• Dusty of Sky
    42
    Physicalism is the idea that nothing exists except for concrete objects in the material world. But physics is the study of the mathematic principles which determine the behavior of these material objects. And these abstract principles (e.g. F=G(m1m2)/r^2) surely don't exist in the material world. You can't locate them under a microscope. So acknowledging that the laws of physics exist seems to contradict the theory of physicalism. Thoughts?
  • Wayfarer
    8.1k
    And these abstract principles (e.g. F=G(m1m2)/r^2) surely don't exist in the material world. You can't locate them under a microscope. So acknowledging that the laws of physics exist seems to contradict the theory of physicalism. Thoughts?Dusty of Sky

    :up:
  • TogetherTurtle
    344
    Perhaps our equations are just representations of how we understand what is real. All an equation does is explain a phenomenon or system in a way that we can communicate to others. I guess you could say that the equations ARE the concrete objects, just broken down in a way we can understand them.

    Ideas are still Nouns. If you think about it further, aren't all nouns ideas? My cat exists outside of my mind, but I can only observe him from within my mind. I can tell you his name, and you may be able to identify him. My cat's name (Rico) is the equation and my cat is the concrete object. Is it not correct to say that my cat is Rico? The molecules that make up his cells that make up his body are certainly more complicated than that, so if you want I could go into more detail about his features and personality and chemical makeup. You could say something like Name+Genetics+Experience=Rico. That is a simple albeit relatively accurate formula. The more complicated the formula, the more accurate it seems.

    I've never attempted to explain my cat as an equation and I don't know how I feel about doing it either. Regardless, I've always seen language as the bridge between what is real in our minds and what is real in the outside world. I consider equations a kind of language. Language can be broken down to the vibrations of your vocal cords to make different sounds. That sounds like something that can be watched under a microscope to me.
  • Janus
    7.9k
    Accepting all of that, the pertinent philosophical question would seem to be: "Then why the hell do you have a cat?"

    Seriously, though, it depends on the kind of physicalism we are talking about. Regarding the OP I doubt many physicalists, or any sensible physicalist, would claim that nothing exists except "concrete objects in a material world" since elementary particles are not, according to current physical theory, any such thing; they are fields or waves or intensities in a field. On that conception of the physical, why could ideas, equations or theories not also be such?
  • TogetherTurtle
    344
    Accepting all of that, the pertinent philosophical question would seem to be: "Then why the hell do you have a cat?"Janus

    I suppose his equation pleases me. I mean, he did just claw me, but I still like him. Surely.

    Enjoyment of Cats(Rico)-Being Clawed=Love for Rico

    I guess.
  • Valentinus
    498

    The element I have the most difficulty understanding is the matter of corresponding identity. If brain states are matches of cognitive events, the only way to check if that is the case appeals to something beyond either register.
  • Janus
    7.9k
    That seems well enough justified! :smile:
  • Andrew M
    698
    Physicalism is the idea that nothing exists except for concrete objects in the material world. But physics is the study of the mathematic principles which determine the behavior of these material objects. And these abstract principles (e.g. F=G(m1m2)/r^2) surely don't exist in the material world. You can't locate them under a microscope. So acknowledging that the laws of physics exist seems to contradict the theory of physicalism. Thoughts?Dusty of Sky

    This reminds me of Gilbert Ryle's example of a foreigner visiting Oxford and remarking that he had seen the colleges and the libraries, but was wondering where the University was.

    So I think one approach for a physicalist here is to say that the laws of physics aren't some additional thing that exists beyond what is observed. Instead their existence, if it is that, just is in the way that those observed things are organized.

    (As it happens, Newton's Law is no longer considered to be one of those abstract principles since it's been superseded by GR.)
  • Dusty of Sky
    42
    If I understand your cat analogy correctly, you are saying that just as you can represent a complex organism (your cat) with a simple name (Rico), you can represent an enormous amount of physical phenomena (for instance, all the gravitational activity in the history of our universe) with a simple equation (F=G(m1m2)/r^2). So the law of universal gravitation is not something abstract which exists outside of the material world. It's just the name we use to designate the sum of a particular variety of phenomena that occurs within the material world. Please correct me if I misunderstood you.

    But I think there's a serious problem with your argument. When people refer to laws of physics like gravity, they are not referring to the sum of a particular sort of phenomena. They are referring to a principle which they understand to govern the material world. If we use your definition of physical laws, then the laws will lose their character of necessity. If the law of universal gravitation just refers to a type of movement, then there's no reason why objects of mass should necessarily attract other objects of mass. Laws of physics would cease to be laws and become mere description of the past. And if gravity is just a simplified description, then I have two questions. 1) why have all objects observed in all controlled experiments always obeyed the law of gravity (as well as every other well established law of physics)? and 2) why should objects continue to obey the law of gravitation in the future? If it's just a description of past phenomena, then perhaps I'll suddenly float up into space. There's no good reason to think I won't unless we understand the gravity equation to refer not to a concrete object, but to an abstract principle which governs the physical universe.

    I'm using the words physical and material interchangeably. So if elementary particles aren't concrete objects in the physical world, then how are they physical? They can't be abstract objects in the physical world. So they're not in the physical world. But if they're not in the physical world, which I understand to include all physical things, then they are not physical things. And isn't the core tenet of physicalism that only physical things exists?

    I think my reply to TogetherTurtle basically covers your argument. If the laws of physics are just descriptions of the way things happen to be organized, then they are not laws. And if the laws of physics aren't actually laws, then why does the universe obey them. It can't be random. What are the odds that every physical object, in the absence of laws, would always act as if it were governed by laws? Statistically infinitesimal, I would say.
  • Dusty of Sky
    42
    I agree. For instance, if you smell roses, does that mean your neurons smell like roses? Obviously not. So how can you neurologically define the smell of roses? You can't. All you can do is point to the spots on your brain that light up when you smell roses.
  • Janus
    7.9k
    I'm using the words physical and material interchangeably. So if elementary particles aren't concrete objects in the physical world, then how are they physical? They can't be abstract objects in the physical world. So they're not in the physical world. But if they're not in the physical world, which I understand to include all physical things, then they are not physical things. And isn't the core tenet of physicalism that only physical things exists?Dusty of Sky

    Physics is physical theory, and not all of what is material or physical in the ordinary sense of those terms is describable or explicable in those fundamental terms. Which is to say that disciplines like geology and biology would become unintelligible if you tried to express our understandings of them in terms of QM or Relativity.

    But it doesn't seem to follow that we cannot consistently and coherently say that the entities that are studied in the disciplines of biology, and geology are ultimately constituted by elementary particles or fields. Those entities are complex structures that we think are constituted by, but are not reducible to, or "nothing but" those fundamental entities.
  • Janus
    7.9k
    The element I have the most difficulty understanding is the matter of corresponding identity. If brain states are matches of cognitive events, the only way to check if that is the case appeals to something beyond either register.Valentinus

    Right, we may be able to show that there are brain processes which correlate with cognitive events, but we can never, it seems, definitively show that the latter are reducible to the former. There would not seem to be any contradiction involved in saying that the latter are constituted by the former, while acknowledging that there are emergent properties which cannot be coherently and comprehensively understood in terms of the former, though.
  • Dusty of Sky
    42
    I agree with all of that. But don't physicalists believe that everything is reducible to physical entities and nothing else exists?
  • Janus
    7.9k
    If you are composed of neurons or cells or both, why would that entail that it should be necessary that they experience what you experience, if experience is an emergent property of complex biological systems? Or even with the philosophical notion of pan-experientialism where experience is fundamental (see Whitehead's Process and Reality), there is no claim being made that experience is the same, or even of the same kind, for complex and simple entities.
  • Wayfarer
    8.1k
    Don't physicalists believe that everything is reducible to physical entities and nothing else exists?Dusty of Sky

    Indeed they do. The key word is 'reducible to'. Another way of putting it is that such things as consciousness, ideas, thoughts, and so on, supersede on the physical (per the SEP entry on physicalism. If someone doesn't hold that, then they're not physicalist, because physicalism is above all monistic, i.e. there is only one basic category of stuff, and that is the physical.
  • Wayfarer
    8.1k
    The element I have the most difficulty understanding is the matter of corresponding identity. If brain states are matches of cognitive events, the only way to check if that is the case appeals to something beyond either register.Valentinus

    One way to argue against that, is to say that such capacities as rational inference and abstract thought are of a different order to anything disclosed by the study of the physical. Or, put another way, there's no coherent means to get from the laws which govern physics and chemistry, to those which govern mathematics and language, as they belong to a different domain. Nor will any amount of neuroscience reveal anything about the foundations of logic, so to speak, as it inheres solely in the relationships of ideas, not on the relationships of physical substances.

    That suggests a form of dualism, which I'm willing to defend, if need be.
  • Janus
    7.9k
    Again, I think it depends on the physicalist. There is a philosophical position called Eliminative Physicalism, which might be taken to be saying that. But on the face of it, to say that while adhering to the common notion of "physical" (meaning something like 'sensible' or 'able to be sensed') would seem to be such a blatant contradiction of modern scientific understanding and commonsense as to suggest that even the eliminative physicalists must have something else in mind, since they are obviously not stupid people (for example, see the Churchlands).

    The best plan, if you want to critique them, would be to study their works to ascertain just what it is they are saying. There are some on these forums who go on endlessly about how ridiculous and deplorable these eliminative physicalists are, and yet when you question them, you discover that they have not read any of their actual works. They just rely on secondary articles and book reviews from those who share their own prejudices. This is nothing more than confirmation bias at work.
  • Dusty of Sky
    42
    If I understand your use of the term 'emergent' correctly, you mean that the whole which emerges is somehow greater than the sum of the parts from which it emerges. So you could not come to an understanding of the smell of roses just by analyzing each individual neuron involved in producing the olfactory experience. But is it even theoretically possible to understand experience using neurology? A painting is greater than the sum of its paint droplets. But that's because, along with the individual droplets, there are also geometrical relations between those droplets. And we understand how geometric principles transform individual points into complex shapes. But what sort of principles could we use to correlate simple neurological activities with the complex experiences they supposedly produce? Maybe I'm just not imaginative enough, but I don't see how that's possible. And if the emergence of experiences from neurons doesn't occur in accordance with clear principles, then it seems like the word emergence is just a more mundane sounding substitute for 'infusion by the holy spirit' or 'transcendent awakening.'

    Regarding physicalism, I am not arguing against any particular eliminative physicalists. Maybe physicalism, like humanism or conservatism, is one of those philosophies which continues to evolve and branch out. In that case, there doesn't seem to be any point in critiquing it, since its defenders can simply claim 'not all physicalists think that' or 'physicalists haven't believed that since 1917.' But the definition of physicalism I was using was the simple one that you get in encyclopedias, namely that everything is ultimately reducible to physical entities.
  • Janus
    7.9k
    But what sort of principles could we use to correlate simple neurological activities with the complex experiences they supposedly produce? Maybe I'm just not imaginative enough, but I don't see how that's possible. And if the emergence of experiences from neurons doesn't occur in accordance with clear principles, then it seems like the word emergence is just a more mundane sounding substitute for 'infusion by the holy spirit' or 'transcendent awakening.'

    .....But the definition of physicalism I was using was the simple one that you get in encyclopedias, namely that everything is ultimately reducible to physical entities.
    Dusty of Sky

    I don't claim that it will ever be possible to precisely correlate brain activity with complex experiential processes. But there does not seem to be anything in principle wrong with the idea that there may be neural processes correlated with all experiences. We just have to decide which, on the available evidence is more plausible: that there are neural processes correlated with experiences or that there are not, and more strictly that there are neural processes correlated with all experiences or not.

    So ,emergence is one possible explanation and "infusion by the holy spirit" or 'transcendent awakening" might be others. How will you decide as to which is the more plausible?

    In regard to your definition: what does "reducible" here mean, though? Does it mean explicable? Nothing but? And what is your definition of a physical entity?
  • Dusty of Sky
    42
    Regarding neurons, I agree that we should try to find the most plausible explanation for experience. Neuroscience seems to be a better candidate than vaguely defined notions of spirits and souls. But I still think we can do better. The P-Zombie and Mary's Room thought experiments demonstrate what to me seem like serious problems with the idea that all experiences are caused by neural processes. However, I'm open to the idea that all experiences are correlated with neural processes.

    Regarding physicalism, I'll try to give adequate definitions of the terms you asked for. By 'reducible', I mean that nothing in addition is required to explain. So I mean both explicable and nothing but. By physical entity, I mean fundamental particles and the composite objects that are made of fundamental particles. Maybe space-time should also be included as a physical entity.
  • Janus
    7.9k
    By physical entity, I mean fundamental particles and the composite objects that are made of fundamental particles.Dusty of Sky

    What about physical properties that are not themselves entities; like wetness for example?
  • Dusty of Sky
    42
    If you mean wetness phenomenologically, then it's definitely not a physical entity. If you mean liquidity, then wetness is reducible to the composite state of physical entities.
  • Janus
    7.9k
    Why should you think that wetness, as liquidity, is "reducible to the composite state of physical entities" whereas, phenomenologically speaking, it is not? Can you explain how liquidity is reducible in the way you say it is?

    The other point is that a physicalist, in order to be counted as any kind of physicalist, does not need to say that wetness, considered either way, is "reducible to the composite state of physical entities", but might rather say that it is an irreducible emergent physical property.
  • Dusty of Sky
    42
    Perhaps I should brush up on my physics, but I think that the liquid state of matter is fairly simple to define. It corresponds to certain pressures and temperates. And if something is liquid, that means that it will assume the shape of its container. It has a fixed volume. And it will behave according to the laws of fluid dynamics. I think physics gives us a fairly comprehensive definition of liquidity. Phenomenologically, wetness is the feeling that something is wet. It doesn't exist in the object which we perceive as wet, but in our own consciousness.
  • Janus
    7.9k
    But you still have not explained how a composite of microphysical entities produces the phenomenon of liquidity. I don't know if there are any comprehensive explanations of this, but of course I am not denying such an explanation is possible, even if perhaps only in principle.

    When it comes to the phenomenological feeling of wetness; why say that is "in our own consciousness" rather than saying it is in the physical or material interaction between liquids and sentient bodies?
  • Dusty of Sky
    42
    I don't know enough about physics to say for sure. But from what I remember, the four states of matter are clearly defined. They don't have any mysterious emergent properties. Solids have fixed shape and volume, liquids have fixed volume but unfixed shape, gasses have unfixed shape and volume, and plasmas are ionized gasses. Am I missing something?

    Nothing that we experience is the direct representation of an interaction between our bodies and the world. First, it gets processed through our brain (and perhaps a non-physical mind as well). So the phenomenological feeling of wetness can only be a mediated result of the body's interaction with a liquid.
  • Janus
    7.9k
    Am I missing something?Dusty of Sky

    You are offering definitions or descriptions, but these don't seem to amount to explanations.

    Nothing that we experience is the direct representation of an interaction between our bodies and the world. First, it gets processed through our brain (and perhaps a non-physical mind as well). So the phenomenological feeling of wetness can only be a mediated result of the body's interaction with a liquid.Dusty of Sky

    To be sure there are neural processes within the body that, along with physical contact with the liquid give rise to the feeling of wetness. What is it that feels wet, though, apart from our bodies or parts of our bodies? Our brains don't feel wet, in fact we don't feel our brains at all. If I dive into water my whole body feels wet. If I dip just the tip of a finger into a liquid it is only my fingertip that feels wet.
  • Dusty of Sky
    42
    You are offering definitions or descriptions, but these don't seem to amount to explanations.Janus

    Why not? I'm sure there's more to be said. But can you find me any scientifically observed properties of liquids which can't be explained in terms of basic physical concepts like shape, volume, motion, temperate and pressure?

    To be sure there are neural processes within the body that, along with physical contact with the liquid give rise to the feeling of wetness. What is it that feels wet, though, apart from our bodies or parts of our bodies? Our brains don't feel wet, in fact we don't feel our brains at all. If I dive into water my whole body feels wet. If I dip just the tip of a finger into a liquid it is only my fingertip that feels wet.Janus

    Our minds coordinate visual and bodily sensations to form a distinct impression of body parts like fingertips. And when one of our body parts is wet, our minds associate the sensations of wetness with the body parts from which they originate. But the feelings themselves are in the mind. If you jump in pool without a brain, the feeling of wetness will not occur. In the context of our current argument, I'm using mind and brain interchangeably.
  • Janus
    7.9k
    I'm asking for an explanation of just how the physical property of liquidity arise from a liquids purported constituent particles. I can't see that you have given anything like that so far.

    Our minds coordinate visual and bodily sensations to form a distinct impression of body parts like fingertips. And when one of our body parts is wet, our minds associate the sensations of wetness with the body parts from which they originate. But the feelings themselves are in the mind. If you jump in pool without a brain, the feeling of wetness will not occur. In the context of our current argument, I'm using mind and brain interchangeably.Dusty of Sky

    Aren't you relying on science to tell you all that? I can't tell whether you are accepting or rejecting physical explanations of the experience of wetness.

    You might want to say that all of our experience is in our brains, but if all of science is also only in your brain then how would you know what the notion "in our brains" even means?

    Perhaps you mean to say that the models of experience that are created, including the models of the brain itself, are in our brains, but that would be to suggest that there is a real brain that corresponds to our models. How could you know that?

    If there were a real, physical brain that corresponds to our models, why would there not be a whole world of other real physical objects which correspond to other models, which are not in our physical brains?

    The corollary of this kind of thinking seems to be a weird kind of dualism like Descartes'. The you have the problem of how something physical could interact with something non-physical.
  • TogetherTurtle
    344
    They are referring to a principle which they understand to govern the material world. If we use your definition of physical laws, then the laws will lose their character of necessity. If the law of universal gravitation just refers to a type of movement, then there's no reason why objects of mass should necessarily attract other objects of mass.Dusty of Sky

    I meant that while gravity is a real thing that we can observe, the name "gravity" simply tells me what you are talking about. It's a useful short term for when not everyone at the dinner table understands math. So the name "gravity" only exists within our minds, but the actual phenomena is what is undeniably real.

    Well, undeniable to an extent. You mention that these names turn into descriptions of the past, and you would be absolutely correct. After all, we can not know and study the future. Rico may one day have white fur instead of orange, and while I will obviously be confused about how that happened, you can't blame me for thinking he was orange.

    Essentially, I see science as a whole as reverse engineering nature. No one can tell you if you are right in science. Sure, a supervisor or respected elder may tell you what they know, but there is no answer key on the field. Gravity may be a whole lot of hoo-ha. I don't think it is, I hope it isn't, but if you think it is, you still have to explain everything gravity does. While flat earthers have more of a conundrum than a theory, they are still at least attempting to explain what they see.

    So, what is real is the phenomena. Objects are naturally drawn toward each other. My cat is orange.

    The name can be simple or complex. Gravity can be F=G(m1m2)/r^2 or just simply gravity. Rico can be Rico, or the sum of his genetic code plus his experiences of the world, plus his name, etc.

    However, different people explain things in different ways. To a flat earther, what you call "gravity" is simply flat Earth falling at 9.8m/s. You can tell him his definition is wrong, and I would agree, but he is still talking about the same thing we all experience.

    What we observe could change tomorrow and never change back. As so, I believe our names and definitions should change with them. Of course, I don't think gravity is ever going to change, but we can only know the past and use that to predict the future.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    5.9k
    But you still have not explained how a composite of microphysical entities produces the phenomenon of liquidity.Janus

    But can you find me any scientifically observed properties of liquids which can't be explained in terms of basic physical concepts like shape, volume, motion, temperate and pressure?Dusty of Sky

    Oh look, Janus has reversed the roles, asking Dusty to defend physicalism. Janus, why are you asking Dusty to defend physicalist principles? if you recognize that liquidity cannot be explained by physical principles, then why not just accept the principles which Dusty is putting forward, and follow the conclusion which is made concerning physicalism?

    The you have the problem of how something physical could interact with something non-physical.Janus

    The problem of how the physical interacts with the non-physical was solved a long time ago by Plato, through the introduction of a third principle, the medium between the two. This is called "Plato's tripartite soul", mind, body and the medium spirit. Look it up. Descartes did not adequately describe this principle and so reintroduced the problem of interaction to anyone who does not look beyond Cartesian principles to understand dualism. However, anyone who has studied dualist principles with more effort will know that interaction is a non-issue, which was resolved for western philosophers prior to the life of Jesus.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment