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What is "real" in physics?


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In my view, yes and no.

 

Empiricism has never succeeded in overturning a result of metaphysical analysis. This could be seen as constituting an empirical proof of these results. But this argument is not overwhelming and you may not agree.

 

I could point to a few million first-person reports confirming the results of metaphysics, but these would not constitute empirical evidence for a sceptic, just a massive coincidence. Some people reject consciousness as a scientific phenomenon for this reason, that there is no empirical proof for it. .

Which points out two differences between metaphysics and science. One avoids confirmation bias by looking for falsification rather than anecdotal evidence. It doesn't matter how many confirmations you can gather. If there's a solid contradiction, you toss the theory.

 

Also, science doesn't deal in proof.

 

 

 

I could point to the elegance, simplicity and systematic integrity of the fundamental theory that emerges if we take metaphysical results seriously. But this argument doesn't work for string theory so it might be rejected.

 

I could point to the fact that no fundamental theory that ignores the results of metaphysics works. But I'm not sure this could be called empirical evidence.

 

All in all, I think that to do metaphysics we have to imagine that we were given a brain for a reason and might as well use it, and then use whatever standards of proof and evidence we can find. There is no empirical proof that all apples fall down, but induction seems a reasonable reason for imagining they do. There is no empirical proof that Materialism is true, and never will be, but it is a metaphysical theory that some people like, so they argue that there are logical reasons for endorsing it. There are double standards.

It's OT for this discussion, but I keep missing out on the threads where all these metaphysics results are actually discussed in detail. I only read about how essential it is.

 

I would concede that in the sense that a physicist would use the word there is no empirical proof for metaphysical results. That is why they are metaphysical results. But in this case the OP's question 'What is real in physics' is a serious category error. It is not a question for physics. The only way to decide would be to work it out or use a form of empiricism that physics at this time does not recognise. Or, it is just asking 'what do physicists usually assume is real', which is an easy one. .

 

For myself, I see no point in drawing any kind of line between physics and metaphysics until it can be shown that they are not entirely consistent in their findings. But I'd have to agree that the evidence of our physical senses is never going to be able to decide questions such as what is real. .

 

If I may say some more. I respect your scepticism Swansont, and feel you take a thoughtful approach to these things. My problem here and elsewhere is that I am one of the most dogged critics of the way metaphysics is usually done. So when you criticise metaphysics I am torn between agreeing with you and defending it. You might appreciate this dilemma, since good physicists must often face the problem of defending physics in the face of the bad work that some people do, overstated claims, hasty conclusions, experimental errors, fraud and so forth. So I will defend the methods of metaphysics to the death, but I would not defend for a moment what passes for metaphysics in academia, which seems utterly dishonest and pointless to me.

As I was hoping one might infer from the first few posts, I was hoping to discuss reification of conceptual and calculation tools in physics. As we keep going into tangents of whether time, or some other part of physics, is a "real thing", and yet nobody will step up and define what they mean by real — there's always some waffling between real meaning a physical object and something else, and physics ultimately makes no claim on the matter. Physics is full of concepts and calculational tools that let us solve problems. But there is no guarantee that nature actually, literally works the way the equations might imply. Are phonons actual particles or a convenient description of vibrational modes in a lattice? Is there a physical object known as a hole in semiconductor physics? No! It's just easier to describe the behavior of the absence of a charge than the collective behavior of perhaps 10^20 electrons. They are just conceptual tools that work. Nature behaves as if it's true, and physicists like to take the shortest path in figuring out answers. We adopt the models that work. But they are models, not reality, even though that gets forgotten now and then.

 

Anyone claiming to know the underlying reality has to figure out a way to test it if it's going to be considered science.

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One aspect of this is the question if electrons are real. What about photons? For me this came up in a discussion some time ago, with the question of whether phonons were real — my answer was no, tha

IMHO they are real.   And energy is real. It flows from one particle, or body, to other during interaction between them. Hot-fast particle shares energy with colder ones until they're all in equil

Without the molecules — I just want the energy, and only energy. I'm a purist.

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Which points out two differences between metaphysics and science. One avoids confirmation bias by looking for falsification rather than anecdotal evidence. It doesn't matter how many confirmations you can gather. If there's a solid contradiction, you toss the theory.

 

This is strange thinking. Ot even crooked. The entire metod of metaphysics is the falsification of theories. This is exactly what it is. The method is called the dialectic. Your response is disappoimting. You asked me for empirical evidence. If you had wanted to talk about falsification then I would have done that. It is sophistry. And even rather daft. By your view consciousness studies can never be a scientific discipline.

 

Do you really not know that metaphyscis is a methof of falsification, and no more reliant on anecdotes than physics? Some would say less so. No wonder you think so little of it.

 

Science doesn't deal in proof.

 

Do you imagine that a philosopher would not know this? This is more basic than F=MA. Science deals in proofs of falsity,just the same as metaphysics, always in search of a 'best' theory. This process is called 'abduction' by C,S, Peirce. You cannot prove what is true in either dsiciplne, but you can prove what is not.

 

This is metaphysics 101.

 

Why not just say you aren't interested?

 

I don't mean to be unfriendly, but really, how was I supposed to respond?

 

EDIT: I missed this.

 

.Anyone claiming to know the underlying reality has to figure out a way to test it if it's going to be considered science.

 

Of course. Mind you, it would be foolish to assume that whether it is considered science would decide whether it is plausible, reasonable or true. Hegel considered metaphysics a science, and so do I. Russell tried to formalise it precisely in his symbolic logic. It has been done by others. But I know what you mean. If it is to qualify as a physical theory,then it must be testable in physics. Likewise for it to be considered a philosophical theory it's ramifications would have to testable in metaphysics. We must give each its due for a well considered worldview. .

Edited by PeterJ
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As I was hoping one might infer from the first few posts, I was hoping to discuss reification of conceptual and calculation tools in physics. As we keep going into tangents of whether time, or some other part of physics, is a "real thing", and yet nobody will step up and define what they mean by real — there's always some waffling between real meaning a physical object and something else, and physics ultimately makes no claim on the matter. Physics is full of concepts and calculational tools that let us solve problems. But there is no guarantee that nature actually, literally works the way the equations might imply.

 

You said: "But there is no guarantee that nature actually, literally works the way the equations might imply."

 

Math is a language. My concept of "Swansont's kidney" isn't real nor accurate, but your kidney is definitely real.

 

 

Is there a physical object known as a hole in semiconductor physics? No! It's just easier to describe the behavior of the absence of a charge than the collective behavior of perhaps 10^20 electrons.

 

It's a hole. Are edges, tips, corners, and surfaces real?

 

What about spots, or rebels? A rebel can only exist in the context of societal norms. Some things need context. Rebels, spots, and holes are similar in this respect.

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You said: "But there is no guarantee that nature actually, literally works the way the equations might imply."

 

Math is a language. My concept of "Swansont's kidney" isn't real nor accurate, but your kidney is definitely real.

 

 

 

It's a hole. Are edges, tips, corners, and surfaces real?

 

What about spots, or rebels? A rebel can only exist in the context of societal norms. Some things need context. Rebels, spots, and holes are similar in this respect.

 

I don't recognize any of those terms from my physics classes. Perhaps rebels and spots are supersymmetry terms? I'm not a particle/high energy guy.

 

(refer to the thread title as needed)

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I mistakenly thought you wanted to talk about what makes something real.

 

As I was hoping one might infer from the first few posts, I was hoping to discuss reification of conceptual and calculation tools in physics. As we keep going into tangents of whether time, or some other part of physics, is a "real thing", and yet nobody will step up and define what they mean by real — there's always some waffling between real meaning a physical object and something else, and physics ultimately makes no claim on the matter.

 

[snip]

Edited by MonDie
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A recent book deals precisely with the reification of concepts and tools in physics. It is The World According to Quantum Mechanics by Ulrich Mohrhoff.

 

It is a text book which explains the mathematics of QM, complete with exercises. . As such it might seem (to Swansont and other rocket scientists) to be rather elementary. But an interpretation of QM is given and this justifies the book's subtitle, which is, Why the Laws of Physics Make Sense After All'.

 

The book represents my philosophical view precisely, but I wouldn't be able to explain the argument it makes because my maths is not good enough.

 

I agree that it would be necessary to define 'real' for this discussion to begin to get anywhere. But I would have thought that the definition should be given by the person asking the question. I'll work with whatever definition I'm given.

 

My default definition for 'real' would be 'having a true or independent (i.e. non-relative) existence. But this is a metaphysical and very general definition and it may not work here. It certainly would not work to say that Swansont's kidney is real in this sense. I will stop assuming that this is the correct definition, however, and wait for the one intended by the OP. I should have asked for clarification in the first place.

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PeterJ, it seems to me that you equate real with absolute and fundamental. And I believe you have said that the absolute and the fundamental cannot be experienced. If so, this means that the real cannot be experienced and thus all phenomena are not real.

 

Maybe I missed it along the way, but I do not see where what you describe as relative (and/or emergent?) comes from if not ultimately from the fundamental. I don't remember you saying that the relative comes from nothing. I don't understand why we cannot consider the "child" (product) of the fundamental just as real as the "parent" (original).

 

Establishing a frame of reference is basic in physics. I think the most important part of any frame is the origin. It seems to me that what we consider absolute, fundamental and real is the ultimate point of origin in both metaphysics and physics. I can understand that everything in a frame is relative to the origin, but what makes any of it less real than the origin?

 

The one best example I can think of for accepting an origin right now is the phrase "I think, therefore I am". I think it no accident that the phrase "I am" occupies the prominent place it does in the book of Genesis; how better to establish an origin? If there is to be anything real can it be other than the "I"? If not, then why should I consider what I experience to be not real? Help me with this.

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it's okay Fred, I would actually agree with you. I seem to have explained myself poorly. I would agree with what you say here except for one thing.

 

When you say 'I' it might mean one of two things. If it means you, Fred Champion, then this would be an unreal (emergent, reducible) phenomenon. If, however, 'I' means what it means in Genesis, then it would refer to something real. This dual use of the word causes all sorts of misunderstandings.

 

I can see what you mean about what is emergent being as real as its origin and in a way would agree. But whatever can be reduced cannot be as real as what cannot be reduced. That is, a piano is not more real than the electrons out of which it is made. Beaudrillard calls this reduced and ultimate reailty 'the desert of the real', and in the film the Matrix this is the chapter heading for the place in the book where Neo hides his secret software. For B, for instance, money is not real. if we go though all phenomena in the same way,. we end up with the only thing that is real. .

 

B calls it a 'desert' because to the intellect it is undifferentiated and featureless, thus unthinkable. Physicists usually assume it is Nothing. Mysticism states that it is 'I', when we use this word to mean our real being, and not some contingent phenomena that in daily life we think of as 'I'.

 

I feel our views are very close in many respects.

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Wow. If Bill Clinton had a problem understanding "is" then I guess I can question "I" without too much embarrassment.

 

I think I get the part about the ultimately real being "unthinkable". I take this to mean incomprehensible. If we cannot comprehend, the next question is why can't we. I want to say that it is because of our nature, that we just do not have the ability, but not because the real cannot be comprehended. The "I am" in Genesis is not presented as featureless, but rather as something than can be recognized, to some extent. If we accept that the ultimately real is unthinkable, do we not have to conclude that Genesis, like the Big Bang theory, does not present the ultimately real? If we cannot comprehend, not because of our inability, but because of the nature of the ultimately real then I think the question has to be whether we have the ability to assign meaning to the term "unthinkable".

 

I don't get the part about physicists assuming it is Nothing. I can understand that in physics we may have to step around the question of "real", especially in the context of it being unthinkable, and get on with the "how" of our experiences, but not that it would be dumped into nothingness.

 

I ask again, are we to accept that everything has come from the ultimately real? If the answer is no, the obvious question then is where did everthing come from? If the answer is yes, then why would we not consider all of that everything to be just as real as what produced it? I don't get that the piano is any less real that the atoms which form it; not more real, but not less real either. I don't get the idea that a composite produced by or from the ultimately real would be not real, other than that you have defined real as not reducible. I suppose I'm stuck on the definition. I am more comfortable contrasting real with illusion, I have no term to replace real for that comparison and I do not want to describe everything I experience as an illusion, and if we define illusion as experience, then I need another term for what I now call illusion.

 

I expect some might think this a topic for another thread, but I feel it ties in here: I have followed the political and religious debate on when life begins. To me it is a question for science, not politics or religion. I think we all accept that at conception the body forming process begins and that if left to run its course death will follow in some not too distant time. So much for the physical part of each of us. The part not commonly discussed, and to me just as much a question for physics is the beginning of consciousness. I take consciousness to be the "I" part of us. In order to be politically correct I refer to it as the identity rather than the spirit, the spark of life, the soul or whatever else some might call it. I wonder if we might recognize that the identity is a composite formed from the partial identity present in the egg and the sperm just as the body is a composite formed from the partial body present in the egg and the sperm. If we were to acept this we would have an origin for our identity. It seems to me that if science could enbrace the idea of an origin for identity, consciousness, as it has for the origin of the body we could rescue identity from mysticism and get on with developing a physics for it.

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Interesting thoughts. A few reactions.

 

'Unthinakble' need not mean 'incomprehensible. It would be unthinkable because it is undifferentiated. One mathematician who speaks of this likens it to an ice-wall, on which the intellect can gain no purchase. But this should not imply that it cannot be known, verified, comprehended. It would be our real identity, what we are, what you are. .

 

It is ironic that mysticism is the only doctrine that states that all knowledge is possible. and thus that the universe is knowable for what it is. It is other people who usually believe it all beyond our ken and must remain a mystery. Check out McGinn's 'mysterianism'. Mysticism is the opposite of mysterianism.

 

I see your point about the real producing the real. But it is such a big topic , and would take us so far into ideas that cause trouble here, that I think it's best to leave it as something to wonder about. .

 

The 'I' of Genesis is the 'me' of the sage and the prophet. It would definitely be recognisable. But again, this is going to deep for the venue.

 

You must be correct to say that whatever is real comes from the real. But for mysticism what is 'created' (produced) is not truly real. Nothing would really exist. This would be why we cannot prove that it does.

 

Investigation of identity is mysticism, and to a lesser extent metaphysics. To 'rescue identity from mysticism' would be like trying to rescue electrons from physics. Mysticism, its practices, philosophy, teachings and motivation, is about nothing else.

 

The claim of mysticism, i.e. the claim of people who have looked through the telescope, is that the 'I' of ordinary consciousness is not our identity. Otherwise our identity would be destroyed on our physical death. The 'I' of ordinary consciousness would be precisely what is destroyed, leaving our identity as what is left over. This could never live or die.

 

We cannot develop a 'physics of identity' from what is not physical. The idea is a category-error. Physics does not address identity. Not even the identity of electrons. For physics the properties and attributes of a phenomenon would be what the phenomenon is, there would be no more to it. If there is anything else to a phenomenon it would be unobservable, unverifiable, untestable, and might as well be Nothing.

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I think it is a dreadful mistake to try to explain the world by reference to just one of physics, philosophy and religion. It would be like trying to understand tennis while doing only mathematics. The world has to be investigated as whole, in all its aspects, with no worries about what is physics and what is not. Otherwise we will gain and great understanding of physics and no understanding of the world. The evidence for this outcome is all around us. One has to use the correct tools for the job in hand.

 

Just my responses to your thoughts. Not pushing my view, just clarifying it. .

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Thanks, it becomes more obvious that I am not up to anywhere near your speed on this. I did look at mysterianism a bit, and a variety of related ideas.

 

I think one problem with mysterianism and the related ideas is that many ask "why" of experience. My response must be that this is not an appropriate question. The answer seems obvious: "it", whatever the it is, is the way it is; if it were not this way, it would be another way or not be at all. The why question seeks a reason where, to me, ultimately there either is none or we are not capable of grasping it. I take the fact that we can ask for a reason as evidence of our capacity to understand it should there be one, thus I conclude that there is no reason and it is just the way it is. Perhaps this is what you mean by unthinkable.

 

One other problem, as I see it, is the idea of the "mind". There seems to be no agreement on what mind is. I see mind as the identity's "user interface" to the body. I admit one has to accept the idea of the identity as a natural thing apart from but associated with the body in order to accept it needing or using a means of interacting with the body.

 

We need and use a variety of physical objects and processes to interact with our computers, especially memory. I see the identity's interaction with the body as similar. One very important characteristic shared by the computer operator and the identity is the ability to make choices (free will). This ability alone distinguishes the identity from all of what we usually call objects. It is the difference between an object and an entity.

 

I explained to a Baptist preacher once that I thought that if God, heaven, the soul and the whole "other side" notions were real then they must actually exist and if so then they must be part of our Universe (since the Universe is all that is) and there would be a physics for it. I think it was the first time he had been confronted by the idea that it was actually physically real.

 

I hope this explains why I think the search for consciousness must be moved into physics. The magic and spookiness must be eliminated if we are to discover the truth about life.

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Your second para. makes me thing you are a closet Taoist. I would completely agree that all these questions can be answered only be reference to identity. Lao-tsu says as much, and it works.

 

But I cannot see how you arrive at the conclusion that a science that studies only the physical is capable of studying consciousness. It appears to be a catastrophic category-error and demonstrably false. Nor would I agree that there is anything that we can truly call freewill. Interestingly, (I hope), in mysticism the freewill-determinism dichotomy is solved by reference to identity, as are all metaphysical dichotomies. Thus no irreducible dichotomies arise.

 

In Taoism the laws of Nature, all laws, are as they are 'Tao being what it is'. So the 'why' question is not legitimate when asked for any of its ineluctable consequences. We could only ask, why is Reality what it is? Every other 'why' question would reduce to this one. This appears to be your view also.

 

(This in not connected with my 'unthinkable' comment. That was referring to a phenomenon that has no partial attributes or properties. With no categories to manipulate, the intellect is unable to operate. Tao is unthinkable for reasons that can be explained logically. If Lao-tsu is correct about the origin of consciousness, then its origin is inevitably unthinkable. One would have to know it by a realisation of identity or not at all. In other words, one would have to study consciousness.)

 

Any magic and spookiness associated with consciousness is in the eye of the beholder. It is physics that leaves us with this perceived spookiness. Those who study consciousness empirically, rather than oscilloscopes and first-person reports, do not tell us that anything spooky is going on.

 

Nice point you made to the Baptist preacher. If he couldn't answer it then he needs to check out his scriptures.

Edited by PeterJ
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Your second para. makes me thing you are a closet Taoist. I would completely agree that all these questions can be answered only be reference to identity. Lao-tsu says as much, and it works.

 

But I cannot see how you arrive at the conclusion that a science that studies only the physical is capable of studying consciousness. It appears to be a catastrophic category-error and demonstrably false. Nor would I agree that there is anything that we can truly call freewill. Interestingly, (I hope), in mysticism the freewill-determinism dichotomy is solved by reference to identity, as are all metaphysical dichotomies. Thus no irreducible dichotomies arise.

 

In Taoism the laws of Nature, all laws, are as they are 'Tao being what it is'. So the 'why' question is not legitimate when asked for any of its ineluctable consequences. We could only ask, why is Reality what it is? Every other 'why' question would reduce to this one. This appears to be your view also.

 

(This in not connected with my 'unthinkable' comment. That was referring to a phenomenon that has no partial attributes or properties. With no categories to manipulate, the intellect is unable to operate. Tao is unthinkable for reasons that can be explained logically. If Lao-tsu is correct about the origin of consciousness, then its origin is inevitably unthinkable. One would have to know it by a realisation of identity or not at all. In other words, one would have to study consciousness.)

 

Any magic and spookiness associated with consciousness is in the eye of the beholder. It is physics that leaves us with this perceived spookiness. Those who study consciousness empirically, rather than oscilloscopes and first-person reports, do not tell us that anything spooky is going on.

 

Nice point you made to the Baptist preacher. If he couldn't answer it then he needs to check out his scriptures.

I'm not sure I said "a science that studies only the physical is capable of studying consciousness". Perhaps I should have.

 

I do not believe that there is anything "supernatural"; all that is is real, and by real I mean material and physical. I accept that the spark of life, the spirit, the soul, the identity is our consciousness and it has substance, it is material and physical. The material and physical properties and characteristics of the identity are just different from those of what we call normal matter. What we observe with our five senses as consciousness is the identity interacting with the body.

 

I accept that there is only one environment (the Universe) and that it provides a "where" for both normal matter and the substance of the identity. Since the identity interacts with the body, the physics of the identity must be at least partly compatable with the physics of the body. The physics of both (and whatever else is out there) will be the complete physics of the universe. Our current physics would have to be extended in order to investigate the identity and consciousness.

 

Since I accept that everything is natural and physical I see no dichotomy. The physics of the body, normal matter, is deterministic but the physics of the identity must be such that it is not. More than that, the identity must be able to interrupt the deterministic process of the body in order for us to observe what we call free will.

 

I believe the body and identity are both "started" at the moment of conception. We know the body is a mechanical, or deterministic, construct. I might accept that the identity is a similar construct but I cannot envision how substance can achieve non-rationality. A "thinking machine" that would make inappropriate judgements is beyond me. I suppose that until there is a better explanation, I will have to accept that it is possible.

 

I'm sorry this is so not well written. I'm trying.

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Oh, you are a materialist Fred. I hadn't realised this. I'm afraid I have no magic cure for materialism other than a study of metaphysics. A bit of thought soon shows it does not work.

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Oh, you are a materialist Fred. I hadn't realised this. I'm afraid I have no magic cure for materialism other than a study of metaphysics. A bit of thought soon shows it does not work.

Solid, liquid, gas and plasma. All different, but the same stuff; all occupy space, interact and react to light. So if the "unseen" is, what would it be, something so different that it could not interact with our stuff? If so we should never have even a hint that it is there. No, if the unseen is, then it is some sort of stuff and science will have the job of finding out what sort of stuff. If the unseen is not, then we are left with an irrational machine and the problem is how can it be so.

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