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Author Topic: The Existence of Less than Nothing
Raymond Arnold
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So I just got into an argument with my roommate about Kingdom Hearts 2. I haven't actually played it but another friend described the plot to me and the gist of one of the plot points is that when your soul is separated from your body, an "anti-soul" called a nobody is left behind.

Now, neither I nor my roommate made it all the way through the game, and neither of us quite have the philosophical background to argue about it effectively. But my roommate was extremely annoyed by the presence of something that was less than nothing. When I talked about negative numbers in general he dismissed those as "not real."

I tried talking about anti-matter but the more I talked the more I realized I don't actually know what I'm talking about. Is anti-matter negative existence? Or does it just have a negative charge?

I had an easy time explaining negative qualities, but I don't have any concrete examples of negative something. Does less than nothing existence in a real, physical sense?

Also, if anyone who has played Kingdom Hearts II and also has enough of a philosophical background to know whether the game is complete bullcrap or if it actually makes sense from some perspectives?

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King of Men
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Ok, to take your last question first, souls in general are complete bullcrap, so anti-souls are presumably what's left when the dung beetle's metabolism is done.

As for whether negative numbers are real, meh, question of taste. Ask whether positive numbers are real. Then ask whether an overdraft in your bank account is real.

Anti-matter is not negative in any physical sense (I'm not sure this phrase could be meaningful anyway), it just has opposite charges. It is otherwise exactly like plain vanilla matter in every way, modulo CP violation of course.

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Raymond Arnold
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I specified "if it actually makes sense from some perspectives." I don't believe in souls either, but plenty of people believe in them and have constructed complex philosophies starting from the notion that they exist.

I asked him about going into debt (we both owe banks thousands o dollars in student loans). He said that was not real, there was really no money and the people loaning him stuff are just making it up.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
He said that was not real, there was really no money and the people loaning him stuff are just making it up.
Well, he's wrong.
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Elmer's Glue
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I'm gonna guess he doesn't have good credit.
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Raymond Arnold
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He's perfectly willing to operate in a universe where people believe in made up rules. He just doesn't think those rules are actually real.
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King of Men
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Ask him to produce a positive number. If he holds up three fingers (or one, as the case might be) point out that this is a collection of fingers, not a number.
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Itsame
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Not only that, but I think there's a conflation of terms in this case. Less than nothing is not the same as negative numbers, because the declaration of the existence of negative numbers is an affirmation of the existence of x, which is something.

To say that there can be "less than nothing" seems highly speculative. Can you explain what that phrase even MEANS? If you can't explain what it means, then you can't explain how it can be the case. Even if it possibly exists, without good argumentation for why it exists, then I have no justification to believe it.

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Raymond Arnold
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I can't precisely explain what I mean, but I know that there's a lot of quantum mechanical what-not that completely defies common sense. After having the first few instances things that appeared to be absurd at first glance, I stopped putting much stock in the credibility of my common sense when it came to the inner workings of the universe.

So... I'm perfectly okay with the notion that somewhere out there exists something which is just like something except the opposite. I'm especially willing to do this when that something is a soul, which has no obligation to follow the rules of matter in the first place.

I'm not familiar enough with the higher levels of science to say for certain whether something less than nothing exists or not. I figured someone here might be, which is why I asked.

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Itsame
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"I'm especially willing to do this when that something is a soul, which has no obligation to follow the rules of matter in the first place."

Before you can talk about the properties of the soul, you must demonstrate that it exists. After that, then you must provide arguments for why it has those specific properties.

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rivka
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Why make it so complicated?

Something = hill
Nothing = level ground
Less than nothing = hole

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Puppy
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Couldn't this "anti-soul" be similar to the particles that get emitted when fission occurs? Just another broken piece of the once-united whole, which has properties and behaviors that are very different from what was observable in the original unit?
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James Tiberius Kirk
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quote:
So I just got into an argument with my roommate about Kingdom Hearts 2. I haven't actually played it but another friend described the plot to me
[Slightly OT: I'm not sure how you could do this in a way that makes sense. I don't even think the game accomplished this effectively.]

--j_k

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Itsame
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quote:
Originally posted by rivka:
Why make it so complicated?

Something = hill
Nothing = level ground
Less than nothing = hole

Because that's a conflation of terms, therefore wrong.
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Puppy
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Rivka, I'm supposing that in the case of the theoretical "anti-soul", you'd have to define the medium that the "hole" is dug into.
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Itsame
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The fact that we can talk about an "anti-soul" implies that if it is real, then it is something. In fact: if anything is real, then it is something.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by JonHecht:
quote:
Originally posted by rivka:
Why make it so complicated?

Something = hill
Nothing = level ground
Less than nothing = hole

Because that's a conflation of terms, therefore wrong.
He asked for a real, physical example of "less than nothing". I gave one.
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Itsame
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Except it isn't. A "hole" is still something.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Puppy:
Rivka, I'm supposing that in the case of the theoretical "anti-soul", you'd have to define the medium that the "hole" is dug into.

Why? If the soul exists in something analogous to the physical (I don't think it does), then it must have a medium.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by JonHecht:
Except it isn't. A "hole" is still something.

No. A hole is the absence of something.
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Itsame
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I might be willing to accept that, but that doesn't make it less than nothing. The absence of something is, definitionally, nothing.
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rivka
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There is a greater absence in the case of the hole than in the case of the level ground.
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Itsame
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If that it so, then the level ground wasn't nothing, regardless of if you call it so.
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Raymond Arnold
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Why?

I think nothing is somewhat relative. When you're talking about matter, period, then so far as we can comprehend, you can't have less than zero matter.

But we're not talking about matter in this case, we're talking about a hill. If you have a mound of dirt, it's a hill. You can remove dirt and the hill becomes smaller. When there isn't a mound anymore, you don't have a hill. (Or a mound, for that matter). And if you keep digging, then you having something that is less than zero hill. Pretty much by definition.

That said, I did bring up the pit example with my roommate. I can't remember exactly what he said but in general wasn't fazed by it. I think we were reaching the end of the conversation by that point and his willingness to explore bizarre philosophical questions was generally wearing thin.

Back to the theoretical less than zero matter issue... suppose hypothetically we had a way to continue to subtract matter from a region even after we hit vacuum, and the result was the appearance of something that had the opposite characteristics of matter. (Couldn't be physically interacted with, had negative gravity, I guess).

In that hypothetical scenario, I think it would be correct to call that thing "Negative Matter." But it would also be correct to call it "something." Come to think of it, I'd consider negative numbers to be "something." (I might even consider zero to be something)

I feel a weird deja vu suddenly, vaguely remembering something from philosophy class. Is there some kind of argument about God or existence or something that hinges on nothing not existing?

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Raymond Arnold
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I explained the hill analogy of the hypothetical less-than-zero-but-still-something matter to my roommate. He was okay with it, with a slight semantic difference: as far as he's concerned, once you hit ground level, you have zero hill and continue to have zero hill, but as the hole gets bigger, you do get progressively more hole.

I personally say a hole is negative hill by definition (or at least, it's a more useful definition) but I'm okay with that particular take on the semantics.

He was still a little boggled by the "hypothetical negative matter" example, but seemed okay with it by the end of the conversation.

Speaking of which, the conversation actually ended with a discussion of the universe in general and how it will end. The last thing I remember hearing (at least my interpretation of it) was that the universe was growing in size, and that the rate at which it was growing was increasing. So eventually, the rate at which objects moved would be slower than the rate at which the space between them was getting bigger, and everything would end in bleak eternal winter. Dark Matter and Dark energy figured majorly into the explanation somehow.

I vaguely remember a competing theory for Dark Matter a few years ago, but that the theorist hadn't been able to test it yet. I don't know if that would impact our understanding of the end of the universe. I also don't know if my understanding in the first place was even right - this was my interpretation of some science I didn't fully understand about a decade ago.

Am I in the right ballpark here?

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King of Men
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I wouldn't use the term 'winter', if I were you, since there won't literally be snow and stuff and these things are hard enough to get without messing them up with metaphors.

Touching less than nothing, the quantum-mechanics point is a good one. I can't be bothered to explain it fully right now, but there are circumstances in which you can take a beam of x and a beam of y, point them at the same spot, and end up with x-y. (Note the sign!) This seems to me a reasonable description of y being negative amounts of x, or vice-versa. You don't need to mess about with antimatter, either, both x and y can be electrons, or ordinary light.

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Raymond Arnold
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Huh.
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Itsame
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I'm going to say this one more time, and then I'm peacing out of this topic. There is a giant conflation going on here (with regards to intensionality and extensionality) , and equivocation of different 'nothing's. Until that is resolved, there can be no success. As far as metaphysics goes, there cannot be less than nothing.
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Kwea
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Thanks for "solving" this for us. Since you don't seem to actually be interested in conversation, just in lecturing your beliefs about a metaphysical question, I doubt you'll be missed.
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Raymond Arnold
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In my last post, you may note that I redefined my question: I'm not concerned with less something being "less than nothing." Rather, I'm interested in "negative things."

Leaving aside the terms of nothing and something, how is a hole in the ground not less than a zero quantity of hill.

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Raymond Arnold
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I'd also note that I AM curious about an explanation as to why there can't be less than nothing, but I want an explanation, not just a "trust me you can't."
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Itsame
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I'm not "lecturing you on my beliefs". I'm explaining that the logic being used is flawed, and thus you won't be able to get to a satisfactory answer until you clear up these issues. I apologize for my silly demands to use "logic" when discussing philosophy.

Intensional arguments are being used (i.e., knowledge of numbers, which haven't yet been demonstrated to have been proven to have metaphysical existence) in order to make an extensional argument (i.e., metaphysical existence of x). Ask any logician and he will tell you that you can't do this.

As well, the phrase "nothing" is being used with several different meanings intended, which is also cannot be done in logic. The referent of 'nothing' is a different thing in the different arguments.

Edit: In response to Raymond: if you want to define "less than nothing" as a negative thing, and define a negative thing as the hole in a hill... well, then yes. As long as you suppose that a hole exists in a hill, then "less than nothing" exists by necessity. That having been said, that isn't a terribly deep question. [Dont Know]

Edit2: Furthermore, there seems to be a misunderstanding on the burden of proof here. You are claiming that something can exist. I am saying "Prove it to me. If you can't, then I have no reason to believe that it is so." The burden of proof is on you to prove that it exists. Not me to prove that it doesn't.

Edit3: "Since you don't seem to actually be interested in conversation." No. In philosophy, I am not generally interested in having a conversation for the sake of having a conversation. I am interested in propositions and arguments. In trying to find the truth. Not chatting.

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Raymond Arnold
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Okay. Thank you for explaining.

I think we're mostly in agreement here. One minor quibble and one medium one:

1) I'm not defining less than nothing as "any negative thing." I'm not interested in "nothing" at all. I said before, after giving it some thought, I decided that both the hole and the hill (and the flat earth) are "something." The only reason I got hung up on "nothing" was because it was the word my roommate was originally using.

quote:
That having been said, that isn't a terribly deep question.
quote:
You are claiming that something can exist.
2) Medium quibble time: I am not claiming something DOES exist. I'm claiming that it can, theoretically, in a universe where laws might work differently than our own (or in our own, if our current understanding of natural law turns out to be wrong). So burden of proof wasn't on to me to prove anything other than that something is theoretically, logically possible.

Second, my initial point was not trying to prove something at all. I was asking someone else to answer a question. That question has since been answered: No, there's no such thing as less than nothing. Yes, there are things in the universe that can be added together to produce a subtractive value, ergo it's useful to describe one as a negative version of the other (or at least can be useful, in certain situations).

Which brings us back to the original ACTUAL point. A few points, actually, although I'm not sure there's anyone here who cares and/or has the requisite knowledge to address them:

1) In a hypothetical game world where souls exist (you take it as an axiom when you enter the game world), is it coherent to have an "anti-soul" result from a process that takes a person's real soul away from them?

2) Is that even an accurate description of what's supposed to be going on in the Kingdom Hearts game? Alternate question: what exactly IS going on in Kingdom Hearts II? Wikipedia touches upon it but doesn't explain it very well. Whatever it is, it strikes me as way more interesting than a game about the Disney multiverse had any reason to be.

Fake Edit - from what I gather from wikipedia it seems that the Nobodies are not anti-souls, they're the bodies left over when a soul is ripped out and transformed into something else. Which I guess makes a lot of the preceding conversation kinda useless, at least for the moment, although I'm still fascinated by the idea of anti-souls.

And again, for the record, I'm an atheist and don't believe in souls. That doesn't mean I don't think they can generate neat ideas for stories that in turn communicate a metaphorical truth.

I guess that's my ultimate question - is there anyone here who's played Kingdom Hearts and found any actual metaphorical and/or philosophical value to the game, or is it just a hodge podge of fun ideas.

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natural_mystic
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In order for a physical negative, you need two physical objects (an absence of an object does not count) with some (non-zero) measurable quality such that when you 'combine' them, the resulting combination has a smaller measurable quality than the maximum of the original objects. To the extent that the existence of quarks is uncontroversial, the electrical charge on quarks satisfies this i.e. -1/3,2/3,2/3.

[ May 16, 2009, 12:54 AM: Message edited by: natural_mystic ]

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Temposs
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My intuitive approach to this is to mainly look at it from the point of view of storytelling. Does this plot point "anti-soul" or "nobody", as they are called, contradict the world in which they seem to exist? Are the properties of the "nobodies" consistent across the entire story, so that suspension of disbelief is maintained? I think this describes more the plausibility of a plot point than arguing about its real world analogy to somehow decide the merit of the idea of an "anti-soul".

Assuming the above holds, and the "nobodies" fit well into the plot of the game, then we may determine if there are any *interesting* parallels in the real world. Not necessary parallels, just interesting.

You have been discussing possible interesting real world parallels already, but your original question pondered if the idea makes sense in the story. These two questions should be considered separately, as you will just get yourself confused otherwise, and you won't answer your original question.

Regarding the above conversation about holes and "nothing", I recall the line from The Neverending Story, in which the Rockeater says, "A hole, that would be something. This, this was nothing!"

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Sterling
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How about, "In the presence of 'nothing', adding 'something' will mean the presence of 'something'."

0+x=x

"In the presence of 'less than nothing', adding 'something' will not mean the presence of 'something', but the presence of 'nothing' (or, equivalently, the absence of 'something'.)

-x+x=0

The "anti-soul" described in the story sounds like a scar- something that fills in a void, but does not necessarily fill (or adequately fill) either the void, or provide what was lost.

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aspectre
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Whilst searching for a relatively recent article on negative energy, I ran across this total nonsequiter
http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/60-second-science/post.cfm?id=how-a-fake-word-from-the-simpsons-e
which is nonetheless amusing.

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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
Regarding the above conversation about holes and "nothing", I recall the line from The Neverending Story, in which the Rockeater says, "A hole, that would be something. This, this was nothing!"
I thought about this a lot when the conversation turned to the end of the universe. My understand is that the "nothing" that separates things from each other is expanding. Which led to a visual metaphor of me and my roommate in a spaceship, trying to reach another spaceship, and we can't, because the Nothing is expanding faster than we can travel.

I think my semantics are still off, but I think the gist of the point is accurate. I got a major Neverending Story deja vu moment.

quote:
Does this plot point "anti-soul" or "nobody", as they are called, contradict the world in which they seem to exist?
I don't think there's anything inherent in the game that would make them more or less contradictory than they would in our universe (assuming souls existed in our universe). But if a negative something was a contradiction, it'd be a contradiction in every universe. It doesn't matter what kind of game you create, you can't have Square Circles.

After reading and thinking some more about the game I think I'm better able to codify and understand what was happening and why I found it interesting.

The "Heartless Creation Process" steals the Heart (basically soul) from a person and turns it into a monster. The person's body becomes lifeless, and the "shell" of the soul (I'm not sure whether anti-soul is a good term or not) becomes a frustrated, empty, easily manipulated spirit. A Nobody.

What I found particularly neat is that the main character (you) evidently has this happen to him at some point. In the second game, you begin as the main character's Nobody, and have to reclaim your body and I assume your actual soul at some point.

I'm not sure if that's a good metaphor for anything in particular, but it seems similar to the area of philosophy that Dollhouse is exploring. What exactly is our identity? What happens when you take it away?

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Temposs
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quote:
I thought about this a lot when the conversation turned to the end of the universe. My understand is that the "nothing" that separates things from each other is expanding. Which led to a visual metaphor of me and my roommate in a spaceship, trying to reach another spaceship, and we can't, because the Nothing is expanding faster than we can travel.
This is not right. You are mixing yourself up again, trying to make a necessary analogy to the real world. Remember, the world of The Neverending Story(in the book) is the world of imagination. The "nothing", though it is visualized in the movie as a natural phenomenon, is not. It is more accurately the effect of the decreasing imaginative life of the world's children, which The Neverending Story's world is comprised of.

quote:
I don't think there's anything inherent in the game that would make them more or less contradictory than they would in our universe (assuming souls existed in our universe). But if a negative something was a contradiction, it'd be a contradiction in every universe. It doesn't matter what kind of game you create, you can't have Square Circles.
A contradiction in one universe is definitely *not* a contradiction in every universe. Square circles, though you may be unaware, exist in a universe called Pizor, in which square-circles have both four equilateral sides, and at the same time are round and has a circumference of 2*pi*r! Why yes, I believe this universe does exist, and I shall tell a good story about it ^_^

In case you doubt my logic, consider:
Define a square and circle in the usual way, but note that it is the properties of our universe that say that the properties of a square necessarily preclude it from being a circle, and vice versa, and that the definitions don't in themselves exclude one from being the other. Then, consider a universe in which the properties are different than ours, such that a square and circle, defined in the same way, are not precluded from being the same thing. This universe may have square-circles, quite easily :-)

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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
This is not right. You are mixing yourself up again, trying to make a necessary analogy to the real world. Remember, the world of The Neverending Story(in the book) is the world of imagination. The "nothing", though it is visualized in the movie as a natural phenomenon, is not. It is more accurately the effect of the decreasing imaginative life of the world's children, which The Neverending Story's world is comprised of.
I'm mixing myself up about how the universe works or about the appropriate metaphor for Neverending story? If the latter I confess I don't really care. It wasn't intended to be a deep philosophical thought, just a random connection my brain made to a visual in a movie.

quote:
In case you doubt my logic, consider:
Define a square and circle in the usual way, but note that it is the properties of our universe that say that the properties of a square necessarily preclude it from being a circle, and vice versa, and that the definitions don't in themselves exclude one from being the other. Then, consider a universe in which the properties are different than ours, such that a square and circle, defined in the same way, are not precluded from being the same thing. This universe may have square-circles, quite easily :-)

I'm not sure whether I give this a pass. I think our definitions of squares and circles are rooted in the way our reality works. If you have something that fits the technical definition of a square (four equilateral sides) but doesn't look like a square, I don't think it really counts. I bet people had words for the square shape long before they had a formal mathematical definition of it, and chose the mathematical definition for that word because it matched the shape they had named.
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Temposs
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quote:
I'm not sure whether I give this a pass. I think our definitions of squares and circles are rooted in the way our reality works. If you have something that fits the technical definition of a square (four equilateral sides) but doesn't look like a square, I don't think it really counts. I bet people had words for the square shape long before they had a formal mathematical definition of it, and chose the mathematical definition for that word because it matched the shape they had named.
I said to use "the usual definition", and I did not say "the mathematical definition". In any case, it doesn't matter. It's the same thing either way. You can't talk about a definition being "rooted" in the way reality works. For any definition for something like "circle" and a given object that one person identifies as a circle, you can find another person that disagrees. A definition, whatever definition you give, is an abstraction that does not correspond to any given object, though multiple people may agree that it applies to certain objects.

I am not saying that something that fits the definition of the square yet doesn't look like a square. I am saying that something in another universe can fit the definition of the square and fit the definition of a circle, and look like a square and look like a circle, all at the same time(to a number of people in that universe familiar with the definitions).

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Raymond Arnold
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...I'll go ahead and nod vaguely because I lack the capacity to prove you wrong at this point, but I have a feeling that what you are describing truly is logically impossible, in any universe.
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Itsame
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Raymond, is part of the definition of a square "not a circle". Is part of the definition of a circle "not a square"? If not, then it is conceivable that in some possible world there can be a square circle, as it doesn't contradict analytic nature of the shapes.
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Raymond Arnold
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I'd be open to that notion, except I don't think something can look like a circle and look like a square at the same time. I guess I can imagine a universe with beings that look at objects and see them in multiple ways at the same time. Some sort of superpositioning thing. Dunno. I'm not sure if that would count.

Like I said, I think of any real logic to prove the statement wrong, especially the part of the statement I have a problem with is not the mathematical part but the "what does it look like" part.

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Itsame
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Raymond. What's your AIM? Temposs and I would like to talk to you about this via a more fluid medium.
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Raymond Arnold
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I honestly don't use chat much ever. Forums work nicely for me because I can work on homework for a while between checking up on various conversation threads. What exactly did you want to talk about? It had actually seemed to me that we were near the end of the discussion, since right now burden of proof's on me and I got nothin'.
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TomDavidson
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Looking at a circle or a square doesn't matter as much as the definitions. If you define a circle as a 2D object for which every point is equidistant from the center, and a square as an object assembled from two pairs of parallel lines of equal length, meeting at four right angles, then it's arguably possible that the two definitions are not inherently exclusionary. (Topology actually relies on this sort of thing, as I understand it -- but mathematics is, as it is with all dragons, my weak spot, so you'll have to ask someone else for the details.)
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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
Looking at a circle or a square doesn't matter as much as the definitions
.

I disagree. We happen to live in a world where the laws of geometry are consistent and straightforward, so that what something looks like matches up neatly with the definitions we've found to accurately describe them.

But there are also elements of our world where perception and reality don't match up. (Best example I can think of off the top of my head is that our bodies are mostly empty space). In those cases, I think perception is still just as important as reality. It's also worth remembering that your perception does NOT equal reality, but for the average person, the fact that we're 99% empty space is honestly less important than the fact that when we bump into other "solid" objects, it hurts.

There may be a world in which the mathematical laws for circles and squares are not mutually exclusive, and could somehow also look like each other at the same time, but the rules for geometry in that universe would be so different from our own that calling any particular shape in that universe the same as a shape in our own would be pretty much meaningless.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
I disagree.
But you then went on to explain why you agree with me. *blink*
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Raymond Arnold
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...huh? You said

quote:
Looking at a circle or a square doesn't matter as much as the definitions.
My main point was:

quote:
It's also worth remembering that your perception does NOT equal reality, but for the average person, the fact that we're 99% empty space is honestly less important than the fact that when we bump into other "solid" objects, it hurts.
Which wasn't directly related to the circle issue but I thought it was reasonably implied that it extended to shape recognition. Most people don't think of a circle as the set of points equidistant from a central point. They think of circles as the round shape that the sun and moon and clocks and grapefruits are. And the experience of looking at those shapes is going to be fundamentally different in a world where they somehow also look like city blocks and legos and computer monitors.
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