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Perhaps I am resurrecting a dead horse here, but for those who assert the universe has no beginning, how do you justify an infinite regress of causes?

conan

There is no "infinite regress of causes" to justify. The universe is all that exists, and causality presupposes that which exists. The universe, meaning existence, does not require a cause, and it cannot have a beginning. Nor can it have an end. Time, and causality, are within the universe.

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Stephen,

I agree that "time and causality are within the universe", but you cannot justify a begining-less universe based on a presuppositon you hold. First, it is impossible to prove a universal negative. Secondly, what you really have is a circular argument because you are using the the thing you are trying to prove (the universe is all there is) as proof of the thing.

Wathces are started (caused) and they can be stopped. So perhaps it is reasonable to consider the possibilty that there may be an infinite reality that is not a natural one. Time and causality are definately of the natural universe, but that in no way justifies an infinite regress of causes.

conan

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An infinite regress of causes is not a problem. Causality indeed presupposes that which exists.

That which exists, exists - and, it exists as something - and, what it exists as determines how it acts.

The idea that "event X is caused" under the traditional system implies that "event Y, which is caused, caused event X." But under Objectivism, "event X is caused" means, simply, that "entity Y exists and caused event X." So under Objectivism, causation does not imply infinite regress; all it implies is the entity that acts in accordance with its nature.

Causality therefore does not imply the universe must have had a beginning, and it does not imply that it must not have had one either.

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I agree that "time and causality are within the universe", but you cannot justify a begining-less universe based on a presuppositon you hold.

What presupposition? There is no alternative to existence. Existence is all that there is.

First, it is impossible to prove a universal negative.
What "universal negative" are you referring to?

Secondly, what you really have is a circular argument because you are using the the thing you are trying to prove (the universe is all there is) as proof of the thing.

It is difficult to follow your logic here. Existence per se is not subject to 'proof.' That existence exists is the starting point, the base of all that follows. There is no alternative.

Wathces are started (caused) and they can be stopped.
Yes, we make reference to the nature of entities that exist to explain the causal actions of those entities.

So perhaps it is reasonable to consider the possibilty that there may be an infinite reality that is not a natural one.

I have no idea what those words could actually mean, but "reasonable" is the last word I would use to describe them.

Time and causality are definately of the natural universe, but that in no way justifies an infinite regress of causes.

Isn't that where we started? In response to your question, I said:

"There is no "infinite regress of causes" to justify. The universe is all that exists, and causality presupposes that which exists. The universe, meaning existence, does not require a cause, and it cannot have a beginning. Nor can it have an end. Time, and causality, are within the universe."

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I recently came across this article by a Catholic writer about the "First Cause" argument that critical readers may find valuable:

The First Cause Argument

(I love how, at the end, the author says that if the logic behind the First Cause argument becomes "too tricky" to follow, the thing to do is to return to to one's emotions -- to the feeling that the universe as a whole requires a cause.)

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... Time and causality are definately of the natural universe, but that in no way justifies an infinite regress of causes.

If you assume a beginning or "first cause", what was before?

You are forced to assume that something came from nothing which is a logical impossibility.

Throwing in a "creator" at this point, to "solve the problem", only adds a totally arbitrary assumption into the argument and still leaves the question, then from whence did this creator come? If you say, well, it always existed, then why don't you have a metaphysical problem with that notion while you do have it for the universe?

Fred Weiss

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Thanks everyone for your replies and livly discusssion.

Causality therefore does not imply the universe must have had a beginning, and it does not imply that it must not have had one either.

Exactly the point. To declare that ones beliefs/presuppositions is evidence of itself is circular.

We can however, argue/debate the reasons why we hold the position we do. I believe Mr. Weiss asked what casued the first cause, but that is paradoxial. A first cause by definition would be uncaused and not require a cause because it is not an effect. In reguards to an infinite regress of causes, Dr. Norm Geisler addresses this fairly well with his "Existenial Argument" (a variation of the cosmological argument).

1.Things exist.

2. It is possible for those things to not exist.

3. Whatever has the possibility of non existence, yet exists, has been caused to exist.

4. Something cannot bring itself into existence since it must exist to bring itself into existence which is illogical.

5. There cannot be an infinite number of causes to bring something into existence.

Because an infinite regression of causes ultimately has no initial cause which means there is no cause of existence.

6. Since the universe exists, it must have a cause.

7. Therefore, there must be an uncaused cause of all things.

The uncaused cause must be God.

For the most part this argument hinges on point 5. I think this can best be understood by imaging a chian hanging before you with no visible begining. Because each link is dependant on the existence of another, one can reasonably assume that the chain must be attached somewhere down the line. It is reasonable to assume that there must be something that make the existence of the most recent link possible. This argument at least holds the possibility of justification.

conan

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Conan:

What your argument boils down to is: Since everything in the universe requires a causal explanation, the universe itself must also require a cause.

"The universe" means the sum of everything that exists. Whatever exists, it is part of the universe. There can be nothing which exists "outside" of the universe: Not to exist in the universe, means not to exist.

(When I hear people explain that God is "outside" of the universe, I always think to myself: You have no idea how right you are!)

"There must be an uncaused cause of all things," is a self-contradictory statement. If God exists, then He is subsumed under all things and cannot be their cause. If not -- well, then He can't be much of anything at all, now can He? :dough:

The answer to all of these confusions is the axiom: Existence exists.

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Kevin,

Thanks for your reply.

"The universe" means the sum of everything that exists.
What you are really saying is that matter is all that exist, which is what you are trying to prove in the first place. As I stated in my last post "To declare that ones beliefs/presuppositions is evidence of itself is circular." That does not mean you are wrong, only that your argument is invalid.

"There must be an uncaused cause of all things," is a self-contradictory statement. If God exists, then He is subsumed under all things and cannot be their cause. If not -- well, then He can't be much of anything at all, now can He? :dough:

I am not sure what to make of this. It does not make much sense.

conan

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Conan,

You hold the premise that any material thing that exists requires a creator, I gather. Why? What's the rationale for that premise?

This confuses the metaphysically given with the created. The two categories are not equivalent. It also confuses creating things by way of using existing resources with creating things ex nihilo.

Also, if every material thing requires a creator, then why wouldn't non-material existents require a creator?

By pointing out contradictions in your assertions, we are aiming to show that the assertion is not well formed and hence is not an assertion at all. That's not the same thing as us assuming that which we are trying to prove. We merely point out that assertions must be sensible, i.e., meaningful, to be actual assertions.

"Creating something ex nihilo" really is just a string a words that do not come together to form a bona fide assertion. "Ex nihilo" by itself ("out of nothing") in this context is meaningless. It is unfathomable.

If you say it is a void, but that God also exists, then it's not really a void. God has to have some form of some kind. And there would be no reason to assume that everything requires a creator except the Creator. That would be just an arbitrary assumption.

If you say it's just a theory for our consideration, then it's an arbitrary theory that should be dismissed out of hand, since it is based on an arbitrary assumption.

Adrian

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Kevin Delaney: "The universe" means the sum of everything that exists.

Conan: What you are really saying is that matter is all that exist, which is what you are trying to prove in the first place.

I neither said nor implied anything about what exists. Whatever exists, it is subsumed under the term "universe."

You yourself use the term "all things" -- and by "all things" I must assume that you do mean all things.

Matter, energy, consciousness, angels, gremlins, God . . . Whatever is, that's what the term covers. You can't speak of "all things" and then a moment later try to introduce something in addition to it.

Kevin Delaney: "There must be an uncaused cause of all things," is a self-contradictory statement. If God exists, then He is subsumed under all things and cannot be their cause. If not -- well, then He can't be much of anything at all, now can He?

Conan: I am not sure what to make of this. It does not make much sense.

I know. But what if it did?

Be honest. Could a philosophical argument cause you to doubt your faith?

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...I believe Mr. Weiss asked what casued the first cause, but that is paradoxial. A first cause by definition would be uncaused and not require a cause because it is not an effect.

Actually, I didn't ask "what caused the first cause" except as a polemic. I merely raised it to point out the invalidity of the question. Again, the notion of a "first cause" presupposes a point at which there is something preceded by...nothing, which is an impossibility ("something from nothing").

In reguards to an infinite regress of causes, Dr. Norm Geisler addresses this fairly well with his "Existenial Argument" (a variation of the cosmological argument).

1.Things exist.

2. It is possible for those things to not exist.

Keep something in mind. You are addressing a forum of predominantly Aristotelian/Objectivists here, not Humeans. So we would not accept that it is possible that what exists did not have to exist,i.e. we would regard such an idea as a violation of the Law of Identity. If something exists, it must necessarily exist. Or, in other words, existence doesn't have free will. (This is apart from one unique exception, creations of man - since man does have free will. However, since we are talking about the purported creation of the universe, a bit before man comes on the scene I think we can safely leave ourselves out of the equation for the moment. Even by your reckoning, it took six days before we were made. ;) )

Fred Weiss

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Perhaps I am resurrecting a dead horse here, but for those who assert the universe has no beginning, how do you justify an infinite regress of causes?

If you understand my essay here about circular time, you will see the answer to this.

For the purposes of illustration, consider a universe with only 5 events in its history. If we have A causes B, which causes C, which causes D, which causes E, which causes A. That then would *not* be an example of an infinite regress.

It would not be proper to say that event A "repeats," because a repetition requires that it occur a second time within the context of a different background. But the universe as a whole does not have a background. It is all there is. If it is not a repetition, then you can't count towards infinity and you can't say that there is an infinite regress.

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For the purposes of illustration, consider a universe with only 5 events in its history.  If we have A causes B, which causes C, which causes D, which causes E, which causes A. That then would *not* be an example of an infinite regress. 

It would not be proper to say that event A "repeats," because a repetition requires that it occur a second time within the context of a different background.  But the universe as a whole does not have a background. It is all there is. If it is not a repetition, then you can't count towards infinity and you can't say that there is an infinite regress.

An "event" is unique. That an event has occurred means that something has changed and existence is no longer as it was before. Whatever happens after your event "E" it is certainly not event "A."

The only way to understand this supposed dilemma about infinite regress is to understand just what existence and causality means, and Conan has consistently rejected all efforts to explain this to him. I think your attempt at an explanation unnecessarily confuses the issue even more.

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To everyone:

There has been alot of interesting and good comments. I don't have time to reply to every point/question at this time, but I will try to allude to some of them in my reply to Adrian. Ohters I will do by best to get back to.

Adrain,

The argument I presented is primarily philosophical, not theological. It is not until you get to point 7 that the theological questions arise. If you objection is simply with point 7, then the argument has done its job. If not, then you need to clarify the problem(s) you have with the first 6 points.

I would be happy anwser your question in reguards to why I believe there is a creator, but topic here has to deal with the nature of the time/space continuim. Creation does however reasonbly follow the premise of a first cause, but to avoid categorical confusion we should stay with causality here. However, I would not mind addressing that question in another thread dedicated to that specific topic.

The problem that Objectivism must confront is the impossibilty of proving a universal negative. It is impossible to prove that immaterial reality does not exist. That does not mean it does. But what it does mean is that materialism/atheism is purely presuppositional. Moreover, dogma is not a product of reason. If you claim to champion reason, then you have to be intellectually honest and simply say you do nto believe in immaterial reality, but it is in the realm of possibility.

There are two possibilties here as one of your members has already pointed out.

1. The universe has no begining.

2. The universe has a begining (first cause).

Once you assume either position, you then deal categorically with other possibilties. The former is not exclusively atheistic. A monist/deist can hold to an infinite universe. Ex nihilo does follow the latter and presents at least two views, Deism and Theism. And so on. But there is no categorical confusion on my end.

Since you spoke at length on creation ex nihilo, I will touch briefly on the subject representing the Biblical worldview.

God is before all things. He is the only being in existence whose reason for existing is within himself. The universe pre-existed in the mind of God much like a building in the mind of an architect. The universe became a physical reality at ex nihilo.To avoid categorical confusion theologically, another term for ex nihilo is "immediate creation" (something out of nothing). Creating from existing materials is "mediate creation".

Unfathomable you say? No more unfathomable that a begining-less universe or abiogenesis. I find it interesting that one can scoff at the ressurection and so easily accept abiogenesis. Both are examples of non-living matter becoming living matter. The difference is that one is intended and the other is something called an accident. Also, there is nothing fathomable about history that has no begining, and most explicitly "meaningless". If any idea demonstrates meaninglessness, it is materialism. Which casues me to wonder why materialists are not all nihilist.

conan

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The argument I presented is primarily philosophical, not theological. It is not until you get to point 7 that the theological questions arise. If you objection is simply with point 7, then the argument has done its job. If not, then you need to clarify the problem(s) you have with the first 6 points.

But there are problems with your other 6 steps:

2. It is possible for those things to not exist.
What do you mean by 'possible' here? When I say that it is possible for the keyboard I am typing on to not have existed, I mean something definable - the person who designed it may have chosen not to, the microchip could have remained uninvented, etc etc. However, if you are claiming that the planet Mars could have not existed, what do you actually mean? How could it not have existed? What specific events could have been different in order to cause it's non-existence?

Objectivism holds that all truths of nature, other than ones relating to conscious entities (such as humans), are necessary not contingent. "Existence exists" is taken to be a primary - things are the way they are because that is how they are - they could not have been any other way. Rand held that to assert their are other metaphysically 'possible worlds' begs the question, and assumes the existence of a creator - it's essentially claiming that God created the world THIS way, but he could have chosen to create it ANOTHER way. Without presupposing that existence was specifically 'created' like this, how could it have been any other way?

The problem that Objectivism must confront is the impossibilty of proving a universal negative. It is impossible to prove that immaterial reality does not exist. That does not mean it does. But what it does mean is that materialism/atheism is purely presuppositional. Moreover, dogma is not a product of reason. If you claim to champion reason, then you have to be intellectually honest and simply say you do nto believe in immaterial reality, but it is in the realm of possibility.

It is impossible to prove that _anything_ does not exist, by the standards of proof you seem to be asking for. Shall we say that your belief that I am actually a human and not an intelligent computer is 'purely propositional'? How about your belief that _you_ are a human rather than an intelligent beetle dreaming he is a human? Or that unicorns don't exist in Antartica? Can any of these claims be 'proved' to the standards which you are demanding?

The relevant concept here is burden of proof - those who deny that something exists based on lack of evidence are not the ones that _need_ to produce proof - that responsibility lies with those who are making the existential claim. If I told you that I had a pet dragon which breathes fire, you would rightly assume that I was talking nonsense, and ask me to provide proof of my claim. If I replied that it was not up to me to provide proof, but rather it was you who needed to prove that I was lying, how would you respond?

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...The problem that Objectivism must confront is the impossibilty of proving a universal negative. It is impossible to prove that immaterial reality does not exist. That does not mean it does. But what it does mean is that materialism/atheism is purely presuppositional. Moreover, dogma is not a product of reason. If you claim to champion reason, then you have to be intellectually honest and simply say you do nto believe in immaterial reality, but it is in the realm of possibility.

Objectivism entirely rejects this mode of reasoning.

The sheer fact that it may be impossible to "prove a negative" does not grant that negative any existential status whatever. If there is no valid evidence in support of a proposition, it renders it totally arbitrary and without any standing at all, i.e. it is simply dismissed out of hand.

In short, the sheer fact that one cannot disprove some notion or other of "god(s" does not make such a notion possible. It simply makes such a notion - and all similar ones, the whole array of nonsense now and throughout history, all the superstitions, ghosts, miracles, past lives, ESP, UFO's, alien visitations, and whatever other nonsense people choose to irrationally believe - totally and utterly arbitrary.

That said, it is extremely revealing that you would resort to such an argument because it is an implicit acknowledgement that you have nothing else of any substance to actually go on. So all you are left with is the extremely lame, "Well, you can't disprove it."

You know, by that reasoning, we should either convict or release (take your pick) everyone brought into court, since who knows, regardless of the evidence presented he still "might" or "might not" have committed the crime and no one ever can strictly disprove it otherwise.

In short, what you are confessing is the utter irrationalism at the root of religion.

Fred Weiss

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In short, the sheer fact that one cannot disprove some notion or other of "god(s" does not make such a notion possible. It simply makes such a notion - and all similar ones, the whole array of nonsense now and throughout history, all the superstitions, ghosts, miracles, past lives, ESP, UFO's, alien visitations, and whatever other nonsense people choose to irrationally believe - totally and utterly arbitrary.

Minor point, but things like UFOs/ESP are slightly different, since there is actually evidence for these (namely the large number of eyewitness testimonies on their behalf). As such they should not merely be dimissed out of hand in the same way as arbitrary claims, but rather investigated - by their nature they provide the _possibility_ of investigation, which is something not provided by the claims of most theists. When it turns out that the evidence for them is invalid, they can be rejected not as arbitrary, but false.

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An "event" is unique. That an event has occurred means that something has changed and existence is no longer as it was before. Whatever happens after your event "E" it is certainly not event "A."

Stephen, even the savviest of intellectuals can disagree with honor on a cutting-edge topic such as this. I have to stand by what I said in my post.

Your argument presupposes standing outside the whole universe, which would be required in order to say that the event that occurs after E is not the same as event A. I claim that they are one and the same event and it is not a repetition (i.e., not that they are merely identical, but that "they" are not a "they" but an "it").

What makes "it" an "it" is the fact that the context of the entire universe is identical in the situation surrounding "the event after E" and event A. That seems to be the crucial fact that you overlooked. Perhaps I just didn't make myself clear enough the first time.

I'm having to resort to a curious use of language here, because we are not accustomed to talking about such things in our everyday lives.

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If you claim to champion reason, then you have to be intellectually honest and simply say you do nto believe in immaterial reality, but it is in the realm of possibility.

Conan, I don't believe you have a clear picture of what Objectivism says.

The term "possible" is a very special word to us. In everyday usage, the term is often used interchangeably with "imaginable." To us that confuses fantasy with reality.

When we say "possible," we bring with it an entire set of premises, including the premise that existence exists (in a timeless sense). It is utterly meaningless, by our analysis, to talk about the "possibility" of nonexistence, or how it could have been "possible" that such-and-such didn't exist, but then did exist (in the metaphysical sense). Such talk to us is nothing but meaningless acoustic vibrations that do not qualify as language or thought.

So how can we discuss it? The only thing we can say is that you're not really saying anything. There is nothing to respond to, except to point out that there is nothing to respond to.

It's like supposing it makes sense to talk about home runs, triples and double-plays if the game of baseball had never been invented, i.e., if there were no such thing as baseball. How would it make sense? What would we then be talking about?

Analogously, the term "possible" requires the fact of existence--a permanent and timeless existence. Within the context of existence, it means that there is some bona fide evidence which might lead us to a certain conclusion, not simply that we might be able to *imagine* that something is the case.

For example, it is not "possible" that there exists a Jolly Green Giant who is about to stomp his foot over my apartment building. It is imaginable, but it is definitely not "possible"--not according to the way Objectivists use the term.

I pity the person who would actually attempt to think using such a definition of "possible." By his way of reckoning, life would be a madhouse. It's "possible" that my body will spontaneously disintegrate, or that my house is standing on a huge sink hole, or that a cosmic ray will strike the earth's atmosphere and cause a a chain reaction of nuclear explosions that will kill us all, etc., etc., etc.

Trying to make such kind of thinking/imagining more palatable by applying it to the entire universe, instead of only parts of it, doesn't work. It's the same kind of faulty reasoning.

Let's not confuse the imaginable with the possible.

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An "event" is unique. That an event has occurred means that something has changed and existence is no longer as it was before. Whatever happens after your event "E" it is certainly not event "A."

This was exactly my problem with his essay in the first place.

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Stephen, even the savviest of intellectuals can disagree with honor on a cutting-edge topic such as this. I have to stand by what I said in my post.

Your argument presupposes standing outside the whole universe, which would be required in order to say that the event that occurs after E is not the same as event A. I claim that they are one and the same event and it is not a repetition (i.e., not that they are merely identical, but that "they" are not a "they" but an "it").

What makes "it" an "it" is the fact that the context of the entire universe is identical in the situation surrounding "the event after E" and event A. That seems to be the crucial fact that you overlooked. Perhaps I just didn't make myself clear enough the first time.

Adrian, your use of "events" and no "background" suggests an influence of some sort of relativistic spacetime, and your sequence of events, A-B-C-D-E-A, is suggestive of the "closed time-like lines" of general relativity. For thirty-four years after Einstein discovered his final field equations in 1915, he was always curious whether a solution admitted an event path which curved back onto itself. It was Kurt Goedel who, in 1949, first demonstrated the existence of these "closed time-like lines," what we now commonly refer to as closed timelike loops (CTLs).

Einstein was greatly pleased by Goedel's solution, on a sheer technical basis, but he ultimately rejected Goedel's solution on "physical grounds." Fortunately most physicists today recognize the Goedel universe as being different than the universe in which we live, and the notion of CTLs is relegated to those adventurous few who like to speculate on time travel to the past and other such nonsense.

Instead of getting lost in a universe of "events," make things more real by talking about causes being the actions of entities, and time as a change in relationship among entities. A causal chain is an irreversible process and the measure of change is unidirectional. Although the conclusions drawn by the Heracliteans were wrong, at least Plato's statement about Heraclitus is correct if taken completely literally; you never step twice into the same river. The universe is forever changed by every causal action and one need not step outside the universe to recognize this physical fact. Whatever notion Ayn Rand actually had in mind by "circular time" it is not causal actions looping back onto themselves. The Goedel universe is not the one in which we live.

I'm having to resort to a curious use of language here, because we are not accustomed to talking about such things in our everyday lives.

Which you might consider as meaning that, instead of talking straight about reality, you are creating a rationalistic framework that has no real meaning.

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This was exactly my problem with his essay in the first place.

I'm glad the question was raised, because it draws our attention to the heart of the question, and that is trying to identify exactly what time is and what events are.

If Stephen were right--if the event after E were not one and the same as event A, then time would be linear, that is, we would have unique events extending indefinitely into the future.

I'm saying that we shouldn't view time as if it were some phenomenon detached from objects and events. Time *is* the objects themselves, in a manner of speaking. More precisely, it is how those objects come into differing spatial relationships amongst themselves--that aspect of reality.

Since there are only a finite number of objects in the universe, they can only come into a finite number of rearrangements, hence time is finite. When event E flows into event A, we are not "re-visiting" event A, nor would it be proper to say that it is happening for the "first time" or that in the whole history of the universe it only happens "once." Those characterizations would depend on the entire universe existing within some larger context. That is the crux of the matter.

The only thing we can say about event A is: "It is"--not "is" in the present tense, but "is" in an all encompassing way that includes past, present and future.

It's similar to the idea that quantity is not a phenomenon detached from objects. The quantity "three," in a manner of speaking, *is* those objects that make up a threesome. There can be no such thing as an infinite quantity, because there is no such collection of objects.

The same goes for time. Time cannot be linear, i.e., progressing towards infinity in a never-ending parade of unique events, because there are only a finite number of objects in the universe, hence there are also only a finite number of events.

The "never-ending" part is correct, there will always be events occurring. And the "unique" part is correct. Every event in the universe's history is unique. But we can't put the two together and have "never-endingly unique."

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The universe is forever changed by every causal action and one need not step outside the universe to recognize this physical fact. Whatever notion Ayn Rand actually had in mind by "circular time" it is not causal actions looping back onto themselves.

I'm trying to say that your conception of the universe being "forever changed" relies on false premises involving the postulated existence of infinite numbers of objects and infinite number of ways that they can inter-relate.

"Forever changed" is a conception of linear time with time extending indefinitely into the future and flowing from an indefinite past.

Instead of getting lost in a universe of "events," make things more real by talking about causes being the actions of entities, and time as a change in relationship among entities.

That's exactly what I am doing, making it real by talking about entities and how they inter-relate. That is quite clear from my essay and my comments here.

you are creating a rationalistic framework that has no real meaning.
Linear time is the rationalistic framework that I am trying to overturn. It is an instance of attempting to project the real numbers and the number line onto the universe and time, which would be a "reification."

It's analogous to trying to project one's conception of Euclidean space onto the universe. You can't do that.

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Conan, I don't believe you have a clear picture of what Objectivism says.

The term "possible" is a very special word to us.  In everyday usage, the term is often used interchangeably with "imaginable."  To us that confuses fantasy with reality. 

Adrian and Mr. Weiss,

Thanks for your reply. You and Mr. Weiss are correct, I do not have a clear picture of what Ojectivism is claiming. Therefore, I will do my best to read up on what the core metaphysical beliefs of Objectivism are.

I just have one question for Mr.Weiss: Merriam-Webster defines arbitrary as "existing or coming about seemingly at random or by chance or ...(3b)" By definition you could have included abiogenesis in your list of "arbitrary" examples. Does it fit? Why or why not?

sincerely,

conan

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