So one of my Facebook friends recently posted the following:
I struggle with Nihilism in perpetuity.... we're enslaved to a limited set of senses and I have absolutely no way to know If anything other than my consciousness is real and I thus I am limited to subjective truth in a sense. I cannot escape this conclusion.
Sure you can! If everything were just a figment of your imagination, your imagination would have to be smart enough to generate all of your observations. Now, maybe I'm an agent of your subconscious trying to trick you into thinking really delusional things like that 1+1=2, but that is extremely unlikely because Occam's razor. Maybe ocaams razor was invented by your imagination as a way to trick you too, but that is also an extra detail.
Just because you don't have infinite certainty even in the laws of logic and probability theory doesn't mean you should be promoting this particular very highly specific theory of everything above all of the simpler more plausible hypotheses. That seems like a rather crazy and unsubstantiated idea, which you likely generated because your mind is not yet comfortable living without the infinite certainty that is the default way of thinking for most people. If you're 99% certain of something, the fact that you're not 100% sure of anything shouldn't change that and should not paralyze you into inaction. A superintelligence would not have anything remotely resembling this ideological dilemma that you describe, and I'm guessing you know that it wouldn't. Or at least, you probably believe that it wouldn't with a very high degree of probability. And that's enough. You don't need to be infinitely certain. I'm not infinitely certain that Santa Claus doesn't exist, but I'm certain enough that I'm willing to treat the Santa Claus story as an obvious myth without feeling any worry about it. If in the future I see evidence that maybe Santa does exist, then and only then will I start worrying about that.
Speaking of delusions...
Then later this Facebook friend posted again thanking me for that rebuttal.
This is what I said in the comments:
You're welcome! It might also help if people more rigorously define the word "exist". That rebuttal was probably more towards solipsism than nihilism. If someone claims that nothing exists not even themselves, then you want to more thoroughly argue against ontological nihilism. To do this you would, in addition to the earlier argument I laid out, point out that if nothing exists, logic doesn't exist, and therefore the argument that nothing exists cannot be valid. Put another way, to ask if the claim "nothing exists" is true, is to ask if the claim "nothing exists" is an accurate model of reality. If there is no reality, then no statements can ever be true or false, and that includes the statement "nothing exists". This probably is evidence of a solution to the paradox of the first cause btw. Why does anything exist at all? Because for nothing to exist is inconsistent. It may not even be logically possible. What would it mean for nothing to exist? You might imagine empty space stretching on forever, but space isn't nothing, and in reality space is only a surface level approximation of the actual underlying reality, which is probably just a web of cause and effect or as Eliezer Yudkowsky calls it, "The Great Web of Causality".
That being said, I suspect things like the fact that there is necessarily *some* amount of uncertainty in every proposition, even if the amount of uncertainty is so miniscule as to be almost non-existent, means that all those crazy ontological nihilists may eventually do what religions do and retreat to "you can't prove that I'm wrong, there's still a chance!"
Yes, there's still a chance. Just like there's still a chance that out of all the grains of sand in the world, you might draw the particular grain of sand that was the last to come out of my flip flops after the last time I went to the beach years ago. In fact, the chances of that are probably higher than the chances that ontological nihilism is correct, maybe even by an order of magnitude or more. You would probably have to falsify this notion that reality must be self-consistent. Basically QED
Of course, maybe it's also possible that we do have a finite amount of "spacetime" and that causation can go backwards in "time" or something, but I don't know enough physics to test that. Either way, even if the Universe is finite, there almost certainly isn't an "outside" to all of existence, since that would be a contradiction.
I'm fairly confident that this is at least a definitive rebuttal against Ontological Nihilism and Solipsism. I'm slightly less confident that it solves the paradox of the first cause. If there are any relevant experts reading this, would you mind checking my work here?
Addendum: If logic doesn't exist, it can't use it's non-existent self to argue that it should exist. Likewise, if validity doesn't exist you can't say that a statement is invalid. Therefore the argument I made earlier that "if nothing exists, logic doesn't exist, and therefore the argument that nothing exists cannot be valid" doesn't work.
Also, someone explained to me that believing that nothing exists means that one would believe that claims and arguments don't exist either. So the "claim" that "nothing exists" isn't actually a claim, but the absence of a claim. It is therefore impossible for people to actually be Ontological Nihilists, and anyone who claims to be one only thinks that they are and isn't actually. When someone says "nothing exists" they're either not saying anything, or what they mean by "nothing" isn't actually nothing.