.

You could even be stretching the definition of the word "person" to include god or gods, just as U.S. Corporate law bestows honorary personhood on corporations. Sorry, no deal. Defining traits of existent persons include such qualities as not being eternal creator gods.

There is some discussion over the use of the term "person" in theology. I would consider this to be a specialised usage which has nothing to do with the common definition of person as "individual human". Actually, I would consider it to be undiluted bullshit, but there you go.

Incidentally, you can also play this came with Phoenixes

1. The phoenix is the most perfect form of bird

2. Birds that exist obviously fulfill the definition of 'perfect' better than birds that don't

3. Phoenixes exist

What else? Oh, yeah, you can use this to prove my favourite analogy, Sherlock Holmes, existed

1. Sherlock Holmes, as described, was the greatest detective ever

2. Detectives who exist are greater than detectives who don't

3. Sherlock Holmes existed

You might notice after reading that, that it's varied a little tiny teeny bit. That's right. I used the term 'existed'. The original ontological argument contains another hidden assumption - that of current existence. There is a possibility that the subject being discussed in the argument existed, but no longer exists. There's a possiblity, also, that the subject may exist in the future and not necessarily exist now. And lastly, there is also a possibility of total non-existence, but that's cleverly written out of the final version, just like this missing verse from Mark 10.

We'll now move on to a more canonical version of the ontological argument, courtesy of IronChariots.org, and illustrate why your interpolation of the word "person" is logically invalid. Note this still also contains problems, but we'll deal with them shortly, never fear.

  1. God is the greatest imaginable being.
  2. All else being equal, a being or entity that exists is greater than one that doesn't.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

See, you can go with 'being'. Being is an indefinite term, so doesn't introduce your vaunted 'obviously persons/unicorns exist' bullshit. You could also use 'entity'. That would also be valid. Neither of those add in the extra assumption. You can only remove the assumption at that state by using an indefinite term. You could also say "thing", but then you'd probably say "but obviously things exist; Ha!"

You know, you can also flip the whole argument round ass-backwards

1. Charles Manson is the worst person imaginable

2. All things  being equal, things that exist are greater than things which don't

3. Therefore Charles Manson doesn't exist

That was fun. By the way if you don't think Charles Manson is evil enough, substitute your own asshole.

A priori assumptions invalidate the discussion

OK, now onwards and upwards

When you say that no evidence is offered by this argument, you seem to be ruling out immediately the possibility of an a priori argument for the existence of God....

 Yes. That's how we do things here in Logic Land. A priori arguments are not valid, otherwise you end up with this fucktardery:

  1. God exists. Obviously
  2. God is, like perfect
  3. Perfect things better than imperfect things, obviously. Duh.
  4. God exists

 Which is fucking stupid, because 2 & 3 are extraneous, leaving this:

  1. God exists, therefore
  2. God exists

You don't get to start from an assumption of existence, then try and prove existence based on assumption. You're failing at logic, David.

So get rid of a-priori assumptions if you want to talk about ontological proof. If you want a-priori arguments, let's talk about them, but the ontological argument is then entirely extraneous.

Honestly, I'm having trouble holding it together with the stink coming off your comment.

OK, so onwards. Where else does the ontological argument fail?

Well, at point #1, obviously. "God is the greatest imaginable being".

Fail. I actually think the christian god is a bit of a prick, what with the genocide and all. Therefore I (and a great number of my friends) can imagine a greater being, i.e. a god who never actually, you know, advocated genocide. Better than that, I can imagine a god that got things right the first time round and didn't have to, you know, drown the entire world apart from one boat. Oh, and the fish, and the ducks, and pretty much everything that can swim. And albatrosses.

That was easy, think I'll have another beer.

Mmmm.... delicious beer. Perhaps soon I can get this post finished, and have some caek.

Right, second line. "All else being equal, a being or entity that exists is greater than one that doesn't. "

Well, actually, no. A god who doesn't exist, but still does all that god stuff has overcome a greater impediment, therefore is greater, more perfect, and all that jazz. Therefore, god does not exist, because he's the greatest thing EVAR. I win.

See? You can do anything with logic. Isn't this fun? Incidentally, that's a paraphrase of "Gasking's Proof", and it's kinda funny.

Also, why is there an assumption that existence automatically confers greater perfection? I don't get it. Surely existing gets you all dirty and stuff, you know, what with the sins of the world and all that shit. No matter, this is a relatively unimportant detail since we have so many other problems.

OK, so far we've just been warming up. We've addressed David's own fail in justifying the ontological argument itself, how else can we beat it down?

Oh, I know! How about the fact that Ontological argument is JUST RAW LOGIC WITH NO ATTENDANT EVIDENCE? Yeah, that's a good one. You know what the real world calls claims of existence free of accompanying evidence?

Here's a hint: It starts with 'B', ends in 'T' and has 'ULLSHI' in the middle.

In addition, even if the ontological argument could prove the existence of a god or gods, there is absolutely no way to get to the conclusion "and that god is the christian one" without taking a really long run up and leaping to it without any intervening support. It could be one of over 9000 other possible gods, none of whom impregnated some Jewish chick 2000 years ago so that he could kill himself in a sacrifice to himself which wasn't really a sacrifice because he hasn't really died.

OK, let's just address some arcane logical elements, and look, I'm just going to directly lift the wording from IronChariots.org, because as I draft this it's getting really, really late.

In this argument, existence is given as one of God's attributes as part of the definition: if X is God, then X has the property of existence. This is logically equivalent to "if X does not exist, then X is not God." It does not prove that there are any entities that actually match the definition.
Existence can hardly ever be considered an attribute, as something nonexistent cannot have attributes. Therefore, making conclusions about existence of an entity based on its properties is not logically sound. In short, this argument boils down to "show me a god, and I'll show you an existing god." It is a form of circular reasoning because the existence is built into the assumptions.

This is what I was punting when I originally called this self-supporting, i.e. the entire thing rests upon itself, in a circular manner. While it may be possible to make the argument logically sound, as per Gödel's interpretation and expansion, there is no actual link to the real world. 

Look, at the end of the day, the ontological argument is just masturbation with logic. It has nothing to say about the real world, which is why we prefer, you know, actual evidence. Of which there is none backing up the existence of a god or gods. Ultimately, you cannot truly prove the existence of ANYTHING with raw logic. You need evidence, you have none.

I'm pretty sure that you weren't even serious about the ontological argument being any good. Because it's not.

So take your ontological argument and shove it, and tomorrow, or the day after, or whenever I get some time, I shall move on to your second steaming pile, the Cosmological Argument.

p.s.  I've toned this post down considerably from the original. Don't whine, think yourself lucky that some other people suggested I should maybe be more civil.

 Now that I've finished with you, you may go.

post published at like 3am. No responsibility assumed for typos at this late hour

posted @ Wednesday, January 28, 2009 10:37 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by David Gawthorne at 2/1/2009 11:31 AM

First, let me say that I don’t mind name-calling and mild abuse. I have already got the sense that you will respect a good argument if I can produce one and anything else you come back with will therefore be taken with good humour.

Next, the last time I checked, Christianity was a variant of theism, i.e. the view that a personal God exists. You do not have to grant me that. However, to keep the limits of our debate clear, let’s stick to theism vs atheism. If we do this then I can have the premise that God is a person as part of my hypothesis.

Lastly, I will stop being coy and get to what I think is wrong with the ontological argument. The point of this exercise was not to rely on the ontological argument but to demonstrate a conclusion that I will be relying on when I present my cosmological argument, and when I argue against the ‘who designed the designer?’ objection to the argument from design.

Towards the end of your post you touch upon the most likely diagnosis of a problem with the ontological argument. That is, existence is not a real property, or not a first-order predicate. So, existence adds nothing to the characterisation of a thing and one cannot, therefore, make qualitative comparisons between existing and non-existent kinds of things. The pedigree of this view is something like David Hume>Immanuel Kant>Bertrand Russell>Willard Quine>David Lewis. The pedigree of the opposing view, that existence is a perfectly ‘real’ property, is something like Thomas Reid>Alexis Meinong>Terence Parsons> Richard Sylvan>Graham Priest. The former bunch use the possibility of arguing from existence as a property to the existence of all kinds of things that we know do not exist as the (a priori) evidence that existence is not a first-order predicate, but a way of saying that some other predicate is instantiated or has an instance. Thus, existence is a trivial property, adding no information. The latter bunch point out that ordinary language treats existence as a property that adds new information and you end up doing violence to some pretty strong ordinary language intuitions if you cannot refer to things that do not exist. You end up treating proper names as uniquely satisfiable predicates.


# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by David Gawthorne at 2/1/2009 11:33 AM
Anyway, as you probably know, discussion of the property of existence is tied closely to issues of representation (or ‘intentionality’ for mental representation). Whether or not existence is a trivial property, we can talk about an existing thing as it is represented as opposed to an existing thing as it is in reality. Such a represented/real distinction offers a way out of the problem of existence entailing properties being possessed by non-existent things. Consider the following dilemma we can pose for the proponent of the ontological argument such as Anselm.

Horn 1: If God as represented is not identical to God as He would exist in reality then Anselm’s mind cannot ‘contain’ or ‘represent’ the real God in order to compare the former to the latter. We could never transcend our mind to the thing-in-itself.

Horn 2: If God as represented is identical to God as He would exist in reality then God as represented has all of the same properties as the real God. Therefore, the real God cannot be any greater (or more perfect or more powerful) that God as represented.

If this is the right way to respond to the ontological argument then it has a consequence for the nature of representation.


# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by David Gawthorne at 2/1/2009 11:34 AM
It is proposed that genuine representations (as opposed to representations defined by functions to behaviour) have a dual identity: identity simpliciter and identity as a representation of some other thing. A representation is not identical to itself as a representation of some other thing. So, logically, it stands in for something other than itself in its capacity as a representation.

Graham Priest criticises the use of representations as a substitute quantified over instead of a merely intentional object by suggesting that this results in the absurd attribution of predicates to the representation that are only applicable to the intentional object. The example he gives is of Benny, who fears the man next door, though the man next door is a very nice man. Hence, (∃x)(Fbx ∧ Mx) where b is Benny, F is the two-place predicate ‘ __ fears __’ and M is the one-place predicate ‘__ is a man’. The absurd result is that the mental representation is a man. However, this objection fails to distinguish a representation as such. As reference may be made to either the representation simpliciter or to the representation as such, there is never a confusion of the properties possessed by either thing. The value of the variable in (∃x)(Fbx ∧ Mx) is not a mental representation, but a man. Yet, in having that value, its reference may be to a representation of a man as a representation, while a reference to that representation of a man simpliciter is not a reference to a man. What is the difference between a reference to the representation simpliciter and a reference to the representation as such? The very same difference as that between reference to the representation simpliciter and reference to the representational object. The representation as such and the representational object are identical.

The next obvious objection to this referential/quantificational ‘stand-in’ account of representation is that it ends up being no different to the claim that every imaginable representational object exists. To the extent that reference to representations as representations of representational objects is indiscernible from reference to the representational object simpliciter, it does not appear that we could say anything more than that all representational objects exist. To respond to this objection, we may bring into the account a reality operator to differentiate reference to representations standing in for things from reference to or quantification over things simpliciter. Thus, ‘There is a unicorn in the room’ does not contradict ‘There is not really a unicorn in the room’ because the latter expresses a reference to a unicorn, whereas the former is ambiguous between reference to a unicorn and reference to a representation as such standing in for a unicorn. The effect of the reality operator is a purely negative one: to exclude reference to all representations as such. Even though the representation as such and the representational object simpliciter are identical, the reality operator discriminates between them in only excluding reference to the former by distinguishing the secondary identity of a representation from a primary identity respectively.

Now that the nature of representation has been articulated, the manner in which genuine representation aids me in other arguments will become clear. However, before I go on, I will let you respond to this important first step.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by Jason at 2/4/2009 2:43 AM
David, I'm disappointed, for several reasons.

First, to treat the comments area here as your personal publishing platform is not good. Accepted practice in the so-called blogosphere is to leave comments, not essays. If you need to write an essay, accepted practice is to post it at your own blog, then write a comment saying "my long response is at [link] and my summary is blah blah blah"

Second, you've gone to great lengths to, in my opinion, to say what I've already said a) existence as property is a problem for the argument and b) even though you can make the argument logically well-formed, it still does not have any direct ties to observable reality. But in a very tl;dr way.

Third, I thought we were talking about the Christian god? You've retreated, seemingly, to the more easily-defended position of nebulous theism, which is more easy to defend simply because it has so few defined properties to get a grip on. The thing is, David, I don't believe for a second that you yourself hold the vague theist position. If you did, you wouldn't go to church every Sunday. You profess to be a christian, which is a specific subset of theist beliefs. The sermon that started this off was definitely aimed at the christian creator, interventionist, eternal god, not the vague descriptions of the theist position (which incidentally, also only wins you a "maybe", simply because it's a container for so many other contradictory definitons of "god")

So, will you have the cojones to actually define and defend the properties of the god you believe in, or will be circle-jerking over vague philosophical concepts for the next three weeks?

Remember, we like reality over in our corner, and while philosophy and arcane logic can be fun, they're not reality.

So, are we going to go with the god of the original sermon, or are you going to go for the parent container of "theism", which contains all other gods ever conceptualised by mankind?

BTW, in response to this, I'm going to have to post a comment policy, which is going to be batshit boring to write. #1 rule, if it won't fit in a comment, post it at your own site and link to it.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by David Gawthorne at 2/4/2009 7:16 PM

First, let me apologise for breaking a commenting convention. I was not aware of it, but I will observe it from now on.

Second, I have not simply put back to you that existence as a property is the problem, I have explained to you how I think it becomes a problem and why the argument is not well-formed. If you accept my reasoning then I can move on to defend the remaining theistic arguments (at least the cosmological and teleological). Should I simply proceed?

Third, by ‘theism’ I refer to ontological commitment to a personal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent creator and sustainer of the whole universe. Christianity is a subset of theism. I don’t see anything mischievous about arguing for the general on my way to the more specific. Or do you require me to convince you to be a Christian in 25 words or less?

Fourth, are you disrespecting logic and philosophy, now? I thought they were, quite specifically, about reality. Any argument worth having is going to get pretty complex and involve well-worn philosophical concepts. I am not talking about fairy stories here.

So, do you wanna have this debate or not. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by Jason at 2/4/2009 9:48 PM
Hey David,

Forgive the terseness of my comment - I answered at about 2:45am with insomnia, having only just remembered your response was there.

OK. Sure, go on with the subject of the other arguments. That's fine with me, but the thing is, if you're moving out to the superset of theism rather than the god you actually believe in, you're moving into an area where even *I*, the staunch Atheist, can come up with plausible and quite defensible "god" concepts.

It *is* a little mischevious, because the sermon that sparked all this was clearly aimed at justification of a specific god, the Christian god, interventionist, existent within the universe, in our image, etc.

Yep, I'm dissing logic and philosophy, but let me be clear: I'm dissing the kind of pure, abstract philosophy which has no bearing on the actual observable world, hence Unicorns, Sherlock Holmes and Cerberus. It's the old subset/superset thing again. The logic and philosophy I'm bagging is that subset which does not map to reality.

In a sense, this is what the better Science Fiction and Fantasy novelists rely on to ply their trade. They make believable worlds that are self contained and internally consistent. They still have no bearing on reality.

I'm going to draft something up on the set/superset problem sometime in the next few days, which may make my objection to moving up to theism a little clearer, but I think I can just re-iterate my first statement here: I can construct a plausible god hypothesis which I could accept, quite happily, within the terms of my own current philosophy, with the change of just one boolean term within my world view. This makes arguing nebulous theism far less interesting than actually churning through some real-belief material.

Still, go on, knock yourself out. If you need more space than the comment area allows, either post to your blog or I'll try and organise some way to post your longer commentary out-of-thread. I'm pretty sure I've repeated myself in this comment so I'm going to just stop and post.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by Jason at 2/4/2009 9:53 PM
By the way, you're obviously very enthusiastic about philosophy and logic. Are you familiar with Philorum?


We've both missed tonight's forum, but if you're enthusiastic about philosophy, could be a good thing for you. I myself am very much a dabbler with no formal training, which obviously reflects in my writing style.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by David Gawthorne at 2/5/2009 12:05 PM

Your concerns about my arguments making contact with reality may be largely due to your gut reaction to the ontological argument form.

I will press on and see.

My version of the Cosmological Argument focuses less on causation and more on time.

The argument goes like this:

1. The universe has a temporal dimension.

2. The best theory of time is presentism: the view that only the present exists, but that the present is subject to change so that there was a past and there will be a future.

3. Presentism requires the existence of something very much like a single, omnipotent person willing the whole history of the universe.

4. Thus, the temporally extended universe requires something very much like a single, omnipotent person willing the whole history of the universe.

5. God is the only contender we currently have for something very much like a single, omnipotent person willing the whole history of the universe.

Premise 2 is definitely contentious and open to further debate if we get that far. You will recall that I conceded at the church service that these kinds of arguments rely on all manner of assumptions that must themselves be defended.

Premise 3 is explained in a paper that I have prepared and which you can read here.

The appendix to this paper also provides a response to the ‘Who designed the designer?’ objection to the argument from design.

You will see that the paper levers heavily off of the argument that I gave as to what is wrong with the ontological argument, which explains the time I spent setting that up.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by David Gawthorne at 2/5/2009 12:09 PM
I get notices about Philorum meetings via the Sydphil mailing list. I've been thinking about dropping in, but I'd wait for the right topic. There have been a number concerning ethics/politics lately and that's not my preferred end of things.

Also, you may recall that I don't do well in new public settings.

Thanks, though.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by Jason at 2/5/2009 12:18 PM
Hey David,

I've never examined presentism in any detail, so I'll have a read through of the paper you linked and come back with comments. Sounds like it may be interesting...



# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by Jason at 2/6/2009 4:09 PM

I'm still looking into this, but I wonder how presentism can actually stand up in the face of observations on Einsteinian Relativity? (We're at point #2 here, I'm not even touching point #3 yet).

Presentism seems to require an absolute, immutable 'moment in time', whereas in relativity we have time dilation, an actual observed effect, whose best-known example is the twins paradox:

We've observed the effects of time dilation in real-world experiments, and I'm certainly not the only person that holds the view that presentism and relativity are incompatible. Wikipedia's condensed summary notes clearly that Einsteinian relativity cannot be squared with Presentism, and cites papers to this effect.

Relativity and the 4D space/time view are sitting pretty due to observational evidence of relativistic time effects, and these aren't abstract, tiny effects - they're effects we have to take stock of in order to build technological marvels such as the GPS Network:

Hey, even digital TV broadcasting uses relativity!

So, relativity: has observational evidence, can be further observed; Presentism: runs counter to relativity and would be very hard to find hard evidence for even if this were not the case.

Note, Wikipedia was a simple source for all these examples. I can probably provide more.

Anyway, I couldn't find any reference in your paper to this. I'll do some more reading and perhaps write a more substantive piece later. I must note I really appreciate you bringing this up, because philosophy of time is a fantastically interesting field.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by David Gawthorne at 2/6/2009 8:08 PM

You're right on target with this objection. I don't deal with it in the paper because the paper is only dealing with one or two problems for presentism.

I deal with the STR problem in this post.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by Jason at 2/6/2009 9:45 PM
I still need to do some digging, since I lack technical vocabulary in the area, but it strikes me that the "succession of discrete presentist universes" has its own problems.

Again, we're in the "no way we can observe this" area, which is fair enough. I mean, we are talking about theism here. Also it does strike me as addition of a lot of complexity where complexity is not needed. Rather than sucessive presentist universes, isn't it easier to go with the 4D outlook, which, frankly, includes fewer contingencies?

Incidentally, the presentist view can work really well for hypothetical universes such as, and I almost cringe to use this, The Matrix.

To expand, the positited "perfect moment" of the presentist view can be analogised as the current memory state of the controlling machine intelligence. In essence, the computer in which we live. You could dump out this memory and you'd have a straight snapshot of the current state of the 'universe'. This posited universe is, quite literally, renewed from clock cycle to clock cycle. Within our universe, the heartbeat of each discrete processor operation would be directly analogous to your succession of static universes.

I think it's extraordinarily unlikely, but I'm trained in computer science rather than philosophy, so it appeals. It also appeals to a hokum-quantum outlook in that the computer would not have to render everything in the universe until it was observed by an "agent" within. That would save a lot of storage and processing power, and it'd certainly trick human civilisation. It's faux-indeterminacy, if you like, Heisenberg's indeterminacy becoming a simple matter of digital replay.

If the program was deterministic, even with an internal illusion of indeterminacy, that would fit the last piece in the presentist puzzle, because any future or past state of this digital universe could be retrieved not by pulling a snapshot from storage but by simply running processing forwards or backwards. So all we need is the program and a memory snapshot. No past/future storage, just replay.

I'm pretty sure we could deal with time dilation in such a digital universe, too. After all, its a simulation. I wouldn't want to go in too much detail on this just yet though, needs refining.

Still, though, to return back to Occam's razor I find that there are too many contingencies here for it to be an efficient explanation. It's a brilliant thought experiment though. Really worthy of applause.

So, in essence, I still don't think it works, AT ALL, but it really is an admirable and interesting conjecture.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by David Gawthorne at 2/7/2009 10:15 AM

The succession of static universes is observable. Any time we observe motion, we observe objects passing through different positions in a way that suggests the successive existence of something, or at least the successive possession of properties.

Further, the positing of 4-dimensional, relativistic space is no more complex than 4-dimensional time/space in any respect save that we add in objective temporal succession. I say this addition is necessary to explain the phenomenon of time and therefore it is not to introduce complexity beyond what is necessary to save the phenomenon.

I have to admit that you lost me with your Matrix proposal. I don’t see how we can have a ‘heartbeat of each discrete processor’ without the kind of objective temporal succession that I am on about. However, if it is at all suggested that temporal succession is a mere illusion, I deal with this in this post.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by David Gawthorne at 2/7/2009 10:29 AM
After a moment of thought, it occurs to me that you may think that my view is more complex because it introduces counterparts in different inertial frames, rather than having one entity across inertial frames. Thus, my universe contains more things.

Yet, this need not be so. The counterparts can simply be different 'cross-sections' of the same 4D object, extended into the extra relativistic dimension. With this, I lose my argument that different shape = different entities. It all comes down to the argument from phenomenal consciousness.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by Jason at 2/9/2009 12:13 AM

I still don't see how a succession of static universes conforms with relativity, and more specificaly, time dilation.

We've *observed* time dilation.

By procession of static universes, Twin A and Twin B could go through the twin paradox and would finish up in different static universes at the end.

However, observed dilation shows that they're in the same universe, they just have different 'time bubbles' that they've carried around with them.

So far, it just looks like a moderately clever dodge. Perhaps you're not explaining it correctly, or perhaps you're espousing a _logically_ coherent framework which at the same time does not actually describe the real universe. What I really think is that you have a pre-conception in your head that you really, really want to fit your philosophical knowledge around, and it's colouring your results. I'm sure someone with a bunch of letters after their name will say "Oh, that's interesting" and give you a scone. Interesting is NOT the same thing as correct.

As far as I see it though, even the time-slice universe is just flat-out incompatible with relativistic explanations, though it is absolutely compatible with the idea we live within a computer simulation.

btw, you parsed a sentence incorrectly in the matrix section. the phrase was not ‘heartbeat of each discrete processor’. It was ‘heartbeat of each discrete processor cycle’. In technical vocabulary, a processor cycle is essentially, one tick of the CPU. In your language, one slice of the universe

To use a certain amount of layman's language, you can try slicing your universe, but it changes shape between slices and what you end up with is a mangled mess.

You have to remember that Mass, Energy, Space and Time are all related in Relativistic explanations, and to try to mangle this into a time-slice universe adds so many contingencies, again, that it's just not plausible any more.

I can perhaps flesh this out, but I'll need to draft up a serious blog post and I do have limited time to do so. I'll try and get some of my philosophy-minded friends in in, and some of my physics-minded friends in, but what I'm seeing, David, is pure philosophy in action, free of actual reference to the universe we live in.

I can go fetch a Physics genius or three, if you like. Up to you. I can explain relativity in a pub with beermats and peanuts, even to laymen. I can find someone who can explain it to pretty much anyone else, if you like.

And if I'm wrong, fine. But I won't take raw philosophy without backup, because that is little more than posh Science Fiction.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by David Gawthorne at 2/9/2009 8:02 AM
I may not be a physicist, but I am familiar with the basic principles of STR (read in the manner of Forrest Gump: 'I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is.').

All I am saying is, put a Minkowksian interpretation on STR, i.e. space/time is taken as a 4D volume.

Then, say that the 4D volume is actually 4D space.

Then say that 4D space is a bit smaller than we thought it was in terms of its temporal extent and throw in an objective succession of such 4D spaces.

You get everything that the Minkowski interpretation gives you, plus you get presentism and explain our experience of time.

What could be simpler?

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by Jason at 2/9/2009 10:00 PM
errr... no, no you don't get your cake and eat it in that interpretation. It still has nothing to say about time dilation. Twin A and Twin B still finish their hypothetical experiment in different universes. you cannot have time dilation in a discrete succession of universes.

And even if I allow you that, I have other objections, especially to statement #3

Presentism requires the existence of something very much like a single, omnipotent person willing the whole history of the universe.

errr... no. It's god-compatible, but also it's compatible with the well-explored idea we live in a computer simulation, and while you *could* maybe redefine the computer as your "single omnipotent person", I think that would be weasely.

I'm pretty sure there are other explanations for the state-machine which maintains and alters universal state from iteration to iteration. Again, we're off in hypothetical territory which does not square with our observable universe.

So far, not convincing.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by David Gawthorne at 2/10/2009 8:35 AM

I do have something to say about time dilation: it is genuine effect in relative time (i.e. the ratios of change of spatial magnitude between different processes, including clocks and other measuring devices as the standard against which all other processes are gauged) but not of absolute time. Clocks do move slower in different inertial frames at relativistic velocities, but that is just a difference in the relative rate of physical processes across the same number of successive static universes.

As for the twin paradox, this is not a problem for presentism per se, but a problem for STR in general. It has been used by opponents of STR to suggest that it is incoherent as Twin A would be both older AND younger than Twin B upon returning to the same inertial frame. However, this argument does not take into account Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which accounts for gravitation and acceleration. Once that is added in we see that the twins are the same age when they return to the same inertial frame, due to the effects of acceleration and deceleration on the scenario.

…and, like I said, if there is a solution in the Minkowskian interpretation then it is in my 4D space version of presentism as well.

Your other objection is more telling and I will have to come back to it later due to current time constraints.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by David Gawthorne at 2/10/2009 6:37 PM

I still see your computer simulation proposal as a Matrix-style mass illusion and I don’t see how it gets past my argument that temporal succession cannot be a mere illusion in this post previously referred to.

Further, a personal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent creator and sustainer of the whole universe is best candidate to fill the role required of some entity in my version of representational presentism, i.e. a necessarily realised representer of the whole history of the universe.

Persons are the only things we know of that can instantiate the kind of representational property required. That is, a genuine representation that stands in for that which it represents when quantified over or referred to. This is because any empirical investigation will (or at least has) fail to detect any genuine representational properties in things. Any candidate representation such as a sign, image or text turns out only to represent some state of affairs under an interpretation. Yet, the observer/interpreter is an original representation of the world inquired into, particularly as the ability to hypothesise and theorise invariably leads to cases of representing the world in non-actual and even impossible (inconsistent) ways.

So, persons are the best candidates for representations and God is the best theoretical person whose representation of the world is necessarily realised and cosmic in scope. Hence, my theory of presentism provides a case for a personal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent creator and sustainer of the whole universe.

# re: On the Ontological Argument

Left by Jason at 2/10/2009 7:31 PM
Ah, David,

We're almost there. we're almost at the point I've known we were heading for for some time. Let me explain to you what's happening here.

You see, David, you have a square peg, and in front of you is a round hole. That square peg, David, is your pet theory, presentism, which you love, love with all your heart, because it lets you have your god, your big, glorified, beardy, genocidal state machine. And that round hole, David, is the universe as we observe it, a whole slew of scientific, observed, verified facts through which your peg must pass.

But you know your square peg won't fit. Presentism just doesn't go through the hole. So you've taken out your chisel and your whittling knife, and you've reshaped that peg, David, through sheer abstract thought you've carved away at the peg until, after weeks of toil and some fine levels of sandpaper, you finally have something that'll fit through the hole.

David, have you realised yet that you no longer have a square peg? Your peg is now round.

You have a round peg, David. What happened to your square peg? You've spoiled it and made it just like those other, common, round pegs. How could you do that, David? Your peg was so beautiful and square.

The time-sliced 'presentist' universe you've carved is functionally identical to a 4DSR Universe with a finite resolution of measurement, the planck length. When you get to this resolution, there is no observation you can make which can differentiate it from simple 4DSR. Your slices are a planck length, and my smallest unit of measurement is the planck length. There's no way to tell them apart. Don't drop your peg, David, you might get it mixed up with the others!

Oh, but look! It has a problem.

Your theory can never pass the acid test of science, which is to make predictions and then verify those predictions, because it is absolutely identical in every way to 4DSR space-time.

And your nice new round peg has another problem.

It's got lots of contingencies attached to it. It can drag those contingencies through the hole with it, but it'll take a bit more work, because it requires the biggest contingency of all - a superbeing to run it. That superbeing is a pretty big thing to explain, David.

4DSR spacetime requires no such thing

Do you see where I'm going?

The Principle of Parsimony states that if we have two identical theories, and one requires a greater leap, or more contingencies, or further entities, or more complexity, then we must throw it away.

Throw the peg away, David. It's useless.

Oh, and David? While we were chatting, science has moved on. We have all sorts of exciting stuff going on around strings, superstrings, branes, quanta, bosons and all kinds of other exciting stuff.

It's time to put down the god peg, David, and embrace more exciting things.

I'l be closing comments off now, if you dont mind. I've spent far too much time on this already and I have a life, you know. This is taking up far too much of it.
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