Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why are (some) physicists so bad at philosophy?

In his book of reminiscences “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”, Richard Feynman tells the story of a painter who assured him that he could make yellow paint by mixing together red paint and white paint.  Feynman was incredulous.  As an expert in the physics of light, he knew this should not be possible.  But the guy was an expert painter, with years of practical experience.  So, ready to learn something new, Feynman went and got some red paint and white paint.  He watched the painter mix them, but as Feynman expected, all that came out was pink.  Then the painter said that all he needed now was a little yellow paint to “sharpen it up a bit” and then it would be yellow.

I was reminded of this story when I read this foray into philosophy by physics professor Ethan Siegel, which a reader sent me, asking for my reaction.  Do give it a read, though I’ll summarize it for you:  

Arguments for God as cause of the universe rest on the assumption that something can’t come from nothing.  But given the laws of physics, it turns out that something can come from nothing. 

Here was my reaction:

Is this guy serious?  The laws of physics aren’t “nothing.”  Ergo, this isn’t even a prima facie counterexample to the principle that ex nihilo, nihil fit.  That’s just blindingly obvious.  Is this guy serious? 

(Actually, that was not my reaction.  My actual reaction cannot be printed on a family-friendly blog.  This is the cleaned up version.)

Feynman’s painter insisted that you can get yellow paint from red paint and white paint.  All you need to do is add some yellow paint.  Similarly, Siegel assures us that we can get something from nothing.  All we need to do is to add a little something, viz. the laws of physics.  I’ll bet Siegel has read Feynman’s book and had a chuckle at the painter’s expense.  Little does he realize that the joke’s on him.

Notice that the point has nothing to do with the further question “Where do the laws of physics come from?”  It has nothing to do with the debate between atheism and theism.  It has nothing to do with whether Siegel’s purely scientific claims are otherwise correct.  I’m not addressing any of that here.  Let the operation of the laws of physics be a brute fact if you like; let atheism be true, if you insist; let Siegel be a whiz-bang crackerjack physicist, if you must.  The point is that as a philosopher, he’s utterly incompetent, incapable of seeing the most blatant of fallacies staring him square in the face.

Siegel is in good company, if that’s the right way to put it.  As I showed in my review of their book The Grand Design for National Review, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow are no more philosophically competent than Siegel is.  Indeed, one of their errors is the same as Siegel’s: They tell us that “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”  Ignore for the moment the incoherence of the notion of self-causation (which we explored recently here and here).  Put to one side the question of whether the physics of their account is correct.  Forget about where the laws of physics themselves are supposed to have come from.  Just savor the manifest contradiction: The universe comes from nothing, because a law like gravity is responsible for the universe.

For some reason this particular fallacy seems to be a favorite of physicists.  (And I mean physicists, specifically, not scientists in general – even Richard Dawkins isn’t this bad.)  Consider Oxford physicist Vlatko Vedral’s recent book Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information.  I hate to pick on Vedral.  He seems like a nice fellow, and there is in his book none of the obnoxious condescension toward philosophy and theology one finds in Hawking and Mlodinow.  Unfortunately, though, Vedral is only slightly better informed about these subjects than Hawking and Mlodinow are.  (He thinks, for example, that “What caused God?” is a serious objection to the First Cause argument.)  Worse, the argumentation is incredibly sloppy.  Epistemological and metaphysical issues are relentlessly conflated.  Murkiness abounds.  For example, Vedral suggests that information “comes from nowhere” and is “created from emptiness” but also that “there is no other information in the Universe than that generated by us as we create our own reality.”  So, is he contradicting himself – saying both that information comes from nowhere and that it comes from us?  Or is he saying instead that information causes us and we in turn cause it, but that there is nothing outside this loop – which would entail a vicious explanatory circle (for the reasons spelled out in the posts on self-causation linked to above)?  Or (seeing as either of these interpretations would sink his position) does he have some third alternative in mind?  He never tells us, and (like Hawking and Mlodinow, who say similar things) seems blithely unaware that there is even a problem here.

More to the present point, Vedral claims that “creation out of nothing” can occur even without a Creator, and offers as evidence von Neumann‘s proposal “that all numbers could be bootstrapped out of the empty set by the operations of the mind.”  We’re back to Feynman’s painter: Yellow can come from non-yellow as long as you add a little yellow to the non-yellow; and something can come from nothing as long as we add a little non-nothing – “the operations of the mind” – to the nothing.  How much cleverer these physicists are than us mere philosophers!

It is no good trying to defend Siegel, Hawking and Mlodinow, or Vedral by suggesting that perhaps they are not using “nothing” in a strict sense.  For each of them claims to be addressing the same issue that defenders of the First Cause argument for God’s existence are addressing, and the latter are using “nothing” in the strict sense.  So, these physicists can be acquitted of the charge of contradicting themselves only if they are guilty instead of sloppy thinking, and of loudly shooting off their mouths without doing their homework first.

And that is enough to merit them our scorn.  Philosophers and theologians are constantly told that they need to “learn the science” before commenting on quantum mechanics, relativity, or Darwinism.  And rightly so.  Yet too many scientists refuse to “learn the philosophy” before pontificating on the subject.  The results are predictably sophomoric.  What an arrogant and clueless amateur like Hawking or Dawkins needs to hear before putting on his philosopher’s toga is this.  And if he doesn’t get the message, this.  Instead, the reaction from equally clueless editors, journalists, and “educated” general readers is: “Gee, he’s a scientist!  He’s good at math and stuff.  He must know what he’s talking about!”  It really is no more intelligent than that. 

C. D. Broad took the view that “the nonsense written by philosophers on scientific matters is exceeded only by the nonsense written by scientists on philosophy.”  And that was in the days of scientists like Eddington, Einstein, Heisenberg, and Schrödinger, who actually knew something about philosophy.  (We’ve discussed a couple of these thinkers in earlier posts, here and here.)  Things had gotten worse by the time Paul Feyerabend wrote the following to Wallace Matson:

The younger generation of physicists, the Feynmans, the Schwingers, etc., may be very bright; they may be more intelligent than their predecessors, than Bohr, Einstein, Schrödinger, Boltzmann, Mach, and so on.  But they are uncivilized savages, they lack in philosophical depth… (Quoted in Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend, For and Against Method)

And things are even worse now.  Feynman was notoriously hostile to philosophy, but when his work on quantum mechanics brought him up against its inherent philosophical difficulties, he at least had the humility not to claim he knew how to resolve them.  Hawking and Vedral, by contrast, confidently peddle as “science” the kind of schlock you’d expect to find in the New Age section at Borders. 

What accounts for this decline?  Feyerabend blamed the “professionalization” of science, and there is much to be said for this.  We noted recently how John Heil and Stephen Mumford have decried the baneful effects “professionalization” has had on contemporary academic philosophy – hyper-specialization, smug insularity, careerist conformism, an emphasis on cleverness over depth.  Lee Smolin (who knew and respected Feyerabend) is one physicist who has argued that some of these same problems afflict contemporary physics.

One thing of which contemporary philosophers tend not to be guilty, however – scientism-whipped as they are – is ignorance of science, certainly not where science touches on their areas of philosophical specialization.  Hawking and Mlodinow assure us in The Grand Design that “philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics.”  No one at all familiar with the explosion of serious work in philosophy of physics, philosophy of chemistry, and philosophy of biology over the last several decades – not to mention the work of writers like William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith in the philosophy of religion, or the Churchlands in philosophy of mind – could say such a thing.  (True, as philosophers the Churchlands are hopeless.  But one thing they do know – perhaps, one sometimes suspects, the only thing they know – is neuroscience.)

Hawking and Mlodinow are guilty of just the sort of ignorance of which they falsely accuse philosophers.  But they are unlikely ever to know it.  The Hawkings, Dawkinses, and Jerry Coynes of the world have been dancing the Myers Shuffle around their echo chamber for so long that they can only ever hear each other’s mutual congratulations shouted down the conga line.  Until this childishness is universally treated with the sort of contempt it deserves, we will not have a sane intellectual culture, one in which the deepest philosophical, theological – and, indeed, scientific – questions can be fruitfully debated. 

422 comments:

1 – 200 of 422   Newer›   Newest»
Jan said...

It is a great mystery why people who show so much mental discipline and carefulness doing mathematics can also produce drivel that would be disappointing if presented during a high school philosophy study group.

It is in fact very easy to prove that that laws of universe are not 'nothing'. Indeed, one can have a different set of self-consistent laws (L*) than the actual set of physical laws (L) -- say by changing the numerical value of one physical constant. Then L is different than L*, but both are 'nothing', which is a contradiction.

Tom Gilson said...

Jan, not only is it easy to prove, the very idea that a proof should be needed is odd.

Jacob L. Stump said...

In political science, this is also the case. Political scientists, for the most part, are ignorant of the philosophy of science and how it relates to their discipline. Rather, political scientists overly focus on methods and under appreciate the ontological and epistemological debates that inform the application of particular methods. That is slowly changing in political science, however. Here is one newer salvos at changing this ignorance: Patrick Jackson's, "The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations: Philosophy of Science and Its Implications for the Study of World Politics"

If you up for it, it would be interesting to see what you think of the text.

Jan said...

Tom, very true. See my first paragraph :)

Human Ape said...

"I am a writer and philosopher living in Los Angeles."

If all the world's philosophers dropped dead today, nobody would notice and nobody would care.

Science is reality. Philosophy is bullshit for people who are too lazy to get a real job.

"philosophy of religion"

Religion is bullshit, including your idiotic Roman Catholicism.

"the debate between atheism and theism"

What debate? There's nothing to debate. Atheism is normal. Theism is bullshit for people who solve scientific problems by invoking magic. For example your "cause of the universe". You want to stick your god of the gaps in there. A scientist would never do that because invoking magic is childish and it accomplishes nothing.

http://darwinkilledgod.blogspot.com/

Tom Gilson said...

Did you happen to see P.Z. Myers's reaction to this article?

Nicely done: Ethan Siegel explains how we know that stuff is getting spontaneously created all the time. It's no miracle, it requires no magic man in the sky, particle/anti-particle pairs just pop into existence constantly.

The real miracle would be getting William Lane Craig to comprehend this fact.


It's not just physicists. You knew that, but this underscores it.

Tom Gilson said...

Human Ape, I want to thank you for your additional display of a certain level of philosophical argumentation. I don't know if you are a scientist, but if your comment doesn't directly support Ed's point, it does so at least indirectly.

funnyatheists said...

ROFL at this Huamn Ape chap. A real product of the new atheism of Dawkins and co.

The new atheist:
Proud to be scientistically arrogant and philosophically ignorant.

Nick said...

Are you familiar with how another physicist, Victor Stenger, says in one of his books that the universe has all the properties we'd expect if it came from nothing.

I just want to laugh when I read that. How could such a thing be known?

Matthew said...

Isn’t there some sort of equivocation in the use of the word ‘from’, here:

“The builder made the house from bricks”;
“The Chef made the dish from memory”;
“The 8-Ball’s motion comes from the 6-Ball’s motion”;
“The virtual particle comes from the laws of physics”;
“The virtual particle comes from an empty void”.

The principle, “nothing comes from nothing” has to mean something, but it seems to mean a number of different things. I’m not trying to win a point, by the way. I am trying to sort out the meaning of the principle.

Will Duquette said...

I don't think it's a matter for scorn, precisely; a physicist is a person who has spent his entire career learning how matter works, and explaining it. Matter is where it's at. If there's no matter there, there's nothing there. And now they believe they've discovered that matter can come from non-matter, and so something can come from nothing (in their terms). If they've got the physics correct, that's a heady discovery for them. Naturally it goes to their heads.

They still need to read Mortimer Adler on "coming to terms", of course. But I think it's wrong to think they are just being stupid.

Maolsheachlann said...

Nick says:

"Are you familiar with how another physicist, Victor Stenger, says in one of his books that the universe has all the properties we'd expect if it came from nothing?"

It reminds me of Dawkins's contention in the God Delusion that the universe isn't how we would expect it to look if a God had designed it. Which is basically a paraphrase of the old quotation, "If I had been present at creation, I would have given some useful hints". No arrogance there-- Dawkins just reckons he could have made a better job of the cosmos.

"Notice that the point has nothing to do with the further question “Where do the laws of physics come from?” It has nothing to do with the debate between atheism and theism. It has nothing to do with whether Siegel’s purely scientific claims are otherwise correct. I’m not addressing any of that here. Let the operation of the laws of physics be a brute fact if you like; let atheism be true, if you insist; let Siegel be a whiz-bang crackerjack physicist, if you must. The point is that as a philosopher, he’s utterly incompetent, incapable of seeing the most blatant of fallacies staring him square in the face"

Written with Chestertonian brio!!

Anonymous said...

Human Ape:

"Science is reality."


This is a philosophical claim (which happens to be incoherent, BTW, since 'science' is a method, and methods cannot themselves be the building blocks of reality).

But if "philosophy is bullshit," then all philosophical claims are bullshit. Congratulations. You've just shot yourself in the foot.

Nick said...

I always think of this video when something like this comes up:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFXIALf9zDA

Cicatrizatic said...

Mav Philosopher's term for this is topical insanity: where an otherwise intelligent person's mental accuity melts away in their attempt to address a certain topic or subject matter.

MMc said...

It seem to all goes back to St. THomas' "Division and Methods of sciences" Few read it IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND IT !

Anonymous said...

Human Ape wrote on his blog: "On another blog I explained to a philosopher why philosophy is bullshit."

And here is, from what I can tell, his "explanation" from the blog: "Philosophy is bullshit."

Applying his own methodology, allow me to explain why this guy is an idiot.

Because he is an idiot.

Well, that settles that, at least according to his "reasoning".

Nick said...

Anonymous said:

"Applying his own methodology, allow me to explain why this guy is an idiot."

Some things don't really need explaining.

Anonymous said...

Reading Human Ape's comments, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from _The Wire_. In the midst of an interrogation, one of the characters waxes forth: "That's the most frustrating part of it. The stupid ones don't ever seem to know they're stupid. And that's the worst part of it- they are so stupid they don't know how stupid they are."

Hieronymus said...

@Human Ape,
You are what you think and that's why you are only a human ape.QED.

@Edward Fesser,
Thank you for an excellent article. Hawkins' ignorance as to the origin of the laws of physics struck me immediately after reading an outline of his "argument". He probably imagines God as a big guy in the sky who constantly pulls strings and levers instead of just programming the whole thing and leaving it to work on its own. Now perhaps we could talk about a similar mental pathology, namely, the "Catholic" politicians who think that it is absolutely all right to leave their religion at the door of their office?

Anonymous said...

Why are physicists so bad at philosophy? Probably for the same reason philosophers are so bad at physics. Physics has left philosophy so far behind in the last 100 years that philosophers are condemning physicists for drawing conclusion based on science that philosophers just don't understand.

John Thayer Jensen said...

I suppose the fundamental problem here is that the sort of physicist who says this sort of thing assumes that by 'something' you mean 'matter and energy' - or maybe 'matter and energy and the space-time continuum.'

If it is correct (concerning which I reserve my opinion) that, given the laws of physics, the matter-energy-space-time thing can come into existence from not having existed before, than that's what he means.

But of course this is smuggling in materialism a priori. Matter-energy-space-time is the only 'something' that we need concern ourselves with only if M-E-S-T (hey, cool, that's a pronounceable acronym!) is the only 'something' with which we need concern ourselves.

Having been brought up as a materialist/scientist type, I know how this seems. The attitude expressed in crude fashion by "Human Ape" below was certainly mine.

Fortunately, I didn't stay that way. HA may not, either :-)

jj

Brother Paul Mary said...

As someone who has studied Quantum Mechanics, I can assure all the readers that one does not even have to apply the argument viz. One can get something from nothing because of the laws of physics.

The laws of physics have nothing got to do with something coming from nothing.

We have very little knowledge of what actually constitutes our fundamental material universe.

Energy and Matter are interchangeable and matter will never "appear" without there having been energy to have caused it. In fact physicists who come out with the something from nothing argument are more to be described as chancer's than to be taken seriously.

Tom Gilson said...

"What did you study in grad school, Dr. Siegal?"

"Nothing. Why do you ask?"

Edward Feser said...

Will,

First of all, they don't say "matter can come from non-matter." They say "something can come from nothing," and explicitly claim to be refuting the traditional principle that ex nihilo, nihil fit. They are not saying "Here's a point from physics, though I don't claim it has any relevance for the metaphysical issue in question." They are saying "Here is a point from physics that settles the metaphysical question."

Second, they add to this muddleheadedness an arrogant dismissal of philosophy. "We know what we're talking about and you philosophers don't etc." -- when in fact anyone who knows something about both the philosophy and the physics (as philosophers typically do and the physicists in question don't) can see that that is precisely the opposite of the truth.

If that doesn't merit scorn, I don't know what would. Perhaps you just think no one should ever be treated with scorn. As I've argued elsewhere, I think that is a mistake:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/06/can-philosophy-be-polemical.html

Of course, often scorn is not called for. If the scientists in question had not shown such arrogance, I would have refrained from polemics. But people like Hawking and Dawkins, not to mention lesser lights like Myers, are impervious to argument. Question-begging smart-assery is all you will ever get from them. So, convincing them is not the point -- they will never be convinced. But people of good will who are on the fence and take Hawking, Dawkins, et al. seriously merely because of their scientific stature are open to argument, and they need to see that what they're hearing from these people is not one serious opinion among others, but mere ill-informed sophistry.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. I hate to inform you, but you're just plain wrong. Something can come from nothing - it happens every time a fundamental interaction takes place - and while there ARE epistemological problems with the Hawking-Hartle solution to the Wheeler-DeWitt Equation (such as the fact that they posit a wavefunction for the entire universe, even though there is no observational viewpoint outside the entire universe and therefore no meaning to the idea of a wavefunction for the entire universe), you didn't touch on any of them. Frankly you should learn physics before presuming to try to talk about something you're completely ignorant of.

A couple simple corrections: "Nothing" means no thing. We're not Platonists who believe in mystical spiritual "things" like the laws of physics. The laws of physics ontologically are "nothing". You won't stumble across them anytime soon, or stub your toe against them. Physicists know how to distinguish descriptions from things, something philosophers still can't do.

Secondly, philosophy has yet to contribute one iota to our knowledge of the world, and I personally have yet to seen any so-called "philosophy of science" that said anything meaningful that was written by non-scientists. Scientists (I am a theoretical astrophysicist) know science; people who don't know what they're talking about should shut up about it.

That being said, as brilliant scientists as they are Hawking and Mlodinow need to stop abusing their (legitimate) authority as scientists to trick gullible people into thinking science somehow supports atheism. With all due respect to both Hawking and the neo-Thomists, science is completely neutral with respect to God. My scientific work not only does not impede but does not even touch upon my (Greek Catholic) faith. Science is indeed reality, as HumanApe said, but there are some realities that science has nothing to say about - beauty, for example. Science cannot explain the joy I feel at the music of Bach. Nor can it explain my relationship with God. What science does do is provide a (potentially) complete explanation of physical things - an explanation which should not be philosophized about by non-scientists because it is much too involved for them to understand enough to know what they are talking about.

My apologies if I sounded overly insulting in this post; words spoken over the internet sound harsher than they do face to face. Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Nick said...

hehehe. We're not Platonists either.

So you haven't seen philosophy contribute any knowledge to the world? Would you care to define knowledge? Oh wait. That's a category of philosophy. Well I'm sure that with the right use of logic and reason, oh wait. Logic and reason. That's also philosophy. Well, don't worry. I'm sure it won't affect your syllogism. Wait a sec. Syllogism. That's part of philosophy as well.

It's okay. Just keep living a good life, except, well, what the good life is is in the topic of ethics which is also philosophy.

But let's have some fun with nothing. Can you tell me what exactly it is and how it has any causative power whatsoever?

Tom Gilson said...

"Nothing" means no thing., you say.

Not if the point of your message is to counter the philosophical position of which Ed was speaking. If you change the meaning of the term, then you haven't answered him, you've just changed the subject.

The same is so if, as seems to be the case for Siegal, you are trying to counter theists' questions of how something could come from nothing. Again, you make no progress in the argument by changing the subject.

Equivocation is fallacious.

Anonymous said...

I would also like to correct Brother Paul Mary on his interpretation of QM. The notion of matter and energy being interchangeable is relativity, not QM. In QM virtual particles do indeed appear without having been caused by energy - you can regard them as having "borrowed" energy from nothing, and they will cease existing after a short amount of time (time determined by the HUP) unless they somehow manage to get real energy from something. But their effects before they disappear are very real - all interactions between real particles are caused by virtual exchange bosons. But in order to become real particles that remain in existence, they do have be caused by some real energy. I am frankly a bit bewildered how Hawking justifies the creation of the entire universe out of nothing by appealing to quantum mechanics, but I also haven't wasted my time reading his popular-level books so hopefully he's actually saying something more sophisticated than that.

Incidentally, Hawking in his scientific work did provide us with an example of virtual particles remaining in existence longer than they should be able to - if a virtual particle-antiparticle pair is created near the event horizon of a black hole, and one falls into the black hole and the other escapes then due to conservation of momentum the one that escapes has to remain in existence so long as the other one does (and the other particle's lifetime is preserved by time dilation). But it's still true that a particle that remains in existence has to get its energy from somewhere - so what physically happens is that the black hole radiates out energy ("Hawking radiation") and ends up evaporating. (Another good reason not to be worried about black holes being created at the LHC - even if they were created, they'd evaporate before we'd notice them.)

Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Anonymous said...

Nick -

You're just playing with words by reserving "knowledge" as a "philosophical category". Knowledge of the physical world is what we call physics, not philosophy.

Logic is also studied as part of mathematics, although the logic you learned from Aristotle won't help you much proving theorems or deriving equations.

And no, I don't care to define something which everybody knows the meaning of. I refer you to the dictionary if you are seriously having trouble understanding the word; if you are not don't waste your time asking insincere questions.

By "nothing", I mean the vacuum. I also mean virtual particles, although the word "nothing" is a bit vague applied to them. And their effects are the fact that you are being held together rather than being a bunch of non-interacting particles.

The "good life" is not something I reason about; I don't regard it as a matter of discursive philosophy. It belongs to the realms of aesthetics and religion for me.

Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Nick said...

Who said anything about knowledge of the physical world? I'm talking about any knowledge. The idea of knowledge does not come from physics.

Words everyone knows the meaning of? Incredible since I hardly meet anyone who knows the meaning of good and a dictionary is not the place I go to to study philosophy.

And interestingly, you're already treating nothing as if it is something. A vacuum and virtual particles are not nothing.

Tom Gilson said...

"I also mean virtual particles, although the word 'nothing' is a bit vague applied to them."
Vague? How about "inaccurate" instead?

Anonymous said...

No, they really are nothing. It is an ERROR to call the vacuum a substance or thing or something - the vacuum is defined as what's left after you've taken away everything, even though it does still have a ground energy state and it is full of virtual particles. But virtual particles do have effect on things, which is why I say the word "nothing" is vague.

Lots of errors in philosophy are because words are vague and philosophers think about words rather than about reality.

Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Nick said...

What's left after you've taken away everything.

If there is something left, it cannot be nothing. Furthermore, what of this "everything that was taken away"?

If there are lots of errors in philosophy, is that not implying as well some truths in philosophy which you denied with your first post here?

Cicatrizatic said...

"Philosophy has yet to contribute one iota to our knowledge of the world"

In his Metaphysics, Aristotle deduces the principle of non-contradiction as the most certain of all principles. He does this by philosophical introspection. It is logically prior to any other principle or piece of knowledge. Any attempt to refute the principle of non-contradiction must invoke the principle itself.

This principle, as well as a philosophical defense of external world realism - both hold epistemological primacy over any empirical pieces of knowledge. Your above quote is simply wrong. Empirical science in fact depends on both the principle of non-contradiction and external world realism - both of which require philosophical analysis.

mandolin said...

To Seraphim and John Jensen,

I think I'd love to have a beer with the two of you.

You pray for me and I'll pray for you and together we'll pray for us all.

mandolin said...

As others have pointed toward, Philosophy seems like a convoluted system in which people debate the meaning of words.

The physical sciences actually explain how things work.

The problem is that society at large doesn't care about the meanings of words or philosophy or theology. Society only cares about what science can do for it, what it can make for it or what it can make possible for it.

However simply explaining the mechanics of a system (whether it be an engine or the knowable universe) doesn't do much for individual's sense of worth or why they were born or why God created and loves them or holds it all in the palm if his hand (metaphorically speaking for those of you with more literal inclinations).

I presume this merry-go-round will continue.

Crude said...

Just to note: Stephen M. Barr (himself a physicist) wrote about Hawking's book, and his conclusion was apparently very similar to Ed's, on that subject:

One question I have, though, is about this sort of claim: "Arguments for God as cause of the universe rest on the assumption that something can’t come from nothing."

Well, even putting aside the many and justified criticisms leveled at Siegel's and Hawking's discussion of God, I have to ask this: Isn't there a Catholic 'doctrine of ex nihilo'? Now, obviously the doctrine does not mean 'created out of nothing without cause / by a cause other than God', but I do wonder if it's possible that Hawking, Siegel and company not only are failing to demonstrate what they think they are (That the universe was created without God's involvement), but that they're actually bolstering a traditional Christian claim (by showing 'how' God could create ex nihilo).

Note, I'm not saying they are doing this. But I am wondering if that's a conclusion that could be drawn from their insights, once corrected.

Anonymous said...

This is getting outside the realm of science - the law of non-contradiction is usually taken for granted in science, because like most situations the principle works there - but I do take issue with that principle for three reasons.

(a) It is a statement about words and not things, and therefore not really a statement about reality - which is okay so long as we recognize it for what it is. (And yes, I am aware that the usual formulation is "a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time in the same respect" - to which I ask "be what" and argue that it is a statement about words, not about things.)

(b) It only works if the words in question are "clear and well-defined", to borrow Descartes' terminology. The principle can fail to hold true simply because the word doesn't work very well in a given situation - like applying the word "nothing" to virtual particles. At some point you have to stop thinking about individual words and start thinking about the realities.

(c) It really doesn't apply to mystical language. I am not a Buddhist - I am a Greek Catholic - but I'm not going to be so arrogant as to deny what whatever the Buddhist experienced was something other than a delusion. I don't know what it is like to experience Nirvana (or advaita for that matter), and so I will not argue with Samkara or Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna tells me (in his Mulamadhyamakakarikas, to give you my reference) that Nirvana neither exists nor does not exist, or that it both is and is not. He refuses to grant that the principle of non-contradiction applies to ineffable experiences; the same is said by Christian mystics in reference to God (I believe it was St. Isaac of Syria who spoke of the "mystery of the nothingness of God"). We say God is Being; we also say God is infinitely above Being.

I would also much rather be having this discussion over a good dark beer, but eh, it's only thanks to the internet we're having this discussion at all. ;)

I should really be getting back to work at some point today. :D

Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Anonymous said...

Crude:

I do think Hawking's solution to the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, which he touts as evidence for atheism (because it removes a beginning point in time from the universe) is actually more compatible with the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, because it removes the temporal regression of physical causes which can be explained scientifically. In other words, Hawking's physics points to a situation which basically looks like 4 spatial dimensions which are static in time (one of these dimensions is the imaginary time component through which the "universal wavefunction" evolves). He presents us with a static reality regarding which we have to ask the question - where did it come from? And since it isn't evolving through time, one has to give a non-scientific answer to the question - Aquinas' First Way.

(Despite its epistemological problems I alluded to earlier and the problem that the early-universe scenario doesn't seem to make a whole lot of physical sense, we would really like to see Hawking's solution true because it removes singularities from the universe, which pose big problems in quantum field theory - it is real science or will be once we have the means to empirically verify it, not just an excuse to try to justify atheism.)

Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Cicatrizatic said...

Firstly, you pre-suppose nominalism by completing divorcing words and reality. If so - then we can't be sure that anything we say has any bearing on reality. Thus on your account, total skepticism is justified.

Even if you want to confine PNC to simply being about 'words' - it still holds epistemological primacy over any empirical claim. You can only affirm an empirical fact using a language composed of words. Those claims can only be logically coherent presupposing PNC. Still, science depends on the PNC.

Anonymous said...

Just a comment on some of the posts that have been written so far. First, with regard to the so-called "laws of physics." To speak of laws of physics in the absence of matter and energy is to speak nonsense. The laws of physics (by the very definition of the subject matter of physics) are about matter and energy and presuppose them. The law of universal gravitation presupposes bodies that can gravitate. The laws of thermodynamics presuppose bodies that can be heated and cooled, etc... Without those bodies presupposed, we would never have come up with laws concerning them because there would have been nothing to have laws about, just as today there are no laws concerning the behaviour of leprechauns.
I think the main reason that physicists fall for these absurd notions is that they generally refuse to define their discipline. Without such definition, they really do not know fully what their discipline is intended to study, what its methods are, and what are its limitations.
One poster stated that Quantum Mechanics predicts the coming to be of virtual particles out of nothing. For some reason, he seems to think that we ought to bow to the wisdom of the Quantum Physicists on this point. But what is to stop any thinking person from telling the Quantum Physicist that he has simply made a reductio ad absurdum. If it truly follows from QM that something can come from nothing then what has been shown is, not that something can come from nothing, but rather that the theory is faulty and needs to be rethought. The physicist who holds this view is simply making a "nothing of the gaps" argument, wherein, in the absence of an apparent cause, one posits no cause as though it were a cause. This is simply absurd and should be called so. In fact, if physics had started out those many centuries ago assuming the possibility of "nothing" as a cause, it would never have gotten off the ground. For to say that things can come out of nothing is to say essentially that no phenomenon requires any explanation.

Ed De Vita

Anonymous said...

You are using the term "nominalism" equivocally. It's a slippery word. I am a nominalist - by this I mean that words have certain uses and functions; that we use them to talk about the world, but words themselves are not mystical realities in their own rights, and more to the point that Aristotle's "forms" are descriptions not realities (and they are not explanations - you don't "explain" how something works by stating that it has a form; that just repeats the question).

I do not believe that words are "totally divorced" from reality, simply that they happen to be two different things, and I am not a skeptic in any sense. And you can tell this from the words I have already spoken; you ought to be ashamed for using cheap sophistry like that. Look at what I say instead of trying to fit my words into prefabricated scholastic boxes.

Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Anonymous said...

Ed De Vita:

Science has put men on the moon, and you sitting at your computer think you have proven that it is WRONG? Who made you the omniscient God, if you don't mind me asking? QM is one of the most well-established scientific systems, alongside relativity, evolution, and classical mechanics for that matter. I cannot believe the arrogance involved in blatantly denied scientific consensus, especially when you are not a physicist and your only evidence is that it looks silly to you. Science is not a matter of personal opinion like philosophy is, and it's not something non-scientists are at liberty to deny (any more than believers are at liberty to deny the teaching of the Church, or non-historians at liberty to simply deny well-established historical facts). It's a set of established facts you have to accept; development in scientific knowledge occurs through the scientific method not through armchair philosophy.

When you have found the logical error in the proof of Bell's Theorem, or managed to explain away the empirical verification of special relativity (which you will need to get rid of in order to accept David Bohm's New-Agey interpretation of QM), then let me know. Until then, the theory stands.

Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Crude said...

Look at what I say instead of trying to fit my words into prefabricated scholastic boxes.

Seraphim, I think you may be guilty of some of this yourself. Given what Ed and most everyone else in this thread has meant by 'nothing', and what you yourself qualified 'nothing' to mean (vacuum and virtual particles, with the latter then becoming 'not exactly nothing' later on), I'm more and more tempted to think this conversation is a case of people talking past each other. As I said, Barr gave a response similar to Ed's re: Hawking, and even re: 'something coming from nothing'.

You've claimed that philosophy is useless and contributes nothing to knowledge. What I've noticed is that people who say these things usually make philosophical claims and arguments regularly - and too often people who disparage philosophy (or theology) end up meaning "I don't regard anyone's philosophy or theology valid - save for my own".

Cicatrizatic said...

"I am not a skeptic in any sense, and you can tell this from the words I have already spoken; you ought to be ashamed for using cheap sophistry like that. Look at what I say instead of trying to fit my words into prefabricated scholastic boxes."

I said that you pre-supposed nominalism, which is true. I said you completely divorce words and reality, because you consistently implied that they are separate - contrasting 'words' and 'reality' - never explaining their connection in any of your prior posts. You certainly didn't clarify your distinction and what you meant by it - until now.

Anonymous said...

From various posts:

A statement about words and not things is therefore not really a statement about reality.

Nothing means ‘no thing’.

Please define ‘thing’.

Anonymous said...

Seraphim wrote:
"To speak of laws of physics in the absence of matter and energy is to speak nonsense."

But that's exactly what Hawkins does in his little "not-philosophy," and it's exactly this contradiction that Dr. Feser is pointing out. You can't say the laws of physics presuppose matter and energy and then say that "nothing + laws of physics = matter and energy"

Crude said...

But that's exactly what Hawkins does in his little "not-philosophy,"

That wasn't written by Seraphim, but by Ed De Vita. Two anons signing their comments here it seems.

mandolin said...

Anonymous said, "From various posts:

A statement about words and not things is therefore not really a statement about reality.

Nothing means ‘no thing’.

Please define ‘thing’."

* insert laughing icon here *...okay.

You keep worrying about this type of verbal gymnastics and the rest of the world will worry about getting on with the everyday act of living.

Until philosophy comes to grips with the fact that everyday life doesn't need or require this type of jabbery the quicker it will learn how to make itself important to most folks.

Philosophy used to be useful because people used it to make sense of life. Now the physical sciences make sense of life.

That, in a nutshell, explains why philosophy and theology has been usurped by physics and the physical sciences.

FIGUER said...

The intellectual decrepitude of the scientificists above is mesmerizing...

Philosophy is about organizing and clarifying the expression of thoughts.

Physical science is about describing measurable mechanical behaviour.

The notion that a philosopher can not observe a deficient expression of an idea by a scientists is ridiculous, and an absurd argument from authority.

Anonymous said...

Hey Seraphim-

“A couple simple corrections: "Nothing" means no thing. We're not Platonists who believe in mystical spiritual "things" like the laws of physics. The laws of physics ontologically are "nothing". You won't stumble across them anytime soon, or stub your toe against them. Physicists know how to distinguish descriptions from things, something philosophers still can't do.”

Wow, that’s really interesting; pray tell then, even if ‘laws of physics’ are mere descriptions with no ontological status whatsoever then they need to describe something, making them utterly worthless in your preposterous suggestion that somehow quantum physics could ‘demonstrate’ that ‘something can come from nothing’ since whatever they’re describing are, after all, ‘something’ (oh and by the way this ridiculous presumption of yours only makes sense if interpreted in a broadly Aristotelian way to boot, especially that silly gab of yours about 'virtual particles' which tickle me slightly like 'prime matter').

Here, why don’t we try this another way; go ahead and try to predicate ‘nothing.’ ‘Nothing is red.’ That proposition either means that ‘there are no red things’ or ‘nothingness has the property of being red.’ The former is obviously false, the second is a contradiction since the absolute nothingness here discussed has no properties. Now this may not mean much to you since, after all, philosophy “doesn’t contribute one iota to our knowledge of the world,” thus you probably won’t be much bothered by a silly thing like a formal logical contradiction, but now at least maybe you’ll be capable of seeing our humble philosophical gripe. The same holds for your precious ‘laws of physics’ (not that you really have any claim to making universal generalizations that could meaningfully be described as ‘laws’ since you’re a nominalist, but that’s another philosophical problem that you probably don’t give a damn about); anything they ‘describe’ is, by definition, a ‘thing’ of some sort and not ‘nothing’ in the metaphysically relevant sense discussed by philosophers. True absolute ‘nothingness’ cannot possibly be coherent described or discussed; the only people who seem to grasp that are the Eastern philosophers like the Taoists, which I assume you haven’t bothered to read.

By the way, your ‘theoretical astrophysics’ is barely less speculative than the demonstrations of the most blatant metaphysicians. It involves inference piled upon inference piled upon inference drawn from tests that are repeated a very limited number of times because of the sheer amount of resources and expense involved in tests to ‘prove’ your conclusions. You condescendingly claim that people who don’t know about physics should ‘shut up about it;’ well this is a blog about philosophy and I don’t recall anybody inviting you here, so maybe you should be doing the ‘shutting up’ instead.

More than anything though it’s that smarmy self-importance I detect in your post that I think is the most infuriating recurring trait of so many quantum physicists. You’ll bag on our philosophy as being meaningless or irrelevant or ‘not contributing to our knowledge of the world;’ well who the hell are you to judge buddy? Tell me, when are the massive technological breakthroughs thanks to our understanding of string theory going to emerge? Or what about the Higgs Boson, when we find it what are we going to get besides a bunch of smarmy physicists congratulating themselves for being so damn smart? It seems to me that what counts as ‘relevant’ knowledge is a pretty subjective affair, or, failing that, it’s a NORMATIVE question of VALUES, which is the province of….

Oh nevermind.

Crude said...

One problem with conversations like these is that detractors of philosophy try to paint it as "science versus philosophy". But that's not what the problem is here - it's (usually bad) philosophy versus philosophy.

I think some scientists (or even 'people who say they like science') get it in their heads that being a scientist means that one never makes a philosophical claim, that the degree or the job automatically sterilizes any philosophy or metaphysics from their language - or worse, that their opinion on just about anything is 'scientific' just by virtue of their being a scientist or making a reference to an empirical observation. It's not the case. Even if most of their colleagues agree with them.

Again I say, in my experience the scientists who disparage philosophy and theology usually are the ones who can't shut up about the things in practice.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this Human Ape fellow sure has a big chip on his shoulder.

It's interesting to see someone neurotically trying to offend those who disagree with him and then claiming that they are mentally insane.

Jason Miller, PhD said...

Several folks here have made the comment that "thing" refers to only material objects. One even said to use a dictionary. It turns out that person did not use a dictionary, which says a "thing" can be an ideas. Ideas of course are not material. So please stop trying to derail the debate by redefining nothing. Nothing is no thing (including ideas or concepts) period.
One other thing - if you condemn philosophy, you condemn science. Any historian of science knows that the scientific method is a child of philosophy. That whole PhD thing at the end of their names actually means some thing (though not truly material). So when you ask what the fruits of philosophy are, science and all it has produced are the fruits. This is of course in addition to law, ethics, geometry, debate, etc. But I don't think you folks are truly being sincere in your rhetoric. You probably do know better than to make such claims. You just want to take pot shots. We never truly escape the classroom bully, do we?

Anonymous said...

The late Allan Bloom wrote " The Closing of the American Mind " in 1986. By then, it was already an epitaph for American and probably all Western Universities insofar as the concept of the University as a place where answers to the really big questions are sought. All truth is now relative and subjective. To read a physicist saying this is quite absurd. I wonder if he is aware of the incident a few years back when a famous physicist pranked a liberal education journal into printing his essay that gravity was a social construct ?
An almost universal feature of the atheist attempting philosophy is the conviction of personal omniscience. The omniscience is sometimes qualified, " We haven't figured everything out just yet, but within a couple of years, we'll have it all sorted out ". Pretty bold talk from a group who believe human intelligence is the accidental byproduct of barely bipedal apes squatting around in caves chipping stone tools.

mandolin said...

What you all fail to grasp is that philosophy in modern society DOESN'T matter.

You can bark all you want about what "thing" means or this, that or the other. No one cares.

You can discuss the meanings of words until your blue in the face.

It's totally inconsequential. It's what my bosses used to call "strokin' the pony'...feels nice and kills some time but doesn't add up to much in the end.

Modern society cares not a whit about philosophy because philosophy hasn't produced a single, solitary iPhone or computer or taxi or...well, anything for that matter.

It's all just talk.

Anonymous said...

I am a physicist that loves philosophy. The use of philosophy and reason in general outside the realm of physics and scientific subjects in general is a very good way to keep myself in check with intellectual honesty. It is just matter of practice that a lot of scientist to do not follow. I have reviewed plenty of scientific papers where I saw more faith in the author interpretation of the data to spouse his grant founded opinions than I would consider appropriate for the scientific method.

TheOFloinn said...

Random thoughts

Something can come from nothing - it happens every time a fundamental interaction takes place

Every time what interacts with what?

By "nothing", I mean the vacuum. The vacuum is defined as what's left after you've taken away everything, even though it does still have a ground energy state and it is full of virtual particles. But virtual particles do have effect on things, which is why I say the word "nothing" is vague.

But then it is not nothing. It is not "nothing" that is vague, but I think perhaps your usage of it.

Lots of errors in philosophy are because words are vague and philosophers think about words rather than about reality.

But because philosophers deal in words, one thing they learn is to define words sharply and to divide meanings. What in mathematics is called "well-defined."

That some words -- "matter," energy," "quantum state," "dark matter" -- can be spoken in the language of mathematics does not make them any less words. Equations are simply very precise sentences.

What is the "thing" that corresponds to the word "matter"? This thing? That thing? But this thing is a soda can. That thing is a laptop computer. Both are composed of matter, but matter itself is not a "thing." It is a universal concept abstracted by the intellect from the study of material bodies.
+ + +

If one has spent one's whole life and education in the study of the metrical properties of physical bodies, one is likely to suppose that all knowledge is (or ought to be) knowledge of the metrical properties of physical bodies. One is also likely to suppose that everyone else is trying to explain the metrical properties of physical bodies, but doing so ineptly. Thus, when one says "science has explained much about the world" and philosophy has not, one is implicitly adopting a philosophy in which knowledge is restricted to the metrical properties of physical bodies and the "world" to the world of physical bodies as known metrically. But science explains very little about what really matters in humane life. Sound may be the acoustics of vibrating strings, but the Waldstein Sonata is much more than vibrating strings.

+ + +
Someone once said that the quantum paradoxes are nature's way of telling us we are using bad philosophy. Even scientists who boldly eschew philosophy are using an unspoken one -- one which gives them "a view of life" that informs the sort of stories they might tell about their data. Data themselves are not self-explanatory. They have meaning only in the light of a prior metaphysics. The danger is that, because they have not examined (or are even aware of) their underlying philosophy, scientists are likely constrained by some incoherent version of it. Heisenberg certainly understood this, even if one can object to his conclusion that the laws of physics do not describe reality but only our impressions of reality. Not many have pursued the science to such an extent, and they still act as if a) Heisenberg's theory is correct but b) laws of physics actually describe objective reality.

But between any finite number of facts one can draw innumerable theories. As Aquinas said about Ptolemaic astronomy, we accept it because it works; but men may someday devise another explanation that would work better. Thus, physical theories do not have the same status as measured facts or mathematical laws.

There are several theories of quantum mechanics: the Copenhagen version, the many-worlds version, Cramer's transactional version, Wolfgang Smith's Thomistic(!) version, et al.

All of them account for the same observed phenomena; i.e., they connect the same dots. All of them derive to the same equations. Cramer's and Smith's avoid the paradoxes, and so a priori would seem more real.

Anonymous said...

If a Ford mechanic fixes Fords,
And a Buick mechanic works om Buicks,
What does a Quantum Mechanic do?
(for a bit of humor)
TeaPot562

Anonymous said...

Modern society cares not a whit about philosophy because philosophy hasn't produced a single, solitary iPhone or computer or taxi or...well, anything for that matter.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

mandolin said...

I can assure you sir that I am no lady.

Ismael said...

Ethan Siegel must be either very dumb or very ignorant or does not know what creatio ex nihilo means.

Nothing is created from nothing in physics, that's a FACT that any self-respecting physicist will admit and understand.


Even the "creation" of virtual particles in vacuum is not creation ex-nihilo, since vacuum is not really 'empty'...

====

[[Something can come from nothing - it happens every time a fundamental interaction takes place -]]

It depends on how you define nothing then. Fundamental interactions require something pre-existent to interact.

There can be no electromagnetic interaction if there are no objects with the property 'charge' that can exchange photons. Or if there are no particles with 'color charge' then there can be no 'strong force interaction'.

=========

If there TRULY is NOTHING (no energy, no virtual particles, no energy fielda, etc), then truly nothing can arise at all.

---

The truth is that Ethan Siegel is manipulating the word nothing to fool the ignorant and trick them into atheism.

Also Ethan Siegel claims that you have 'to add the laws of physics', but one might ask: do the laws of physics pre-exists 'things' (particles, energy, etc..) or are laws of physics tied to the existence of things, hence without 'something' there are no laws of physics either.


In the end, as a physicist myself, I'd call Ethan Siegel a liar or at the very least a manipulator.
-----

[[It is no good trying to defend Siegel, Hawking and Mlodinow, or Vedral by suggesting that perhaps they are not using “nothing” in a strict sense.]]

Indeed not only they can NOT be defended for this reason, but need to be scolded for their either dishonesty or foolishness (or both).

If by 'nothing' they mean 'something' (eg Law of Gravity) then they are either lying to people or to themselves...




[[And that is enough to merit them our scorn.]]

They merit the scorn of fellow scientists as well.

They misrepresent science by making such statements.



Unfortunately, knowing the world of academics myself it is NOT rare to find so-called scientists who display clear bursts of ignorance, stupidity or plain old envy.

Anyone who has published articles has come across reviewers that criticized an article and from the criticism it is clear that the reviewer did not understand what he was reading. Or come across a reviewer that commented negatively due to less than honest motives (eg if he/she is working on the same topic). Luckily most Journals allow to name people not to review your article due to ‘conflict of interest’.

People often think science as ‘honest and cold’… but it’s actually an emotional field, and honesty non always comes in the first place, a field where sometimes scientist care more about publishing their articles in high impact journals rather than the truth (and often you read some real BS… and you wonder how it could be published at all )

====

Ignore Human Ape, he's just a troll

Ismael said...

Why are (some) physicists so bad at philosophy?

Well they are physicists, not philosophers.

They are trained to think mathematically (use mathematics to model the empirical observations they find), but they are rarely trained to think 'fundamentally' (ie methaphysically).

If they discover particle X, then they focus on describing it, not asking 'why does it exist', most they ask: what is the role of X in the mathematical model of the universe.


I do not mean to say the are wrong, they are not, they are doing science, not methaphysics, and science asks how, not why.


The REAL trouble is that when they do try to do methaphysics, they fail miserably.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, Hawking in his scientific work did provide us with an example of virtual particles remaining in existence longer than they should be able to - if a virtual particle-antiparticle pair is created near the event horizon of a black hole, and one falls into the black hole and the other escapes then due to conservation of momentum the one that escapes has to remain in existence so long as the other one does (and the other particle's lifetime is preserved by time dilation).

Actually Bekenstein-Hawking radiation is still speculation, since there is no conclusive experimental evidence.

Some scientists even doubt Black-Holes themselves exist (although their thoeries are fairly unpopular).

Jinzang said...

Modern society cares not a whit about philosophy because philosophy hasn't produced a single, solitary iPhone or computer.

The unexamined life is not worth living? Screw that, I'm busy downloading a new app for my iphone!

Jinzang said...

There's an app for that? Actually, there's a word for that.

Anonymous said...

You can yourself open the Feynman book and read the episod. It seems the philosopher who wrote this,either could not manage to understand the story or intentionally faked it. I am sorry to see this!!! Yeah, it is outside the specialization of a physicist to just bla bla based on nothing. And it is so easy to produce ideas if they are not supposed to be proved or match to nature.

Jinzang said...

And it is so easy to produce ideas if they are not supposed to be proved or match to nature.

The verification principle raises its hoary head.

Anonymous said...

It is not true that physicists do not ask fundamental questions. We ask these questions everyday. But, we do not speculate. And we do not dare to publish our fantasies based on our imaginations. It does not mean we can not use our logic and imagination. But, for us these things have zero value. We produce many ideas about nature of particles, time,.. !! We just do not value anything like that enough to walk around and talk about it seriously...!!! You philosophers can do if you enjoy.

Jinzang said...

Nagarjuna tells me (in his Mulamadhyamakakarikas, to give you my reference) that Nirvana neither exists nor does not exist, or that it both is and is not.

Actually, Nagarjuna DENIES that nirvana either exists, does not exist ... in the MMK. This fits with his claim in the first verse that Buddha has no positive thesis.

The corresponding strand of thought in Christianity is apophatic mysticism, whose fountainhead is "The Divine Names" of (Pseudo) Dionysius.

Anonymous said...

But, we do not speculate. And we do not dare to publish our fantasies based on our imaginations.

L O freaking L

Gio said...

Those claiming a vaccume (spell check plz) is nothing:

A vaccume found inside the universe cannot be nothing in the sense that the pre-big bang universe (or pre-start multiverse) is, because by merely being inside of spacetime it is something rather than nothing - that is, even with no matter, it still has time, and there's no evidence I know of that virtual particles are eternal, so their popping into existence is not as a result of there being nothing but because there can't be nothing in that state.

Jinzang said...

I apologize to my anonymous Orthodox friend. It seems he said exactly the same thing I said. I lost track in all the negations. As a peace offering, here's a (dodgy) translation I just did:

In the precious speech of the Buddha it is said there is not the activity of a single thought. The value of that non-thought is greater than any thought. But from a single obscuration the many thoughts come to be.

Sorry to hijack the thread. Back to philosophy / physics bashing!

Anonymous said...

@Anon at 6:48PM: it's good to know that you are serious but you're really not serious. Nice logic going on there, brah.

Gio said...

"Modern society cares not a whit about philosophy because philosophy hasn't produced a single, solitary iPhone or computer."

So? Science, neither applied nor hard nor soft, has never produced a single political ideology such as Marxism or Anarchism. Even if you are like me and reject these ideas, you must admit that political philosophy is the Achilles' heel of the claim that "Philosophy does/tells us nothing".

Tony said...

No, they really are nothing. It is an ERROR to call the vacuum a substance or thing or something - the vacuum is defined as what's left after you've taken away everything, even though it does still have a ground energy state and it is full of virtual particles.

Anonymous / Seraphim: please accept my apology if I mis-represent the physics that you know much better than I do, but I was under the distinct impression that in physics "void" usually means "space without any matter" and it is known that space without any matter still has a non-zero energy potential. Since it is non-zero, this kind of void is not identical to "absolutely nothing." Moreover, this kind of void could be not be thought of as having anything (even of a virtual or potential sort) without reference to matter and actual energy somewhere that is real, actual, stuff. That is to say, the "void" that is empty of matter can be considered an extended space precisely on account of stuff elsewhere, and the relationship that other stuff has toward this space - it would not BE SPACE without there being stuff somewhere. (The Casimir plates test certainly relies on OTHER STUFF in existence in order for the effect to happen: the QM probabilities involved are probabilities by reason of OTHER STUFF around.) If you want to consider a nothing that is absolutely nothing, you cannot rest it on relationship toward other being, because that relationship implies something other than non-being simply. If the "void" that physics wants to speak of is (empty) space, then, being space, it is not nothing. Surely nobody familiar with QM can be happy using Newton's mistaken theory that space sits there being its own perfectly simple self without reference to the mass and energy around it.

In philosophy, "nothing" means a nothing that bears no relationship to anything. It is not the same meaning as "empty space".

Anonymous said...

For philosophers "nothing" is just a word. They even can not define it precisely.

BenYachov said...

I often pray God let me not loose faith and become an Atheist. But if I do at least in Thy mercy let me not become a New Atheist. Because damnation would be hard enough to endure for eternity without being an idiot as well!

(I can tell Human Ape never prayed this prayer)

BenYachov said...

>For philosophers "nothing" is just a word. They even can not define it precisely.

What kind of philosophers? Because I could see this applying to Philosophers who advocate Nominalism but classic realists would define "nothing" as a complete absence of Being.

See the works of Parmenides and this link might bring you up to snuff.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nothingness/

It's not hard Atheist Fundie.

Gabriel + said...

Yes, there's a problem with this whole discussion of "nothing." Nothing is a very difficult thing to discuss, because you simply can't. In order to discuss it, you must define it, and as soon as you define it, it becomes definite, and therefore logically dependent on something antecedent.
This is why "empty space" is not nothing. The only way to talk about empty space, or even think about it, is to define it by the matter that is not in the space. But in order for this matter to not be in the space, the matter must first not be. But in order to "not be," there must first be some notion of that very matter being.
∴ the notion of the matter "not being" is dependent on that of the matter being.
∴ the notion of the matter "not being in the space" is dependent on the matter first being.
∴ the notion of "empty space" is dependent on matter first being. It seems to me this is why we cannot call empty space "nothing."

Now, as to something coming from nothing,
Anonymous @ February 13, 2011 8:03 PM: "For philosophers 'nothing' is just a word. They even can not define it precisely."

He/she is right; "nothing" cannot be defined. If you define it, it's not nothing. Even defining it as "no thing" or "what is not a thing" or "not a thing" is inadequate, because all those definitions presuppose "thing." And if we were to use these definitions "nothing" would not to be nothing; it would be a "negation of thing," which is not exactly what we are [not] trying to talk about. A negation of thing makes nothing logically dependent on "thing," which itself doesn't make sense either.

Does my explanation make sense? Does it clarify the reasons we cannot define "nothing"? Is it in any way faulty?

Thank you for reading.

Paul Mollica said...

@Anon:

It does not mean we can not [sic] use our logic and imagination. But, for us these things have zero value.

Wow, so physicists don't use logic? You learn something new every day!

Anonymous said...

I did not mean physicists do not use logic and it has zero value to them. You better learn to read

Anonymous said...

I was simply saying using our mind and imagination and logic and whatever you like for speculations is meaning-less.

TheOFloinn said...

the notion of the matter "not being" is dependent on that of the matter being.

But this is true of all defecti boni. The lack or defect of X is dependent upon X. You may conceive of life without death; but you cannot conceive of death without life. Yet that does not make death meaningless.

Anonymous said...

How do you define "nothing". It is meaningless to talk about "nothing". Because it means lack of existence or presence. How can you speak about non-existence of something in nowhere, in no relation to anything. It is all meaningless terminology. Just word which have no meaning beyond language. Philosophers just play with words. Toss up things. Can any of them define their so called "nothing". Do not tell me it is just an abstract thing. Then you not in real world and your philosophy is for the platonic world of abstract things!!!

Schwarzwald said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ismael said...

It is not true that physicists do not ask fundamental questions. We ask these questions everyday. But, we do not speculate. And we do not dare to publish our fantasies based on our imaginations.

Physicists do not speculate? Actually there is a fair amount of speculation based on certain assumptions, especially in theoretical physics.

If we then go even in the realm of String Theory, which cannot even be falsified or tested experimentally yet… then the situation becomes even more problematic and the borders between physics and metaphysics start to get quite fuzzy.

Yet even in experimental physics, where you can do experiments and collect data, sometimes the papers contain more than questionable material and assumptions.

By experience I know that sometimes it counts more on HOW a paper is written than what it truly contains. If a scientist can write a nice convincing story (story in the sense of how you present your work in words, not as 'tale')on shaky data it will probably still be published even if it is B.S.

I even read papers from groups of a Nobel Laureate (with his name ON the paper of course) which had a ludicrous thesis and non-convincing data to support it... which begged the question if it got published only because of the person rather the research itself...


The world of science is not the Planet Volcan, populated by purely logic people with no bias and no emotion (and very bad haircuts), but by human beings, who often care more about status than truth.


For philosophers "nothing" is just a word. They even can not define it precisely

That is not true. Some might keep the term vague, others clearly specify what they mean by it.

The same could be said by physicists, by the way. Some define it, some others keep it more vague.

I could define 'nothing' as 'pure non- being' or ‘pure non-existence’, ie no matter, no energy, and even no time and no space. In this definition 'nothingness' is not even and 'empty space' but is the lack of anything conceivable and describable altogether.

Of course one might have a other idea for ‘nothingness’ (and should define it accordingly) and of course it depends on the context. If I say ‘there is nothing in the glass’ I usually mean that there are no fluids or solids in the cavity of the glass.

I think a good philosopher specifies exactly what he means with certain terms.

Of course there are sloppy philosophers as there are sloppy scientists…

Anonymous said...

@Ismeal. The spirit of a science is what we discuss here . Not a particular questionable branch. The thing is in physics such things are not taken seriously. this is why we have no noble prize for string theory. And do not consider as a theory of nature...

Ismael said...

Dr. Feser you really started a lively discussion here :)


=============
How do you define "nothing". It is meaningless to talk about "nothing". Because it means lack of existence or presence. How can you speak about non-existence of something in nowhere, in no relation to anything. It is all meaningless terminology. Just word which have no meaning beyond language. Philosophers just play with words. Toss up things. Can any of them define their so called "nothing". Do not tell me it is just an abstract thing. Then you not in real world and your philosophy is for the platonic world of abstract things!!!



Perhaps philosophy is to hard for you to grasp.

I defined a concept of nothingness. Others have as well (probably much better than I did too).

Even if a concept is abstract it does not mean it is meaningless (and this is true in physics as well, btw.)

Second... Nothingness itself can never be observed, since you cannot observe which it does not exist, by definition, but this does not mean tha the concept itself is meaningless.

One might ask the question WHY is there something. Or 'why do things exist at all' or 'is existence real or not', etc...

These questions are valid either if the universe had a starting point or it never did.


You try to downplay philosophy as just a play on words, but doing so you are only showing you have no idea what you are talking about.

I doubt you ever read any work on philosophy at all, then you are like someone who thinks quarks are literally colored red, blue or green, when hearing someone talking about quantum chromodynamics.

Ismael said...

@ Anonymous:

I said it also regards experimental physics, not only theoretical physics. I did not say that it regards only String Theory.


Science goes just as far as the scientist goes. No further.

There might be an 'utopian spirit of science', but we deal with real scientists in the real world... and it matters little what branch of science they are in.

Crude said...

Anon,

How do you define "nothing". It is meaningless to talk about "nothing".

The problem is that if you mean this, then your argument is also with Hawking and Mlodinow, Siegel, Vedral, etc. They are the ones saying that something can come from this "nothing" you say is meaningless to talk about. (And then their "nothing" turns out to be a "something" to top it off.)

Any person who is philosophizing... is philosophizing. And that includes scientists. Some people act as if anything a scientist says must be scientific rather than philosophical (and anything a philosopher says must be philosophical, not scientific) - it's not the case.

Anonymous said...

@Ismael. I will stop my discussions here. Because, as I told I do not need an abstract meaning or the concept. I do not discuss Platonic world of abstract things and concept. It is a waist of time. It is not meaningless as a concept. But meaningless for the initial discussion we had. We discuss God in this world and then mixing ourselves to the Platonic world of concepts and abstract things.

Sorry, it is just does not give anything.

and if you can not understand that it is irrelevant, then I can not explain it to you.

I guess it is impossible to argue with philosophers.

Sed libera nos said...

However, Seraphim I believe you are confusing the saint's approach to God via the Negative way- by describing and worshipping Him for what He is not. Yes God is ineffable but not nothing. The essence of nothing is nothing- it is an absence. The essence of God is His Being. Nothing has no essence and no being. Therefore God is not nothing. However, neither is God a thing in the proper sense. Since a thing has limits (conceptually, physically, potentially, actually, etc) then a thing is necessarily finite. Since God is not finite He is not a thing. He is just God. Therefore to compare "Negative Theology" (Apophatic theology) to defining nothing or to nothing is erroneos. It is worse than comparing apples and oranges as we are in a certain sense comparing an empty set to an infinite set but that isn't really adequate in since we are speaking of comaping a complex/finite mode existence with a simple/ infinite manner of existence.

Of course this isn't an argument to prove the existence of God (there are others) so any atheist critics please note the argument presumes the existence of God a priori and primarily an explanation within the Christain framework. To think otherwise is to miss the point.

Anonymous said...

I have been away from my computer too long to respond to everything, including to all the responses to things I said. A few general (and some specific) points:

(a) Jinzang: Actually I did make an error in my statement about Nagarjuna - to say that Nirvana is neither being nor non-being IS a "positive statement". It would have been more accurate from my memory of Nagarjuna (over a year since I read him - might be a bit more shaky than yours!) to say that you cannot make any positive statements at all. And you are dead on with your comparison to Christian apophaticism. ;)

(b) Another anonymous poster made a very useful contribution to the discussion of "nothingness" in the following words:

"‘Nothing is red.’ That proposition either means that ‘there are no red things’ or ‘nothingness has the property of being red.’"

Any time you predicate anything of "nothing", as in when you say "nothing comes from nothing", you are using "nothing" in sense #2. Sense #1 is a purely grammatical function. Anytime you try to describe "nothing" you are using it in sense #2 - whether you are a physicist, or an Oriental mystic, or a philosopher like Fridugise of Tours, Martin Heidegger, or Jean-Paul Sartre.

(And in clarification of my anti-philosophical attitude: I do acknowledge and even love the phenomenological contributions of Heidegger and Sartre, despite their peripheral anti-scientific attitudes. But their subject-matter doesn't overlap with mine any.)

I would also like to contest that same anonymous author's reading of Lao Tzu (whom, by the way, I am in fact familiar with and have a deep appreciation for). I might recommend a paper entitled "Emptiness and Fullness in the Lao Tzu", by Eugene Rose, his master's thesis in Oriental languages from the University of California under the direction of Gi-Ming Shien. I don't know enough Chinese to know whether his analysis is accurate or not (I've forgotten all the Chinese I learned as child, unfortunately), but it's a thesis granted at a pretty prestigious school so it's worth listening to at any rate. Eugene Rose later became an Orthodox monk and died in the odor of sanctity. (Fyi I am technically an Eastern Catholic, or an Orthodox who follows the Pope - not that I mind being called Orthodox at all, it's how we identify ourselves!)

(c) Finally, I would like to simply flat-out deny the laughable claim made by this same anonymous poster:

"By the way, your ‘theoretical astrophysics’ is barely less speculative than the demonstrations of the most blatant metaphysicians. It involves inference piled upon inference piled upon inference drawn from tests that are repeated a very limited number of times because of the sheer amount of resources and expense involved in tests to ‘prove’ your conclusions."

Not true. To give an example of how I do my own research, I take a hypothetical scenario (e.g., what would happen if Majorana dark matter were to be gravitationally captured by Jupiter) and draw out the conclusions based on what we know to be true (e.g., what is the maximum scattering cross-section permissible in order for Jupiter not to heat up more than its actual temperature due to such gravitational capture?)

The anonymous poster's generalization of how astrophysics works is simply and laughably wrong, period.

P.S. String theory still is speculation - not that there's anything wrong with speculation provided we take it with a grain of salt. Not a good example to bring up.

Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Sed libera nos said...

@ anynomonous
Actually philosophers have "first dibs" on the word "nothing" and they defined it first. In other words- we were here first. If scientists don't like how philosphers use the word then they can always create a new one. Sorry but nothing is necessarily abstract- it doesn't really exist in the physical realm. What you are defining as nothing is definitely not nothing as it is finite and has very real properties and you claim it really exists and if you are correct not just conceptually. Then again most scientific theories are also abstract and don't really exist either- they always were and are rough approximations as to what really happens. If we knew it all then science could never advance as there would be nowheres to go.

I liken the current issue scientists (not science itself- there is a big difference)have with philosophy to the following scenario: When scientists arrive at the place where they can explain the universe they will find philosphers there waiting to greet them and saying what took you so long? We arrived eons ago.

Anonymous said...

Sed libera nos - I was thinking of the passage (in either St. Isaac of Nineveh or St. Ephraim; I believe it was the former) where he speaks of the "mystery of the nothingness of God". I might also refer to the meontological strains in Neo-Platonism and the speculations of Nicholas of Cusa. "Nothing" here refers to the denial of any duality or finitude in God.

Tony - I am responding to your response to me bit by bit.

"Anonymous / Seraphim: please accept my apology if I mis-represent the physics that you know much better than I do, but I was under the distinct impression that in physics "void" usually means "space without any matter" and it is known that space without any matter still has a non-zero energy potential."

Absolutely correct.

"Since it is non-zero, this kind of void is not identical to "absolutely nothing." Moreover, this kind of void could be not be thought of as having anything (even of a virtual or potential sort) without reference to matter and actual energy somewhere that is real, actual, stuff. That is to say, the "void" that is empty of matter can be considered an extended space precisely on account of stuff elsewhere, and the relationship that other stuff has toward this space - it would not BE SPACE without there being stuff somewhere. (The Casimir plates test certainly relies on OTHER STUFF in existence in order for the effect to happen: the QM probabilities involved are probabilities by reason of OTHER STUFF around.)"

Also correct - the way I would have phrased it is you need to be there in order to measure it. In other words, in science it makes no sense to talk about something we aren't related to in any way to measure. To talk about something is to presume the possibility of measuring it, at least in QM. So philosophical discussions concerning, say, what reality would be like if the universe didn't exist have no place in science; nor am I sure that such discussions have any meaning.

"If you want to consider a nothing that is absolutely nothing, you cannot rest it on relationship toward other being, because that relationship implies something other than non-being simply. If the "void" that physics wants to speak of is (empty) space, then, being space, it is not nothing."

What it implies is that whatever "nothing" we are talking about is a "nothing" we are trying to measure (and in the process of measuring we are finding nothing there - and it is the lack of precision with which we can even speak of finding "nothing" there which is the reason we find virtual particles).

"Surely nobody familiar with QM can be happy using Newton's mistaken theory that space sits there being its own perfectly simple self without reference to the mass and energy around it."

The problem comes more from relativity, but sure.

"In philosophy, "nothing" means a nothing that bears no relationship to anything. It is not the same meaning as "empty space"."

Well, in science when we speak about "nothing" we are speaking about the nothingness between things - and we really are right when we say that nothing is there (there isn't any ether or plenum or fluid medium between things).

Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Anonymous said...

One last thing I would like to note before going to bed is that virtual particles are not simply posited in order to explain interactions - their presence is the reason QED can't predict the charge of an electron a priori (it's something we have to measure - which I think is a good thing, because it probably means God was free to create a universe with a different fundamental charge).

By "fundamental interactions" we mean any interaction between two particles. So any time a negatively charged particle is attracted to a positively charged because it was because they exchanged a virtual photon. The difference between forces (at least in this stage of the universe's evolution) is given by the difference in the virtual particle exchanged between the real particles between which the force/interaction acts.

And, to repeat, I do agree with the posters who say that it makes no sense for science to talk about the "nothing" before the universe came into existence. It makes no sense because there is no way to talk about measuring it. I think Hawking and Mlodinow are a bit motivated by their (anti-)religious agenda by making such speculations. I personally not only do not see any conflict but do not really see any common subject-matter between astrophysics and religion, unless you are a Thomist (which I'm not, for both scientific and religious reasons).

Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Anonymous said...

@Ismel. Yeah. I know philosophers always say that: it took you so long. yeah, because philosophers wake up one day and make something up. And they think they made something great. Physicists spent years of work to prove their ideas are right. They test them from all the aspects and throw away 90% of their ideas. Yeah, it is so easy for philosophers to claim they had everything.

For example, physicists spend so many years on theory of special relativity. And they still do. Philosophers say:" oh, we said long ago things are relative"

Newton, knew that his idea of abstract time is not correct. But, he wrote I do not speculate. he would not be a genius if he did go the same way as philosophers. He knew it is better to stick to something simple and prove it and find its applicability before moving to something else. He knew that with the knowledge of his time everything else is waste of time.

So, how easy to wake up one day and say. Everything is relative. While it take physicists many years to prove which way relative. Why? when? and so on?

About "nothing" finally you came up with what I wanted to hear. There is no other way to define "nothing" except and abstract way.

But, then sorry this abstract definition has nothing to do with real world. And you have no philosophy of our world. You can continue to live in the world of your concepts and imaginations.

Science is not about bla bla and ideas only. So, you philosophers can claim you are waiting for scientists to arrive. But, you have no damn idea what we precisely will arrive at. Keep your vagueness and world of blurry concepts for yourself. We do not need it.

By the way, did you ever read astrology. They also predict right thing. You know why. Because, they speak about everything and nothing.....!!!

Anonymous said...

@I liken the current issue scientists (not science itself- there is a big difference)have with philosophy to the following scenario: When scientists arrive at the place where they can explain the universe they will find philosphers there waiting to greet them and saying what took you so long? We arrived eons ago.

____________

Good!! It shows how ridiculous they are. They even do not understand why it does take so long time? That explains why these guys do not do science.

derp said...

Anon,

Get serious. Nobody with a modicum of training in logic and philosophy will come out and say "everything is relative," because such a statement undermines itself -- if everything is relative, then the statement "everything is relative" is relative, too.

Now, you talk about philosophy being just about "abstract, Platonic" [sic] things. It's interesting that you mention this because that's what scientists do too -- the mathematical models they come up with are abstract representations of natural reality, not natural reality itself (model:reality :: map:terrain). So, in a literary sense, scientists too are "Platonists" [sic].

Nathaniel said...

To say that something came from nothing is really just another way of saying that it came into being uncaused (since clearly “nothing” cannot legitimate be a positive cause of anything). Now for a thing to be uncaused, its existence would have to not depend on anything besides itself in order to be. For those things are called causes upon which things depend for their existence or coming to be.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that a thing (X) came into existence uncaused. Now clearly the moment before (X) came to be it was possible for it to come to be, otherwise one would say that what came to be was impossible. But before (X) came to be, it did not exist. Similarly before (X) came to be, that which is impossible (a square–circle for example) did not exist either. But there must be something that makes the existence of (X) possible but does not make a square-circle possible, otherwise there would be no legitimate reason to say that (X) is possible but a square-circle is not. What makes that which is possible different from that which is impossible? It cannot be nothing, because nothing makes nothing distinct. Therefore what makes the possible distinct from the impossible is something positive in reality. Therefore there is something other than nothing that makes (X) possible but does not make a square-circle possible But that which allows the possibility of the existence of (X) is something (X) depends on for its existence. For if that which allows the possibility of (X) did not exist, then the existence of (X) would not be possible. Therefore the existence of (X) is not uncaused, but caused. But this is contrary to what we said earlier. Therefore no uncaused being can come into existence. Hence something cannot come from nothing.

Anonymous said...

Could the Human Ape be just a typical bonehead atheist concrete thinker? Some people have problems thinking along abstract lines. The more nonsense I read from most atheist fundies, the more I start to think that these guys are just cognitively limited and simply cannot grasp anything they can't see or touch. The guy is certainly not a scientist of any sort, no scientist has the time to write BS in blogs, we're always busy running around trying to find funding, hype up our proposals and attend conferences.

Anonymous said...

From anonymous Seraphim:
"Sorry. I hate to inform you, but you're just plain wrong.
Something can come from nothing - it happens every time
a fundamental interaction takes place - ..."

~Seraphim
February 13, 2011 12:18 PM

Kind of reminds me of that painter who insisted he could make yellow paint from mixing red paint with white paint, and those only. It happens every time, the painter thinks, as long as he mixes a touch of a little yellow paint, of course, to brighten it up.

And yes, you are included in our prayers! Pray for us as well! :-)

~ Mark

Anonymous said...

From mandolin:
"Modern society cares not a whit about philosophy because philosophy hasn't produced a single, solitary iPhone or computer or taxi or...well, anything for that matter."

"It's all just talk."

No one here is denying that science and technical achievements have contributed a great deal to us having better lives by way of technological conveniences. Note, however, that such achievements could not have been reached if it werent for the good use of the scientific method - which is itself a product of philosophy. See also that at the heart of scientific activity is the idea that the outside world is sensible, that it makes sense, that it is rational. That we can put faith that what we observe is rational and that it follows patterns (for example, the idea that controlled experiments produce the same results) is itself a philosophical idea, one that we cannot dispose of, no matter if we care for it or not.

~ Mark

Anonymous said...

From mandolin:
"Modern society cares not a whit about philosophy because philosophy hasn't produced a single, solitary iPhone or computer or taxi or...well, anything for that matter."

"It's all just talk."

***
My reply:

No one here is denying that science and technical achievements have contributed a great deal to us having better lives by way of technological conveniences. Note, however, that such achievements could not have been reached if it werent for the good use of the scientific method - which is itself a product of philosophy. See also that at the heart of scientific activity is the idea that the outside world is sensible, that it makes sense, that it is rational. That we can put faith that what we observe is rational and that it follows patterns (for example, the idea that controlled experiments produce the same results) is itself a philosophical idea, one that we cannot dispose of, no matter if we care for it or not.

hylemorphist said...

What science says…. from an Aritotelian point of view:
1) From nothing, nothing comes because nothingness on its own does not even have the potential to be something simply because nothingness has nothing, no properties, no potential to be something, no fields, etc.
2) Nothingness cannot become actual by itself, for it to become something; it would be creation ex nihilo.
What is all the fuss with quantum vacua, virtual particles and vacuum energy, zero-point energy etc. and it relationship to nothing? All this fuss over nothing?
Perhaps people should read Aristotle, Aquinas and others’ thought on the concept of “prime matter”.
For example:
1) Prime matter is pure potentiality.
2) Prime matter is that which underlies substantial change
3) Prime matter itself does not undergo change
4) Prime matter has no form
5) It is the closest there is to nothingness without being nothingness
6) Prime matter or pure potentiality is a state of being without form, and since science deals with substances and all substances have a substantial form, this state is impossible to achieve experimentally.
7) Prime matter cannot actualize itself since it has no actuality, it is only actualized by something actual.

So what does science (from an Aristotelian point of view) say about quantum vacua, zero-point energy and virtual particles?
1) A quantum vacuum is a state with the lowest possible energy and NO particles.
2) Such a state is of course impossible to achieve experimentally.
3) Zero-point energy is the lowest possible energy that a quantum mechanical physical system may have.
4) ALL physical systems have a zero-point energy that is greater than nothing.
5) Zero-point energy states or ground states or vacuum states may differ relatively, and is defined only in relation to some given actual state.
6) Virtual particles are substances since they are a composite of actuality and potentiality with a substantial from.
7) A virtual particle is generated by a disturbance to the zero-point energy state or ground states or vacuum state.

So there can be a strong argument towards the notion that the contemporary understanding of a zero-point energy state or a ground states or a vacuum state in physics is analogous to the classical understanding of prime matter or pure potentiality.
For example;
1) zero-point energy state or a ground states or a vacuum state (ZPE or G or V states) just is prime matter or pure potentiality.
2) ZPE or G or V states is that which underlies substantial change e.g. virtual particles are substances that undergo substantial change and they do have an effect on the substantial change of other substances.
3) ZPE or G or V states, though relative to a particular actual syste, itself does not undergo change
4) ZPE or G or V states have no form, it is impossible to experimentally determine the form.
5) ZPE or G or V states are the closest there is to nothingness without being nothingness
6) ZPE or G or V states is a state of being without form, and since science deals with substances and all substances have a substantial form, this state is impossible to achieve experimentally.
7) ZPE or G or V states cannot actualize itself since it has no actuality (it is pure potentiality), it is only actualized by something actual. E.g. disturbances imagined to be due to bodies that interact with the virtual particle field.

Meh... you can really conclude and believe vacuum states are really NOTHING in the proper sense of the word, or you can just be a Aristotelian and wait for further interesting findings from science.

Human Ape said...

"philosophically ignorant" = bullshit ignorant.

All philosophers = full of shit.

Hey Gilson, you got any scientific evidence for your Christian death cult? How about the disgusting resurrection of Jeebus into a zombie? Got anything for that?

I didn't think so. You're full of it and your idiotic fantasies are childish.

Feser, you have a Roman Catholic perspective. What's your perspective on sexual childish abuse? That all your idiotic religion is good for.

You're all a bunch of full of shit childish adults. You think you're smart but you believe in ridiculous things that are about equal to the Easter Bunny.

Using philosophy to defend a magic god fairy and pretending your sophisticated to do that. You're all pathetic superstitious morons.

What magic words does your fairy use?

Idiots.

Human Ape said...

http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Philosophy

Philosophy is a disorder that causes people to ponder pondering, rather than go out and get a job. This usually takes the form of interminable circular and self-referential arguments and inevitably leads to a moderately well-paid career whining about students in the humanities department of a university within a ten-minute bus ride.

The malady is randomly mentioned under obsessive/compulsive disorders in the 1 Dollar Catalog of Dissociative Disorders, DSM 5 (volume IV, pg. 1546, section 172, lines 45-21). It is common amongst those suffering from the condition to exibit catatonia, a type of sleepiness often seen in southern Spain, where the individual will assume and remain in a sedentary or supine posture for hours on end instead of marking last term's assignments. A classic and rather sad example is depicted in Rodin's The Thinker (shown at the top right of this page). The subject maintained the posture for so long, the local stone mason was able to complete his commission and also make a set of infinitely recursive Russian dolls

Practically, philosophy is useful while trying to disprove your religion, the laws of society, any concept of ethics you might have, even the existence of that chair you're sitting on (although never convincingly enough so as to make you feel that you have to stand up). Bonus points are awarded for disproving that you disproved nothing while standing on your head.

Over the years, philosophy has generally avoided adopting either a purpose or a method. Therefore, it is immune to criticism, because you can never point out that it failed to reach its goal, or that its approach is flawed. If you are unwise enough to try to criticize it anyway, your statements will simply become another branch of philosophy.

Tommy Hearns said...

"as Human Ape bangs furiously on his keyboard in his parents basement, swallowing down the bile every time it rises, making certain no thought goes untyped....all fruitless attempts to drown out the voices in his head 'friendless, no woman, never been laid, 37 and still living at home with only a community college degree to show that there were times i left the basement'. In a fit of frustration he slams his fist on top of an empty pizza box. Looks frantically for his DVD of the movie Elephant by Gus Van Sant...the only thing that will calm his nerves"

Ligand said...

Pleeease don't delete Human Ape's posts. He is the poster child of new atheism!

Vincent Torley said...

Anonymous / Seraphim:

I've been following this discussion with interest. Suppose we get to the heart of the matter: what is "nothing"? You write that by "nothing" you mean the vacuum, and you continue: "It is an ERROR to call the vacuum a substance or thing or something - the vacuum is defined as what's left after you've taken away everything, even though it does still have a ground energy state and it is full of virtual particles. But virtual particles do have effect on things, which is why I say the word 'nothing' is vague."

It seems to me that your definition of "thing" is problematic. You apparently equate "thing" with "particle" - either a particle of matter or a force-carrying particle. It is certainly true that if you took all these "things" away, you have a vacuum - although the state is impossible to achieve experimentally.

However, there is another way in which you might define "thing". You could define a thing as that which has characteristic properties, which perdure over some interval of time. Since the vacuum state has properties (e.g. vacuum fluctuations and a finite energy) and since the finite energy is a fairly well-defined, perduring property, then it seems that the vacuum state is a thing of sorts.

Speaking of things, I've just been corresponding with another physicist / philosopher (yes, he's got Ph.D.'s in both fields) on Aristotle's metaphysics, which he doesn't seem to like very much, I'm afraid. Anyway, here's what he writes about things:

"If there is teleology in modern physics, it applies to the world as a whole (perhaps the principle of least action), or to extrinsically imposed initial conditions (Paley-type design arguments, fine tuning). It's difficult even to find 'things' in modern physics. Perhaps 'stuff' works better. What we ordinarily call things emerge out of a complicated balance of attractions and repulsions, etc., and so need to be derived from detailed microscopic examination and analysis rather than postulated as basic."

It seems to me that this physicist's definition is somewhat different from yours, Seraphim. Would you care to comment? I'd appreciate hearing what other readers think, as well.

Anonymous said...

It's not everyday that a conceptually immaculate thinker of Human Ape's caliber wanders on to Ed's blog. Simply a stunning display of ratiocination. I am in awe.

BenYachov, take heed. This man is your worst nightmare. I would pay good money to see the two of you locked up in a room for a few hours.

G.B. Sadler said...

Interesting threads of discussion here. I'm reminded, in reading the original post, and reflecting on the basic insight (i.e. that if one is assuming laws of nature -- or whatever else one would like to assume to explain how things get started and keep going -- then one is not really beginning from nothing, of Augustine's discussion of eternal truths.

He's quite willing to say that these are in some sense (that of what we might term "ontologically dignity") higher than the human mind -- they are after all unchanging, can't be false, etc. It's almost as if what's going on with these physicists is that they are assuming something akin to Augustinian eternal truths (or perhaps the seminal reasons) -- but simply don't recognize that this idea has been played with and played out before.

Augustine, of course, thinks there's reasons one couldn't stop with just those -- which I needn't rehearse here, since those of us who've read him know where to find them, and those who haven't either won't or have the joy of reading through his works ahead -- why the human mind needs go on further to God.

Not making an argument here, just noting an interesting analogy

BenYachov said...

>You're all a bunch of full of shit childish adults. You think you're smart but you believe in ridiculous things that are about equal to the Easter Bunny.


>BenYachov, take heed. This man is your worst nightmare. I would pay good money to see the two of you locked up in a room for a few hours.

No I am in fact living my worst nightmare with the bad economy, treats lay-offs and worries about my children who are handicapped. Some teenage Dawkins fan who is too socially inept to last five minutes in a Star Trek convention is merely a source of bemusement.

I doubt this child can give any sort of challenging argument. He has a talent for creative verbal invective nothing more. But any sociopath has that attribute as well. He is the living embodiment of BenYachov's Maxim. Reasoning is a learned skill just because you deny the existence of God doesn't automatically make you rational.

Human Ape it seems is nothing more than PZ Myers minus the education in neuro-science.

>Pleeease don't delete Human Ape's posts. He is the poster child of new atheism!

Yes, the boy is a tiny Fred Phelps wannabe without god-belief.

OTOH he has nothing of value to contribute to the discussion. I enjoyed the back & forth a few posts back with BDK. Watching an intelligent Atheist argue with intelligent believers is pure joy. But my spider senses tell me Human Monkey Boy has a joy factor measured in negative numbers. Maybe it's best to boot him. He's not even brave enough to allow open comments on his own blog.

Childish really.

Anonymous said...

@Anon
Mathematics is not a science on its own. Should I explain such trivial thing. Science uses Platonic world of abstracts and concepts. But translate them to real material things, that is makes a dictionary. If you ignore that step, then you can not speak about real world. This is really trivial!!!! Though I guess you guys are used to play with worlds. You know what I mean, or pretend you do not know!!!

MMc said...

I've never heard so much said about Nothing.!!!

Anonymous said...

@Vincent Torley:
Vacuum is not "nothing". What about space-time !!!

Anonymous said...

Only some fraction of scientists are Platonist..

I do not know why these philosophers think they are very smart.

If they are so smart, why they do not do something more useful.

It is funny that they claim scientists can not think rationally. It just shows how ignorant they are to the reality and complexity of science.

Anonymous said...

You guys better first learn what science deals with!!! Advise you to study a little...

Charles R. Cherry said...

It sure would be a lot easier to keep track of who's bashing whom here if you anonymous-types would have the guts to own your arguments by telling us what your real name is.

derp said...

Anon,

You are confusing a model of natural reality with natural reality itself. By dismissing the study of abstract concepts, which is rooted in logic and philosophy, you are dismissing mathematics. By dismissing mathematics, you are dismissing the rational basis of most scientific models.

Think about this: what would boxes be if you got rid of the concept of a cube?

derp said...

OK! So Human Ape is trying to "prove" a point by copying an article from a satirical encyclopedia. So far he has not offered any arguments, just ravings and rants and ad hominem attacks against the participants of this blog.

That's not even a lack of philosophical depth. That's a lack of basic civility and intellectual honesty.

Please, Human Ape, stop giving your fellow atheists a bad name. Can you? How old are you? Have you ever had a girlfriend?

BenYachov said...

>have the guts to own your arguments by telling us what your real name is.

Or at least pick a handle.

>You guys better first learn what science deals with!!!

Ironically the above statement is a philosophical one not a scientific one. What science deals with how much explanation power it has is in the realm of philosophy.

>It is funny that they claim scientists can not think rationally.

As I recall Dr. Feser said this about some scientists not all. Funny how you New Atheist types can't read the Queen's English very well. Philosophical ineptitude is the least of your problems.

>It just shows how ignorant they are to the reality and complexity of science.

Rather New Atheists are science fetishists. They don't know science or philosophy either they just fake it then cite Dawkins when backed into a corner.

BenYachov said...

>But translate them to real material things, that is makes a dictionary.

Assuming only the material is real is a philosophical position not a scientific one.

Anonymous said...

Prediction time! Human Ape's bio reads something like this:

1)18-25 year old male
2)Single
3)IQ around 110
4)Unathletic

Hobbies include:

1)Online video games
2)Internet porn
3)Listening to bands who put drawings of demons on their album covers
4)Talking trash in comboxes

Of course, these descriptions probably apply to 90% of the Dawkins/Myers fanbase.

Help me out, how many did I guess right?

derp said...

I'd like to add something for the anon:

You should stop dismissing philosophy so easily, lest you shoot yourself on the foot.

The scientific method, that thing everyone these days claims to love and follow but few appear to understand, was developed by philosophers who advocated empiricism -- just take a look at Francis Bacon's biography.

The scientific method is a philosophical construct, an abstract concept if you say so. Have you seen a natural object that exhibits the properties of the scientific method? You betcha.

Furthermore, in what kind of objective knowledge do you think the scientific method is rooted? Science itself? Ha! Where's this "Scientificmethodology" department in the university? Right, it's called philosophy of science.

Take a reading trip, my friend. Wikipedia is free!

Self Refuting Man (and non-Man) said...

Seraphim writes: "The laws of physics ontologically are `nothing.' You won't stumble across them anytime soon, or stub your toe against them."

I didn't stub my toe on this idea. So, it must be nothing too. No need to worry about it.

By the way, you're confusing something with materialism. But materialism can't be true, since the concept that matter is certain properties is, in your parlance, nowhere except your mind. But since you can't stub your toe on a concept, it must be nothing. Again, nothing to worry about.

The purpose of philosophy of science is to "contribute" stuff. It is to offer conceptual clarity so that folks like you don't say philosophically idiotic things and claim it is science.

Seraphim said...

Nathaniel:

For the sake of your argument I'm going to replace "x" with "virtual particle". It's easy to fall into error when you separate your thoughts from the things you're thinking about.

You say " But there must be something that makes the existence of (X) possible but does not make a square-circle possible, otherwise there would be no legitimate reason to say that (X) is possible but a square-circle is not."

The problem is that there is no THING (res, in Latin) that makes the existence of a virtual particle possible but a square circle impossible. The "something" is logical consistency. It is logically consistent to say that a virtual particle will come into being (and inconsistent with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to deny it), and in particle physics anything that can happen will happen. Square circles are logically contradictory (since pi is irrational), so you won't find them.

I use the term "thing" in what I think is pretty much equivalent to the Latin/scholastic term "res", so I would most certainly deny that there is a thing that makes virtual particles come into being. They are uncaused.

Hylomorphist - my understanding is that energy would probably be a better analogue to prime matter than the vacuum. Either Planck or Heisenberg makes this comparison in one of their philosophical writings (which, in agreement with Dr. Feser's point, are arguably full of bad philosophy). I do say they are just analogues, however - eigenstates are not the same as "form" in the way Aristotle understood it, though I would like to see the Aristotelian concept of form replaced with eigenstates in the same context. Whether the vacuum is "that which underlies substantial change" (however we define substantial change in this context - the distinction isn't that black and white) depends on an understanding of quantum field theory which I think we're not ready to declare to be too fast and settled yet. (And even if we are, my personal understanding of it isn't deep enough to fully agree with that statement yet.)

Virtual particles are not "actualized by something actual"; they are uncaused as I stated before. Finally, I would disagree that they are "the closest there is to nothingness without being nothingness"; I say they are nothingness and that seems to be something over which I disagree with the other posters here. (But since we all agree on what it is, whether you call it "nothingness" is just a matter of semantics. It just depends on how exactly you define the vague term "nothing".)

Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Seraphim said...

Vincent Torley - I would not have described the vacuum as a "thing", but I'm okay with calling it a "thing of sorts" as long as we don't reify it.

Regarding the other physicist you were talking to, it seems to me he might have been using the term "thing" to refer to the Aristotelian substance, i.e. a macroscopic thing. I'm thinking of "thing" in terms of "whatever you find when you measure an eigenstate". This seems to me to be the basic epistemological approach QM starts, even though QM is open to multiple interpretations (I think you could and even must consistently start from the viewpoint of waves instead of particles, and my understanding of quantum field theory is that fields are the basic sort of item in our universe instead of particles, since it is the field where momentum and energy are stored).

I would take issue with the idea that the principle of least action is "teleological", because in QM it reduces to a Feynman integral over all possible paths in which the particle is viewed as taking all possible paths through spacetime, the greatest contribution to which ends up coming from the classical path of least action. But you need the classical action to calculate the QM case, and while I can do the math I don't necessarily understand perfectly what philosophically the math means in terms of teleology, and classically the teleology is really an effect that we see. But I think it's an effect, not a final cause.

I apologize if it is confusing that I am signing in as "anonymous". I don't have an account for Google or AIM or anything like that, and usually when I comment on blog posts (relatively infrequently) I don't see any other option but to be "anonymous".

Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Crude said...

Seraphim,

I don't think whether or not these things are "nothing" is just a matter of semantics. Several commenters here, and Ed himself, spelled out just what was meant by "nothing" - and I think it's clear that neither virtual particles nor vacuum qualify as "nothing" in those senses. Again, even Stephen Barr said as much.

You've said that virtual particles are both "nothing" and "uncaused". But then you go on to describe what effects these virtual particles have in fundamental interactions, to say that these virtual particles "come into being" (and presumably "go out of being"), etc. That's a very strange idea of 'nothing'. Also strange is saying that virtual particles, etc, are 'uncaused'. You may believe this, this may even be a popular view among scientists, but it seems clear to me that that's where science ends and speculation takes over by necessity. At best we can say 'we don't know or observe the cause' or 'we've ruled out these various causes'. (Note that I'm not holding out for there being some physical hidden variable, etc, to explain these things necessarily. Maybe the variable is not physical. Maybe God is directly causing each and every instance of what we consider 'uncaused'. In fact, faced with the choice between God and things happening utterly without cause from utter (rather than some odd 'semantic') nothingness, the former seems to be in better shape.)

Finally, to go back to an earlier question you answered. You said that Hawking's 'static reality' would fit in with Aquinas' first way. Do you take the First Way to mean that there was a temporal origin to the universe / that the universe 'began to exist' at some point in the finite past?

TheOFloinn said...

using the term "thing" to refer to the Aristotelian substance, i.e. a macroscopic thing.

IIRC an Aristotelian substance is simply the hylemorphic union of matter with form. There is no requirement as to its size. Every thing is some thing, as the old saying ran; i.e., there is no actual matter without form. Water is a substance whose matter is H2O molecules. An H2O molecule us a substance whose matter is hydrogen and oxygen "atoms." Atoms are a substance whose matter is protons, neutrons, and electrons. A proton is a substance whose matter is quarks. And quarks, too, are a substance since there are different forms of quarks.

Heisenberg was one of the last generation of scientists to have any grounding in philosophy. He got things wrong, perhaps, like Hegel, Kant, and any number of other Modern philosophers; but he did not get things stupidly wrong.

He at least knew when he was doing physics and when he was doing philosophy. Such as when he said that physics was no longer about the real world but about physicists' perceptions of the world.

Recall that there is a difference between the facts of quantum mechanics [and the lawful behaviors encapsulated in the mathematical laws] and the physical theories told to explain them. Facts as such do not have meaning; they acquire meaning only in the light of a physical theory. Thus, the slit experiment creates a fact; but the Copenhagen Interpretation is a philosophical theory. Any philosophy which creates as many paradoxes as Copenhagen does is probably bad philosophy. Hence, the many-worlds theory, the transactional theory, even an Aristo-Thomist theory(!)

dawn reader said...

If Christians would use the scientific method,i.e. collecting data and objectively analysing it for validity, there would be no time wasted in argument.
l. Jesus lived.
2. Jesus still lives, as many people can attest by personal experience.
3. Jesus said that it is the spiritual that gives life.
4. The words of Jesus accepted and applied to our own experiences of life are the basis of all intelligence.
5. Scientists are afraid of the 'supernatural' because it would seem to make their minds a nonsense. But Jesus wants everyone to THINK. And Paul. 'In Jesus are hidden all the jewels of God's Wisdom'. We were made to understand and God bless scientists for their honest attempts to do so. Where does all their information come from, anyway, never mind the universe of matter? 'I will pour my spirit (of truth) upon all flesh'.
Right.

dawn reader said...

It's not about 'religion', 'philosophy' or 'science'. It's knowing that Jesus is real therefore all His words are Wisdom, another name for the way the life and the truth and the secret lost name of mankind. So many people have seen Jesus and these days visited 'heaven' that all we need is the scientific approach to what we know in order to help the poor frightened physicists to overcome their inhibitions and GO ON. Soon they will have joined 'faith' to fact and the Messiah will come for his Bride, the counterpart of his work whilst Jesus.

Untenured said...

Imagine somebody presents the following argument. "John Smith must have parents, because somebody can't come from nobody". Not the best argument, mind you, but you can see why someone might endorse it. Now, along comes a geneticist: "Stupid philosopher, you need to talk to someone who knows how the world works! Of course somebody can come from nobody. If Mr. Nobody has sex with Mrs. Nobody they can give birth to a child. Somebody can come from nobody, I just proved it with SCIENCE!" When it is pointed out that this isn't exactly what was meant by "nobody", our geneticist gets angry and he starts carping about how he is an authority given his background in science. He then carps on and on and on about how philosophers don't cure any diseases. This, I submit, is only slightly more ridiculous than some of the discussion which has appeared here. A dunderheaded fallacy of equivocation, followed up by a misplaced argument from authority and topped off with a blatant changing of the subject. Three stupid fallacies served up with a bucket of condescending attitude. That's the "Pharyngula formula" for you.

BenYachov said...

>If Christians would use the scientific method,i.e. collecting data and objectively analysing it for validity, there would be no time wasted in argument.
l. Jesus lived.

Technically that's a historical argument based on the scientific study of history. It would be based on inference not empiricism.

Josh said...

Bravo, Untenured! Love it

Seraphim said...

Untenured - I'm not using the word "nothing" equivocally. Any difference in use between myself and the Thomists on this blog is analogical, and arguably even univocal. (I say it's nothing; they say it's not nothing, and the disagreement seems to be over whether something actually has to be a thing as opposed to a verbal abstraction in order to save it from nothingness.)

Crude - I don't think occasionalism is a good explanation for the "cause" of imaginary particles. The reason is that there is nothing miraculous about them. God works through natural laws, including the case where the situation is uncaused. If my memory serves me right even Malebranche makes this point while he was trying to defend occasionalism.

In some philosophical sense irrelevant to science God is the "primary cause" of everything. Whether this attribution has any meaning or not is beside the point. God is not the "secondary cause" of anything except miracles - and therefore not the secondary cause of such a basic part of nature as imaginary particles.

Radioactive events are also "uncaused", so to speak. The probability of such an event happening is governed by the half-life, of course, but there is no immediate mechanistic "mover" causing the event to occur as would be required by a deterministic physics such as Laplace's.

I do not take the First Way as requiring a temporal beginning to the universe, since Hawking's scenario is one such example of a universe without a temporal beginning, but which still begs the question "where did it come from to begin with?"

Maybe this is Aquinas' Third Way. I never did understand the difference between them - they look the same to me.

TheOFloinn: Aristotle thought of substances as being macroscopic. He (or at least Aquinas) strongly rejected the plurality of substantial forms you seem to imply; for Aquinas any "atoms" are pure potencies once they enter into composition with other atoms to form another substance. That's the difference between scholastic speculations and modern science.

(I am more than happy to accept a plurality of substantial forms, but I also recognize that forms are just descriptions, not realities in their own right.)

I would not have described the Copenhagen interpretation as a "philosophical theory" given its foundation in Bell's Theorem. At some point you can't separate science from philosophy when your "philosophical" theory is mathematically proven, at least insofar as Bell's Theorem applies.

dawn reader - I'm not sure what your point is, but science has nothing to say about religious faith and trying to mix the two is silly at best and dangerous at worst. They are two different and unrelated disciplines.

Pray for me a sinner.

~Seraphim

Matt said...

When people like Craig argue that something cannot come into existence out of nothing, they mean that things cannot come into existence uncaused by anything at all including God. God’s creation ex nilio is the suggested alternative to the claim that something can come from nothing.

It follows then that physicists who claim to have demonstrated that certain things come into existence out of nothing, they must have demonstrated God did not cause these things.

One wonders where the proof that the phenomena in question was not caused by God is.

Even if I witnessed a chair materialising ex nihlo, and I could find no natural cause for this, in fact even if I knew a natural cause was impossible, that would still not show that God had not created the table ex nihlo. Unless I had already ruled this option out on other grounds, and appealing to an finding that assumes God does not create ex nihlo, to show he does not is obviously circular

Crude said...

Seraphim,

I don't think occasionalism is a good explanation for the "cause" of imaginary particles. The reason is that there is nothing miraculous about them. God works through natural laws, including the case where the situation is uncaused. If my memory serves me right even Malebranche makes this point while he was trying to defend occasionalism.

Occasionalism would be an all-encompassing explanation for all causality, I think - not necessarily one that calls upon God to explain one particular aspect of the world. And occasionalism itself was never called upon to explain (only) miracles, but otherwise banal order and regularity, so a claim that virtual particles 'don't look miraculous' doesn't do much work here. Cloth catching fire when touching a flame doesn't seem like a miracle either, but God (in occasionalistic thought) was called upon to explain even that.

I don't think it's as easy to dismiss the idea of God-as-cause, when the other option on the table is "utterly uncaused by nothing at all". But more than that, I bring this up mostly to illustrate a limit of science. Observation and experiment can get us as far as 'These things occur, and either we know the cause or we don't'. When we don't know the cause (if any), and there are indications we will never be able to find out the cause (if any), we arrive at a limit of science. We can speculate beyond that, we can even reason about it - but we're no longer doing science at that point.

As for Copenhagen, it's an interpretation of quantum mechanics - but far from the only one. I don't think it having a "foundation" in Bell's theorem makes it science as opposed to philosophy, any more than (say, Cartesian) dualism would become science simply because it was founded on a certain, scientifically useful conception of matter. Richard Conn Henry, for example, takes an outright idealistic view of nature and grounds that view in the discoveries of quantum mechanics. I think it's fair to say that no matter what his view is 'grounded in', he's engaging in philosophy with such a move.

TheOFloinn said...

Aristotle ... (or at least Aquinas) strongly rejected the plurality of substantial forms you seem to imply

No, he thought there was a least quantity of matter that could support a given form. If that quantity were divided further, it would lose its form and take on another. Thus, if a hydrogen atom were divided, the different parts would no longer have the form of hydrogen, but the form of proton or neutron or electron. He called these the minima. Science has searched in vain for the atomos, which is uncuttable. Aristotelian minima seem more in tune with reality.
See: http://realphysics.blogspot.com/2006/02/aristotles-atoms.html

I also recognize that forms are just descriptions, not realities in their own right.

The same can be said of any scientific law. It describes nature.

TheOFloinn said...

I would not have described the Copenhagen interpretation as a "philosophical theory" given its foundation in Bell's Theorem.

Data, including the data of the Bell experiment underdetermine reality. There is always more than one way to connect the dots. If(Copenhagen)->Then(Bell) but also
If(Many Worlds)->Then(Bell)
If(Transactional)->Then(Bell)
IOW, Bell "proves" Copenhagen only if you interpret Bell from a Copenhagenish viewpoint. In an article written for a general interest, scientifically literate audience, physicist John Cramer, Univ. of Washington, wrote anent the Afshar experiment
http://www.analogsf.com/0412/altview.shtml:
"[Q]uantum mechanics is burdened by a dismaying array of alternative and mutually contradictory ways of interpreting its mathematical formalism. These include the orthodox Copenhagen Interpretation, the currently fashionable Many Worlds Interpretation, my own Transactional Interpretation, and a number of others.

He notes that all interpretations describe the same mathematical formalism, so it is impossible to distinguish them experimentally.


Maybe. He writes that the Afshar experiment falsified the Copenhagen and Many Worlds interpretations while supporting his own:
Does this mean that the Copenhagen and Many Worlds Interpretations, having been falsified by experiment, must be abandoned? Does it mean that the physics community must turn to an interpretation like the Transactional Interpretation that is consistent with the Afshar results? Perhaps. I predict that a new generation of "Quantum Lawyers" will begin to populate the physics literature with arguments challenging what "is" is and claming that the wounded interpretations never said that interference should be completely absent in a quantum which-way measurement. And most practicing physicists who learned the Copenhagen Interpretation at the knee of an old and beloved professor will not abandon that mode of thinking, even if it is found to be inconsistent with the formalism and with experiment.

But nevertheless, the rules of the game have changed. There is a way of distinguishing between interpretations of quantum mechanics. It will take some time for the dust to settle, but I am confident that when it does we will have interpretations of quantum mechanics that are on a sounder footing than the ones presently embraced by most of the physics community.


Meanwhile, in a review of Wolfgang Smith's The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key, we read this:
[In chapter 4, Smith] uses the concept of nature as invoked by Heisenberg to explain the fundamentals of hylomorphic doctrine. Heisenberg's "nature," for Smith, touches a deeper level of reality than that represented in the corporeal and physical planes, a reality that points beyond the space-time continuum and suggests a way of dealing with "Bell's interconnectedness theorem" (68-69). The structure of this new reality, which Smith refers to as "metaphysical,"(10) is explained by Aristotle and Aquinas in terms of hyle (matter) and morphe (form), whence comes the English term "hylomorphic."
The reviewer is also a physicist.
http://www.thomist.org/jour/1997/973AWall.htm

Daniel Smith said...

Seraphim: "I would most certainly deny that there is a thing that makes virtual particles come into being. They are uncaused."

If they are truly "uncaused" then (it seems to me) they do not "come into being" - hence they must always exist.

Are you saying that virtual particles are eternal?

Nathaniel said...

@ Seraphim,

You say:

"The problem is that there is no THING (res, in Latin) that makes the existence of a virtual particle possible but a square circle impossible. The 'something' is logical consistency. It is logically consistent to say that a virtual particle will come into being (and inconsistent with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to deny it), and in particle physics anything that can happen will happen. Square circles are logically contradictory (since pi is irrational), so you won't find them."

I agree that a square circle is logically impossible, but it clearly is not the square circle itself that makes it logically impossible, since it itself does not exist. There has to be something about reality that does not allow for such a contradiction to occur. You could say that the laws of logic do not allow it, but what are the laws of logic but something positive about reality that places limits on what can and cannot occur. "Nothing" cannot place limits on what can or cannot happen in the universe. Only something positive in reality can do so.
In other words, before virtual particle (x) came into existence, both (x) and a square circle did not exist. Therefore it cannot be the "essence" of a square circle that makes it logically incoherent, for the essence of a square circle does not exist and never will. Thus there has to be something (not nothing) which determines the impossibility of a square circle, but allows for the possibility of virtual particle (x).

Jinzang said...

Statements involving nothing can usually be recast as statements using anything or everything, (I'd appreciate any counter-examples.) For example, nothing is older than the Big Bang becomes everything is as new or newer than the Big Bang. Recasting the expression has the advantage of bringing it in the scope of predicate logic. "Everything" is poorly defined. Usually there is some implied universe of discourse that places limits on the term everything. If everything is allowed to include collections, there is an infinite hierarchy of collections of collections. I don't think I'm saying anything new or profound here, but I thought it worth mentioning.

I find the notion of nothingness more interesting. Obviously it is not a substance, nor can it be predicated of anything, so what is it?

Jinzang said...

Anonymous, thanks for the pointer to Eugene Rose's thesis on Lao Tzu. I found a copy at The Watchful Gate, which looks like a site for converts to Orthodoxy from Eastern Religions. Looks to be more serious beards there than in ten computer science departments.

You may enjoy this essay by Edward Conze on the principle of contradiction (pdf). It was written in his Marxist days before he became a Buddhist scholar.

Anonymous said...

It seems it is so hard for these philosophers to understand what I mean after so many comments I posted. Think before you answer to a comment. Math and abstract things and concepts are very important but not sufficient. Do you understand the difference between necessary and sufficient..

I meant that your abstract definition of "nothing" will be of no good in proving God of the real world....Clear!!!
So first find a map between your abstract definition and "nothing" and the real world. It would be impossible. because in real world always something exist. Otherwise it is not the real world.

Maybe then your God is abstract too!!!!! hahahahha

derp said...

Anon, after reading your posts, it seems to me that English is not your first language.

Maybe there is a communication problem. Are you reading properly our responses? Are your posts an accurate reflection of what you are thinking?

hylemorphist said...

Any thoughts or comments on this "essay" will be greatly appreciated :):
Zero-point energy/ground/vacuum state vs Real Being vs Logical Being vs Nothing

BenYachov said...

>I meant that your abstract definition of "nothing" will be of no good in proving God of the real world....Clear!!!

What's abstract about defining nothing as a total absence of anything?

Maybe you have to imagine the concept in the abstract but that doesn't make the concept unreal or impossible

A Chiliagon is a 1000 sided object. You are forced to imagine this object in the abstract but you can't say it is unreal. Nor is it impossible to make one.

Sorry but New Atheists are clearly too lazy to offer real objections to real religious views that have been held universally by Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

They can only polemic simplistic modern fundamentalist religions because their is a simplistic fundamentalist non-religion.

Pathetic if you ask me.

Self-Refuting Man (and Non-Man) said...

Seraphim:

What exactly do you mean by nothing? You seem to be giving us a via negativa, but no actual definition.

Here's another way to think about it. Can being arise from non-being? And if so, how? Remember, any answer you give that appeals to any prior condition is an appeal to a cause. So, be careful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Seraphim I am now convinced that Pope Nobody has sat in Peter's chair more than any else. Between John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I was told that Nobody was Pope. Apparently, he rules between every pontificate. He's a very old cardinal, indeed.

In fact, in Protestantism, there is at least one saint, Nobody. Since, as I was told by my Protestant friends, Nobody is a saint.

Also, the only perfect person in the world is Nobody, since, you guessed, Nobody is perfect.

Ryan M said...

I can't comprehend why philosophically read theists take pleasure in engaging or mocking non philosophically read atheists.

It seems as pointless as scientifically minded atheists mocking the ignorance of science some creationists have.

Personally, I would just leave their comments alone. Also, do theists who take time to mock non philosophically minded atheists by means of laughing at them, or having blog names mocking them in spirit think that an atheist would be justified in having names mocking theists who are ignorant of philosophy and science? I think both parties ought to avoid any instances of mockery, and just be polite, use non inflammatory blog names, etc.

BenYachov said...

>I can't comprehend why philosophically read theists take pleasure in engaging or mocking non philosophically read atheists.

Maybe they will at minimum be shamed into getting some common sense and strive to become philosophically read atheists?

Sadly I fear the philosophically illiterate & anti-philosophy Atheists might become the majority.

Ryan M said...

Will philosophically illiterate atheists become the majority? I don't know. I'm not sure what you mean by majority to be honest. Do you mean to say that the majority of the population may become philosophically illiterate atheists?

If so, I still don't know. I think the world is likely dominated by philosophically illiterate theists to be honest (Most people are theists, and I suspect most theists are not well read in anything philosophical. I don't attribute that to their theism though, I think that is a cultural problem, environmental, etc.

To the point of making atheists become more read in philosophy through mockery: I don't know of this is a good strategy. It may work as a great tool, I'm not decided on that yet.

BenYachov said...

>To the point of making atheists become more read in philosophy through mockery: I don't know of this is a good strategy.

All the Fundie New Atheists believe there is a one size fits all polemic against Theism & religion in general(otherwise they wouldn't be New Athests just Atheists). Which is foolish & one of the many reasons they are rationally pathetic.

OTOH there is no one size fits all way to deal with them. Some will be shamed some not.

Of course I would never advocate dealing with them using pure mockery sans intelligent logical refutation of their silly arguments otherwise we would be no better than them.

Josh said...

@RyanM:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/06/can-philosophy-be-polemical.html

Ryan M said...

BenYachov,

Right.

Would you advocate that atheists who are both scientifically and philosophically well read mock theists who are neither scientifically or philosophically well read?

I suspect that semi popular persons such as Ken Ham might be seen as the Richard Dawkins of theism. Ken Ham appears to me to be illiterate when it comes to everything sans the bible. He knows some biblical material, but is not well read when it comes to philosophy or science. He (Like Dawkins) might be a proponent of a worldview for unjustifed reasons due to his ignorance. So, should atheists mock him in an attempt to create an aversion to holding false beliefs? Also, would you actively mock a fellow theist such as Ham for ignorance of philosophy and science?

Note: I don't think Ham is a prominent defender of theism worth engaging with. But like Dawkins, many lay people in North America take him as an authority when it comes to questions regarding God, evolution, etc. So I think if we are to scorn the thinking of Dawkins for spreading ignorance, we ought to do the same thing with theists. But from my experience on theistic blogs, it seems as if a lot of theists will readily defend the failed epistemology of a fellow theist, and attack the atheists whole acting as if their fellow theists do not also suffer from great ignorance.

Nick said...

You don't mock people for being philosophically illiterate. You mock them for being philosophically illiterate and acting like they are philosophically literate. Their jumping into the game is their own mockery saying "I don't need any knowledge to speak on this topic."

For instance, I am not scientifically literate. Thus, do I speak on science as an authority? No. I am allowed to have an opinion of course, but the cult of the amateur has it set up that an opinion means you get to be treated as an authority.

As a Christian also, I am reminded that we are told that wolves will come in. It's not the goal to make friends with the wolves. It's the goal to keep the wolves away from the flock. That is done by shaming them. I want it to be that I shame an atheist making an argument so badly that he'll think twice before he does it again.

Anonymous said...

WOWWWWWWW!!!


Who said the world should come from "nothing".

The question of creation does not have any meaning for something which eternally existed.

You guys better first prove that world indeed came from your so called "nothing".

Ryan M said...

Nick.

Uh, sure.

So if its the case that we instead ought to mock persons who act philosophically literate while they are not, this could still apply to theists.

Even in the case of Ken Ham we find a man who claims to be knowlegable when it comes to God, evolution, etc. But Kem Ham is clearly not knowlegable about either. So, would it be the case that an atheist would be justifed in slight mockery of Ham without attacks by theists?

Also, would you try to shame theists for making bad arguments for the existence of God?. By bad I mean as invalid as some of Dawkins arguments in 'The God Delusion'. So not just non sound arguments, but arguments that do not even have a valid structure.

Nick said...

Tes to all of them. In fact, I have gone after theists who I believe are making bad arguments for theism. Bad argumentation is bad argumentation no matter who makes it.

TheOFloinn said...

I can't comprehend why philosophically read theists take pleasure in engaging or mocking non philosophically read atheists.

Only philosophically illiterate atheists who insist on "refuting" philosophical arguments with inept philosophy. If they are satisfied with saying merely, "When I was nine years old I just one day knew there was no god," that is not a philosophical argument, only a personal revelations or epiphany. But when they say, "Aquinas was an idiot and the First Cause argument is laughably wrong because a, b, or c," then they are engaged in philosophy, and doing so badly.

Ditto for creationists claiming to be doing science.

Ryan M said...

Nick,

Okay, I think thats a good thing. While I'm not a theist, I too will take time to point out the flaws of fellow non theistic arguments.

I'm just posting on this blog because I'm seeing a growing number of theists acting as if only the New Atheists make bad arguments, or are unjustified in holding their worldview.

I can see why attacking the arguments of the New Atheists might take prescedence over bad argument from fellow theists though. Personally, I think if I was a Christian theist, I would think that preserving Christianity from attack would be a top priority, so attacking the arguments of fellow theists would come second.

Nick said...

Ryan.

There's also the problem that most Christians are sadly uninformed and thus do not take attack on atheists. Atheists on the other hand have made it a point to say that they are at war with religion.

Well if they want to declare war, then I'm set to fight.

Ryan M said...

TheOFloinn,

I agree with you. I will readily show a fellow atheist that there are internal problems with their worldview, or their arguments against theism are not even valid.

Also, since it seem to be the case that posters here are on board with my consistency train (Taking issue with fellow theists making uninformed arguments, like some creationists with science) then I suppose I don't have much else to say on this blog.

TheOFloinn said...

One of the Anonymi wrote:
Who said the world should come from "nothing".

Hawking. Siegel. Other physicists and such.

The classical argument is that "from nothing nothing comes." For example: for something to become red it must first be not-red. But "from not-red, red does not come." So if something is not-red, it can only become red by the action of another which possesses redness either formally (like paint) or eminently (like the ripening process induced by sunlight).

The transition from not-red to red involves "beginning to be red". That is, there are intermediate forms. But the transition from not-being to being is binomial. The apple can be a little bit red; but a an essence cannot be just a little bit existing. The nothing from which being comes is not-being. It is not some imagined "empty black room" called "space." That is not nothing in any case. (It is empty black space; and according to general relativity, space cannot exist absent matter [or, since energy and matter are the same thing, without some sort of... oh, let's call it "vacuum energy," even though neither Aristotle, Augustine, nor Aquinas called it that.])
+ + +
The question of creation does not have any meaning for something which eternally existed.

Of course it does. Aquinas famously assumed the eternity of the world in his "Five Ways." He did not believe the world was eternal, but living long before the Big Bang theory, he had no philosophical proof that it was not. Since he did not believe in using revelation to buttress a philosophical argument, he allowed the eternity of the world to stand.

A well-known example is "Plato's Foot." Suppose that a foot has been planted in the sand for all eternity. Beneath the Eternal Foot is the Eternal Footprint. But the Foot is still the [efficient] cause of the Footprint, even though both have eternally existed.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

@TheOFloinn

Sorry, I do not agree.

1) physicists do not claim that world was not eternal.
Big bag does not mean this. Big bang could be just a cycle in the infinite cycles of the world. In fact physicists nowadays think that world is rather eternal.

The example of foot is not related to what I am discussing here.

Since you trying to discuss cause. And say the footprint is created by foot. This means you are breaking the world into subparts. And associate their mutual relation. And then say some part caused the creation of other part.

In that case your God would be part of the eternal world which caused some actions in this eternal world.

But, we want to discuss the creation of whole the world.

That is here in your example creation refers to creation of foot and footprint both.

If world existed forever you can not define creation of this whole the world. Though you may break it into sub-pieces and define action and reaction ...

In this case creation of an eternal thing have no meaning.

TheOFloinn said...

Anonymous #?
1) physicists do not claim that world was not eternal.
Big bag does not mean this. Big bang could be just a cycle in the infinite cycles of the world. In fact physicists nowadays think that world is rather eternal.


Physicists have always wanted the eternal universe back, since the Big Bang made them distinctly uneasy. Let me know when the infinite cycles of Babylonian mysticism graduates from "could be" to "is," that is, from speculative story-spinning to hard science backed up by empirical evidence.

Meanwhile, the Standard Model stands, despite the fancy footwork. The oscillating universe, like the steady state universe, makes occasional reappearances. Now, of course, we have the "multiverse," often cited by the same people who cite the oscillating universe with no sense of irony.
+ + +
The example of foot is not related to what I am discussing here.

The example of the Eternal Foot simply illustrates that an eternal thing may still be a caused thing. Your contention was that if something is eternal, it cannot be created. I provided a counterexample.
+ + +
If world existed forever you can not define creation of this whole the world.

Why not? Are you confusing "creation" with "the beginning of a space-time manifold"? Creation is something that happens all the time, not simply in some remote past. That's why Aquinas' arguments are all in the present tense and do not involve chains of movers or causes receding into the past.

Also, the "world" (in the sense of the "universe") is a set, not an thing. The set exists iff any element in it exists. For example, the set of {X|X is green} exists provided there is at least one green thing. But the set of green things does not exist (save perhaps conceptually) in the absence of any green thing.

BenYachov said...

>So if its the case that we instead ought to mock persons who act philosophically literate while they are not, this could still apply to theists.

I have no sympathy for such persons(i.e. fundie theists with no knowledge of Science or Philosophy who pretend they know it all) either.

Nick said it best.

Smegheads the lot of them!

Nick said...

Thanks Ben.

As one who is disabled also, I'm curious about the nature of the disability of your young ones. You can contact me in private somehow if you need to.

Anonymous said...

Well, Anonymous-of-poor-English:

1. No doubt the claim that the world 'came from nothing' is not a part of real physics. But physicists very frequently write books and make public statements in which they plainly intend and are plainly understood to be speaking with the authority of physics, and in these books and comments they do make philosophically ridiculous or oversimplified claims. Unless you're willing to deny that Stephen Hawking is a physicist or to maintain that his claims aren't philosophically ridiculous or oversimplified, then you'll have to admit that you're just wrong about this one.

2. Physicists may or may not say that the world is eternal. Many of them have clearly supposed that accepting the big bang theory entails accepting that the universe began to exist. In fact, the belief that the universe couldn't have begun to exist was one source of initial resistance to the big bang theory. Of course, there's nothing in that theory per se that irresistibly entails that the big bang is not just one of infinitely many big bangs in an infinite cycle of cosmic expansions and contractions (HT: Empedocles). But, as people have been pointing out on this blog for what seems like an infinitely long series of cyclical arguments, the temporal eternity of the universe is not a fundamental issue for Thomistic-Aristotelian metaphysics or for the small part of it directly concerned with the existence of God. Aristotle himself thought that the universe must be eternal; Aquinas believed that it was possible to show that the temporally infinite existence of the world was not necessary, but he did not believe that philosophical argument could establish that the universe began to exist, either; he believed that it did, but only because he took that to be the most straightforward reading of scriptural texts whose authority he recognized and because he believed that it wasn't impossible (but note, for good measure, that if he had agreed with Aristotle that the world did not have a beginning in time, he would quite comfortably have interpreted the relevant scriptural passages differently; Aquinas' position on this question was no in way dictated by his theological commitments).

3. I assume that your difficulties with English are responsible for the infelicities in your claim that talking about causation involves maintaining that one part of the universe causes the creation of another part. That is infelicitous because it at least suggests a reification of 'creation,' as though what a foot causes is not a footprint, but some third thing that we call the 'creation' of that footprint. I would certainly agree that causation is one of the most important and confusing issues in philosophy; in fact, it is one of my main reasons for skepticism about A-T metaphysics. But I imagine that you yourself think that there's nothing too confusing about causation or that there's nothing real to talk about here; if so, I disagree.

Anonymous said...

So, for instance, you appear to object to "breaking the world into subparts." If you really object to that, then you perhaps prefer to think of the universe as one giant material entity which processes from one state to another, and might say (?) that our practice of distinguishing between 'subparts' (why not just 'parts'?) is merely a pragmatically useful way of making divisions, but that these divisions do not (and can't?) match up to real divisions between distinct entities in the world. This sort of view is interesting in the way that metaphysical puzzles can be. I'm not quite sure how I could refute it, but I'm even less sure why on earth anybody would think it's true. I can see why it might be a useful fiction for the purposes of producing mathematical models of the universe, but I have a hard time understanding what persuasive reasons anybody could offer for us to reject anything like ordinary conceptions of causation (let alone the technical causal/explanatory concepts of Aristotelian metaphysics) in favor of such a view. So perhaps you'd like to elaborate. It might be useful for discussions on this blog to get away from boring old atheism/theism crap and in to some real hardcore metaphysics.

And no, for the record, I'm not claiming that the issues surrounding theism aren't real metaphysics, I'm just noticing that they're a remarkably bad set of issues to focus on when the underlying questions revolve around more basic concepts like causation. So why not talk about causation? After all, everybody is confused about it.

Seriously, Ed, why not write a book about causation? IT doesn't even need to mention theism -- at least not until the end! I know your reputation with 'real' philosophers has been irredeemably ruined by all this conservative polemic business, but that doesn't mean you couldn't write a really awesome book on causation -- a really thorough one, not just a rehash of the introductory stuff you give in TLS and Aquinas.

Untenured said...

I think mockery is entirely appropriate when dealing with these clowns, because most of them aren't arguing in good faith. A case in point is Gary Gutting's article on the NYT philosophy blog a few weeks back. Gutting showed, with more patience and charity than his subject deserved, that Richard Dawkins arguments from _God Delusion_ are embarassingly feeble and establish nothing. He did this, mind you, after getting several requests from Atheists who claimed that they had never seen anybody "refute" Richard Dawkins. How did they then react, once the refutation was put forward in plain English for all to see? They didn't even respond to Gutting at all- they just bashed philosophy because it wasn't "Science" and they talked some more trash about how stupid believers are. And that's how they roll. First, they take some contentious philosophical thesis and pretend that it is established by "Science". Then, when you show them that not only is their thesis *not* established by "Science", it rests on bad philosophy, they either shout "Courtier's reply" or they just change the subject and talk more trash. There is no good reason to continue to treat these new Atheists with any respect. 90% of them don't know enough about either religion or philosophy to have an intelligent discussion, and they don't care that they don't know. They only want to fling verbal abuse around while adopting a posture of superior rationality. I say let the mockery continue.

BenYachov said...

@Nick

One word "Autism".

Nick said...

Ben. My wife and I both have Asperger's. We seek to do what we can for those on the disabled spectrum and will be doing a talk in April at our church for autism awareness month.

BenYachov said...

>It might be useful for discussions on this blog to get away from boring old atheism/theism crap and in to some real hardcore metaphysics.

You MUST be new here because we have that action going on all the time.

BenYachov said...

@ Nick

God bless you guy!

My youngest child and only son is high functioning with Asperger's & a 103IQ.

I pray he grows up to be like you. I would be truly blessed.

Nick said...

Thank you Ben. I know it can be hard as it was for my parents and hers at times I'm sure, but I'm sure in the end you'd also agree that it's a great blessing. Take advantage of listening to the world they see through their eyes. As one on the spectrum, much of what I see you "neurotypicals" as the term has been said, doing doesn't make much sense.

There's no reason he can't succeed. I'm out on my own happily married and attending Seminary. Finding employment has been hard and I'm working on that in this economy. I do see a counselor regularly and that is a great benefit, but I also have a great circle of friends that know my personality and have been a great help.

In many ways, the net is also a great help. It gives some of us a voice who don't like to talk like neurotypicals do.

My profile I think should contain a link to my blog as well if you want to see more of my work.

Anonymous said...

Ben:

I'm not new here. BY 'that action' I take it you mean to refer to the endless cycle of idiotic atheistic science-worshippers blabbering on about how stupid philosophy is, bouncing off of responses from some people mistakenly assuming that they can talk sense to this people, others making embarrassing claims about prayer and God and how we of course already 'know' that this stuff is true, still others pointing out how stupid it is to talk about these things this way, and then others involved in meta-discourse about the very discourse?

Or did you mean to say that the comboxes here tend to involve lots of metaphysics that isn't distracted by polemic-soaked discussions of theism? If so, then maybe you's the one who's new here, mang. I've been reading this blog sporadically for years; I always stop because there's too much bullshit. Could it possibly be that all the sustained, high-quality philosophical discussions only happen when I don't read?

Anonymous said...

fwiw, the 'bullshit' I have in mind almost never (!) comes from Feser himself.

George R. said...

OFloinn:
"The example of the Eternal Foot simply illustrates that an eternal thing may still be a caused thing. Your contention was that if something is eternal, it cannot be created. I provided a counterexample."

With all due respect to Aquinas and Aristotle, if the world is eternal, then it is a brute fact and uncaused. But if it is caused it cannot be eternal. Aquinas and Aristotle both claimed that time was caused, but according to A-T metaphysics everything that is caused must proceed from privation as a terminus-from-which. Therefore, if time is caused, it must proceed from a privation of time, or “non-time,” as a terminus-from-which, and all the time there ever was must fall between this “non-time” and the present moment; and since no quantity between two termini is infinite, time must be finite.

BenYachov said...

>I'm not new here.

Why should I believe you?

Unless....is that you "J"?

>If so, then maybe you's the one who's new here, mang.

You mean you don't know I'm a regular here?

Take a hike New Atheist Fundie!

TheOFloinn said...

Could it possibly be that all the sustained, high-quality philosophical discussions only happen when I don't read?

Yes. It's a quantum mechanical sort of thing. :-)

Anonymous said...

@TheOFloinn

I would teach you some physics if you were a professional. Of course the only support for the oscillating universe is not the one you talk about. That is not what I refer too.

I am discussing multiverse. If you do not this theory can describe quantum mechanics and if you could understand anything it means it describes standard model, too.



Yeah, so funny a philosopher would teach physics to a professional physicist!!!

I know what does manifold mean. And not just like you learnt to play with those words. But I know how to work with them. Because it is my profession.

You know what is the problem with philosophers!!!!

They use physics terminology. But, they do not understand any damn thing about physics.

At the point of big bang manifold in the conventional sense has no meaning. So, I am not refering neither to space and time in this multiverse.
Every now and then in this eternal multiverse a seed of universe may appear by just random fluctuations.

Anonymous said...

I am discussing multiverse.

Insofar as you discuss a multiverse, you ain't discussing science m'boy. You're discussing woo, speculation... something close to metaphysics than science. And even a multiverse would be a largely moot question for theism's truth.

Just because you're a physicist doesn't mean anything you talk about is science (even if you and your colleagues call it such). And it certainly doesn't mean you understand the philosophical impact of what you're speaking about.

BenYachov said...

>They use physics terminology. But, they do not understand any damn thing about physics.

Rather your problem is you think Philosophers are really discussing physics when they are discussing metaphysics and of course metaphysics came first to lay the foundation for modern physics.

TheOFloinn said...

if the world is eternal, then it is a brute fact and uncaused.

You may be misusing "brute" fact, which is distinct from "moral" fact. http://thomism.wordpress.com/2011/01/20/brute-facts/

But, granting the new meaning, how does being eternal mean something is unexplained, let alone unexplainable?
+ + +
But if [the world] is caused it cannot be eternal.

Again, why not? See Plato's Foot.

Aquinas and Aristotle both claimed that time was caused, but according to A-T metaphysics everything that is caused must proceed from privation as a terminus-from-which. Therefore, if time is caused, it must proceed from a privation of time, or “non-time,” as a terminus-from-which, and all the time there ever was must fall between this “non-time” and the present moment; and since no quantity between two termini is infinite, time must be finite.

Make that Aristotle, Aquinas, and Einstein.

You are thinking of "non-time" as being somehow "before" time. But it is nonsense to talk about a time before time. That is, you cannot talk about time, which is the measure of change in mutable being and is therefore consequent to the existence of mutable being, as if there were some other time within which time was created. That's why Einstein considered time [and space] as a "metaphysical" construct with no place in an empirical physics.

Are, in fact, time [and space] things as such? Or are they relationships among existing things? If Adam is the father of Bob, then Adam may be considered in some sense as the cause of Bob; but is his the cause of "the fatherhood of Bob"?

Anonymous said...

@ Whoever mocks my English.

I am a native speaker. But, I would not waist my time teaching physics to some philosophers. You would make mistake too if you would not spend a lot time for this bullshit.

Some of you guys just learnt some popular physics and popular terminology which you continue to use. Thinking you do understand them.

Knowing words like string theory, quantum mechanics and so on does not make you understand them. Even if you pretend you do. Or cheat even yourself that you do...

It is better to make some english mistake than to confuse yourself and everybody else in physics.

Better keep silence.

I do not need you guys tell me who is Stephen Hawking. If only you knew!!!! :)))))

Anonymous said...

Knowing words like string theory, quantum mechanics and so on does not make you understand them.

Heh.

"Anyone who says that they understand Quantum Mechanics does not understand Quantum Mechanics" -Richard Feynman

BenYachov said...

Let's take the term "Atom". Anon Fundie New Atheist Physics boy hears this word and thinks of Electrons, Protons and Neutrons. But an Atomic Particle has nothing to do with Democritus theory of atoms.

According to Democritus the universe was made up of particles so small as to not contain any void (which would exclude even a mere hydrogen Atom). Maybe a naked Singularity might more closely correspond with what Democritus conceived of an atom (
or maybe String Theory?).

But a hydrogen Atom is not an Atom in the sense thought of by Democritus.

BenYachov said...

>I am a native speaker.

Yet you clearly can't read plain English? Best follow your own advice till you learn enough philosophy to matter around here.

TheOFloinn said...

Anonymous @TheOFloinn:
I would teach you some physics if you were a professional.

But if I were a professional, you would have no need to teach.

Russian(?) Anonymous:
I am discussing multiverse.

Yes, an imaginary structure -- one may almost say "metaphysical" -- expressly intended to achieve the purpose of an eternal universe. But since universe means the set of everything that exists, it is meaningless to talk of a "multiverse." Either these other "universes" are detectable and measurable from our own, in which case they are part of the same universe; or they are not empirically detectable from our own, in which case they are not natural science.

What you mean is that the universe may extrude multiple space-time manifolds.

If you do not this theory can describe quantum mechanics and if you could understand anything it means it describes standard model, too.

I think is verb missing in sentence. Naturally, if we imagine that there is such a structure and the existence of manifolds are quantum states of the structure, then it might proceed from the state of k=0 manifolds to k=1+ manifolds by normal quantum mechanics. However, as cute as this metaphysic might be, it presently lacks both mathematical rigor and empirical evidence.

After all, any finite set of facts can be explained by multiple physical theories. The "multiverse" is not the only story under which the standard model makes sense.

Yeah, so funny a philosopher would teach physics to a professional physicist!!!

I'm not a philosopher. My background is in mathematics and statistics.

I know what does manifold mean. And not just like you learnt to play with those words. But I know how to work with them. Because it is my profession.

I grant you, my course in tensor analysis on manifolds was a long time ago.

You know what is the problem with philosophers!!!! They use physics terminology. But, they do not understand any damn thing about physics.

Both Wallace and Jaki had PhDs in physics.

Every now and then in this eternal multiverse a seed of universe may appear by just random fluctuations.

Assuming the multiverse story is correct and that Heisenberg was wrong when he said that physics was no longer about describing the real world but describing the impressions of physicists about the real world. It is a fascinating myth, with multiverse and "seeds" and such; but let me know when it moves up to fact.

Also, regarding your use of "random": You know what is the problem with physicists!!!! They use statistical terminology. But, they do not understand any damn thing about statistics.

Anonymous said...

@BenYachov

There is nothing to learn in stupid philosophy.

BenYachov said...

You know Anonymous "Physics person" if you showed one tenth the humility of Ryan M the intelligent Atheist.

Maybe we would take you seriously.....

I like that Ryan M guy. Unless your name is PZ Myers how could you not?

BenYachov said...

>There is nothing to learn in stupid philosophy.

Translation: I'm a lazy braindead anti-intellectual fundie without god-belief.

(JLL Smart, Quenten Smith, Nagel, Fodor etc) thank the God they don't believe in for the above Atheist philosophers!

TheOFloinn said...

Anonymous @BenYachov
There is nothing to learn in stupid philosophy.

Of course not. That's why you should study Aristotle and Thomas, and not Kant and Hume.

BenYachov said...

Descartes, Kant, and Hume are so gay & I don't mean gay as in homosexual.

I mean you Mom shows up at the same movie as you and your date gay!

Anonymous said...

@TheOFloinn

Yeah, it was clear from the beginning that you have no education in physics. Math maybe but certainly not physics.

Multiverse is not a mathematical entity. And it can explain things in quantum mechanics which can not be explained in any other way.

What is exactly wrong with my use of the the world random. Mathematicians can keep their statistics. Usually, their interpretation of things is different. For a physicist your way may be of no use. However, it is not even clear what you mean. Because you talk so vaguely.

I am not Russian...

Anyway, I am not an atheist. And I was not trying to disprove God. I was just trying to say that if philosophers want to prove God, they can do better than this. I have some rigorous proof for them. But, it is not related to this discussion. But, it is very well supported by physics. In fact based on physics. I am not going to give you a hint. Though!!!

So, I was just trying to say your "nothing" issue is not good enough.

But, I am not against God.

Why should we think that any time somebody stands against a bad argument supporting God that person should be atheist.

Anonymous said...

BenYachov said...
>There is nothing to learn in stupid philosophy.

Translation: I'm a lazy braindead anti-intellectual fundie without god-belief.

----------

Did I say I do not believe in god. In fact I do believe. And I have even a much more rigorous proof for god...

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