Note on explaining existence

Keith Parsons asks:

Why would, say, an electron or a quark (considered fundamental particles in the Standard Model) need any help in remaining in existence?

The bare fact that he listed two existent things makes the response clear: if something “remained in existence” because it was an electron, then there could be no such thing as quarks. But if some X can’t exist because it is an electron, but there is nevertheless an instance of it, then we need something other than electrons if we’re going to account for existence. Electrons explain a good number of things, like spectral lines or the fact that every electric charge is a multiple of 1.6 x 10^-19 Coulombs, but no one in the history of the world has proposed them as an explanation for existence. Again, we stress the reason: if something existed because it was an electron, there could be no quarks; in fact, if something existed because it was this electron, there could  not be that one. And so the first criterion of what would explain existence is that it be totally unique and unrepeatable. It follows from this immediately that it could never be the object of scientific law, which require repeated observations of things of the same sort.

Since that which explains existence is unique an unrepeatable, the various existent things it explains cannot exist in the same way that it does. If they did, this would be the same as saying that its existence was repeated in them. And so this explanation of existence is separate from all which is repeatable, or which exists as a result of this. It can be none of the particles of the standard model, or the totality of the universe.

And so an explanation for existence is something totally unique and unrepeatable, divided from the universe, but not in such a way as to make two co-equal beings. And so the explanation of existence commits us, minimally, to an intellectual assent to a Neoplatonic One. We need, moreover, to understand this mode of explanation in a way other than the mode that looks for regularities among symmetrical and therefore repeatable systems. Scientific knowledge is a flat-head screwdriver to this Philips- head problem.

5 Comments

  1. Matthew McCormack said,

    March 1, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    “It follows from this immediately that it could never be the object of scientific law, which require repeated observations of things of the same sort.”
    Do you really need multiple things of the same sort for a scientific law ? If you had just one unique thing and could describe a regular behavior of it mathematically, wouldn’t this be a scientific law, but just be very trivial ? The question being, is multiplicity necessary for a law by definition, or simply for practicality ?

    • March 1, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      Let’s take “a law of one thing” in the most likely sense, say, a law that predicted sunspots. There’s only one sun, right? But even here there are repeated observations of some repeated occurrence. There has to be more than one sunspot, otherwise we have no law but only an observation, and one that we’d reasonably dismiss as a bug in the system. In the lingo of the post, sunspots must be repeatable and non-unique, or, in more modern lingo, they have underlying symmetries. But this is exactly what makes them incapable of being an account for existence.

  2. maidrya said,

    March 9, 2014 at 10:45 am

    This was a very edifying argument for me. However, I didn’t follow this point:

    “Since that which explains existence is unique an unrepeatable, the various existent things it explains cannot exist in the same way that it does. If they did, this would be the same as saying that its existence was repeated in them.”

    I get that the thing that explains existence is unique. But I don’t quite understand what you mean by “existent things cannot exist in the same way” and “the same as saying that its existence is repeated in them.”

    If existent things can’t account for their existence at all, of course they don’t exist in the same way. I just don’t understand the point that is being made about existence “being repeated.”

    • March 9, 2014 at 12:54 pm

      I think the only point there is that the explanation of existence cannot be this thing as opposed to that one. I started off by saying that if there are two natures, the one nature can’t explain existence since it would make the other one impossible, and all did is extend this to individuals within one nature.

      Said in another way, existence cannot be explained by something that is one in number, that is, a part of a potentially or actually larger class. There is not one explanation of existence in the sense of one that means “the first thing counted” or “a unit for measuring other things”.

      Said another way “repetition” first means enumeration.

  3. Bob in Maryland said,

    March 9, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    I’ve often wondered whether each and every last electron (or any other fundamental particle, for that matter), despite their incomprehensibly vast numbers, must be in some way unique, i.e., distinguishable from every other electron. If not, how could they remain as separate entities?

    I’m willing to be shot down in these admittedly unscientific musings, but I suspect I’m on to something here.


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