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Prior Knowledge

Monday, March 21, 2005

Immaterial Physicalism

This is an idea I had some time last year and as there are no current posts on the blog I thought I might share it with you. No doubt no one will agree with it but I am looking forward to hearing why.

Basically the view arises from the following two considerations: (1) The materialist claim is that everything is extended. The essence of extension is that it is dividable. There exist some things which are not dividable, such as gravity and other fields. (I should also note that there is a tradition of existence being connected to oneness, if something can be divided then it does not have oneness and thus does not exist, all that exists are the parts that make it up). Thus we have the immaterial half of the thesis. (2) Plain old physicalism; the physical facts exhaust the facts. It just so happens that the physical picture contains some non-extended things. I would like to argue that in fact all physical things are essentially non-extended and that it is the combination of an infinitude of non-extended things that any extended things arise.

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  • Is infinity times 0 any more than 0?

    3/21/2005 10:22:00 PM  

  • Like Patrick said. "the combination of an infinitude of non-extended things" would be, well, a really big bunch of non-extended things. You will need to suppose at least one other substance, a thinking substance or some other substance that discriminates between the accidents of the non-extended substances, thus the *appearance* of extension or the *phenomena described as* extension arise from the contiguity of the really big bunch of non-extended things and the discriminating substance.

    You're redoing Plato, though, aren't you? From a number of non-extended Real Things arise the affect/effect of the extended substances? Whether your non-extended things are "mental" like mathematical laws or "physical" like gravity, the effect and the problems are going to be similar.

    Oh, and kick out "infinitude" when you can and should mean "a big bunch." Positing actual infinities (i.e., "an infinity of X exists") is magical thinking with a mathematical veneer.


    3/21/2005 11:51:00 PM  

  • Interesting thoughts, let me respond first to Patrick and then admit to PGE that I agree with him for the most part. The problem of "Is infinity times 0 any more than 0" struck me as crippling for a long while, but consider the number series, any particular number you care to name has no extension, but when you combine enough of them you get and extended series. If one is willing to generalise this to all series / continuums then it is possible to account for space and time (or space/time) in the same way.

    PGE, I agree with you on most points. Firstly I can't get away from feeling that we cannot account for everything without positing some sort of "experience" in the world. As thus in other writings I have tried to argue that the two (or three) fundamental things in the world are space and time (or space/time, I’m not a physics major so have not grasped these concepts in a deep enough manner to really say for sure, but I lean towards space/time) and experience. As for re-doing Plato I like to think I’m re-doing Leibniz, but I guess in a way any rationalist view is going to pan out with some common problems and solutions. And finally as my response to Patrick will point out that I’m happy to admit it is thinking (magical perhaps) with a mathematical slant.

    3/22/2005 09:04:00 AM  

  • It sounds plausible enough to me. It seems that a line could be understood as made up of infinite points, for example.

    Reuben, how do materialists typically deal with gravity and such? Could we say that forces (etc) are not concrete particulars, but merely relations that hold between particulars and perhaps influence them?

    (I assume the materialist thesis applies only to concrete particulars - they allow for properties and relations to exist, don't they?)

    3/22/2005 10:19:00 PM  

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    3/23/2005 08:41:00 AM  

  • I guess a materialist could try to argue that gravity is merely a relation between material objects. It seems to me however that things like gravity are in the world in a much stronger sense than just as relations between things. If we understand gravity just to be the amount of attraction between two objects, then we lose a lot of the richer details contained by a physicists idea of gravity. For one it would make no sense for Einstein to explain it without resorting to attractive forces. For those of you who went on the Cass field trip then I would suggest that we think of gravity as an imminent ideal. (this is the edited post, the above deleted post was the unedited one, sorry for that)

    3/23/2005 05:46:00 PM  

  • I think if Descartes had a look at our physics now, he would have said, "See! I told you not everything is physical". There are claims he makes beyond this, but you're right that on the Cartesian account of materialism it's quite easy to see that materialism is false.

    3/25/2005 07:53:00 AM  

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