Thursday, November 29, 2012

Identifying 'Substance' as 'Propensity'

Here is a summary of my argument as applied to physics.
Discussing the basic categories, and how there is seen to be a connection between them that was previously missed.

Three categories of terms in physics:

  • existential terms
    • about what exists
  • formal terms
    • about the structure & static properties of what exists
  • dynamical terms
    • about what would happen, in new and/or hypothetical conditions
    • only by hypothesizing dynamics, can we deduce the future.

Examples of Formal Terms

  • shape, number, form, relation, configuration, symmetry
  • function, field, oscillation, wave, flow,
  • point, length, area, volume, amplitude,
  • vector, matrix, operator, Hilbert space, bra, ket,
  • ratios, relative frequency, probability, ...

Examples of Existential Terms

  • particle, material, matter, corpuscle, body,
  • fluid, ether,
  • substance, actuality, reality,
  • event, interaction, outcome,person, experience, observation, sensation, thought, feeling, ... (we know we exist!)
  • world, universe, ...

Examples of Dynamical Terms

  • cause, propensity, disposition, power, capability, potentiality,
  • energy (kinetic and potential),
  • mass, charge, field coupling,
  • force, pressure, momentum, impetus, elasticity/rigidity,
  • (for people: intention, disposition, motivation, skill, desire, intelligence, …)

      (PHYSICAL or mental) 

      Dynamical properties say what would happen, even if it does not
    • A force says what acceleration would be caused if a mass was acted on.
    • Electric fields generates a force if and when a charge is present.
    • Quantum propensities give probabilities if a measurement is performed.

    New idea: ‘Dynamic substance’

    • Derive ‘existence’ from ‘dynamics’

    • This happens already in physics. Many examples:

      • ‘electromagnetic force field’,
      • ‘potential energy field’
      • ‘matter is a form of energy’
      • wave function is a ‘propensity field’
        • propensity to interact, or
        • propensity to choose actual outcome
    • Propensity (of some kind) is substance

    So form is never substance: only propensities (etc) can ever be substantial.
    There is no need to describe 'substance' any more in obscure terms!

    All that is needed are propensities that intrinsically endure for finite times.

    We identify 'the substance of things' with 'some enduring propensity'.

    This summary is taken from a talk I gave in 2000
    to my physics department at Surrey University.
    A complete set of slides is online here.

    I will in later posts argue that the same conclusion applies to mental as well as physical dispositions.


    1. Hi Ian,

      Your last expose on Mental dispositions and desires got me to wondering about forces and whether they are a ‘substance’. If they are then clearly they are not physical substances. Take gravity for instance. It clearly requires two physical masses but the effect is not physical since they never come in contact with each other or from Einstein’s perspective, gravity isn’t a force at all but an ‘effect’ which apparently has no effect on other objects but a great deal of ‘effect’ on ‘spacetime’. . . . the warping of space is what is actually effecting the nearby object’s path . . . . like planets. It would seem that in either explanation that there is a non-physical effect on the smaller of the two objects or on the space surrounding the larger object. As in the mind, would you characterize this as a non-material substance with its own propensity?

      It is also seems somewhat of a paradox that a large body can have such a significant direct impact on something with no mass (the space around it) but only an indirect impact on nearby bodies with significant mass by altering the geometry of the space it is traveling through (Einstein’s explanation).

      And what about a near earth object, say an apple falling from a tree. It would seem that this would be a different kind of an ‘effect’ with a different propensity since warping space would not seem to apply at that scale. As in classical and quantum physics are there classical and something like ‘quantum effect’ dynamics with gravity and I am not speaking in the purer sense of ‘quantum gravity’. More like something in between or are the apple and planet on the same relative mass scale of macro/particle physics?


    2. Yes, Ron. I have not explained how 'forces' fit into this scheme. Although not stated above, I am thinking of forces as a derivative of potential energy, and that it is such potential energy which is the substance.

      In fact, force is mathematically the derivative of the field of potential energy. It occurs when a particle is present to be acted on. In that sense, 'forces' are ways of talking about the operation of the dispositions (potential energy) that make the substance of things. In special relativity, the E in E=m.c-squared refers to the total energy (potential + kinetic energies).

      Gravity is a more complicated case. There are three ways of looking at this, and we do not know which is correct.

      One way [1] is to regard gravity as the deformation of space time. That is the manner of General Relativity. In that case, space-time has energy (in some way, not quite clear), and so spacetime itself seems to be some kind of substance. Spacetime does not have mass (no rest mass), but it still has energy. If we don't like that idea (of spacetime being substance), then [2] we could alternatively build gravity into the basic physics in a more special manner, perhaps as its own discrete degree.

      The third way [3] is to regard gravity as caused by the exchange of virtual particles, to be called gravitons. That is the manner expected from Quantum Physics: in a manner similar to the way photons, gluons, etc are taken to operate as fields. In all these cases, Quantum Physics has all the potential energy as the energy of all these virtual particles.

      In all cases, the energy of gravity is not in the most obvious material bodies we see. It could be in space-time itself, or in virtual clouds of graviton-particles, or (perhaps) its own discrete degree with rules of its own. It could well be called 'non-material' in all of these cases, but all the time it is still 'physical'!

      Gravity still operates whether objects are large or small: earth, trees and apples are all subject to gravity. Just more or less: in proportion to their mass.

    3. Hi Ian,

      So you are saying that a force, in this case gravity is physical. Ok, lets take it to the next level where we are talking 'influence' of not a force but of information leading to an 'effect', by this I mean to consider 'quantum entanglement'. The objects in this case could be two entangled electrons with opposite 'spin' and where the distance from each other is is made to be, considering scale, astronomical ruling out any of the forces we have knowledge of. If we were then to reverse the 'spin' of one of the electrons and I know this is very probabilistic, we would expect the remote electron to do the same. As opposed to localized gravity are the dispositions or causes operating here purely non-material.


      1. Dear Ron,
        I agree that the long-distance correlations and entanglements you describe (and which are quite within normal quantum mechanics) are not quite 'material' as we know of material things as tending to be heavy, solid and inert.

        However, quantum mechanics is just what is found necessary to describe the physical nature of exactly those material things. So, even if the correlations are not 'fully material', they are certainly completely physical. We could call them perhaps 'almost fully material' characteristics of things. I would certainly not call them 'purely non-material' as you seem to want to do.

        The correlations (and Bell's inequalities, etc) are the first hint that, as we go into causes, that something non-material might be there. But, as they stand, the correlations and entanglements are correlations and entanglements *of material things*, and so, for all practical purposes, material properties . We could well call them 'physical properties' still, if they are not strictly material as you know that term.

    4. Thanks for the reply Ian,

      I guess where I was headed with this is how can we define the 'means' whereby one electron is made aware of or discovers the new 'quantum state' of the the entangled electron. My understanding is that the discovery is instantaneous even if light years apart.

      One almost gets the impression that though they are far apart, in some respect, maybe in some different spatial extension, they are not and remain local to each other some how. It just strikes me that there should be some propensity or disposition 'to inform of state changes' operating here.


      1. This, at least, is what is predicted by quantum mechanics. In fact, though, we have no idea whether it is instantaneous, or whether there is some possible faster-than-light propagation speed. Relativistic quantum mechanics predicts that we get the same results whatever the speed, or, in other words, whatever might be the velocity of reference frame used to describe the process.

        In order to understand the means or mechanism of this, we should have to think that the entangled state has a kind of unity, in such a way that interactions of one part have immediate effects on the other parts. Even if the meaning of 'immediate' here is not clear. Another way of saying this is that the disparate material parts are yet part of some whole, and 'together' in a way that transcends normal spatial separations. They are still *material objects*, and certainly *not* 'immaterial', even if they behave in this way as part of a single 'togetherness'. The 'togetherness', in any case, is only temporary, and we cannot have material things (as if) disappearing from the material world and appearing again some time soon afterwards.