Existence & humility

I will begin with a statement: existence is contextual. An example for this might help. If I say that there is a satellite but a caveman in the jungle doesn’t know about it, does the satellite still exist? The satellite’s existence, of course, is not affected by the caveman’s belief about it. And the caveman may as well say that there is no such thing as a satellite given that he has no knowledge about it. In other words, within the limit of the caveman’s knowledge (without suggesting any superiority of non-cavemen over them), a satellite does not exist.

And that’s okay, because most of the times we, too, are in their position. We say that “such and such do not exist”; that “I don’t believe in the existence of such and such.” But if we are to be more careful, such statements should be rephrased: it needs to state in which context that a particular thing does not exist. Our knowledge about things does not affect their existence. Hence, when something is claimed not to exist, it is better to be said with a firm confidence. Something may exist, but I just don’t know it yet. I am not aware of its existence, so I don’t know. Hence, existence precedes knowledge. Well, it could also be said in another direction, that knowledge precedes existence. An example for this is an invention. But the fact that our knowledge finally arrives to a certain existence paradoxically means that existence is always present, independent of our knowledge about it; it’s only a matter of time (and space) before someone finds it. When, and where.

At this point I feel necessary to make it clear that the existence that I point here is an existence that is outside of a person, extra-individual. Something that lies outside of oneself. Objectified existence, so to speak. While the term might suggest something objective or physical object, it actually includes anything that gives shape or form of something. An idea is objectified through words, for example. Here I have to constantly remind myself not to enter the debate of objective vs. subjective reality, which I hope I can maintain throughout the text.

Coming back to the contextuality of existence, even though we know that something might exist, but we often find in academic writings statements like, “we found no evidence to support this or that hypothesis”, “there is no study found on this or that topic” or “no research has been done on this or that context”. How could they be so confident to say that something doesn’t exist? One answer could be because they have looked around but found nothing. The notion that they have looked around implies spatial and temporal contexts in which they are looking. And found nothing is to say that within this particular space and this particular time, they found no existence of something. Put simply, it is like a child that is looking for his toy which he can’t find and he says: my toy is gone. He might have searched the whole room (space) at one afternoon (time), but still couldn’t find it. While it may be true, but if his mother stepped in and after few moments she found that the toy is hidden behind the cupboard, the toy was actually there. It exists, only that the child wasn’t aware of the existence. So, within existence there lies the dimensions of time and space. And how long and how far people consider the time and space may be different. This explains why many people debate on the existence of something: they have different scopes of time and space.

One may rise a question. If existence is contextual, could there be an existence that is pan-contextual? An existence that is always relevant at any point of temporal and spatial dimension. Something that exists regardless (whenever) the time, exists at regardless (wherever) the place. If there is such thing, a logical explanation is this existence must be something greater than the world we are living. We must be contained within this particular existence, therefore wherever the place we point in our world will never be outside its existence. Time-wise, it must exists long before us and will be so indefinitely in the future. To ask even further, when was the time when time dimension was first unfolding? Where was the place when space dimension was first unfolding? And can I see existence beyond that point, since it is through these two dimensions existence is measured?

The questions above may lead oneself to think about the universe, the deep space, or solar systems with heavenly bodies such as starts, planets, black holes and so forth. Or, I may think a bit more abstract on concepts like management, entrepreneurship or culture (even though one can question whether the concept of entrepreneurship does exist in Mars, it is suffice to say that a concept is an objectification of human ideas and it is a language that exists between humans). In all cases, these are things that exist before I born and could exist anywhere. Or, perhaps ultimately, any inquiry of existence will lead oneself to realize that the space is so grand and the time is so long, that I am so little in time and space to consider all these. Yet, some people still walk on earth with excessive pride while they can’t escape the certainty of their own non-existence.

… the inquiry of existence should raise a certain degree of humility

I would rather suggest that the inquiry of existence should raise a certain degree of humility. In the beginning, I started out by an outward looking of existence (extra-individual), but it is inevitable that the questioning to the outside world is also reflected inwardly—to my own existence. I don’t know everything and it doesn’t hurt to give some space to any possibility of existence. Many things haven’t come to my knowledge yet (and never will be, for pragmatic reasons). Instead of saying that “I didn't find the toy”, perhaps it is better to say “I haven’t find the toy yet”. Rather than “there is no study using this or that theory on family business literature”, why not saying “upon our review on family business literature, we could not find any study using this or that theory”. These hopefully can instill a little sense of humility, suggest a more open stance to any counter argument, and it sounds nice at the heart too.