A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Friday, July 11, 2014

In Psearch of Psyche: Some Groundwork

A Psience in Psearch of a Psubject

Psyche retrieving a bit of Persephone's
beauty from the underworld.
Paul Alfred de Curzon, (c.1840-1859)
Psychology means "λόγος of the ψυχή," which is to say 'science of the soul.' Since many Late Moderns are too way kool and sophisticated to believe in soul, they aver that psychology is a science without a subject matter and have turned in their diplomas.

Ho ho. TOF jests. No self-respecting scientificalistic labcoater will ever admit that he spends his time studying something that does not exist.  Well, except for string theorists and exobiologists. But this raises an important puzzle.  If psychologists are not studying psyches, then what in blue blazes are they studying?

It depends on whom you ask. One school "restricts itself to consciousness and its immediate data."  Another focuses on human behavior and rules out any mention of consciousness. And so, "having lost its soul, its mind, and its consciousness, in that order, psychology is now in danger of losing its scientific standing." (Brennan, Thomistic Psychology).

You won't find such debates among "schools" of physicists or chemists. Physicists and chemists may have their own problems, like quantum gravity versus string theory, but not believing in chemicals or physical bodies is not one of them.  Biologists do sometimes deny that life exists, but usually they're okay with it.¹ Even sociologists, who otherwise practice a debased form of voodoo, do not deny that society exists. So psychologists are very nearly unique among scientists. O brave new world, that has such people in it!

There is one -- okay, more than one, but one difficulty is that the methodology of natural science was developed to deal with the physics of local motion, and as the subject matter drifts from inanimate matter to such subjective things as "consciousness," the methods become less and less apropos. After all, the proper object of science, per the Scientific Revolutionaries, is the metric and controllable properties of the subject matter. Once we reach the point where the subject matter can talk back, problems arise.
¹ Okay with that. They have forgotten of course that "soul" (anima) just is what it means to be alive; but more on this later. To lack soul is to not live. Hence, some would rather deny the existence of life than accept the existence of soul.

The Schizophrenia of Modern Thought

The problem stems from putting Descartes before de horse-sense.  By splitting man into two distinct substances, the res extensa (extended [material] thing) and the res cogitans (thinking thing), Descartes created a dualism which we call (happily enough) "Cartesian dualism."¹ That is, Res Extensa and Res Cogitans met at dawn and fought a dual, which proved fatal to both.
You are here.
  • The materialists claimed that only the res extensa was real and the mind of man is simply a physiological mechanism, usually "da brain," the magical organ that uses the organism rather than vice versa.  In consequence their psychology slips from the ranks of science to become merely a subset of biology.
  • The idealists (or formalists) had a harder time claiming the material body did not exist and settled for the claim that the res cogitans (the mind) is independent of the body and just happens to occupy the same volume of space at the same time. What happens if the body makes a sharp turn at the corner while Res Cogitans is musing on the empyrean raises interesting possibilities. But in consequence, a science of psychology based on controlled observation of behavior is impossible, since the body's behavior is not connected with the mind.
A quo, the "mind-body problem," the "problem of the qualia," the "problem of intention," and other superstitions of the scientificalistic age.  When folks shy away from He-Who-Lurks-at-the-End-of-a-Syllogism, they wind up tying themselves into convoluted knots.

So what we need is a psychology that views man² as a single substance, a composite made up of mind and body, whose conscious and unconscious life can be studied through his "acts, powers, and habits." This will take what is true about both Modern approaches while not falling into the trap of supposing that either half-view is the whole picture.

Oh, if only there were such a psychology! (TOF hears you cry.)
1. Cartesian dualism. Imagine if Cartesian dualism had been invented by someone named Schwartz. We would now be wondering why everyone calls it "Cartesian."
2. "Man" and "his" because Old English man, mann = "human being, person," sometimes connected to IE root *men- "to think," thus "one who has intelligence." So man up. 

Mirabile dictu!

But, wait! There is! (As you knew there would be. Otherwise, why start this series?) This psychology treats man as a whole man, and not as two independent substances that (somehow) occupy the same volume of space. This composite of body and soul was known Greekishly as a synole, and the approach is called synolistic, although today we have shortened that to holistic (or, in a Herculean feat of folk etymology, wholistic).¹

In the holistic approach, the soul or psyche is not a separate substance that "inhabits" the body and sits inside your head like a theater patron watching a bad indie film play on your eyeballs. The soul is the substantial form of a living body and is no more nor less distinct from the material body than a sphere is distinct from the basketball it "inhabits." But to understand this, TOF must take a detour through the realm of the non-living to explain Matter and Form and ponder in what manner a basketball may be alive.
1. Synolism. Some psychological pschools do flirt with synolism. Brennan mentions the psychodiagnosticians (whatever that means), factor psychologists, and personalists. The mere existence of so many schools is troubling to the hard scientist. 

A Formal Introduction that Matters

To resolve the Parmenidean paradoxes, Aristotle devised a metaphysic of potency and actuality to explain how physical motion was possible.¹ While red cannot come from not-red (Ex nihilo nihil fit), it does come from a potential-to-be-red. A blue ball is not actually red, but it is potentially red, and this potential can be actualized by an agent such as sunlight acting upon certain chemicals in the ball's pigment or a man with a bucket of red paint. We will not smear this across our bodies like honey in an act of philosophical kinkiness, just enough to note matter and form.
  • Potency. The principle of potency is matter. Prime matter is pure potency and hence does not actually exist. Heisenberg thought mass-energy the closest physical thing to prime matter.
  • Actuality. The principle of actuality is form, and all matter that does exist is informed matter. "Every thing is some thing." Pure actuality hence must exist, a topic for another day.²  
  • Motion (kinêsis) is the reduction of potency to actuality while it is happening. Hence, it is more than just motion only of location. It includes acorns moving to become oaks, blue balls moving to be red, etc.

Mathematician and physicist Henri Poincare once said that a collection of facts was not a science any more than a pile of bricks is a house. What makes a science is how those facts are arranged; i.e., their form. Form is what makes a thing intelligible and gives it its powers. This principle will come up again later when we talk about digestion vs. learning. 

In motion while momentarily at rest
1. Physical motion. The paradoxes given by Zeno are not resolved by mathematical models. They are physical paradoxes. A mathematical model can smooth over all sorts of physical inconveniences. Consider how the calculus deals with motion: by pretending that at every instant the moving body is at rest!
 2. Pure actuality. IOW, You-know-who, the reason why many seem compelled to deny the bleeding obvious: soul, free will, consciousness, self, causation, motion, finality,... 

The Things

"The universe is made up of things," Alexander Pruss writes. This is more profound than it sounds. In fact, the universe just is the set of all things that physically exist, and so the universe exists iff any thing exists. It is not, as some imagine, a big empty box in which things may appear. If that were the case, the box itself and the space it contains would also be things, and the universe would be in the unhappy position of having to contain itself. There are severe problems with this. Besides, Einstein denied that space and time had any objective existence at all:
"[T]here are no objections of principle against the introduction of this hypothesis [general relativity], by which space and time are deprived of the last trace of objective reality."  -- Albert Einstein, "Explanation of the Movement of Mercury's Perihelion on the Basis of the General Theory of Relativity," 1915
So, what is a thing? Alexander Pruss puts it this way:
The universe is made of things that are objectively delineated, identifiable and countable.  What those things are is a question for further investigation.  Maybe they are natural things like human beings, horses, nettles, and their like.  Maybe they are solid things like human beings, a rock, the Empire State Building and an oak tree.  Maybe they are elementary particles such as electrons, photons and fermions.  What is important to the Aristotelian is that it is not just linguistic convention that settles what the things are, what they are identical with and how many of them there are, but objective reality settles it. 
The Sunalex, which is the mereological sum of me [Alexander Pruss] and the sun, is not objectively a thing.  The reason it is not a thing is that it is two things.  Now, of course one wants to retort: In one way the Sunalex is one thing and in another way it is two things.  But saying this misses the objectivity involved in identifying the things.  If in one way the Sunalex were one and in [an]other two, then because we are looking for the things that are objectively delineated and objectively countable, we would have to have an objective fact of the matter about which of these it really is.  When we talk about “that reality, the Sunalex,” are we talking of one thing or two things?  Now, given that we must choose, it is evident that on the scientific grounds of what lends itself better to explanatory purposes it will be objectively better to talk of the Sunalex as two things rather than as one.  So there already is something we can say about the things.  No thing can be a mereological sum of other things.  A heap of sand, then, is not a thing, for it is nothing but the mereological sum of the grains of sand.  Whether the grains of sand are things or not is a more difficult question.
In any case, the universe is made up of things.  We can use the Greek “ousia” or the Latin “substantia” in place of “thing” if we want our claim to sound as non-trivial as it in fact is.
-- Alexander R. Pruss, "Aristotelian Forms and Laws of Nature."
TOF will often use the term "substance" for "thing,"¹ especially when quoting someone or wishing to sound especially learned. Note that this is not the way "substance" is typically used in ordinary speech: "a particular kind of matter with uniform properties." In common speech, we might say "the waxy substance plugging the ears of R. Dawkins" but we might not incline to say "the substance we call R. Dawkins" (which, come to think of it, may also plug up one's ears).

Not the physicist
William Wallace -- the physicist, not the Scots hero -- describes substance this way: the first [Aristotelian] category, and substance is unique in that it exists in itself. The remaining nine categories share in common that they are predicamental accidents and exist in another, that is, not by themselves but in a substance. Thus substance is what is most basic and independent in existence. It "stands under" (sub-stans) and sustains accidents in their being and itself is a source of activity.

The first idea we gain of a substance is our very self. Each of us is a substance. I am aware that I now am, and have been, the same being over the entire course of my life. All of my accidents have changed, and yet I have remained the same. And I easily recognize that you are substances too, and so are plants and animals, and stones and minerals, and the various chemical elements.
TOF loves that phrase "predicamental accidents" and plans to use it whenever the opportunity arises, which is disappointingly seldom. But the basic gist is that when we see a big, blue, bouncy ball rolling along, we do not generally say to ourselves, "Self, there goes a bit of blueness rolling along there."

Blueness is not a thing (not a substance). It only exists in a thing, such as in a wavelength of light or in the aforesaid big, bouncy ball. It is the ball we see rolling along. Blueness is predicated of the ball, but ballness is not predicated of the blue.

So in answer to the question, "What is that?" we do not say, "That is blue," even though there is a predicamentally accidental way in which we can. [There, I did it.] Alas, English IS, like Latin ESSE, fails to distinguish the two meanings of is.²

When we say "It IS blue," we predicate something about the ball. When we say "It IS a ball," we get at the ball as such.  The ball is only accidentally blue, but it is essentially a ball. The distinction is not quite the same as that between adjectives and nouns -- an uninflated soccer ball is still a ball, even though it lacks for now the plump roundness of a ball -- but noun/adjective seems to TOF a reasonable first cut.

The ball possesses accidental forms (bigness, blueness, belonging-to-Bacon-ness, etc.) and also an essential (substantial) form -- that of a ball. It can be trans-formed in its accidents without ceasing to be what it is, but if it is essentially transformed it ceases to be a ball and becomes (say) a puddle of melted rubber.³
¹ Things.  You may notice that "No thing can be a mereological sum of other things." + "the universe is made up of things." = "The universe is not itself a thing."  This really mucks up contentions that "the universe causes itself" or that "the universe needs a cause." Only things can cause or be caused. The universe exists so long as any one thing in it exists. But that is also a topic for another day.
² The meaning of IS. Aristotle said in The Physics: "In what sense is it asserted that all things are one? For 'is' is used in many senses." (Book I, Part 2) The Stagirite thus anticipated the Bubba by a couple thousand years.

³ Accidents and substance. More intriguing than a thing that remains substantially the same while its accidents change is a thing that remains accidentally the same while its substance changes. Instead of transformation, we would have to call it transsubstantiation. But that might need a miracle to pull off.

How the Thing Gets Its Powers

Do not weep for me.
The element sodium is the sixth most abundant element on earth, found in common salt, sea water, etc. It is a soft, silver-white, highly reactive alkali metal. It does not cavort naked au naturale, but snuggles with oxygen in feldspars and sodalite, with chlorine in rock salt, etc. It "reacts vigorously" with water. When burned in a flame or in a sodium vapor lamp it shines with a strong yellow light. And so on.

The soul of sodium
Whence come these properties? Not from the matter of which sodium is made. Those parts -- protons, electron, neutrons -- are the same parts that comprise other materials of radically different properties. It is rather the number and arrangement of those parts. "The organization or formal arrangement of these components, and not the components themselves, makes sodium be what it is. ... None of the electrons in the sodium atom acts simply as an electron. Rather, each functions as a part of sodium." That is, as a part of an integrated whole rather than as one of a mereological sum of otherwise unrelated parts. This arrangement is "a unifying form that confers a new substantial identity on the parts that make up the composite." Two examples:
A "free" electron (one not "bound" within the atom...) is completely controlled by its own mass and electric charge. On its own, it would fall directly into the nucleus, attracted by the strong positive charge. When within the sodium atom, however, no electron can do that. It must occupy a unique energy state in the atom that is occupied by no other. Another [example] is this. When, in a sodium vapor lamp, a sodium atom is energized or excited, it directs its single valence electron to a higher energy state, funneling into it all of the absorbed energy. The electron again does not act on its own. Instead it is controlled by the nature of sodium. It returns to its normal energy state by emitting the yellow light produced by a sodium vapor lamp. Again it is sodium as a natural kind, the nature of sodium, that controls this activity and reactivity. The natural form integrates and stabilizes all eleven electrons within the sodium atom. It causes them to function as an integral and natural whole. (Wallace, Lect. 3.7)
These are examples of formal causation or as we like to say today, emergent properties.¹  This will become important as we segue up into discussion of living forms.  If sodium atoms were alive, we have just described their soul.
1. emergent properties. It is well known that a whole may have properties that its parts may lack. Salt is neither a poisonous gas nor a flammable metal, even though it is made up of both. A molecule of H2O is not "wet," but a whole bunch of them are. A thing is therefore more than the mere sum of its parts and, more to the point, cannot be understood completely by reduction to its parts.

  The "Soul" of Inanimate Matter

The soul of inanimate things, if inanimates were animated.
So let's start with a generic form that includes the powers of non-living things. Think of the protomatter (PM) enveloped by a field (NF), somewhat like a Higgs field, that imposes form on the protomatter. Four generic powers are manifest, which we call "forces." 
1. Gravity needs no introduction, at least to anyone who has put on weight. It is the only power of inanimate forms that was known to antiquity. Mass is an essential property of matter, carried by the Higgs boson, and so gravity is the most fundamental power of natural bodies.  It imparts natural motion to bodies. It is currently interpreted as a dimple in space-time caused by the presence of mass (Kostro, 2000).

2. Electromagnetism is also familiar to us, but "while mass is an essential property of matter, (electrical) charge is purely accidental." (Keck, p.537). Unlike gravity, electromagnetism has two poles and can attract or repel, leading to what Aristotle called "unnatural" or "violent" motion. In a sort of inanimate analog to sex, the opposites attract one another and form charge-neutral bodies. E/M accounts for the chemical interactions of the substance.

3. Weak Force is undetectable in normal life, but governs the radioactive decay of the substance. It is carried by the W and Z gage bosons. Electrons move in stable orbits within their shells without emitting or absorbing electromagnetic radiation, but under the influence of strong electrical fields or other external energy, electrons can make stepwise jumps from one shell to another, in the process emitting or absorbing electromagnetic radiation. Notice the close association of Weak with Electromagnetism. Under high energy conditions the weak force and electromagnetic force become a single "electroweak" force.

4. Strong Force is necessary because otherwise the nucleus is impossible. The protons in a nucleus are all positively charged, so their mutual electrical repulsion would cause the nucleus to fly apart unless the strong force was holding them together. This force is so strong that massive colliders are required to break it so we can study the structure of the nucleus. 

If inanimate matter were animate, this would be its "soul," or substantial form; but we reserve the word "soul" for animate forms for an obvious reason. The Latin word we translate as "soul" is anima, which means "alive, animate."

Which raises the SFnal question: is there some way in which inanimate things can be analogous to living things?

Attack of the Living Basketballs!

Those things generally regarded as living -- e.g., many of TOF's faithful readers, some Chicago voters, et al. -- are things that move; hence, anima. But this is "motion" in the original sense not only the changing of place but in fact of any change in general: an actualization of a potential.

Yet Everything moves. It is a fact of nature, the proper object of natural science -- and the kickoff point of a very interesting dialectical proof. What distinguishes the motions proper to life from other motions is that they are spontaneous and immanent. Both their principle and their term are intrinsic to the living substance.
Spontaneity, like many other words here, has a technical meaning. It means that a living being is "the protagonist of his own changing." It is "the lack of exterior mechanical determination of life’s movements." (Lauand, ¶6)  Compare the growth of a crystal to the growth of a tiger embryo. The principle (="origin") of the former is located outside the crystal. It is the aggregation of minerals and their attachment to the crystal. But the principle of the embryo's growth is located within the embryo. It is, in modern lingo, "a self-organizing system" and contains within itself all the necessary "instructions."

Immanence means that the term (=terminus, end) of the subject’s movements is the subject itself. The motions of a living being redound to its own sake. A lioness chases a gazelle in order to obtain food; a plant drives roots to obtain water and nutrients.
In short, living motions both originate and terminate in the living thing itself. It nurtures itself, moves itself, etc. A living thing is not formed like a mousetrap, by an outside force assembling disparate components. Its "components" grow from the being itself.
Life is not formed or defined from the outside. Life defines and forms itself. Its form or nature is there, in its activated genes, and begins to manifest itself from the very first moment of its existence. The only things embryos need are food, oxygen, and protection from external hazards, not form. They don't need to be molded into a type of being. They are already a definite kind of being. (quoted in Gage,"Dawkin's Dune")

"This special way of interacting with the outside world from an inwardness," says Lauand, "comes from the singularity of the living being’s form, and that is the reason why the form of living beings also has a special name: soul. Hence, we can talk about ... the soul of a fern, the soul of an ant, the soul of a dog and the soul of a human being..." The soul (like all the substantial forms) is a principle of the substantial composition of living beings. If basketballs were alive, rubber would be their body and sphere would be their soul.

The Great Confusion

Here is where the Late Modern falls into a confused state. He says to himself, "Self, if a human being were thrown off the roof, he would fall according to the inexorable laws of physics at 32 ft/sec². How can you say a living being is the principle of his or her own movement?" 

But the confusion stems from binary thinking. The LM must learn to think in terms of subsidiarity. Not every motion of a living thing is properly a living motion. That is because a living thing does not stop being a mass of physical matter. It is a compound of matter and form, and the form/soul is not some kind of separate thing. It includes and incorporates all of the inanimate powers as well. So a man thrown off the roof will in many respects act just like a basketball thrown off the roof. The main difference is that the basketball is less likely to object.

And the human is less likely to bounce.
² That's an exponent, not a footnote.

The Hidden Life of Basketballs

But there is one way in which inanimate bodies do seek to preserve themselves and resist change. It is called inertia. Chastek writes:
"But the inertial moment is still a moment of conflict between what the mobile has of itself and a vis impressa that is necessarily from another. The inertial resistance can thus be understood as the mobile’s attempt to preserve what is its own against what is from another. It can be viewed as analogous to the desire of the living being to preserve its own self-activity, i.e. its life. The change is not some third thing between motions, but a conflict between the only sort of self-operation the non-living has and an action going against it." (Chastek, 2014)
So in this analogous sense, the basketball does "object" to a change¹ and there is something even in inanimate matter that prefigures the animate. After all, a lump of clay could not swim, fly, or walk about if there were not something in the clay that had the potential to do such things.
1. And notice BTW that it is the change in local motion, and not the prior motion itself that requires an agency. It is the change that Aquinas and the rest regarded as "motion," or "the actualization of a potential." Just in case anyone thinks that inertial "motion" somehow undermines Aquinas' argument from motion. Inertial apples don't undermine an argument from oranges.
Tune in again for part two of our exciting snooze-fest, "Man the Vegetable"

PS: And, no, TOF does not know why there are apparently random font changes afflicting this post.

Reading Matter

  1. Brennan, Robert E. Thomistic Psychology (Macmillan, 1941) Hardcover book. Suck it up.
  2. Chastek, James. "Inertia, the life of the inanimate" (Just Thomism, June 10, 2014)
  3. Flynn, Michael. "Against Gravity" (The TOFSpot, Jan. 31, 2010)
  4. Gage, Lawrence. "A Womb, Not a Factory" (Real Physics, January 20, 2008)
  5. -------------- "Dawkins's Dune" (Real Physics, April 25, 2009) 
  6. Keck, John W.  "The Natural Motion of Matter in Newtonian and Post-Newtonian Physics," (The Thomist, 71 (2007), pp. 529-554. 
  7. Kostro, Ludwik. Einstein and the Ether (Apeiron, 2000)
  8. Lauand, Jean. "Basic Concepts of Aquinas's Anthropology" (in Filosofia, Instituto Brasileiro de Direito Constitucional, São Paulo, 1997)
  9. Pruss, Alexander R. "Aristotelian Forms and Laws of Nature."
  10. Wallace, William A. The Modeling of Nature (CUA Press, 1996)
  11. --------------- Lectures on the Modeling of Nature


  1. Thanks, good stuff.

    Once heard 1/2 of a phone conversation in which my roommate at the time was trying to explain to someone on the phone that he worked at the L.A. Philharmonic:

    "No, Philharmonic."
    "OK, that's 'P' as in 'psychology..."

    In "Canticle for Leibowitz" a priest is talking to a 'modern' fellow who avers that he's not sure he even has a soul: "You have a body. You ARE a soul."

  2. "Hardcover book. Suck it up."
    another vis impressa from a hard scientist. *sigh* I'm giving ILL another week, because I couldn't read it sooner than that anyway.

    My immediate question is--can you clarify how, if Spontaneity is a property of a living thing, the analogy of its "inertia" is to preserve its own life? I suspect I'm confusing apples and oranges here, but it seems like what's getting called inertia by analogy is just spontaneity playing defense.

    1. Inertia appears to be spontaneous; that is, it originates in the thing itself. It would seem to be immanent as well, as it works toward the ends of the thing itself: i.e., to preserve the only thing that belongs to the thing; viz., its existing motion.

      Of course, the existing motion itself came from another, so it is not truly spontaneous to the thing. It is the inertia, not the motion, that is internal. It is also an "invisible entity" like the soul, and is not directly observed.

  3. I've always likened prime matter as a sort of limit concept. I guess to put it into a pseudo-equation: prime matter = lim_{x\to 0}(x/x)

    If we tried plugging in 0 into the equation, we wouldn't get an answer since we would get a divide by zero error, but we can still find an answer to the limit. Similarly, we can say that there is no such thing as nothing, but there is such a thing as pure potentiality, understood as a limit, not as its own thing.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hey, Mr. Flynn.

    I think I understand why essentialism must be true, but I have never understood how one is supposed to ascertain that a given thing is or is not a "substance".

    For example, in the electron analogy, wouldn't the same reasoning seem to show that a human being, instead of being an individual substance, is really just a virtually existing element of a larger substance, perhaps called "society" or "nation" or "The Body of Christ"?

    Further, it seems like most writers who talk about essentialism seem to take it for granted that we just have a common sense idea of what a given thing "is", what is the form and what are the accidents. But I don't think it's obvious to me that a blue ball is essentially a "ball" rather than a "blue ball" (or even "this particular blue ball"), and it would be great to know if there's supposed to be some kind of method or test I can use to see the difference.

  6. By coincidence, I just got done reading a translation of Aristotle's "On the Soul," and it struck me how much of it was, in our current terms, a treatise on sensory physiology and psychology, if not on biophysics. He really does present the soul as the characteristic pattern of activity of a living entity.

  7. Please please please publish a collection of your metaphysical essays!

  8. "soul of sodium"
    What is the thing here?.
    The element sodium?
    Or an isolated lump of sodium?
    Or an isolated sodium atom?

    The Pruss quote starts as
    "The universe is made of things that are objectively delineated, identifiable and countable."
    Then goes on
    "Maybe they are elementary particles such as electrons, photons and fermions"

    But the elementary particles are indistinguishable, even in principle.
    Wikipedia page on Identical Particle says
    "Identical particles, also called indistinguishable or indiscernible particles, are particles that cannot be distinguished from one another, even in principle. Species of identical particles include, but are not limited to elementary particles such as electrons, composite subatomic particles such as atomic nuclei, as well as atoms and molecules. Quasiparticles also behave in this way. "

    So, my question is are electrons or photons things?

    1. are electrons or photons things?

      Good question. Their ontological status is still up in the air. Do they even exist as such? Feynmann noted that they were both "screwy" in the same way. Even so, there must be some thing. Otherwise, how would we know how many electrons are in a sodium atom; or that we have sent only a single photon toward the slit experiment?

      It is also true that for inanimate things, their forms are not individuating. No two living things are identical, but one sodium atom is pretty much like any other sodium atom. The point though is that an electron in a sodium atom acts as part of a whole and not as a free electron. Nor do its protons and neutrons act as alpha particles. Its nucleus does not act as if it were eleven hydrogen nuclei that just happen to be together. One of the aspects of thinginess is that it acts as a whole and not as a mere collection.

    2. What I would say is electrons, photons etc are not things, but entities posited in physics in help explain the motion of things.

      That brings us to the concept of corporeal objects (ordinary things that we perceive) and physical objects (entities posited in physics and chemistry).

  9. "The electron again does not act on its own. Instead it is controlled by the nature of sodium. "

    Chemistry does not use the term "nature of sodium". It speaks of a generic electron-electron and electron-proton interaction.

    "Salt is neither a poisonous gas nor a flammable metal, even though it is made up of both."

    Salt is NOT made up of a poisonous gas nor of a flammable metal. Salt is made up of NaCl molecules while the poisonous gas Chlorine is made up of Cl2 molecules and the flammable metal sodium is made up of Na atoms linked with metallic bonds.

    Now you say that
    ""No thing can be a mereological sum of other things."
    Is water a mereological sum of H2O molecules or not? Is Salt a merelogical sum of NaCl molecules or not? I ask since I am not familiar with this philosophical terminology.

    IN any case, the question still stands. Are lumps of salt things or isolated molecules of NaCl things or both?

    1. Chemistry does not use the term "nature of sodium". It speaks of a generic electron-electron and electron-proton interaction.

      That's because chemistry is concerned with how the nature of sodium works mechanically.

      Salt is NOT made up of a poisonous gas nor of a flammable metal. Salt is made up of NaCl molecules while the poisonous gas Chlorine is made up of Cl2 molecules and the flammable metal sodium is made up of Na atoms linked with metallic bonds.

      You catch on (except to metonymy). The atoms behave differently depending on what wholes they are parts of.

      Now you say that
      ""No thing can be a mereological sum of other things."
      Is water a mereological sum of H2O molecules or not?

      Don't know. Water is not simply a bunch of H2O molecules. There's always other stuff, like D2O, etc. But the question is whether those molecules act as they would absent the other molecules. Water is "wet," for example, but a single molecule is.

  10. I don't know if my previous comment took, so I'll try again: Many years ago, I read something by Walker Percy where he made reference to Cartesian dualism as wrecking Western thought (or philosophy). He seemed to say it in a way that anyone would know what the issues-at-stake were, but I had no idea what he meant. Is this a description of the problem, if you know the reference, which I apologize for having lost.