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Meditation 599
Axioms of Existence

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While I was writing my first response to Jerry's God and Geometry, I was wondering how a hypothetical Jerry (let's call him Jerryh) who actually understood geometry might make a point about the existence of a deity. Jerryh might, instead of wasting time discussing the Pythagorean Theorem, go directly to the root of Euclidean geometry and talk about Euclid's five postulates, or axioms; statements considered by Euclid self-evident and not requiring proof and upon which the entire edifice of Euclidean geometry is built.

In the interest of keeping his discussion accessible for a general readership, Jerryh would probably not get into the problems that modern mathematics has identified with some of the postulates and their replacement with refined versions. That does not change the fact that mathematics is built on the bedrock of a number of axioms. Without them, proof in mathematics (including specifically geometry) is not possible.

Jerryh might then go on to say that just as Euclid's axioms, or self evident truths, are the base upon which geometry is built, God is the base upon which the world, the Universe, and everything is built. Without God, the structure collapses. God guarantees reality. God's existence is thus required. God is an axiom - a self-evident truth.. Like other axioms, no proof is required for God.

That argument, had the real world Jerry offered it rather than the hypothetical Jerry, might have generated some serious discussion. But still it does not work.

When I encountered the idea some 40 years ago in an introductory philosophy course that God is the guarantee that our perceptions of reality actually reflect reality (if memory serves me correctly, it comes up in a meditation by Descartes,) my response was "What, then, guarantees God.?" And this then degenerates, as do most arguments for the existence of God, into either an infinite regress (turtles, turtles all the way down) or God is just an unnecessary complication.

That then leads to my first axiom of existence: Reality is.

We don't need a deity to guarantee reality; we don't need to imagine that reality is just some World of Warcraft or Second Life virtual reality running on a computer in another dimension; we don't need to imagine that everything is just a dream of a supergalactic warthog. Reality is not The Matrix. Reality is the true base upon which the world, the Universe, and everything exists. Reality is.

Within that reality, I exist. I perceive that reality all around me. My second axiom of existence is: I am. That "I" is me as writer and it is you as the reader. Everyone individually is his or her own first person observing reality. We are not bots nor are we actors in a dream. It is self evident to each and every one of us that "I am."

My third axiom of existence, implicit in the discussion of the second, is: Others are. Again, it should be self-evident that there are other intelligent motivated beings in existence who are observing and participating in the same reality as I am. Others are not my dream, not my visible invisible friends. Others are.

That's pretty simplistic - so simplistic that most of us unconsciously accept these three axioms by the time we learn to walk. (There are unfortunately a small minority, generally with developmental problems, who never get a grasp on the third axiom and who are unable see others as independent intelligent beings equivalent to themselves.)

Perhaps some might see it as overly complicated. "I" and "others" both exist within reality. We only need the first axiom. However, by recognizing the "I" and "others," we can recognize that reality is independent of the "I." I am mortal, but when I am no more, reality continues, and so do others. And the death of an "other" does not affect the existence of "me," nor any of the other "others."

Believers would add a fourth axiom, and may insist on it being the first axiom. Generalized, it would be: The supernatural is. Depending on specific beliefs, the supernatural is the realm of gods and ghosts, djinns and devils, angels and ancestors, saints and souls, ectoplasm and etc. Whatever they populate it with, be it the one-and-only God, a pantheon of deities, countless souls of the deceased, virgins and servants for martyrs, believers will claim that the supernatural's existence, like the other axioms is self-evident.

Among those of us who do not believe, some might suggest the fourth axiom is false, some that is meaningless, and others that it is just irrelevant.

It might be asked whether those of us who don't accept that fourth axiom occupy a different reality from those who do accept it, just as there are different geometries arising out of dropping or changing Euclid's axioms. If we are truly in the same reality, then perhaps the fourth axiom is indeed irrelevant.