Pure physics: it is not what physicists say (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, 20:24 (564 days ago) @ David Turell

Ed Feser again:


"To say that the material world alone exists is not terribly informative unless we have some account of what matter is. Those who are most tempted to materialism are also inclined to answer that matter is whatever physics says it is. The trouble with that is that physics tells us less than meets the eye about the nature of matter. As Poincaré, Duhem, Russell, Eddington, and other late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century philosophers and scientists were keen to emphasize, what physics gives us is the abstract mathematical structure of the material world, but not the entire nature of the concrete entities that have that structure. It no more captures all of physical reality than a blueprint captures everything there is to a house.


"Galileo and his successors ignored or cut away from their representation of the physical world anything that cannot be captured mathematically – secondary qualities (colors, sounds, etc.), teleology or final causes, moral and aesthetic value, and so on. Thus, as Torretti writes, “modern mathematical physics began in open defiance of common sense” (p. 398). Galileo expressed admiration for those who, applying this method in astronomy, had “through sheer force of intellect done such violence to their own senses as to prefer what reason told them over that which sensible experience plainly showed them to the contrary” (quoted at p. 398).

"The point isn’t that this is necessarily bad. On the contrary, it made it possible for physics to become an exact science. But physics did so precisely by deliberately confining its attention to those aspects of nature susceptible of an exact mathematical treatment.


"And it is no less fallacious to infer from the success of physics that there is nothing more to material reality, or at least nothing more worth knowing, than what physics has to say about it (even if a lot of people who like to think of themselves as pretty smart are guilty of this fallacy).


"...the mathematical description of the material world afforded by physics is also an abstract idealization. As such, it too can exist only in thought, and not in mind-independent reality. Of course, Leibniz’s theory of monads already purports to establish that there is no mind-independent reality, so that perception no more gives us access to such a reality than physics does. The point of the argument of the letters (as I am interpreting it) is to note that the abstractions of physics cannot be said to give us a better foundation for conceiving of the physical world as mind-independent. On the contrary, qua abstractions they are even less promising candidates for mind-independence than the ordinary perceptual world is.


"To try to give content to materialism by identifying matter with whatever physics says about matter would, if this is right, essentially be to transform materialism into idealism – that is to say, to give up materialism for its ancient rival. To avoid this, the materialist could, of course, appeal to some philosophical theory about the nature of matter that recognized that physics tells us only part of the story. But this would be to acknowledge that materialism is, after all, itself really just one philosophical theory among others, no better supported by science than its rivals are. It would be to see through the illusion that metaphysical conclusions can be read off from the findings of modern science.

"The picture of nature provided by modern physics is in fact highly indeterminate between different possible metaphysical interpretations – materialist, idealist, dualist, panpsychist, or (the correct interpretation, in my view) Aristotelian. It is (to borrow from Charles De Koninck) a hollow vessel into which metaphysical water, wine, or for that matter gasoline might be poured. But it doesn’t by itself tell us which of these to pour."

Comment: I use physics and biology to try and prove a designer exists. This piece by Feser shows that I have to interpret from the science which views everything without a designing mind behind it. When I make the point that I am interpreting Darwinist slants from a design viewpoint, accept it!

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