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Metaphysics a reality or a misconception?

  1. Jun 28, 2005 #1
    I have many questions about the metaphysical..... someone told me the "mind" is metaphysical.... as in it does not exist in the ""physical world".... I do not understand their definition of metaphysical..

    I mean.. does the metaphysical not bind to physical rules?
    Does the mind not lie in the brain, a physical object?

    My questions go on... such as ... how does the metaphysical "communicate" with the physical world.... does the metaphysical turn physical for a moment and goes back to being metaphysical? Or does the physical turn metaphysical, interacts with the metaphysical and then turns back into physical? Is it a dual simultaneous stage that the brain/mind takes on?

    Are memories so “called metaphysical”?.... if so…. How do we generate them time after time… the same with thoughts… are they ever "stored" in the physical world ?

    If a thought is metaphysical.. were does it lie?... in the metaphysical world? If so.. then how does our brain access this metaphysical world??

    The only thing I’ve found to come close to “metaphysical”.. as that person put it.. "not existing in the physical world".. is time.. BUT to be honest.. I don’t understand time.. or whether it is or not “metaphysical”

    Heh.. it might be that I really don’t understand the way the brain works.. or how anything works at all.. if you could point me to good scientific sources for the way the brain handles thoughts/memories.. generates them.. etc.. that would be great.. I’m very eager to learn about this.. but please only provide reliable sources

    Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 28, 2005 #2
    All things of the mind are metaphysical and all physical things are things of the mind.
  4. Jun 28, 2005 #3
    Please elaborate... with examples
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2005
  5. Jul 5, 2005 #4
    Yes, a confusing business is metaphysics. Here's a colloquial answer to the question.

    The term 'metaphysical' means, traditionally, beyond physics. For physics 'meta-physical' substances are undectable and 'meta-physical' questions are unresearchable.

    But in Western philosophy metaphysical has a slightly extended meaning, in that philosophers are not specifically concerned with the limits of physics, but rather with the limits of reason. For philosophers what is interesting about metaphysical questions is not that they are beyond physics but that they are beyond reason. That is, metaphysical questions are formally undecidable in all normal or 'Boolean' systems of reasoning, since according to such reasoning all the possible answers to these questions contradict reason. Thus analytical philosophers no more than physicists can make sense of them.

    From this we may conclude either that it is impossible to know the answers to questions about the true and fundamental nature of reality, as most physicists and western philosophers do, or that there is something very wrong with the assumptions underlying physics and Western philosophy.

    As for mind, the reason that mind is considered metaphysical by some people is that there is no scientific method for confirming the existence of minds. For this reason some consider that the problem of the relationship between mind and matter is a metaphysical one, a problem not resolvable by science nor by Western-style philosophical analysis. The evidence favours this view, but it will never be proved to be the correct one, since if this metaphysical view of mind is correct then it would follow that there is no way to demonstrate that it that is correct. One would have to know by some other means than inference.

    The question of how the 'metaphysical world' communicates/interacts with the physical world is, inevitably, also a metaphysical question, so beyond the reach of physics and reason to answer fully. My feeling is that an 'Eastern' philosopher or mystic would say that the question embodies a category error, in that there are not two different worlds so the interaction between them is not an issue. The question assumes that the 'physical' world exists, and that therefore there is a gulf between it and the 'metaphysical' world. But in the mystical view physical phenomena do not exist, or, at least, only exist as 'mere appearances'.

    It will be interesting to see if physicists can ever falsify this view. It seems to me that they have already verified it, and some are even beginning to argue, now that Newton and naive realism are dead, that the universe consists of events, not of material things, or may be in some sense a hologram. (In Buddhism the universe consists of dhammas or 'thing-events', a similar but rather more subtle view).

    To use 'metaphysical' to mean 'not existing in the physical world', as you put it, seems a bit misleading to me. Perhaps 'immaterial' is a better word for something non-physical. Of course, the question of whether something that is immaterial can nevertheless exist is a metaphysical question, so scientifically meaningless and philosophically undecidable. Eastern philosophers, many of whom claim to know, say that the answer depends entirely on how one defines 'something' and 'exist'.

    Last edited: Jul 5, 2005
  6. Jul 6, 2005 #5


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    Some might make an argument that metaphysical questions are beyond reason, but certainly metaphysics is not defined as that which is beyond reason. If it were, there would be no enduring branch of philosophy called metaphysics to begin with.

    Euphoriet, to get a firmer handle on just what metaphysics is supposed to be, please visit the following links:

    http://www.galilean-library.org/academy/viewtopic.php?t=6 [Broken]
    http://www.galilean-library.org/academy/viewtopic.php?t=48 [Broken]

    If you have further questions after reading this material, I'll do my best to be of assistance.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  7. Jul 6, 2005 #6
    I've come up with a theory on how metaphysics works.

    Imagine that there's 2 things that exist in the universe: clarks and brooks.

    Consider the following to be true:

    1)Clarks and brooks move around randomly.
    2)Clarks bounce off of clarks when they touch.
    3)Brooks bounce off of brooks when they touch.
    4)Clarks go right through brooks (they can never touch).
    5)Brooks go right through clarks (they can never touch).
    6)If 3 brooks touch eachother, nearby clarks are drawn to the point of collision.

    So, normally clarks act as though brooks don't exist, and vice-versa.

    Imagine clarks to be matter and brooks to be 'consciousness', 'soul', or whatever, only with different rules (ie: gravity, thought, etc).

    This way both physical and metaphysical concepts can interact logically.

    Again, this really is just a theory of mine; I'm far from being a professional (if there are any in this field, anyway).
  8. Jul 6, 2005 #7
    It is true that metaphysics is not usually defined in this way, but clearly this is what metaphysics is, the study of what lies beyond physics and reason. I find the traditional dictionary definition, which seems to be based more on the etymology of the word rather than what we usually mean by it, rather misleading.

    Clearly metaphysical questions cannot be understood properly if it is thought that they lie simply beyond physics. It is their formal undecidability that distinguishes them from scientific questions and from other kinds of philosophical questions, and which needs to be explained, not just their meta-scientific-ness.

    So it seems to me correct to say that there is an enduring branch of philosophy called 'meta-physics' (by an accident of history) precisely because metaphysical questions are undecidable by reason, and that it is precisely the fact that metaphysical questions are undecidable by reason (according to reason) that allows metaphysics to endure as a living branch of philosophy.

    If such questions were decidable, in a formal mathematical sense, then they would be uninteresting, or at least no more interesting than other kinds of philophical questions. After all, many questions are beyond physics, in the sense that they are unanswerable by doing just physics - 'What is knowledge?' for example.

    But metaphysical questions are not just philosophical questions. They have the additional property, besides being unscientific, of being undecidable in any of our normal systems of formal reasoning. It is this property of metaphysical questions that makes metaphysics the curious branch of philosophy that it is, and which ensures that no progress is ever made in it, thus ensuring its endurance as a field of study, not just that it is about what lies beyond physics.

    Or so it seem to me anyway.

  9. Jul 19, 2005 #8


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    Looks more like a toy quantum field theory to me ! :smile:
  10. Jul 20, 2005 #9


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    There are plenty of undecidable problems, in mathematics, computer science, and linguistics, that are not metaphysical problems. I have to agree with hypnagogue that the best way to understand metaphysics is etymologically. If physics is the study of what is possible in the physical world, then metaphysics is the study of what is possible for physics. That is, metaphysical questions are very generally of the type: What are the constraints placed on reality above and beyond the constraints of physical law? These questions may or may not prove to present nothing but undecidable problems, but that isn't the characteristic that makes them metaphysical.
  11. Jul 23, 2005 #10
    Of course, many questions are undecidable, not just metaphysical questions. And, of course, if one defines 'metaphysical' as simply what falls outside of physics (or defines 'physics' as simply what falls outside of metaphysics) then a vast range of questions become metaphysical, indeed almost the whole of philosophy becomes metaphysics. But this is not how we normally use the word these days. It is used in the sense of 'before physics,' more fundamental than physics, not simply beyond physics. To give this some focus could you give an example of what you would consider to be a metaphysical question that is not undecidable?
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2005
  12. Jul 23, 2005 #11
    This is an interesting discussion, but I think we may be spinning our wheels. Euphoriet's questions are excellent and deserve to be examined even now after many centuries of study. Hypnagogue's suggestion that we should start with an understanding of that historical work is a good one, but it would be a mistake to assume that any of that work has produced correct or even useful answers to Euphoriet's questions. One thing that becomes clear as you study the references Hypnagogue provided is that much of the past inquiry has devolved to questions of etymology and tradition and, in my humble opinion, borders dangerously close to sophistry. I don't think it is very useful to our inquiry.

    At our particular point in history, we have the huge unprecedented advantage of the advances of modern science and mathematics. I think it is time to take a fresh approach to those questions using these powerful modern tools. I would suggest starting with Loseyourname's excellent question.

    Ignoring the relatively unimportant questions of the meaning of 'metaphysics' or how to classify various questions, I think the key question here is, "What is possible for physics?" That is, What are the constraints on reality including those of physical law?

    The question of what is possible in the physical world is known to a great extent, thanks to modern science, and that should help us determine what is possible for physics.

    Now, even more basic than "What is possible for physics?" is the question, 'What is possible?' Physics may turn out to be just one of many possibilities.

    And more basic yet is the question, 'What is?' That is the fundamental ontological question and I think it should be the starting point of our inquiry.

    One thing we can learn by studying the works of earlier thinkers is that it is probably a mistake to claim to know anything for certain. Science has given up finding Laws of Nature in favor of finding Theories, which are really guesses at what might be "true" laws. Similarly Mathematics no longer distinguishes between axioms which are obviously "true" and postulates which are simple agreements about starting conditions; they make no claims at all concerning truth. And, the theorems are not considered to be truths but simply tautologies: just another way of stating the arbitrary starting conditions.

    So let me sketch out an approach which might shed some light on Euphoriet's questions. We start with the most basic question, 'What is?' and acknowledge that we can do little more than guess. The most certain knowledge we have about what is, or what exists, is that thought exists. Actually we can be pretty sure that thought happens, since it seems to change. Next, we can define 'mind' to be whatever is responsible for these thoughts in whatever manner it is responsible. We have no idea about what sort of thing or entity mind actually is, but we simply take the word 'mind' as a symbol to represent the producer, or container, or agent that makes thought happen.

    Moving on, with somewhat less certainty about our guesses, we seem to know that certain thoughts can make up ideas which are more or less consistent and repeatable. Many ideas, such as the notion of an apple, or a triangle, are available to thought at will. This experience of recalling ideas at will not only gives us evidence that ideas exist, in addition to thoughts, but that the capability of will also exists.

    The relationships among what I have called 'mind', 'thought', 'ideas', and 'will' are not exactly clear, but it is pretty clear that we can use our minds to think about specific ideas at will. Euphoriet mentioned generating memories "time after time" which suggests that the ideas or thoughts might have a separate sort of existence from mind: The Platonic World.

    Moving on with even less certainty, we experience thoughts and ideas that indicate the presence of a physical world. In fact, these experiences are so prevalent that to many people, it seems that such a physical world is all that really exists. The notions of mind, thought, will, and ideas seem to these people less "real" or substantial than the physical world.

    Instead of debating the question here of which of these is "more real", let's continue in our mode of guessing and consider the possibility that all of these entities I have mentioned so far, that all of them exist. So at this point, our best guess as to "What is?" is that mind, thought, ideas, will, and the physical world all exist.

    The next question is how dependent or independent are these things? Monists would claim that only one of these really exists and that the others are derivative from that one. Dualists would claim that two of them, typically mind and physicality, exist separately. I have recently become what you might call a 'Treblist' since I think the best guess is that there are three separate types of existence, each dependent on one of the others as suggested by Roger Penrose in a couple of his books.

    In this view we have Mind, Ideas, and Physicality as separate but interdependent types of existence. It is pretty clear that Ideas can exist in the mind as thoughts, and they can exist in physical form as paragraphs or images. It is tempting to place Ideas in either or both of these places and accept mind-body dualism, but I think such a leap is premature. I'll stick to treblism for the moment. The pairwise dependencies of these three, then, are:

    1. Physicality can give rise to Mind via the complex physical brain.

    2. Mind can give rise to Ideas via the processes of will, thought, and memory.

    3. Ideas can give rise to Physicality (it seems) via Laws of Physics and initial conditions.

    (Penrose presents a diagram of these dependencies highlighting the observation that it is only a tiny fraction of each that gives rise to the entirety of the next. I.e. brains are but a tiny fraction of the physical universe; cogent ideas are but a tiny fraction of all thoughts; and the laws of physics and the universal initial conditions are but a tiny fraction of all cogent ideas.)

    Of these dependencies, number 3 seems to be the most dubious even though Physicalists must accept such a notion if the physical world is all that exists and that it somehow came into existence from some sort of initial conditions while obeying some physical laws. Regardless of whether that view is correct, it is clear that physical laws and initial conditions are nothing more than ideas.

    So, to summarize, my guess as to "What is?": I guess it is the treble existence of Mind, Ideas, and Physicality.

    Next, we look at the question, "What is possible?" For starters, it seems that Mind, Ideas, and Physicality are all possible. Since they all seem to exist, it seems unlikely that any of them is impossible.

    We could ask, What, if anything, is possible in addition to, or beyond these three? Well, there seems to be strong evidence for multiple Minds. I think most people would agree that there are. There could also be minds that are quite different from the one we are familiar with. There could also be multiple physical universes some of which also might be very different from the one we experience. Some people think there are such universes. And, there seems to be no limit on the varieties of ideas that can exist.

    But since we are looking for constraints, let me try to narrow down the possibilities with yet more guesses. One possibility, as Canute has been suggesting, is that the law of non-contradiction might not be hard and fast. That is, it might be possible that something or other might both be and not be. If that were a possibility then reality would consist of two parts: a consistent part in which the law of non-contradiction holds and an inconsistent part in which it doesn't hold.

    To make a long story short(er) I'll make the claim that consistency implies the laws of physics. I think Emmy Noether's Theorem suggests this, and I think Dr. Dick has proved it. Thus any physicality arising from consistent ideas will exhibit the properties we see in the physical universe.

    So, to address Loseyourname's question, "What is possible for physics?", I would say that if the physical world is consistent, then it must obey the laws of physics as we know them. If it is inconsistent, then all bets are off and it could be just about anything.

    Finally, to address Euphoriet's questions, I would say that there is only one Mind and that that Mind existed prior to anything else. I think that Penrose's loop of the three "worlds" does not close on itself but instead constructs a helix. That is, the original Mind constructed a Platonic World of Ideas. A subset of those Ideas constructed a physical world. Then, rather than the physical world creating the Mind (as Penrose's diagram suggests and as most scientists believe), a subset of the physical world (brains) provided a vehicle for Mind in order to construct the next level of Ideas. These in turn produced more complex Physical Worlds with brains, etc.

    By now the helix may have made one complete turn, or 50 turns or 50 trillion turns. (My guess is closer to 11 turns.) I suspect that the substrate for the memory Euphoriet asked about, which I think is equivalent to the Platonic World of Ideas, is a structure in the Physical World of the previous turn of the helix. Thus, in the view of Teilhard de Chardin, (and maybe even Frank Tipler's) when our physical universe reaches its Omega Point, it will essentially be a huge computer in which all the information and knowledge of the history of our Physical World's evolution will be stored and available for Mind to use to construct the next iteration of Physical World(s). Just a guess.

    BTW, I see nothing whatsoever in this picture of reality that is infinite, perfect, complete, omnipotent, omniscient, or immutable. Since these are all universally claimed attributes of God, I see no place for God as such in reality. Instead, the Mind is us.

  13. Jul 24, 2005 #12
    Hi Paul

    As usual I want to be argumentative. You make a number of assumptions above, without justification. As you say, this is the method of physics since it produces practical results. However, metaphysical questions like "What is?" cannot be answered by making assumptions. All you end up with is another theory, not an answer.

    I'm not sure I follow the reasoning that turns metaphysics into the question of what is possible for physics. But if you are right then physics is the study of what is possible for metaphysics, which seems roughly correct, given only that logical reasoning has to come into this somewhere. Because physics cannot address the question of the origins of the universe does not mean that any metaphysical theory will suffice. We would normally think that such a theory must not be irrational.

    Why is this so? We know that we can know things for certain. It is self-evident.

    Why? I do not acknowledge this. How can we ever know what is by guessing?

    Descartes said "I think therefore I am," not "I am therefore I think". Poet Paul Valery says "Sometime I am, sometimes I think." There is no evidence yet that thoughts have an absolute existence, and according to many people they do not. One cannot just assume their absolute existence, for they may be just a relative phenomenon, like motion.

    This is the problem with metaphysics, avoiding assumptions. Your argument here is precisely that used by many people to show the non-existence (or relative existence) of thoughts.

    This seems to assume an identity relationship between mind and consciousness. This assumption is not necessary and not justified by any evidence.

    Is this not an arbitrary assumption? Solipsism is unfalsifiable, so building a theory predicated on its falsity dooms that theory to untestability. It will be no more than guesswork.

    Do you not think that one of them must be more fundamental than the others? Or did three things come into existence independently, by coincidence? But I agree with your 'treblist' position in a way, since matter, mind and consciousness seem to be the three fundamental aspects of the phenomenal universe (I don't see how 'ideas' can be distinct from mind). But ontologically speaking, by reduction these cannot really be three things, as you say yourself later.

    I'd say that 1. is an ad hoc assumption and that 3. seems to contradict the constraints of modern physics and neo-Darwinism, in which it is assumed that consciousness is not-causal. (I recently read five papers on 'Evolutionary Psychology' - consciousness was not mentioned once. It's a strange world). But I'm not sure what you mean by saying that ideas can give rise to physicality. Could you explain that one?

    Still can't quite follow you on this.

    In other words, metaphysics is a process of guessing what is. I agree.

    But surely, ontologically speaking, seeming to exist is not at all the same thing as existing?

    Not quite my view, which is that there are two consistent (but incomplete) explanations of reality which are contradictory but which represent two ways of looking at it. Thus if we say that 'nothing is' this can be developed into a consistent cosmology (as Alan Guth is attempting to do), and if we say that 'something is', then this can also be developed into a consistent cosmology, as materialists do. However both cosmologies beg the ultimate questions and cannot be consistently completed. (Which is why this is a metaphysical question. It is formally undecidable.) At this point the law of contradiction must be suspended and something and nothing taken to be two aspects of what is ultimate. (Iow what we do in quantum theory with waves and particles).

    The laws of physics state that things can have inconsistent yet complementary aspects. This does not imply that reality itself is self-contradictory, or that any old theory will do, just that we cannot delve beneath the appearances of things by doing physics. (Equivalently, that we cannot answer metaphysical questions by doing physics.)

    How do you reconcile this with 'treble-ism'?

    That makes sense to me, and it seems equivalent to 'relative phenomenalism'. But is this consistent with the ideas you've proposed earlier? Suppose that Mind is fundamental, then only one mind truly exists. If we are ontologically grounded on this one mind then, in principle, we can go and look for ourselves what the truth is. But I'm not clear on whether you mean mind or consciousness here, the definitions of these things vary so much between different people.

    Interesting. This is why I keep thinking you're a Buddhist at heart. In this view no information is ever lost, and the universe has never not been at its Omega point nor never will be. It's just that sentient beings mistake the physical universe and their individual 'self' for what is actually real.

    It is not necessary to conclude that God does or does not exist. In the mystical view neither conclusion is true or false, so another view is at least possible. One might say, sticking to your terminology, that the Mind is us and that we are God. But all this is just words. Metaphysics is incapable of resolving any of these issues for reasons I feel Heidegger made clear. It deals with beings, not with Being, and it is therefore like physics unable to address the question of what is, or indeed any question about reality.

  14. Jul 25, 2005 #13
    And that is what I think most of the people on this forum do. :wink:
    I agree one hundred percent and I also agree that most of the published work is sophistry in the extreme. I think Loseyourname's definition of metaphysics is most appropriate: metaphysics is the study of what is possible for physics. As such, I certainly do not see metaphysics as the dead end issue it is presented to be. "There is more to the universe than is conceived of in your philosophy", is my byword.
    I agree and I deplore the dearth of people who understand modern science and mathematics sufficiently to discuss the issues from a position of competence.
    Suppose we start with the constraints on the problem of explaining reality and leave the question of "physical law" to a later period. After all, the question was, "what is possible for physics" and presuming we know "physical law" is a little bit ahead of the problem.
    That presupposes the theory of physics is correct. Certainly such a presumption completely ignores the question, "what is possible for physics?"
    Sorry, but I don't see the difference. It seems to me that you are constraining "Physics" to that official field now considered the sum of "the study of physics". Before the study of electro-magnetism, the field was thought of as magic, not physics. Are you to exclude such changes in the future"?
    Why don't we avoid the question entirely and work from the complete abstract. Suppose "A" is what is? What can we deduce from that?
    As I have said many times, no matter what you can explain it is based on something you cannot explain. That is a dilemma fundamental to any explanation. So we can think and we can come up with possible explanations. Is it not best to presume (at least initially) that this is an unavoidable dilemma which is beyond explanation? If, sometime in the future, an explanation arises, that explanation will be based on some other foundation which cannot be explained. Unexplained is unexplained! Let us, for the moment at least, consider what can be explained accepting the existence of that Great Original Dilemma.
    That is certainly clear; however, expression of those specific ideas depend very strongly on what "A" (defined above) is. Since we don't know what that is, how about keeping the issue open and abstract?
    Suppose we quit guessing answers and instead ask, what rules must an explanation obey?
    The physical brain is already an explanation and by accepting such we have exceeded the bound laid out above.
    More explanations!
    But this presumes the Laws of Physics; the subject we were trying to establish
    Then let us leave these issues aside and instead, work with the abstract.
    Why not say what is, is "A"? Then "A" can be anything and we don't have to commit to any of these guesses you propose.
    And why can not they all be expressed in the form "A" is what exists?
    Please explain what purpose an inconsistent explanation would play?
    And why, prey tell, would you assume that there exists useful explanations of anything which fail my analysis?
    You have apparently missed the central issue of my presentation. That issue being the fact that we invent information which provide us with a system by which we can explain things in a self consistent manner. If you examine my proof carefully, you will find that I prove that it is always possible to invent such information no matter what the information to be explained is.
    And please explain why that presentation is more acceptable than, we think we think and we don't have an explanation.
    With this I agree; however, if it can be explained, that explanation may be couched in terms which are a solution to my fundamental equation. That is a fact and not a hypothesis.

    Sorry to give you a hard time Paul, but you seem to miss the point of my work.

    Have fun -- Dick

    Knowledge is Power
    and the most common abuse of that power is to use it to hide stupidity
  15. Aug 1, 2005 #14
    Hi Canute. I appreciate your comments. I don't think you are being argumentative at all. You are correct that my guesswork approach cannot yield an answer to the hard questions, but I don't think what I have come up with qualifies as a theory either. It is simply my guesses.
    I agree that we can know things for certain; it is self-evident. The mistake is in claiming that we know. The problem is that there is no adequate language in which we can make such a claim and accurately and convincingly explain what it is that we know. For example, I know what green looks like. But I cannot explain to you or anyone else what it looks like. And if I do claim to know, my claim is not convincing and is completely useless to anyone who doesn't know what green looks like and who would like to know. Knowing is OK; claiming to know is a mistake (IMHO).
    My purpose is not to come to know anything. I think one can only come to know anything by direct experience. Instead, my purpose is to come up with a possible explanation for some of our experiences. An explanation is required in the context of more than one "mind" when one of those "minds" wants to share an experience with another "mind". That IMHO is what is going on in this forum. We are each trying to explain ideas that we have and the readers are trying to understand what on earth those ideas might be.

    I should explain at this point how I see this all working. At the base of it all there is only one "mind" and therefore that "one" is the only entity that can know anything. Everything known to that "one" is known by direct experience. Now somehow, there are these things we think of as individual human minds, and there is an obvious limitation in the amount of information and knowledge that is available to one of them and that can be shared among them. As individual humans I think we have access to the knowledge of the "one" if we completely shut out the noise from physical reality. But if we are involved in that noise, as we must be in order to communicate with other human beings, we don't have direct access to all that knowledge and the best we can do is to come up with explanations. Some of these explanations are developed carefully and rigorously and we call them theories and theorems. Others are no more than guesses. In my view, where we have theories and theorems which seem to explain some phenomena, those are the preferable explanations. It is only when we don't have adequate theories or theorems that we should resort to guesswork. And, having made the guesses, we should work toward developing sound theories which tend to confirm or deny those guesses.

    If, instead of trying to come up with explanations, we are simply trying to know, then I suspect that the only successful approach is to completely withdraw from the world and die. Speaking for myself, I plan to leave that for last -- sort of like dessert.
    I do consider the terms 'mind' and 'consciousness' to be nearly interchangeable. If I had to distinguish between them I would say that 'mind' is more of a vehicle or container where 'consciousness' is more of a capability or function or activity. In any case, I think it is a mistake for anyone to use terms like this without defining them. They are just too complex and carry too much baggage with them to use them without qualification.
    Yes, I would have to agree that it is an assumption but maybe not exactly arbitrary. That triple is my best guess at the moment. Rather than guess at a single basic constituent of reality, following the precedent of Thales, I tried to generalize and consider all the ones that seem to make a serious bid at the honor. Physicality, of course, must be one of them because it is such a popular choice. Mind, or consciousness, also must be one of them, because that is the only one of them that I know for sure exists. And the Platonic world of Ideas deserves at least honorable mention because it has been seriously considered by some pretty good minds for a very long time.
    I'm not sure what you are getting at here, Canute. I agree that Solipsism is unfalsifiable, but I don't think I am building a theory predicated on its falsity. And anyway, any theory that might result from my guesswork would probably be untestable, at least for quite a while. I don't claim to be stating anything but guesswork.
    Yes, I think Mind is more fundamental than the other two. I was probably not clear enough about it. Penrose presents the rock-paper-scissors dependencies among the three as a paradox. I think the way to break the paradox is to posit that one of the three is the ultimate starting point. My choice for that one is 'mind' (or 'consciousness', which, as I have said, I consider to be the same thing.) I choose 'mind' because that is the only one of the three that I know for sure exists, and because I can sort of see how mind can produce ideas and how ideas can produce physicality. What I cannot see is how physicality can ever give rise to mind. I think that neurophysiologists will eventually figure out how brains can produce mind similarly to how electrical engineers figured out how radios can produce music.
    We may not see exactly eye-to-eye here. I don't see any significant distinction between mind and consciousness. I am considering 'mind' and 'consciousness' to be essentially the same thing. Ideas are quite different. To me, Ideas are Plato's Forms. They are distinct from mind in that the mind is the container and the ideas are the contents. Furthermore, ideas may reside in minds, but they may also reside in physical manifestations like images or printed paragraphs. Ideas may move from mind to mind via a physical intermediary form like books or recordings. Or, Ideas may exist in physical form for centuries during which time they are not in any mind.
    I agree. But it is a very popular ad hoc assumption made by virtually all scientists and lay people alike. They assume minds are produced by brains. I make this assumption, not to humor all of them, but because I assume that brains can give rise to mind in the same sort of way a radio can give rise to music. In both cases, there is a much more complex system outside of the radio or the brain which in actuality is the source of the music or mind. So in this sense, I think it is a reasonable assumption that physicality can give rise to mind.
    It contradicts the assumption (which I think is false) but it doesn't contradict any constraints of modern physics. (I don't know about neo-Darwinism). I think consciousness is very much causal.
    I think that the currently favored cosmological theories and the much anticipated TOE say precisely that "ideas can give rise to physicality". In those theories, there is some starting point (false vacuum, Higgs Field, or whatever) which is in fact nothing more than a mathematical construct, i.e. an idea. Then there are some laws of physics which determine the evolution of the physical universe from this starting point. These putative laws of physics, whatever they ultimately turn out to be, are again nothing more than mathematical constructs, i.e. more ideas. Now, IMHO, these ideas are insufficient for physicality. I suspect that consciousness is also a necessary ingredient to actually pull the thing off. Just as the equation for a circle cannot produce an actual circle without the help of a (consciously programmed) plotter or a compass in the hand of a conscious draftsman (would you say "draughtsman" over there in England?), I don't think laws of physics and initial conditions by themselves can give rise to a physical universe.

    True. I haven't proved or demonstrated the existence of anything. I have only guessed.
    I don't think we disagree here, but I also realize that I probably don't understand your position well enough to restate it to your liking. I think we are bumping up against the limits of explanation here.
    You are right: I can't. I am really a monist and acknowledge the existence of only one thing: Mind or Consciousness. But very early on in the big scheme of things, that mind produced Ideas and with those Ideas it then produced Physicality. So for a very long time, all three have existed as very close to fundamental constituents of reality. Call me what you like.
    First, as I have said, I mean roughly the same thing by 'mind' and 'consciousness'. And, I agree that we can look for truth, but we need to be careful about the pronoun we use. If we agree that only the one mind truly exists, then it would be proper to say, One can go and look for oneself what the truth is. Where the "One" and "oneself" unambiguously refer to that one and only mind. But, if we are talking in the normal context of human beings like you and me, then I think we could say that each of us can go and look for his/herself what the truth is. But in this latter case, the kicker is that once having found some truth, we can't tell anyone else about it. Anything we try to say about it will be nonsense. We can know but we can't explain.
    Yes. From what I've learned about Buddhism recently, I am a Buddhist at heart.
    Yes, it is nothing but words. But, to avoid the risk of people reading too much into what I say, I am careful whenever I use the term 'God'. When I mentioned God in my post, I said "God as such", meaning the concept of God in the traditional sense of being infinite, eternal, omnipotent, perfect, omniscient, complete, immutable, etc. Whether or not God exists depends completely on how you define the term. Some "Gods" exist and some don't.

    Good talking with you, Canute

  16. Aug 1, 2005 #15
    Mine too.
    OK. The reason I included mention of "physical law" was that Loseyourname mentioned it. I agree that it logically comes into play later in the discussion.
    No, it only presupposes that the theory of physics is close to being correct, which it is. I said that the "physical world is known to a great extent" not that it is known completely or to an absolute degree of precision. And, I suppose you are right that the presumption ignores the question of what is possible for physics, but I think it does beg the question nonetheless.
    Yes, exactly that out of deference.
    Not at all. I fully expect that as we learn more about reality, physics will expand its scope to include such things as extra spatial and temporal dimensions along with their now-unimaginable contents as part of the natural world. The term 'physicality' as I have been using it simply refers to what modern day physicists would agree to include in the natural world. I am of the fairly firm opinion that there is "something more" which should also be included. And I am confident that some day it will be.
    Why don't we? I can only speak for myself here. I don't work from the complete abstract because I am not competent to do so. Moreover, I don't have to because you have already done so and you have done your best to explain your results to me. I believe you to the extent that I understand what you have discovered. I think you have discovered a mathematical theorem that says that consistency implies the laws of physics. I think that is what we can deduce from supposing that "A" is what is.

    What I am doing is simply guessing at what the nature of that "A" might have been at the very beginning of it all. Being the fool that I am, I have never been afraid of rushing in where others might fear to tread.
    OK, let's. And this is not the first time I have considered it. I understand that by accepting the existence of that Great Original Dilemma you have deduced that any consistent universe must obey the laws of physics. (And I understand that there are some more subtle points associated with that conclusion which I have never caught on to.) So, now, after having considered that, I make the audacious move of asking about the nature of that Great Original Dilemma.
    I agree that in order to reach the conclusions that you have reached, you need to keep the issue open and abstract. But now that you have achieved your result, how about letting me make some guesses as to the nature of that "A"?
    As I explained to Canute, I don't accept the explanation offered by science that the brain produces the mind. But since I am trying to engage in a reasonable conversation with people who hold that view, I think it is useful to at least acknowledge the notion if not partially accept the idea.
    Yes. My way of paying my respects to Plato.
    I agree. But I have presumed that your discovery is correct and so I have an explanation for how the laws of physics were established. I'm trying to go beyond that and investigate the Great Original Dilemma.
    No, the guesses are still interesting. I agree that "A" can be anything, and we don't have to commit to any of my guesses in order to establish the constraints embodied in the laws of physics. But once that conclusion is reached, then it is interesting for some of us to go beyond that and ponder the nature of that original "A". That's the province of my guesses.
    Nothing prevents them from being expressed in that form. In fact, that expression is nearly sufficient (I think that in addition you need to represent A as a set of numbers) for your work. But when it comes to guessing about the original nature of that "A" then it makes sense to separate it out into some possible components just to have something to talk about.
    I didn't say anything about "an inconsistent explanation". What I said was, " If that were a possibility then reality would consist of two parts: a consistent part in which the law of non-contradiction holds and an inconsistent part in which it doesn't hold." I'd say that explanations for structures and behavior would be possible for the consistent parts of reality, but that explanations would likely be impossible, inconsistent, wrong, or meaningless for the inconsistent parts of reality.
    I wouldn't. I didn't make that assumption. I would assume that if there were some inconsistent part of reality, then that part would fail your analysis and the laws of physics would not apply to that part.
    You have convinced me that I have missed some key issues of your presentation. And, of course, I don't know what those issues are because they have escaped me. But I think you have missed the key question I ask about your approach, and that is, Who exactly is the "we" you refer to when you say things like "we can explain things in a self consistent manner"?
    It is more acceptable to me because it tries to make sense of the term 'we' that you use without being at all clear about what it means.

    With this I agree, although I doubt that it can be explained fully.
    It's great talking to you again, Dick,

    Last edited: Aug 1, 2005
  17. Aug 3, 2005 #16
    Hi Paul,
    I really have no argument with most everything you have said here. As you well know, I keep harping on the fact that I think you are misunderstanding a subtle point I have been trying to make and I appreciate your patience with me. Please don't think I am trying to criticize your thinking; I am only trying to communicate a very subtle issue which is actually very applicable to your thoughts; a very slight shift in your perspective.
    I think you are missing the point that the consistency is a constraint on the explanation and not on "A", "B" or "C" at all.
    There is no issue of "fear to tread". What I have proved is that it makes absolutely no difference what "A", "B" or "C" is. To begin with, "A" is not available to you. That is why I defined those other sets: "B" and "C". In very simple terms, "C" is the past and "B" is the present (the past is the sum total of all the "presents" you have experienced). It is "C" that you are attempting to explain. I proved two very important facts. First, there always exists a "D" which will constrain all possibilities to exactly "C" no matter what "C" may be. Secondly, the exact nature of "D" depends upon the rules one sets up. It is a side issue that the rule "no two things can be deemed to be exactly the same" yields my fundamental equation.

    What is much more important is that, since "D" is a subconscious construct, it follows that there always exists an interpretation of all of the elements of "C" such that the fundamental equation is valid. Since all of known physics can be deduced from my fundamental equation, it follows that, no matter what mental model exists in your head, any attempt to communicate it can be mapped into physics (in fact I lay out exactly the procedure for that mapping). When you set the thing up in your head, you make some assumptions (the explanation of which amounts to that "Great Original Dilemma" I speak of). Once those "things" are presumed and labeled (any labels you want), I can map the entirety your arguments into elements of my equation (adding in elements of "D" implied by that explanation).
    I have deduced that any consistent explanation of the universe must obey the laws of physics; not that the universe obeys any laws at all.
    That "Great Original Dilemma" can be anything you want it to be. It is absolutely of no consequence. The problem lies in my interpretation of what you mean. The only thing I (or anybody else) has to go on consists their interpretation of the communication symbols communicated to them. What I have shown is that all internally consistent interpretations of those elements collectively can be explained via an explanation which satisfies my fundamental equation. That is the exact reason why we find such far reaching agreement as to what is true. People talk about the problem of proving their "qualia" are the same as others "qualia" (that you have the same experience when you see green that I have when I see green). My proof shows that the very question is meaningless and the consequences of that meaninglessness are far deeper then they comprehend.

    Now, you are looking at a significant question but your mind is not open to the range of possibilities nor to the constraint on those possibilities. The constraint is that there must be a mechanism consistent with modern physics which will produce the effect you want (if there is not, then you are denying the possibility that your explanation is a solution to my fundamental equation). What my work establishes is a truly defendable foundation for any explanation (modern science with a few subtle changes).
    I am afraid that any explanation of the mind must be based on a solution to my equation and "the brain" is a pretty good squirrel hypothesis (it certainly is consistent with a quantum mechanical model; a direct solution to my equation). Every day more and more subtle issues are being explained from that basis. I hold out a lot of hope that the results will be significant. I think that they have probably omitted a number of strange possibilities but trying to propose a solution outside of physics is doomed to failure.
    The Great Original Dilemma can not be investigated as it is defined to be the residue which must exist after explanation. You cannot explain it and it can not be investigated.
    The moment you do that, you are presuming a whole universe of interpretations are universally acceptable.
    Consistency and inconsistency are characteristics of explanations and have no meaning when applied to "A". It makes no difference what is actually "real", there always exists a consistent explanation.
    That is an erroneous assumption and the central issue of what I have failed to communicate.
    Well, that gets right down to the Great Original Dilemma. Who and what you are is, in a fundamental sense, inexplicable.
    That which "can not be explained" is part of the "Great Original Dilemma".

    Finally, I thought I would comment on a post you made on another thread.
    I certainly agree there. Our current thoughts certainly are not in the future! Neither are they in the past (the past is fixed almost by definition)! Finally, they cannot be in the present as there is insufficient time in the present to think anything out. It follows as the night the day :rofl: that our thoughts are outside time. I personally would put them very definitely in the realm of the "Great Original Dilemma". Put perhaps someday some explanation based on a "brain" will explain them. Till then I will be the skeptic.

    Have fun – Dick

    Knowledge is Power
    and the most common abuse of that power is to use it to hide stupidity
  18. Aug 4, 2005 #17
    People talk about the problem of proving their "qualia" are the same as others "qualia" (that you have the same experience when you see green that I have when I see green)

    To me that question implies that subjective experience, the aspects of it that cannot be communicated with language, is the world of metaphysics. If the word metaphysics means "that which is beyond physics", and if physics is constrained by the fact that it must be expressed symbolically (ie, as a language), then it necessarily follows that the aspects of subjective experience that cannot be described are metaphysical by definition.

    Now the interesting thing about that is the realization that not only metaphysics is real, but we're staring at it every single moment of our conscious lives. Every single meaningful metaphysical question can be answered, at least in principle, by experiencing the phenomenon in question. If you could see and talk to God, you would have the answer to "does God exist". If you could watch the beginning of the universe, you would have the answer to "where did it all come from". If you could see inside someone else's mind, you would know "if they experience green the same way I do". And so on and on.

    Notice that those questions don't have answers that can be communicated. If you see God and become convinced he exists, you would still not be able to convince others who have not seen. The same goes for any other metaphysical question. That is because metaphysics is the portion of the world that is knowable only through subjective experience, because it is subjective experience itself.

    But there's another category of metaphysics, which I could describe as "artificial linguistic side-effects". Those consist of questions whose semantic incorrectness is not obvious for being hidden under multiple layers of semantically correct notions. The best way to understand how this happens is to look at a problem that has been solved somewhat recently.

    It seems correct to think an object will fall if not supported by another object. That is true of any object we can think of, so one may be lead to think it must be true for all objects, including that object called "the universe". Then you have the problem of understanding what is it that supports the universe, also known as the "turtles all the way" problem. Clearly this is an artifcial problem, but it took centuries to understand why. Essentially the error consisted of not realizing an object can only "fall" or "be supported" in relation to other objects; when there are no objects to serve as reference, an object cannot fall for the same reason it cannot be supported. The question is meaningless, but it seems meaningful because the error in reasoning is too subtle.

    Now most people take the position that silly errors like that only happened in the past and cannot possibly be happening in our supposedly advanced age. However, a careful approach to some metaphysical questions will reveal that is far from being the case, and many difficult philosophical problems still entertained by philosophers, amateur and professional alike, are nothing more than artificial, meaningless questions. (I do not intend to provide examples, as many of those questions have been shown to be invalid over and over, yet people won't understand the error until they see it for themselves)

    So, to answer the thread's original question, "is metaphysics a reality or a misconception", my answer is clearly "both!". Part of metaphysics is very real, it's the world of our subjective experiences, and in a sense nothing can be more real than that (even the perception of illusions are real perceptions, unless someone is lying about having them). And part of metaphysics is not real but simply a state of confusion created by the complexity of language.
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