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

Saturday, July 23, 2016

While googling around....

....on the question of quantum hylomorphism, TOF encountered this remarkable comment on another blog in a comment section now closed:
My problem with the Scholastic view of matter is that substance and form, as understood by Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, doesn’t seem to be reconcilable with atomic theory...
... An element is what it is because of the number of protons in each atom (and to a lesser extent, the number of neutrons, which affects the behavior of certain isotopes). The number of protons determines the number of electrons; this determines the number of valence electrons; and these determine how the atoms combine with others to make compounds, what wavelengths of light they reflect (and thus color), and pretty much every other property except for mass. 
Translating this a bit, it amounts to:
My problem with the Scholastic view of matter is that substance and form, as understood by Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, doesn’t seem to be reconcilable with atomic theory...
An element is what it is because of the form of its atoms; that is, the number and arrangement of its parts.
So what's his problem?

He also says:

Without our current understanding of atomic theory, there isn’t really any difference between substantial and accidental forms.
So he does not believe he can distinguish between the substantial form of a human being and the accidental form of his skin color? These are dangerous waters.


  1. "My problem with the Thomistic view of matter is that I don't understand it but having opinions about things I don't understand is my inalienable right."


  2. FYI, Mr. Flynn, you were noted as a source of inspiration for an RPG currently being Kickstartd - Coriolis.

    "Firefly meets Arabian Knights meets modern Scifi."

  3. An element is what it is because of the number of protons in each atom (and to a lesser extent, the number of neutrons, which affects the behavior of certain isotopes).

    Wait, isn't that kind of backwards?
    That way the atoms are built-- that's a way of describing the thing. I can't say "a cat is a cat because it's a small house mammal with fur and retractable claws"- that's just defining 'cat,' it's not why it's a cat.

    Now, something simple, like "triangle"-- that you can say "it's a triangle BECAUSE it has three sides," but unless there's something that is triangle and only triangle, that's not the same as the atoms.

    I think I'm missing something, but I don't even know the right shape for where to look for it.

    1. A formal cause is the answer to the question "What makes this an X?" This is why it is a definition. "Triangle" means simply "three angles," which is just as descriptive. There is more to it than simple physical description, but a description of that in virtue of which a thing has the powers it has. Hence, the way sodium reflects light, its atomic weight, which other elements it may combine with, the color of the flame it burns at, and so one, are all contingent on its form.

      A useful analogy, found elsewhere:
      A recipe is more than just a list of ingredients. It also includes instructions on how to put the ingredients together. But it would be a mistake to think that the instructions are just another ingredient.
      That is, a thing is not just a list of its physical parts. It also includes instruction on how those parts grow or come together. But we cannot think of this information as just another component.

    2. Thank you; I'm still not too solid on it, but the recipe... that makes a lot more sense.

    3. "A cat" is a cat because there is such a thing as a cat, pretty much. Or "it just is".

      But "some particular animal" is a cat—and not, say, a coelacanth or a three-toed sloth—because its properties are those of a cat.

  4. "An element is what it is because of the form of its atoms"
    And is the "form of its atom" reducible to "number of protons" as "remarkable comment" has it?

    Isn't it granting too much to the atomists? IS the reduction of chemistry to physics complete?
    Do the elements have no qualitative properties at all?

  5. It might interest the quoted commenter that Heisenberg in his book Physics and Philosophy actually invokes Aristotle's potential/actual matter/form theory to make sense of the quantum world.

    It seems like Hume, Locke, and Kant don't work for Heisenberg, but Aristotle does.

  6. It seems like Galileo was an atomist and had similar problems about Substance and Accidents ... I reckon taking him to court twice over astronomy saved him from being burned on the stake for heresies about the Blessed Sacrament. Hope he turned away from that too.

    1. Galileo was accused of atomism, but the inquisitors concluded there was no basis for the complaint. He was only taken to court once, and that was for disobeying an injunction. But "taken to court" is somewhat erroneous, since the whole thing was conceptualized as a penitential rite and not a legal process.

  7. He was actually appearing before a court twice.

    And penitential though the rites were, they were nevertheless legal in canon law. As are penitential rites.

    First he appeared to defend a book, second to defend himself. First in 1616 (?), second in 1633.

    I think there have been people digging up works of his that the Inquisitors probably were wilfully ignoring in order not to put him to the stake - or which the Inquisitors happened not to come across.

    1. In 1616, he was invited to meet with Cardinal Bellarmino who gave him a heads up on a pending ruling regarding Copernicus' book and to assure him that he himself was not being chastised in any way. In fact, Bellarmino gave him a memo to that very effect. It was not a trial.

  8. It was not a trial of his person, as to suspicions of heresy, I read that memo.

    It was however concerned with a book not by Copernicus, but by himself: Saggiatore. Assayer, I think is the English title.

    1. When looking now, it seems Assayer is later, 1623.

      So he became involved indirectly, as it had been kind of leaking out he had been interested in the subject.

      Either way, this actually EXCLUDES his second trial from being on account of disobedience to injunction of first trial.


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