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What makes a liquid liquid questions.

  1. Feb 19, 2004 #1
    "What makes a liquid liquid" questions.

    This is sort of a spin-off of my thread, Faulty Expectations of a theory of Consciousness, but I felt there was something that needed direct addressing, and that thread didn't seem the appropriate place to post it...

    Anyway, I'm noticing a very serious problem in many philosophical discussions of scientific inquiry, that is most painfully obvious in the issue of conscious experience: People still seem to want to know what makes water so wet.

    What I mean is, it doesn't seem to be enough for philosophers that a scientist can explain what is and is not a liquid, what causes solids or gases to become liquids, and that interaction with liquids makes things wet. No, they want to know what causes this particular level of freedom among particles to be "liquid".

    This is a very serious problem because not only is Science not equipped to answer these questions but, more importantly (IMHO), these questions really appear to have no merit at all, and are merely standing in the way of otherwise rational inquiry.

    Your thoughts?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 19, 2004 #2
    Re: "What makes a liquid liquid" questions.

    Water might be wet, only because we perceive it to be. Maybe we perceive it to be, only because of anthropic fine tuneing. That could indicate "Intellegent Design"

    Last edited: Feb 19, 2004
  4. Feb 19, 2004 #3
    Water is a very special substance. It has a number of properties that no other compound has. One of its most unique properties is that is is lighter, less dense, as a solid, ice, than it is as a liquid. It is also the nearest thing to a universal solvent that there is.
    Any solid becomes a liquid when its atoms or molecules have enough energy to break its bonds with each other yet not enough to escape completely and become a gas. This is the simple explanation and I'm sure that there are QM principles involved also.
    The thing that make water so wet is the way that the molecules are made up with the two hydrogen atoms one one side of the molecule. The hydrogen nucleus is not well covered by its single electron and the positive charge still has some effect making hydrogen bonds possible.
    This makes water sort of sticky making it stay liquid at a relatively high temperature and also the reason that water has so much latent heat. The molecules having some polarity effects due to its structure also makes it such a good solvent. So much for a simple scientific explanation.
    How we perceive or feel wet is usually nothing more that the feeling of coolness. It is hard to tell if a piece of cloth is wet or just cold. This too is simplistic but the best that I can do my friend.
  5. Feb 20, 2004 #4
    Intelllegent Design?

    Thats true, without which, we would not be saying much here. Water has a fundamental basic necessitated biological use. If it was not wet, fluid and non-toxic, it would not be of much use to us. Water is H2o,
    it did not exist, in theory, at the primordial birth. Only after the death of our first star, was enough oxygen produced to combine with hydrogen and form water. It took two generations of suns, to produce water, to eventualy give rise to humans. Humans, which have a very close simularity, in chemical elements, to a dying red giant sun. Might there be "Intellegent Design" in the formation of stars, without them there would be no wet water.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2004
  6. Feb 22, 2004 #5
    I can't remember ever coming across questions like mentat apparently has, but they sound pretty silly to me. They also seem to be the types of questions that give the bad rap to "philosophers".
  7. Feb 22, 2004 #6
    I don't even understand the question. I've participated in several of the consciousness threads and I don't remember this type of question getting in the way.
  8. Feb 22, 2004 #7

    You didn't define 'wet'. In your question you change the term into 'liquid' but these are not equivalent.

    The reason the question is significant is that it is very difficult to define 'wet' without a definition of consciousness. Thus the problem becomes how to define that.

    It is completely clear what makes water a liquid, but it is not at all clear why it seems to be wet.
  9. Feb 22, 2004 #8
    There's a very simple distinction that you have to recognize.

    There are:

    A) The objective description of the physical properties of being wet
    B) The subjective experience of wetness

    The first part is very easy to define.
    The second part is not really at all concerned with wetness, but the nature of what an experience is. Being concerned with this should not be getting in the way of mathematical descriptions of phenomena.
  10. Feb 23, 2004 #9
    Quite. But 'A' is trivial. It is 'B' that raises all sorts of questions about wetness, which is why it is much discussed philosophically.
  11. Feb 23, 2004 #10


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    I believe Mentat is trying to draw an analogy between wetness and consciousness as physically describable emergent phenomena. The reasoning roughly says that

    a) both consciousness and water are emergent phenomena; that is, they are both properties belonging to the macroscopic behavior of physical systems but not the microscopic constituents of these systems;

    b) therefore, to the extent that we can explain wetness in terms of a liquid's physical constituents, we can explain consciousness in terms of a brain's physical constituents.

    This would seem to force us to accept that consciousness must be explainable in terms of physical constituents of the brain, lest we accept the seemingly absurd notion that wetness cannot be explained in terms of a liquid's physical constituents.

    But this argument fails to recognize the key distinction between wetness (or any other purely objective emergent phenomenon) and consciousness. First we must note that in explaining wetness, we must be posing a question purely in terms of a liquid's objective, physical properties; if we mean the subjective sensation of wetness, then we are no longer inquiring about a property of a liquid, but rather about a property of consciousness. Now we note that in the case of consciousness, we are primarily concerned with subjective, 1st person experience, and this simple fact alone makes any inquiries into consciousness quite distinct from inquiries into phenomena with only an objective component in need of explaining.

    For a detailed consideration of why these two cases are indeed distinct, please see The Perennial Problem of the Reductive Explainability of Phenomenal Consciousness-- C.D. Broad on the Explanatory Gap, by Ansgar Beckermann.
  12. Feb 23, 2004 #11

    The question is like a koan. Answer the quesion, to what you are.

    The wetness of liquid water, is a learned experience through perception, that has a direct relationship between the physics of nature, the mind and experience.

    The wetness of water plays its part in the wholeness of all, through our conscious experience, whos physcial contruct is the physical properties of nature.

    The wetness of water is not always so, even in liquid state.
    How wet is it to, a helium atom, or an ant being rained on, or a man in a parachute that does not open. The transformation of conscious experience makes it what it is.

    The wetness of water needs both A and B. The wetness of water is then a consious experience.
  13. Feb 25, 2004 #12
    I'm glad to see you understood what I was getting at.

    But you are not me, are you? We are seperate entities. Indeed you are a seperate entity from anything else you ever come accross. Worse yet, every constituent particle of "you" is a distinct and seperate entity. So, is it not logical that I study this mass of constituent particles objectively (since they are not part of "me")?
  14. Feb 25, 2004 #13
    Actually, as Dan and Hypna have pointed out, "B" raises questions about our experience of wetness, not about wetness itself.
  15. Feb 25, 2004 #14
    It's funny you say that...I don't really think most people who ask questions such as "how is it that solidity 'arises' from the rigid formation of particles" realize their asking that kind of question, but rather mean to be asking a question about the nature (and definition) of solids.

    I'm not saying you are one of those people, as you have been rather creditably objective in most of those discussions. I'm just suggesting the possibility that, in the search for an answer to a very "deep" question, we do not always step back and contemplate whether the question itself really "holds water" (pun intended but failed :wink:), or is - instead - a "why is liquid liquid" question.
  16. Feb 25, 2004 #15
    I'm not suggesting that this question is not worthy of being asked as you have implied. Merely that I don't understand exactly what it means.
  17. Feb 25, 2004 #16
    I know. When I said we sometimes don't stand back to contemplate "the question's" actual value, I wasn't referring to my question, but to the "hard problem", which I don't find tenable.
  18. Feb 25, 2004 #17


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    'Wetness' in the objective sense is completely logically entailed by a reductive explanation in terms of H2O molecules, given materialistic assumptions. But, again, the problem is that the analogous case is not true for consciousness. Consciousness in the subjective sense is not logically entailed at all by a reductive explanation in terms of neurons, given materialistic assumptions.

    We can try to get around this by postulating some sort of fundamentally subjective nature to existence (eg your proposal of a fundamental law along the lines of "whenever neurons do this, there is conscious experience X"). But then we no longer have a truly reductive explanation of consciousness since on some level it is taken for granted that subjective experience is a fundamental, irreducible entity. It becomes an axiom taken for granted in its own right, rather than a phenomenon entirely explicable in terms of other (materialistic) axioms. Note that we do not have to postulate such an extra axiom in order to explain wetness, since it is entirely explicable in terms of the basic materialistic axioms.
  19. Feb 25, 2004 #18
    Then once again we have a bad analogy.
  20. Feb 26, 2004 #19
    That may or may not be true. Try it out with my proposed new definition of consciousness.

    Also, think in terms of perspective. Objectively, a certain relation of H2O molecules must be "liquid". However, what if, subjectively, a certain configuration of processing units (neurons in our case) must be conscious...in this case, we'd simply have the wrong perspective (unless it were our own consciousness we were studying).
  21. Feb 26, 2004 #20
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