Reality and Consciousness

Reality is that which exists. Everything that exists in reality has an identity. Consciousness is the means by which we can identify everything that exists. Existence is identity, consciousness is identification. The process of identification involves conceptualization. We categorize and group things based on their similarities and differences.

There are 2 broad categorizations of things that exist in reality:

(1) The first category is that which is exists independent of consciousness. This includes things like matter, time, forces, and particles. These are observer-independent features of reality. They would still exist even if conscious agents did not. Also, the fact that consciousness exists is an observer-independent fact.

(2) The second category describes everything that is dependent on consciousness for existence. This includes things like the United States of America, money, language, and marriage. These are observer-relative features of reality. They could never exist without conscious agents.

Natural science deals with observer-independent facts. The social sciences deal with observer-relative facts.

This distinction is foundational. I will use this concept to support 2 arguments in upcoming posts. I will explain some things that God can do and cannot do. And, I will explain the difference between eternal laws and temporary laws.

 

Money—An Origin Story

Money solves a huge problem. As I explained in my last post it is better to specialize and trade, than to try to produce everything alone. Imagine that money does not exist. People simply barter. The word barter means that people simply trade goods for goods without using a medium of exchange. Now imagine that I am a designer and I have appendicitis. I can either die, or I can find a surgeon that is willing to trade design work for an appendectomy. I will likely die before I can ever find such a surgeon. This problem is what economists call the double coincidence of wants problem. Simply defined, if I am in an economy that trades goods for goods, then I have to find somebody that wants what I have and simultaneously has what I want. This is a huge transaction cost. In virtually every known society or culture something called "money" evolves to solve the double coincident want problem. Instead of trading goods for goods individuals trade goods for something that is commonly traded, that everybody wants and then they use that thing to trade. Money is anything that is commonly accepted in trade. Money does not have to be issued by the government to be used as money. In fact there are many government issued monies that people don't commonly accept for trade.

The earliest known form of money was red ochre in Aboriginal Australia. Ancient Mesopotamia traded in wheat. Marco Polo records that spices were used as money in the East. The Herodotus recorded that the ancient Lydians were the first people to use coins for money. Prisoners have been known to use cigarettes as money. The big stones in the picture below was used as money (That money didn't move much but was exchanged often in word only.)

Rai—stone-Money-Micronesia

Rai—stone-Money-Micronesia

We could agree on anything to be money—even invisible bits of data. It doesn't matter what we use. It only matters that we commonly accept it. Money is one of the most important inventions of all time. Individual and societal success depends on wise usage of this most valuable invention.

Reason and Emotion

Which has primacy between emotion and reason? What is reason? Reason is the faculty that organizes and integrates facts. What are facts? Facts are propositions that correspond with reality. How do we obtain facts? Through the senses. Therefore reason is the ability to comprehend reality directly through the senses.

What is emotion? An emotion is a response to an object (such as a person, place, or thing) or a proposition as evaluated by the perceiver of the object/proposition. How are emotions created? First, the perceiver, perceives and identifies an object or proposition, and then, he/she evaluates the object/proposition and concludes that the object is good or bad according to his/her values.

Therefore emotion is not a faculty of comprehending reality. Emotions cannot tell us anything about reality. Emotions only reflect what we think—implicitly or explicitly—about reality. If our ideas are true and aligned with our emotions, then emotions can be said to indirectly give us feedback about reality.

Emotional Processes

Example: Some people have a positive response to Barack Obama, and some people have a negative response toward Obama. A child who has never heard of Obama will have no emotional response to him. The difference in responses is due to different ideas and values in the perceiver's minds. The response itself does not give us any direct knowledge of President Obama in reality. It only reflects our cognitive evaluations of him.

Example of the process of emotion

Concepts by themselves may or may not be integrated through the faculty of reason. Concepts and values may be unidentified (subconscious). One can hold an identified, integrated concept and an unidentified inconsistent concept at the same time. Therefore, people can accept contradictions without knowing it.

We often identify "mind" with the process of reason and "heart" with the process of emotion. Conflicts between the mind and heart are conflicts between identified concepts and unidentified concepts that cause automatic emotional responses. Therefore conflicts between the heart and mind are ultimately conflicts between thoughts in mind. Such conflicts cannot be resolved by ignoring reason, they are only resolved by using reason to identify subconscious thoughts and integrating them with concepts as derived from reality.

Therefore, reason (the mind) ultimately has primacy over emotion (the heart).

Reason and Faith

Is there any conflict between reason and faith? According to one epistemological position known as fideism faith is independent of and hostile toward reason. How does fideism define faith? It defines faith as belief without evidence. According to some philosophers such as Kierkegaard, reason cannot fully comprehend God and so one must take a "leap of faith". Martin Luther said, "Reason receives life from faith." Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates concepts as derived from man's senses. The thinkers mentioned above did not categorically reject reason, but they clearly believed that faith has primacy over reason. That means that faith is primary and reason is secondary. There are 2 problems with this way of thinking:

The first problem comes from their definition of faith—"belief without evidence". As I wrote in my last post, this definition is incorrect. I will argue here that it is also dangerous. It is dangerous because any belief without evidence will insulate the believer from feedback from reality. If one holds the view that faith has primacy over reason, then if they must choose between reality and religion, they will choose religion over reality. They will not be able to identify truth when it contradicts with their beliefs. They will be blind and their spiritual and physical growth will be stunted. Islamic theocratic fascism is an extreme demonstration of the consequences of this view. Terrorists commit violent acts that reason would otherwise prevent them from doing.

The second problem is revealed by asking a simple question: How did they come to the conclusion that faith has primacy over reason? The answer is that they used reason. Therefore, they primarily rely on a concept that they regard as secondary. Therefore to say that faith has primacy over reason is self-refuting because they used reason to come to that conclusion.

Evidence and Faith

Some religious adherents believe that faith is "belief without evidence". The religious philosopher Kierkegaard said, "Without risk there is no faith, and the greater the risk the greater the faith … [to understand faith] is to understand that faith cannot be understood ... must not be understood … and this absurdity, held fast in the passion of inwardness, is faith, the earnestness of facing the absurd." His picture of faith was as follows:

false-evidence-and-faith
false-evidence-and-faith

This picture argues that faith has primacy over evidence. I believe this interpretation is incorrect. I think this misinterpretation partly comes from scriptures that suggest faith is believing withoutseeing. Seeing is one type of evidence. Hearing, smelling, touching, feeling may be other types of evidence. I think that any scripture referring to "belief without seeing" really implies "belief without directly seeing."

Faith is belief with evidence. It simply excludes evidence that comes from direct observation. Why does it exclude direct observation? Because if we have direct observation, then we have no need for faith. Direct observation leads to a perfect knowledge.

We have evidence for many things that we cannot directly observe. We have never seen an atom but we infer that they exist based on evidence. According to my definition of faith, it is appropriate to say that we have faith that atoms exist.

Orson Pratt, one of the original leaders of my religion, said, "Faith or belief is the result of evidence presented to the mind. Without evidence, the mind cannot have faith in anything …Faith in every fact, statement, truth, or proposition which we have confidence in, is, in all cases whatsoever, derived from evidence. Therefore, without evidence, faith can have no existence."

This picture of faith is as follows:

evidence-and-faith
evidence-and-faith

This picture shows that evidence has primacy over faith. Only this type of faith can lead us toward a correct picture of reality.

What is knowledge?

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. There are 3 types of knowledge.(1) Knowledge how—Example: Legolas knows how to shoot an arrow. (2) Knowledge by acquaintance—Example: Frodo knows Gandalf (3) Knowledge that—Example: Sauron knows that Frodo has the ring.

Most epistemology is the study of "knowledge that". In this context, the traditional definition of knowledge is justified, true, belief. I think that this definition is a good start in analyzing knowledge. I will define each of these aspects of knowledge.

Justification The state of being validated by proper means.

Truth The state that applies to propositions that accurately correspond to reality.

Belief A proposition that one accepts as being true.

If a belief is true and it is justified, then we say that a person has knowledge.

Example of not having knowledge: If the time is actually 12:00am and Ronald looks at a broken clock that is stuck on 12:00am and then Ronald believes that it is 12:00am, then Ronald has a belief that is true but is not justified. Therefore, we say that Ronald does not have knowledge because he did not gain his true belief by proper means. At least all 3 conditions must be met to consider whether or not someone has knowledge.

Example of having knowledge: If Lula witnesses a murder then she has knowledge that the murder happened because (1) Perceptions are a justified means, (2) the murder actually happened in reality and is therefore true, and (3) Lula believes that it happened.

Stereotypes

A stereotype is a conceptual categorization often in reference to a group of people. Examples of stereotypes are: Jews are wealthier than white anglo-saxton protestants, blacks are more likely to be on welfare than whites, students in business are more conservative than students in the arts, men are stronger than women, homosexuals are effeminate etc.

The most important question regarding stereotypes is this: Is it more often the case that stereotypes reflect reality or more often the case that they affect reality?

Those who assume that reality is mostly socially constructed tend to reject the idea that stereotypes reflect reality. Those who believe in an objective reality that exists independently of beliefs and opinions are more likely to be suspicious of the effect of stereotypes on reality. I find myself in this latter group for the following reasons:

First, the human mind forms concepts based on differences and similarities between objects, events, and people. Our ancestors in our evolutionary past had a stake in forming correct concepts about their world. Those ancestors who took the time to see if every large feline they met was dangerous would not have survived long enough to pass on their genes while those who were able to make quick judgements in order to react would have more likely survived. In other words, concept formation is useful because it helps us understand the world our around us without having to engage in the impossible task of treating every experience as completely new and wholly uncertain. I suspect that most people would find this uncontroversial except when it comes to concept formation (i.e., stereotyping) about people. 

The second and more convincing reason is this: the claim that human concept formation is merely socially constructed is self-refuting. An argument is self-refuting when it must assume the thing it is arguing against. The act of stating that something is true or false, or valid or invalid necessarily assumes the validity of concept creation. Therefore, rejecting the idea that stereotypes (in the sense of conceptual categorizations) in general reflect reality is also self-refuting. I qualify the previous sense with "in general" because I am not saying that all stereotypes are accurate. (That would be a false stereotype).

People don't hold stereotypes forever. As people live and engage with reality, people are often quite willing to change adjust their stereotypes. For example, my grandfather was a LA Firefighter during the Watts riots of 1965. Because of his harrowing experiences, my grandfather had formed some discriminatory feelings against blacks. However he also had many close associations with black co-workers for whom he had no negative feelings at all.

According to the cognitive scientist, Steven Pinker in his Pulitzer finalist book The Blank Slate,

"People's stereotypes are consistent with the statistics, and in many cases their bias is to underestimate the real differences between sexes or ethnic groups. This does not mean that stereotyped traits are unchangeable, of course, or that people think they are unchangeable, only that people perceive the traits fairly accurately at the time. Moreover, even when people believe that ethnic groups have characteristic traits, they are never mindless stereotypers who literally believe that each and every member of the group possesses those traits. People may think that Germans are, on average, more efficient than non-Germans, but no one believes that every last German is more efficient than every non-German. And people have no trouble overriding a stereotype when they have good information about an individual. Contrary to a common accusation, teachers’ impressions of their individual pupils are not contaminated by their stereotypes of race, gender, or socioeconomic status. The teachers’ impressions accurately reflect the pupil's performance as measured by objective tests."

As stated previously, accepting the general validity of stereotypes does not mean that all stereotypes are accurate. False stereotypes are likely to persist if there is no consequence for them persisting. And of course, stereotypes do not justify racism or sexism, though it does justify discrimination which is not a categorical evil. Stereotypes are not "simply human inventions that have done more harm than good." In fact it would be harmful to deny the realities reflected by stereotypes if our goal is to elevate cultures that disproportionately tend toward socially harmful behavior.

Check the comments for a good treatment of stereotypes in Steven Pinker's book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature .

Opposing theories of truth

To contrast with the only objective theory of truth—the correspondence theory—here are few examples of non-objective theories of truth. The Constructivist theory: Truth is merely socially constructed. According to this theory what is true in one culture, race, or gender can be false in another culture, race, or gender. This theory assumes idealism and is therefore self-refutting.

The Consensus theory: Whatever is agreed upon is true. According to its own standards, this theory is false since I do not agree with it. This too assumes a form of idealism and is therefore self-refutting.

The Pragmatic theory: Truth is whatever works. This theory confuses an indication of truth (what works) with truth itself. Pragmatic theory of truth can lead to relativism. If what "works" for you is different from what "works" for me, then what is true for you may be different from what is true for me. Therefore, the pragmatic theory of truth also rests on a form of idealism and is self-refutting.

Defining Truth

Truth is a concept. I would not be able to talk about truth without first explaining the axioms of reality and concept-formation. Truth is a quality of propositions. A proposition is true if it accurately corresponds to reality. According to Thomas Aquinas, “A judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality." This is called the correspondence theory of truth. It is the only valid theory of truth. Another way to state the correspondence theory is found in LDS scriptures. "Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come." (D&C 93:24) You cannot have knowledge of things as they aren't.

Truth does not apply to objects. The question, "Is the Matterhorn true or false?" is a meaningless question. The concept of truth does not apply. To say, "the Matterhorn is true" is to speak nonsense.

Truth only applies to propositions such as judgements. Here is an example of a proposition: "A goat is on Matterhorn?" This proposition makes sense because it can be either true or false, though it cannot be both.

If a proposition can be true or false it has sense. If a proposition cannot be true or false, it is nonsense.

If one wants to judge whether or not a statement is true, one must assume reality and concepts. Then he/she must compare the statement to the way things really are in reality. Without reality as an axiom, the concept of truth is meaningless.

Do unicorns exist?: The limits of thinking

One can conceptualize based on what he/she can sense (see, hear, touch, etc.) in reality. Our minds have the capacity to create concepts that do not refer to anything in reality. We can do this by grouping objects based on similarities and differences. We can also combine concepts. Concept-combinations are the beginning of creativity. For example we can take the concept of horn based on our experiences with horns in the past. We can take the concept of horse based on our experiences with horses in the past. Then we can then combine them and create the concept unicorn.

We can do the same with the concept of horse and human.

Or with women and fish...

Mermaids don't exist in reality.

One might say, "but that is not a "real" mermaid." It is in the correction that they are making a mistake. There are no "real" mermaids or centaurs or unicorns in reality. They only exist as concepts derived from a certain combination of other concepts in the human mind. Science fiction writers like George Lucas who imagine aliens on other planets cannot really create a truly original alien. Imagined aliens are always combinations of what is seen on earth. They have human bodies with squid-heads or octopus tentacles with huge eyes etc.

Star Wars Aliens

Absolute "creativity" would consist of creating something out of nothing. This is impossible. The only meaningful way of talking about creativity is recognizing that creativity is only a process of combining what already exists in reality in new ways. We can create conceptual combinations of combinations of combinations.

This has an interesting implication. It means that the creativity of a generation is limited by the combinations of concepts developed by previous generations. Stories, technologies, and ideas in general are determined by which concepts were developed or not developed in the past. More on this in future posts.

Conclusion Premise 1: Thinking depends on concept-formation. Premise 2: Human concept-formation is limited by (1) the objects that we have access to in reality, and (2) by the higher lever concepts that we are aware of. Conclusion 1: Therefore thinking is limited by our awareness of objects in reality and higher level concepts. Conclusion 2: Therefore, you are only as creative as your conceptual resources. Conclusion 3: Therefore if you want to be more creative you must (1) consume large amounts of concepts (become an infovore), and (2) Exercise your mind by combining concepts into new ways.

Concepts and Reality

Sensations lead to perception. We simply perceive too many objects to remember every individual thing. We mitigate this problem through conceptualizing our perceptions. What is a concept? A concept is cognitive unit of meaning—a symbol that refers to objects in reality. Humans can form concepts because we can recognize similarities and differences among objects in reality. We summarize these similarities or differences through a process of abstraction. Let me give a few examples of concepts and concept-formation.

The color green: Green is a concept. Green does not exist by itself just floating somewhere in reality. There is no "green" that one can point to. But we can see a green mango, a green car, and a green turtle. These each have the property green. Green does not exist apart from green objects.

Colors: We can also create concepts of concepts. Once we understand the concept green and the concept yellow, orange, red, purple, and blue. We conceptualize these concepts into a higher concept called "color."

Properties: A property is an even higher concept. It is a concept that can group color, shape, mass etc.

Humans: When we see a particular human that we have never seen before, we don't think, "Whoa, I have never seen this before; I have no idea how to interact with it." Instead we automatically create the concept "human" through our past experiences with other humans and we then know how to interact with new "humans" that we have never seen before. Now the word "human" does not refer to any one thing in reality. There is no one "human" that we can point to. Instead "human" is a concept that refers to any object that shares certain similarities among other concepts such as arms, language, body odor, etc.

From these examples, we see that the human mind can create more concepts than objects in reality. Concepts can refer to reality. But the farther the concepts move away from reality, the more likely people will be confused. We must be vigilant in making sure that (1) concepts accurately reflect reality and that (2) our concepts are properly integrated with all other concepts to avoid contradictions.

An axiom is a foundational proposition that cannot be proved but can be validated. Propositions are axioms when one must assume the proposition when trying to deny it. Conceptualization is an axiom because one must use it in order to try and deny it. Likewise the validity of the senses are axiomatic because (1) the senses lead to concepts and (2) one must use concepts to attempt to reject the senses.

Nonsense about the senses

In my

last post

 I wrote about the philosophical error of subjectivism—the belief that we only have access to our own ideas and not to any objective reality. In this post I will address that error by arguing that our ideas can be objective.

The senses are faculties that we use to obtain information about the world. The eyes probably provide the most influential information about the world. The eyes are not a sensation. The eyes are an organ that we use to get sensations which lead to perceptions. According to the philosopher John Locke and subsequent philosophers, sensation and perception are both forms of ideas.

that-by-which
that-by-which

The grand mistake is to believe that ideas are that which we perceive. The truth is that ideas are that by which we perceive. The difference is one word “by”. What difference does this one word make? Think of the meaning of the sentence, “A brush is that which I am painting” and the sentence “A brush is that by which I am painting.” In the first sentence I am painting an image of the brush on the canvas. In the second sentence I am using the brush to do the painting. 

We are not aware of our ideas that are the result of our sensation and perception. We are only aware of the cause of our ideas. For example, when we use our eyes to look at bananas, we are not aware of the light that hits our retina. Nor are we aware of the physiochemical process by which our brains interpret that light. We are only aware of the cause of the perception— the bananas. We have direct access to the bananas which is the object of awareness.

In the picture below subjectivist philosophers would say that we do not have direct access to banana (A) we only have access to a "representation" of (A) expressed in figure (B). This is the major error.

perceiving-bananas
perceiving-bananas

Let me review the difference between objective and subjective. Objective is that which is the same for everyone. Subjective is that which is different for everyone. Everyone with senses has direct awareness of objects in reality. This means that everyone has access to objective reality. We experience actual reality. We do not experience anything through the senses unless it actually exists in reality.

An error about ideas

The significance of philosophers should not be underestimated. Their ideas can permeate society for generations. It is very important to closely scrutinize the most influential ideas of philosophers. As Aristotle said, "The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold." Enlightenment philosophers such as Descartes and John Locke were very influential. Many of these philosophers made a very crucial error concerning the relationship between the ideas and the intellect. Here I will briefly explain this error and point out the consequences of the error.

The error: Many philosophers believe that a person is only conscious of his own ideas. We are not aware of anyone else's ideas. We can only infer the ideas that other people have based on what they say and do. When we think of an apple, we have an idea of the apple in our mind. This idea may be a percept, a memory, a sensation, or a concept. One only perceives his own ideas.

The consequences of this error: 1. Objectivity is destroyed. "Objective" refers to that which is the same for everyone. "Subjective" refers to that which is different from one individual to another.  If we are only aware of our own ideas then ideas are merely subjective since we have no way of knowing if ideas are the same for everyone.

2. It leads to skepticism. If one only perceive his own ideas, then when one looks at an apple he/she is only aware of the representation of the apple in their mind. He/she is not actually aware of the apple in reality. One can guess that his/her idea of the apple is a good representation of the real apple, but he/she has no way of knowing. Why? because we can only tell if a representation is accurate by comparing the representation to the original. Since we have no access to the original we have know way of knowing whether our senses our trustworthy. Therefore we cannot directly apprehend what reality is like.

In my next post, I will show why these ideas about ideas are wrong.

 

How We Know Reality: Perception

Humans have senses. We can sense light (via eyes), sound (via ears), pressure and temperature (via skin), chemical composition (via nose and tongue), balance and acceleration (via the vestibular labyrinthine system), and we can sense many other things via various organs in the body. All of these senses give us access to reality by creating sensations. These sensations are the result of physiological processes. As such they cannot be right or wrong. The senses simply do what they do regardless of how one might wish them to be.

Sensations lead to perception. Perception is an automatic process in mature adults. We cannot control it. When we dip a straight straw into our glass of water, we perceive the straw to be bent even though the straw is not bent in reality. This is not because our senses are wrong. This is due to the fact that water refracts light. If anything, this example show how good our eyes are at interpreting light traveling at different speeds through different mediums.

bent-straw
bent-straw

After we perceive something we make judgements. In the case of the straw in water we can use our reason to judge that straw really is not bent after all. Likewise through experience we can discern between optical illusions and reality. Unlike perception, judgements can be right or wrong. If we were to believe in magic after witnessing a performance by a magician, our judgement about what we perceived would be wrong.

Our access to reality starts with perceptions. As we gain experience, our judgements about what we perceive in reality will improve.

When did it all begin?

How did it all begin? There are only 2 ways to explain how existence began.

(1) There was nothing and then at some point nothing turned into something.

bigbang1

bigbang1

(2) Existence never began because it has always existed. 

bigbang2

bigbang2

Explanation (1) violates a basic axiom. It violates the law of identity. How? Nothing doesn't do anything. It is nothing! Explanation (1) assumes that nothing can turn into something. Therefore nothing can equal something. It means that "A" equals "not A". Therefore explanation (1) is unintelligible. We cannot make any sense of it. If it were somehow the case that something could come out of nothing, then knowledge and reason would be impossible. Why? because it would undermine the foundation of knowledge. The theory of the Big Bang (according to Stephen Hawkings) and the idea that God creating existence Ex Nihilo assume explanation (1).

I believe in explanation (2) because it does not violate the basic axioms. If the Big Bang theory is correct, it must be the case that the Big Bang is only the beginning of the universe in its current organization. The basic constituents of reality must have always existed.

Therefore the question "When did it all begin?" is a meaningless question because there is no "beginning of it all" to refer to.

A Foundation for Knowledge

All knowledge rests on the following 3 axioms. All principled thinking depends on these axioms.

Axiom 1: Existence exists or in other words reality is real. Existence is independent of consciousness. This is a self-evident axiom because a conscious person can only reject existence after first presuming his own existence. Existence is the widest of all concepts. It includes all that is known and unknown. I am going to call things that exist in reality “existents.”

Axiom 2: Consciousness exists. Consciousness is the awareness of existents.

Axiom 3: The law of identity. The first two axioms imply the law of identity. Consciousness can identify existents. The identity of an existent is its identity. If we substitute the word identity for the symbol “A” we know that ‘A’ = ‘A’. This means that ‘A’ cannot equal ‘not A’

The law of identity implies the law of causality. The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. The law of causality is the foundation for our understanding of natural laws. It in turn implies position symmetry and time symmetry. Position symmetry means that existents have the same identity no matter where they are in reality. Time symmetry means that existents have the same identity regardless of when they are in reality.

The law of identity also implies the law of non-contradiction. This is another axiom. It shows that contradictions cannot exist in reality. The law of non-contradition is the foundation of logic. Logic provides the foundation for mathematics. Logic is the key to understanding the universe. Reality sans logic would be unintelligible. By rejecting the axioms one necessarily destroys their ability to think.

These axioms are the foundation of knowledge. The systematic application of the axioms validates scientific inquiry. No consciousness in the universe can change these axioms—not even God. Causality, Logic, and Mathematics are necessarily the same in every time and in every place.

Axioms

An idea can be a premise or a conclusion. A premise is an idea that supports a conclusion. A conclusion is an idea that is derived from premises. To validate a conclusion we must identify and validate the premises. How do we validate a premise? By identifying the premises that support that premise. Here we can see a potential problem. Either (1) each premise will have its own premise going down a chain of premises forever, or (2) eventually we will find a stopping point. That stopping point would be an irreducible premise that can stand alone. If option (1) is true, then knowledge would not be possible. If option (2) is true then knowledge is possible only if we find irreducible premises that can stand alone. I believe that knowledge is possible because irreducible premises do exist. I am going to call these premises "Axioms". An axiom is a foundational premise that is self evident. An axiom is self evident if when one attempts to reject it, must assume it first. An example of a self-evident axiom is the idea that "existence exists". This is self-evident because if a person tries to reject it, he/she must first presume his/her own existence.

Axioms cannot be proven. The concept of proof is not irreducible. "Proof" relies on axioms. For example, the concept of "proof" first assumes that existence exists and that it exists independent of consciousness. The concept of proof is meaningless without the concept of reality/existence. Even though Axioms cannot be proven, they can be validated. Validation is a larger concept than proof. Axioms are validated if they are self-evident.

In the next few posts I will lay out the most fundament Axioms of knowledge and science.

Miracles and Reality

This post is part of a series of posts on Reality and Mormon theology.

"For some people, miracles serve as evidence of God’s existence. For Einstein it was the absence of miracles that reflected divine providence. The fact that the world was comprehensible, that it followed laws, was worthy of awe."

—Walter Isaacson from Einstein: His Life and Universe

I like this quote about Einstein's convictions even though I believe that he makes the mistake of misidentifying the divine. I define miracles as those surprises that violate the law of cause and effect. A belief in supernatural miracles is incompatible with a belief in a mechanical universe. It is only compatible with a belief in a magical universe.

According to Brigham Young:

“There is no miracle to any being in the heavens or on the earth, only to the ignorant. To a man who understands the philosophy of all the phenomena that transpire, there is no such thing as a miracle...A miracle is supposed to be a result without a cause, but there is no such thing. There is a cause for every result we see; and if we see a result without understanding the cause we call it a miracle. This is what we have been taught; but there is no miracle to those who understand.”

—Journal of Discourses 13: 33, 14:79

Note: Because of the imperfection of language, some might still use the term miracle even though they believe in a mechanical universe. 

Reality and Traditional Christianity

This post is belongs to a series of posts on Reality and Mormon theology.

As I mentioned in a previous post, traditional Christianity believes in the Absolutism of God. Some believe that the Absolutism of God implies that God could literally do anything, including making murder good, or making contradictions exist.

This is debatable whether this view was part of original Christianity. Some early church fathers such as Justin and Origen of Alexandria rejected the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. So where did this belief come from? According to some biblical scholars, it entered Christianity in the first century by a jewish philosopher from Alexandria named Philo Judeaus. He attempted to reconcile Hellenistic metaphysics with Hebrew scriptures. "Philo rejected the Aristotelian concept of the world as uncreated...By the end of the second century the ex nihilo doctrine was accepted almost universally in the church..."

This view is generally rejected by LDS teaching. According to Joseph Smith,

You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing, and they will answer, “Doesn’t the Bible say he created the world?” And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time He had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end.

In other words God did not create reality ex nihilo nor could He. In contrast to Traditional Christiatinty Joseph Smith taught that God is bound by law and not a law unto himself. Some LDS scriptures suggest that those who seek not to be government by law, but seeketh to become laws unto themselves, cannot be sanctified by the law. Becoming a law unto oneself is the ultimate goal of Satan. For example, he wants to choose how to act and he wants to choose the consequences for actions (D&C 88:34-39).