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Can Everything be Reduced to Pure Physics?

  1. By Physics alone?

    144 vote(s)
  2. By Religion alone?

    8 vote(s)
  3. By any other discipline?

    12 vote(s)
  4. By Multi-disciplinary efforts?

    136 vote(s)
  1. Jul 13, 2004 #1
    How true is the claim that everything in the whole universe can be explained by Physics and Physics alone? How realistic is this claim? Does our ability to mathematically describe physical things in spacetime give us sufficient grounds to admit or hold this claim? Or is there more to physical reality than a mere ability to matheamtically describe things?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 13, 2004 #2
    wrong forum i suspect?
    ... everything can definitely be expressed by mathematical physics once everything is figured out (hypothetically) and mathematics have evolved to express this same physical quality (optional)...
    but thinking physics can explain everything is a very ancient misguidance... quite lord kelvin-ish...
    the fact that quantum mechanics deals with uncertainty, reveals that nothing can be precisely predicted nor described...
  4. Jul 13, 2004 #3
    Sorry balkan....

    I realised this after posting the message. Anyway, back to the point. Ok, balkan, I am equally as sceptical, but there is also another nightmarish claim within the science community that 'order is derivable from chaos!'. How true is this claim, despite mathematical tendency towards it? I am not quite certain. Perhps, there is someone out there who knows better. Anyway, whatever you think or feel, don't forget to register your vote on the best possible way in which the pysical world can be properly explained.
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2004
  5. Jul 14, 2004 #4
    but i don't believe the universe can be explained... i just think you can make some pretty decent approximations and representations...
  6. Jul 14, 2004 #5
    True, balkan, ....but "approximations and representations" have proscribed spooky presuppositions, or should I say dangerous causal and relational implications. It makes the problem of explanation and description persistently irresolvable. That is, under your suggested schema it is quite possible for a prospective observer standing in a natural clarifying relation with the rest of the world to unversally declare:

    1) I am an approximation or an estimate of a man!

    2) Take any thing, if it can be represented in the human mind or in the external world, is an approximation of itself!

    3) Don't deceive yourself...I am convinced and certain that you are an estimate of yourself, or your own kind.

    .....and so on. Well, that's spooky. Please rescue me and convince otherwise...
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2004
  7. Jul 14, 2004 #6
    the matter itself and the mechanisms are not approximations, but the methods by which we describe them are... so basically there's nothing to worry about...

    except. you do only see an approximation of yourself and others due to resolution of examination... fact is, that you'll never have the means to precisely examine or verify yourself to degrees of infinity... and even if you could establish knowledge of something with 100% certainty, heisenbergs principle of uncertainty would leave you with another factor that would be infinitely uncertain...

    sucks doesn't it?
  8. Jul 15, 2004 #7
    I wonder where you heard this claim.

    Is a mathematical descripton of anything all there is to that thing? Of course not. By itself, a mathematical description has zero value. In order for such to have meaning, it must be understood and interpreted. Such understanding is not contained within the description.

    2 + 2 = 4. What does this mathematical equation tell us? It tells me that the author does not know mathematics. I am interpreting this using base 3. Aren't you? If not, how would we know? Mathematics must be interpreted. Such interpretation is not within the math, but is beyond the math. Mathematics is a tool, not an end in itself.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2004
  9. Jul 15, 2004 #8

    Tom Mattson

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    It is the claim that defines materialism.

    Right, of course not. Except that he didn't ask if everything was reducible to mathematics, he asked if it was reducible to physics. That is, can everything we observe and experience be accounted for in terms of physical processes.

    edit: Just noticed that this is in the Politics forum. I'm moving it to Metaphysics.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2004
  10. Jul 16, 2004 #9
    Everything in the Universe now, or are you including such things as the production of the Universe and subsequent innovations, billions of years in the past? Many (myself included) would invoke the belief in a Creator, when contemplating the production of the Universe, and the creation that occured afterward...but then, this Creator would (by logical necessity) be physical, and would thus also be explainable by physics.

    Indeed, adherence to a moral code, belief in a religious truth, the offering of worship to that Creator...all these things are also physically explainable (IMHO).

    So, yes, I think all things are explainable physically, and I don't think that invoking religion changes that at all.
  11. Jul 16, 2004 #10

    Les Sleeth

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    This question is very easy to answer, especially if when you use the term "explain" you mean prove. Of course there are people who've attempted purely physical explanations, but no one knows if their models are correct.

    Right now, everything in the universe cannot be explained by physics. Not a single informed person would say it can. In the future maybe it will be, but as of now that possibility is a long way off. The two biggest obstacles to a 100% physicalist model are life and consciousness.

    You might think the two main contestants for explaining the basis of life and consciousness are physicalists and the religious, but I'd say religion isn't even in the running. In terms of providing a rational, evidence-supported model of life/consciousness it seems there is the physicalist side, and the "something more" side.

    The suspicion there's something more is often the result of observing the organizational quality of life, which is atypical of physical processes; and for consciousness, it is that physical principles can't explain its subjective aspect.

    One thing we know for certain is if there is something more involved in life/consciousness, it is entwined with the physical. That's why, in my opinion, I don't think any "-ism" model (you know, creation-ism, physical-ism, etc.) is going to account for everything. When you see someone, in advance of investigation, determined to prove creation is entirely physical or entirely spiritual (or whatever), it means they have to gloss over or ignore aspects that really don't fit into a single catagory of an -ism.

    It seems the rarest thinker and investigator is one determined to find and accept the truth no matter what it may be, and who in pursuit of the truth is willing to investigate every facet of existence, again, no matter what it may be.
  12. Jul 16, 2004 #11


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    The question was not HAS everything been explained by physics but CAN everything be explained by physics. Suppose it becomes necessary to include voodoo to make a consistent account of reality. Then physics will embrace voodoo and make mathematical models of it and the arxiv will be full of papers on voodoo dynamics. So I claim yes, in principle everything can be explained by physics, and anything that can't isn't really real.
  13. Jul 16, 2004 #12
    Theoretically, everything can be reduced to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Pragmatically, no. Everything cannot be reduced to pure physics. Physics is the study of motion. How do you reduce the study of motion to the study of motion?
  14. Jul 16, 2004 #13
    Everything, includes properties of matter and that will take some work and will be worth the effort to know what it all means.
  15. Jul 16, 2004 #14

    Les Sleeth

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    Right, I understand the question, and I still think my answer was on target. I said that as of now, everything cannot be explained, and therefore we don't know if it ever can be explained.

    Surely you aren't saying that because you can dream up a physical explanation for everything, that we should accept it is "explained" whether you can prove it is true or not? Creationists can explain everything supernaturally, and it can't be disproven (nor proven, of course).

    Wow SA, that's some pretty serious a priori assuming. But ok, explain consciousness with physics. If you can't (and you can't), then will you say consciousness isn't real? The problem with that approach is that in advance there's a filter in place. How is it possible to reach an objective opinion about the nature of reality if prior to investigating it one states only a certain class of information is acceptable?

    I have to add, I really don't understand what the big deal is about everything having to be physical. Who cares? Reality is what it is, and if there is something that isn't physical, what difference does that make to all the stuff that is physical?
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2004
  16. Jul 16, 2004 #15


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    What exactly is meant by "physical" and "physics" here? The materialist will claim that everything is explainable in terms of the interaction of material particles. A person like Sleeth will claim that there is "something more." But what reason is there to believe that this "something more" is not itself explainable? Why should it not also obey fundamental laws governing what it can and cannot do? If these laws are there and they are knowable, then the behavior of this "something more" should be just as testable and reproducible as the behavior of material particles. In other words, they would be just another aspect of physics that is not yet known. Physics is not confined to the study of matter (massless particles, for instance, do not qualifying as "something that takes up space and has mass").
  17. Jul 16, 2004 #16

    Les Sleeth

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    The only reason I claim there may be something more is because of what exists which is exhibiting unphysical-like characteristics, and because I am not attached to having a physical explanation for everything.

    That's fine with me. I never implied the something more is not explainable, nor that it isn't subject to laws. Actually, I think it must be if it acts consistently.

    Nope, you've gone too far. You cannot assume that if it is knowable, and if it obeys laws, that it is either known or testable in the same way physical stuff is. To know it might require a different experience than the senses (which is how we "know" physicalness), and the laws it obeys might be entirely different laws that those physics follows.

    I can't see how that follows. It seems you assume that this "something more" is supernatural, or some other mysterious thing. Why must that be? In the case of progressive organization (as you know, one of my favorite examples), if this something more is causing that, it seems to me it has an ordering nature. In my opinion, the biggest problem with trying to talk about something more is all the religious crap around messing up the discussion. It's too bad we can't just wipe the slate clean and look at reality with fresh eyes.

    By the way, I think "massless particle" normally refers to having no rest mass, not to actually being massless. As far as I know, physics is confined to the study of physical processes and principles, and they involve either matter or that which is manifested through or because of matter.
  18. Jul 16, 2004 #17
    Precisely, balkan! Even more so, the quantitative and logical limitations imposed by Heisenberg's uncertainty principle seems to me in hindsight to be an inevitable prediction of equivalent limitations within the human visual faculty.

    Worst still, we pretend not to be mutant creatures...and we even deny that we could think and behave like mutant creatures. But how could we do this? For mutant creature have a reputation both in folklore and in reality of being extremely clever......THEY ALWAYS THINK AND ACT PROGRESSIVELY.....THEY ARE MASTERS OF SURVIVAL.....THEY SLOWLY BUT SYSTEMATICALLY CONQUER THEIR NATURAL LIMITATIONS BY WRITING THE STRUCTURE OF THE WORLD INTO THEMSELVES!

    So the BIGGEST puzzle is this:

    Why can't human beings think and act like mutants? And most shamefully, the human race as a whole is currently being naturally preserved by repetitious recycling of its impfect parts ....hence, the very possiblity and reason why you and I are even able to have this debate in the first place about approximation of things in the causal and relational structure of the world. What I am implying is that human beings are not being ACTUALLY preserved but merely NUMERICALLY so. And that is shameful. I will expand on the implication of this as this debate progresses. But what I particully want to draw everyone's attention to here is that, to base the human survival on NUMERICAL PRESERVATION alone is fundamentally dangerous and this amounts to what I habitually call 'DANGEROUS CONTENTMENT'. It is so, because there is no guarantee that total reliance on numerical preservation alone may not leave us with the same fate as that of the dinosaurs.

    Therefore, I am in the opinion that we combine numerical preservation with any other type of action which also allows us to ACTUALLY and PHYSICALLY progress. And one of such possible action is probably for ust to stop pretending and start thinking and acting like proper mutants - PHYSICALLY WRITE THE STRUCTURE OF THE WORLD INTO OURSELVES!
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2004
  19. Jul 16, 2004 #18
    Indeed....and even more so, invisibility never undermines the physical existence of anything....it merely signals to the natural limitation of the observer, especially the human kind. That's why I have declared in all my writings that GOD is not only compatible with Logic but also analytically indestructible. Both science and religion are in the same boat when it comes to the total understanding and explanation of God.

    And dualism is one issue that I very much wish to avoid in this debate, but if I am pressed or presurised harder I will have to produce my own verdict later on.
  20. Jul 16, 2004 #19


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    Good so far. I'd like to add - just to make sure - that I'm not criticizing you for being of this persuasion. I'm just using you as an example.

    Well, of course they'll be different laws. But provided they are consistent laws that remain the same, they should be derivable somehow (even if not through the five material senses) and they should, in principle, be capable of mathematical representation. Even the laws of economics can be modeled such (if not perfectly so), despite the fact that they are manifestations of human will and desire that are certainly not material in nature.

    No! Of course not. My whole point is that if this "something more" does exist, it is just as much a part of nature as the familiar material world that we are acquainted with through the five senses. That wouldn't at all make it supernatural. Furthermore, I think it's clear that I don't believe "something more" (we really need to come up with a term for it) to be all that mysterious if I'm confident it could be modeled through mathematics.

    All I'm trying to do here is make a distinction between "physical" and "material." Physics is not just the study of matter - it is the study of matter and of every force that acts on matter. If the organizing force behind the emergence of life and consciousness manifests itself through the effect it has on matter (and clearly it does), then I contend that it falls under the category of "physical." I wouldn't go so far as to say that it falls under the study of physics, but neither do microbiology or economics, which nonetheless can be studied scientifically. Heck, isn't that what you were trying to do with your Empirical Inductive Model? Make the study of possibly non-material entities scientific?
  21. Jul 16, 2004 #20


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    Ha! Welcome to the metaphysics forum, my friend.
  22. Jul 17, 2004 #21
    well... even if we could make a fairly good representation of everything in the entire universe, it would still be subject to our translations and be an approximation... approximations leaves errors, and thus, nothing can be fully explained by physics...

    a precise model would demand infinite accuracy and like heisenberg stated, that leaves other faults... you people should know this...

    so no...
    but one day in the future perhaps, scientists will have made fairly good representations of everything in the universe, but they will not be 100% accurate and can thus never be used to explain every aspect without fault...
  23. Jul 17, 2004 #22


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    I think we're referring to a complete accounting of the laws by which reality operates, not the exact position and momentum of every single material particle in the universe.
  24. Jul 17, 2004 #23
    You mean of course the basic laws right? (I have complexity/chaos in mind)
  25. Jul 18, 2004 #24
    Hi! Thanks for transferring this topic to the correct section.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2004
  26. Jul 18, 2004 #25


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    I mean all of the laws, both for complex and for simple systems.
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