Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 25

Thread: The world is not made of tiny things according to physics, so why does metaphysics claim it is?

  1. Top | #1
    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    RI
    Posts
    3,939
    Archived
    4,389
    Total Posts
    8,328
    Rep Power
    56

    The world is not made of tiny things according to physics, so why does metaphysics claim it is?

    I don't claim to have any arguments in support of this assertion, but I'm partway through reading a thoroughly interesting and provocative book that argues this very point, called Every Thing Must Go (Amazon link). In it, the authors suggest several things that have upturned my worldview a little bit, among them being the fact that philosophical theories about reality are almost without exception "domesticated" bastardizations of what science actually tells about the world. Among these is the commonsense reductionism of wholes into parts, and parts into smaller parts, implying that reality is stratified into "levels" and that there are things that are true at one level and not another.

    The authors reject all of this as unfounded and outdated, claiming there is no such thing as a "fundamental" reality that rests at a deeper base than "conventional" reality, and that metaphysics should be the project of unifying the sciences while giving primacy to the findings of physics. As it stands, most theories of metaphysics even today are situated at the level of undergraduate introductory chemistry, and since they operate under those naive assumptions, their conclusions are not likely to be true. Worse yet, there is the problem of attempting to "do" metaphysics through contemplation alone, trusting that one's intuition about things like quantity, time, separation, causation, and order are more reliable than the results of exquisitely designed experiments vetted by the international community of researchers that comprise the institution of science.

    I am ignorant of physics, but my reading as of late has given me the impression that the quantum revolution was not simply a matter of showing that the little balls we call atoms are actually made of smaller balls that orbit one another, and those are made of smaller ones that have weird properties. Rather, quantum mechanics implies that there never were any little balls to begin with, never anything orbiting anything else, and that these weird properties are perfectly explicable if you discard the antiquated picture of reality as a container filled with stuff. There are not actually objects nested into other objects, but events and processes described by mathematical relationships (though what is undergoing those processes is not yet clear to me, if it is not some kind of object). This puts the lie to the kind of micro-determinism that seems to still be prevalent in popular philosophy, and even academic philosophy if the authors are accurate in their criticisms of it (the book is over 10 years old, however).

    So, while it's not a badge of honor for me by any means, I acknowledge that my basic idea of physics was that it described the behavior of tiny particles and how they operate, and that all of space and time was the result of these lower-level interactions, some of which are inherently unpredictable--but those are just special cases that don't really apply at large scales. Thus far, I'm entertaining the hypothesis that this view, while familiar and superficially understandable, is deeply, literally false. In trying to picture the perennial problems of metaphysics, it seems that we are bound to regress into comprehensible but inaccurate toy models, and to draw conclusions that are satisfying instead of true.

    I look forward to delving into this more, but anybody with some knowledge of physics can chime in to support or deny the main theses of this book. I have just finished reading Carlo Rovelli's most recent book The Order of Time, and already I sense that the discussions we sometimes have on this forum (about the infinity of the past, for example) are purely exercises in semantics predicated on huge misunderstandings about physics.

  2. Top | #2
    Gone
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    4,779
    Archived
    2,812
    Total Posts
    7,591
    Rep Power
    57
    Eh... the world DO behave different on different scales.
    So that isnt wrong.
    Objects are creations of our human minds so, yes. The world does not consist of objects.

  3. Top | #3
    Elder Contributor
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    Here
    Posts
    21,766
    Archived
    16,553
    Total Posts
    38,319
    Rep Power
    72
    Physicists don't know what makes up matter.

    They only know how it behaves.

    They have equations.

    Not an understanding of what things ultimately are.

  4. Top | #4
    Veteran Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2017
    Location
    seattle
    Posts
    4,752
    Rep Power
    11
    Looks like yet another book weaving science and speculation. Perhaps anti science. There is the New Age Mysticism stuff like Deepak Chopra. Back in the 70s The Dancing Wu Li Masters and The Tao Of Physics were popular books.

    What I always object o is referring to philosophy as some organized operative function with a point to it. Philosophy is a catch all phrase. Specific philosophies which never all agree come from individuals. Therein lies the rub. Science goers on regardless of how you think about it. Philosophies differ on views. Science when tested becomes indisputable within the boundaries of the models. There is no way to unambiguously prove or disprove a philosophy.

    It has been on the science forum. Those who claim science is philosophy, that they do philosophy, therefore they do science.

    Science is mathematical models. IMO there is no philosophy to it. Philosophy can weigh in with ethics, morality, and meaning. That is what philosophy does.

  5. Top | #5
    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    RI
    Posts
    3,939
    Archived
    4,389
    Total Posts
    8,328
    Rep Power
    56
    Quote Originally Posted by Juma View Post
    Eh... the world DO behave different on different scales.
    So that isnt wrong.
    Objects are creations of our human minds so, yes. The world does not consist of objects.
    Why do you acknowledge that objects are creations of the human mind, but insist that "different scales" are actually present out there in reality? Isn't it a lot easier to imagine that humans evolved to only pay attention to the sliver of reality that makes its way past our sense organs, and thus we have to impose an artificial system of levels upon it to make sense of its behavior?

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    Looks like yet another book weaving science and speculation. Perhaps anti science. There is the New Age Mysticism stuff like Deepak Chopra. Back in the 70s The Dancing Wu Li Masters and The Tao Of Physics were popular books.

    What I always object o is referring to philosophy as some organized operative function with a point to it. Philosophy is a catch all phrase. Specific philosophies which never all agree come from individuals. Therein lies the rub. Science goers on regardless of how you think about it. Philosophies differ on views. Science when tested becomes indisputable within the boundaries of the models. There is no way to unambiguously prove or disprove a philosophy.

    It has been on the science forum. Those who claim science is philosophy, that they do philosophy, therefore they do science.

    Science is mathematical models. IMO there is no philosophy to it. Philosophy can weigh in with ethics, morality, and meaning. That is what philosophy does.
    Well, I can tell you that the book is not anti-science. As a matter of fact, the first chapter establishes exactly why "scientism" should not be a dirty word. The whole enterprise of the authors is to eliminate from the metaphysical lexicon anything that doesn't comport with the most recent, vetted, peer-reviewed research in physics.

  6. Top | #6
    Contributor ruby sparks's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2017
    Location
    Northern Ireland
    Posts
    5,566
    Rep Power
    13
    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    There are not actually objects nested into other objects, but events and processes described by mathematical relationships (though what is undergoing those processes is not yet clear to me, if it is not some kind of object).
    (my bold)

    One option, I believe, is energy. Another is information.

    Personally, I find it hard to get my head around the idea, for example, that what we call matter might be a secondary/tertiary/whatever manifestation of information (as in saying that certain information 'has'/contains/manifests as/whatever a CD rather than that the CD has or contains information) but there you go. That might only say something about my limitations.

  7. Top | #7
    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    RI
    Posts
    3,939
    Archived
    4,389
    Total Posts
    8,328
    Rep Power
    56
    Quote Originally Posted by ruby sparks View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    There are not actually objects nested into other objects, but events and processes described by mathematical relationships (though what is undergoing those processes is not yet clear to me, if it is not some kind of object).
    (my bold)

    One option, I believe, is energy. Another is information.

    Personally, I find it hard to get my head around the idea, for example, that what we call matter might be a secondary/tertiary/whatever manifestation of information (as in saying that certain information 'has'/contains/manifests as/whatever a CD rather than that the CD has or contains information) but there you go. That might only say something about my limitations.
    A lot of it comes down to words. If we're being literal, energy isn't a "stuff", it's an abstraction of what needs to be present for a process to move forward. Information is a little more complex and I don't know the latest thinking on that.

    The book is getting very technical for me, not in terms of the science but the philosophical arguments and counters are very dense. I'm still gleaning what I can.

    One nugget I found interesting was this idea that humans naturally think about reality in terms of what the authors call the "container" metaphor. So many of our expressions, in almost all languages, revolve around being in something, in a fight, in the conversation, out of the game, going into labor, coming out of a depression, and those aren't even physical objects per se. For some reason, we want to picture the world as made up of holders and their contents, both literally and figuratively. To your point about limitations, it's so ingrained in our thinking that we have to be reminded of it in a book to notice that's it's actually kind of odd. There's no obvious reason why being enclosed inside something else should be such a dominant metaphor in our language and imagination, apart from just evolving that way to better understand our surroundings (at our scale, which included plenty of things-within-things to pay attention to). Much of metaphysics, the authors argue, is hindered by applying that ancient mental schema to the whole universe as if it were a fundamental property, and not just a habit our ancestors picked up to help them visualize stashing their food inside a hollow tree.

  8. Top | #8
    Veteran Member phands's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    New York, Manhattan, Upper West Side
    Posts
    1,976
    Archived
    1
    Total Posts
    1,977
    Rep Power
    26
    Intersting article related to this on Aeon just this week...

    https://aeon.co/essays/atomism-is-ba...n-the-universe

    Out of nowhere

    Does everything in the world boil down to basic units – or can emergence explain how distinctive new things arise?


    If you construct a Lego model of the University of London’s Senate House – the building that inspired the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four – the Lego blocks themselves remain unchanged. Take apart the structure, reassemble the blocks in the shape of the Great Pyramid of Giza or the Eiffel Tower, and the shape, weight and colour of the blocks stay the same.


    This approach, applied to the world at large, is known as atomism. It holds that everything in nature is made up of tiny, immutable parts. What we perceive as change and flux are just cogs turning in the machine of the Universe – a huge but ultimately comprehensible mechanism that is governed by universal laws and composed of smaller units. Trying to identify these units has been the focus of science and technology for centuries. Lab experiments pick out the constituents of systems and processes; factories assemble goods from parts composed of even smaller parts; and the Standard Model tells us about the fundamental entities of modern physics.


    But when phenomena don’t conform to this compositional model, we find them hard to understand. Take something as simple as a smiling baby: it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to explain a baby’s beaming smile by looking at the behaviour of the constituent atoms of the child in question, let alone in terms of its subatomic particles such as gluons, neutrinos and electrons. It would be better to resort to developmental psychology, or even a narrative account (‘The father smiled at the baby, and the baby smiled back’). Perhaps a kind of fundamental transformation has occurred, producing some new feature or object that can’t be reduced to its parts.


    The notion of emergence can help us to see what’s going on here.
    Read on at the above link.
    “Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” Terry Pratchett

  9. Top | #9
    Contributor ruby sparks's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2017
    Location
    Northern Ireland
    Posts
    5,566
    Rep Power
    13
    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by ruby sparks View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    There are not actually objects nested into other objects, but events and processes described by mathematical relationships (though what is undergoing those processes is not yet clear to me, if it is not some kind of object).
    (my bold)

    One option, I believe, is energy. Another is information.

    Personally, I find it hard to get my head around the idea, for example, that what we call matter might be a secondary/tertiary/whatever manifestation of information (as in saying that certain information 'has'/contains/manifests as/whatever a CD rather than that the CD has or contains information) but there you go. That might only say something about my limitations.
    A lot of it comes down to words. If we're being literal, energy isn't a "stuff", it's an abstraction of what needs to be present for a process to move forward. Information is a little more complex and I don't know the latest thinking on that.

    The book is getting very technical for me, not in terms of the science but the philosophical arguments and counters are very dense. I'm still gleaning what I can.

    One nugget I found interesting was this idea that humans naturally think about reality in terms of what the authors call the "container" metaphor. So many of our expressions, in almost all languages, revolve around being in something, in a fight, in the conversation, out of the game, going into labor, coming out of a depression, and those aren't even physical objects per se. For some reason, we want to picture the world as made up of holders and their contents, both literally and figuratively. To your point about limitations, it's so ingrained in our thinking that we have to be reminded of it in a book to notice that's it's actually kind of odd. There's no obvious reason why being enclosed inside something else should be such a dominant metaphor in our language and imagination, apart from just evolving that way to better understand our surroundings (at our scale, which included plenty of things-within-things to pay attention to). Much of metaphysics, the authors argue, is hindered by applying that ancient mental schema to the whole universe as if it were a fundamental property, and not just a habit our ancestors picked up to help them visualize stashing their food inside a hollow tree.
    Yes to all of that.

    Certain ways of conceiving (such as your example) do seem to predominate, and as you imply, sometimes the fun of realising the limitations of that is an enjoyable end in itself. Then at other times it induces headaches.

    One 'fundamentalesque paradigm' (probably not the best term but whatever) that I have read of is that we (and perhaps every living or perceiving thing) tend to/have to conceive (and perceive) of everything in terms of contrasts (some have suggested metaphors but I think that's going too far) of which 'inside' (your example) and 'outside' might only be one instance. Could we conceive of something without comparing it to something else? I'm sure that similarities also play a role, but my feeling is that it might be secondary.

  10. Top | #10
    Gone
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    4,779
    Archived
    2,812
    Total Posts
    7,591
    Rep Power
    57
    Quote Originally Posted by phands View Post
    Intersting article related to this on Aeon just this week...

    https://aeon.co/essays/atomism-is-ba...n-the-universe

    Out of nowhere

    Does everything in the world boil down to basic units – or can emergence explain how distinctive new things arise?


    If you construct a Lego model of the University of London’s Senate House – the building that inspired the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four – the Lego blocks themselves remain unchanged. Take apart the structure, reassemble the blocks in the shape of the Great Pyramid of Giza or the Eiffel Tower, and the shape, weight and colour of the blocks stay the same.


    This approach, applied to the world at large, is known as atomism. It holds that everything in nature is made up of tiny, immutable parts. What we perceive as change and flux are just cogs turning in the machine of the Universe – a huge but ultimately comprehensible mechanism that is governed by universal laws and composed of smaller units. Trying to identify these units has been the focus of science and technology for centuries. Lab experiments pick out the constituents of systems and processes; factories assemble goods from parts composed of even smaller parts; and the Standard Model tells us about the fundamental entities of modern physics.


    But when phenomena don’t conform to this compositional model, we find them hard to understand. Take something as simple as a smiling baby: it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to explain a baby’s beaming smile by looking at the behaviour of the constituent atoms of the child in question, let alone in terms of its subatomic particles such as gluons, neutrinos and electrons. It would be better to resort to developmental psychology, or even a narrative account (‘The father smiled at the baby, and the baby smiled back’). Perhaps a kind of fundamental transformation has occurred, producing some new feature or object that can’t be reduced to its parts.


    The notion of emergence can help us to see what’s going on here.
    Read on at the above link.
    Nah. Sounds a batshit crazy person that cannot differ between descriptional levels and actual

Similar Threads

  1. The Terribly Tiny God of MAGA Christians
    By ZiprHead in forum Political Discussions
    Replies: 4
    Last Post: 04-12-2019, 05:51 PM
  2. Replies: 15
    Last Post: 08-04-2018, 05:11 AM
  3. Things Religious People Just Made Up: An incomplete list
    By Sarpedon in forum Religious Texts
    Replies: 12
    Last Post: 06-14-2018, 05:12 PM
  4. Quantum physics can explain the suffering in the world!
    By Underseer in forum Pseudoscience
    Replies: 12
    Last Post: 06-05-2018, 10:46 PM
  5. Replies: 18
    Last Post: 08-01-2017, 10:27 PM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •