Do Thoughts Exist?

If I say "The weather is bad tonight" and you say "Il tempo è brutto stasera" we have "expressed the same thought" in two different languages. But what is this thought? (Not just another expression of it, but the thought itself.) Where is it?

When one first begins to understand a foreign language without translating it internally, one has the experience of sentences in that language becoming "transparent": one sees right through them to something luminous behind them.

The various ways of expressing a thought exist: they have a place in space and time. But the thought itself? No, I think it is correct to say it does not exist: it is a nonexistent reality.

And so it is with the divine: we may see a burning bush, but the reality behind it cannot be pinned down within existence.


16 comments:

  1. Existence does not exist.

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  2. Why must something have a place in space and time to exist?

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    1. I am just suggesting a distinction: if you don't like the word "existence" for the distinction, choose another. I do like it, so I am using it.

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    2. OK, it's fine if you want to adopt that definition, but do you at least acknowledge that other people don't use that definition?

      You said in the previous post that there was no reason for Jonathan Finegold to fear that God might exist. But all you're saying is "Don't worry, God is outside of space and time." Would that really assuage his concerns at all?

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    3. No, no, no: this is not about definitions! I am struggling to use words to indicate existential realities. As I said, choose a different word if you want: my existential point will stand.

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    4. OK, but what is the concept that I'd be choosing a different word for? Is the concept simply "within space and time", so that your claim is simply that God is outside of space and time? Or is the concept you're denoting by "existence" more complicated than that?

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    5. 'OK, but what is the concept that I'd be choosing a different word for?'

      Oh, so you want me to choose different words for it for you?!

      If you really think about what you just asked me, you will be on the right track. Brahman is "neti-neti."

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  3. If I have a thought, doesn't it exist in my mind, at the time that I conceived it?

    It seems like the notion of a thought that does not occur in a particular mind presupposes the existence of a reality that is outside of the mind. Which may very well be the case, but seems to be begging the question for the purposes of your analogy.

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    1. Matt, I posed an actual problem: please try to deal with that.

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    2. See Matt, I am not trying to play games with definitions: I am trying to actually examine the structure of reality. The particular words I use or not what is important: words here are only hints.

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    3. I thought your words were clear, but perhaps I mistunderstood. When you say "the thought itself", are you referring to its presence in your mind, or some more abstract meaning?

      I'm suggesting that thoughts are not without a thinker. If this is true, and if the thinker exists, then his thoughts have a place in space and time.

      If the thought is without a thinker, well, that is transcendent by definition. But I can't conceive of what thoughts like "the weather is bad tonight" and "it is raining" mean in the absence of a thinker.

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    4. What is that thought that is in your mind, Matt, when you say "The weather is bad"? And does your mind have a location in space and time? I don't think, or else you could point to it for me, and I don't think you can.

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  4. The words are not the territory, or something. Ontological cartography. Great post Gene. Thank you

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  5. Gene I am having great difficulty with this recent turn in your blogging. I realize you aren't inventing this distinction between existence and reality, but can you give us a hint as to its usefulness? Because for 99.99% of the world, if they read you saying, "God does not exist," they are going to think you are an atheist. Indeed, the writers of dictionaries will be included in this group.

    On this post: "4" and "IV" are both numerals, that refer to an integer. I claim that that integer really does exist. Do you deny that? Do the numerals exist, but both refer to something that does not exist?

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    1. "Gene I am having great difficulty with this recent turn in your blogging."

      Me too.

      'Because for 99.99% of the world, if they read you saying, "God does not exist," they are going to think you are an atheist.'

      Yup: Voegelin, who talked about God all the time, was accused of being an atheist for saying "Of course God does not exist."

      "On this post: "4" and "IV" are both numerals, that refer to an integer. I claim that that integer really does exist."

      What is that integer?

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    2. "Do the numerals exist, but both refer to something that does not exist?"

      Yes, real but non-existent.

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