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PhilosophyGround >> Macroscopic obj.s = abstract obj.?

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4/12/05 4:19 PM
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vermonter
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Edited: 12-Apr-05 04:20 PM
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I just had this discussion with a professor and i was wondering what the folks here think about this. In my relentless quest to eliminate abstract objects from my ontology, i've come up against questions of material constitution and the self (as is illustrated in recent posts of mine). I believe that study of the self is little more than study of one particular object in the bigger question of material constitution, but that is neither here nor there. What i brought up in my meeting is that i believe that "single macroscopic material objects" might actually be abstract objects according to the general conception of these things. Admittedly, my ontology has it's own problems (what is the smallest material unit, and is there even such a thing?) but that aside, let's assume for a moment that an atom is the smallest divisible material object (of course you could replace all atom talk here with quarks, or whatever you like, i don't really care, i don't think physics has all the answers that i would need just yet). Let's say that the only thing that exists in the universe are two atoms and they come together and they form a chemical bond and create a molecule. Having brought two objects together in this way, i propose that the total number of objects in the universe is still two. It isn't one (the molecule), and it isnt three (the two atoms and the molecule). The latter seems fairly intuitive to me, and i hope, based on this example, that the former is intuitive as well. If you think that there IS just one object in this new universe (and to say this you have to admit that the other two have been destroyed, and should the molecule spilt up that they would be somehow recreated, or that two new objects would emerge...) please offer an explination. If, you are still on board with me, and you feel that simply putting together multiple atoms (or other, subatomic particles even) does not create new objects, than you understand the motivation for my "no chairs" thread. Certainly there is a convention to name a particular grouping of particles a 'chair,' i've got no problem there. I do not think that conventions, however, mean objects. That said, it seems to me that if you DO think there are chairs and you don't think that the atoms that compose the chair are destroyed when they form bonds, then you must think that the bringing together of the two atoms in the example means that there are THREE objects in that universe. The two atoms and the molecule (which seems insanely unintuitive to me). So WHAT is the molecule? To me, if it is something more than convention to speak of it a certain way, it must be an abstract object. I just can't see it a different way. Please let me know what you think. -doug-
4/12/05 10:36 PM
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FudoMyoo
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Edited: 12-Apr-05
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"In my relentless quest to eliminate abstract objects from my ontology, i've come up against questions of material constitution and the self "

then I think you will have a very hard quest in front of you, since onthological questions are metaphysical questions. but I´m not sure what you mean with "abstract objects"? like mathematical objects, or?

"If you think that there IS just one object in this new universe (and to say this you have to admit that the other two have been destroyed, and should the molecule spilt up that they would be somehow recreated, or that two new objects would emerge...) please offer an explination. "

why does it have to be in just one way? why does it have to be either one (molecule) or two (atoms) objects? Can´t we just say that it depends on how we look at it, and say that we can shift view depending on our needs at the moment?

"That said, it seems to me that if you DO think there are chairs and you don't think that the atoms that compose the chair are destroyed when they form bonds, then you must think that the bringing together of the two atoms in the example means that there are THREE objects in that universe."

 this seems like a false dilemma. why do I have to choose one of those options. Can´t I just say that it depends on how we look at it? it doesn´t have to BE in a certain way, but instead there can be different descriptions that can all give one useful perspective of the thing we are describing.

"I just can't see it a different way. "

I´m not sure I can see the problem.

4/13/05 11:15 AM
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vermonter
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Edited: 13-Apr-05
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"but I´m not sure what you mean with "abstract objects"? like mathematical objects, or?" Sure. Mathematical objects would be abstract objects. So are propositions, morals (at least i think so), platonic forms, a soul, and so on. Objects that have no spatiotemporal component, or are a non-spatiotemporal component of a material (spatiotemporal) object. Talking about abstract objects, like with mathematics, can certainly be useful, i'm not saying it isn't worthless. But math is an expression of how our brain groups things that appear similar to us, even though they are different things. It's sometimes useful to count similar things, and it grows from there, but there are no actual numbers. What i'm trying to discern is what there ACTUALLY is, and this is why i do not include numbers into my ontology. Since that's the case, i need to account for the function of mathematics in terms of logical expression, which should be reduceable to brain function, and thus to material objects. (Bear in mind, reducing math to logic is not something i am prepared to argue by any means, but it is my current position). Similarly, it seems as though what most people consider a chair is actually an object that does not exist within space and time. Sounds stupid at first glance, i realize, but hear me out. I will assume, for the sake of argument, that a chair is made up of an aggregate of sub-atomic particles. I'll call this aggregate of this particular example chair X. Now, when we discuss certain properties about chairs, we are not discussing X, so my question is, what are we discussing? Let me give you an example: Persistance Conditions. We might, for example, tear one of the arms off the chair. Our intuitions are that the chair itself still exists, right? But if the aggregate has been compromised (and it has), the persistence conditions of the chair are different from the persistence conditions of X, and so X does not equal the chair. If the chair is something over and above X, then i ask you, what is it? Now, i'm talking about what there is in my ontology. I'm sure i'll will say it again and again, but i understand that we call it a chair for conventions (and ease of use), but i'm NOT talking about conventions, nor am i talking about how our brain stores information (in terms of chairs, not aggregates), I am talking about what actually exists. I'll go in more depth about the atom example if needed, for certain, but i've got to run to class now. -doug-
4/13/05 1:36 PM
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Dogbert
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Edited: 13-Apr-05
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I think your ontology is missing something: relations. When I say that the universe consists of one single molecule, I´m not saying that two atoms exist. I´m saying that two atoms exist and that these two atoms are connected with each other. I do think that both descriptions mean exactly the same thing, so that "number of objects in a univese" denotes at most a property of a description of the universe. "If you think that there IS just one object in this new universe (and to say this you have to admit that the other two have been destroyed, and should the molecule spilt up that they would be somehow recreated, or that two new objects would emerge...)" One surely cannot rule that out on apriori grounds. Suppose your universe obeys the synthetic law that if two atoms connect, two further atoms come into existence. Appearing and disappering atoms may be empirical reality. "I will assume, for the sake of argument, that a chair is made up of an aggregate of sub-atomic particles. I'll call this aggregate of this particular example chair X. Now, when we discuss certain properties about chairs, we are not discussing X, so my question is, what are we discussing?" Leaving persistence conditions alone, X preserves süatial conditions. Take any two atoms in the chair and measure their distance. Now move the chair without destroying it. The distance between these atoms is still the same. So one can describe a chair as a a bunch of atoms with spatial relations between them that are invariant under certain actions imposed on the aggregate. So one can trainslate chairspeak to atoms-and-relations-speak. I think wether we call a broken chair a chair is a matter of convenience and judgement.
4/13/05 2:27 PM
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vermonter
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Edited: 13-Apr-05
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"I´m not saying that two atoms exist. I´m saying that two atoms exist and that these two atoms are connected with each other. " OK. I don't have a problem with this. Whatever energies are present within the atoms are interacting if they reach a certain distance from one another. The energies, i think (im no physicist) merely attract or repel the atoms, maybe change their shapes a big, but nothing new has been created, and nothing has been destroyed, has it? "I do think that both descriptions mean exactly the same thing, so that "number of objects in a univese" denotes at most a property of a description of the universe. " OK, what about, "number of material objects," here assuming that an atom is a single material object. There just happens to be two atoms in this particular universe, but we are concerned only with these two. I don't think it's critical that there are only two, but that we are discussing two in particular. But you have agreed, regardless, that nothing new has been created and nothing has been destroyed. So... relations. If i admit to those, what changes? Once the relation between the two is small enough, still nothing new is added and nothing subtracted. But couldn't the relation merely be described in terms of material objects and spatiotemporal location? Maybe you could define relation a little for me. It seems to me that if there were only ONE atom, it has a location in space and time. Add a new atom, and you've added a new material object it's corresponding location. Is the relation the locations and the difference between, or is it something more? "One surely cannot rule that out on apriori grounds. " Perhaps, but what is the most plausible? "Suppose your universe obeys the synthetic law that if two atoms connect, two further atoms come into existence. Appearing and disappering atoms may be empirical reality." connect? Did you mean disconnect? Please explain. And i don't know what appearing or disappearing atoms have to do with this. I'm ok with that, but in the example i'm wondering if the forming of a molecule means anything MORE than the spatiotemporal location of two atoms being small enough for an interaction to occur. Do you think it's too bound up in language for there to be a fact? If not, what is the fact about what there is in that universe? "Take any two atoms in the chair and measure their distance. Now move the chair without destroying it. The distance between these atoms is still the same. So one can describe a chair as a a bunch of atoms with spatial relations between them that are invariant under certain actions imposed on the aggregate. So one can trainslate chairspeak to atoms-and-relations-speak." This is good, i'm pretty sure this is what i'm trying to say. The common conception, however, and the conception of many philosophers is not the same as atoms-and-relations speak. Many philosophers beleive that once you mold a lump of clay into a statue, something new that possesses different persistence conditions (atoms-and-relations who's persistence depends on different conditions, and so must be different objects) has been created. Once you crush the statue, the lump-of-clay-object is preserved, but the statue-object is destroyed, and if you break an arm off of the statue instead, the statue-object is preserved but the lump-of-clay-object is not. Since they have oppositional properties (in this case persistence conditions) they must be different objects. A only equals A if they possess the same properties. Since a chair intuitively possesses different properties than X (the broken chair is still the chair-object once the arm is taken off according to nearly anyone, including mant contemporary philosophers) they are not the same object. So i wonder what exactly those philosophers believe the chair-object to be? If you reduce it to atoms-and-relations speak, i'm not sure you've got a view any different from mine, have you? Plenty of people, of course, might say "Duh, doug, why is this even a discussion?" to which i say "You too are a material object, and according to this theory you don't exist other than in atoms-and-relations terms." A lot of people get of the train pretty fast here. Not many people are willing to admit they are nothing more than an aggregate of atoms. -doug-
4/13/05 3:43 PM
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Jbraswell
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Edited: 13-Apr-05 03:53 PM
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I can't promise I can stick with it, but maybe I can throw useful stuff in here. First, what is your criterion of admittance into your ontology? I believe your intuitions here are similar to Quine's views, which are standard these days, and I'm inclined to agree with them, too. Basically, whatever your language quantifies over must be part of your ontology UNLESS you can provide a proper translation that removes the offending quantification. (I say "offending" because of your declared desire to purge abstract objects from your collection.) Chairs, for the most part, aren't REALLY controversial, as most people don't have a problem with acknowledging that IN THEORY it's possible to refer only to their 'atomic' components, limiting your physical ontology only to those things listed in a final, completed physics. Dogbert's suggestion of including relations sounds fine, except that relations are obviously abstract as well, and if you're going to go through the trouble of reducing chairs to subatomic particles, you're not going to want to admit relations. You need an ontologically parsimonious translation of measurement theory to do this. For a solid attempt at this, I refer you to Charles Chihara's "Constructibility and Existence." However, your problem seems to be that you just don't like removing chairs from your ontology, right? Well, I'm not sure why. If you're on a nominalist's quest, this will be the least difficult thing to let go of. Here's a decent paper on the topic of persistance and identity. The stuff you're interested in happens towards the end, but the setup is necessary. Semantics for Opaque Contexts
4/13/05 4:41 PM
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Dogbert
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Edited: 13-Apr-05
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"OK. I don't have a problem with this. Whatever energies are present within the atoms are interacting if they reach a certain distance from one another. The energies, i think (im no physicist) merely attract or repel the atoms, maybe change their shapes a big, but nothing new has been created, and nothing has been destroyed, has it?" What is this distance between them? If the spatiotemporal position of the atom is seen as a property of the atoms, they change into different objects whenever they move. Otherwise you have to do with the relation of distance, a abstract concept as Jbraswell has noted. "So... relations. If i admit to those, what changes? Once the relation between the two is small enough, still nothing new is added and nothing subtracted. But couldn't the relation merely be described in terms of material objects and spatiotemporal location? Maybe you could define relation a little for me." I share the extensionalist view: a relation holds between two objects or it doesn´t that´s all there is to it. My point was that in order to describe the difference between the world with two separate atoms and the world with two connected atoms you have either to introduce a relation "connected" or a new material object, the molecule. It seems to me that if there were only ONE atom, it has a location in space and time. Add a new atom, and you've added a new material object it's corresponding location. Is the relation the locations and the difference between, or is it something more?" "It seems to me that if there were only ONE atom, it has a location in space and time. Add a new atom, and you've added a new material object it's corresponding location. Is the relation the locations and the difference between, or is it something more?" Personally, I´m quite uncomfortable with leaving time and space undefined and I think that with any sensible conception of them, it is meaningless to speak in a world with only one atom of these. In order to measure time and position, one has to make comparisons. Comparing one single atom with what? With two atoms you can have a very weak notion of, say, position. Either they occupy the same position which is basically sayng that only one atom exists or they have different positions. "I'm ok with that, but in the example i'm wondering if the forming of a molecule means anything MORE than the spatiotemporal location of two atoms being small enough for an interaction to occur. Do you think it's too bound up in language for there to be a fact? If not, what is the fact about what there is in that universe?" Let´s forget about the actual physics of this world. My point was that appearing or disappearing material objects may be a empirical fact. "Many philosophers beleive that once you mold a lump of clay into a statue, something new that possesses different persistence conditions (atoms-and-relations who's persistence depends on different conditions, and so must be different objects) has been created. Once you crush the statue, the lump-of-clay-object is preserved, but the statue-object is destroyed, and if you break an arm off of the statue instead, the statue-object is preserved but the lump-of-clay-object is not. Since they have oppositional properties (in this case persistence conditions) they must be different objects." I think that people simply use different system of description. You adhere to strict materialism, so you rule that pout. But there is no problem with speaking of existence as the existence of the atoms, or the specific configuration that makes it a statue. The "art" are is used for defining what a statue is and the materialism are fortalking what this statue is made of. Here´s a puzzle for you: Define "information" in materialistic terms. I doubt one can do it, but storing information is surely something that has meaning.
4/14/05 10:57 AM
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vermonter
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Edited: 14-Apr-05
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Thanks for the responses guys! I have to run to class now, but once it's digested i'll respond further. -doug- PS to JB. Haven't heard from you in a long time. Hope all is well.
4/14/05 6:32 PM
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Jbraswell
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Edited: 14-Apr-05
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"Many philosophers beleive that once you mold a lump of clay into a statue, something new that possesses different persistence conditions (atoms-and-relations who's persistence depends on different conditions, and so must be different objects) has been created." I responded quickly the first time. Let me reiterate the suggestion to read the article I linked to. It was written by two of my former professors so I am biased, but I do think it deals with these problems elegantly and within a nominalistic framework. And yes, I'm doing well. Thanks for asking. I always want to come on to the PhilosophyGround, but I the discussions get too time consuming to qualify for slack time at work, which is when most of my OG'ing is done. It's cool that you're into philosophy, though. If you can be as informative here as over on the S&C Forum, you'll end up on par with Russell and Quine!
4/15/05 12:45 PM
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vermonter
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Edited: 15-Apr-05
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Jason, "First, what is your criterion of admittance into your ontology?" *shrug* I want to admit the things that exist, and stop believing in the things that don't. :) "I believe your intuitions here are similar to Quine's views" For the most part i'd say yes. I might want to modify his view of sets, but i'm not versed enough in Quine to know for sure. Quine denies that belief ascriptions are relations to anything, though, and so far i think i'm leaning towards that they are relations to brain states (by relation here, i'm saying that the things that we express through language aren't relations to propositions, but rather linguistic representations or our thoughts, which are physical). "Chairs, for the most part, aren't REALLY controversial, as most people don't have a problem with acknowledging that IN THEORY it's possible to refer only to their 'atomic' components, limiting your physical ontology only to those things listed in a final, completed physics." Interesting. The way it was taught over here, it seems as though the whole chair/statue arguments are still alive and well. I'm pretty sure one of my professors is pretty big on the statue and the lump of clay being two different objects. He's writing a big ol' article about it now. Maybe i'm taking the position wrong though, i'll keep you posted. "except that relations are obviously abstract as well, and if you're going to go through the trouble of reducing chairs to subatomic particles, you're not going to want to admit relations." That's what i thought, but i'm a novice at this. I think some 'relations' can be grounded physically, but the way dogbert spelled them out, i was suspicious. "However, your problem seems to be that you just don't like removing chairs from your ontology, right?" Nope, i'm ok with it. I was just trying to demonstrate that i believe there is a difference in the convention of calling a collection of particles arranged chair-wise a single object and the belief that there actually IS a single chair-object. I'll check out the link and the book. Thanks. "It's cool that you're into philosophy, though. If you can be as informative here as over on the S&C Forum, you'll end up on par with Russell and Quine! " Jesus! That's one hell of a compliment. I don't know if you've been over there lately, but i'm about 100 levels above what i used to be in my specialization in strength and conditioning. It's time to move on to something more difficult ;) -doug-
4/15/05 12:57 PM
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vermonter
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Edited: 15-Apr-05
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DB, "Otherwise you have to do with the relation of distance" Do i really? Isnt there a better way? If it's an intrinsic property, then it couldnt change, i suppose, and if it's not then it's a relation to something right? Interesting... "difference between the world with two separate atoms and the world with two connected atoms you have either to introduce a relation "connected" or a new material object, the molecule. " really? It can't just be two atoms next to each other? Why do that have to have the relation of connected? Something here i'm just not getting. "Comparing one single atom with what? " Maybe with all the places it isn't located at? ;) " But there is no problem with speaking of existence as the existence of the atoms, or the specific configuration that makes it a statue. The "art" are is used for defining what a statue is and the materialism are fortalking what this statue is made of." But isnt there a difference between what a statue actually is, and how we might talk about it? Considering that we normally percieve things in a way that blends atoms into macroscopic objects, it makes sense to discuss them as such, but it doesnt mean that that's what actually IS. I've got zero problem talking about statues as statues, because i'm talking about my perceptions of things, but not really about what there is out there, just how it is experienced. However, once people start doing some metaphysics, they begin to encounter all sorts of problems when they start applying singular identity to macroscopic experiences of particle-collections. The reason is because the artists are talking about their experiences of particle-collections and not actually particle-collections. Of course i might be commiting all sorts of errors there, i dont know :) Feel free to rip me a new one if i am, i need it! -doug-
4/16/05 5:58 PM
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Dogbert
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Edited: 16-Apr-05
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"really? It can't just be two atoms next to each other? Why do that have to have the relation of connected? Something here i'm just not getting." "next to each other" is an abstract relation. Or do you postulate the existence of "ether" between it? "Maybe with all the places it isn't located at? ;)" Which requires you to postulate the existence of abstract space-time points, certainly not materialistic, and the relation "not there". I don't know how much of that was relativated by ";-)" though. ;-) "But isnt there a difference between what a statue actually is, and how we might talk about it?" Existence means IMO that you can make meaningful statements about it (I'm more liberal than Quine, as you can see). Vampires exist in the language of myth. It is true that they don't like garlic. But they don't exist in the way that cats exist. "Considering that we normally percieve things in a way that blends atoms into macroscopic objects, it makes sense to discuss them as such, but it doesnt mean that that's what actually IS." "IS" is kinda problematic. I certainly think it should be connected to our perceptions. Why shpuld we talk about differences nobody can be aware about?

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