Friday, November 13, 2009

Sure, I'm a physicalist

I can say that physical particles include psychons, angelons, and theons. (The soul, angels, and God). An ideally completed physics will eventually figure out that these things exist, and they will be included in the ontology of physics, so they're physical.

Why can't I say this?

9 comments:

Blue Devil Knight said...

If there were reasons to think natural science would expand to include those things in its basement, there would be an interesting conversation to be had.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, what do you do in the case of persistent reductive failure, or gaps that just won't close, maybe because they can't. Do you just admit that there are some things science can't know, or do you expand the basement to cover whatever is?

Matthew said...

Because those names are probably already taken in the Star Trek universe?

Jesse said...

::I can say that physical particles include psychons, angelons, and theons. (The soul, angels, and God). An ideally completed physics will eventually figure out that these things exist, and they will be included in the ontology of physics, so they're physical.

First of all that seems to be equating "physical" with substance; many of us would argue, rather, that there are substances that are purely physical (rocks), substances that are purely spiritual (God), and substances that are both physical and spiritual (man) -- I don't include angels (also purely spiritual) because consideration of their existence is open solely to the criterion of revelation and aesthetic fitness, and not, like the others, to the data of the senses in light of the truisms of reason (at the very least).

The difference? "Physical" means extension in space; as Stanley Jaki said, "a universal characteristic of real matter is that it can be counted or measured". If, therefore, "physical" means a substance with extension, and "nothing which is non-quantitative is the business of science" (because not resolvable by observation), then science can only include these other, spiritual substances as further assumptions, all of which must therefore belong to other fields than physics.

Do I get a good grade?

Victor Reppert said...

That would take God out, surely. But angels could have particular locations, at least while they are visiting earth. And human souls could, for all we know, also have locations. Certainly the "emergent self" in Hasker is extended in space.

Jesse said...

Hi Victor. I was assuming you were playing Devils Advocate, thus the comment about the grade (if you're not, the comment might look a bit arrogant -- just want to be clear).

You write:
::That would take God out, surely. But angels could have particular locations, at least while they are visiting earth. And human souls could, for all we know, also have locations. Certainly the "emergent self" in Hasker is extended in space.

How would we know angels were angels except by faith, that is, based on revelation? If an angel took on physical form, that is, if it affected the physical world so that we could apprehend its reality, how would we distinguish it from a human being other than to say, perhaps, that it has extraordinary powers? In that case we couldn't know by our natural powers that there was a difference in kind rather than degree, we would have to rely on faith -- belief in the reliability of their word -- for that sort of knowledge.

Concerning your point about souls, if you define soul as the animating principle of a living thing, which is the definition I accept, then souls can have locations, clearly: a rabbit and an oak tree both have extension. What about a human being? Clearly our bodies are extended in space and time, and to that extent part of our souls have location; but part of our souls are spiritual as well, and to that extent they do not have location.

Jesse

Doctor Logic said...

Victor,

Physics is not about ontology. It's all about epistemology. Physics doesn't just say that the world is made of quarks and leptons. That would be an empty statement by itself. The interesting statement is that "the world mechanically works as if there are quarks and leptons with these predictable interactions."

Physics is used to explain things by reducing them to mechanisms. None of the hypothetical objects you names would have any mechanisms at all. Dualism and supernaturalism are all about declaring features of the world to be beyond explanation. There;s no such thing as a supernatural explanation or a dualist explanation.

Physics is the exact opposite: it's about predictive (i.e., mechanical) explanations.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor said:
Well, what do you do in the case of persistent reductive failure, or gaps that just won't close, maybe because they can't.

There are lots of gaps that seem stubborn to closure. E.g., the problem of the reversal of Earth's magnetic field every few million years.

A gap is arguably necessary, but it is not sufficient, for ontological expansion in science.

Gaps are what drive science. If science were gapless, scientific inquiry would not be needed. Every experiment done every day is done because there is a gap in our knowledge.

If you read the old vitalist-mechanist debates about life, they are surprisingly resonant with the arguments people have today about consciousness.

One of the main advocates of vitalism, from page 142 of 'Science and Philosophy of the Organism' by Driesch, after considering how sea urchins emerge after egg fertilization, says:

"No kind of causality based upon the constellations of single physical and chemical acts can account for organic individual development; this development is not to be explained by any hypothesis about configuration of physical and chemical agents."

He then adds:
"[S]omething new and elemental must always be introduced when what is known of other elemental facts is proved to be unable to explain the facts in a new field of investigation."

People perceived a deep and insurmountable gap between the facts of development and the facts of chemistry/biochemistry. And there was a gap. A whole bunch more chemistry/biochemistry/genetics needed to be developed before they could close the gap.

So, aside from intransigent facts that are tough to reduce, you'd need something more. Perhaps a good case study of actual expansion of the ontology in physics, the introduction of antimatter and such, would pay dividends to the dualist. The analogies are not very strong with consciousness research.

Victor also asks:
Do you just admit that there are some things science can't know, or do you expand the basement to cover whatever is?

I'm not sure. I could be an ontological "monist" but epistemic pluralist. E.g., experiencing a red quale is a different way to access the same facts about the brain as described by the neuroscientists. So, science can't put our brain in the state to have that actual experience (e.g., know what it is like to be a bat), but that doesn't mean anything is left out of the ontology.

For instance, studying pregnancy doesn't make me pregnant, and studying visual experience doesn't give me those visual experiences. This doesn't seem to undermine naturalism, but seems to be common sense: science doesn't grant scientists the properties of the things they study (e.g., I don't photosynthesize even though I study photosynthesis).

Doctor Logic said...

Well said, BDK.