From arithmetic, geometry and kinematics through mechanics to life.

Steiner’s first lecture of the First Scientific Lecture-Course, the so called, ‘Light course’, given in Stuttgart, on the 23rd December 1919, can be read here and it can be listened to here

He explains how the natural scientists of his day proceeded. They were interested in categorising, looking for causes behind phenomena, and observing phenomena to arrive at the ‘laws’ of nature. Goethe did not proceed in this way. He was not interested in looking for and speculating about unknown causes or categorisation. He looked at nature and observed how it was forever changing and studied this metamorphosis in great detail. He wished to stay within the observable to ask what it could tell him without speculating about any laws or hidden world behind the one observed.

The natural science are forever looking for pointwise forces to explain life. But, according to Steiner, life cannot be explained in this way. Life is formed out of the universal peripheral forces. These forces are not the same as the mechanical pointwise forces which are open to measurement. Steiner explains it thus:

Say you were studying the play of forces in an animal or vegetable embryo or germ-cell; with this method you would never find your way. No doubt it seems an ultimate ideal to the Science of today, to understand even organic phenomena in terms of potentials, of centric forces of some kind. It will be the dawn of a new world-conception in this realm when it is recognized that the thing cannot be done in this way, Phenomena in which Life is working can never be understood in terms of centric forces. Why, in effect, — why not? Diagrammatically, let us here imagine that we are setting out to study transient, living phenomena of Nature in terms of Physics. We look for centres, — to study the potential effects that may go out from such centres. Suppose we find the effect. If I now calculate the potentials, say for the three points a, b and c, I find that a will work thus and thus on A, B and C, or c on A’, B’ and C’; and so on. I should thus get a notion of how the integral effects will be, in a certain sphere, subject to the potentials of such and such centric forces. Yet in this way I could never explain any process involving Life. In effect, the forces that are essential to a living thing have no potential; they are not centric forces. If at a given point d you tried to trace the physical effects due to the influences of a, b and c, you would indeed be referring to the effects to centric forces, and you could do so. But if you want to study the effects of Life you can never do this. For these effects, there are no centres such as a or b or c. Here you will only take the right direction with your thinking when you speak thus: Say that at d there is something alive. I look for the forces to which the life is subject. I shall not find them in a, nor in b, nor in c, nor when I go still farther out. I only find them when as it were I go to the very ends of the world — and, what is more, to the entire circumference at once. Taking my start from d, I should have to go to the outermost ends of the Universe and imagine forces to the working inward from the spherical circumference from all sides, forces which in their interplay unite in d. It is the very opposite of the centric forces with their potentials. How to calculate a potential for what works inward from all sides, from the infinitudes of space? In the attempt, I should have to dismember the forces; one total force would have to be divided into ever smaller portions. Then I should get nearer and nearer the edge of the World: — the force would be completely sundered, and so would all my calculation. Here in effect it is not centric forces; it is cosmic, universal forces that are at work. Here, calculation ceases.

This lecture was given just over a century ago and so the terminology is a bit dated and science has made a vast amount of progress since then, but his points still stand.
The difference between Goethe’s scientific method and the standard methods of natural science is the same difference that separates the practice of Euclidean geometry from that of projective geometry. In the former, lengths and angles are measured and calculated, in the latter there are no measurements as such, it is concerned with the mobility and transformation of form as it is expressed between point and plane.

Goethe takes natural science beyond its self-imposed limits just as projective geometry takes Euclidean geometry beyond its limits.

Feel free to read or listen to the lecture linked to above and comment as you see fit.

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212 thoughts on “From arithmetic, geometry and kinematics through mechanics to life.

  1. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: I am using the term to mean that by which we come to an inner understanding of our experiences. I consider all concepts to be empirical.

    I don’t know what the word “inner” is doing there. I do think that concepts are necessary for an understanding of experience, whether we’re talking about experiences of the environment (e.g. a woman walking a dog in the park), of one’s own body, or ‘mental experience’.

    I use the word ‘inner’ to distinguish my private experiences from shared experiences. For instance if we both look at the triangle I have included below we each have our own personal image of this triangle. So what is it about this image that allows us both to recognise the triangle in it?

    One can certainly have thoughts without having the concept of a thought, but without the concept of a thought, one cannot understand oneself to be having thoughts or understand oneself to be a thinking self.

    I agree.

    I don’t consider all concepts to be empirical, because I understand empirical concepts to be concepts which are correctly used in response to sensory stimuli. E.g. one ought to respond to dogs by being disposed to say “that’s a dog!” and if one were to say “that’s a cat!” in response to seeing dogs, then one really hasn’t fully acquired the concept of “dog”

    By contrast, there are no sensory stimuli in response to which the concept of aleph null is used correctly. That’s what makes aleph null a formal concept, rather than an empirical concept.

    So we learn to recognise dogs through experience. But no amount of just staring at dogs will give us an understanding of what dogs are. we only acquire the knowledge of what a dog is by thinking and it is through thinking that we build up our understanding of dogs by acquiring and connecting the related concepts.

    The first time you brought up the concept of aleph null would you say that this was a new experience for you?

    CharlieM: Yes we both seem to agree on reality being about processes rather than things. But even processes have a polarity, a beginning and an end.

    This would imply that an eternal or infinite process is a contradiction in terms, which I’m not yet prepared to concede.

    Okay, so processes are occurrences in time and if we think about infinite processes this would mean that they have no beginning or end but they would still have the polarity of ‘coming from’ and ‘going to’.

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  2. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: One of the best ways to understand projective geometry is by imagining the movements involved. For example to imagine how parallel lines meet at infinity. (In Euclidean geometry they never do meet.) Picture a horizontal line and a point somewhere above it. Imagine a vertical line through the point and the line. Now picture the line moving clockwise centred on the point. this entails the point where it meets the line accelerating along it all the way to infinity and then reappearing on the right hand side of the line. Time is a factor of acceleration.

    I think you’re confusing the time in which the act of thinking itself unfolds, and time as a parameter of the conceptual system itself. Projective geometry doesn’t involve time any more than any other geometry does, even though one’s thinking does take place in time.

    Time may not be a factor in the axioms of projective geometry but it is important in understanding it that we can picture the transformations happening in our minds. For instance, we can’t really imagine parallel lines meeting at infinity without imagining two intersecting lines moving so that the angle between them tends to zero. I have attached a still from this video by Richard Southwell just to show two lines intersecting at point E (This complete video is worth watching in my opinion). He is causing point E to move along the black line. If this point was to continue moving right as far as it could go we cannot follow it by sight obviously, but we can follow it in our minds and in our minds we can follow it to infinity and back again.

    CharlieM: This is why using concepts of something basic such as a triangle is perfect in trying to get an understanding of concepts in relation to the words we use. Obviously the meaning of the word “fish” depends on the context and has changed over time. We can think about a starfish, silverfish and a sunfish and although they contain the same word our concepts attached to each of them will not be the same save they are all animals.

    I think your attachment to very simple geometry is preventing you from understanding how formal concepts really work. It happens to be the case that one can easily construct a mental image of triangle and it’s not really possible to construct a mental image of a transfinite number. But that’s a fact about how our mental imagery works, not a fact about the meaning of formal concepts.

    A concept is not a mental image.

    Besides which, our understanding of formal concepts like triangle also changes over time. With the discovery of non-Euclidean geometries, we have to recognize that the concept of Euclidean triangle is a species of a genus triangle that also includes non-Euclidean triangles, just like the concept of Euclidean triangle contains Euclidean isosceles triangles, Euclidean equilateral triangles, and Euclidean scalene triangles.

    The concept ‘triangle’ does not change over time. If you want to add that the internal angles of triangles add up to 180 degrees, then you are adding further concepts which are necessary to give the concept a consistent place in our field of concepts, but it’s unnecessary for grasping the concept itself. This is how we gain knowledge, we arrange the concepts we acquire into a meaningful whole.

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  3. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: We would not be able to have intellectual thinking without mechanisms, but mechanisms do not explain the intellect.

    I don’t see what could possibly justify such confidence.

    I’m confident that many people agree that there is such a thing as the mind/body problem.

    CharlieM: And in applying mathematics to the fields of Faraday, Maxwell ensured that it could all be brought together and measured and manipulated. And of course this opened the way for relativity and quantum mechanics which meant the end of the mechanistic universe of Descartes and Newton.

    I don’t understand what you think this means. In what sense is a universe of intangible fields not “mechanistic”? What is your understanding of “mechanistic” such that fields don’t count as “mechanism”?

    Mechanistic implies deterministic physical forces where cause and effect are governed by known laws. For example electromagnetic effects can be calculated using fixed formulae. Peripheral forces are not amenable to the same mathematical treatment. Projective geometry in relation to standard Euclidean geometry mirrors this. The latter involves measuring angles and lengths the former does not.

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  4. CharlieM: The concept ‘triangle’ does not change over time. If you want to add that the internal angles of triangles add up to 180 degrees, then you are adding further concepts which are necessary to give the concept a consistent place in our field of concepts, but it’s unnecessary for grasping the concept itself. This is how we gain knowledge, we arrange the concepts we acquire into a meaningful whole.

    I disagree with the thought that it is even possible to grasp the concept “triangle” without also grasping at the same time “having the sum of the internal angles be 180 degrees”. The latter is not some additional concept that is separate from the concept “triangle”; it is part of what the very concept triangle means.

    In other words I am advocating a brand of semantic or conceptual holism, according to which one cannot grasp a concept without also, at the exact same time, understanding its place in a system of concepts that are inferentially related. Understanding how a concept fits into a larger family of concepts is not, on my view, something over and above understanding the concept itself — rather they are the very same cognitive act.

    To see this, consider the fact that one can train a parrot to always squawk “that’s red!” whenever it is shown something that is red. Does this mean that the parrot understands what “red” means? Presumably not. If it did, we would also have to say that a programmed photovoltaic cell also understands what “red” means whenever it beeps in response to the relevant wavelengths.

    Rather, understanding what the word “red” means is (which is the same as grasping the concept of red) involves understanding the correctness of inferences such as “If something is red, then it is colored” or “if something is red, then it cannot be green at the same time in the same place”, and so on.

    And the fact is the discovery of non-Euclidean geometries did change our concept of triangle. Before those discoveries, there was no need to distinguish between “triangle” and “Euclidean triangle”. Now there is. The concept “triangle” is now understood to be a genus that includes “Euclidean triangle” as a species, just as “Euclidean triangle” includes scalene, isosceles, and equilateral triangles as its species.

    CharlieM: I’m confident that many people agree that there is such a thing as the mind/body problem.

    So what? That doesn’t mean that they’re right to do so. Philosophical truth depends on the cogency of the arguments, not the popularity of the opinions.

    CharlieM: Mechanistic implies deterministic physical forces where cause and effect are governed by known laws. For example electromagnetic effects can be calculated using fixed formulae.

    Then by your definition electromagnetic fields are mechanistic, and you should not have quoted Einstein in support of your view.

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  5. KN, I would like to thank you for the unfailing clarity of your exposition. Time and time again, there is some distinction being drawn that I find confusing; then KN explains the situation with clarity and precision. This just. keeps. happening.
    It is much appreciated.

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  6. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Newton believed that all colours are contained in white light. This is patently absurd. Look at white light and you will see no colour. Colour only appears when the light is interfered with in some way. Goethe pointed out that colours were the effect of the interplay of light and darkness. Newton focused his attention on the light while Goethe recognised the polarity of light and dark.

    “Contained within” and “only appearing when interfered with” are complementary concepts. It’s true that the wavelengths associated with colors are mixed in white light, and it’s also true that interfering with white light will cause those wavelengths to become distinguishable.

    Wavelengths are not colours. Light needs to be darkened to varying degrees to produce colour. That is what is meant by “interfered with”. Is the darkness also contained within the light? To interfere with is to introduce something that is not within the entity being interfered with.

    I also think you’re missing out on what’s really interesting about the contrast between Newton and Goethe: Newton used a prism to refract white light onto a white surface, whereas Goethe looked at the world through a prism and thus came to see the world differently.

    This interesting thing is that Newton set up a specific experiment in which he saw the same effect as Goethe did. Edges between white and black showed either a blue/violet band or a yellow/red band. He had to adjust the narrowness of the gap so that both bands came together before green appeared and whole spectrum came into view. If he had reversed the experiment and had a black band between areas of white then he would have seen a complimentary spectrum with magenta at the centre instead of green.

    Goethe did not want to set up an artificial experiment, he preferred to look at the light and let it show him how it behaved.

    CharlieM: From experiments Descartes knew that each retina received an inverted image and this was the point where he believed extended nature came to the point where it needed the mind to take the images received and deal with them in a way that would make sense to the consciousness. Here the two independent spheres met.

    This isn’t quite right. Descartes understood that the two retinal images needed to be combined somehow, and he thought this required a single brain structure that wasn’t two fused halves (as the cerebrum and cerebellum are). He thought that the pineal gland would do the trick. And he also thought that the pineal gland was where the material brain and the immaterial soul were able to causally interact.

    But these are separate roles for the pineal gland to play, in Descartes’s story. Even if there weren’t any immaterial soul, there would still be a need to explain how two retinal images are combined to yield a visual experience of one object. Descartes didn’t think that animals had immaterial souls, but he certainly thought that they saw single objects as a result of receiving two retinal images.

    Descartes imagined that spirit flowed out of the pineal gland in order to interact with the body. But whatever he did think he took mind and extended nature to be separate.

    I would not restrict the mind in such a way. In my opinion just as the external light comes to us from without so the inner light of our thinking goes out to whatever we are observing in the world. Reality is the result of this polarity. The external world of experience and the world of our understanding are the one reality viewed from opposite directions.

    This is very pretty-sounding but it’s a poor substitute for philosophy.

    From Truth and Knowledge by Steiner:

    The activity of thinking is only a formal one in the upbuilding of our scientific world-picture, and from this it follows that no cognition can have a content which is a priori, in that it is established prior to observation (thinking divorced from the given); rather must the content be acquired wholly through observation. In this sense all our knowledge is empirical. Nor is it possible to see how this could be otherwise. Kant’s judgments a priori fundamentally are not cognition, but are only postulates. In the Kantian sense, one can always only say: If a thing is to be the object of any kind of experience, then it must conform to certain laws. Laws in this sense are regulations which the subject prescribes for the objects. Yet one would expect that if we are to attain knowledge of the given then it must be derived, not from the subject, but from the object.
    Thinking says nothing a priori about the given; it produces a posteriori, i.e. the thought-form, on the basis of which the conformity to law of the phenomena becomes apparent.

    Seen in this light, it is obvious that one can say nothing a priori about the degree of certainty of a judgment attained through cognition. For certainty, too, can be derived only from the given. To this it could be objected that observation only shows that some connection between phenomena once occurred, but not that such a connection must occur, and in similar cases always will occur. This assumption is also wrong. When I recognize some particular connection between elements of the world-picture, this connection is provided by these elements themselves; it is not something I think into them, but is an essential part of them, and must necessarily be present whenever the elements themselves are present

    We arrive at the laws of a triangle, not by observation, but by thinking. By means of thinking we arrive at the conclusion that the sum of the angles of a triangle are equal to the angle produced by a straight line. Through thinking I have put in order these concepts regarding triangles, but the concepts and laws are not my invention, they belong to the reality of the entities under observation.

    It is vital that we recognise that the photons and molecules you are talking about are purely models that are used to aid understanding. To treat them as real is, as Barfield said, is to make them into idols.

    They are real. Barfield is wrong.

    So what is a photon in reality?

    From Goethean Science by Steiner

    Let us examine this nature more closely. Mathematics deals with magnitude, with that which allows of a more or less. Magnitude, however, is not something existing in itself. In the broad scope of human experience there is nothing that is only magnitude. Along with its other characteristics, each thing also has some that are determined by numbers. Since mathematics concerns itself with magnitudes, what it studies are not objects of experience complete in themselves, but rather only everything about them that can be measured or counted. It separates off from things everything that can be subjected to this latter operation. It thus acquires a whole world of abstractions within which it then works. It does not have to do with things, but only with things insofar as they are magnitudes. It must admit that here it is dealing only with one aspect of what is real, and that reality has yet many other aspects over which mathematics has no power. Mathematical judgments are not judgments that fully encompass real objects, but rather are valid only within the ideal world of abstractions that we ourselves have conceptually separated off from the objects as one aspect of reality. Mathematics abstracts magnitude and number from things, establishes the completely ideal relationships between magnitudes and numbers, and hovers in this way in a pure world of thoughts. The things of reality, insofar as they are magnitude and number, allow one then to apply mathematical truths. It is therefore definitely an error to believe that one could grasp the whole of nature with mathematical judgments. Nature, in fact, is not merely quantity; it is also quality, and mathematics has to do only with the first. The mathematical approach and the approach that deals purely with what is qualitative must work hand in hand; they will meet in the thing, of which they each grasp one aspect. Goethe characterizes this relationship with the words: “Mathematics, like dialectics, is an organ of the inner, higher sense; its practice is an art, like oratory. For both, nothing is of value except the form; the content is a matter of indifference to them. It is all the same to them whether mathematics is calculating in pennies or dollars or whether rhetoric is defending something true or false.”

    Light is the reality, photons are purely mathematical entities.

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  7. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM,

    I have not perceived my own neurons.I know of them, because I follow the science.

    So your experience of neurons is through concepts and not direct sense experience.

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  8. CharlieM,

    Let’s not start this rabbit again, Charlie.
    We have covered this before: we do have a “direct sense experience” of the workings of neurons (as do pigeons and nematodes), but we only know that this is what we are experiencing if we know some biology.
    The only way to ‘perceive a neuron’ (as opposed to perceiving the functioning of same) is through a microscope.
    Your point being?

    Alan Fox,

    In addition to his interesting ideas about visual perception, Charlie has some extremely interesting ideas about color. It’s not worth the candle.

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  9. DNA_Jock: In addition to his interesting ideas about visual perception, Charlie has some extremely interesting ideas about color. It’s not worth the candle.

    Well, I was hoping to point out the conflation between the visible ER spectrum and the perception of it. And the false dichotomy between light and darkness. But I’m suffering from lockdown boredom and post-Christmas fatigue.

    ETA oops ER not IR

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  10. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: The concept ‘triangle’ does not change over time. If you want to add that the internal angles of triangles add up to 180 degrees, then you are adding further concepts which are necessary to give the concept a consistent place in our field of concepts, but it’s unnecessary for grasping the concept itself. This is how we gain knowledge, we arrange the concepts we acquire into a meaningful whole.

    I disagree with the thought that it is even possible to grasp the concept “triangle” without also grasping at the same time “having the sum of the internal angles be 180 degrees”. The latter is not some additional concept that is separate from the concept “triangle”; it is part of what the very concept triangle means.

    When I draw a triangle and ask my grandchildren to identify it they tell me that it is a triangle. They have no idea what a degree is, nor an acute, obtuse or any other angle. How do they recognise and know it to be a triangle without the concept of what a triangle is?

    In other words I am advocating a brand of semantic or conceptual holism, according to which one cannot grasp a concept without also, at the exact same time, understanding its place in a system of concepts that are inferentially related. Understanding how a concept fits into a larger family of concepts is not, on my view, something over and above understanding the concept itself — rather they are the very same cognitive act.

    Are you saying that my grandchildren have no concept whatsoever of what a triangle is? The way any of us gains knowledge is to arrange the sum of the concepts they hold into a consistent, meaningful whole. Relationships, cause, effect, family, concurrency are all examples of concepts which we have to work with, but they have to be gained over time. We build up our range of concepts slowly.

    To see this, consider the fact that one can train a parrot to always squawk “that’s red!” whenever it is shown something that is red. Does this mean that the parrot understands what “red” means? Presumably not. If it did, we would also have to say that a programmed photovoltaic cell also understands what “red” means whenever it beeps in response to the relevant wavelengths.

    All this means is that the parrot has the perception of red without the concept of red. The perception invokes in it an urge to utter a specific sound. Red has no meaning for it beyond that.

    Rather, understanding what the word “red” means is (which is the same as grasping the concept of red) involves understanding the correctness of inferences such as “If something is red, then it is colored” or “if something is red, then it cannot be green at the same time in the same place”, and so on.

    Children begin by understanding that the concept ‘colour’ has to do with a variety of sense experiences they have. They usually learn to distinguish objects before they learn colours. They might quickly learn the concept ‘ball’ then later learn to associate words with colour experience. They don’t need a degree in optics to hold the concept red. If when asked to do so, they can pick out a red ball from a pile of variously coloured balls then they know what mummy means by ‘red’.

    And the fact is the discovery of non-Euclidean geometries did change our concept of triangle. Before those discoveries, there was no need to distinguish between “triangle” and “Euclidean triangle”. Now there is. The concept “triangle” is now understood to be a genus that includes “Euclidean triangle” as a species, just as “Euclidean triangle” includes scalene, isosceles, and equilateral triangles as its species.

    It didn’t change the concept ‘triangle’ It was you who introduced the concept of ‘degree’ into that of triangle. In order to class a non-Euclidean triangle as a triangle you first need to have the concept of what a triangle is. If you draw a triangle on a sphere then you have added the concepts of three dimensions and perspective.

    CharlieM: I’m confident that many people agree that there is such a thing as the mind/body problem.

    So what? That doesn’t mean that they’re right to do so. Philosophical truth depends on the cogency of the arguments, not the popularity of the opinions.

    True enough. But the fact that there is so much contention and debate as to how the brain and thinking are related gives me the confidence to know that the matter hasn’t been satisfactorily settled.

    CharlieM: Mechanistic implies deterministic physical forces where cause and effect are governed by known laws. For example electromagnetic effects can be calculated using fixed formulae.

    Then by your definition electromagnetic fields are mechanistic, and you should not have quoted Einstein in support of your view.

    Electromagnetic forces are deterministic physical forces. I suspect that Einstein was talking about mechanistic in terms of material bodies acting directly on each other, such as molecules in the air impinging on one another to create what we perceive as sound. Elecromagnetic forces are physical but involve energetic interactions rather than material interactions. This is a good reason why some people prefer to be called physicalists and not materialists.

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  11. DNA_Jock:
    KN, I would like to thank you for the unfailing clarity of your exposition. Time and time again, there is some distinction being drawn that I find confusing; then KN explains the situation with clarity and precision. This just. keeps. happening.
    It is much appreciated.

    It’s good to know I’m doing some good by prompting Kantian Naturalist to reply to me in a way that helps you in your understanding. In turn it inspires me to continue posting. 🙂

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  12. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: Light needs to be darkened to varying degrees to produce colour.

    Whut?

    To give you an example; it doesn’t matter how clear the water is, if it is deep enough it will appear blue. No matter how translucent matter is it will attenuate the light to some degree.

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  13. CharlieM: Light is the reality, photons are purely mathematical entities.

    Photons are not “purely mathematical entities”. That would put them in the same category as sets, rings, groups, and other mathematical concepts.

    CharlieM: When I draw a triangle and ask my grandchildren to identify it they tell me that it is a triangle. They have no idea what a degree is, nor an acute, obtuse or any other angle. How do they recognise and know it to be a triangle without the concept of what a triangle is?

    Basic perceptual feature recognition doesn’t require concepts. A bat doesn’t need to know what an insect is in order to catch it and eat it.

    CharlieM: Goethe did not want to set up an artificial experiment, he preferred to look at the light and let it show him how it behaved.

    That’s not science — that’s phenomenology.

    CharlieM: . This is a good reason why some people prefer to be called physicalists and not materialists.

    Yes, though interestingly enough, that’s not why the term “physicalism” was invented. It was invented in the 1930s by philosophers interested in showing how to overcome metaphysics. They thought that the old metaphysical debate — is the fundamental nature of reality one in which Mind is reality and matter is appearance, or is Matter primary? — was a waste of time. To demonstrate this, they showed that any statement that could be understood in terms of sensory impressions could be translated into a statement about physical objects, and vice-versa. They used the term “physicalism” to describe the language that takes physical objects as primitive terms.

    Only much later did other people adopt the term “physicalism” to mean “an ontological commitment to fundamental physical stuff, including energy and space-time, and not just matter in the old 17th century sense”.

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  14. DNA_Jock: Let’s not start this rabbit again, Charlie.
    We have covered this before: we do have a “direct sense experience” of the workings of neurons (as do pigeons and nematodes), but we only know that this is what we are experiencing if we know some biology.
    The only way to ‘perceive a neuron’ (as opposed to perceiving the functioning of same) is through a microscope.
    Your point being?

    Our direct experience of neurons cannot be sense experience. We don’t directly see, hear, touch, smell or taste them. And this was the distinction I was pointing out to Neil

    Alan Fox,

    In addition to his interesting ideas about visual perception, Charlie has some extremely interesting ideas about color. It’s not worth the candle.

    Feel free to ignore me and just listen to what Kantian Naturalist has to say 🙂

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  15. CharlieM: To give you an example; it doesn’t matter how clear the water is, if it is deep enough it will appear blue. No matter how translucent matter is it will attenuate the light to some degree.

    To give me an example of whut? You are massacring the meaning of “darkens”. Light (that is visible to us humans) is electromagnetic radiation that impinges on our retina triggering nerve impulses that our brain interprets as vision. But no light, no triggering of photoreceptive cells. There is no darkness, just lack of light. It’s just a matter of how much light and what wavelengths reach the retina. Darkness is imaginary.

    Similarly, there’s no “cold”; it’s just the absence of heat. Heat energy goes from zero to millions of degrees and presumably without physical limit. Light goes from zero to bright enough to instantly vapourize you and beyond.

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  16. Alan Fox: to DNA_Jock

    DNA_Jock: In addition to his interesting ideas about visual perception, Charlie has some extremely interesting ideas about color. It’s not worth the candle.

    Well, I was hoping to point out the conflation between the visible ER spectrum and the perception of it. And the false dichotomy between light and darkness. But I’m suffering from lockdown boredom and post-Christmas fatigue.

    In your opinion is light a wave or particulate or both? Do you think that white and black are truly or falsely dichotomous? Can you describe what a photon is?

    Sorry for bombarding you with questions, but it’s the only way I can get an idea of your position on this. Obviously you don’t have to answer any of these questions. I’ll leave it up to you to answer or not as you see fit.

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  17. CharlieM: Wavelengths are not colours. Light needs to be darkened to varying degrees to produce colour.

    CharlieM: Light is the reality, photons are purely mathematical entities.

    CharlieM: So your experience of neurons is through concepts and not direct sense experience.

    CharlieM: To give you an example; it doesn’t matter how clear the water is, if it is deep enough it will appear blue.

    CharlieM: Our direct experience of neurons cannot be sense experience.

    I don’t ignore you Charlie, I love you just the way you are.

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  18. Alan Fox: Darkness is imaginary.

    Similarly, there’s no “cold”; it’s just the absence of heat.

    The absence of stuff is imaginary?

    Poverty is imaginary, ’cause it’s just the absence of money? Health is imaginary, ’cause it’s just the absence of illness?

    I agree that Charlie’s take on physics isn’t very useful, but you may want to rephrase your position as well 😉.

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  19. Corneel,

    Not until I get a better explanation. My point was humans fall regularly into the trap of false dichotomy, of which right and wrong, hot and cold, good and bad are egregious examples. Are folks either rich or poor? There’s a lower limit of having literally nothing (OK being in debt but how do you collect from someone who possesses nothing) but Musk and Bezos aren’t hitting any limits so far.

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  20. As a kid, I was afraid of the dark. Then I decided it was just the absence of light and the bedside lamp stayed off. True story. 😳

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  21. Alan Fox: My point was humans fall regularly into the trap of false dichotomy, of which right and wrong, hot and cold, good and bad are egregious examples.

    I understood what your point was and I sympathize with it. But one does not resolve false dichotomies by reducing them even further. The fact that darkness, cold, poverty and health are not absolute concepts does not make them imaginary.

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  22. Corneel: I understood what your point was and I sympathize with it.But one does not resolve false dichotomies by reducing them even further. The fact that darkness, cold, poverty and health are not absolute concepts does not make them imaginary.

    I was not clear enough, sorry, and perhaps a little free with “imaginary” – it’s one of my favourite words. I admit to being seduced by the implicit dichotomy.

    The distinction I intended to make was between false binary options and scalable quantities. Darkness, cold, poverty and health can all be preceded by “the level of” or “the amount of”.

    0
  23. @ Corneel

    Would it be inaccurate to define (absolute) darkness as the absence of light?

    0
  24. The error of thought that I perceive (heh) is that of imbuing the absence/lack of heat/light/cash with an equivalence to the presence/abundance of heat/light/cash.
    There’s a linguistic equivalence between light and darkness that confuses many into thinking that there is some sort of physical equivalence. There is not.
    There is only (as described by the odious Scott Adams) “insufficient light”.
    I do have sympathy with the impression that ‘coldness’ is a thing: thanks to thermodynamics, heat sinks really do seem to have an agency and activity.

    0
  25. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Light is the reality, photons are purely mathematical entities.

    Photons are not “purely mathematical entities”. That would put them in the same category as sets, rings, groups, and other mathematical concepts.

    Well maybe I am exaggerating to make a point. In looking for fundamentals the usual habit is to dissect and divide until a limit is reached. For light this limit is the photon. If light was corpuscular then this is what would be expected but if it were wave like then there should be no limit to division.

    Scientists have indeed managed to produce single photons. But when they put single photons through a beam they still get interference patterns. As Paul Dirac said, “a photon interferes with itself”.

    So what is a photon?

    CharlieM: When I draw a triangle and ask my grandchildren to identify it they tell me that it is a triangle. They have no idea what a degree is, nor an acute, obtuse or any other angle. How do they recognise and know it to be a triangle without the concept of what a triangle is?

    Basic perceptual feature recognition doesn’t require concepts. A bat doesn’t need to know what an insect is in order to catch it and eat it.

    That’s true, it doesn’t. But my grandchildren do need to have the concept before they can communicate to me that they recognise it. And not only that but be able to draw one.

    CharlieM: Goethe did not want to set up an artificial experiment, he preferred to look at the light and let it show him how it behaved.

    That’s not science — that’s phenomenology.

    Well it’s true it’s not natural science based on materialism. It is a holistic Goethean science which doesn’t oppose but compliments natural science.

    Newton was looking at light under very specific conditions, Goethe wished to understand light under all imaginable conditions.

    CharlieM: . This is a good reason why some people prefer to be called physicalists and not materialists.

    Yes, though interestingly enough, that’s not why the term “physicalism” was invented. It was invented in the 1930s by philosophers interested in showing how to overcome metaphysics. They thought that the old metaphysical debate — is the fundamental nature of reality one in which Mind is reality and matter is appearance, or is Matter primary? — was a waste of time. To demonstrate this, they showed that any statement that could be understood in terms of sensory impressions could be translated into a statement about physical objects, and vice-versa. They used the term “physicalism” to describe the language that takes physical objects as primitive terms.

    Only much later did other people adopt the term “physicalism” to mean “an ontological commitment to fundamental physical stuff, including energy and space-time, and not just matter in the old 17th century sense”.

    Thanks for this brief lesson.

    0
  26. CharlieM:

    So what is a photon?

    My best understanding is that it’s a fluctuation in a quantum field. I invite others here to correct me if I’m not up to date on the relevant science.

    That’s true, it doesn’t. But my grandchildren do need to have the concept before they can communicate to me that they recognise it. And not only that but be able to draw one.

    I disagree with the assumption that grasping the concept is necessary in order to communicate to others that one has recognized it. On the contrary, I think that communicating to others the degree to which one has (or hasn’t) used the concept is part of the process of acquiring the concept, and thus grasping it. Conceptual understanding comes in degrees, and participating in interaction with competent users of the relevant concepts is crucial to the process of acquiring conceptual understanding. So conceptual understanding cannot be prior to those communicative contexts, including both successes and failures.

    Well it’s true it’s not natural science based on materialism. It is a holistic Goethean science which doesn’t oppose but compliments natural science.

    Newton was looking at light under very specific conditions, Goethe wished to understand light under all imaginable conditions.

    I think this quite confused.

    First, the converse of materialism is not holism but idealism, just as the converse of holism is not materialism but atomism. There’s no contradiction to having a holistic materialism as one’s metaphysics. That was Spinoza’s metaphysics, and for that matter, it is mine as well.

    Second, Goethe’s method did not generate usable models of underlying real capacities and dynamic tendencies of what we encounter within the world — which is to say that he just was not doing science at all. He was interested in bracketing or suspending all conceptual models in order to describe the experienced phenomena as precisely as he could.

    That is, no doubt, valuable and necessary intellectual labor — but it must not be confused with science. It’s phenomenology. I don’t mean that a criticism. I’ve read a lot of phenomenology, I teach it, and I’ve read some of the literature tracing phenomenology to Goethe. So I don’t mean to dismiss Goethe’s work by classifying it as phenomenology.

    But conflating science and phenomenology is just going to cause endless, hopeless confusion — because the basic task of phenomenology is to generate descriptions of what needs to be explained, and the basic task of science is to generate explanations. So conflating the two will confuse description and explanation, explanandum and explanans.

    0
  27. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: To give you an example; it doesn’t matter how clear the water is, if it is deep enough it will appear blue. No matter how translucent matter is it will attenuate the light to some degree.

    To give me an example of whut?

    Of colour being produced by the attenuation of light by matter.

    You are massacring the meaning of “darkens”. Light (that is visible to us humans) is electromagnetic radiation that impinges on our retina triggering nerve impulses that our brain interprets as vision. But no light, no triggering of photoreceptive cells. There is no darkness, just lack of light. It’s just a matter of how much light and what wavelengths reach the retina. Darkness is imaginary.

    Similarly, there’s no “cold”; it’s just the absence of heat. Heat energy goes from zero to millions of degrees and presumably without physical limit. Light goes from zero to bright enough to instantly vapourize you and beyond.

    Do you think that zero point energy is imaginary?

    Regarding hot and cold the polarity lies, not in any individual measurement of temperature, but in the changes taking place. Put your hand into water at 20 degrees Celsius and you will feel it cooling down. Heat will be transferred from your hand to the water. Put your hand into water at 60 degrees Celsius and you will feel it heating up. Heat will be transferred from the water to your hand.

    And it’s the same with light. In a lit room with dimmer switch, the switch can be turned in one direction to brighten the room and in the opposite direction to darken the room. The polarity is dynamic.

    0
  28. DNA_Jock:

    CharlieM: Wavelengths are not colours. Light needs to be darkened to varying degrees to produce colour.

    CharlieM: Light is the reality, photons are purely mathematical entities.

    CharlieM: So your experience of neurons is through concepts and not direct sense experience.

    CharlieM: To give you an example; it doesn’t matter how clear the water is, if it is deep enough it will appear blue.

    CharlieM: Our direct experience of neurons cannot be sense experience.

    I don’t ignore you Charlie, I love you just the way you are

    Stop it! You’ll make me blush. 🙂

    0
  29. Alan Fox to Cornee:
    Corneel,

    Not until I get a better explanation. My point was humans fall regularly into the trap of false dichotomy, of which right and wrong, hot and cold, good and bad are egregious examples. Are folks either rich or poor? There’s a lower limit of having literally nothing (OK being in debt but how do you collect from someone who possesses nothing) but Musk and Bezos aren’t hitting any limits so far.

    For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. Many people start their marriage in a particular condition and life can take them in opposite directions. This is the polarity.

    0
  30. Alan Fox to Corneel:

    Corneel: I understood what your point was and I sympathize with it.But one does not resolve false dichotomies by reducing them even further. The fact that darkness, cold, poverty and health are not absolute concepts does not make them imaginary.

    I was not clear enough, sorry, and perhaps a little free with “imaginary” – it’s one of my favourite words. I admit to being seduced by the implicit dichotomy.

    The distinction I intended to make was between false binary options and scalable quantities. Darkness, cold, poverty and health can all be preceded by “the level of” or “the amount of”.

    And of course “level of” and” amount of” can go in opposite directions.

    Mind you when I think about wealth, in my case it only goes in one direction, from mine to the “kids”. But on thinking about it even this has a dichotomy. My bank account is shrinking while their account is expanding. 🙂

    0
  31. Alan Fox: Would it be inaccurate to define (absolute) darkness as the absence of light?

    No, but neither would it be wildly inaccurate to define light as the absence of darkness (and look, this is exactly what Charlie does). That is perfectly fine, IMO.

    As Jock correctly remarks it only becomes an issue if one insists that the former falls short as an accurate description of the underlying physics.

    0
  32. Corneel: and look, this is exactly what Charlie does

    if you are referring to this:

    And it’s the same with light. In a lit room with dimmer switch, the switch can be turned in one direction to brighten the room and in the opposite direction to darken the room. The polarity is dynamic.

    I am defeated in that there is so much not even wrong here I don’t know where to start.

    What does a dimmer switch do but vary the energy supplied to the device that converts electrical energy into light energy. There’s no “darkening” a room, just varying the light level. What’s the word “polarity” doing there?

    0
  33. DNA_Jock: There’s a linguistic equivalence between light and darkness that confuses many into thinking that there is some sort of physical equivalence.

    This is exactly my point put more eloquently, Corneel.

    0
  34. Corneel: …neither would it be wildly inaccurate to define light as the absence of darkness…

    Don’t agree with this. “Switch the light on” works much better in English than “switch on the absence of darkness”! 😉

    0
  35. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM:

    So what is a photon?

    My best understanding is that it’s a fluctuation in a quantum field. I invite others here to correct me if I’m not up to date on the relevant science.

    What do you know about quantum fields apart from mathematics?

    That’s true, it doesn’t. But my grandchildren do need to have the concept before they can communicate to me that they recognise it. And not only that but be able to draw one.

    I disagree with the assumption that grasping the concept is necessary in order to communicate to others that one has recognized it. On the contrary, I think that communicating to others the degree to which one has (or hasn’t) used the concept is part of the process of acquiring the concept, and thus grasping it.

    You mean I could not acquire the concept of a dodecahedron without first communicating to other people what I think I know about dodecahedrons?

    Conceptual understanding comes in degrees, and participating in interaction with competent users of the relevant concepts is crucial to the process of acquiring conceptual understanding. So conceptual understanding cannot be prior to those communicative contexts, including both successes and failures.

    Yes but does there always have to be two way communication? All concepts are not equal in complexity and ease of understanding. Do you think that the concepts “triangle” and “quantum field” are on a par?

    Well it’s true it’s not natural science based on materialism. It is a holistic Goethean science which doesn’t oppose but compliments natural science.

    Newton was looking at light under very specific conditions, Goethe wished to understand light under all imaginable conditions.

    I think this quite confused.

    First, the converse of materialism is not holism but idealism, just as the converse of holism is not materialism but atomism. There’s no contradiction to having a holistic materialism as one’s metaphysics. That was Spinoza’s metaphysics, and for that matter, it is mine as well.

    I am talking about modern science which is largely based on, and developed from materialistic reductionism. Matter has been subject to division to the smallest possible parts in the search for its fundamental nature.

    Second, Goethe’s method did not generate usable models of underlying real capacities and dynamic tendencies of what we encounter within the world — which is to say that he just was not doing science at all. He was interested in bracketing or suspending all conceptual models in order to describe the experienced phenomena as precisely as he could.

    True he wasn’t looking for models which would represent nature, he was looking at life. He preferred to concentrate on living nature rather than lifeless models.

    That is, no doubt, valuable and necessary intellectual labor — but it must not be confused with science. It’s phenomenology. I don’t mean that a criticism. I’ve read a lot of phenomenology, I teach it, and I’ve read some of the literature tracing phenomenology to Goethe. So I don’t mean to dismiss Goethe’s work by classifying it as phenomenology.

    I understand that, but I think the concept of science should be much broader than it is usually taken to be.

    But conflating science and phenomenology is just going to cause endless, hopeless confusion — because the basic task of phenomenology is to generate descriptions of what needs to be explained, and the basic task of science is to generate explanations. So conflating the two will confuse description and explanation, explanandum and explanans.

    Goethean science does not just describe, it explains.

    From Wikipedia

    In his 1792 essay “The experiment as mediator between subject and object”, Goethe developed an original philosophy of science, which he used in his research. The essay underscores his experiential standpoint. “The human being himself, to the extent he makes sound use of his senses, is the most exact physical apparatus that can exist.”

    While the fixed Linnaean system, like classical physics, its distinctions broke down increasingly at the border, reflected in the increasing confusion as to how to classify the growing number of plant forms being brought forward. This led to greater division rather than greater unity. Goethe’s discovery of an underlying order directly challenged the fixed, static view of nature of the Linnaean taxonomy (based on artificial types arrived at by choosing certain features and ignoring others), but also the tendency of natural science to study vital nature by means of the methodology used on inert nature (physics, chemistry).

    The Cartesian-Newtonian method presupposes separation between observer and observed. Goethe considered this a barrier. As Wellmon observes, Goethe’s concept of science is one in which “not only the object of observation changes and moves but also the subject of observation.” Thus, a true science of vital nature would be based on an approach that was itself vital, dynamic, labile. The key for this is a living, direct, interactive experience (Erlebnis) involving the mind, but also higher faculties more participatory and Imaginative (Gemüt), not dissociative and separative (Sinn)

    It is becoming more apparent that the people doing the experiments cannot be totally excluded from the objects under examination and test. They must be factored in.

    0
  36. Alan Fox to Corneel:

    Corneel: and look, this is exactly what Charlie does

    if you are referring to this:

    And it’s the same with light. In a lit room with dimmer switch, the switch can be turned in one direction to brighten the room and in the opposite direction to darken the room. The polarity is dynamic.

    I am defeated in that there is so much not even wrong here I don’t know where to start.

    What does a dimmer switch do but vary the energy supplied to the device that converts electrical energy into light energy. There’s no “darkening” a room, just varying the light level. What’s the word “polarity” doing there

    The polarities of maximum/minimum, increasing/decreasing, bright/dark.

    You speak about light energy, do you believe there is such a thing as dark energy?

    0
  37. Alan Fox to Corneel:

    Corneel: …neither would it be wildly inaccurate to define light as the absence of darkness…

    Don’t agree with this. “Switch the light on” works much better in English than “switch on the absence of darkness”!

    Would you say that, as to how my mind works, you are in the “absence of light”? 🙂

    0
  38. CharlieM: I am talking about modern science which is largely based on, and developed from materialistic reductionism.

    Rubbish. Doing science is about observing, measuring and hypothesising about real phenomena. You can’t do science with stuff that leaves no imprint of its existence. Ah, that reminds me of a disagreement I had with keiths regarding whether doing research on paranormal “phenomena” was science. From memory, his argument was that you shouldn’t limit scientific research, nothing is off the table. My point was that any phenomenon that is detectable is consequently established as part of reality.

    0
  39. CharlieM: Would you say that, as to how my mind works, you are in the “absence of light”?

    I’d rather say we are two people divided by a common language. Seriously, I think you are swayed by the emotional power of your own words. That’s why I’ve remarked you should try writing poetry.

    +1
  40. CharlieM: You speak about light energy, do you believe there is such a thing as dark energy?

    Dark energy is a good example. Does it exist? Is the fact the Universe is expanding at an accelerating rate enough to demonstrate that dark energy is real? Could there turn out to be another, better explanation? Above my pay grade.

    0
  41. CharlieM:
    What do you know about quantum fields apart from mathematics?

    Quantum fields can be described with mathematics, but they aren’t purely mathematical structures. The structures of pure mathematics, like sets and groups, don’t have any causal powers. Quantum fields do. (In fact, it is very likely that our best scientific explanation of what a causal power is is that it is a quantum field.)

    .

    You mean I could not acquire the concept of a dodecahedron without first communicating to other people what I think I know about dodecahedrons?

    Of course not — my point was that acquiring a concept and communicating with other people are a dialectical or interactive process, with neither having priority over the other.

    I am talking about modern science which is largely based on, and developed from materialistic reductionism. Matter has been subject to division to the smallest possible parts in the search for its fundamental nature.

    I don’t think that’s an accurate description of modern science. Materialism and reductionism have been controversial from the beginning of the Scientific Revolution, and while the search for the most fundamental constituents of physical objects is indeed one research program in physics, it doesn’t describe the whole of physics, and certainly not the whole of science.

    True he wasn’t looking for models which would represent nature, he was looking at life. He preferred to concentrate on living nature rather than lifeless models.

    Then he just was not doing science at all. What he was doing was a good thing but it’s not science.

    I understand that, but I think the concept of science should be much broader than it is usually taken to be.

    If you insist on using words in your own ways, by all means — but then don’t complain when no one understands you.

    It is becoming more apparent that the people doing the experiments cannot be totally excluded from the objects under examination and test. They must be factored in.

    Certainly, but the way to do scientifically is by incorporating that information into the testable model that we’re constructing and evaluating.

    +1
  42. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: I am talking about modern science which is largely based on, and developed from materialistic reductionism.

    Rubbish. Doing science is about observing, measuring and hypothesising about real phenomena. You can’t do science with stuff that leaves no imprint of its existence. Ah, that reminds me of a disagreement I had with keiths regarding whether doing research on paranormal “phenomena” was science. From memory, his argument was that you shouldn’t limit scientific research, nothing is off the table. My point was that any phenomenon that is detectable is consequently established as part of reality.

    Are measuring, numbering and weighing necessities of science? Do fundamentals necessarily reside in the smallest parts such as sub-atomic particles and genes? Why are groups of animals divided into species because of the most meagre differences? If there was evidence that planetary motions correlated to earthly events and processes would you consider that as science?

    0
  43. CharlieM: Are measuring, numbering and weighing necessities of science?

    The first step is poking a metaphorical finger (especially important to use only a metaphorical finger when pointing at venomous snakes) at some phenomenon and thinking “that’s interesting”. The rest follows.

    0
  44. CharlieM: Do fundamentals necessarily reside in the smallest parts such as sub-atomic particles and genes?

    Are we rendered human by our molecules and their energies? Yes. Is that reductionist? No. We emerge.

    0
  45. CharlieM: Why are groups of animals divided into species because of the most meagre differences?

    Whoever wrote Genesis (or the bit about kinds) is an early record of how humans categorise other species. Evolutionary biology is a different approach in modelling what we observe. Apparently small differences in phenotype can disguise distant genetic relationships and vice versa. The basic concept of a breeding population as a species is pretty simple.

    0
  46. CharlieM: If there was evidence that planetary motions correlated to earthly events and processes would you consider that as science?

    If your granny had balls would she be your grandad? And, no, seriously. It might be the start of a scientific study to establish whether phenomenon A were dependent on phenomenon B. There is a correlation between the number of pirates and global warming, apparently.

    0
  47. CharlieM: Are measuring, numbering and weighing necessities of science?

    Probably not, but it’s difficult to gather data without them.

    Do fundamentals necessarily reside in the smallest parts such as sub-atomic particles and genes?

    Ladyman and Ross (Every Thing Must Go) rocked my world when it comes to “fundamental physics.” They argue that fundamental physics is defined entirely in methodological terms: a theory belongs to fundamental physics if any measurement taken anywhere in all of time and space could confirm or disconfirm a hypothesis entailed by that theory.

    Nothing in there about smallnesss — it’s about the fact that any measurement taken anywhere in all of cosmic history could count for or against a hypothesis of quantum mechanics or general relativity, whereas when it comes to theories of biology or economics, there are tiny slivers of the universe at which the relevant measurements could be taken (namely, those parts of the universe that include organisms or markets).

    Why are groups of animals divided into species because of the most meagre differences?

    That’s not why animals are divided into species: animals (and plants, fungi, etc.) are divided into species based on reproductive success within a population.

    If there was evidence that planetary motions correlated to earthly events and processes would you consider that as science?

    If there were evidence that confirmed a model of the causal influences between planetary motions and earthly events, which demonstrated those influences were wholly independent of people’s beliefs, biases, and expectations, then yes, it would count as a scientific theory.

    +1

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