Do humans actually exist or are we part of the imagination of some greater being? Do we imagine
I used to ask questions just like this myself, when I was a lot younger. I studied astronomy and
particle physics and began to wonder about the truly inconceivable disparity between the greatest
and the smallest; but even between an atom and a quark there is such a huge gap that a living thing
living on an atom still would not know that there are quarks around! And I started thinking, what if we
are nothing other than the denizens of one of these billions of quarks that might make a millionth of a
gram of matter, how could we possibly know? And then, perhaps, all those enormous structures in
the universe might just be more quarks; and all this, the whole universe together, just one atom!
Well, even today, when my interest has shifted to biology, I am staggered by thoughts not unlike this.
When you consider that a human being begins as just one tiny microscopic cell and ends up being a
collection of 6,000,000,000 of them, don't you just ask yourself, how can these things live and not
know what they're doing? I'm sure they do, the same as we 'know' what we're doing; and if a galactic
visitor looked at us from a few billion miles away, he or she (or it?) would probably think we're just an
ant heap anyway, rambling around in our transport vehicles this way and that way, without any
obvious purpose whatever.
Can I give you an answer? Heavens no! Not even to the second question, "Do we just imagine each
other?" No-one can be absolutely sure that we are real; the best we can do is rely on instruments that
can't be cheated as easily as we can; and so if some detector device registers the presence of
smoke, well, then you know there's a fire somewhere close by. The trouble is, that scientific devices
and apparatus can't be calibrated to register all those things that are really important to us — in a
word, science cannot answer, trulyanswer, your question. So that leaves the two of us dreaming
away, imagining we're having a conversation via the Internet, whereas what we're reallyup to might
be starting up some plasma-wave generator in the dimension we can't see, where some super-being
has just won the Nobel Prize for discovering internetty plasma-waves as a new law of nature....
The main problem here is the use of the terms 'exist' and 'imagination.' I believe that I understand
what you mean, and I appreciate the limits that language imposes on philosophical discussion.
Imagination is used here not quite in the sense that we understand it in everyday life.
The great 18th century philosopher, David Hume, referred to the sense data we receive, along with
our passions and emotions, as 'impressions.' The faint images of these he called 'ideas.' Imagination,
then, arises from combinations of the simple ideas derived from received sense data. Hume pointed
out what we are all aware of, that sense data, i e our everyday experiences are more vivid than things
imagined or things arising in the mind from stored memories. These latter are mere shadows of what
we call sense impressions.
It is necessary to be aware of the above before entering into the metaphysical view posed by your
questions. If there is a great power capable of producing all things within its own 'mind,' and if this is
indeed the nature of the universe, then this would be the only 'reality' in 'existence'. The world would
be 'mind stuff,' this would of necessity include humans. However, it seems that this great power would
have to impose laws on such a creation, 'natural laws' we might call them. Human minds would be
individual minds within the great universal mind. Controlled by the laws, all humans would seemingly
be guided into a general recognition of things in the way the great power required. Thus, if it was
required that all humans should recognise, or believe in, a material existence, then so be it. Each
human would recognise other humans, and would come to understand what was meant by 'life' and
'independence,' we would all 'exist' within this 'reality.' As we would all be products of this super
power, then such a power could impose anything it chose on the world, including 'free will' for
humans: or, if it wished to keep control then our lives would be 'determined.'
Alternatively, if this super power was capable of producing 'actual' 'matter.' then it might create a
'material' world; everything, including humans, would be 'real' in the solid sense, real 'material'
objects. It seems that this is the way you are using the term 'real' in your question. The implication
being that things can only be real if they are out there in the world as solid objects. As we have
considered another way in which things can be real as 'mind stuff' the fallacy in your question is
revealed. You are using a pre-conceived idea of reality derived from what philosophers call a 'naive'
view of the world. This view is to some extent held by materialist philosophers and probably most
scientists. But there are some philosophers called 'idealists' who take the view that reality is mind
stuff controlled by abstract laws. In fact some philosophers, both materialist and idealist consider the
abstract laws of mathematics, space and time, etc. to be more real than what are called material and
mind stuff objects. Some of these are called 'rationalists,' who believe that things can be discovered
about the real world, not only by direct perception, but by rationalising, cogitating (thinking) about
Your second question by implication hints at 'solipsism,' the view that only oneself exists. Although a
seemingly absurd proposition, it is still debated by philosophers. I wonder if it is a comfort to the
solipsist to believe that he/she cannot really die, they just stop imagining, and it is the world that