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    Thread: Argument for the existence of Platonic forms

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      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Argument for the existence of Platonic forms

      Ok so I want to bounce around an idea Ive had for awhile on the existence of Platonic forms. Here is some background info if you are not familiar with the subject.
      Theory of Forms - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
      Universal (metaphysics) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

      Imagine a scenario where there are only ten (for simplicities sake) people left on earth. Civilization has collapsed and humans are scavengers, cannibals, etc. Out of the ten people not one of them has knowledge of the concept "good" or behave in any manner that can be deemed as "good". Does the quality of "goodness" still exist?

      Even though the universal(good) is not inherent in any particulars(survivors) the possibility of good still exists therefore a universal can be abstracted from a particular and still exist even though it is not represented by any particulars.

      Similarly imagine the color purple. Lets say in this theoretical world there are no particulars that represent the color purple yet the colors red and blue exist. It is possible to mix red and blue to make purple so even though purple doesn't necessarily exist in any particular the possibility of purple exists, therefore purple exists.

      Therefore universals can exist without being present in particulars which suggests the theory of forms is valid.

      I would appreciate your criticism and ideas, thank you.

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      "Good" is a human defined concept. If there are no humans left to perceive good and pass judgment on whether or not an act is good or bad, then it doesn't exist. There might be aliens with their own concepts of morality, but human morality is human defined.

      In a universe without any tangible sample of purple, e.g. there is no purple light of a specific wavelength, then it does not exist in the universe. It might one day exist. It has the potential to. But as of that point in time, it does not exist. Similarly, a skyscraper that hasn't been built yet does not exist. It has the potential to one day come into existence, but does not yet exist.
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      Xei
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      Doesn't this entail the objective existence of everything? Asian Hitler. Black Hitler. Black Hitler with accessory handbag. Dodecahedral planet populated solely by Black Hitlers with accessory handbags. These things are all physical contingencies in the sense that they do not contradict any laws of physics.

      But then, perhaps the laws of physics are just generalities and do not represent what 'can' be real; the universe may be deterministic and only one case of the general law may ever occur; perhaps purple cannot exist in your universe because, due to the way it was set in motion, purple never happens to be formed.

      Really though, I think this is just a matter of good definitions. Define 'exists'? Hopefully you'll glean my meaning of 'exists' from the following and can tell me if it seems sensible.

      The above abstractions exist (objectively an abstraction could be said to be the pattern of neural activity equivalent to the abstraction), but the things they refer to don't. Isn't it this simple?

      Does good exist in your world? Well, what does good refer to; the instances or the abstraction? If the former, no, as stated there are no instances of good in this world. If the latter, no, these humans have never been presented with instances to abstract from. I think you're conflating the hypothetical situation and your own observation of it, when strictly you would not be there to observe; the existence of the abstraction of good in your own mind does not extend into your hypothetical universe where your mind is not present.

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      One must consider the highly likely possibility that our concepts of good and evil are stemmed from pack mentality.
      That individual that exibits traits that do not benefit the pack is austricized. This is true in most animal packs.
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      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Mario92 View Post
      "Good" is a human defined concept. If there are no humans left to perceive good and pass judgment on whether or not an act is good or bad, then it doesn't exist. There might be aliens with their own concepts of morality, but human morality is human defined.

      In a universe without any tangible sample of purple, e.g. there is no purple light of a specific wavelength, then it does not exist in the universe. It might one day exist. It has the potential to. But as of that point in time, it does not exist. Similarly, a skyscraper that hasn't been built yet does not exist. It has the potential to one day come into existence, but does not yet exist.
      Yes I suppose if I did not exist in this hypothetical world then my concept of "good" would count for nothing because I do not exist. I was leaning too strictly on Plato's idea of the forms because he believed that the"good" was an universal quality of the world as well as the source of all knowledge. I didn't really take as much time as I would have liked to distinguish my ideas from his in this thread. So if there was no wavelength of purple would we not be able to perceive it? I think the existence of a possible skyscraper is a bit different from the possibility of purple given that red and blue both exist. I think because since it is possible for purple to be derivative from red and blue it has a kind of more concrete ontological existence than a potential skyscraper. But I do conflate possibility and actuality these days so I don't know if that conclusion is logically sound.


      Quote Originally Posted by Xei View Post
      Doesn't this entail the objective existence of everything? Asian Hitler. Black Hitler. Black Hitler with accessory handbag. Dodecahedral planet populated solely by Black Hitlers with accessory handbags. These things are all physical contingencies in the sense that they do not contradict any laws of physics.

      But then, perhaps the laws of physics are just generalities and do not represent what 'can' be real; the universe may be deterministic and only one case of the general law may ever occur; perhaps purple cannot exist in your universe because, due to the way it was set in motion, purple never happens to be formed.

      Really though, I think this is just a matter of good definitions. Define 'exists'? Hopefully you'll glean my meaning of 'exists' from the following and can tell me if it seems sensible. .
      You have a point with the black Hitler example lol. Defining “exist” is fairly tricky because its such a concrete yet such and abstract term, I would define it as such: To have actual being. Which doesn’t really say much but oh well. You’ve probably noticed that my definition of exist is not compatible with my argument. If purple exists contingently on red and blue I think that it has a certain ontological hierarchy than other possibilities, I need to ponder on this idea some more. When a subatomic particle is in superposition, does it definitively exist since it is not in one actual position?

      Quote Originally Posted by Xei View Post
      The above abstractions exist (objectively an abstraction could be said to be the pattern of neural activity equivalent to the abstraction), but the things they refer to don't. Isn't it this simple?

      Does good exist in your world? Well, what does good refer to; the instances or the abstraction? If the former, no, as stated there are no instances of good in this world. If the latter, no, these humans have never been presented with instances to abstract from. I think you're conflating the hypothetical situation and your own observation of it, when strictly you would not be there to observe; the existence of the abstraction of good in your own mind does not extend into your hypothetical universe where your mind is not present.
      Why do you say its this simple? I would say good is the human defined quality that the instances of the following all have in common: Helping an old lady cross the street, saving someone from a fire, speaking the truth. Overall “good” like “exist” is a really vague word I don’t quite know how to express it in a way that does it justice. I think good refers to the instances, even if people did not know that they were doing good it would still be defined as good (under my definition but as I previously said to Mario92, I wouldn’t exist so my definition would not exist either) so in conclusion this thread was an epic fail. I’m truly glad I got these responses though, I’m still trying to completely assimilate Plato, so thank for entertaining my half-baked ideas.

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      Quote Originally Posted by stormcrow View Post
      Yes I suppose if I did not exist in this hypothetical world then my concept of "good" would count for nothing because I do not exist. I was leaning too strictly on Plato's idea of the forms because he believed that the"good" was an universal quality of the world as well as the source of all knowledge. I didn't really take as much time as I would have liked to distinguish my ideas from his in this thread. So if there was no wavelength of purple would we not be able to perceive it? I think the existence of a possible skyscraper is a bit different from the possibility of purple given that red and blue both exist. I think because since it is possible for purple to be derivative from red and blue it has a kind of more concrete ontological existence than a potential skyscraper. But I do conflate possibility and actuality these days so I don't know if that conclusion is logically sound.
      If there are humans, such as us, capable of perceiving purple light, but such light does not exist, then not only do they not perceive it, but that light still does not exist. Again, they might one day create purple light, or that light might come into existence through random chance. But it does not exist. Just like we might one day perceive a skyscraper or new mountain (which can derive from steel, concrete, and the slow tectonic forces of the earth). We are capable of perceiving it, but that capability does not mean such things exist (yet).

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      Xei
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      Quote Originally Posted by stormcrow View Post
      You have a point with the black Hitler example lol. Defining “exist” is fairly tricky because its such a concrete yet such and abstract term, I would define it as such: To have actual being. Which doesn’t really say much but oh well. You’ve probably noticed that my definition of exist is not compatible with my argument. If purple exists contingently on red and blue I think that it has a certain ontological hierarchy than other possibilities, I need to ponder on this idea some more. When a subatomic particle is in superposition, does it definitively exist since it is not in one actual position?
      I think it's clear that you definitely need to clarify what you mean by 'exist' before you ask the question 'does good exist'. Many philosophical problems are simply the result of conflations of meanings; Plato's forms could well be one such problem.

      A note on words: words are ultimately defined by patterns. It is often remarked of colours that they are ineffable. How do we ever communicate to somebody, 'red'? The answer is by pointing at lots of different objects which share redness and saying 'that's red'; after not very long, we learn which pattern the teacher is trying to communicate to us. Then by a sort of conspiracy, we both know what the other is trying to communicate when they say 'red'. But in fact, all words are ineffable, and rely on this 'conspiracy of experience'. It's just that the more complex ones are defined recursively. For example, to define 'pole jump', you could say, 'a person using a pole to jump over a set height'. But then of course you have to define 'person', 'pole', 'jump', 'over', etcetera. Some of these may require further recursion; others may be at the basal level. 'Over', for instance', is pretty basic. How could communicate to somebody what 'over' means? You'd be tempted to say 'something is over when it's on top', but then of course you have to define where the top is, and the top is over. So like with red, you have to resort to pointing out instances of over.

      Having said that last bit, hopefully you see how this is pertinent to your definition of 'exists' as 'having actual being'. All you're really doing is rephrasing a basic concept; when does something have 'being'? When it exists, I suppose. So, when we originally acquired this basic concept, how exactly did we do it? Basically by pointing at everything and anything and saying 'that exists, that exists', et al, ad infinitum. If you delve into this you may find the answer to the question of forms.

      With respect to subatomic particles; most physicists treat the entire waveform as having objective existence.

      Why do you say its this simple? I would say good is the human defined quality that the instances of the following all have in common: Helping an old lady cross the street, saving someone from a fire, speaking the truth. Overall “good” like “exist” is a really vague word I don’t quite know how to express it in a way that does it justice. I think good refers to the instances, even if people did not know that they were doing good it would still be defined as good (under my definition but as I previously said to Mario92, I wouldn’t exist so my definition would not exist either) so in conclusion this thread was an epic fail. I’m truly glad I got these responses though, I’m still trying to completely assimilate Plato, so thank for entertaining my half-baked ideas.
      I don't think you should feel a duty to 'assimilate' any particular philosopher...

      With respect to the definition of 'good'; it's funny, I hadn't read this before I wrote the first bit, because you did exactly what I discussed.

      I think the above discussion is the key to answering the question of forms, to be honest. A form is a perceived commonality, and it exists insofar as the perceiving mind exists.
      Last edited by Xei; 06-25-2011 at 01:20 AM.
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      Quote Originally Posted by stormcrow View Post
      Imagine a scenario where there are only ten (for simplicities sake) people left on earth. Civilization has collapsed and humans are scavengers, cannibals, etc. Out of the ten people not one of them has knowledge of the concept "good" or behave in any manner that can be deemed as "good". Does the quality of "goodness" still exist?

      Even though the universal(good) is not inherent in any particulars(survivors) the possibility of good still exists therefore a universal can be abstracted from a particular and still exist even though it is not represented by any particulars.
      Interesting thread here! I think your question of "goodness" existing or not is a matter of how it is existing, because as you say, it is universally "not inherent in any particulars." Despite the unrealistic number of ten people surviving (for simplicities sake?), I'd argue that the "goodness" does exist from the perspective of human history, and that is to say that humanity has slowly become more "good" since having evolved from animals! Have they not? Was it really always present since the beginning of man or was it developed as a concept in later evolution? I think the reality of "goodness" shares both; the concept and quality simply emerged from a hidden trait of consciousness, in such a way being universal. So on one level the potential for goodness does still exist, but it is not actually present in the current survivors through their attitudes, beliefs, etc.

      Quote Originally Posted by Mario92 View Post
      If there are humans, such as us, capable of perceiving purple light, but such light does not exist, then not only do they not perceive it, but that light still does not exist. Again, they might one day create purple light, or that light might come into existence through random chance. But it does not exist. Just like we might one day perceive a skyscraper or new mountain (which can derive from steel, concrete, and the slow tectonic forces of the earth). We are capable of perceiving it, but that capability does not mean such things exist (yet).
      By stormcrow's definition, existence means "to have actual being". So we can expand on the above points and say that while purple light may not exist at one time, the color purple still can. While things cannot be perceived externally, such things can still be present and exist intangibly as ideas or imagination. Even in after-image phenomena or from something as simple as having rubbed your eyes for too long, colors emerge that are not directly related to external stimuli.

      How do you think skyscrapers and mountains can exist, furthermore how do they come into being? Skyscrapers exist out of a collection of ideas. We then could say that the skyscraper exists, but in a different form. Because it is abstract, it can apply both ways: can you picture that a small building is a fraction of a skyscraper? Furthermore, in speaking of ideas and their structure, including relationships with the external world, I suppose is much like what Xei said about the interaction and inter-relationships of words.

      Quote Originally Posted by stormcrow View Post
      Yes I suppose if I did not exist in this hypothetical world then my concept of "good" would count for nothing because I do not exist.
      I don't think so, and from what you've stated about the scenario, that sounds a little extraneous. Because no hypothetical scenarios have actual reality, you could say that you exist in none of them because none are real, or you exist in all of them because you made them up! Otherwise how would you learn from your hypothesis?

      I would say good is the human defined quality that the instances of the following all have in common: Helping an old lady cross the street, saving someone from a fire, speaking the truth. Overall “good” like “exist” is a really vague word I don’t quite know how to express it in a way that does it justice.
      If your imaginary human beings are capable of these traits, then the answer would simply be yes. I implied this in my first paragraph.
      Last edited by really; 06-26-2011 at 09:11 AM.

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      By my definition, for something to exist, it must exist on a physical level. Thoughts of skyscrapers exist as electrochemical signals of the brain. They are, first and foremost, existing as thoughts, not as skyscrapers or abstract forms.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Mario92 View Post
      By my definition, for something to exist, it must exist on a physical level. Thoughts of skyscrapers exist as electrochemical signals of the brain. They are, first and foremost, existing as thoughts, not as skyscrapers or abstract forms.
      Simple enough... but who's definition are we supposed to be using here?

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      Quote Originally Posted by really View Post
      Simple enough... but who's definition are we supposed to be using here?
      How about the one supported by evidence?

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      Quote Originally Posted by Mario92 View Post
      By my definition, for something to exist, it must exist on a physical level. Thoughts of skyscrapers exist as electrochemical signals of the brain. They are, first and foremost, existing as thoughts, not as skyscrapers or abstract forms.
      Thoughts can be abstract forms.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Mario92 View Post
      How about the one supported by evidence?
      I'm not sure if you realize this, but the premise rests with intuition, philosophy and metaphysics. I don't see any good reason why we cannot further apply these ideas to inward experiences also, because that is the domain from which ideas have originated in the first place.

      If nobody had eyes, how could one ever prove the wavelength of purple? What is the meaning of a "real" skyscraper if there were no thoughts? Humorous, because ideas, abstract thoughts and even the "good" are not physical things at all. For us to even discuss this topic, we must apply abstract thinking, not materialistic thinking.

      Then again, if I am wrong, hopefully stormcrow can correct me.

      Quote Originally Posted by Laughing Man View Post
      Thoughts can be abstract forms.
      Indeed, I don't see why not.

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      Quote Originally Posted by really View Post
      I'm not sure if you realize this, but the premise rests with intuition, philosophy and metaphysics. I don't see any good reason why we cannot further apply these ideas to inward experiences also, because that is the domain from which ideas have originated in the first place.
      Thoughts exist as brain signals. The act of merely thinking doesn't somehow cause an infinite number of forms to pop into existence.

      If nobody had eyes, how could one ever prove the wavelength of purple? What is the meaning of a "real" skyscraper if there were no thoughts? Humorous, because ideas, abstract thoughts and even the "good" are not physical things at all. For us to even discuss this topic, we must apply abstract thinking, not materialistic thinking.
      These rely on there being human minds to interpret said phenomena. Regardless of whether anyone is there to perceive them, they still exist (or don't). If a tree falls in the forest, blah blah blah. Yes it makes a sound.

      Indeed, I don't see why not.
      They are material things.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Mario92 View Post
      Thoughts exist as brain signals. The act of merely thinking doesn't somehow cause an infinite number of forms to pop into existence.
      This doesn't even seem like you even agree with this whole philosophy. Do you? What are you contributing to this discussion? How can forms even exist?

      These rely on there being human minds to interpret said phenomena. Regardless of whether anyone is there to perceive them, they still exist (or don't). If a tree falls in the forest, blah blah blah. Yes it makes a sound.
      This may be true to an extent, but it doesn't address the point. While the light or wavelength of purple exists when an observer is present or not, purple does not exist without an observer, because that may be considered abstract.

      They are material things.
      You are being vague. Whether they are material or not, there is still an observable component we can learn from. That is what may be susceptible to forms.

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      I think the examples might need to be more specific to actually apply. For the 'good' example; instead of good and evil use murderers and non-murderers. Everyone in this post-apocalyptic society murders (or has murdered) others, yet still there is the possibility that someone born in the future will not murder. Does a possibility exist?

      For the purple example; perhaps the physical properties of the world are not different and the wavelength that we might associate with purple exists, but for some stroke of luck no structures evolved to reflect purple or refract white light into that particular band. No one sees purple but the physical properties of purple light still exist. Is there such thing as purple? If people who had once seen purple were put into this purple-less world, does it exist then?

      Still with these the answers are dependent on whether something in the mind (or memory) is the same as an external thing. It also poses another question, does the future exist?

      If none of the feckless cannibals are non-murderers but they are capable of conceiving of a person who is one, does a non-murderer then exist in form but not substance?

      Also Mario, thoughts are not brain cells. Thoughts are more correlated to brain states. In reality, thoughts do not exist (under your own definition) unless you believe the past exists in the physical world (which it might). A thought is the perception of a brain state that happened just before the state that integrates the perception. You are perpetually 'observing' what your physical state of being was with all your external and internal stimuli a moment ago. Therefore, as soon as the thought comes in to being it no longer exists.

      Sound is a human construct. So is wavelength, amplitude, frequency, oscillation. They are conceptualizations of states of being that you can't talk or even think about without using the same and more human conceptualizations.
      Last edited by Xaqaria; 07-03-2011 at 12:36 PM.

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      Quote Originally Posted by really View Post
      This doesn't even seem like you even agree with this whole philosophy. Do you? What are you contributing to this discussion? How can forms even exist?
      My point is that we have no reason to assume they do exist. I don't agree with Plato. Call me the Devil's advocate, if you so wish. The OP requested criticisms, opinions, which I'm promptly delivering.

      This may be true to an extent, but it doesn't address the point. While the light or wavelength of purple exists when an observer is present or not, purple does not exist without an observer, because that may be considered abstract.
      Purple describes light of a specific wavelength. Without humans, that will or won't exist, depending on the universe you choose to inhabit.

      Quote Originally Posted by Xaqaria View Post
      I think the examples might need to be more specific to actually apply. For the 'good' example; instead of good and evil use murderers and non-murderers. Everyone in this post-apocalyptic society murders (or has murdered) others, yet still there is the possibility that someone born in the future will not murder. Does a possibility exist?
      Sure, it may be possible. That non-murderer doesn't exist yet, of course.

      For the purple example; perhaps the physical properties of the world are not different and the wavelength that we might associate with purple exists, but for some stroke of luck no structures evolved to reflect purple or refract white light into that particular band. No one sees purple but the physical properties of purple light still exist. Is there such thing as purple? If people who had once seen purple were put into this purple-less world, does it exist then?
      So in other words, there is still no purple light at any point in the universe. It does not exist. Pretend a human arrives in our universe from another. He has seen a quadruple headed yellow dragon that breathes fried chicken. Such a creature does not exist in our universe. His arrival does not mean it starts existing. It still doesn't exist.

      Still with these the answers are dependent on whether something in the mind (or memory) is the same as an external thing. It also poses another question, does the future exist?

      If none of the feckless cannibals are non-murderers but they are capable of conceiving of a person who is one, does a non-murderer then exist in form but not substance?
      It exists as a thought, perhaps. Unless you're willing to equate thoughts to forms, we still have no reason to suspect forms exist.

      Also Mario, thoughts are not brain cells. Thoughts are more correlated to brain states. In reality, thoughts do not exist (under your own definition) unless you believe the past exists in the physical world (which it might). A thought is the perception of a brain state that happened just before the state that integrates the perception. You are perpetually 'observing' what your physical state of being was with all your external and internal stimuli a moment ago. Therefore, as soon as the thought comes in to being it no longer exists.
      I sense at least one fallacy at work here. Is there a delay between perception and the events of reality? Yes. You are, in effect, observing what just happened but may be happening no longer. When a camera bulb flashes, it takes a split second for the light to strike your retina and your brain to process what's going on. When the light goes out, it takes another split second for the light to complete its journey and your brain to realize that there is no more light on the way.

      How does your brain observe? It takes in information from your sensory organs in the form of electrochemical signals. Those signals trigger other signals within the brain, and that chain reaction ultimately results in observations and thoughts. Those thoughts will be in reference to an event ever so slightly in the past, but they don't cease to exist because of that. At the same time, the past does not need to still exist for those thoughts to be. Thinking is a fluid motion, and any given thought has no distinguishable beginning nor end, as each was triggered by other thoughts, observations, and chemical signals.

      Sound is a human construct. So is wavelength, amplitude, frequency, oscillation. They are conceptualizations of states of being that you can't talk or even think about without using the same and more human conceptualizations.
      Those all use human units, but are concrete within the universe. If you change the scale or the measure, purple light will still be different from red light. All purple light of a specific wavelength will be identical at every point in the universe, regardless of the means of measure, or if you measure at all. It's an objective fact.

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      White light contains all wavelengths. This universe still contains white light and so it still contains the wavelength that is associated (in our universe) with purple. The wavelength exists but no one sees purple. Does purple exist?

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      Miss Sixy <span class='glow_FFFFFF'>Maria92</span>'s Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Xaqaria View Post
      White light contains all wavelengths. This universe still contains white light and so it still contains the wavelength that is associated (in our universe) with purple. The wavelength exists but no one sees purple. Does purple exist?
      So light of the purple wavelength DOES exist, but it is essentially masked by other light. Yes, it exists.

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      Member really's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Mario92 View Post
      My point is that we have no reason to assume they do exist. I don't agree with Plato. Call me the Devil's advocate, if you so wish. The OP requested criticisms, opinions, which I'm promptly delivering.
      Right, but what can you say other than basically "there's no evidence". What's your philosophy on the matter then? Materialism?

      Purple describes light of a specific wavelength. Without humans, that will or won't exist, depending on the universe you choose to inhabit.
      You mean without an observer to be present?

      Quote Originally Posted by Mario92 View Post
      So light of the purple wavelength DOES exist, but it is essentially masked by other light. Yes, it exists.
      It's a bit of a paradox, because the issue is that white light has no specific wavelength, so saying that purple exists would be a supposition. The only way to be sure is by changing the color and observing it.

    21. #21
      Drivel's Advocate Xaqaria's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Mario92 View Post
      So light of the purple wavelength DOES exist, but it is essentially masked by other light. Yes, it exists.
      So your stance is that "purple" exists without anyone in the universe having a concept of what "purple" is, correct?

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      Miss Sixy <span class='glow_FFFFFF'>Maria92</span>'s Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by really View Post
      Right, but what can you say other than basically "there's no evidence". What's your philosophy on the matter then? Materialism?
      Yes.

      You mean without an observer to be present?
      Yes.

      [/quote]It's a bit of a paradox, because the issue is that white light has no specific wavelength, so saying that purple exists would be a supposition. The only way to be sure is by changing the color and observing it.[/QUOTE]

      If the wavelength of purple light exists, then regardless of whether or not it is mingled with other light waves, it still exists.

      Quote Originally Posted by Xaqaria View Post
      So your stance is that "purple" exists without anyone in the universe having a concept of what "purple" is, correct?
      Yes.

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