## What does it mean to say that something is physical or not?

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A computer program occupies the logical space created by the hardware of a computer. So, it exists as an epiphenomenon if that makes any sense.
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Is a computer program physical or non-physical?tom

Like the tree that falls unheard in the woods, is what a computer program computes meaningful without an act of interpretance?

Observables demand observers. Von Neumann spelt out the logical problem that creates for naked physicalism.

The most convincing general argument for this irreducible complementarity of dynamical laws and measurement function comes again from von Neumann (1955, p. 352). He calls the system being measured, S, and the measuring device, M, that must provide the initial conditions for the dynamic laws of S. Since the non-integrable constraint, M, is also a physical system obeying the same laws as S, we may try a unified description by considering the combined physical system (S + M). But then we will need a new measuring device, M', to provide the initial conditions for the larger system (S + M). This leads to an infinite regress; but the main point is that even though any constraint like a measuring device, M, can in principle be described by more detailed universal laws, the fact is that if you choose to do so you will lose the function of M as a measuring device. This demonstrates that laws cannot describe the pragmatic function of measurement even if they can correctly and completely describe the detailed dynamics of the measuring constraints.

This same argument holds also for control functions which includes the genetic control of protein construction. If we call the controlled system, S, and the control constraints, C, then we can also look at the combined system (S + C) in which case the control function simply disappears into the dynamics. This epistemic irreducibility does not imply any ontological dualism. It arises whenever a distinction must be made between a subject and an object, or in semiotic terms, when a distinction must be made between a symbol and its referent or between syntax and pragmatics. Without this epistemic cut any use of the concepts of measurement of initial conditions and symbolic control of construction would be gratuitous.

"That is, we must always divide the world into two parts, the one being the observed system, the other the observer. In the former, we can follow up all physical processes (in principle at least) arbitrarily precisely. In the latter, this is meaningless. The boundary between the two is arbitrary to a very large extent. . . but this does not change the fact that in each method of description the boundary must be placed somewhere, if the method is not to proceed vacuously, i.e., if a comparison with experiment is to be possible." (von Neumann, 1955, p.419)

https://www.informatics.indiana.edu/rocha/publications/pattee/pattee.html
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A computer program occupies the logical space created by the hardware of a computer. So, it exists as an epiphenomenon if that makes any sense.

So, entropy is an epiphenomenon? The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is an epiphenomenal law?
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So, entropy is an epiphenomenon? The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is an epiphenomenal law?tom

I don't understand how computer programs are related to entropy or the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

I suppose the issue is understanding how emergent properties can emerge from basic systems.
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I'd agree quantum theory is not simple to me and I don't like it much. But while we have no strong weapons against it and its conclusions, there are ones we need to perceive that quantum collapse is one. Ignoring other interpretations, I like the idea that the world without you and the world having you in are much different. "You" stand in here as the observer. It appears you have quite an impact to the world not in anyway small.
Further, it hints me that if you have such a great impact then probably the word is your own, akin to but not identified with the others' worlds.
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(it's the Christmas rush and all my projects are expected to be complete in a few days time :-} )
Haha, I've closed the biggest part of my work already this week, but past 2 weeks were very busy for me as well. It's not only about Christmas, but end of the year stuff - have to deal with bureaucracy X-)

but you don't seem to have answered my question here; which was really concerned with whether ontological standpoints such as idealism and materialism are necessarily implied by the various forms of religious belief. I don't think so;
Ahh okay, I must have missed that. If that's the case, then I agree with you. I think obviously that ontological standpoints aren't necessarily implied by forms of religious beliefs. But I do think that idealism will generally tend to lean towards being adopted by the religious, while materialism will tend to be adopted more frequently by atheists and non-believers. But I think this is really a false dichotomy, since idealism is really opposed to realism (not just materialism). I'm a realist for the most part, but not a materialist.
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I don't understand how computer programs are related to entropy or the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

I suppose the issue is understanding how emergent properties can emerge from basic systems.

Your claim that computation is an epiphenomenon struck me as rather strange because I had thought that such effects were strictly non-causal, and it seems that the computation itself must be causal. But, perhaps it isn't, perhaps we just line up all the marbles in the right way, and let them roll down the hill.

Maybe tigers are just an epiphenomenon as well, but if computation is an epiphenomenon, then entropy creation certainly is. Entropy and computation are related by information theory, and you can't do a computation without the production of entropy. It seems strange that we have a physical law about an epiphenomenon.

I've not come across a convincing account of emergence. However, as I've understood it, we know it has happened when explanations must take account of the emergent entity. So, our best theory of biodiversity is couched in terms of replicators, selection, variation. None of these emergent properties is even necessarily biological.

I would like to clear up the issue of whether computation is emergent or epiphenominal.
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the simplest answer I have found is quantum mechanics and the physical world. it doesn't mean I'll believe it. I trust its outcomes more than its existence, because its predictions have been correct multiple times.
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the simplest answer I have found is quantum mechanics and the physical world.

In what way is quantum mechanics simpler than the alternatives?
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But I do think that idealism will generally tend to lean towards being adopted by the religious, while materialism will tend to be adopted more frequently by atheists and non-believers. But I think this is really a false dichotomy, since idealism is really opposed to realism (not just materialism). I'm a realist for the most part, but not a materialist.

I agree, idealism seems to be the favored metaphysics for most of the religious.

Whether idealism is the other pole of materialism or of realism is a complicated question, though. I guess it depends on what form of idealism and what form of realism. Thinking in terms of substance; there are idealists who say there is one substance and it is consciousness and materialists who say there is one substance and it is physical.

Then in terms of realism, there are conceptual idealists (like Kant) who say that universals are only in the mind, and there are conceptual realists who say that they are mind-independent (such as Plato).

Or take Spinoza, who some say is a neutral monist. He says there is one substance and it appears as both extensa (material form) and cogitans (idea). Yet if you take his philosophy to its logical conclusion the world does appear to be an idea in the mind of God, and this does seem to lead to the metaphysical primacy of mind. Spinoza can say that God (substance) is extensa (material), though, insofar as He is infinite extension, but it seems more difficult to claim that God is also form, because 'form' implies 'boundary'.
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Then in terms of realism, there are conceptual idealists (like Kant) who say that universals are only in the mind, and there are conceptual realists who say that they are mind-independent (such as Plato).
There's also the neo-Platonist or Aristotelian notion that the forms are both in the mind AND mind-independent. And I think the Kantian transcendental idealism does necessarily slide into a more thorough-going idealism. Because the phenomenal world is necessarily ideal, and the thing-in-itself probably isn't spatial or temporal at all. Space and time are mere forms through which our mind organises sensation. So that means that it's like the computer's desktop. It's an interface that allows us to survive, but not also access truth. Maybe the whole world, if we follow Kant, is formed of pathé as TGW would say - and the phenomenon is just a useful interface for navigating our own pathé. So hunger is primary, and then it gets projected through the forms of space and time into a pain in the stomach associated with food, or whatever.

So materialism is incoherent for a Kantian. Idealism is the only possibility. The sensations, the content of experience, is indeed real - but this just means that it doesn't depend on our own mind, there is no solipsism involved. So we're back to a kind of Berkeley, where the question is where are the sensations (as ideas) coming from?

Yet if you take his philosophy to its logical conclusion the world does appear to be an idea in the mind of God, and this does seem to lead to the metaphysical primacy of mind.
Why do you think so? I see this as one possible interpretation, but why do you think it's the right one?

Spinoza can say that God (substance) is extensa (material), though, insofar as He is infinite extension, but it seems more difficult to claim that God is also form, because 'form' implies 'boundary'.
Well, in Spinoza's system, any given extension has a corresponding idea/thought - that's the parallelism of the attributes. So, technically, infinite extension would necessitate the infinitude of the other attribute as well.

Also in Aristotle, form doesn't imply boundary, and God is form - form being equivalent to act as opposed to potency.

The thing with Spinoza's system is that it allows for other possible parallel attributes. So we experience things as thought and extension, but maybe there are other attributes that are parallel to those that we don't have access to. That's one interpretation of the "infinite attributes" of the one substance.
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Why do you think so? I see this as one possible interpretation, but why do you think it's the right one?

Well, in Spinoza's system, any given extension has a corresponding idea/thought - that's the parallelism of the attributes. So, technically, infinite extension would necessitate the infinitude of the other attribute as well.

I don't have much time this morning, so this'll have to be quick. I agree that for Spinoza every extension has a corresponding idea. This, it seems to me must precisely be both the connection and the distinction between the eternal and the temporal. So, for every temporal extension there is an encompassing eternal idea in God. So, it seems that the eternal is the ideal parallel of the material. This seems to mean that the eternal is mind and the temporal is body; and the dependency logically seems to go one way; that's why I say mind (the eternal) is logically primary. There are probably holes in what I have said here; and I can see that much more thought needs to be given to it; but there it is.
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"I would like to clear up the issue of whether computation is emergent or epiphenominal."
Maybe its neither, once one jettisons the representationalist view of the world in favor of a pragmatist one. Maybe computation is one of a potentially limitless way of describing things, used for a particular purpose, So whether it is seen as a a macro product of a micro process or vice versa is a function of our purposes of description.
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I've not come across a convincing account of emergence. However, as I've understood it, we know it has happened when explanations must take account of the emergent entity. So, our best theory of biodiversity is couched in terms of replicators, selection, variation. None of these emergent properties is even necessarily biological.tom

My understanding is that the incompleteness theorems that Godel postulated can be seen as emergent phenomena from underlying axioms, although unprovable from those very axioms, which would seem like a contradiction of face value. I might be of course wrong about this.
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My understanding is that the incompleteness theorems that Godel postulated can be seen as emergent phenomena from underlying axioms, although unprovable from those very axioms, which would seem like a contradiction of face value. I might be of course wrong about this.

Well, Godel's theorems are deductions from a set of axioms. With a different set of axioms, you are likely to get a different set of deductions. Nothing has emerged or epiphenomenalised.

If you are looking for an emergent phenomenon, then why not Life?
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Not if the set of axioms is entailed by another one which is also consistent with the lower domain set?
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it might take less information to universalize than to be specific.
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I don't have much time this morning, so this'll have to be quick. I agree that for Spinoza every extension has a corresponding idea. This, it seems to me must precisely be both the connection and the distinction between the eternal and the temporal. So, for every temporal extension there is an encompassing eternal idea in God. So, it seems that the eternal is the ideal parallel of the material. This seems to mean that the eternal is mind and the temporal is body; and the dependency logically seems to go one way; that's why I say mind (the eternal) is logically primary. There are probably holes in what I have said here; and I can see that much more thought needs to be given to it; but there it is.
Interesting. I have been pondering this. It is one of the less discussed issues of Spinoza since it impinges on Part V which is often ignored. For example V. XXII. & XXIII. open up the issue that there must exist within God the eternal idea of this particular body - so there is some notion of personhood lingering there. And it is quite evident that ideas can be eternal, while motions (& bodies) not so much.

This idea, which expresses the essence of the body under the form of eternity, is, as we have said, a certain mode of thinking, which belongs to the essence of the mind, and is necessarily eternal. Yet it is not possible that we should remember that we existed before our body, for our body can bear no trace of such existence, neither can eternity be defined in terms of time, or have any relation to time. But, notwithstanding, we feel and know that we are eternal. For the mind feels those things that it conceives by understanding, no less than those things that it remembers. For the eyes of the mind, whereby it sees and observes things, are none other than proofs. Thus, although we do not remember that we existed before the body, yet we feel that our mind, in so far as it involves the essence of the body, under the form of eternity, is eternal, and that thus its existence cannot be defined in terms of time, or explained through duration. Thus our mind can only be said to endure, and its existence can only be defined by a fixed time, in so far as it involves the actual existence of the body. Thus far only has it the power of determining the existence of things by time, and conceiving them under the category of duration.
There is in Spinoza this Gurdjieff-like notion that it is of crucial importance (& urgency) in this life to develop those adequate ideas which are actually what our mind's immortality consists in.
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I would also add that there is a certain other difficulty here. The empirical self (for lack of better words) exists only in-so-far as the body exists (V.P21), since memory and imagination are both necessary for the continued existence of this empirical self:

The extent to which such causes can injure or be of service to the mind will be explained in the Fifth Part. But I would here remark that I consider that a body undergoes death, when the proportion of motion and rest which obtained mutually among its several parts is changed. For I do not venture to deny that a human body, while keeping the circulation of the blood and other properties, wherein the life of a body is thought to consist, may none the less be changed into another nature totally different from its own. There is no reason, which compels me to maintain that a body does not die, unless it becomes a corpse; nay, experience would seem to point to the opposite conclusion. It sometimes happens, that a man undergoes such changes, that I should hardly call him the same. As I have heard tell of a certain Spanish poet, who had been seized with sickness, and though he recovered therefrom yet remained so oblivious of his past life, that he would not believe the plays and tragedies he had written to be his own: indeed, he might have been taken for a grown-up child, if he had also forgotten his native tongue. If this instance seems incredible, what shall we say of infants? A man of ripe age deems their nature so unlike his own, that he can only be persuaded that he too has been an infant by the analogy of other men. However, I prefer to leave such questions undiscussed, lest I should give ground to the superstitious for raising new issues. — E.IV.P39S

So the self sub specie durationis is different from the self sub specie aeternitatis. And indeed, it is this latter self which Spinoza claims is (or can be) eternal. What sort of existence does this latter self have?

PROP. 8. The ideas of particular things, or of modes, that do not exist, must be comprehended in the infinite idea of God, in the same way as the formal essences of particular things or modes are contained in the attributes of God.

Demonstration.—This proposition is evident from the last; it is understood more clearly from the preceding note.

Corollary.—Hence, so long as particular things do not exist, except in so far as they are comprehended in the attributes of God, their representations in thought or ideas do not exist, except in so far as the infinite idea of God exists; and when particular things are said to exist, not only in so far as they are involved in the attributes of God, but also in so far as they are said to continue [ sub specie durationis ], their ideas will also involve existence, through which they are said to continue.

Scholium.—If anyone desires an example to throw more light on this question, I shall, I fear, not be able to give him any, which adequately explains the thing of which I here speak, inasmuch as it is unique; however, I will endeavour to illustrate it as far as possible. The nature of a circle is such that if any number of straight lines intersect within it, the rectangles formed by their segments will be equal to one another; thus, infinite equal rectangles are contained in a circle. Yet none of these rectangles can be said to exist, except in so far as the circle exists; nor can the idea of any of these rectangles be said to exist, except in so far as they are comprehended in the idea of the circle. Let us grant that, from this infinite number of rectangles, two only exist. The ideas of these two not only exist, in so far as they are contained in the idea of the circle, but also as they involve the existence of those rectangles; wherefore they are distinguished from the remaining ideas of the remaining rectangles.
— Part II

PROP. 23. The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but there remains of it something which is eternal.

Demonstration.—There is necessarily in God a concept or idea, which expresses the essence of the human body (last Prop.), which, therefore, is necessarily something appertaining to the essence of the human mind (II. 13.). But we have not assigned to the human mind any duration, definable by time, except in so far as it expresses the actual existence of the body, which is explained through duration, and may be defined by time-that is (II. 8. Coroll.), we do not assign to it duration, except while the body endures. Yet, as there is something, notwithstanding, which is conceived by a certain eternal necessity through the very essence of God (last Prop.); this something, which appertains to the essence of the mind, will necessarily be eternal. Q.E.D.

Scholium.—This idea, which expresses the essence of the body under the form of eternity, is, as we have said, a certain mode of thinking, which belongs to the essence of the mind, and is necessarily eternal. Yet it is not possible that we should remember that we existed before our body, for our body can bear no trace of such existence, neither can eternity be defined in terms of time, or have any relation to time. But, notwithstanding, we feel and know that we are eternal. For the mind feels those things that it conceives by understanding, no less than those things that it remembers. For the eyes of the mind, whereby it sees and observes things, are none other than proofs. Thus, although we do not remember that we existed before the body, yet we feel that our mind, in so far as it involves the essence of the body, under the form of eternity, is eternal, and that thus its existence cannot be defined in terms of time, or explained through duration. Thus our mind can only be said to endure, and its existence can only be defined by a fixed time, in so far as it involves the actual existence of the body. Thus far only has it the power of determining the existence of things by time, and conceiving them under the category of duration.
— Part V
So there is a sense in which this eternal self goes on existing since God goes on existing - although this existence is not of a temporal nature.

This leads me to the conclusion that the ideas we have sub specie durationis cannot be the kind of ideas that exist in the infinite mind of God, but rather only copies of them as it were - and the copies are necessarily parallel to their representations as physically extended natures. If this wasn't the case, and the ideas that existed in God's mind were the same ideas we empirically had, then it would follow via the parallelism of the attributes that for our mind to be eternal, our body would have to be eternal - or in other words that there would be no ideas which don't have a current physical instantiation. And that would ultimately be an anti-Spinozist anthropocentrism since it would lead us to claiming that only our reality - that which we see and perceive empirically now, natura naturata - is real.

In the end we're dealing with a gradation of existence from the very subtle God, to God's infinite ideas, to temporal existence (the parallelism of thought and extension). So we ascend from matter and extension to thought. But thought remains in the realm of the temporal, it is of the mind. Beyond thought is that which gives birth to thought itself (and accessed via the third kind of knowledge directly, or indirectly as a copy via reason), that's the infinite ideas of God. And beyond that it is the abyss of God Himself. And of course all this is also coupled with Spinoza's acosmism, that only God really exists, and the temporal nature is (ultimately) illusory.

And so, to put it in more concrete terms, an extended thing is a less subtle form of a thought, and a thought is a less subtle form of God's infinite idea, and God's infinite idea is a less subtle form of God. In this regard, the distinction between materialism and idealism breaks, since we're just sliding across the same continuum. The difference between eternity and temporality being that in the latter only a limitation of God is given - a shadow as it were. Since God in-Himself contains both A and ~A, temporally only one at a time can be given - indeed obedience to the principle of non-contradiction is the hallmark of being in time as well observed by Schopenhauer. Eternally, mutually contradictory ideas can exist side by side.
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So the self sub specie durationis is different from the self sub specie aeternitatis. And indeed, it is this latter self which Spinoza claims is (or can be) eternal. What sort of existence does this latter self have?

It would seem that if there is a "self sub specie aeternitatis" then it must be eternal. On thinking more about this, I think I have reverted to a common mistake in speaking about the primacy of mind. This seems to be an easy intellectual trap to fall into since we commonly don't think of matter as being eternal. For example, the Buddhists although they speak of interdependent co-arising or dependent origination (ideas which I think would be better combined as interdependent co-origination) seem to often devolve into the 'mind only' mode of thought. But if God has attributes of both infinite thought and infinite extension, then the eternal existence of his modes would be as both. This would mean that the eternal life of the self would be both material and mental (and perhaps infinitely more besides if God has infinite (in the sense of 'infinitely many') attributes. This may be hinted at in the Christian idea of resurrection of the body.

This leads me to the conclusion that the ideas we have sub specie durationis cannot be the kind of ideas that exist in the infinite mind of God, but rather only copies of them as it were - and the copies are necessarily parallel to their representations as physically extended natures.

This sounds about right. Ideas are real spatio-temporal complexes just as bodies are, although in a different way. So our ideas are the temporal face of our (God's) eternal ideas, just as our minds are the temporal expression of our (God's) eternal minds and our bodies are the temporal counterparts of our (God's) eternal bodies. In eternity ideas must be idea, minds must be mind and bodies must be body.The temporal mind cannot understand this fully. We cannot fathom how there could be any diversity, or the possibility of any diversity 'coming out of', eternity.

In the end we're dealing with a gradation of existence from the very subtle God, to God's infinite ideas, to temporal existence (the parallelism of thought and extension). So we ascend from matter and extension to thought. But thought remains in the realm of the temporal, it is of the mind.

This sounds very much like Kabbalism and also Gurdjieff's teaching about finer and courser 'energies'. The latter is comprehensively set forth in Ouspensky's A New Model of the Universe: Principles of the Psychological Method In Its Application to Problems of Science, Religion, and Art. It must be nearly thirty years since I read that book!
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This sounds very much like Kabbalism and also Gurdjieff's teaching about finer and courser 'energies'. The latter is comprehensively set forth in Ouspensky's A New Model of the Universe: Principles of the Psychological Method In Its Application to Problems of Science, Religion, and Art. It must be nearly thirty years since I read that book!
It is also very much found in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, where the distinction is between God's energies and God's essence (refer to energy-essence distinction). As such, at the stage of theosis (or union with God), we achieve union by grace with God's energies, but not with God's essence which necessarily remains incomprehensible & hidden. So in Eastern Orthodox spirituality, spiritual development is also viewed as going from coarser aspects of reality to ever-more subtle ones.

From the link I gave above:
In Eastern Orthodox theology God's essence is called ousia, "all that subsists by itself and which has not its being in another"[ my addition: incidentally ousia is the Greek for substance ;) ], and is distinct from his energies (energeia in Greek, actus in Latin) or activities as actualized in the world.

The ousia of God is God as God is. The essence, being, nature and substance of God as taught in Eastern Christianity is uncreated, and cannot be comprehended in words. According to Lossky, God's ousia is "that which finds no existence or subsistence in another or any other thing".[9] God's ousia has no necessity or subsistence that needs or is dependent on anything other than itself.[9]

It is the energies of God that enable us to experience something of the Divine, at first through sensory perception and then later intuitively or noetically. As St John Damascene states, "all that we say positively of God manifests not his nature but the things about his nature."[10]

All this, as you see, does bear on my reading of Spinoza, as I think Spinoza landed very close to this understanding even though it was likely not available to him by direct sources.
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So there is a sense in which this eternal self goes on existing since God goes on existing

Surely Spinoza here is referring to the immortality of the soul?

The ideas of particular things, or of modes, that do not exist... — Part II

Hence, so long as particular things do not exist, except in so far as they are comprehended in the attributes of God... — Part II

I think this is the distinction between appearance and reality, common to many a metaphysic, whereby 'individual particulars' are not real in their own right - that is the meaning of saying 'they do not exist'. If that was translated from Latin, it would be interesting to see what Latin phrase was translated as 'do not exist'. Because here I think the meaning is that they don't truly exist, but are only real by virtue of them being 'comprehended in the attributes of God'.

if God has attributes of both infinite thought and infinite extension, then the eternal existence of his modes would be as both.

God cannot be 'extended' because anything 'extended' is 'divisible'.
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God cannot be 'extended' because anything 'extended' is 'divisible'.

This is not correct. Bodies, as finite modes of infinite extension, have boundaries, and are hence divisible. You are conflating the idea of infinite extension with the idea of a body.
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Interesting; I must do more reading into Eastern Orthodoxy. :)
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You are conflating the idea of infinite extension with the idea of a body.
Yes, infinite extension is by default unbounded.

I think this is the distinction between appearance and reality, common to many a metaphysic, whereby 'individual particulars' are not real in their own right - that is the meaning of saying 'they do not exist'. If that was translated from Latin, it would be interesting to see what Latin phrase was translated as 'do not exist'. Because here I think the meaning is that they don't truly exist, but are only real by virtue of them being 'comprehended in the attributes of God'.
With regards to the quoted bits from Part II of the Ethics, I doubt Spinoza was referring to the distinction between appearance and reality. Rather he was just referring to particular modes which don't empirically exist right now. For example, your ancestors from 5 generations ago, they don't exist right now, they are inexistent finite modes. And yet, since God exists, and their existence is a mode of God (the one Substance) it follows that in a sense they exist - in the same sense that the infinitude of possible intersecting straight lines exist given a circle:

The nature of a circle is such that if any number of straight lines intersect within it, the rectangles formed by their segments will be equal to one another; thus, infinite equal rectangles are contained in a circle. — Part II
So even if a particular set of lines are not actually drawn right now, they still exist given the nature of the circle from which they emerge in the first place.
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Interesting; I must do more reading into Eastern Orthodoxy. :)
This is a good book (as an introduction) if you haven't already read it.
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Thanks Agustino, I'll look into it.
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I think this is the distinction between appearance and reality, common to many a metaphysic, whereby 'individual particulars' are not real in their own right - that is the meaning of saying 'they do not exist'. If that was translated from Latin, it would be interesting to see what Latin phrase was translated as 'do not exist'. Because here I think the meaning is that they don't truly exist, but are only real by virtue of them being 'comprehended in the attributes of God'.

the Absolute in so far as it is the Absolute cannot really dispense with the phenomenal world, just as the “existence” of the phenomenal world is inconceivable except on the basis of the “existence” of the Absolute, or more properly, the “existence” which is the Absolute itself.

Of course, the Absolute can be conceived by the intellect as being beyond all determinations, and as we have seen earlier, it can even be. intuited as such, in its eternal Unity and absolute unconditionality. We can go even a step further and conceive it as something beyond the condition of unconditionality itself.

But such a view of the Absolute is an event that takes place only in our consciousness. In the realm of extra-mental reality, the Absolute cannot even for a single moment remain without manifesting itself.

As Haydar Amuli says, “the sea, as long as it is the sea, cannot separate itself from the waves; nor can the waves subsist independently of the sea. Moreover, when the sea appears in the form of a wave, the form cannot but be different from the form of another wave, for it is absolutely impossible for two waves to appear in one and the same place under one single form”.

Haydar Amuli recognizes in this peculiar relationship between the sea and the waves an exact image of the ontological relationship between the stage of undifferentiated “existence” and the stage of the differentiated world. He remarks “Know that absolute existence or God is like a limitless ocean, while the determined things and individual existents are like innumerable waves or rivers. Just as the waves and rivers are nothing other than the unfolding of the sea according to the forms required by its own perfections which it possesses qua water as well as by its own peculiarities which it possesses qua sea, so are the determined existents nothing other than the unfolding of absolute existence under those forms that are required by its own essential perfections as well as by its peculiarities belonging to it as its inner articulations”.

“Further, the waves and rivers are not the sea in one respect, while in another they are the same thing as the sea. In fact, the waves and rivers are different from the sea in respect of their being determined and particular. But they are not different from the sea in respect of their own essence and reality, namely, from the point of view of their being pure water. In exactly the same way, the determined existents are different from the Absolute in their being determined and conditioned, but they are not different from it in respect of their own essence and reality which is pure existence. For from this latter viewpoint, they are all nothing other than existence itself”.

It is interesting that Haydar Amuli goes on to analyze this ontological situation from a kind of semantic point of view. He says “The sea, when it is determined by the form of the wave, is called waves. The selfsame water, when determined by the form of the river, is called a river, and when determined by the form of the brook, is called a brook. In the same way it is called rain, snow, ice, etc.. In reality, however, there is absolutely nothing but sea or water, for the wave, river, brook, etc. are merely names indicating the sea. In truth (i.e. in its absolutely unconditioned reality) it bears no name; there is nothing whatsoever to indicate it. No, it is a matter of sheer linguistic convention even to designate it by the word sea itself ”. And he adds that exactly the same is true of “ existence ” or “reality”.

[...]

The most important conclusion to be drawn from a careful consideration of the metaphors that have just been given is that there are recognizable in the metaphysical Reality or the Absolute itself two different dimensions. In the first of these dimensions, which is metaphysically the ultimate stage of Reality, the Absolute is the Absolute in its absoluteness, that is, in its absolute indetermination. It corresponds to the Vedantic concept of the parabrahman, the “Supreme Brahman”, and to the neo-Confucian idea of the wu chi, the “Ultimateless”. Both in Vedanta and Islam, the Absolute at this supreme stage is not even God, for after all “God” is but a determination of the Absolute, in so far at least as it differentiates the Absolute from the world of creation.

In the second of the two domains, the Absolute is still the Absolute, but it is the Absolute in relation to the world. It is the Absolute considered as the ultimate source of the phenomenal world, as Something which reveals itself in the form of Multiplicity. It is only at this stage that the name God or Allah in Islam becomes applicable to the Absolute. It is the stage of the parameshvara, the supreme Lord, in Vedanta, and in the neo-Confucian world-view the position of the t’ai chi, the “ Supreme Ultimate ” which is no other than the wu chi, the “ Ultimate of Nothingness ” as an eternal principle of creativity.

Such is the position generally known as “ oneness of existence ” (wahdat al-wujud) [...] It will be clear by now that it is a serious mistake to consider as it has often been done this position as pure monism or even as “existential monism”. For it has evidently an element of dualism in the sense that it recognizes two different dimensions of reality in the metaphysical structure of the Absolute. Nor is it of course right to regard it as dualism, for the two different dimensions of reality are ultimately, i.e. in the form of coincidentia oppositorum, one and the same thing. The “oneness of existence” is neither monism nor dualism. As a metaphysical vision of Reality based on a peculiar existential experience which consists in seeing Unity in Multiplicity and Multiplicity in Unity, it is something far more subtle and dynamic than philosophical monism or dualism.
— Toshihiko Izutsu
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The “oneness of existence” is neither monism nor dualism. — Toshihiko Izutsu

Right! Very important point and thank you for it. I had a thread on the old Forum, about 'a unity which is not an entity', which explored a similar idea. I think this is an aspect of non-dualism, which is a very elusive concept.

This is a good book (as an introduction) if you haven't already read it.

It's a powerful work, that. I also have a book called A Different Christianity by Martin Amis, who was resident at Mt Athos whilst researching it. I do read some of those Eastern Orthodox theologians but I have to be careful as I could easily be pulled into their orbit ;-)

The ousia of God is God as God is.

Reading those quotes from Spinoza, it is worth recalling that the term 'substance' in philosophy, was translated from 'ousia' in Aristotle. I think it is nearer in meaning to 'being' or 'subject' than what we understand as 'substance'. So, in the case of Spinoza's 'one substance', if it is read as 'one Being', though perhaps not strictly accurate, it does convey something of importance, I think.
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I also have a book called A Different Christianity by Martin Amis
Thanks, I haven't come across that one yet.

I do read some of those Eastern Orthodox theologians but I have to be careful as I could easily be pulled into their orbit ;-)
>:O

I think it is nearer in meaning to 'being' or 'subject' than what we understand as 'substance'.
Yeah, it does cash out in terms of the interrelationship of all (one) existence. Spinoza was using the term in Aristotelian fashion anyway with slight Cartesian tints. Basically, substance was the bearer of modes and predicates (as per Aristotle's definition) and also that which had an independent existence - ie it existed in-itself and did not depend for its existence on another.
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