Friday, March 26, 2010

An argument against physicalism in biology

  1. (Premise) Every biologically significant purely physical event happens at the same time as a chemically significant purely physical event.
  2. (Premise) No chemically significant purely physical event takes less than 10−22 seconds (it takes 1.7x10−20 seconds for light to cross the Bohr radius of the hydrogen atom).
  3. (Premise) The coming into existence of an animal is a biologically significant event.
  4. (Premise) There is no vague existence at a time.
  5. (Premise) If there is no vague existence at a time, transitions between non-existence and existence are instantaneous.
  6. (Premise) Instantaneous events take less than 10−22 seconds.
  7. Transitions between existence and non-existence do not happen at the same time as a chemically significant purely physical event. (2, 4, 5 and 6)
  8. If the coming into existence of an animal is a purely physical event, it happens at the same time as a chemically significant purely physical event. (1 and 3)
  9. The coming into existence of an animal is not a purely physical event. (7 and 8)

10 comments:

Ramiro said...

hey dude, why mess with biology?

An argument against physicalism in chemestry

1. (Premise) No chemically significant purely physical event takes less than 10−22 seconds (it takes 1.7x10−20 seconds for light to cross the Bohr radius of the hydrogen atom).

2. (Premise) There is no vague existence at a time.

3. (Premise) If there is no vague existence at a time, transitions between non-existence and existence are instantaneous.

4. (Premise) Instantaneous events take less than 10−22 seconds.

5. Transitions between existence and non-existence do not happen at the same time as a chemically significant purely physical event. (1, 2, 3 and 4)

6. The coming into existence of a chemical item is not a chemically significant purely physical event. (5)

--here you get it, there are certain kinds of events, chemical events, that are not physical events... so that physicalism is terribly wrong. Now, I cry.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I am inclined not to believe in molecules, crystals, etc., but I do believe in dogs and people. (Why? Maybe because the existence of dogs and people has ethical significance.) So I am not sure that there are any chemical items. But if there are chemical items, then indeed physicalism is false about chemistry. This isn't such a strange view. The medievals believed that everything had a form, and that included minerals. And "form" is what we call the analogue to a "soul" in non-conscious beings.

Dustin said...

Why couldn't someone just say that the animal comes into existence at the end of the process?

Alexander R Pruss said...

But then 10^-23 seconds earlier there was no animal, and now 10^-23 seconds earlier there is. So a significant change occurred in less than 10^-22 seconds.

Ramiro said...

I think the ethical significance of a putative object can't be a (strong) reason to believe in the existence of the object --it just that ethics and metaphysics are not related in a such implicative way.

If there are good reasons for not to believe in chemicals items, and if there are not good resons to believe in biological items --beside of its ethical significance--, so it seems to my that physicalism is the natural thing in what to believe.

Alexander R Pruss said...

On the contrary, I think ethics and metaphysics are very tightly connected. We ought to appreciate the things that really exist. That is why it makes more sense to love a snake than a car, and why we have no prima facie duty not to harm a desk, but we have a prima facie duty not to harm a tree.

Besides, we are biological entities ourselves, so if there are no biological entities, we don't exist, and hence don't have any duties. But we have duties, so we exist.

Ramiro said...

I am a bit surprised. Really, I'm not pretty sure it makes more sense to love a snake than a car... but w/e. I remain skeptical about the tight connection between ethics and metaphysics.

Beside, I think that a pretty similar argument goes for the chemicals. Roughly: In a sense, we are chemicals entities ourselves --are not you composed of hydrogen, nitrogen, etc?--, so if there are no chemicals entities, we don't exist, and hence don't have any duties. But we have duties, so we exist. So, there are chemicals entities.

Alexander R Pruss said...

If metaphysics tells us about what there really is, then it seems plausible that metaphysics would be very relevant to ethics, since how we should behave with respect to reality surely depends on what the reality is.

Animals are chemically constituted, but they are not chemical entities, because their persistence conditions are not those of chemical substances.

Leonhard said...

I don't get premise 2 or 3. Though they remind me of Terry Pratchetts argument that kingness travelled faster than light. When one king died, the other was made king immediately by definition.

"I am inclined not to believe in molecules, crystals, etc."

This is the first time I see a Christian arguing against the existence of atoms, based on ethical principles. Or have I just gotten you wrong?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Pratchett's argument is a good reason to think that "the monarch" isn't an objectively existing single entity, enduring between particular monarchs.

Van Inwagen will also deny the existence of atoms. He thinks that the only things there are in the physical world are organisms and simples (e.g., particles that are not made up of other particles). So he'll say that the simples that the atom is made up of exist, but there is no whole, the atom, which they make up.