Atomism and A Riddle
Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on March 17, 2007
1.Take two or more bodies Pi (i=1..n), apply on them specific procedure Pc, and as result get a body W.
2.Take the body W, and by specific procedure Pd, get the original bodies Pi
We might be inclined to say that the person by the procedure Pc constructed the whole W out of parts Pi; and that the person by the procedure Pd deconstructed the whole to the parts Pi.
One way to explain what we mean when we say that wholes consist of parts, is to say that the whole is not self-subsistent. It exist only so far as its parts exist (in the specific configuration).
I think in this idea carries within it implicitly the following principle:
(P) Each of the parts Pi keeps its identity:
- through the procedure Pc
- between the procedures Pc and Pd (or as we could say – while the whole exists) and
- through the procedure Pd.
Let’s take for example a case where few atomic nulcei and electrons form a molecule. We could also speak of atom for that matter, as, it seems to me, atoms are in no way more fundamental than molecules – it is a configuration with one nucleus and electrons, while the molecules are configurations of two and more nuclei and electrons.
So, in this case we imagine that at a previous time there was a bunch of nuclei and electrons, and that those entered in specific relation among each other (by mutual effect on each other through their energy fields). And we imagine that in fact if we can grasp in thought the whole interrelation of the nuclei and electrons, the atom or the molecule is nothing over that set of things and their mutual affect.
And it seems intuitively very plausible that it is so. What we observe is that we have starting parts SPi, and after doing Pc and Pd, we are left with ending parts EPi. We can further relate both sets in such way that for every part SPi, we can find a part with same properties in EPi. So, what would be more intuitive than to think that the elements of set SP are the ones which create set EP, and that those parts existed before Pc where we count and categorize each, through Pc, between Pc and Pd, through Pd and after Pd, where we again count and categorize each.
That is however metaphysically not the only possible way to think about it, and there are some reasons which can be taken from Quantum Mechanics where that kind of picture might be problematic.
The alternative way to view the whole think would be through the laws of conservation of different properties and talk about more and less stable configurations which are characterized with those properties. In such case what we have is a set of more or less unconnected many, which set can be characterized through the sum of their properties (like momentum, mass, energy, spin and so on). Now we imagine that after Pc what we have is a whole – a one in which the many lost their identity. And the One is now characterized by those properties which “got” into it, and also is also characterized as less or more stable than the original many, and also with nature which is compatible with the possibility for it to be less or more easily “deconstructed” by procedure Pd, again into many, so that for every part SPi, we can find a part with same properties in EPi.
Why we should want to see things in this way?
1. This way gives a role to the procedures Pc and Pd, and we can point that really having different procedures we can get different wholes, but also deconstruct the wholes to different ending sets than the one we started with, as long as the laws of conservation of this and that are satisfied.
2. The previous picture talks about identity of nuclei and electrons, but to be consistent it needs to talk about the identity of protons, neutrons and electrons, as the nuclei are wholes themselves. The protons and neutrons are in turn seen as configurations of three quarks each. This points to problems however because:
- According to this entry in Wikipedia quarks do not exist as isolated. It seems to me, that if the existence of something is found in this kind of way as dependent on existence of something else, it points that thing is probably not self-subsistent in first place.
- Any of those particles can be annihilated into energy, (lot of them decay when free – e.g. neutron has mean lifetime of around 15 minutes), and from energy due to QM uncertainty pairs of particles/antiparticles can be formed. In this way those particles are far from the ancient idea of atoms which would be fundamental principle. Those particles we have in physics are finite.
So, metaphysically we don’t get much from taking any of those “parts” as self-subsistent and as keeping their identity through forming of wholes.
Other thing to consider, is that this second view is better suited when thinking about the issue of identity in the Quantum Mechanics. Here is what I got from SEP article – Identity and Individuality in Quantum Theory by Steven French :
Both ‘classical’ and ‘quantal’ objects of the same kind (e.g. electrons) can be regarded as indistinguishable in the sense of possessing the same intrinsic properties, such as rest mass, charge, spin etc…
That a permutation of the particles is counted as giving a different arrangement in classical statistical mechanics implies that, although they are indistinguishable, such particles can be regarded as individuals…
If such permutations are not counted in quantum statistics, it follows that quantal particles cannot be regarded as individuals … In other words, quantal objects are very different from most everyday objects in that they are ‘non-individuals’ in some sense.
The article gives a lot of views from which is clear that the conclusion from the quote is far from generally accepted, and as I am already over my head in talking about things I don’t know, I won’t even try to comment if the alternative views are right or wrong. What I want to point is that there is an alternative metaphysical view of looking at the wholes/parts, in which while the whole exist, the parts might not be seen as self-subsistent thing in which th existence of the whole is grounded, but that the whole is such that it can “produce” (so to say) certain smaller things without thinking of those things as existing within the whole within its identity.
So, anyway I’m interested in the possibility of this – especially in the sense that “bigger” things we encounter in everyday life, like molecules, chunks of this or that, chairs, animals, humans and so on, are not merely configurations/dynamics of more basic elements, even if they can be divided to more basic elements, and even they can be created by more basic elements (by some procedure); but that they are proper “things”. If one buys into this there appears an interesting issue of when something can be said to be a self-subsistent (if ever), and when it should be seen merely as a part of a whole (like e.g. a top of the ball is not a separate proper part, or the nose is not separate from the face).
And here is the riddle…
If a person offers you one atom of gold for every second that has elapsed since the Big Bang, how much gold he is offering you?
I found the question and the solution at John D. Norton’s site.
This entry was posted on March 17, 2007 at 3:03 pm and is filed under Metaphysics, Philosophy, Physics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.