Platonism in modern science (was Re: Genealogy of Specious Dualisms)

Gordon Fitch gcf at
Mon Apr 3 07:45:31 PDT 2000

> >> There is no such as a brick. What exists intrinsically is molecules and
> >> electromagnetic bonds. The "brick" exists only insofar as we imagine
> this
> >> set of molecules to be a "brick." There is no "brickness" in the world.

> >On the contrary, molecules and electromagnetic bonds are, like
> >bricks, human mental constructions _as_far_as_we_know_. That
> >is, they are organizations of phenomena. In any case, even
> >if they were really real, if you were to dissolve a brick into
> >its component molecules and the energy of its bonds, I'm pretty
> >sure you would find something was now missing from your world
> >that was suspiciously like an instance of brickness. That
> >is, the _form_ of the brick would have disappeared, even though
> >its material and energetic "substances" remained. Where did
> >it go? Maybe home to the Empyrean, eh?

> Yes, the form of the brick would disappear, except that it wasn't a brick in
> the first place. "Brick" is in our minds. You're right, though, that this
> also applies to "molecules." However, this does not apply to anything whose
> form arises organically. So, for instance, a spider is actually a spider
> (regardless of what we call it.) Spiderness exists in the world. This
> applies to at least two other things as well-- hydrogen atoms and galaxies.
> There doesn't seem to be any physical cause for the existence of these
> things, both of which appeared spontaneously about 300,000 years after the
> "Big Bang." Once the hydrogen atom appeared, all the matter of the universe
> got swept up into this micro-form, while at the macro level, everything
> became galaxies. We see this phenomenon all the time with crystals. There
> are many kinds of crystals, and if you try to manufacture a totally new
> type, it's very hard. But once the new type has been established, the
> process of making more crystals of that type gets progressively easier.
> Though the crystal is not alive, its form tends to arise organically. Just
> goes to show that there's no absolute distinction between living and
> nonliving things.

Everything you're describing is still a construal of phenomena. What we're guessing, in the case of the spider, is that the spider has some notion of itself (it acts to preserve its bodily integrity, it reproduces itself, and so on). In other words, the spider exhibits an appearance of consciousness of some sort, so that our construal of a spider-phenomenon may correspond to a spider's construal of about the same thing. In the case of the phenomena which lead us to say "brick" or "molecule", we can't make even this guess, although clearly there are some categories of experience more associated with brickness than others. This is what I mean by saying consciousness is what is real. (It is curious that it has been turned into an epiphenomenon, whereas matter, which has less of a reality certificate, is held to underlie it. Given the attributes we assign to both, it would be much likely to suppose that mind produces matter than the other way around. But I digress.)

> >The process could be repeated with the alleged molecules and
> >energy, probably, breaking them down into quarks or strings,
> >so that the molecules too would disappear. Things seem to be
> >a piling-up of forms within forms. And as the Buddhist mantra
> >goes, "The form is empty; empty is the form."
> >
> This is from the Heart Sutra. The theme of this sutra is that reality is
> other than the way we think of it. "Form" means the forms that we project
> onto everything.

It seems un-Buddhistic to suppose that there _is_ anything for the forms to be projected upon.

> >And yet everyone knows what a brick is, and can call to mind
> >the shape and weight and texture of one held in the hand.
> >
> There's an old Zen koan in which two students come upon a stone and begin
> arguing over whether it exists in their minds or in the world. They ask the
> Zen master which one is correct. The master answers by knocking them both
> in the head with the stone.

Zen proceeds by rejecting rhetoric, which can be a useful exercise, but thorough adoption of the practice would would leave us with nothing to say in this mailing list. Even a single _mu_ would be an excess.


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