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What is physical?

  1. Sep 4, 2007 #1
    Why do we feel the need to preserve the physical in philosophical thinking when it is not immediate in the way first-person experience is? Is it because we feel sensory experience alone can not explain the world we perceive?

    It seems to me that the movement from sensory experience to the identification of objects is one purely of (evolutionary) convenience and has no real foundation.

    I am not denying the causative potential of 'something' that we class as physical. I am questioning the reality of the essence we ascribe to it by way of 'physical'.

    I will go out on a limb and define the 'essence' of physical as persistent identity through time. I am happy to hear other suggestions, but note I am after a definition that warrants the inclusion of 'physical' as an ontological category. For example, one might suggest that the physical is actual because objects have 'substance' (though this would require further elaboration).
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 4, 2007 #2
    What are you asking? That we take senses touch,smell,hearing...and choose to define the Physical by those standards. Then carry those standards over into philosophy where some of that may not apply. Like....though certain physical attributes define a certain object, are these attributes really the "essence" of it...so to speak? ie: how we FEEL about something as opposed how we VIEW it......am I close?
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2007
  4. Sep 4, 2007 #3
    I want to find out if 'physical' has more than a scientific basis. I'm sure it does, as we all go through a period in childhood where we learn to associate things as objects, learn about space, etc. But what I'm wondering is if that basis contains an intuitive notion of what we mean by physical, for example as I said: "identity through time". Such a notion, if it exists, could be philosophically useful.
  5. Sep 4, 2007 #4
    We are the belief makers, we give it all meaning and we do so because we want to do so. However, the physical is beyond mere desire and belief. It is the spontaneous natural world and when we too become spontaneous we become one with the physical. Thus it is more than the merely persistent, which encompasses beliefs as well. In addition, a simple blow to the head and an individual can loose their sense of smell or whatever. Persistence isn't all its cracked up to be.
  6. Sep 5, 2007 #5
  7. Sep 6, 2007 #6
    I never claimed the physical world was separate from ourselves, after all, we are physical beings as much as anything else.

    Of course, we can describe life, the universe, and everything any way you prefer. Nonetheless, the word "physical" has obvious usefulness in certain contexts. Whether or not it actually describes "reality" is besides the point.
  8. Sep 6, 2007 #7
    I never claimed that you claimed that. My point "One can believe in things apart from self without them actually being physical" is purely to emphasise there are various ways to interpret "the world" if you are not an idealist.

    That doesn't have anything to do with what this thread is about. If you don't think physical has any sense as I talked about then you should just say so rather than make a tired point.
  9. Sep 6, 2007 #8
    What isn't physical? What is physical? Need it be proved?

    We prove that we can not prove (any thing).

    There is no proof for any thing and that is the only thing that can ever be proven and with that we have proven the validity of every thing through invalidity.

    What is the proof of proof? There is no foundation and that is the ofness.
  10. Sep 6, 2007 #9
    From my point of view, such things are better described as pretenses than interpretations. On some level we are all aware that our abstractions about the world around us are just that, abstractions. Of course, we'll go to our graves denying it at times.... but that is just denial. Hence, the term "beliefs" is really short for make-believe.

    My point is that words only have demonstrable meaning according to their function in a given context. The words material and non-material are relative terms, which alone makes it difficult to know what you mean when you use them. Add on top of that your vague references to life, the universe, and everything and they become virtually meaningless. Hence, all the confusion in my interpreting what you are talking about.

    In philosophy, words are as important as mathematics are in physics.
  11. Sep 6, 2007 #10
    So eloquently put, you and aspect should have an interesting conversation.
  12. Sep 7, 2007 #11
    Let me make this clear. This thread is not about proving anything. Whether you believe things can be proved or not is not under discussion. I would appreciate it if people who had nothing to contribute to the topic under consideration would stop hijacking this thread.
  13. Sep 7, 2007 #12
    Suppose I have a thought of the essence or form of a thing of matter, call the essence E and the thing T. Next hold that both E and T have identity, that is E = E and T = T, thus both hold to Law of Identity. Now, it seems to me that based on your definition, the E would be physical since I can clearly have a persistent thought of the identity of E through time, at least as long as I have thought. However, I would suggest that the E is not physical, but it is the T that is physical--that is, that which is physical is the thing, that which is non physical is the thought of the essence or form of the thing. Now, the reason I hold that the essence is not physical is because I can find no motion within thought of essence itself, but all things do have such motion at least as potential. So, if my logic holds then I cannot agree with your definition of physical. So, here I offer another definition: That which is physical has a potential of motion within itself. Nice thread.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2007
  14. Sep 8, 2007 #13
    Physicality, whether its a phenomenological understanding or an ontological one, is central to personal identity and it therefore has an impact on the very basics of any world view. People need a solid foundation both in terms of their philosophy and in terms of purely psychological needs. Not having your feet on solid ground can be, and is for many people, quite terrifying. This is why the dictates of religion draw people like flies.

    Ascribing an essence to physical objects, or wishing to do so, is a very old idea, grounded in our evolutionary past. An object model is useful to us as hunter/gatherers. Of course with our bigger brains and higher understanding, it becomes clear that this has more to do with us, than 'the universe', which on the molecular, subatomic and cosmic scales is quite different. The idea of substance, although useful in a practical scientific sense, is an empty concept. We don't deal with substance directly, it is unknown.
  15. Sep 14, 2007 #14
    Thanks for posting Rade, I don't think your definition disagrees with mine though. I say identity through time, you say motion (which implies change=time) within (through) itself (identity). I could be more precise but let me see what you think.
  16. Sep 14, 2007 #15
    That does not mean we do not have an intuitive (albeit evolution driven) understanding of substance. It's not like when we are children playing with blocks we say "these are just empty concepts".
  17. Sep 14, 2007 #16
    Actually if you observe children, its quite like that. They don't make connections between 'things' like adults have learned to do.

    Babies for instance have to learn to fear heights.
    Babies don't understand depth perception, which is why peak-a-boo is so stimulating.

    We certainly have instincts, but even understanding that the square object can fit in the square hole, must be learned. Babies chew, push, pull and taste everything. We must literally learn to map form onto our world. That form is the way we interact with the world, not the substance of that world itself.

    You can also see this quite clearly with our inability to understand microscopic and cosmic level 'things'. We try and treat them the way, our understanding of, objects work on our level. But it doesn't work, we literally have to unlearn our understanding of 'things'.
  18. Sep 14, 2007 #17

    You misunderstand. I'm aware that children learn a way of interacting with the world. I'm interested in what this learned experience amounts to, from a philosophical perspective. Even if it has no bearing on reality, the experience becomes so ingrained that it is deployed in all our thinking, it becomes an essence. What is the architecture of this essence?
  19. Sep 14, 2007 #18
    Its what philosopher's have called phenomenology. Essense and substance are exactly the wrong words to use because in the philosophical tradition they are synonymous with the 'thing in itself', not experience, what some would call the 'objective' nature of that thing. That is not what children learn, nor does it address the sphere of our evolutionary past.

    This essense or substance of the world, assuming it exists, is entirely separate from our 'map' of the world, which is the 'implied' function of our interaction. Its an old philosophical problem. Ontology always breaks down with the observer issue.
  20. Sep 14, 2007 #19
    Architecture. The cell wall separates, draws a distinction that metabolism and regeneration occurs. A physical body, made from the physical world. Emotion body, made from a world of emotions. Memory body, from a world of memories. Personal computer type mind body from a cause/effect world. All to protect the experiencer. The creator/perceiver.

    That kind of architecture?
  21. Sep 14, 2007 #20
    We should always be aware of the context in which words are used in order to make our meanings. This is clearly not an exercise in phenomenology. But instead of essence I'll use "architecture of belief" which will hopefully resolve any ambiguity. Now I will put that into a sentence: Rade and I have already theorised what the "architecture of belief" might be.
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