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My Problems with Modern Epistemology

  1. Jul 19, 2003 #1
    Descartes tell us that the primary qualities of an object, those properties of an object which are truly immutable, include: extension, number and motion. Locke includes in his list these properties plus solidity. For Descartes, the difference between primary and secondary qualities is that primary qualities inhere the object; whereas, secondary qualities only exist in the mind. For Locke, all qualities come from the object; however, primary qualities reflect the true nature of that object whereas secondary qualities do not.

    In light of recent advances in physics, I am not certain that extension and motion should be on this list. For Einstein's theory of special relativity tells us that extension and mobility are dependent on the observer's frame of reference. If an observer is required for the property to be measured, then I do not see how it can be a primary quality of an object.

    Also, I think that solidity is nothing more than number. If objects are composed of quantized entities than there should be nothing special about solidity. I suppose one could argue that the quantized entity has solidity, but when decomposing the structure of matter, one finds that matter and energy are one and the same. Energy takes no solid form; therefore, I would say that solidity of an entity is dependent on the spacial proximity of neighboring entities. In some sense, neighboring entities act as observers which change the properties of the entity that they are observing. Let's take this to the macro level. If an observer views the spin state of an electronic system, he/she collapses the Schrodinger wavefunction forcing it to take a single value. Let's look at the atomic level. If a proton is in the vicinity of an electron, the end result is a hydrogen atom. Let's look at the sub-atomic level. If two down quarks and an up quark are in close proximity, the end result is a proton. I'm sure there must be some external mechanism which determines how strings end up with a quark flavor... but I'm certain what that mechanism is. Anyway, my point is that solidity depends on outside mechanisms; therefore, it cannot be a primary quality.

    I believe there is only one true primary quality and that is number.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 19, 2003 #2
    Of course for number you have the quantum smearing :wink:.
  4. Jul 20, 2003 #3
    Neither Locke nor Descartes are what I would call "modern" philosophers. Their's are classical philosophies which were carefully crafted extensions of classical Greek philosophies consciously and scrupulously compatable with both the Judeo-Christian tradition and the newly emerging experimental sciences. This is precisely why they are so incompatable with modern physics and even with that extreme extrapolation of classical physics, Relativity. They were and are nothing more than expedient philosophies for furthering the advancement of science in the context of the culture in which it emerged.

    Relativity is a radically pantheistic theory while Quantum Mechanics is a notably mystical theory. Both are directly at odds with the Judeo-Christian tradition which is based on a linear logical, subject-object, view of existence. This is why Quantum Mechanics is an ad hoc theory arrived at by default with much nashing of teeth and dragging of feet and why Relativity required so long to develop. Gallileo himself first postulated a relativistic theory, but even the multi-dimensional geometry to further develop such a theory would have to wait four hundred years to overcome the linear logical inertia of Judeo-Christianity.

    Anyone who suggests that the progress of science is independent of the culture within which it develops is living in a fantasy.
  5. Jul 20, 2003 #4
    Dude, have actually taken a philosophy class?

    Descartes WAS the first of the moderns. Although some will debate that Voltaire was actually the first modern philosopher, but if his work you will most likely come to the conclusion that he was the last medieval philosopher.

    For some reason reason you are confusing modern philosophy with what they call recent philosophy. Let me clear things up for you. The order goes something like this: classical, medieval, modern, post-modern, contemporary, and finally recent philosophy.

    Now let me give some free education. Modern philosophy was basically all about the struggle to justify Christianity with rationale thought. In my opinion Descartes and Kant were the only the decent moderns, but they still held on to irrationale thoughts which they inherited from their medieval predecessors.

    Anyway, whoever said I suggested that the progress of science is independent of culture. It's definately not. We see this now as I write this letter. The pop-culture movie the matrix has definately influenced people to take a second look at Descartes and Locke and their ideas of perception and reality. Also, there seem to be certain fads in science. I remember in the early '90s chaos theory was the big rave. Everyone doing any sort research from sociology to plasma physics would try to incorporate some nonlinear science into their research. Now days, nanotechnology is all people want to talk about. Chemists claim they're doing nanotechlogy when they study large molecules. Solid state physicists claim they're the ones studying nanotechnology. Electrical engineers study micro/nano-electronics claim they have the nanotech floor.

    But back to the original topic. We're talking about the topic of perception and reality here. What are the true primary qualities, if any?

    And Mentat, I'm not seeing how quantum smearing effects number. Perhaps, you know something I do not. My understanding of quantum smearing comes from a Coulomb Blockade perspective in mesoscopic devices. Here quantum smearing is just an overlapping of states. Maybe you're referring to a different phenomena with a similar name.

  6. Jul 20, 2003 #5
    Identity, Form and Interaction

    All things have this in common. Each has an identity. That identity is expressed in a 'form'. Regardless of content, each thing has this in common with every other. All things 'interact' with all other things one way or another. Their existence takes 'form' in conjunction with and by 'interacting' with others.

    Form and interaction are logically congruent.

    A thing is what it appears to another thing to be. The entity (form) which is observed (interacted with) can never be divorced from that which observes it nor can either (form-interaction) be construed as logiclly anterior or posterior. (This applies only to 'elementary particles' and not to complex organisms such as man where interaction presupposes the existence of the man who then interacts).

    Therefore, we may assert without fear of error that:
    That which has form but does not interact does not exist.
    And, that which interacts but has no form is equally not possible.

    I agree with this. It covers more abstractly all you could think of. Motion is important, its Interaction, but used to be called motion. Without one, there is no dynamics, no time. Identity is whatever, number, coordinate, potential, without such there can be no distinguishable parts or concepts (space). Form is extention, energy, solidity, but its relative and cannot be divorced from observer.

    All this applies to objects no less than to anything you could call existing. Important imo is that this hints on being cautious about claiming absolute things like extension or solidity - these are dependant on observer and form-interaction outcome. At the same time, it suggests caution in defining Identity - it depends on interaction by which it is observed. These three are deeply interrelated, like some trinity. The only truely sure thing is that Interaction must happen. How much true identity is in the form or how much it depends on mutual interaction, makes other two quite fuzzy.

    So I'm not sure if search for true primary quality is meaningful. Number is nice bet, but it also depends on context. Some may say smell or color is primary. Imagine inherent immutable smell..
  7. Jul 20, 2003 #6

    Nope, never have and from what I can see I don't believe I ever will. Modern and contemporary are two words for the same thing, the present. If formal philosophy can't be any more coherent in its designations I'd rather take up zoology and learn a dead language like latin, at least it makes sense.

    The true primary qualities of perception are pantheistic and mystical imo, both of which lend themselves to both linear logical and lateral holistic thinking. Quantum Mechanics is essentially a mystical theory, exactly what it describes being a mystery. Relativity with its spacetime continuum is essentially a monist pantheistic theory. You could say QM is a digital theory while Relativity is an analog one, but both are holistic.
  8. Jul 20, 2003 #7


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    Entropy, I think the quantum view of solidity is that it is due to the electron shells in the atoms of which the material is made. Electrons are fermions and obey the Pauli exclusion principle that no two of them, if interacting, can have exactly the same properties. As this works out in detail it is responsible for things like crystal structure and the soldity of many materials.

    I can't see why you even think Descartes and Locke are worth refuting on this point. Modern they may have been but this physics is truly medieval.
  9. Jul 20, 2003 #8
    To my poor knowledge of philosophy and physics,I think i have something different to say.
    "I suppose one could argue that the quantized entity has solidity, but when decomposing the structure of matter, one finds that matter and energy are one and the same. Energy takes no solid form; therefore, I would say that solidity of an entity is dependent on the spacial proximity of neighboring entities."(quoted)
    you say there are matter and energy,and when you think of the "NEIGHBORING ENTITIES",where are the matter and the energy?
    and it's the core of my opinion, i think the energy is the primary quality.and it unwind in time and space or even more dimensions thus we get motion,quality,form and so many "observed" properties.
    to the interaction of the things,i think it due to the change of the energe,the asymmetry of energy.
    to the philosophy,i don't think Descartes and Kant are the same.
    for Descartes,he is the beginner of the modern science and technology.for Kant,he is the initiator of the mentalism.I think the difference between the two is the difference between the science and art in Nietzsche's definition.
    this is my personal understand and there must be some mistake,i will
    listen to your opinio with respectful attention.
    leoant :smile:
  10. Jul 20, 2003 #9


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    In my previous post I said that solidity results from the Pauli exclusion principle. I now find, from the physics q & A thread, that this is wrong. Solidity results from the many electronic bonds between molecules in solids which would have to be broken for interpenetration, at great energy cost.

    The difference hardly changes my point, that solidity has a perfectly definite cause in terms of atomic physics, and is just not available any more for mystical philosophizing.
  11. Jul 20, 2003 #10
    The Pauli Exclusion principle, electron shells, and solidity are all based on the Uncertainty Principle. If forced to, the exclusion principle can be broken in order to preserve Indeterminacy. Hence you get bizarre phenomena such as superfluid helium, superconductivity, tunneling, Bose-Einstein Condensates, etc., etc., etc.

    Go ahead, try and assert QM has a rational foundation. The evidence collected over a century shows if there is a rational foundation for the theory, no one has been able to prove it. Quite the contrary, the most expensive machines and greatest minds in history have been stumped.

    There is an interesting article available online in the current scientific american on a new twist on the subject. Its a bit hard to follow, but it asserts that information and entropy are apparently preserved rather than any particular state, and that the entropy is directly proportional to the surface area. The article, again, takes the holistic perspective of viewing existence as possibly a hologram. Yet another monist pantheist perspective.
  12. Jul 20, 2003 #11


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    hold on...
    I can follow how you might call QM a mystical theory, but what exactly about relativity makes it a "monist pantheistic" theory?
  13. Jul 21, 2003 #12


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    A thought on extension as primary quality...

    Apparent extension depends on the viewer's frame of reference, as Relativity tells us. But we don't need relativity to derive this result.

    Picture two tall pillars of equal height standing on the horizon. If you view the pillars from the side, the one closer to you will appear larger; if you view them perpendicularly from the line they form, they will appear to be the same size. The obvious answer is to simply measure them with a tape measure or some such device. But this objection requires a change in reference point, namely to be close enough to physically measure the pillars. Of course, we can also take into account the complicating factor-- distance from the pillars-- and do some trigonometry to solve for the height of the pillars without having to get close to them.

    Analogously, the inertial frame of reference you are in with respect to an object to be measured can change its apparent extension. Just as in the pillar example, the solution is simply to change your frame of reference (in this case, rather than change distance you would change your velocity to match that of the object) so that you can get a standardized measurement. Also just as in the pillar example, you can take into account the complicating factors arising from your frames of reference-- ie the object's velocity with respect to your own-- and solve for its extension without having to change your own frame of reference.

    The pillar example is my objection to Berkley's rejection of extension as a primary quality, and I suppose it holds equally as well for the 'relativity' example. Perhaps it is only valid under the Lorentz interpretation of relativity; not sure about the classical Einsteinian version.
  14. Jul 22, 2003 #13
    The equivalency principle makes it pantheistic. By asserting that energy is equivalent to mass, gravity equivalent to acceleration, space equivalent to time, Relativity unifies these disperate elements in a continuum and implies everything may be similarly unified including the past, present, and future. Such a fatalistic and egalitarian universe is so extremely pantheistic that Einstein was sainted by the Navaho tribe.
  15. Sep 13, 2003 #14

    For sure a part of the past is still active in the present and is it's foundation, but an other part of the past has 'decayed'. No longer active.
    I think 'unification' is meant in another sense.
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