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What are the boundaries between philosophy/science precisely?

  1. Jul 20, 2004 #1
    Does the metaphysical even exist (perhaps the question is moot)? I want YOUR ideas.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2004 #2
    What does the word metaphysical mean to you. It would not be of value to debate the existence of something when each of us has a different definition for the word.
  4. Jul 20, 2004 #3
    I believe he was asking:
    I believe that metaphysics begins where physics ends. When you go outside the realm of things which can be measured or studied, that is the metaphysical. Is abortion "right?" That is a philosophical question because science has no use for the idea of "right." Right is not x + y + z, it's outside the physical realm (meta-physical). The same can be said of ghosts, there has been no scientific data collected that suggests any influence from invisible spirits in any way on the physical world, therefore ghosts are metaphysical.

    Do metaphysical things exist? That's a tough question due to the all-encompassing nature of the metaphysical. Let's take a smaller bite: Do hallucinations exist? If not, why can you see them? Taking that example even further, what of the things in your dreams? They still exist in some sense of the word, if only in your memory. That being said, all things exist, but the question of whether they are real or imaginary is the one I find to be most intriguing.
  5. Jul 20, 2004 #4
    Metaphysical has a precise meaning. When I use words, I use them as taken from the standard set of English vocabulary.
  6. Jul 20, 2004 #5
    Yeah, that question is moot.

    Science is derrived from philosophy. Even the idea that there might be a precise boundary between science and philosophy, is a philosophical and metaphysical idea. Certainly it is not a scientifically proven idea!

    Philosophy is the love of wisdom. Science is a mechanical process for acquiring useful knowledge, a tool.
  7. Jul 20, 2004 #6
    Spot on old chap. The question posed is: do things exist outside of the physical realm?

    You have tactfully avoided the question.
  8. Jul 20, 2004 #7
    Stating that science is a mechanical process for acquiring useful knowledge begs the question "what kind of knowledge?", and this is closely related to the question that started this forum.

    Spoken with a different nuance: where does the boundary lay between knowledge attainable by scientific means and knowledge of the metaphysical (that which science can never hope to understand)? Of course, this boundary may not even exist: if there is nothing that science cannot uncover, then nothing metaphysical exists and all knowledge is scientific.
  9. Jul 20, 2004 #8

    Tom Mattson

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    Scientific theories of existents are those theories that are contingent on observations of the world. Metaphysical theories are those theories of existents that are not contingent.

    "The metaphysical" exists inasmuch as it characterizes ideas. I don't think it makes any sense to use the term "metaphysical" as it is normally applied around here (eg: "Conscious energy is metaphysical, man. Groovy.") One can discuss any known existent on both a scientific and metaphysical level.
  10. Jul 20, 2004 #9
    Are you trying to be funny? You surely can't be serious.
  11. Jul 20, 2004 #10
    some thoughts on the matter...

    We must separate the scientific process from science itself. The scientific process is the mechanical tool by which we gain scientific knowledge concerning the universe in which we live (i.e., concerning the interactions and state of the material world). However, science itself is the philosphy which governs the scientific process and asserts a number of fundamental principles:
    0). Scientific theories can possibly predict and explain all material interactions (processes involving matter).
    1). The best scientific theory is the one which best fits observation.
    2). We can hope to generate useful theories because the universe is ordered and its basic laws unchanging.
    3). No scientific theory is provable; theories are chosen by the process of elimination.

    These four principles must be taken as axiomatic and together form the underlying philosophy of science. The question is then, does this philosophy allow for the existence of and/or say anything concerning things which are not matter?

    For instance, can we infer anything concerning the existence of God through application of the scientific process?
  12. Jul 20, 2004 #11
    I am speaking "tongue-in-cheek".

    If we can't agree on the meaning, then we might as well speak gibberish. This is why we have dictionaries; so that when I (correctly) type a sentence its meaning can be easily deduced by anyone who reads it. Any misunderstanding in the meaning is thus in my inability to properly construct a sentence which reflects my thoughts and not in the meaning of the words themselves.
  13. Jul 20, 2004 #12

    Tom Mattson

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    Allow? A philosophy cannot allow or disallow anything. It is a collection of ideas with no efficacy in the real world.

    Now, can it have anything to say about nonmaterial things? That's more complicated. I would say that the scientific method can have nothing to say about things that cannot be detected, even in principle. For those things that can, the scientific method can in principle discover them. The catch is that it may force us to refine our ideas of what it is to be "matter", as has been done before. For instance, 150 years ago it might have been stated that a particle that interferes with itself when passing through a double slit diffraction grating is nonmaterial. Now we know better.

    If god is undetectable, then no, we cannot. If it is, then we can in principle.
  14. Jul 20, 2004 #13
    No. I wouldn't agree with you here because of the simple fact that the metaphysical might exert some influence on the physical world and thus be contingent (albeit to a lesser degree) on observations of the world.
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2004
  15. Jul 20, 2004 #14
    This collection of ideas may contain one which does not allow for the existence of nonmaterial things by stating an obvious contradiction to their existence.

    This speaks only in the sense of proving the existence of something which belongs to the realm of the "nonmaterial", and I am assuming that you think similarly with respect to disproving such things' existence.
  16. Jul 20, 2004 #15

    Tom Mattson

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    As I said, "metaphysical" is a means of characterizing a theory, just like "scientific" is. It makes no more sense to say that "the metaphysical can have such-and-such an influence on the world" as it does to say "the scientific can have such-and-such an influence on the world".

    "Metaphysical" (like "scientific") does not describe a class of existents, it describes a class of ways of thinking about them. For instance, you can get scientifc about the human brain ("How do currents flow in networks of synapses?") or you can get metaphysical about it ("How does my personal identity emerge from a network of synapses that themselves have no personal identity?").

    In both cases, you're talking about a network of synapses. The synapses are neither metaphysical nor scientific. They just are. It's the questions, and the means by which we answer them, that are properly said to be either scientific or metaphysical.
  17. Jul 20, 2004 #16
    Your words say that we need agreement on meaning of a word, yet you throw out a highly loaded word, which surely you must recognize that many, many people will have widely different understandings of its meaning, and yet you expect that all of these people who do not know you or your meaning will just naturally understand exactly what you want to talk about.

    You say that you want our ideas. Is your purpose to probe the various definitions of metaphysical that people will present in reaction to your word, or is it to discuss the concept in your terms?

    Questions like yours are an invatation to speak gibberish. The only question is how much gibberish will go by before it is realized that that is the value of the communication.
  18. Jul 20, 2004 #17

    Tom Mattson

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    OK, we can know that some things cannot exist just on that basis. But the class of things ruled out by ideas alone does not seem to be very interesting. For instance, I can say without making any observations of the world that no married bachelors exist, but who cares?

    Not really. What it says is that new information causes us to refine our concept of "nonmaterial" in such a way that things that were previously classified as nonmaterial, may one day be classified as material. But at the very least the thing in question has to be detectable in some way. Otherwise, we would not know of its existence at all.

    If you're assuming that I think that the existence of the nonmaterial cannot be disproved, then you'd be right.
  19. Jul 20, 2004 #18
    Metaphysics: a priori speculations upon things that are unanswerable to scientific observation, analysis, or experiment. Thus "all things metaphysical" is (presumably) the class of existents and not the method of reasoning about them.

    But fine then, let us just use the cumbersome term "nonmaterial" from now on, although I shall do so with great protest.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2004
  20. Jul 20, 2004 #19

    Tom Mattson

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    I completely agree with the definition you quoted form the dictionary, but it seems clear that you don't. Just look at it: Metaphysics is a particular class of speculations, not things. It says so right there in black and white (and red :biggrin: ).

    We could use your proprietery definition of metaphysics, if you would present it.
  21. Jul 20, 2004 #20
    Ideas are important. You could also say, upon making some observations of the world, that no God existed. Many would care.

    My question is: does science state that no such statements can be made?

    You seem to be leaning towards a tautological statement here.
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