First of all I would like to make clear I am not an expert in philosophy.

With the question "Is existence a feature of life?" I mean the following: Could something exist without the presence of an intelligible living being to recognize its existence?

Suppose, for instance, that all form of life in the universe (life in Earth and other possible life "out there") suddenly disappear. How can we know if, for instance, the Eiffel Tower would still be there? Ok, you can say "if there were not any natural disaster it would still be there" but that is not my point. I mean more like, how can we guarantee that atoms and particles would still be there? The existence of Universe itself? The concept of existence would still be possible without life? Because if everyone were dead, who would be there to say "yeah, yeah, Moon still is there on her place..."?

Physicists can say that their rules have consistency and "can guarantee", by "projective previews" that universe would still exist if we were destroyed by an asteroid, but how can they say Physics itself would not be changed, if there were no one to "check" this information? Maybe they could say that their conclusions are "imortal" because they came from "reason". But is it not reason itself a feature of human brain, hence, a feature of life?

I want to know if some philosopher have discussed this subject. Any references?


4 Answers 4


I think you may be looking for George Berkeley's subjective idealism called immaterialism. For a decent overview of skepticism regarding the external world, you might enjoy this article by Ram Neta. That, or solipsism might be your cup of tea. (Of note: in "Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits" Bertrand Russell states, "I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others. Coming from a logician and a solipsist, her surprise surprised me." I'm not familiar with her work, but she might be worth pursuing if solipsism is your aim.)

In my humble opinion, I think the cart is leading the horse here tho - is not life a feature of existence? How would conscious life have come about if the world did not exist except by observation? Of course many idealists have suppossed as much, but this is nonsense begging many a question. Likewise with solipsism, does not your existence refute my solipsism and is not your solipsism refuted by my existence? ...and here we are talking about it on the internet for all the world to witness or ignore... If, on the other hand you are looking for certainty regarding knowledge of the external world, consider that certainty is just a mood.

In the words of Donald Davidson, "We live in at most one world." In the words of John Searle, "There are interesting philosophical puzzles, about how we know we're not brains in vats or deceived by evil demons, but I think, to put it very bluntly, you can't send men to the Moon and back and then wonder "does reality really exist out there, is there anything independent?" You can't send men to the Moon and back and wonder if it's really possible to make secure predictions about the future based on inductive reasoning."

Hope that helps.


(I am really only giving this answer because you seem to think you need to discount physics to get your answer. You don't.)

I am going to say yes, existence, at least if by that you mean suspension in time and space, does require intelligence. As for other kinds of existence, we cannot say. But it is ambiguous what "other kinds of existence" would mean. (Kant thinks he knows, but, well, they named him Immanuel, so he may be a little arrogant.)

From a Kantian standpoint, space and time are aspects of human intuition, they do not pertain independent of us. But there is a physicalist reflection of this principle, at least for time, which proceeds from Boltzmann.

I would suggest that time is the accumulation of entropy, but that entropy increases only because memory is an exothermic chemical process. So time exists, even the time before the advent of mechanisms of memory, only because those mechanisms did eventually come to exist. Ignoring the fact that our human logic requires all those conflicting tenses, the summary is "Memory is the cause, not the effect, of the second law of thermodynamics".

The complexities of relativity and its relevance to cosmology suggest we actually inhabit some physical system in which space and time proceed from some regularity configured wholly otherwise from our notions of them. But we know our lives proceed in a given way, and we extrapolate that notion of 'proceeding' out into reality and use it as a universal way of organizing the information around us.

So you don't have to go into idealism or mentalism or otherwise 'escape' physics to get to the Kantian position. You can get to it from a logical viewpoint based in removing clear redundancies from physics itself. Given thermodynamics, time and entropy are redundant concepts. Unifying them to satisfy Occam's razor, you get this position as a very natural result.

  • If you want to sharpen your understanding of such matters, I recommend Torretti, Philosophy of Physics. He goes into this Kant-space a priori-relativity thing, and also the 2nd law/time/entropy thing - Penrose also has good stuff on this.
    – Deipatrous
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 14:06

Is existence a feature of life? No.

Can a stone exist without life to recognize it? Yes.

Before humans existed, the Universe existed.
Therefore, human existence (intelligence) is not required for anything to exist.


I'm a writer working on the theory of systems, therefore you can consider this as an opinion. The definition of existence is essential here.

Existence is relative, not absolute (see George Berkeley). Therefore, closed systems (systems without inputs and outputs to interact) don't exist for us because we cannot know about them, because we cannot interact with them [1]. Things (systems) exist as long as we can interact with them. Or formally, an object system exists for a subject system as long as it is able to interact with it. Therefore, if the earth has a second moon but we are unable to interact with it (see, measure, detect it in some way), it doesn't exist. Existence is not proper to life or reason, but to systems interaction (you can see my interaction theory draft on ydor.org).

Therefore, if a tree falls in a forest, and there's no one to hear the sound it produces, there is no sound. You can say that air vibrations existed anyway for entities around the tree, yes. But what if it felt down very, very slowly? Are stones deciding if the vibration can be considered as a sound? Imagine you are present there: it is you who will decide if any sound is produced. Well (the opposite), you don't need to be there. You can listen from home, and if you listen the noise of a falling tree on the distant forest, you can say it existed. If not, it didn't. Therefore, it is your brain who decides if something exists. In this case the existence you ask about is a concept, which is limited by your knowledge. Does John Johnson living in Abbey Road exist? Well, look at the phone index to know. But finding him doesn't mean he exists. You should be able to interact with him. If not, there's always the possibility he would be dead two seconds ago. We usually trust the rest of people, that's another way of interacting with distant people.

Does Mick Jagger or Beethoven exist? As long as you interact with them (listen to a record and react in consequence, or see them on tv), they exist for you, even if one of them is dead. Jagger can have died two seconds ago, but he would still exists for almost all mankind anyway. Beethoven can be alive, there are no zero probabilities.

Again, existence is relative. Systems exist for other systems if they interact. You can be one of those systems or not.

  1. Similar speculation on https://van.physics.illinois.edu/qa/listing.php?id=21766
  • Sorry, no - existence is not relative. There is a vast difference between what is true and what is "true to [you;me;us;them]", else a mirage and an oasis would have epistemic and ontological equivalence. They do not. You should read some Moore and then some more Moore.
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 3:50
  • Thanks, @Mr.Kennedy, for agreeing with me, about Berkeley's subjectivism, which is exactly what I've stated (existence is subjective, or relative), and for the downvote.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 4:39
  • don't fret - by your reckoning if you simply don't look at the downvote it won't exist.
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 4:47
  • 1
    Haha... I've liked that, right. Will read Moore...
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 4:49
  • If you edit your post as an expository of Berkeley's view, I'll remove the downvote, otherwise as it is written it is a presentation of your views.
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 4:51

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