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If man is born from the universe, we are a product of the universe. This much is certain. However we as people have the ability to fabricate thoughts and ideas that are completely fictional and abstract. How can man fabricate the abstract and fictional despite being born of the Universe which is concrete and non-fictional?

For example let's say I would find a night sky more beautiful if I could see the lights of the next closest galaxy. This is impossible due to physical limitations (atmosphere interference, human eyesight limitations, etc), but any person can comprehend the idea and paint an image of it within their own minds.

Is it strange that the mind, which is born out the universe, can conceptualize physically impossible things? Why are we able to think of things that cannot be factual despite being born out of the purely factual?

I have no idea if this had come up in philosophy before. Is there something I am missing or does this seem like a moot question to anyone?

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    Various philosophers talk about this notion, you should start with reading about ideas, objects, and properties on SEP. For example some suggest that humans can recombine different properties to make new objects, but never invent new properties. More reading: Descartes' ideas, objects, properties. – stoicfury Jul 7 '13 at 3:13
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    Although this question could be researched more comprehensively before asking, I have given you +1 because I see it as well thought out for a first question. – Dr Sister Jul 7 '13 at 3:34
  • Some people would say that it is the universe that is born out of mind: cogsci.uci.edu/~ddhoff/ConsciousRealism2.pdf – Bob Dec 30 '18 at 22:28
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Just a few points:

If man is born from the universe, we are a product of the universe. This much is certain.

don't be so certain! I would recommend looking at the work of philosopher Immanuel Kant, as well as those in the 'neo-Kantian' tradition for some compelling reasons why this is not a certainty. As an entry point I would consider the possibility that the entity designated by the term 'universe' may be what it is to you because of the perceptual apparatus which your being brings to the act of its perception.

How can man fabricate the abstract and fictional despite being born of the Universe which is concrete and non-fictional?

David Hume I think provides a great explanation when he observes in The Principles of Human Nature that the principles of association governing the relations of ideas to ideas are simply not the same as the laws governing physical phenomena.

For example let's say I would find a night sky more beautiful if I could see the lights of the next closest galaxy. This is impossible due to physical limitations (atmosphere interference, human eyesight limitations, etc), but any person can comprehend the idea and paint an image of it within their own minds.

Given the fact we can demonstrate the existence of other galaxies empirically, I fail to see how this relates to the question of the possibility of fictions?

Is it strange that the mind, which is born out the universe, can conceptualize physically impossible things?

Indeed it is strange. But is it not also evolutionarily advantageous to be able to envision things being other than the way they are?

Why are we able to think of things that cannot be factual despite being born out of the purely factual?

This is a good example of what is often referred to as 'mistaking the map for the territory'. Your being born refers to a physical phenomena, and was not the product of two abstract facts copulating. It is a fact that you were born, but in order to be recognised as a fact, it first has had to have happened.

  • Very good response. Thank you. The link on mistaking the map for the territory is interesting. Never thought of that before! – James Manes Jul 8 '13 at 14:16
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It's highly adaptive to be able to imagine things that aren't actually there. This is an incredibly basic problem in perception, in fact. Suppose, for instance, that you see part of a lion hiding behind some grass. You can probably work out that

  1. It is in fact a lion
  2. Which way it is facing
  3. If it has likely seen you
  4. If it is tensing to pounce

despite only seeing a small portion of it. All largish animals have this problem to deal with since they tend to exist around plants and animals try to hide from each other. Using prior experience to fill in the rest of the animal's position (so that you can then act appropriately given where the unseen parts are) is useful and fairly basic and is done by at least birds and mammals (I assume reptiles do also, but haven't actually seen any studies).

Once you have that capability and add on sophisticated memory and abstract thinking/imagination, one ought be surprised if one could not imagine things that were not real. Being limited to what is real is in many ways more difficult than having a more powerful general capacity because it requires more information to specify what is and is not allowed instead of just allowing anything that remotely fits. For example, I have no trouble imagining an invisible winged turtle, as all of the components are things I'm familiar with and merging them together yields no blatant contradictions. How would one design a brain that could deal with a naked mole rat (even before one had seen one) but not an invisible winged turtle? Sounds very hard to me--like the brain would have to somehow reflect the composition of the entire universe.

  • * How would one design a brain that could deal with a naked mole rat (even before one had seen one) but not an invisible winged turtle?* great. +1 – obelia Jul 7 '13 at 19:06
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Living beings that can let ideas die instead of themselves had better survival chances.

If you are standing in front of a cliff and think about what would happen to your body you might come to the conclusion that it would be unwise to jump if you valued your life.

Furthermore, if we assume that there is a universe and that the brain is part of the universe, then your mind also is part of the universe as it is the brain-in-process. So while the simulation of you jumping of the bridge only exists in your mind, there is a physical process taking place in your brain while you are doing it.

And while you find it strange that we can conceptualize imaginary things, I would like to point out that our mind is not perfect suited in conceptualizing possible things.

I actually built myself a mobius strip and used my fingers to convince myself that a three dimensional shape with only one edge and one area was possible. And once we enter the realms of quantum physics, we can only realize how very limited our brain is suited to grasp the real universe.

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I think there are wrong assumptions in your question. Actually there is no need (on a purely physical ground) for the thoughts to correspond in any way to a reality "outside" of the mind/brain. Thoughts are just linked to electric activity inside your brain, this is the only direct physical link between them and a physical reality. The reason why the thoughts often actually do correspond to real things outside is evolution and natural selection. And it happens that having also the ability to depart a little bit your thoughts from this correspondence is an evolutive advantage (you can build complex models, imagine scenarios before you meet them and be driven by fear or desire for those uncertain furure scenarios increasing your probability to survive, as explained by Rex here).

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