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Materialism; A flawed philosophy

  1. Nov 22, 2004 #1
    Materialism is based largely on reductionism, which has its problems rooted in that one cannot keep cutting up the world into smaller and smaller pieces.

    Though reductionism has proved very valuable in scientific discoveries, I think one who believes all the answers lie in reductionism is like a housefly landing on a television screen and only seeing the little dots and not the big picture.

    Fritjof Capra explains this in his famous book, “The Tao of Physics”.

    --- Quantum theory has thus demolished the classical concepts of solid objects and strictly deterministic laws of nature. At the subatomic level, the solid material objects of classical physics dissolve into wave-like patterns of probabilities, and these patterns, ultimately, do not represent probabilities of things, but rather probabilities of interconnections. A careful analysis of the process of observation in atomic physics has shown that the subatomic particles have no meaning as isolated entities, but can only be understood as interconnections between the preparations of an experiment and the subsequent measurement. Quantum theory thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe. It shows that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units. As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated 'basic building blocks', but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between the the various parts of the whole. These relations always include the observer in an essential way. The human observer constitutes the final link in a chain of observational processes, and the properties of any atomic object can only be understood in terms of the object's interaction with the observer. This means that the classical ideal of an objective description of nature is no longer valid. The Cartesian partition between the I and the world, between the observer and the observed, cannot be made when dealing with atomic matter. In atomic physics, we can never speak about nature without , at the same time, speak about ourselves.---
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 22, 2004 #2
    i hear that.

    this is a little off topic but i was in a little creation and evo debate and anyways, the girl was saying god was of nothing but created and controls everything. god has nothing to do with the known fundamentals of this universe but he still interacts with it, sounds kinda illogical to me. so i told her that when talking about god, you have to be referring to yourself(oneness). especially if you believe that we are made in the same exact image of the so called god, but anyways im off topic.
  4. Nov 22, 2004 #3


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    Oh lord, Capra's Tao of Physics. Surely the web makes everything come around and around again. Capra is good for bull sessions between people who don't know any more quantum mechanics than he does, but he just misrepresents all over the place. Lose him and pick up a quantum text instead.
  5. Nov 23, 2004 #4

    Do you reckon one day people will think the same of Greene's "Elegant Universe" ???
  6. Nov 23, 2004 #5
    Bull session

    Speaking of snow jobs...
  7. Nov 23, 2004 #6
    i was just watching the nova special about that. i think greene is in there personally but i can't remeber becuz i was shoving my face full of food, lol.

    now that i have time to think about what you said im revising my statement. You compare ppl who like reductionism to a fly that is looking at a tv and can't see the full picture. well what happens when you want to make another tv? you can't make a tv by saying that it is a box that makes pictures, or as Mr. Burns calls it from the Simpsons a "Pictocube". when you only look at the large ideas you can't really understand why is works or how, just that is does work. what happens when you want to make something in the real world. im not saying creating a new universe/dimension but we have been able to make new elements by understanding what went on with the little peices of them. who knows maybe they will do something useful in the future.

    now on the other hand i have to say that reductionism is only useful when taken to a certain point, it has no use after it becomes soooo small that we can't study/learn about it.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2004
  8. Nov 23, 2004 #7


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    I do not think that they are even similar. Even if String Theory is finally show to be completely wrong, it will remain a mathematical treatment. So Green has pushed Math into regions not yet explored by experimental physics, but it may someday be possible that experimental Physics will catch up to the Math. At that point we will be able to test the theory.

    Capra, on the other hand, takes a well known and understood branch of Physics, stripes away the Mathematical underpinnings and wanders off into untestable metaphysics. Can you not see the difference?

    If Green and the String Theorists are finally proven correct it will not be the first time that Mathematicians have paved the way for the Physicists. Riemann developed Non Euclidean geometries before Einstein found the Physical need for it.

    Matrix theory was lying on dusty mathematical shelfs waiting for the Quantum people to find and apply it. Those are just 2 quick examples, I'll bet there are more.
  9. Nov 23, 2004 #8
    Mathematics, along with geometry (theories that inlude dimensions) are only in the mind of man. There are no dimensions to the universe. All of the above are concepts and only DESCRIBED "physical" reality. They are not, however, reality itself as so many people commonly mistaken.

    Mathematics and geometry is a DEPICTION of reality and not reality itself. Like a globe is a 3-dimensional depiction of the Earth it is not the Earth itself.

    Capra is a theoreticl physicist and I highly doubt there are any theoretical physicist in this forum so I doubt anyone who disclaims what he says. Furthermore, what I quoted is well know knowledge in theoretical physics and IS NOT the domain of metaphysics.

    String theory says nothing about consciousness and that is one of the issues Capra addresses here. If you are going to deny the existence of consciousnes then you will deny the existence of yourself. Please spare me hollywood theories. :yuck:
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2004
  10. Nov 23, 2004 #9

    I was hoping to hear from the (true) materialist on what Capra says. I have heard nothing but nonsense so far.
  11. Nov 24, 2004 #10


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    You cannot tell one way or the other WHO is mistaken. You have no way of proving to me or anyone else that it is not your pipe dreams which are made of smoke. I must rely on my senses, and experiment. It is your opinion that they are not meaningful. The burden of proof is on you. Prove to me that I am not "really" typing on this keyboard.

    Not a super analogy, but then most who understand Math a Physics will not disagree. We understand that, which is why we call our theores "models".
    I made NO mention of Capras capabilities as a Physicists. Please read my post again!
    A for No theoretical Physicist, you just might be surprised. Tom? Doc Al, what do you have to say about that?
    I am not questioning my existence. In fact just the opposite, it is you who believes that
    Since there is no dimension in the universe, I have no dimension, therefore I do not exist.
    This is YOUR claim not mine. You do not say a single verifiable sentence, you speak only in terms of beliefs and believes alone. That is that antithesis of what these forums represent.

    I make no mention of the nature of conscious. That is not a verifiable topic, it is in the realm of metaphysics. You can believe what ever you wish, it will not make it fact.

    I have a copy of Capra, I read most of it years ago, it failed to impress me enough to feel compelled to finish the book. Even though at that period of my life I was exploring Buddhism and other Eastern philosophy, also my Physics education was much fresher in my mind then now. It was not a matter of bias, just that his writing did not appeal to me.

    Seems to me that YOU are the one pushing "Hollywood Theories" They sound good but have NO substance.
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2004
  12. Nov 24, 2004 #11
    Probability waves

    What Capra is talking about with probabilitiy is Schroedinger's wave equations (if you have never heard of this then you are truly ignorant in physics), which is one of the foundations of quantum mechanics. Later on he talks about how the observed and observer cannot be distiguished in quantum theory, this is what the Shroedinger's Cat paradox is all about.

    Shroedinger's wave equations have been scientifically verified. It is not a competing theory with string "theory", since at this point in it's evolution, string theory is UNTESTABLE.

    Time and space and even motion are illusions that are brought about by the introduction of measurement. This is talked about in detail in Julian Barbour's book, "The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics", which is endorsed on the back cover by John A Wheeler. I suggest reading it for those who do not understand what I am talking about.

    Either there is such a thing a faster than light communication or spacetime does not exist. Quatum nonlocality gives us these two choices. Take your pick.

    The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics by Julian Barbour (Paperback)
    Books: See all 231,190 items (Rate this item)
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    Last edited: Nov 24, 2004
  13. Nov 24, 2004 #12
    To Integral

    You seem like a smart person. I didn't mean to insult you but you attacked my credibility right off.

    For the most part, what I ORIGINALLY posted is pretty well known information and in my opinion, is useless debating about.

    My wish was to get into a philosophical debate on constitution of the world and not egocentric arguments which is where this thread is heading. I am not going any further in this thread for these reasons.

    Good luck and keep up your thirst for knowledge :smile:
  14. Nov 30, 2004 #13
    There are numerous quantum experiments in which a classical human observer does not exist. These are in addition to the ones which employ a robot observer. It has been found possible to use photons which interact weakly with particles to determine which quantum state a system is in. Such quantum states are then changed by stronger interactions, and the result is again monitored by photons. Some of these developments are being considered for quantum computers. The point is that while the quantum systems act in ways that are definitely not classical, they can in theory be used to perform powerful and reliable calculations. This technology is improving rapidly. The fact that something is both bewildering and reliable suggests to me that it is still objective.
  15. Nov 30, 2004 #14
    "Quantum theory thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe."

    I have thought of something similar to this and think it is the closest thing to evidence for the existance of God. Not being too familiar with QM, I can't say that once I know more I would be less inclined to call it evidence.

    Things that could be evidence for the existance of God:
    - Some sort of crazy event that is obviously associated with God and can't be reasonably explained through physics such as earth stopping in it's rotation of the sun but not falling towards it and everyone can now fly by will. (Basically an intervention by God)
    - Lot's of people feel like they have a connection to God. They pray. Most people believe in something religious. If there was a way to prove it isn't psychological, which seems virtually impossible to do, then this connection would be more convincingly real.
    - It is found that there is a rule in the universe where one part of it needs to "know" about another part to do what it does yet there is no communication between them. Still obviously not proof but I could see it swaying someone's viewpoint.

    The last one is the similar one. Sorry if I'm getting off topic...
  16. Dec 1, 2004 #15

    Tom Mattson

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    I think everyone here knows that mathematics describes reality and is not reality itself. But the point being made is that it is misleading to believe that one can draw rigorously correct inferences about physical theories while ignoring the mathematical underpinning. The statements of physical theories are mathematical. When one tries to draw inferences from verbal versions of those statements, one is apt to arrive at a wrong conclusion, because said verbal statements are mere distillations of the original (mathematical) statements, and as such are subject to becoming "fuzzy" in the translation.

    No, he isn't, and I would be surprised to find out that he ever was. Capra is an ecologist. His own website says so.


    Capra is a total flake, and if has ever published any research in theoretical physics, I have not seen it.

    Then you greatly understimate this forum. I don't doubt that all of the grad students and professional physicists here have a much better grasp of QM than Capra.

    No, theoretical physicists don't spend their time pondering flowery prose of the type served up by Capra. They spend their time calculating things. If Capra's quote belongs anywhere on this site, it is in metaphysics.

    Oh, dearie me! If you don't want hollywood theories, then you'll burn Capra's book right away! :rolleyes:
  17. Dec 2, 2004 #16

    I have yet to hear a word about materialism. All I see is egocentric argument.
  18. Dec 2, 2004 #17


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    You said materialism relies entirely on reductionism. Expand on that, because I don't think that it does. If I look at small parts of things, I see material. If I look at the whole thing in context, I still see material.
  19. Dec 2, 2004 #18

    Tom Mattson

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    Not so. I had 2 main points in my post.

    1. To clear up the misunderstanding that mathematics is somehow unecessary to properly interpreting quantum theory.

    2. To dispel the (ill-deserved) halo of genius that some are tempted to see around Capra's head. The reason for that is that if you put Capra on a pedestal, then almost certainly you will hold his words as the standard of 'truth' and judge what other people say against that.
  20. Dec 2, 2004 #19

    Tom Mattson

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    OK, now for my comments on materialism.

    Materialism is not based on reductionism. Materialism has as its central metaphysical claim that:

    All that exists is physical.

    One implication of this is that all that exists is causally efficacious in our universe. An example of causal efficacy is when a billiard ball hits another billiard ball, and causes the latter to careen off towards a pocket on in the table. The causal effect of the first ball was the motion of the second ball.

    There is an epistemological claim too, and that is that

    All propositions that can be deduced from information pertaining to the physical state of the universe, are epistemologically exhaustive.

    Or: All that there is to know is physical knowledge.

    None of this demands a reductive viewpoint.

    However, there is a branch of materialism called "reductive materialism". So I suppose your question would be, "Does reductive materialism survive Capra's critiques?"

    I would say, "Yes, it does", if we take Heisenberg's advice and reject the notion of "fundamental particles" in favor "fundamental symmetries". We can take a reductive approach with regard to symmetries, and in fact this is what is being done by string theorists in their attempt to unify all 4 known interactions into a theory with a single gauge group (as opposed to the 4 disconnnected gauge groups currently employed by the standard model).
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2004
  21. Dec 2, 2004 #20

    At the time I read Capra's book he was at least studying physics. Many people have multiple degrees, it is possible that at some point he switched from physics to ecology. I have not kept up on him

    I don't put Capra on a pedestal, I do however have deep respect for Eastern philosophy. One of the above post states that he put down the book as soon as he reached the part about Buddhism. How can a person who has never read the book completely judge it properly? This is the reason I posted this in the philosophy section because it was more an issue of philosophy than science. Another makes a claim how Capra gets into metaphysics. Welll isn't that what philosophy is about, at least in part? What is wrong with metaphysics? Is this person claiming that science has all the answers? We know better than that.

    I can appreciate some of the postings but what is this guy "lose your name" all about?
    How much more can I expand on what Capra is saying. The universe is not composed of substance but is composed entirely of thought. It is impossible to prove that anything exist ourside of the mind because all we know is inside of the mind. At some point the universe becomes both indestructable and destructible. We cannot keep dividing the universe into smaller and smaller pieces.

    Tom I have to get going. I must admit that I have been skimming through a lot of these. I will read you more completely when I get back.
  22. Dec 2, 2004 #21

    I see what you are saying but I have to question if there really is such a thing as an objective reality. In any event that is just my opinion. You see very clearly as to what Capra is trying to say and I greatly appreciate your input and informative relpy. :smile:
  23. Dec 2, 2004 #22
    To whom it may concern

    I reread your reply and I understand to some degree as to what you are saying. I didn't mean to put you down but at the beginning of this thread I was getting some shallow replies and developed a prejugdice. It seems now some true intellects are getting involved and are piercing into my bias thinking.
    I got to admit that I have to consult a philosophy dictionary before I can intelligently reply to your post. :smile:

    I am short on time right now so I will get back to you and Tom Thanks
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2004
  24. Dec 2, 2004 #23

    No, theoretical physicists don't spend their time pondering flowery prose of the type served up by Capra. They spend their time calculating things. If Capra's quote belongs anywhere on this site, it is in metaphysics.

    Tom: My point exactly. This is why I posted Capra's quote in "Philosophy" and not physics. I think your bias lies in that physicst have all the answers to the question that man has asked since he had the ability to reason. Your are pretty sarcastic in your reply.

    If your find metaphysics and philosophy so repulsive than what are you doing here?
  25. Dec 2, 2004 #24
    Can't keep up

    I cannot keep track on who is saying what. This is all too time consuming for me on a busy workday.
  26. Dec 2, 2004 #25


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    I assume you are referring to this:

    If you read it again, you'll see that he was interested in Buddhism at the time, not that he put the book down as soon as it began to sound Buddhist.

    Well, that is the question, isn't it? Is the universe composed of substance, or is it composed only of mental constructs? You can't simply say it is one and that's the end of it.

    The only argument I've seen from you thus far is this:

    It is also impossible to prove that anything outside of the mind doesn't exist, so I don't see the efficacy of this argument. The best argument that things exist independently of our minds is the existence of other minds. While their existence cannot be proven, can you really say you have any reason to believe that I or Tom do not exist?

    Well, that was the first revolutionary idea that quantum theory proposed, wasn't it? I guess you can say it is the end of reductionism, the point beyond which we can divide no further.
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