Saturday, August 13, 2011

Karl Birjukov and Inertia in science

Karl Birjukov has been writing recently on the need to the sciences to be revised, in order to conform better with theism. Here are links to four of his articles.

Most of what Karl writes is of interest, and directly relevant to our task of finding a new account of our universe that includes what is true from theism as well as from modern science. We both recognize that there are many deficiencies with how science is normally taken to understand the world, and how its common understanding appears to block connections to spiritual or theistic matters.

Karl's focus is on one particular deficiency: on how, since Kant, the natural world has been taken to consist of objects governed by the 'law of inertia'. By this, he appears to mean that all things are inert objects acted on by external forces. He says that "it is necessary in the first place to strip out the inertial view, and only then to consider the situation anew." Birjukov examines the details of Einstein's relativity theory in its foundations, trying to find how concepts of mass and inertia may possibly be reworked in that context.

I reply that it is true that the standard concept of objects (since Kant especially) has been to take them as inert and lifeless: with inertia, and with no internal source of activity. However, when I examine modern quantum field theories that try to predict the masses of subatomic particles, I find that 'inertia' by itself is hardly used. Rather, the masses of objects are constructed dynamically from the rapid internal exchanges of particles that have themselves no rest mass, but only energy. These internal particles are photons in the case of electromagnetic interactions, and gluons in the case of interactions between quarks to make up nucleons.

What is needed, therefore, is a theory of science that takes into account how in these ways mass and inertia are not given as 'inert' qualities, but as the result of interior and active processes. I have outline a general framework for this in my paper Derivative Dispositions and Multiple Generative Levels.

My general experience of the development of ideas in the sciences is that the defects of old ideas are only clearly admitted when there is a new theory proposed that at least begins to replace the previous explanations. I differ from Birjukov, therefore, in his insistence on removing the old ideas that might be incorrect, but before there are new theories to replace them. He recognizes this in part, as he tries to formulate a new basis for relativity theory, but that is only the very smallest part of the problem. In fact, I argue that new theories of science can only be properly compatible with theism when they are consistently and diligently derived from theism. This means that our work should begin at the beginning (with Theos) rather than in nature (with Physis), as in some kind of 'theistic science', as only then can we constructed a unified cosmology.


  1. I've been having lots of fun reading the links from your website. Could you comment on 'conservation of energy' as used against dualism?:

    From Flanagan, 1990 On the other hand, and this to many people's way of thinking is the main disadvantage of Cartesian dualism, we have no evidence whatsoever that there are any nonphysical things. Furthermore, when we assume that there are nonphysical things we have to make some very implausible assumptions and give up some of our most cherished scientific principles, for example the principle, which Descartes espoused that ex nihilo nihil fit, that something cannot come from nothing. Just such a principle holds a central place among modern scientific principles under the guise of the principle of conservation of energy.

    Now, the principle of conservation of energy requires that the total amount of energy in the universe remain constant, even as it is continually transferred and transformed in and among the myriad systems of causal relations. If Descartes is right that a nonphysical mind can cause the body to move, for example, we decide to go to a concert and go, then physical energy must increase in and around our body, since we get up and go to the concert. In order, however, for physical energy to increase in any system, it has to have been transferred from some other physical system. But the mind, according to Descartes, is not a physical system and therefore it does not have any energy to transfer. The mind cannot account for the fact that our body ends up at the concert.

    If I decide to go to a concert and go, wouldn't the energy just come from the physical world? Common sense tells me my mind would decide but not actually add any energy - just use some that was already there. Is that because my mind is lazy? Do nondualists have minds so energetic that they can't trust them to not add energy into the physical world?

  2. If our intentions are to have some effect (of any kind!) in the physical world, then the physical world cannot be a closed system. And the conservation of energy, strictly speaking, only applies to closed systems. And only if we say that the mind is 'nothing' can we apply Descartes' principle (something cannot come from nothing). We know that the mind is not nothing, and Descartes, in his other writings, knows as well!

    Still we may ask *how* our mental activity accomplishes its effects: that is a good question for science. Does it add energy, or move energy from one place to another, or remove from one place and add to another distance place, or only do so locally? Does it change momentum (depending on direction) as well as (or instead of) energy (which depends on speed and not on direction)? Maybe mental activity changes the electric charge by small fluctuations: that would have an effect on potential energy if not kinetic energy. Maybe the uniformity of time flow is slightly modified, so that coincidences can be organized?

    These are all pure speculations about how minds can influence the world. And, of course, when our minds see with our eyes, the features of the physical world influence our thoughts. So the opposite influences occur as well. So many things to understand!

  3. Interesting. If there is a God-who-takes-an-active-interest (which I assume) then the energy for His work should already be factored in and the physical world would still be a closed system. Likewise, if our minds influence the physical world (which I assume) then the needed energy should already be factored in.

    Of course, scientists with counter me with "But you know nothing about this." And I'll have to concede that that is a good point. But they are only insisting on no outside mental forces because they are afraid it will mess up science. I read all about it on your Physical Closure page!

    We are thankful that physics exists and that you all are figuring the world out for us. But, physicists need to come up for air. The way you argue in language that is hard for regular people to understand is keeping you too isolated. (Not you specifically).

    Here is a Daniel VonWachter comment - To illustrate, the fact that the movement of pieces of iron is sometimes caused through gravitation does not show that it is always caused through gravitation; sometimes it is caused through magnetic forces.
    Uh, sometimes it's caused by people moving it. But no iron workers can wade through the lingo to tell him.

  4. If the energy for his work were already 'factored in', then that would be like a 'pre-established harmony' between God and the world. In such a scheme, everything would have to be arranged in advance, and then (unfortunately) there would be no room for any new or free decisions to have any effects in nature!

    Maybe, you ask, there is not enough energy already there, or enough momentum? But if you fix the energy and momentum of every physical particle, then there is no freedom left concerning where it is going to go! If our minds are to have real effects in nature, then some energy or some momentum has to be different from what it would otherwise be, had we decided differently.

    Maybe we can simpler ways to talk about this, but the basic facts are rather simple, and has immediate and obvious consequences for the way we live our lives.

  5. Re: But if you fix the energy and momentum of every physical particle, then there is no freedom left concerning where it is going to go! If our minds are to have real effects in nature, then some energy or some momentum has to be different from what it would otherwise be, had we decided differently.

    My decision and its effects, though, depend on what energy already exists. If I decide to climb a mountain, my mind does not contibute energy. It doesn't contribute energy for the decision itself or for the action.

    When Flangan talks about my deciding to go to a concert and then going: I am only going to be able to use energy from food I ate, or sunshine, or a hot shower, or whatever way I can get energy out of the physical world. My mind can only play around with existing energy in the physical world, no?

    If my mind changes a momentum, doesn't it have to just work out physically by changing all the existing momentums to accomodate my decision?

    In a way that makes my mind a part of nature. But it's not the same as belittling the spiritual. It's accepting up front that, duh, the spiritual is part of reality.

  6. To 'play around' with existing physical energy can not mean to leave it unchanged! It is true that we depend on some energy already existing, can we cannot just leave the same at the end as if we had done nothing.

    Whether mind is 'part of nature' must depend on something other than physical connections. Otherwise God is part of nature too, and the meaning of 'nature' has changed almost beyond recognition.