Philosophers have argued for millennia over the nature of existence or being. I won’t claim to have finally resolved the matter, but I will present my own personal model that I use to think about existence, and its companion, essence.
I am not claiming to have invented anything new here, simply distilling and reformulating ideas that have been percolating for many years, in my own head as well.
Technically, we are talking about the branch of philosophy called metaphysics, and the core of that branch called ontology.
Technically, my model for existence and essence is an ontological theory, but I’ll just refer to it as my model for existence.
What is it that exists? What is it that has essence? What are these things? They are entities. An entity is something that exists, even if it may not have a material existence in the physical world. Ideas are entities as well. As are myths, law, and theories.
By definition, anything that exists is an entity. Similarly, by definition, all entities exist, albeit not necessarily as material objects with substance. Non-material entities exist in non-material domains. My full list of domains will follow shortly.
In particular, human experience is a wide range of entities, non-material entities. Human meaning is a non-material entity, or more properly a set of domains of entities, a distinct entity for each particular conception of human meaning.
At some level, every entity has a purpose, the utility, function, or value of the entity. Although purpose can be viewed as any other quality of an entity, it is a bit special and a universal quality, present for all entities. Purpose will be discussed more under essence.
Domains are the categories of existence, such that entities in one domain are not comparable to entities in other domains. So, the core of my ontological theory (model) is a set of domains.
If you can imagine it, it exists
The ontological model proposed in this paper is that existence includes everything imaginable, regardless whether it exists in material form. The physical world is of course very important, but the existence of concepts, mathematics, and human meaning matter as well.
Rather than say that human meaning does not exist as a mass of atoms, we simply say that it exists in a specialized domain called human meaning, as well as a larger domain of human experience.
Do unicorns exist?
Yes and no — yes, unicorns exist in the human imagination and in representations such as pictures and videos, but no, unicorns do not exist in the physical world.
Does Santa Claus exist?
Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus does indeed exist, but in the myth domain, and not in the domain of the natural world.
Classes, types, and species
The entities within a domain can be categorized into different classes or types or species, such that entities in different classes or types or species are fairly distinct from each other, while entities in the same class or type or species have significant similarities.
The classes and types and species within the domain of Life would of course be the standard taxonomy for biological classification of life. Note that Domain has a specific meaning in that taxonomy, distinct from its more general use in this model.
In this model, class and type and species are used as synonyms, with species more appropriate for animals, and class (or type) more appropriate in general for non-animals. Class can also be more appropriate in human social domains.
Again, to summarize, in this model of existence, a domain consists of any number of classes (or types or species.)
Hierarchy of domains?
As will be seen shortly, some domains are really specialized subsets or subdomains of larger domains. Alternatively some domains are simply umbrella domains or super-domains or parent domains that collect distinct domains that have something in common. Technically, the set of domains for all of existence should be represented as a tree, but it is simpler to present and discuss as a flat list, at least for now.
Why subdomains and super-domains rather than simply another level of class? The distinction is that distinct subdomains are very different in some major way, such that all they have in common is that they have the same parent domain. To be sure, that distinction can be somewhat vague and fuzzy. The general guide is to stick with classes to subdivide a domain unless the subdivisions are not generally comparable in any significant way.
All of existence
Collectively, the full set of domains and the entities within them can be thought of as a single, all-encompassing existence, all of existence.
We commonly use the term universe to refer to all that exists, all of existence.
Technically, theoretical physicists are also hypothesizing the concept of a multiverse, that there can be other universes besides the one that we experience.
We commonly use the term world as a synonym for universe and all that exists in the material domain. Alternatively, in context, we may use the term world to limit the context to the planet Earth and its immediate environs, or to refer to some limited social, political, or geographic sphere, even to the extreme of saying that someone or some group lives in their own little world.
In this paper, it is used in that first sense, as a synonym for the totality of the material domain, the universe.
That vs. what
One notion of existence is the simple binary notion of whether an entity exists at all, “that” it exists, in contrast with all of the details of its existence, “what” exists.
The tentative proposition put forward here is that essence describes the what of an entity, although there are qualities of essence that are shared between all entities of a class or domain. You can choose for yourself to view the shared entity qualities of a class or domain as essence or attributes of the class or domain itself. It is really simply a practical shorthand to say that the shared qualities belong to the class or domain rather than duplicate them for all entities of the same class or domain.
The domains of existence (existential domains)
The main organizing principle behind this list of existential domains is to distinguish the physical, material world from both the conceptual world and the world of human experience, as well as the many distinct, incomparable worlds of human experience. The living versus inanimate worlds is a basic distinction as well.
- Concepts. No physical manifestation, except representations. This is really two subdomains, natural concepts such as Plato’s Forms, if they do exist at all, and human conceptions of concepts, which may or may not align with natural concepts (if they exist at all.)
- Material existence, physical manifestation, the real world, the physical or natural world or universe. Everything of substance, including solid matter, liquids, gases, natural phenomena, energy, forces, and physical laws and constants that apply to them. Energy and forces can be considered a subdomain of material existence. This is the domain of physics, chemistry, biology, geology, oceanography, climate science, and cosmology, but probably not psychology or the social sciences. Living creatures are included, as well as being a subdomain. Non-living phenomena are a subdomain as well. Objects are a subdomain as well, distinct from energy, forces, liquids and gases, and having further subdomains of living creatures and inanimate objects. Subdomains for man-made creations, man and the environments in which he lives, as well as a subdomain for the natural world absent man and his creations. Also subdomains for atomic, subatomic, planetary, near planet (Earth, moon, and man-made satellites), solar system, galaxy, rest of the universe, continents, oceans.
- Condensed matter. Solids and liquids. Matter which can be directly sensed, seen and touched, and readily contained. Sub-domain of material existence that is our primary concern when referring to material existence from the perspective of humans and animals.
- Physics. The material domain described and explained using only the science and laws of physics. This is not the science of physics, but all entities of the physical world described and explained in the language of physics.
- Chemistry. The material domain described and explained using only the science of chemistry. This is not the science of chemistry, but all entities of the physical world described and explained in the language of chemistry.
- Biology. The material domain described and explained using only the science of biology. This is not the science of biology, a domain of its own, but all entities of the physical world described and explained in the language of biology. This is distinct from the Life domain since biology can’t speak of the mental aspects of animal, human, and social experience.
- Cosmology, celestial. The material domain beyond the Earth — the Moon, the Sun, and the stars.
- Phenomena. Actions or behavior of entities as well as interactions and joint actions of entities, as well as processes or sequences of events. Subdomains for the nonhuman material world and human experience. A subdomain of the material and human domains.
- Randomness. A phenomenon without any apparent pattern. Has Pseudo-randomness as a subdomain, an artificial phenomenon such as a computer model which attempts to achieve randomness.
- Vacuum, void, empty space, and nothingness. Technically, true vacuum may not exist in the real world since there are cosmic rays, energy waves, gravity waves, and various forces, as well as quantum virtual particles that may pop into and out of existence at any moment.
- Chaos. A near-complete sense of total disorder, no apparent order.
- Quantum fluctuations. Entities that can come into existence, disappear, or change their state at any moment and with no apparent cause.
- Time and space. As distinct from objects, particles, energy, and forces that exist in them. Unclear if time and space are part of the natural world, or whether the domain of the natural world exists within the domain of time and space. [Two discrete domains or a truly single space time continuum? There do seem to be some categorical distinctions between them, for real people, even if theoretical physicists consider them one.]
- Events. A snapshot in time and space of entities that are interacting or changing in some way. Subdomains for natural events and human events.
- History. A structured sequence of events over time, which may have happened in the material world or a domain of human experience. Fragments and memories (and fossils) may remain in the material world, but the structured sequence itself does not exist in the material world. Subdomains for actual history, as it physically happened, and perceived history as it is thought to have happened. Additional subdomains for subjective narratives about the human meaning and perceptions of causes and consequences of events as human events. Subdomains for natural history and human history.
- Past. Everything associated with the past.
- Present. Everything associated with the present.
- Future. Everything associated with the future. See also: Possibilities.
- Change. Qualities of entities which differ from one time to another, as well as entities that come into existence or disappear from one time to another. Subdomains for incremental change, revolution, and evolution.
- Revolution. Radical change.
- Evolution. Incremental and occasional radical change through random mutation and the fitness function — can the mutation survive and thrive better or at all in the presence of non-mutated entities.
- Possibilities. Potential for events in the future. Subdomains for natural world and human experience, individual, group, and for all humans. See also: Outlook.
- Explanations of the past. What caused events. As with history (what happened), there are subdomains for what actually caused events in the past and what is perceived to have caused events.
- Causality. What specific entity(ies), event(s), or process(es) caused a change to occur. Causal relationships, causal chains.
- Relationships. Connections or associations between entities. Subdomains for natural world, animal world, and human social experience. Physical objects can be related by forces, such as the Moon revolving around the Earth, the Earth revolving around the Sun, the solar system revolving within the Milky Way galaxy, nuclear particles bound in the nucleus of an atom, electrons bound to an atom, atoms chemically combined in a molecule, and atoms and molecules combined to a physical object. See also: Pets, Associations.
- Stories and narratives. Structured representations of events and processes that help describe, explain, justify, and persuade people of some aspects of the nature of existence. See also: History, which may also involve narrative. Subdomains for the natural world and human experience.
- Biography. An account of someone’s life, part history and part narrative. Auto-biography as well. Also a general reference to the totality of a person’s life, without explicitly laying out details.
- Evidence. Tell-tale signs or indications of the existence of some entity, including material entities and phenomena. Starlight is evidence of stars. Heat and light are evidence of a fire. Evidence is not the thing itself, only an indicator of the existence of the thing.
- Representations. Any imagery or media or rendition or textual description that allows humans to distill and communicate the essence of any entity or phenomenon.
- Abstractions. The distinctions between the classes and species of entities and entities themselves, with the intention that characteristics and behavior of an abstraction apply to all entities that are represented by that abstraction. Important for mathematics and science. Can also abstract composition, as in the whole and the parts that comprise the whole, such as a car vs. all of the parts needed to make a car, or a society and the people and institutions that comprise the society. Symbols are abstractions as well. A subdomain of Concepts.
- Symbols. A sign is a specialized form of abstraction which conveys a reference to an entity. A subdomain of Abstractions.
- Language and communication. Transfer of information, knowledge, or wisdom from one entity to another. Commonly through representations and symbols. Non-living entities can communicate, in a fashion, using particles, energy, and forces. Animal and human communication are subdomains. We do not normally think of language as applying to non-animals, and even then only in a primitive sense to nonhuman animals. Language and communications can involve both representations and symbols.
- Complex adaptive systems. Systems whose complexity is so great and that involve feedback loops so that it is very difficult to predict the outcome of processes and events. Highly sensitive to initial conditions, so that our inability to accurately determine the initial conditions precludes our ability to computationally model the state of the system after any non-trivial amount of time.
- Life. Living creatures. All life. A subdomain of material existence. Has subdomains of plants, microbes, animals, and humans, and all of their constituent parts, down to the level of organic molecules. [Hmmm… are dead creatures and fossils and seeds “life”?]
- Organic chemicals and molecules. Not life per se, but the bridge between the material world and life. A subdomain of Life because it is essential for Life, but without the rest of Life, it is only a precursor to Life.
- Animals. Includes humans, but has subdomains for humans and nonhuman animals.
- Environment, habitat. The space and time locale in which an entity exists. Subdomains for plants, animals, and human life. An island, a forest, a plain, an ocean, a planet, a solar system, and galaxies can all be considered environments.
- Security. Protection from threats.
- Conflict. Incompatibility between entities.
- Food and nutrition. Sustenance for an entity. Required for life but not necessarily life itself, except to the degree that plants and animals are themselves consumed by lifeforms higher on the food chain. Subdomains for animals, humans, and non-life entities (e.g., stars, chemical reactions.)
- Shelter. Structures or physical features (caves, trees) used by animals to protect themselves from weather, sun, and threats from other creatures.
- Fellowship. Amicable social interaction not strictly required for survival of a group of animals (including humans.) Includes play. [Should play be a distinct subdomain??] subdomains for human fellowship and nonhuman fellowship (to the extent that the latter includes elements not shared by humans), as well as combined fellowship with humans and nonhumans interacting. See also: Pets.
- Individual animal experience. Distinct from plants. Includes human experience, but separate subdomains for nonhuman animal experience and human experience.
- Reproduction. The process by which life forms perpetuate their species, possibly mutating in the process. The creation of a new entity. A bridge between two entities.
- Sexual reproduction. The process by which individual organisms can select their mates, resulting in a new generation that is some mix of the genes of the parents. Permits selective mixing or refinement of traits rather than exact replication. The creation of a new entity. A bridge between a pair of entities and a new entity.
- Sensory perception. From the raw senses to a primitive mental image or mental stimulus, short of how the brain will process or react to that input. Subdomains for humans and animals. Various animals have superior senses.
- Perception. Starting with the final stage of sensory perception, the brain recognizing, processing, or reacting to the perceived input. At the animal level. Human perception is a distinct domain. Animals, human or not, need to recognize threats, mates, offspring, and food, even if they do not think or reason about those mental images or reactions. Excludes any advanced processing, such as thinking, reasoning, or speculating, associated with the cognition domain.
- Animal social experience. How animals can interact and act jointly or in groups. Includes humans. Subdomains for nonhuman animals and any distinct human social behavior and experience.
- Humans. As living creatures. Subdomain of Animals domain. Subdomains of human experience and humans as a form of animal, distinct from their non-animal social behavior. Includes humans as both individuals and social creatures.
- Human nature. Genes, gene expression, cultural constraints, or any other factors that essentially limit or constrain human behavior beyond decisions consciously made by the individual.
- Defined human qualities. All aspects of human existence that we can control or influence or arrange (define), as opposed to human nature, which we are stuck with. This is the stuff that Existentialist philosophers are most concerned with, I think.
- Human experience. All of it. Subdomains for individual and social aspects of experience, human nature, and defined human qualities.
- Human conscious sense of subjective self, will, presence, feelings, emotions, mind (beyond the physicality of the brain), imagination, fantasies, experiences, thoughts and ideas that represent concepts, knowledge. Subjective, limited to the individual. Lots of subdomains, as detailed here.
- Behavior. The outward actions of an individual.
- Personality. The external manifestation of a human individual that can be perceived by others, including appearance, dress, attitude, and behavior.
- Soul. The spiritual essence of a person, if it really exists. Commonly refers to the core essence of a person’s personality, abstracting away superficial details. Sometimes refers to a person’s essential essence — essence minus superficial details.
- Individual human experience. Everything that a single human can experience, before we throw social experience into the equation.
- Human perception. Combines the immediate animal-level sensory perception with the resulting images in our minds that should comport with physical existence (or life or human existence), sort of, but maybe (typically) not so reliably. Short of thinking and reasoning and speculating about those perceptions, which constitutes cognition, a distinct domain. Whether this is really a distinct domain beyond animal perception is debatable, but the sense is that there are nuances.
- Cognition, thought. Human cognition. Thinking, reasoning, contemplation, and speculating about perceptions and conceptions (concepts), leading up to the formation or recognition of concepts. [Do nonhuman animals have cognition per se?] This covers the full sequence from perception, thought, idea, and concept, to representation, communication, and reasoning. Intuition as well. [Should intuition be a distinct domain or at least subdomain?]
- Rationality. Cognition or behavior that makes sense and is in comport with reason and social norms.
- Irrationality. Cognition or behavior that does not make sense and is not in comport with reason and social norms.
- Perspective. Point of view, angle, or position from which the world is perceived. Different perspectives can result in different perceptions.
- Reflection. Thinking about ourselves, either as an individual or member of some group.
- Mental illness. Distorted cognition (and maybe even perception) that clouds judgment and interferes with normal human mental and social function.
- Human social experience. A subdomain of animal social experience. Has a subdomain which is the subset of human experience which is unique to humans and very distinct from nonhuman animal social experience. Concerned with social interactions, relationships, community, nations, governments, civilization, society as a whole, shared knowledge, shared values. See also: Relationships.
- Property. Assertion and recognition of ownership of entities by people. Sub-domain for intellectual property.
- Intellectual property. Intangible, conceptual property.
- Slavery. Involuntary subservience of human beings. In the case of chattel slavery, people as property.
- Domesticated animals. Animals owned by people for some practical purpose, such as livestock for food, horses for transportation, and guard dogs. Pets as a subdomain, and non-pets as a subdomain as well.
- Pets. Animals with whom people establish a close domestic relationship, characterized by a bond of friendship, even intimacy. A subdomain of animals and domesticated animals.
- Culture. The practices, values, and beliefs of a society or social group.
- Cooking and food preparation. A distinctly human behavior and interest, not shared by nonhuman animals. Subdomain for culinary arts, the preparation of food as an aesthetic endeavor rather than strictly for nutrition and survival.
- Associations. Groups of people who come together for some specific or general purpose. These certainly have a social value at the personal level, but at a high level they have a functional purpose beyond personal interaction, although some may indeed place a high emphasis on personal interaction. Includes subdomains for business, religion, entertainment and diversion, and government.
- The Other. Individuals or groups which a given individual or group is unable to relate to, whether due to ethnicity, national origin, race, demographic attributes, class, appearance, or beliefs. In contrast with the One of Us domain.
- One of us. Individuals or groups which a given individual or group most closely relates to. In contrast with The Other domain.
- Human artifacts. Any material entity created by humans, including representations, material objects, music, song, performance, writing, art, crafts, memories, representations of knowledge, structures, progeny, including all fictional creations. [Should progeny be considered artifacts per se?]
- Knowledge and beliefs. Technically, this is epistemology, which at least in philosophy is a separate branch distinct from metaphysics, but I do believe that knowledge and beliefs exist and are incomparable to entities in other domains, other than specialized subdomains. Subdomains for knowledge and beliefs, although the distinction can be very difficult to resolve (the transition from belief to knowledge.) Also subdomains for beliefs to which one is committed vs. beliefs which are merely accepted or held only tentatively. Also a subdomain for unsubstantiated beliefs — believed to be true for any number of potentially plausible reasons, but with no sense of certainty and with significant skepticism from non-believers.
- Faith. Strongly held beliefs which are held based on acceptance of some authority or authoritative source, but no empirical evidence per se. Includes religious and spiritual beliefs, but can also include non-religious beliefs as well to the extent that the beliefs are passionately held on the basis of representations by some revered authority (experts, political or social leaders), despite any substantial solid evidence.
- Myths. Beliefs that are intellectually believed not to be true, but have some useful power to explain existence, especially man’s presence in the universe. Typically pertain to the past, but may pertain to the present and future as well. Prophecy could be considered myth as well, but since the future has not occurred yet, the truth of a prophecy cannot be generally ascertained with any certainty.
- Unanswered questions and propositions. Questions or propositions for which we do not presently have the answers, or at least answers that can be proven.
- Certainty. Everything we have a sense of certainty about.
- Uncertainty. Everything we lack a sense of certainty about. Uncertainty, doubt, confusion.
- Confidence. Everything we have a sense of confidence about. Includes Certainty, but also activities that we feel confident we can accomplish.
- Lack of confidence. Everything we lack a sense of confidence about. Includes Uncertainty, but also activities that we don’t feel we can accomplish with a sufficiently high level of confidence.
- Hubris. Entities which have a sense of self-confidence which is considered very unrealistic.
- Probability. The estimated or assumed or presumed likelihood of truth of some matter. May be a specific numeric value, 0.0 to 1.0, or a range of numeric values, or set of ranges with varying levels of confidence. Beliefs and propositions about entities in this domain are categorized by where they fall on that 0.0 to 1.0 range.
- Assumptions. Beliefs we assert, that we assume to be true without proof. Beliefs we want to be true. Beliefs for which incomplete evidence is available, although the available evidence may be sufficient to persuade us to make the assumption.
- Definitions. Truths that we define as true as part of artificial systems of thought that we create, unconstrained by the real world. Common in mathematics, and science as well.
- Metaphors. Entities that are used to stand in for other entities so that the metaphor helps to convey more meaning than the actual entity itself.
- Approximations. Attempts to establish a correspondence between a human conception and some real entity. Science, engineering, knowledge, and philosophy put a lot of energy into constructing and refining approximations. An attempt to discern, describe, and characterize truth, ever more accurate (or so we imagine), but maybe never finally arriving at absolute, eternal truth despite our best efforts.
- Projection, prediction, forecasts of the future. Not the same as the future itself. Don’t exist in the real world in the present except as representations.
- Destiny. Speculation about ultimate disposition of any and all entities in any and all domains, but primarily real-world entities in the real world, especially human beings. Subdomains for actual destiny, which we cannot know (except maybe through prophecy, if that really exists), and perceived or imagined destiny. There can be any number of subjective perceptions of destiny, for individuals, groups, or all of society.
- Desires and intentions. The will and ability to directly influence the future.
- Emotions, feelings, and drives. Non-intentional influences on the future.
- Imagination, speculation, vision, fantasy, delusion, paranoia, conspiracy theories, visions, and hallucination. Subdomains to distinguish useful and dysfunctional forms.
- Hopes, dreams, aspirations, and expectations. A compelling emotional attachment to some prospect for the future.
- Goodwill. Human feeling, a force, to support or promote some entity. Charity, altruism, generosity, positivity, and kindness.
- Ill will. Human feeling, a force, to undermine or destroy some entity. Acrimony, animosity, animus, antipathy, enmity, hate, hatred, hostility, negativity, antagonism, unfriendliness, enmity, malevolence, malice, unkindness, rancor, venom, hatred, and loathing.
- Outlook. Attitude towards the future, expectations of possibilities and probabilities. Subdomains for positive and negative outlooks.
- Positive outlook. Attitude of openness to positive possibilities. Optimism. Distinct from hopes, dreams, aspirations, and expectations in that the latter are an attachment to specific outcomes rather than a general openness for positive outcomes overall.
- Negative outlook. Attitude of being closed to positive possibilities. Negativity, pessimism, cynicism.
- Theories. Conjectured propositions that may be believed as possible, but not necessarily with great confidence. Subdomains for unproven and proven theories. The latter typically require substantial empirical validation.
- Meaning and value. Associating a value or attachment with some entity, of any domain. Subdomains for meaning of words, gestures, objects, or other entities, self, groups, and universal for all human beings. Includes meaning of the self as perceived by the self, meaning of the self as perceived by others, meaning of others as as perceived by the self, and meaning of others as perceived by others. Although primarily concerned with humans, animals have gestures and sounds as well that are associated with some meaning or value, so there are subdomains for human meaning and nonhuman animal meaning.
- Science. Subdomain of human experience related to observing, experimenting, speculating, understanding, modeling, testing, collaborating, and communicating the nature of the existence of the material universe. Subdomains for physics, chemistry, biology, geology and earth science, and cosmology. Classes of narrower interests within each of those subdomains.
- Social science. Subdomain of human experience related to observing, experimenting, speculating, understanding, modeling, testing, collaborating, and communicating the nature of human experience. Includes psychology.
- Mathematics. Very abstract conceptualization of quantity and relationships between entities defined in the domain of mathematics, such as numbers, points, lines, geometric objects, sets, and spaces. More abstract than even the abstractions of science. A primary tool of science. Subdomain of both human experience and the domain of concepts. Note that there are no perfect points, lines, circles, spheres, squares, cubes, infinite straight lines, or even numbers in existence in the real world. We imagine correspondences between models in mathematics and entities in the real world. Alternatively, we define entities in the mathematics domain to approximate observed and imagined existence and relationships in the real world. That said, mathematics is not restricted to the (known) real world. A subdomain of human concepts.
- Technology. Anything humans conceive and construct which allows them to interact with any entity without direct sensory contact. A subdomain of human artifacts. Also includes conceptual designs and principles for technology, even more importantly than the actual created artifacts, machines, devices, and materials.
- Tools. Any object created by humans (or computers) to sense or manipulate entities in the material world. A subdomain for limited use of tools by some animals, as well as a subdomain for strictly human tools. Also a subdomain for tools used strictly by computers and machines.
- Engineering. Technology, principles, and processes that permit humans to construct machines and structures.
- Medicine. Technology, principles, and processes that permit humans to maintain the health of human beings. Includes drugs as a subdomain.
- Drugs, medications, pharmaceuticals. Chemical substances that can affect the metabolism of animals and humans. Subdomains or classes for illegal, illegal, beneficial, and detrimental drugs.
- Poisons and toxins. Substances which are harmful to life. Subdomains for natural and man-made poisons and toxins.
- Computers, software, and algorithms. Technology that enables entire imaginary models, systems, structures, creatures, and even whole universes to be created and manipulated. Input can then be presented to these models, and the results captured.
- Data and information. Conceptualization and representation of quantities and qualities. Data and information can have any number of equivalent or comparable representations, but the abstract conceptual nature of data and information is categorically distinct from entities in other domains, although it may have a clear correspondence to attributes, properties, characteristics, and qualities of entities in any domain we choose, real or imagined. Commonly associated with computers and devices, but categorically distinct from the machines that may process or even create it.
- Artificial intelligence. AI algorithms, smart devices, robots. Sub-domains for degrees of intelligence. For now, the domain of Full Human-Level Intelligence is empty.
- Geopolitical location, places. Associating human meaning with locations. From space, or from raw numbers, two cities or towns may seem virtually identical, but can have very different significance to individuals and social groups.
- Art and aesthetics.
- Beauty. Anything that has aesthetic appeal, including both man-made artifacts and features or phenomena of the natural world. Beauty itself exists only in the human mind.
- Diversion. Entertainment, hobbies, sports, pastimes, etc., not directly essential for life, but helping us to cope with the pressures of life, or maybe merely something to fill free time that we get as a side effect of the technology that we deploy.
- Law. Codified principles and rules guiding human social behavior.
- Justice. All entities that relate to providing fair, equal, and just treatment of all.
- Politics. Pursuit of power. Whether society benefits or not is distinct from the actual power sought or obtained.
- Political institutions. Especially government. Enable and support human social experience at the level of governance for society at the level of a country, large region, or community, as well as multinational institutions at the global level.
- Money, economics, and finance. Storing and transferring value in an abstract, neutral, entity-independent form that can apply to the human value associated with any entity of any type, typically the material world and the domain of human experience and human artifacts. Money isn’t real — although it can be represented in the form of currency, coins, contracts, and electronic form, the abstraction of monetary value, its real value to people, has no form of its own in the real world.
- Rules. Codified requirements for behavior. May or may not have the force of law.
- Philosophy. The study of all existence, real, human, and imagined.
- Values, ideals, ethics, and morality.
- Order and disorder and chaos. A sense of the degree of orderliness or lack thereof for a region of time and space, both human and for the natural world.
- Good and evil. If they indeed actually exist at all, or maybe simply as metaphors. Disembodied, but human beings may embody them or we may project them onto or associate them with others or even ourselves. [Relevant to nonhumans?]
- Religion. Spiritual belief systems, typically with a social component.
- Spiritual. The other-worldliness of God, gods, devil, demons, angels, heaven and hell, soul, afterlife, reincarnation, God’s law, and forces or energies that scientists cannot discern in the material world — if they exist at all, or maybe they technically exist simply because we imagine them to exist.
- Supernatural. If it exists at all, all entities that we are unable to explain as natural phenomena. Ghosts, vampires, lycans, monsters, witches, supermen, mutants, aliens.
- Other life forms and civilizations beyond earth, aliens. Other planets — “in a galaxy, far, far away”, if they exist at all. The qualities of alien civilizations may be identical, similar, or very different from our own.
- Multiverse. The theoretical conception that there are a multiplicity of parallel universes, our universe being but one of many. So, theoretically, an entity may exist in some other universe even if it does not exist in our own. Unclear whether this list of domains of existence applies intact for all universes of the multiverse, if it exists.
States, the experience of existence
Regardless of the entity, domain, or type (class) of entity, the existence of any entity can be in a number of states or experiences, even all at once, including perception and conceptualization of the entity. These states include:
- Creation. Bringing an entity into existence.
- Destruction. Ending the existence of an entity.
- Changing. Change in any number of qualities of an entity.
- Being. The thing (entity) as it is, in all of its detailed essence — and whether it even exists at all.
- Direct experience. Direct contact between entities.
- Perception. Sensing the qualities of an entity from some distance or indirectly, or even judging whether it exists or not for some domain.
- Awareness. Subtle sense that an entity exists even if it cannot be directly sensed in some clearly obvious manner. Alternatively, the notion that an entity does exist without necessarily implying anything about the detailed essence of the entity — detail may or may not be known, but the mere existence is what matters.
- Imagination and speculation. Entities whose existence or qualities we cannot perceive at this time, but which we hypothesize to exist.
- Cognition. Contemplation and reasoning about an entity, either as it has been perceived, or imagined from a conceptualization.
- Conceptualization. Conceiving a concept based on perception or cognition, from reality or imagination.
- Representation. Recording at least some of the qualities (essence) of an entity.
- Communication. Passing a representation or reference for an entity to another entity.
Existence vs. essence
Which is which and which comes first, existence or essence (the chicken or the egg)? I’ll sidestep the grand philosophical debates and try to focus on the heart of the matter.
First, existence and essence appear to be joined at the hip — we can’t really talk about one without the other. Sure, we can discuss details of one or the other, but we can’t have one without the other, separately.
Two levels of existence
Existence needs to be thought of and discussed at two levels: existence by itself, separate from essence per se, as well as existence at a higher level which includes both existence at the lower level combined with essence.
At the lower level, existence is a simple boolean answer to the question of whether something exists at all — either it exists or it doesn’t, in some particular domain. The details of that something are not relevant at this level since those details are covered by essence.
Casually, when we speak of our own existence we are mostly referring to that outer, top, higher level meaning of existence, the combination of the mere fact that we exist and the details (essence) of our existence.
Essence as details
Essence is essentially the details of existence (at the higher level.) If something does not exist, it has no details at all. If something does exist, one can then inquire into and describe its details.
Essence as qualities, attributes, and values
The details of the essence of an entity are commonly referred to as qualities. For any given class of a domain there will be some typically long list of attributes for entities in that class. Each attribute will have some value, the value of that quality. Commonly we will speak of the qualities of an entity as the values of the attributes for that entity.
Essence of essence
Each entity has an essence, consisting of:
- Its existential domain (physical manifestation, concept, mathematics, human social experience, etc.) — each domain may have various qualities (attributes, properties, characteristics) which are common to all entities in that domain.
- A class or type of entity (or species, if you wish to use that term) — each class or type of entity may have various qualities which are common to all entities in that class or type.
- Identity of the entity to distinguish it from other entities in the same class or type — typically a name, identifier, position, or possibly a relationship to another entity.
- Qualities or characteristics which are specific to the individual entity, beyond the qualities that are general to all objects in the class or type or existential domain — subjective qualities.
We can also speak of essence for each domain and each class or type or species in a domain, in the sense of all aspect of essence shared by all entities in that domain, class, or species, and possibly the range of values of those qualities that are not absolutely identical between all entities in that domain, class, or species.
Purpose as essence
Every entity has a purpose, the utility, function, or value of the entity. Although purpose can be viewed as any other quality of the essence of an entity, it is a bit special and a universal quality, present for all entities.
One can also view purpose as the reason for the existence of an entity. Again, a very special quality, very different from more mundane qualities. One might want to associate purpose with existence rather than merely another quality. But with the two-level model of existence we sidestep the issue, with purpose covered under the upper level sense of existence regardless of whether we technically consider it part of the lower-level sense of existence or lost in the great bag of qualities called essence.
Generally, purpose is defined at the class level — all coffee cups have the same purpose, although subjective purpose can exist as well — to hold pencils, to promote a brand, or a marketing message.
Purpose can also be viewed as the ultimate essence of an entity. Although we may form attachments to specific, non-essential qualities or an entity, in theory, any entity which has the same purpose can be a valid substitute, in theory — a ceramic mug, paper cup, or styrofoam cup are equally useful for drinking coffee.
Soul as essence
The existence of souls in a spiritual sense is a matter of debate, but even absent a spiritual world, the concept of soul refers to the essential essence of a person — their essence minus any superficial qualities, including their worldly body.
Three views on essence
One can choose which of three ways to view essence:
- All attributes which member of the same class have in common, such as what all people have in common, or all frogs, or all trees. Those qualities that are essential for an entity to belong to the class.
- All detail of the individual, right down to microscopic details and warts and very minor imperfections and individual cells and very atoms and molecules of their body. How specifically an individual differs from other individuals in the same class. And including fashion and appearance preferences as well — clothing, hair cut, color, and style, finger nails, tattoos and piercings.
- Only the essential and important details of the individual. What makes them special and unique, what qualities they would prefer not to lose or change.
Technically, I would break the detail view into two sub-views, the first first stopping at the mere state of a cell without the physical cell itself or the state of all molecules or atoms without the physical molecules or atoms, and the second going all the way down though the actual molecules and atoms. Or maybe that is three sub-views — down to cell state, down to molecule and atom state, and down to actual molecules and atoms. And maybe even a fourth sub-view to include the superficial, external details such as fashion and appearance. But for the purposes here, the essential distinction is a view that includes all details rather than only a very limited subset of details.
Or maybe the alternative view is that there may be any number of views of essence, each having a specific intent or purpose.
Time machine and matter transmitter
One interesting thought experiment is pondering what a time machine or matter transmitter would need to do in order to transfer the essence and existence of an entity to another time or place. If you accept that these machines would not transfer the actual physical atoms and molecules, the question is what information about the body and mind of a person or details of a physical object would capture enough of their essence to transfer the essence of themselves to some remote time or place.
As noted previously, that represents only one of the three views of what constitutes essence, but it does represent a practical perspective.
One might insist on a 100% replication of the original entity, or one could insist only that the replication be accurate only to the human eye or to some chosen level of magnification of a microscope. One could choose to transfer actual cells, or simply use cells on the other end that have the same function and state of the original cells.
Your entire liver could be transmitted, or a (brand) new liver could be used on the receiving end. Ditto for heart, lungs, hands, feet, muscles. How much of an individual is their a personal attachment to? The user could decide where to draw the line as to how much of the detail of essence should be retained and how much could be substituted.
Conceptually, one might even consider transferring only the human mind (and soul) and accept a completely new body.
Nonessential details and essential essence
Technically, essence of an entity is all detail of all aspects, but we commonly speak of essence as essential qualities to the exclusion of superficial or nonessential details. If I get a haircut or add a few words to my vocabulary, has my essence changed? Well, technically, yes, but in everyday life we would say no.
Maybe we should speak of full or complete essence and essential essence.
Are details essence or existence?
Does the existence of an entity include all of the details of that particular entity, or should we relegate such details to essence, so that existence is merely a placeholder which marks where the detailed essence exists?
Honestly, you could look at it either way and define it either way.
In truth, we commonly look at existence and essence together, as integrated, so that any distinction between the two are lost to the casual observer.
In the two-level model of existence, details are indeed part of existence, but at the upper level of existence, but not at the lower level, where they constitute essence. So, we can have it both ways, details as essence and details as existence.
Which comes first, existence or essence?
The Existentialist philosophers assert that essence proceeds from existence and that traditional philosophy is based on essence preceding existence. We won’t attempt to definitely resolve that apparent contradiction, which may be more of a word game than issue in reality, but simply make a few notes.
First, is the conflict essentially analogous to answering the question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg? It would seem so.
Could it be that existence and essence are so intertwined that separating them is a fool’s errand? In other words, that they come together. I think so.
I think the suggestion by Existentialists that traditional (mostly ancient) philosophers view essence as preceding existence is a reference to Plato’s concept of Forms, that Forms have an eternal existence that by definition would precede coming into existence of any instance of a given Form. But I would note that the ancient philosophers were more concerned with physical objects and what we call human nature (genetic programming) rather than the more subjective and creative aspects of human experience.
Meanwhile, Existentialists seem to be more concerned with human experience rather than the nonhuman world of rocks and trees and birds and bees. So, in their view, human will allows us to layer meaning and essence onto our existing existence.
Even if the Existentialists are right that humans create their own meaning in life through acts of will, they may be blind to the fact that much of human experience and even meaning is driven and pre-determined by human nature, primarily our genetic heritage, as well as our cultural heritage.
I would quibble with the Existentialists and assert that an act of will that changes our physical existence (existence at the upper level of the two-level model, with details at the lower level in essence) would amount to essence (our plan for how we want to be) preceding our existence (the outcome of exerting our will.)
DNA as human essence
Is DNA the essence of an individual, so that the essence of an individual does indeed precede their existence? That depends on whether you interpret essence as all detail of a person as opposed to their essential and core qualities.
Existence and essence as a unity
My tentative conclusion and belief is that existence and essence are so integrated and intertwined that we gain little by trying to keep them separated as if they were independent variables that could be independently changed. So, I’ll assert that existence and essence are a unity, in the two-level model where we have a full existence at the upper level and a lower level that includes both the nominal existence and the detailed essence. Yes, we can look at the division of labor between the two, but we cannot envision one existing without the other.