Idealism and Infinity in Physics

Blog 20150729 by Bill Westmiller, Lucretius, and Glenn Borchardt

[GB: Long-time readers will remember Bill Westmiller, who wrote numerous blogs critiquing "The Scientific Worldview." His criticisms were educational because they were given from the standpoint of classical mechanics and classical determinism. The distinguishing feature of that point of view is the belief in finity, which was necessary for Bill’s current attempt to update Finite Particle Theory. That theory was enunciated a couple thousand years ago by Lucretius, who I will quote after Bill has his say:]

BW: Your readers may not be interested in ontology, but I couldn't ignore the opportunity to dispute one of your assumptions..

GB Writes:
>Note also that “nothing” is the same as perfectly empty space, which is an idealization.

BW: Correct, but what is an idealization? It's the abstraction of a concept from reality. We observe every day, in every way, that all physical objects have XYZ spatial boundaries. They have characteristics that are confined to those boundaries, distinct and separate from other objects. The distance between physical objects is real, whether or not that separation is occupied by other distinct objects.

BW: It is true that we intentionally or incidentally ignore the other objects that may or may not be occupying the space that separates any two distinct objects, but it is for a good reason: if they exist, they aren't relevant or consequential to the characteristics of the two objects that exist within their own boundaries.

BW: Of course, relevance means relevant to us, as human beings. If there are no consequential effects on us, within our limited time horizon and the proximity of objects to our own physical boundaries, then those intermediate objects don't demand our attention: we can safely ignore them. At some point, we may recognize that those intermediate objects are consequential, even essential, to our well-being, but they are still distinct from the substantive objects that are immediately evident.

BW: Thus, we recognize the difference between a banana and a table: that they are distinct objects with unique characteristics, separated by space. We assign no relevance to the space, even if it is occupied by atoms of air or gravitational effects between their masses. Those intermediate objects may be consequential to the degradation of the banana or table over long periods of time and it's may become useful to understand the effects of oxygen molecules on both, but those objects only become consequential to us IF that knowledge allows us to obtain some direct benefit from understanding the cause and effects of oxidation.

BW: So, while we recognize that the spatial separation of objects is not a perfect vacuum, there is still a separation and the evident objects do have distinct characteristics which are immediately relevant to our interests. Therefore, we can reasonably ignore the intermediate objects in the pursuit of our understanding of the inherent characteristics of the objects themselves, disregarding any incidental effects of any minor influences of the intermediate objects. That is what science does every day:

"[Space] is one end member in the solid matter-empty space continuum that we use to understand the universe."

GB Writes:
>Neither “perfectly solid matter” nor “perfectly empty space” can exist.

BW: Granting that science has not yet identified either case, since our reduction of causation is a continuing pursuit, there is no reason to assume that neither of those cases can exist in nature. Our idealizations do not dictate to reality, one way or the other; they are simply derived from reality. The proposition that neither can exist is itself an idealization. [GB: True.]

BW: Besides, there are good reasons to assume that they can and do exist. [GB: False, although, as with all fundamental assumptions, it is impossible to prove whether infinity or your implied finity is correct.]

BW: For example, we cannot even imagine or surmise Newton's Second Law if it were never the case that objects collide. A collision requires a separation of two objects in relative motion that have distinct boundaries. If there is no space between them, then neither object can have motion and no collision is possible. That is, motion requires the assumption of empty space, into which an object can move without impediment. [GB: False, empty space is not required, just as perfectly empty space is not required for me to go through a doorway. The “impediment” produced by the presence of air molecules is insignificant.]

BW: That objects can collide requires the assumption that they were not previously in contact: that nothing existed between them to preclude contact. [GB: Your “nothing” does not have to be completely empty.]

BW: Therefore, we cannot assume that empty space does not exist, nor that objects do not have spatial boundaries, and still arrive at Newton's Second Law. [GB: False. Perfectly empty space is not needed for Newton's Second Law of Motion to work. It just has to have weaker microcosms.]

GB Writes:
>In other words, nonexistence is impossible.

BW: No thing does not exist, but it does not follow that all existence is occupied by some thing (object). In fact, it is logically impossible for an object to exist as an object unless it is separate and distinct from other objects. Thus, there must be XYZ regions of space which are not objects; they have no separate and distinct characteristics or effects; they are no thing. [GB: Sorry, but that contradicts the Eighth Assumption of Science, infinity (The universe is infinite, both in the microcosmic and macrocosmic directions).]

BW: We say that space "exists" only in the sense that it is a relationship between two objects: it has no characteristic independent of those objects. Space has no boundaries or attributes except as a referent to the separation of two or more objects. Literally, it has no independent "existence" since it is no thing (object).

[GB: False, even Einstein (1920) eventually admitted that space had properties: "Careful reflection teaches us that special relativity does not compel us to deny ether. We may assume its existence but not ascribe a definite state of motion to it ..." "There is a weighty reason in favour of ether. To deny ether is to ultimately assume that empty space has no physical qualities whatever."]

BW: But, relationships do exist. Motion is purely a relative or relational "thing" that certainly exists among objects. [GB: False, motion is not a thing and does not exist among objects. Motion is what those microcosms do.]

BW: Motion would be impossible for objects in the absence of the "thing" called space. Thus, "nonexistance" (a "non-object") is essential for the existence of material objects in motion "through" space.

Therefore, nonexistence is not merely possible, it is essential. [GB: False. The belief in nonexistence and the claim that space can be perfectly empty (in the face of all the scientific data to the contrary) are corollaries of the indeterministic assumption of creation.]  

[GB: Now for Lucretius and his critique of Aristotelianism:]

[GB: So you see that this discussion has been going on for millennia with no resolution. Aristotle (384 BCE) was a “splitter,” writing that “it is impossible for anything continuous to be composed of indivisible parts” and Lucretius (99 BCE) was a “nonspliter.” Of course, the unsplitable “atoms” hypothesized by Lucretius eventually were found to contain a combination of “matter” and “space.” Nonetheless, modern-day atomists, such as yourself and Abu-Baker (2009) still believe that, ultimately, there must exist a subatomic particle filled with perfectly ideal, solid matter surrounded by perfectly empty space (nonexistence). Of course, none of that is possible in neomechanics, which is the application of mechanics in light of the Eighth Assumption of Science, infinity (The universe is infinite, both in the microcosmic and macrocosmic directions).

Like all things involving the infinite universe, the determinism-free will debate and the infinite-finite debates go on forever. Although these debates are pedagogical, the resulting choices have the potential to affect careers and the course of scientific philosophy. Progress in science requires that we discard belief in free will, perfectly solid matter, perfectly empty space, and the possibility of nonexistence.]


Abu-Bakr, Mohammed, 2009, The End of Pseudo-Science: Essays Refuting False Scientific Theories Taught in Schools, Colleges, and Universities: Bloomington, IN, iUniverse, 88 p.

Aristotle, 350 B.C.E., Physics, v. VI. [ http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/physics.6.vi.html#752 ]

Einstein, Albert, 1920, Sidelights on relativity: 1. Ether and relativity. 2. Geometry and experience: London, Methuen, 56 p.

Lucretius, 60 BCE [1994], On the nature of the universe: New York, Penguin Classics, 336 p. [ http://www.amazon.com/On-Nature-Universe-Penguin-Classics/dp/0140446109 ]

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