09 April 2007

Philosophy post 3: METAPHYSICS

On to the third major field of philosophy: Metaphysics. Metaphysics, according to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, is “The science of the principles and causes of all things existing; hence, the science of mind or intelligence. This science comprehends ontology, or the science which treats of the nature, essence, and qualities or attributes of beings; cosmology, the sciences of the worlds, which treats of the nature and laws of matter and of motions; anthroposophy, which treats of the powers of man, and the motions by which life is produced; psychology, which treats of the intellectual soul; pneumatology, or the science of spirits or angels, etc.” It also may include discussions of “the existence of God, his essence and attributes.” Webster goes on to say that these divisions are not really in current usage, and that metaphysics tends to deal with immaterial existences. Here’s a more modern, manageable series of definitions from
- The branch of philosophy that treats of first principles, includes ontology and cosmology, and is intimately connected with epistemology.
- The branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, substance and attribute, fact and value.
- The philosophical study of being and knowing.
- The field in philosophy that studies ultimate questions, such as whether every event has a cause and what things are genuinely real.

Here are three overarching questions for the week:

1. What is this world made of?
2. What else exists outside or besides this physical universe (that we experience with our senses) and which is apprehended by something other than our senses?
3. Does this material realm really exist, and in what way(s)?

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book/story in which this world was not all there was? Maybe the protagonist found him/herself in a parallel universe, in a spiritual realm, in another time (and is that really another world??), in an imaginary location, etc. Did you ever consider if these places were theoretically or actually possible? Did you ever wonder why our imaginations long to jump outside of our earthly existence, and if this might be a proof of other worlds?

Philosophy students: Please post a response to at least two of the following questions/discussions. Be thorough: when responding to one of the points below, respond to every query, not just one. Add other thoughts as well as they come to you. It’s a good idea to browse some of the recommended websites on your syllabus to get ideas. Others besides students are, of course, more than welcome to join the conversation.

1. Think of a book or movie that presents another world besides this terrestrial existence. The Matrix is off limits, since we’re using that as our in-class example. Describe the following: a) the ways in which that world differs from ours; b) the ways in which it resembles ours; c) how the character(s) get there; d) how the character(s) perceive/interact with/effect that world; e) whether/how much they remember it if and when they return to this realm; and f) if/how much/in what ways that world has an effect on or an interaction with this one.

2. Describe Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in your own words. Explain what each level symbolizes or represents. Compare this story to either The Matrix or Narnia: The Silver Chair or another work of fiction. Talk about what elements of these stories might be true. How does our world exist, and how do you know it does? What does it even mean to exist?

3. Explain what your personal beliefs are about metaphysical realities. What else exists, besides things you can see, smell, taste, touch, and hear? How do you apprehend these objects/beings/entities? How do you know they exist? In what sense do they exist? Do you think you could get to them/go there/experience them? How? When? Are these beliefs all parts of your religious creed, or do you have any other metaphysical beliefs or speculations?

While I am not including questions about them, there are other aspects of metaphysics that I would love to see discussed here, such as:
- Is there an entity which has an eternal, self-sufficient existence? What/Who? How?
- How did this physical world come into being? What/Who did it come from?
- What is this world made of, ultimately or fundamentally? [Louisa, would you grace us with a little bit of physics here if you have a moment?]
- Does man have an eternal soul or some other kind of eternal existence? If so, is that existence also eternal back into the past, or only on into the future?
- What does it mean to be? What is the relationship between being and becoming?
- What is the relationship of the Arts to Metaphysics? Is it part of the job of artists to try to depict realities beyond the physical? How can they even attempt such a task? Also, in what sense does a work of art exist, and in what sense do its qualities exist?


Iambic Admonit said...

Please read these two excellent postings about Epistemology on Jamie Kiley's blog:

The Epistemological Role of Love

We Are What We Behold

RawkChick said...

to answer question #1:

in C.S. Lewis' book, Perelandra (i think thats the one), Dr. Ransom finds himself on an island on another planet.

a) the world differs in that the planet's land formations are solely islands that have the ability to move. except for one. but the inhabitants of the island can't stay on the island overnight. kind of like the tree of good and evil. the unmoving island kind of shows hows Christ is a "firm foundation", "the rock", "unchanging" and so on. Whereas everything around Him is "sinking sand". my mom had a really good insight, and this is part of it, but it was a while ago so she can't quite remeber it fully. :(

b) one similarity is that both planets have/had an Adam and Eve. The king and queen on the planet were the Adam and Eve figures in Perelandra. Perelandra is the unfallen version of Earth. they also share the same sun! haha. i got a little help w/ this from the former sr. high leader at my church. thank you D!

c) Ransom got to this planet in a coffin thingy flown by the Eldila, "angels" that live in space and travel from planet to planet

d) Ransom interacts w/ a woman who is Venus' version of Eve, and she acts as a type of guide, showing him the island, teaching him the ways the inhabitants live. there are also dolphin type animals who act as "taxis", taking them to the different islands

to answer question #3:

i do believe that God is real, although since i can't see, feel, or touch him. it has to rely on faith. i know God exists "becasue the Bible tells me so". but that still relys on faith, since some people say, "well how can you know the Bible is true?" i also think it's easier for me to believe in the Bible since i grew up in the church. but people who were introduced to God and the Bible later in life, say in college or even later can have a hard time believing. i think it may be kind of hard to believe in extra-terrestrial life, since Earth is in the perfect place-not too close, not too far. even thought htere may as well be beings who can live with ihotter or colder climates, i almost find it hard ot believe. if a human being ever goes to, say, Mars, and there ARE beings, we have no idea how they would react ot us. they could be friendly, or they could be the exact opposite. i think Christians could have different ideas, as long as they aren't being hypocrites or mis-interpreting the Bible.

ok-im not sure if that last part made any sense at all, but i tried to make it make sense!

cinderella said...


In answer to question 3 I believe that there is a God that exists. I personally have not experienced him with my senses particularly. I have seen him do miracles and work in my life but I haven’t actually seen him. I think you were talking about this is class about how you do sense God but in a totally different way that its almost as a sixth sense. I know he exists because the Bible told me so and also that’s how I was brought up and from personal experiences. Believing in God does rely a lot on faith. I don’t think someone could have just randomly made up “God” being there. He has always been there and we have proof through his word. After all the scientific and historical tests that go through making sure old books are accurate the Bible was the most accurate. So we can know that he really exists.

I don’t think I really quite got what I was trying to say.

I’ll see if I can answer another question after class.

See ya!

Darlin' said...

Hey Mrs. H.

“1. Think of a book or movie that presents another world besides this terrestrial existence. The Matrix is off limits, since we’re using that as our in-class example. Describe the following: a) the ways in which that world differs from ours; b) the ways in which it resembles ours; c) how the character(s) get there; d) how the character(s) perceive/interact with/effect that world; e) whether/how much they remember it if and when they return to this realm; and f) if/how much/in what ways that world has an effect on or an interaction with this one.”

I have never actually seen the Matrix… but the first book that came to mind was Mort by Terry Prachett. In this book a whole new world is introduced called “the Disc world.”
This world was created by Death. It looks very much like our own, except it is all just a copy. Whatever Death created was from what he had seen elsewhere (our world) and everything was some shade of black. Something passed, but it wasn’t time. Death could not create time. So no one there got any older, or younger for that matter…
To get there…well, one character got there using magic to avoid being killed by Death. The others Death himself, brought there. He had a horse named Binky, which took them from their world to ours.
When not in disc world they could remember it just fine. The only one who was changed in that world was Mort, but that is not because of the world itself…but rather he was becoming Death… ha.
The Disc world, in this book is where everyone’s time-glass and biographies so to say were kept. It was the way the world kept going…
Okay…so that is the only example that I can think of at this moment, other than more obvious ones.

I would really love to try and answer other of the listed questions this blog but I haven’t the time… I will be sure to write more next time!

See you tomarrow!

Nick said...

I do believe God exists without sensing him. Not just because it was what I was raised to believe, but because of personal experiences. All this year I've studied Biology which has proven God's existence over and over. I guess that would be like Inductive Reasoning, because I see the world around me and its complexity's, and realize that there must be a God...But that's a whole other rabbit trail.
But I think I can compare that to history as well. How do we know there was a Roman Empire if there isn't anyone alive today that saw it? Well we can see it's mark all over Europe with the building they built. So we can see God's existence even though we can sense him

Andrew said...

Calling on #3
i believe we all have a sixth sense weather we all use it is a different story. i think it is our connection between our world and either heaven or hell. now i think it does depend and you can go to either side. Obviously to have it with God you accept him into your life allowing you to "walk and talk with him". but if you give your life to Satan i believe he controls you possibly demon possession. now either one could be considered a sixth sense for it is almost telepathic communication. I do not know things exist for i feel them but i am not satisfied with them so if i can not fulfill hunger how do i know i ate. i suppose belief is the only way to truly know that things exist.

Pere Grin said...

Question 1

A book (and movie) that presents another world besides this terrestrial existence is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

a) This world differs from our one in many ways. To give a short list of the major differences would be: the world has talking animals, it is inhabited by mythical creatures such as fawns, and in this other world there is magic. According to the movie in this new world it is also possible for waterfalls to freeze while in motion.

b) Except for the differences listed above, Narnia is very much like our world. Both seem to have the same amount of gravity, the same physical laws, and both of them look close to the same with grass, trees, flowers, mountains, and other geological formations such as these.

c) The characters get to Narnia by entering a wardrobe and finding the entrance to another world in the back of it.

d) The characters interact with the people of the new world by talking to them. The characters behave like normal in relation to the other world. The same physical laws still seem to apply in most circumstances. The characters walk around the new world on their own two feet.

e) The characters remember all their experiences when they return to this world. They are changed by their experiences and are different people and most of them never forget what happened to them in the other world.

f) Narnia and this world do not seem to affect each other very much. I suppose you could call the effect that Narnia made on the children’s lives and what effect they made on this world an interaction between the worlds, but it seems that this would be stretching the logic a little thin. There was only one occasion of which I can think where the two worlds touched but that was in The Silver Chair and not The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In that story the ex-king of Narnia aids two of the children that visited to defeat some bullies in this world. Other then that, the worlds seem to stay pretty independent of each other.

Question 3

I believe that there are other entities outside the realm of the senses. I believe that angels and demons to exist. They are not able to be apprehended by the senses but take a spiritual aspect to perceive. One would only be able to “feel” these entities if one had already accepted that they might exist. If one does not believe in spiritual creations and experiences and does not accept that there could be such an aspect to life then it is impossible to experience them. This is because there will always be another explanation other then the spiritual that is able to explain what happened. One can know if there are other entities that exist outside of this reality if one accepts that there is such a possibility. These beings exist in the spiritual sense and cannot be sensed with any of the five senses. Except, I believe that angels and demons are able to “disguise” themselves as human beings and are thus able to be interacted with. Pillar does a song called “Angels in Disguise” which is about how different people have their own “personal” angels. These angels are really just regular people. There are a few people that I would call my “angels in disguise”. Other then that, I believe that spiritual beings are outside the sensory realm until one dies. Then I believe that one will experience either angels or demons whether one likes it or not. These beliefs are not necessarily part of my religious creed, they are just my personal beliefs about this topic. To me they make the most sense because they provide the easiest explanation of how and why different things happen.

Andrew said...

hey sorry this is last minute, we had off a few days and such so my week's been a little screwed up.. anyways...
ok, so ill start with number 2 and go from there.

In Plato's Cave, there are prisoners kept with their faces towards the wall. There is a fire in the center of the cave, from which the captors (or "puppet handlers") cast shadows on the cave wall. this wall is all the prisoners have ever seen, as they are bound in a way that prevents them from looking around. These prisoner would accept these shadows as reality, as they have seen only them for all their lives.
However, plato supposes one man is set free from his bonds and sees the fire and the puppet handlers. this man would be extremely shocked at this dicovery that all he has ever known was a shadow or illusion. After the prisoner gets accustomed to the fact that he has been living in a cave, watching shadows all his life, and accepted them as reality, he is led out of the cave. Outside the cave he is shown even more and finds out what really is reality.. (?)

In The Matrix, Thomas A. Anderson (aka Neo) is shown living his life in reality as he knows it. He is set free from these bonds by Morpheus (sp?). He wakes up in a collective that he has been growing in for all his life and therefore sees the reality that has been casting the shadows.
After recovering aboard Morpheus' ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, he begins to accept the world as he knows it, as did the prisoner. Soon however, he begins to learn more about both the real world and the Matrix. this is like the prisoner being led out of the cave into the sunlight. They both are hesitent, and even resistant, but in the end, they both realize the full truth. In Neo's case, this would be when he effectively defeats the Matrix' hold on him completely, by coming back to life, and destroying Agent Smith...

Ash said...

Question 3: I believe there is a whole Spiritual realm outside of our terrestrial world. A realm many believe we cannot see, hear, touch or taste. But I wonder. I know that God is in Heaven, and we can't presently touch His physical body. Does that mean we can't touch God? God is everywhere, and involved in everything. I have to wonder if when we feel lonely, and at the end of our rope, and when that one person calls or talks to us, that person who encourages you, and reminds you of your value and worth. That person reminds you that you really are loved. I have to wonder if that person is always 100% human. Obviously i'm not talking about aliens here. Is it possibly that that is God speaking to you at that moment. When you surrender your life to God the Holy Spirit fills that void inside you. I believe that there is an outer realm, that is in so many ways connected and involved with ours.

Sarah said...

1. well, i can't really think of a book that deals with another world exactly, other then the narnia books, all of those deals with that, but the closest thing I can think of is The Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix.

a)The world in the book, well, its not really a world, it's the House, the center of the universe, and the main character, Arthur, goes there. It's different because, well, time is different there, everyone in the book that lives there always says that time runs true in the house and meanders(i have no idea if thats the right word) elsewhere. Also, they're means of transportation are different, they use wings, and weird elevators that look like shafts of light from the outside and can sometimes take years to get up them, depending on how well they're working. Oh, and the Denizens of the House, who pretty much live forever unless they're killed which is really hard to do are different from the people in our world. Higher up denizens are usually very tall, about 7 feet maybe, and very good looking, and none of the denizens need to eat, they just do it because its the fashion...they also like tea...

b) The House is similar in some ways because they have places simalr to places we have, not actually places, but they have oceans and cities and things like that. And the Denizens don't look that much different, except for being very tall, they pretty much act the same way humans do.

c)Well, Arthur gets there through the Front Door..or Monday's Postern, or the Seven I'm assuming there are numerous ways to get in and out of the house, Arthur just hasn't used them all yet.

d)Well, when things from the House come to the really world, only some people could see them, like only Arthur and his two new friends could see these creatures that had been sent there, and only Arthur could clearly see Monday's Noon(bad guy ^_^) he was kind of fuzzy when the library lady looked at him. Now in the House, Arthur can react with everything in there just as he would in his world, actually, in the House, Arthur's asthma doesn't bother him at all.

e)When the characters leave the House...which is only Arthur and one of his friends that got captured in the third book, leave they can remeber everthing that happened in the House, and things that happend to the, like an injury, are still there in there own world. like when arthur broke his legin one of the books and when he got home it was still broken.

e) Well, anything from the House prety much have a bad effect on anything from Arthur's world, because of Mister Monday's interference and sending the Fetchers(weird Nithling creatures from the house, made of Nothing) caused this disese that made everyone fall asleep and no one could wake up,also, the Will is always telling Arthur that once if he becomes a denizen he can't go back because bad things will happen.

Louisa said...

Sorina asked us to think about: What is this world made of, ultimately or fundamentally?

here's my short answer, since the answer turned out so long:

Long ago, Democritus said: the world is made of Atoms & the Void.

But atoms & the void have lost their independent existence.

These days, quantum physics suggests answers like:
The world is made of energy.
The world is made of information.
The world is made of correlations.

here's my long answer:
For millennia, physicists have been calling the smallest piece of any given element an “atom,” meaning INDIVISIBLE. But in the late nineteenth century it began to appear that all atoms themselves were made of a few common materials. You can build a Lego house with only one kind of building block, you can write a message in Morse code with only two kinds of symbols, and you can construct the hundred-odd elements of which the world (and we) consist from architectural arrangements of only three kinds of particles. Gold and oxygen, lead and helium, arsenic and calcium--they are all made of the same three things: electrons, protons, and neutrons. In itself, an amazing discovery.

The protons & neutrons together make up the nucleus, which is a hundred thousand times smaller than the atom as a whole. The electron is even tinier. The atom--and thus you and everything that is built from atoms--is mostly as empty as the skies.

Meanwhile Einstein showed that space and time are not independent & eternal but are all part of one thing, which we now call spacetime (special relativity, 1905). Then in General Relativity (1916), he showed that space--emptiness--is affected by what is in it. Spacetime is bent by matter.

But it gets weirder and more amazing. In 1928, Dirac discovered that light could spontaneously become a particle of matter and a particle of antimatter--for example, an electron and a positron. Matter is spontaneously created out of light. It happens all the time and it can go the other way too: if a electron finds a positron, they will "annihilate" each other in a burst of light--matter becomes light.

This all goes to verify Einstein's famous statement of 1905 that matter and energy are different forms of the same thing (E = m c^2).

Similarly, when the huge accelerators send sub-atomic particles crashing at each other, where you might expect "fragments" of broken particles, instead you find a host of NEW particles, far more and bigger than could fit inside the supposedly smashed particle. Matter is created out of the energy of the collision.

So... what is the world made of? "atoms" are not the final answer, and neither, really, are "elementary particles," which can endlessly be turned into each other or created out of energy. (So we don't even need to go into quarks, which are the constituents of neutrons and protons!)
Maybe "energy" is an answer.

But it can't be the whole answer, because one of the facts of quantum mechanics is that things seem to be changed by, or to depend on, observation. Now, on what that means, or if it means anything, there almost as many perspectives as there are quantum physicists. But the fact is that our most fundamental theory of "what the world is made of" has this feature, that it seems to say that matter on the atomic scale instantly reacts to being observed.

Many of the new wave of physicists who are interested in information theory would say that INFORMATION is what the world is created out of. Their motto is "IT FROM BIT" ("it," as in "i saw it. it was right there" and "bit" being the smallest piece of information, 1 or 0). I wish i could explain this whole point of view, but i can only mention it for the interested mind.

Finally, other physicists have, in wrestling with quantum mechanics, come to the conclusion that the most fundamental thing about the world is CORRELATION--that correlations between objects are more fundamental than the "objects" themselves, which change when they are observed, etc. The most dramatic correlation of quantum physics is the phenomenon of entanglement, where a particle that has once interacted with another particle, no matter how far they ultimately separate, acts as if it is responding to measurements done on its faraway "friend."

You can see why people begin to think religion and quantum physics have something to say to each other, and i definitely caught echos of quantum physics in the two beautiful posts on "the epistemological role of love" and "we are what we behold." Not to mention the world beginning with "LET THERE BE LIGHT," or "IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD."
A disclaimer, though: it always seems to be a mistake to tie religion down to science, because science will always change.