Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Why "Real Physics"?

Friends have inquired about the meaning of "Real Physics," as well as of the subtitle "A Realistic Exploration Into Nature."

Physics comes from the ancient Greek phusis for nature (see full article on etymology). Physics was originally synonymous with natural philosophy, hence the full title of Newton's foundational Principia is Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.

Since Newton's time, what we currently call physics has become exclusively mathematical. This program has found wild success: quantity is a powerful way to describe the material world. But it is not the only way, and in fact it is not the most meaningful way. Quantity alone gives us only nature's dry bones.

Specifying the physics of this blog as "real" signals my intention to "flesh out" our picture of the natural world and our way of exploring nature. It is not so much that science lies to us about nature, but that its presentation is incomplete. The lie is to pretend that science presents us with the full and only truth about nature.

The quotation under the subtitle, “What we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument,” comes from C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man.

Without intrinsic meaning, nature has no moral value. If moral values are not part of nature then they are unnatural, which means there are no real constraints on human action. Human rights lose all meaning.

An agenda, perhaps not fully conscious, informs the rejection of intrinsic purpose. Those who deny nature's meaning do so in order to impose their own meaning, and to use this power to manipulate other men. Now, this agenda may not be the original reason they turned to science—in fact they were likely hoodwinked into denying nature's meaning in the first place—but the tenor of modern natural science is so superficial that it is difficult to resist a purely utilitarian attitude toward nature, and eventually toward one's fellow men. At the very least, superficial science itself poses no obstacle to being manipulated and used to manipulate. At worst, the lie of completeness removes meaningful obstacles to manipulation.

Quality, Not Quantity

Purpose is synonymous with meaning. Another way to look at the devaluing of nature is to see how superficial science pretends that nature is purposeless. The fields of ethics and morality study how to reach happiness. "All men seek happiness" is a tautology, even if everyone disagrees what constitutes happiness.

As Aristotle says, it is quality and not quantity that leads to purpose. Denying the reality of qualities, modern science rejects purpose and the possibility of happiness.

The importance of safeguarding the reality of qualities is a subtle point with vast implications. Superficial science would have us believe that the redness of an apple is simply a subjective impression produced by electromagnetic radiation of wavelength 650 nm. On the contrary, if man knows any truth at all, the redness of an apple is a reality that truly exists in the apple. Redness is an objective quality.

To deny the objectivity of qualities is to lock yourself in your mind. If redness is only a subjective impression, if it is produced by the mind in response to physical stimuli, then it is impossible to speak of any two people seeing the same "red." In fact one cannot speak of a knowable objective world. (And to be perfectly consistent, one cannot speak at all; speech implies meaning and truth.)

Science at its truest and wisest cannot deny the reality of qualities, because its touchstone is the sensible, empirical, measurable world. To say that black and white have no reality is to deny the possibility of reading an experimental instrument, and thus to deny the possibility of observation and experiment. As Anthony Rizzi puts it, "we only know quantity through quality" (138).

Very tellingly, if denying quality's reality not only traps individuals in themselves, but also corrodes the bonds between individuals that constitute communities. The belief that each person imposes his own will to create his own reality is very obviously inimical to living in common and seeking a common good.

Wider Dangers

If there is only quantity, then our system of government, which is predicated on the reality of rights-bearing individuals,1 is meaningless. If there is only quantity, then all is matter in motion. There are no forms, there are no substances, there are no wholes. You and I are not ensouled bodies created in the image of an all-powerful Creator, nor are we simply self-aware bipeds; we are not even animals—as that concept itself is meaningless—but merely an arbitrary agglomeration of matter in motion. Certainly he pulled the lever that caused the explosion that launched the metal projectile that punctured the intervening soft tissues that caused a sudden decrease in blood pressure. But without referring to substances, you can't call it "murder."


1. A more subtle problem, but with more radical implications is that the thought of Locke, et al. that form the matrix of our society presume that we are fundamentally self-sufficient, autonomous individuals. No: we are born dependent into a community of love—the family; it is the family that brings us forth and that forms who we are as persons. If we fail to realize the limitations of these Enlightenment fictions, we will tend to fracture reality to fit that artificial ideal.

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

Anthony Rizzi, The Science Before Science (Baton Rouge, LA: IAP Press, 2004).

See also the Nature Institute's "Toward a Science of Qualities"


Natalie said...

Dear Dr. Jester. Thank you for the detailed explanation regarding the title of your blog. I'd also like to extend a hearty "congratulations" to you regarding your recent good news! Praise be to God! You will be a major asset to the crime ring, I mean, "organization".
Miss Natasha

Ken Mann said...

At the risk of being obsequious, wow. It is encouraging and intimidating to find someone who thinks about such things on a level deeper than my own.

Michael Christ said...

Into the quality of nature itself thus reveals the purpose of nature, for nature itself is that which is quality, and when nature's quality is consciously recognized in the mind, all else becomes meaningless, for truly it is.

The objective "redness" in the apple is only as such to the mind who perceives its "redness" for nothing can be perceived without the context to refer to it. The act of perceiving itself is an act of referring to a frame of reference where that which is referenced is merely in context to that which is perceived in the context.

Any artist who attempts to capture scenery in its realist vibrancy soon realizes that green is not so green, and red may be more red that what it was thought to be. Colors can only be seen in relation to what surrounds them. A White dot on a green canvas takes on the quality of green to a degree where the same white dot on a black canvas takes on the quality of black, and thus, white is not so white anymore. And although the physical composition that is the white dot has not changed, the frame through which that white dot is in reference to has, and thus, the context says "white ain't so white after all". All this activity occurring, not out there in the "objective" world, only in the mind.

The subjective redness of the apple dominates the mind of the one who see the red. And yet, another mind who perceives the same redness sees only the redness that they perceive. Still, the apple has not changed, only the context through which is was referred to has.

The objectivity that science longs to illuminate will never come. The subjectivity that philosophy seeks to explain has never been.

There is only that which is, and it is the duty of the mind of awareness to be aware of that which is, and not construct false frames of reference that are not there.

Be Free, Live Now, for it is the only moment that ever has been, or ever will be...

hechizos said...

Nope. For a while, scientists thought that light waves propagated through the aether. They now know that light is made of self-propagating electromagnetic waves that don't have to travel through any medium. Aether theory WAS legitimate (if incorrect) physics for a while, but it's long outdated.

TheOFloinn said...

But, hechizos, that is only the mechanical lumeniferous aether of Lorenz and Mach. (Provided "self-propagating" has any meaning.) It does not invalidate Einstein's relativistic aether, nor dark matter nor the quantum vacuum, which bid fair to qualify as the aether.

Sesetamhet said...

This page is interesting, because a lot of the logic chains are correct. However, the conclusions drawn from them are wild jumps.

"Without intrinsic meaning, nature has no moral value." - Sounds right.
"If moral values are not part...there are no real constraints on human action." - That's true, nature permits us to act any way we wish.
"Human rights lose all meaning." - What??? How on earth does that fall from the above statements? You demand an absolute, "intrinsic" meaning? Human rights have a meaning because we grant them a meaning. Just because human rights are created by humans, and not by nature (which they are), does not mean that they don't have meaning.

This is the mistake of many metaphysicists, to completely forget about emotions, and to demand logical, a priori motivations for morals. ABSOLUTE MORALS DO NOT EXIST. However, subjective morals do. Morals are have their basis in emotion and experience, not absolute logic. The only justification possible for morals is "I am emotionally drawn to this moral." or "This moral has led to happiness and harmony in the past." (note, happiness and harmony are both "good" a priori, and are also both emotions)

Stop looking for an absolute meaning where there is none. We are utterly insignificant in the eyes of the universe. However, we are not insignificant in the eyes of ourselves, and that is what matters.

Anonymous said...

Sesetamhet, thanks for this steaming pile of regurgitated neck bearded blather, you pseudo-intellectual basement dweller! I mean, let’s put the faux-analytical hyperbole away for a while and look at reality: Kalaam Cosmological Argument, the Argument from Reason, Fine Tuning of Universal Constants, irreducible biological complexity, the argument from morality… While you sit there and quibble over who has read more books, your entire world view lies shattered at your feet. If you truly honor the gods of reason and critical thinking half as much as you claim, you would plant your face firmly into your hand, step away from the device, find a quiet place, and rethink your life. Indeed, why are you even bothering to comment at all? No atheistic position can be taken seriously until two threshold questions can coherently be answered. 1. Why is the atheist even engaging in the debate. On atheism, there is no objective basis for even ascertaining truth; there is no immaterial aspect to consciousness and all mental states are material. Therefore, everyone who ever lived and ever will live could be wrong about a thing. By what standard would that ever be ascertained on atheism? Also if atheism is true, there is no objective meaning to existence and no objective standard by which the ‘rational’ world view of atheism is more desirable, morally or otherwise, to the ‘irrational’ beliefs of religion. Ridding the world of the scourge of religion, so that humanity can ‘progress’ or outgrow it, is not a legitimate response to this because on atheism, there is no reason to expect humanity to progress or grow. We are a historical accident that should fully expect to be destroyed by the next asteriod, pandemic, or fascist atheist with a nuke. In short, if atheism is correct, there is no benefit, either on an individual or societal level, to knowing this or to spreading such ‘knowledge.’ 2. Related to this, why is the atheist debater even alive to participate. If there is no heaven, no hell, no afterlife at all, only an incredibly window of blind pitiless indifference, then the agony of struggling to exist, seeing loved ones die, and then dying yourself can never be outweighed by any benefit to existing. As rude as it way sound (and I AM NOT advocating suicide) the atheist should have a coherent explanation for why they chose to continue existing. Failure to adequately address these threshold questions should result in summary rejection of the neckbeard’s position.
In the end, we all know you can’t answer these questions because yours is a petty, trivial, localized, earth bound philosophy, unworthy of the universe.
Finally, is there a basement dwelling troll left in the multiverse who doesn’t drag themselves out of the primordial ooze and logged onto this site in order to announce our collective atheism towards Thor, that gardens can be beautiful without fairies (a powerful rebuttal to fairy apologetics, by the way, but it leaves a lot unanswered about the Gardener), and that we cling to Bronze Age skymen due to our fear of the dark? Let me translate that to neckbeard: you are unoriginal, you are wrong, and you are an ass.
Also, FTW atheism is incoherent:

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"Superficial science would have us believe that the redness of an apple is simply a subjective impression produced by electromagnetic radiation of wavelength 650 nm."

Which would even strike certain other creatures, perhaps, as some other primary visible quality, some other colour.

"On the contrary, if man knows any truth at all, the redness of an apple is a reality that truly exists in the apple. Redness is an objective quality."

If so, where does it reside?

I would say: in the aether between the atomic nuclei and electrons (if such there be). These would code the quality for the aether, but in the aether it would actually be there.