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Properties of objects

  1. Sep 4, 2005 #1
    An object or entity can be said to have certain properties, eg height, mass, position etc. But does the object exist independantly and beyond these properties, or is a set of properties all that can be said to exist? If we try to imagine what an object is actually like without the distortions it goes through from object to observer (our senses and consciousness may show a very different picture from the reality) all we are left with is a set of properties. Colours are simply different wavelengths of light being absorbed and reflected, and even things such as shape may be an invention of our consciousness to help us to understand our surroundings (a square will always have four equal sides and angles but what we see when we look at a square is invented). So is there more to an object's existence than a set of properties? If not, what is it that has these properties?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 5, 2005 #2
    objects are substances actualizations or parts of spacetime

    I cannot imagine that properties are materiel beings. But if they are not, how can it be possible that a set of properties is a material being?
    So at least a material object has to be something more than a set of properties. That could be a substance, something that is identical with itself while its properties are changing. Or it could be an actualization as proposed by Rosenberg (see in the Rosenberg threads chapter 9) and perhaps also by Whitehead. (Then effective properties are possibilities/determinables that are constraint by an actualization to determinate values.) A third possibility is that an object is something that occupies some spacetime.
  4. Sep 5, 2005 #3
    I didnt say that an object is a material being, what I mean is that what we consider to have material existence or substance may be reduced to a set of properties, or at least we have no empirical evidence that anything further than these properties exists. Where in existence do you see this "something that is identical with itself while its properties are changing"? I see no evidence for this in nature, in fact I would argue that everything in existence is in a constant state of flux or change. Unfortunately I dont know of Rosenberg or Whitehead's views so I cant comment. I see occupying spacetime as a property rather than evidence of material existence.
  5. Sep 5, 2005 #4

    Les Sleeth

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    In my opinion you are pointing to, among other things, a major gap in physical theory. As far as I can tell, there is no "bottom line" where you find something that just is or uncaused which might serve as the foundation of existence. Instead, the closest anyone gets to a bottom line substance-wise is a set of variables (properties) which are most likely to manifest, or a description which does things, but has no existential qualities itself.

    This paradox may be most exhibited in the mass-energy dynamic. Mass offers what is most sustantial about the universe, yet if we convert mass to it's more basic form you get energy. Is energy a substance? No. Energy is a way to measure the changes that occur when mass is converted to energy.

    So in the end, what we get for the foundation of creation is a set of behaviors and properties and variables, but no enduring substance which will hold up things no matter what sort of changes go on.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2005
  6. Sep 6, 2005 #5


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    Just to address this first question, is it even coherent to speak of an object independent of its properties? What would an object with no properties be like? It would seem analagous to a word with no definition, no sense or reference; in other words, a word that isn't a word at all. Even if we just called this base substance "ineffable" or "insensible," are not these properties nonetheless? Isn't the quality of being a substance itself a property in the first place?
  7. Sep 6, 2005 #6
    I think this is sometimes known in philosophy as the 'problem of attributes'. It seems to show that our day to day concept of 'objects' is incoherent and that there is no such thing as an object. If so then physicalist theories of matter and cosmogeny are naive and we need to develop a more sophisticated theory of matter and cosmogeny. Perhaps something like Buddhism or Taoism, in which objects are explained as being empty of substance. Cosmologists now speculate that the universe may have been created from as little as an ounce of matter, and this isn't so far from none at all.
  8. Sep 6, 2005 #7

    Les Sleeth

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    Yes otherwise we have nonexistence again. If there is a base substance it must have properties, and all the observed properties of "forms" of this base substance would be expressed potentials of base substance properties.
  9. Sep 6, 2005 #8
    Do you have empirical evidence that properties exist? I do not have more evidence for the existence of objects as I have for the existence of properties.
    I think "object" is a primitive concept and accept loseyourname's argument
    The question is how to characterize this object. Object can be understood either as a substance or as an event.
    In each case there will be properties that determine or constitute the object character of the object. I propose that non-relational i.e. intrinsic properties constitute the objects.
  10. Sep 6, 2005 #9
    I find this discussion a bit trivial but maybe I'm missing something.

    If that were the case, then you could conceive of an object that has no properties, by thinking of an object and subtracting one property at a time until you're left with... with what???

    Any object must have properties, and any properties must belong to some object.

    The object! It comes to existence together with its properties.

    This is very much like the question of what is left of an onion once you peel off all the layers, and the answer is clearly "the onion is the layers".

    What the problem of objects and properties tell us is that our understanding of the world is plagued by false distinctions. Another classic case is the chicken and egg problem: some people argue the chicken came first, others argue it was the egg, but to me the only real possibility is that they both appeared together, since the egg contains a chicken as much as a chicken contains an egg.
  11. Sep 7, 2005 #10
    The last post seems contradictory to me. You say there is not more to an object's existence than a set of properties, then you say that there is an object which these properties belong to. Does this really make sense?
    The onion is the layers, but the term onion is merely a word to describe all the layers of the onion put together in a certain way, so with the onion analagous to the object and the layers analagous to the properties, nothing which is seperate or other than properties exist, and hence, there can be no object which these properties belong to.
    As to the post before, I do think there is empirical evidence for the existence of properties. We define what we experience in terms of properties, blue things have the property of being blue, things that exist have the property that they exist etc., and we can see that all around us. My point is that when we really analyse things, the property of blueness is all that exists, the property does not adhere to any physical thing which cannot itself be reduced to a set of properties.
  12. Sep 7, 2005 #11
    A property cannot exist on its own.

    An object cannot exist without a property.

    Property is intrinsic to objective existence.

    Property is not a necessity or condition to existence. Property is a fact of existence. They are inseparable and intrinsic.

    Thus if an object is said to have size, shape, mass, energy etc these attributes (properties) are intrinsic to the object in its present state. If the state of the object changes its properties change. If its properties change its state changes.

    Question: Is the state of an object a property of that object?

    (As a complete aside, my favorite value topic, color. If color is a property of and object is it not then intrinsic to that object? Sorry, I know it is off topic. I just couldn't help but make the connection as color was mentioned.)
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2005
  13. Sep 7, 2005 #12
    I think Royce already addressed this, but I'll try to answer it from another perspective.

    "Object" refers to the whole, "property" refers to independent aspects of the whole - parts. The whole cannot be said to exist in the absence of the parts that constitute it, but it's also correct to say that all parts belong to the whole, which is really just saying they are related to each other.

    No, it isn't. The onion is the layers arranged in a particular combination known as... an onion.

    You are almost there. "Onion" is merely a word, but so is "layers". Onion and layers, object and properties, they are just different ways of thinking about the same thing. Each way of thinking focus on different aspects of the "thing", but as I said, the distinction is artificial and only serves to help us think.

    Not right. The layers "belong" to each other, and that relationship is called "onion".
  14. Sep 7, 2005 #13
    Royce, I agree a property can't exist on its own, nothing can exist on its own. Properties exist in relation to other properties, which when grouped together we call an object. A pointlike fundamental particle, such as a quark, may have spin, charge, mass etc., but can we say a quark is more than a name given to this collection of properties? I would say not. An object cannot exist without a property because the properties are the object. I agree on the whole with what you are saying but I still deny the existence of anything more than properties in an object.
    Johann, the onion is the layers arranged in a particular order, but this is where the metaphor fails, I dont see how properties can be arranged in different orders or combinations, they merely exist, Leibniz argued that if two objects have the exact same properties, they are in fact the same object. The properties may be contingent upon each other, but this does not mean they "belong" to each other. In fact I could argue that being contingent upon each other is a property in itself, in which case the properties have properties of their own, or more correctly, can be divided into more basic sets of properties (probably an infinite amount of times). This is just confusing though (I think that last bit might be wrong, I couldn't work it out when I tried to think it through).
    It seems that when you really analyse the existence of something it breaks down into nothingness. Maybe the Buddha was right
  15. Sep 8, 2005 #14
    Maybe he was. According to him all objects have no substance, but only phenomenal properties. At first glance this appears an incoherent assertion, for in this case how can anything exist? The answer is, according to the Buddha et al, that what is fundamental, what gives rise to objects and/or our notion of objects, is not itself an object. It is 'something' which has all properties and no properties, depending on how we conceive of it. Conceptually this is a contradiction, which is why we cannot conceive of it. From this follows the ubiquitous assertion of mystics that the Ultimate must be approached and known non-conceptually. In Buddhism this kind of deep analysis of the nature of objects and properties, starting with the sort of questions that Madness asked at the start here, is an intrinsic part of meditative practice.
  16. Sep 8, 2005 #15
    Since everything is ultimately made of energy, whether strings or point particles such as quarks; and, energy has no substance and we don't know what it is or how it came to be then obviously the Buddha was right.
    However objects exist regardless of what they are made of. Just as we don't know what energy is we don't know what objects are only there properties. Actually that is all that we know or can know about anything physical. That does not make the object its properties. Nor does it make properties an object.
    Properties are values in the real and philosophical sense. Value has no substance; but, substance has value just another way of saying that properties have no objective existence but objective existences have properties.
    A quark is a quark; but, all quarks are not the same. They have different properties that distinguish different types of quarks from other types of quarks; yet, quarks do not exist independently, only in pairs.

    A quark is a quark; but, what is a quark; and, what is it that determines its properties?
  17. Sep 8, 2005 #16
    Minced onion... cooked onion... onion rings...

    Philosophers have a strange way of making obvious trivialities sound like great insights. What you said above reads to me as "if two objects are the same object, then they are in fact the same object". :zzz:

    Of course Leibniz's statement sounds like great insight precisely because it's based on a false distinction between "properties" and "object".

    I used "belong" in a very loose sense. You really have to understand what I mean by a false distinction to see my point.

    That is because analysis is something you should do to language, not to reality. Ultimately your problem is simply one of understanding the meaning of the words "property" and "object".

    Well, at least his ideas seem very popular around here.
  18. Sep 8, 2005 #17
    Johann, I said that is where the metaphor fails, you can arrange the layers of an onion any way you want, but an onion isn't really a property, properties cannot be arranged in different ways because they dont physically exist or occupy space, I was simply using Leibniz's quote to show this in a different way. I see no reason why reality should not be analysed.
  19. Sep 8, 2005 #18
    Metaphors are vague by nature. They are not meant to explain anything, but to inspire a particular thought that can't easily be communicated.

    An onion is not meant as a metaphor for a property, it's meant as a metaphor for an object. I didn't choose onions arbitrarily; the metaphorical meaning of onions is quite well-known amongst English speakers. Even the Beatles wrote a song based on it.

    Ironically, you also concluded that objects don't exist, so what really does exist? That alone should make a bell ring.

    The problem of false distinctions is not an easy one to solve, because the solution often has very little to do with the problem itself. You think you have a question that can't be answered, or that can only be answered in a strange way, and it does seem that way from your perspective. However, there is another perspective from which the question is nonsense. I'm not trying to answer your question, just trying to show it is nonsense, but that requires you to contemplate a different perspective.

    Consider a similar problem: if people in China (or whatever country is across the globe from you) are upside-down compared to us, how come they don't fall off the earth? That's a silly problem, but one seriously entertained by young children. The point is, until you understand what makes things fall, you can't understand why the problem is silly.

    Back to objects and properties. What is it that you have to understand to make the distinction between objects and properties look silly? It's a difficult thing to explain, which is why I chose a metaphor, but it's not a difficult thing to understand once you "get it". There is no mystery whatsoever.

    Perhaps I could offer you the argument that even objects that do not exist also have properties. Not only that, but "existence" itself is just another property. For instance, unicorns are white, have four legs, tails, and of course a single horn on top of their heads. Now at least in this case you can be absolutely sure that there's no underlying, "real" object behind the properties that define a unicorn. All you have to do now is realize that, in that respect, there's no difference between unicorns and, say, horses, except the the latter has one extra property the former lacks ("existence")

    That is your major misconception and the reason you end up confused. Analysis is something you do to ideas, not to things that are not ideas. You can analyze "reality" only to the extent that reality is an idea, but you can't get past that. If you try, you will inevitably reach the erroneous conclusion that reality doesn't exist.
  20. Sep 9, 2005 #19
    Firstly, I meant to say layer, not onion. Secondly, I didn't say properties don't exist, I said they don't physically exist. The difference between a horse and a unicorn is that a horse occupies space and time. You have still given no satisfactory reason why reality should not be analysed. I have not reached the conclusion that reality doesn't exist, I have reached the conclusion that objects don't exist as more than a set of properties, and I see no reason to accept this as erroneous.
  21. Sep 9, 2005 #20

    It looks to me like you are asking whather or not matter can be distinquish from it s properties( something that appears to the sense-perceptions).
    If we consider the universe as a closed system of matter-energy, then it properties can only be observe by an external observer that is not in the universe. How do you find such an observer, i don t know. we cannot be consider an observer, because we are part of the universe.
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