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What is supernatural?

  1. May 1, 2008 #1
    1. What is supernatural? What is natural?

    I'm having trouble giving definitions to these words. What definition could we give these words?

    I have some ideas for defining these words, but I'm having second thoughts about them. I was thinking that we could call concepts that were supernatral as things without cause (internal cause), and concepts that are natural to be with cause (external cause). But, Quantum probabilities make things a little weird, unless you believe that there is a causal explaination not yet discovered. But in the case that Quantum Mechanics is true, that objects can behave randomly within the constraints of probability, what would one call it?

    2. Can we call quantum physics natural or supernatural (if probability is truely a factor in nature)? Would it be a combination of both?
    3. Could "supernatural/natural" the same as "acausal/causal" or "unknowable/knowable" or a combination of both?
    4. Are these words metaphysical descriptions of the concepts or are they epistemological descriptions of the subject knowledge about the concept?
    5. Or are these words completely meaningless?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 1, 2008 #2
  4. May 2, 2008 #3
    I would argue that naturalistic is that which can be studied with empirical methods. That which is supernatural is that which cannot be studied by empirical methods. Of course, this definition would make justified supernaturalism impossible, so.
  5. May 2, 2008 #4
    The supernatural exists only in our imagination. Everything else is natural.
  6. May 3, 2008 #5
    Precisely. Supernatural is a human creation.

    Natural has been and will be natural whether or not a human mind has anything to do with it.
  7. May 3, 2008 #6
    Five star post.
  8. May 3, 2008 #7
    My definition of supernatural: The supernatural is an event which defies the laws of physics.
  9. May 3, 2008 #8
    What does it mean to say that a supernatural event obtains?
  10. May 4, 2008 #9
    Certainly, the supernatural can exist. I think the distinction is similar to the distinction between metaphysics and physics. Literally, metaphysics is above physics, and the supernatural is over natural. The idea is in many ways the same. When Adam Smith wrote about the invisible hand of the market, he gave a metaphysical account for how a bunch of rational beings trading in a free market would produce order. The supernatural would be the hand and the metaphysical the fact that this hand exists. Of course, economics is considered somewhat like a science now, and we say that this hand is market forces or whatever. Nevertheless, it is certainly possible for the supernatural to exist. I mean there is always the possibility that we are all trapped in some illusion and are in fact are apart of some supernatural way of being as compared to this illusion. Its not that it is not possibility; it is just that it is not that reasonable to believe something such as this. But, actually, I think it raises the question on how we, as people who pursue science, approach the theory of truth. For instance, if whenever I prayed to Zeus for money, I won the lottery, I would conclude that praying to Zeus was quite effective and that Zeus existed. Of course, this is not likely too happen, but I would be compelled to believe in Zeus' existence and I think in many ways it would prove his existence. But, the reason for this is that I am believing here that if something works reasonably well, then it is very likely that it is true. This is just one approach to truth. Another approach would be to start with the fact that all things can be deduced from first principles (except this sentence of course), and since there are no first principles in which to arrive at the fact that Zeus exists, even though he answers prayers, we would have to think that Zeus cannot possibly exist. So, from the get go, we reject what is supernatural implicitly in the approach to truth we take, but if such an approach to truth was really correct, there would not be any need to say see a psychologist when one is in mental distress.
  11. May 4, 2008 #10
    I'll stick to the fact that I can show you atoms and stars. Empirical information is fundamentally different than the Zeus situation you put forward.
  12. May 4, 2008 #11
    I agree. I would say that the conditions that science puts forward in order to consider something as truth is in general stronger than that of pragmatism as outlined with the Zeus example. You are welcomed to take any approach that you like to truth; I am just bringing notice to the fact that there are different ways of looking at truth. Really, I am just stating what other's have said--that is, "the supernatural by definition cannot be true." Then, I am noticing that this is all in what your standard for truth is. It a fundamental assumption that we take that may be wrong.
  13. May 4, 2008 #12
    Agreed. Theres no way anyone can 'prove' indefinitely that the modern models of physics are absolute truth. But it seams to be close enough for me. At least I have far more and different and reasoned reasons for taking what I know as truth; compared to pragmatism of any form of belief.

    "You can preach until you are red in the face, but until you show me I will never jump on your bandwagon!" :approve:
  14. May 5, 2008 #13
    There is no need to jump on the bandwagon. In fact, I think most people have never thought about what approach to truth they take. I am not exactly sure where I stand. I do like the pragmatists though; it is a novel approach to Kant's problem of the unknowability of the noumenal--in many ways superior to Schopenheaur's and Hegel's. Funny enough, all of these approaches to the problem are closely linked to science as is most of modern philosophy. Schopenheaur is just the first breath of of behavioral science a la social Darwanism before Darwin. Hegel is much the same except instead of Darwin think cultural anthropology. But, pragmatism is related to science in a different way in that while respecting its standard for truth, it offers a vehicle for believing things that are not necessarily based on cold scientific evidence---of course, it can't run contrary to it. If you think about it, such an approach is truly pragmatic because how arduous it would be to scientifically justify sitting in a chair---it is much better to say that I sit in the chair because the last 1,000 times I did so it worked instead of going into deep thought about physics. Now, this does actually allow for one to believe in the supernatural through reason and experience and that is my point. The possibility exists to have a philosophically sound theory of truth and believe in the supernatural based on reason and experience. This is not to say the probability of this happening is all that high--in fact, it could tragically be quite low as I would argue it is today.
  15. May 8, 2008 #14
    For me, I believe that 'supernatural' describes anything which cannot be observed or proven by any classical means, but only by intuition and belief. Such as the presence of love, or for some people, the existence of God. You cannot classically devise a "proof" of neither but it exists only in our minds and in the way we believe. We can't prove we love someone, we just know that we do. And so I believe that love and God are examples of supernatural "entities".
  16. May 8, 2008 #15
    Yep, since there'n nothing within our Universe that is inexplicable, acausal or supernatural. What's out of our universe is also explicable. Basically, there's nothing inexplicable. The only argument against that is that we humans may or may not be able to comprehend the explanation.

  17. May 8, 2008 #16
    To be completely strict, our minds are natural, hence the creations of our minds are natural.
  18. May 8, 2008 #17
    I disagree. Zeus could really exist! and by exist, I mean in some realm outside matter. It is not likely, but it is possible. To say you know in the sense of pure knowledge that he does not exist is to take a stance on the theory of truth and the theory of knowledge. This assumption may be wrong--or, not entirely accurate. Also, as far as I know, the stock exchange is pretty much acausal with our current understanding of econometrics. When you understand the causal relationships, you will be able to make lots of money!!
  19. May 8, 2008 #18
    I like this statement by Phillip K. Dick.

    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
  20. May 8, 2008 #19
    Yes, well, as far as I know, the theory of mind is continually changing area in philosophy, and the verdict is not out on what our minds are (even if they are strictly material). I am pretty sure that this is an assumption on your part which denies the existence of anything immaterial that comprises of your mind. Don't get me wrong, we all have to assume some things, but I think that this is something that may be incorrect--or at least, it is not at all obvious, even with our understanding of the brian, that the mind is completely material.
  21. May 9, 2008 #20
    eastside: I think you're making a mistake by stating we can not "absolutely know something".

    What is "absolute"? What does that mean? When someone says absolute, all I see is "above" or "Super". Because it is higher knowledge than knowledge, by definition we can not prove something to be absolute when all we have is normal, which is only begging the question.

    In essence: One can criticize any position and say "Well, it's POSSIBLE that there is another explanation", but unless there is support beyond reference to having been wrong before, there is no reason to believe otherwise.

    And in case I seem to be coming off as harsh against the pursuit of knowledge: This is not an argument against looking for new explanations to old problems. Only an argument against "all possible worlds" logic.
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