Friday, September 18, 2009

Nothing more than...

Is there an abstract reality called gravity over and above the warp and woof of matter? General relativity says No. Nore is there anything like absolute space or time over and above the convolutions of matter in motion.

Matter in motion? Presumably, energy is what moves material components throughout the universe. But I wonder: Is energy a substantial reality over and above particles in motion? If not, what is motion is not energy? Does energy produce motion or does motion produce energy?

If at some point long, long ago nothing was in motion-- principally because there was no determinate thing to move-- what set eveything in motion? If the primal state of nature is pure potential energy in a quantum froth, what could have released that energy into motion? Further, if all matter was contracted into dimensionless density, what object could act upon (i.e., move) any other object to produce energy?

Just some questions I've had after reading a little book on thermodynamics, inter alia.



UnBeguiled said...

"energy is what moves material components throughout the universe"

That statement is false. Things move. The gas molecules in a glass jar will bounce abound forever.

"If the primal state of nature is pure potential energy in a quantum froth, what could have released that energy into motion?"

Why even suppose something had to release it? Perhaps the first cause was a random fluctuation.

Either there was a first cause, or an infinity of causes. Both seem equally strange to my mind. Suggesting this Yahweh character was involved somehow just pushes the question back a step, and is no help.

UnBeguiled said...

"what set eveything in motion?"

Why the unjustified assumption that immobility is the default?

The Cogitator said...


1. By rejecting my (feigned) reification of Energy, you have reified either Motion or Things. But this worries me for a number of reasons.

1a. If Motion is metaphysically absolute, why is not Energy? Is motion a function of energy, or vice versa?

1b. The whole premise of a primal quantum vacuum is that at one point (in time??) there were no "things" to be in motion. There was only pure mathematical potency, and potency is only subject to, not generative of, motion. So, first of all, how can motion be applied to what does not exist and, second, how can an utter void generate more than it possesses?

2. As far as mobility vs. immobility goes, it's very ironic: as a Thomist I actually believe God is Pure Act, which means He is, in a sense, the eternally 'mobile' and generative Being. The problem is "motion" is not identical with "act", metaphysically speaking, so we have to avoid a host of fallacies of equivocation. God is not "mobile" is so far as He is not subject to potency, but He is active-- analogously but supereminently-- in the way objects in motion are active. Paradoxically, God is so "actively existent" that He actualizes within His own fullness all the potency of created being, including motion. In any case, I think it's incoherent to ascribe "motion" to your beloved quantum vacuum, since that vacuum utterly lacked spatiotemporal extension.


UnBeguiled said...

"There was only pure mathematical potency, and potency is only subject to, not generative of, motion."

Why cannot potency generate motion?

"how can an utter void generate more than it possesses?"

It doesn't. The energy in the universe sums to zero.

"as a Thomist I actually believe God is Pure Act, which means [insert anything you wish to believe is true, supported by meaningless jargon]"

Not being a Thomist, I actually think our beliefs should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason.


The Cogitator said...


Why cannot potency generate motion?

Well, why cannot a palette count as a painting (or paint itself)?

Why cannot zero sum to anything greater than zero?


UnBeguiled said...

If you really want to learn about how our universe could result from spontaneous quantum tunneling from the void, check out:

An the universe as a free lunch:


I realize the apologist can always ask "well why does the void have the potency it does?" or whatever. For me, real answers are more satisfying than imaginary ones. Regardless, brute facts are inescapable on theism too, as I have demonstrated elsewhere.

Crude said...

So, real answers are more satisfying, but brute facts are inescapable. Also, "answers" can apparently come in the form of wild speculations about theoretical entities that are likely to be unfalsifiable even in principle.

Honestly, this doesn't seem like an atheistic answer to theism. This just seems like really, really weird theism. Lovecraftian theism. Which you're welcome to, but you honestly seem not to realize when you've stopped doing science and started engaging in metaphysics.

UnBeguiled said...


Let me be clear. I am not asserting that our universe resulted from quantum tunneling or anything else. Rather, I'm just pointing out one hypothesis among many coming out of physics and cosmology.

Are these ideas more ludicrous than the Yahweh-Did-It idea? It seems we likely differ about that.

I don't think there is anything inherently forlorn about discussing metaphysical topics. It does seem to me a mistake to think we can arrive at reliable answers to these questions from our armchairs.

My "brute fact" comment was referring to an old conversation between me and our host, which you can see on my blog if you care to.

Crude said...

Actually, embracing the multiverse runs risk of making "Yahweh-did-it" trivially true. Not only does a multiverse not really settle the ultimate God question in any way, but - as Paul Davies and others have pointed out - if we're dealing with that many universes, we're inviting a situation where the number of simulated universes (and simulations within simulations, etc) can exceed the number of 'real' universes that intelligent life inhabits. In which case, where are we more likely to be? I think the consequences speak for themselves at that point.

And I don't have any problem with discussing metaphysics either. So long as metaphysics, and hypothetical properties and entities (especially ones that are unobservable in principle) are not confused with scientific explanations.

UnBeguiled said...

I don't see how any cosmological theory, no matter how firmly rooted in empirical data or even experiment, could ever settle the question of gods. The apologist will always be able to assert his particular god as the source for it all.

And concerning metaphysics and science. On page 83 Feser writes that a metaphysical argument begins with an empirical starting point. I would agree with him, but perhaps you do not. The reason his book is such a disaster is that his claimed empirical starting points are empirically false (or bald non-falsifiable assertions).

Crude said...

And any experience of God can always be written off by the committed atheist as either delusion, conspiracy, or the acts of a powerful being that wasn't God (aliens, etc.) I've even seen arguments from atheists asserting that the universe is/was created by an intelligent designer. And yet they remain atheists. Which is, to put it mildly, one hell of a loophole.

Actually, Feser apparently isn't talking about all metaphysical arguments - he's specifying Aquinas' arguments. I'm aware of your claims about Feser's book - I'll simply say I'm not impressed, and leave it at that.

UnBeguiled said...

"any experience of God can always be written off by the committed atheist as either delusion, conspiracy, or the acts of a powerful being that wasn't God"

I don't know wahat a "committed" atheist is.

I don't deny that people have experiences that they interpret religiously. But that's no reason for me to adopt their belief. You don't adopt the beliefs of competing religions based on the testimony of your rivals.

7 million Americans claim they have been abducted by aliens. It seems almost certain these honest folks are mis-interpreting their experiences. Do you disagree?

Crude said...

I wasn't making a statement about experiences ordinary people have and arguing that those therefore prove the existence of God. I'm talking about even in outlandish hypothetical cases.

I don't know if 7 million americans claim to have been abducted by aliens, what evidence they have, etc, so I just plain don't care. As for 'competing religions', that's simply not true. I have and recognize common ground between Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and even Buddhism to some degree. The idea that 'That person has a different religion from me, therefore I can't agree with them about any religious claim' is as silly as 'That person shares my religion, therefore I'm going to be in agreement with them about all things religious'.

UnBeguiled said...


Sir. A bit of charity please.

Nothing I wrote could be interpreted as me thinking you held the position that 'That person has a different religion from me, therefore I can't agree with them about any religious claim'.

I seem to have misunderstood you point about religious experience. It was an honest mistake. Appeals to religious experience are frequently used by apologists as evidence for the truth of their particular sect.

I do not find such arguments persuasive, for the same reason I don't find other people's testimony about experiencing ghosts as persuasive. But it seems that was not your point.

Crude said...

I think I was being charitable here. You said I 'don't adopt the beliefs of competing religions based on the testimony of [my] rivals'. My response just highlighted that not every belief of those from "competing religions" is one I reject - and that the "rival" distinction therefore is flawed, or at least not so clear-cut.

UnBeguiled said...

True or false?

"Crude holds that the testimony of another person's experience of seeing Bigfoot is sufficient justification for Crude to believe that the cryptozoological creature called Bigfoot exists as a physical animal."

I suspect that sentence is false.

I desire that my beliefs be true. Therefore, I study ways human beings make cognitive errors. That is why I just plain care about the claims of UFO abductees.

Crude said...

Considering what you believe about 'you', your claims about your desires and activities are interesting. (Man, do I love that word.)

Sufficient justification? Rather depends. Do I know what Bigfoot is beforehand? Do I have any background evidence to consider? Background assumptions or experience? What's the credibility of the testifier in question? What's their testimony in particular? What's at stake in the question? I could go on.

Someone could dedicate their lives to running a blog that dutifully investigates and criticizes the claims of the Weekly World News, swearing they are motivated by love of truth. Me? I'd have to wonder if something else was in play.

UnBeguiled said...

By listing all those other things you demonstrate that the testimony is not sufficient. So we agree on this small thing. That is a start.

"I" believe that there is nothing about "me" that persists unchanging through time and space. So, my desires may change. In which case I will be someone else. But the now "me" is different from the guy that started typing this sentence. That is just an empirical fact.

I don't understand that comment about the WWN at all. Certainly other things besides love of truth would motivate the hypothetical blogger. So?

Crude said...

So, that's it.

No, we don't agree on that - there's no such thing as testimony that takes place in a vacuum, so saying 'testimony is not sufficient' is inaccurate. Unless you mean we agree that testimony never takes place in a vacuum, but that's a markedly different point from what you began with.

As for you - you reject having a substantial self. That makes the very claim of having a desire, much less for truth, interesting. I recall you saying that you're not a materialist. In which case I wonder, just what are you? Certainly not a dualist. Something else?

UnBeguiled said...


I did not begin with it. You did. I'm trying to understand what your point was about the testimony of religious experience.

Here is my point. Testimony does not take place in a vacuum. So if someone claims that he experiences a particular godman rising from the dead, part of the background is that human beings claim to experience some wild and unverifiable stuff.

Like being abducted by aliens. Which almost certainly never happens.

So I do not blindly and dogmatically "write off" religious experiences as false. Rather, I evaluate such claims in light of what I know about human beings, their capacity to make extraordinary claims, and how the world works.

I'm an emergentist of some kind I guess. Today. My thoughts are not clear on this matter.

I am certainly not a dualist if by dualism we mean the notion that we are essentially immaterial spooky stuff riding herd on our brains.

Crude said...

No, you're not trying to understand. You're riding off on some unrelated argument, taking shots in the dark about a topic I never even broached. If you want to understand, try this one out: "What do you mean?" Let's pretend you asked that.

I said that any experience of God can always be written off by the committed atheist as either delusion, conspiracy, or the acts of a powerful being that wasn't God. I said this goes even for outlandish hypothetical cases. Example: Waking up one morning and seeing 'WORSHIP ME. SINCERELY, CHRIST.' etched on the moon. Hell, even seeing the etching process. Tons of witnesses. There's always a denial possible. Mass delusion. Aliens. We live in a simulated universe (a conclusion which once upon a time would have been equivalent to theism or deism, but somehow that's changed.) Quantum burp. The list goes on.

Nothing more, nothing less. And before you jump to this conclusion, I said 'a committed atheist'. I don't care to insist this applies to you, because I don't care to psychoanalyze unless someone's pretty much begging for such treatment.

UnBeguiled said...

OK. I see now what you are getting at. I was recently asked what it would take for me to become a Christian. I wrote.

"Suppose I had gangrene that resulted in the amputation of both my legs at the hips and both arms at the shoulders. Despite that, I was still dying of the infection. If I was both cured of the infection and all my limbs grew back to full working order after praying to Jesus, then yes I would believe.

Of course, I would need something other than my own memory and experience. Testimony from doctors and photographs of me without limbs and even DNA tests from the rotting limbs would help make the case.

As you know, personal experience is suspect, as severe illness can cause hallucinations.

So sure, given strong independently verifiable evidence of the miracle described, I would believe.

Unfortunately for the supernaturalist, nothing of the sort has ever happened. But it might!!"

So your point is that a committed Naturalist could make up a just-so story that would naturalistically explain my experience. But it seems to me the inference to the best explanation would be a miracle.

So that's the sort of thing that would convince me I think. Especially if the stars in the night sky starting spelling out new Bible verses every night. That would help.

When I write: I don't understated what you mean, the question "What do you mean?" is implied.

Crude said...

When you write "I don't understand what you mean", and then go on to argue against what you think I mean, that's not implied.

As I said, I'm not concerned with your personal psychology (interesting as it is). And defining what a miracle is (just like defining 'supernatural') is tremendously dicey, especially given the examples I offered - in those cases, what anyone would normally call a 'miracle' could still be affirmed, as well as what now passes for 'naturalism'.

Either way, as I said: There's always an 'out'. And by the way, saying that you'd need something other than "your own memory and experience" (because, I suppose, that's not trustworthy) and then going on to note what sort of memories and experiences would help is.. well, hey. Speaks for itself.

UnBeguiled said...

If you are not concerned with what I believe and why, then why are we having a conversation?

I am deeply concerned with the psychology of other persons with whom I share this planet. Particularly because I'm fascinated by the fact that I find myself in the minority concerning the ultimate nature of reality. I ask questions on this blog in an attempt to understand why other's hold views that seem to me incompatible with how the world actually is and how the world actually works.

Crude said...

Because I now and then enjoy conversation about more clearly objective arguments and viewpoints. Getting deeper into one person's psychology? Just not interesting, especially since anything that smacks of psychoanalyzing (and it's damn hard to avoid it once the topic becomes about a person themselves) usually descends into rhetoric and drama.

But it's just as well to end it for now. Especially since it's a conversation in the comments section of Cog's blog.

UnBeguiled said...

I just started reading Dawkins' new book. Early on he asks why it took so long for humans to figure out evolution, given the volume of overwhelming evidence. He speculates that essentialism is the culprit:

"The discovery of evolution was held back by the dead hand of Plato."


Crude said...

Dawkins says a lot of moronic things. There's a reason many atheists now regard him as a net liability.

UnBeguiled said...

The argument did not originate with Dawkins, but it did take him to say it so beautifully and succinctly.

The quote has nothing to do with atheism, but rather how false ideas about the nature of reality can hamper science. For example, if you believe epilepsy is caused by demon possession (as Jesus did), then your ability to find the real cause will be retarded.

Anyway, The Greatest Show on Earth is a great book. Richly illustrated with fantastic color photographs.

Crude said...

It has plenty to do with Dawkins' tendency to say a lot of inane things about things he's not too knowledgeable of, and why quite a few people cringe at being associated with him now. As for the harm done to science by "false ideas" (putting the silly biblical speculation aside), Dawkins' endorsement of Bill Maher receiving a reward in his name from the AAI speaks volumes. Concern for science, indeed.

The Cogitator said...

unBe wrote: "[Dawkins] speculates that essentialism is the culprit: 'The discovery of evolution was held back by the dead hand of Plato.'"

Alas, essentialism is not a univocal term. Platonic 'essentialism' is actually a form of idealism, whereas Aristotelian essentialism is inherently realist and concrete. Aristotelian only exist *in* substantial actuality (i.e., qua formally dematerialized entities from the 'sea' of potency). Science did not emerge in medieval Europe in a Platonic, rather in an Aristotelian, milieu. Evolution inexorably invokes finite essence, as Gilson's book on Aristotle and Darwin illustrates.


The Cogitator said...

unBe wrote: "'I' believe that there is nothing about 'me' that persists unchanging through time and space. So, my desires may change. In which case I will be someone else. But the now 'me' is different from the guy that started typing this sentence."

Ahh, the bane of Humean perdurantism. I have wrangled with perdurantism a few times at FCA, so you can search my archives for lengthier arguments against it. I will only make a few cursory points now.

First, the "auto-denial" by an interlocutor of his "self" destroys the ability to have a dialogue, since at any instant what I say in response to "him" could easily be denied or elided by his later "self" as no longer applying to his current "self." Petitt and Smith describe the ability for an interlocutor to be capable of responding to claims and evidence as a basic requirement for interpersonal rationality. Radical perdurantist "auto-denial" destroys rational accountability to anything anyone might say.

Second, if "you" are no more enduring than a transient "time slice," what makes anything more enduring--to wit, any one of the words you typed or, indeed, the entire claim you are making? What "binds together" the pixels on the screen, and the words in contingent succession in your above-quoted claim? Only formal coherence. By your own metaphysics, you haven't even made a claim, since the "self" typing the first letters is not the self typing the last letters, so there's no substantial, enduring, whole claim being made by anyone. I can decide to which "ASCII slice" I want to respond. Since, however, each slice by "itself" (odd how that little word keeps popping up even in denials of it) is incoherent and meaningless, there is literally nothing for me to respond to.

A disciple of Heraclitus eventually "philosophized" by saying nothing, since he believed that by the time his words (in defense of total flux) had left his mouth and reached his hearers' ears, neither he nor they would be the same persons, and so his words would no longer come from him himself nor reach them themselves, as "he" had originally intended. I recommend a similar course of action for unBe. I have no time to dialogue with nobody.


UnBeguiled said...

My personality changes over time. So does yours. There is nothing static about me or about you. This is just an empirical fact about you and about me and about every human being. It is also true about our species. If it upsets your metaphysics, then so much the worse for your metaphysics.

The "self" is a useful concept, just like "Missouri" is a useful concept.

Can you understand the difference between "I am constantly changing" and "I don't exist"?

According to Dr Feser, the rational soul enters the body at conception, leaves at death, and is immortal and "immaterial". But now you tell me it is concrete.

Who is right? You or Feser? Do you guys have a reliable method for resolving these things?

It's all angels on pinheads Elliot. But if it gets you through the night, believe it.

The Cogitator said...


I realize that by prefacing my reply, I might seem ironic or sarcastic, but... Let me preface my reply:

I truly don't mean to be snide or arrogant here, but you consistently demonstrate a sophomoric grasp of the metaphysical issues raised on this blog, and which, for whatever reason, keep pulling you back. I sometimes feel like you suffer from philosophical autism. Whatever I say seems too abstract or too subtle for you; hence, for you, everything eventually boils down to either "empirical facts" or "angels on pinheads". For example, in this instance you recklessly collapse "concrete" into "material," which, aside from begging the question, is patently ill-informed vis-a-vis hylomorphism (let alone basic ontology-- i.e., you needn't be a hylomorphist to believe in immaterial entities).

In a fundamental way, you just. don't. get. it. Variable cognitive changes moment by moment simply have nothing to do with refuting Aristotelian essentialism and forms as we are "debating" them here. You seem to think "having an essence" excludes any variability or specificity whatsoever, as if "having an essence" is as immutable as "being an essence."

Once more I am mindful of how unwilling you are to delve-- silly me, I mean even tiptoe-- into primary sources in these matters (hint: Feser and Dawkins are at best only tertiary guides and I am therefore at best only fourth-string lunch meat). As I've said numerous times before, back off for a while and *read* James Ross's essay on immaterial aspects of thought and Aristotle's De Anima. For starters.


UnBeguiled said...

In order for us to have a real conversation, we must meet on some agreed upon epistemic common ground. Something you are unwilling to do. Silly me.

UnBeguiled said...

You guys should listen to this. It's cool.

The Cogitator said...


Thanks for taking my reply in the right spirit (i.e., not getting bent out of shape by it). We've been over the "common ground" thing before. I've offered the classical "first principles"-- so where do you want to go from there? As I've said, I find your foundationalist instinct all too Cartesian.

In any case, essence is definitional (quidditas), form is existential (actus essendi). Thomism lays its weight on the latter. Indeed, essence is somewhat 'irrelevant' to Thomism in two respects (but not wholly irrelevant, you understand). First, essence is only known in the act of being (existence) and, second, essence is never immediately known, but is simply inferred by knowing existents.

Here's a Thomistic first principle: "The primary act of the intellect is a judgment of existence ('est'), followed by rational affirmations (connections) and denials (disconnections)." Is the definition (essence) of any-thing identical with its existence? If not, why not?


UnBeguiled said...

A proton is composed of two up quarks and one down quark. It has an electric charge of +1 and a spin of 1/2.

Those attributes are what define a "proton". Change any one, and it's not a proton anymore.

So is the definition of a proton identical with an existing proton? No. The definition is a model carried around in the brains of physicists. But the thoughts of physicists are not the same as what they are thinking about.

Protons came first. Physicists and and brains later.

The Cogitator said...


Your comments about a proton conform to standard Aristhomism and are uncontroversially realist. But I doubt that's what you wanted, so what are you getting at? As I said, for Aristhomism, essence defers to existence (as bachelorhood defers to there actually being bachelors).

A proton's having an intelligible structure ('essence') is obviously not dependent on our grasp of that structure; in which case, intelligibility is intrinsic to natural reality. But insofar as intelligibility presupposes intelligence, intelligence is equally fundamental, indeed antecedent, to natural structure. Is a proton's formal intelligibility intelligible to itself, to nearby matter, to the universe as a whole-- or to something else? Did "the proton" become essentially intelligible only with the emergence of human minds?

I direct you back to my post on the laws of logic and natural simplicity.