Scandalous! The Shocking Truth About Objects!

(About a 9 minute read)

It will surprise few of my familiar readers that, when I was but a tender child, my devoted mother would lullaby me to sleep by softly chanting over and over again four sweet questions:

What is truth?
What is belief?
What is knowledge?
What is justification?

Eventually, I was to discover at the age of seven, in one the most significant revelations of my life (second only to the understandably puzzling revelation that my first wife desired for us to indulge in sexual congress on our very wedding night!), that my mother’s four questions were the four foundational questions of epistemology.

Perhaps you can imagine the ecstatic, blissful joy I felt upon it being further revealed that the four questions could actually be studied, pursued with zeal, and that there might be answers to them!  Altogether, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Soon afterwards, my happiness was made nearly complete by my very first ever discovery in philosophy: Namely, that objects do not exist.

To be sure, I was reinventing the wheel, for the notion had long been known to philosophers and scientists.  Yet, the discovery encouraged me to write my first academic article, which was published in the even then strangely unpopular, Journal of Philosophical Investigations for Children, Ages 3 to 11.  I was off!  Off to becoming the epistemologist and logician that I am today!

I now wish your indulgence as I guide you on a wonderful trip down memory lane to revisit my “old haunt”, the scandalous problem of the object!

Exposed! The Sordid, Hidden Nature of Objects!

We should in all propriety begin with a definition: An object is anything that exists as an independent or discrete physical reality.

Now, perhaps nothing seems more obvious to us than that objects do exist. For instance, my copy of Gettier’s Almanac appears to physically exist independently of the desk it graces.  So why should I think Gettier’s Almanac is not an object?

Dear Reader, the astonishing fact is that claiming objects exist entails dreadful conclusions.  Simply dreadful conclusions!  I must strongly advise you to have your smelling salts at hand as we proceed with our revelations! Philosophy is not for the mild of heart!

The True Nature of Physical Reality Revealed!

Barring such implausible notions as that we are all disembodied consciousnesses, I believe the physical world is real, and that it exists apart from our minds.  Moreover, it appears to be made up in part of fundamental units of highly concentrated energy — call them what you will, “strings”, “quarks”, or even “atomic particles” — which when arranged in various ways, produce the material world that we empirically experience.

Purely for the sake of our convenience, we conceive of the various arrangements of those fundamental units as “objects”.  But the fact we conceive of them so, does not make them so.  For objects do not exist as physical entities, but only as concepts in our own minds.  And that, dear reader, has several implications, a few of which are actually quite stimulating even to very worldly minds, such as my own.

Objects Discredited by the Change Problem!

The notion that objects do not exist has ancient roots.  Around 500 B.C., Heraclitus had the imposing insight to observe, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”.  Thus Heraclitus raised what I call, “The change problem”.

The change problem is, as the name implies, the fact that objects tend to change over time and circumstance.  Heraclitus’ river, for instance, is in a constant state of flux — as is virtually everything else, albeit quite often at a slower pace.  But if that is so, then how is it possible to define something as an object?  Constant physical change raises the issue of what it means to say an object “physically exists”.

For instance, a high mountain over time is worn down by the elements until it becomes a mere hill, or even flat land.  So, precisely what can we mean when we call the mountain an object?  Do we mean the mountain as it was a million years ago?  A half million years ago?  Today?  And if today, do we mean today at 10:59 AM, or today at 3:23 PM?

There is basically only one way in which we can rationally claim all of those different mountains are in reality one and the same mountain.  That is to assert that, the mountain possesses some essential nature that has remained constant and unvarying though-out all the physical changes that the mountain has undergone.  But we must ask,  what could be the nature of that essential nature?  For it certainly cannot be something physical.

Frankly, the problem has driven some philosophers into raving madness.  That is, into scandalously metaphysical speculations!  The poor, depraved creatures have ended up imagining the mountain remains the same mountain by virtue of its possessing an indemonstrable metaphysical essence.  That is, an essence or nature “beyond the physical”.  But how can they possibly justify such an appalling delusion?  There is, in my opinion, simply no good argument for that distastefully speculative notion.  Simply none.

I shall not, however, digress into the reasons I am convinced, absolutely convinced, most days of the week that there is no justification for the metaphysical speculations of my poor, depraved colleagues.  We — by which I mean you and I, dear reader — have already put ourselves at sufficient risk of a coronary arrest from the sheer excitement of discussing the steamy topic of how the concept of the object so frequently seduces us humans.  Thus, I will reserve the alluring topic of metaphysical speculations for another day.

In sum, we cannot say that the mountain exists as an object in reality, but only as a concept in our own minds, without resorting to wild metaphysical speculations.  And what applies to the mountain, applies to all alleged objects.  They exist only as concepts, but not as physical realities.

Objects Compromised by the Boundary Problem!

The “boundary problem”, as I call it, is a philosophical dagger plunged by the passionate force of logic straight into the very heart of the notion objects physically exist independent of other objects.

To illustrate, first suppose you had a pile of sand.  Allow such a pile of sand to stand in for objects.  All objects.  Now, further suppose you were to diminish the pile by removing just one grain of sand at a time until no sand at all was left.  At which point in the process does your pile of sand cease to exist as an object?

You see, dear reader, if the pile of sand is actually an object — that is, something that exists as an independent physical reality, rather than as a mere concept of the mind — then there must necessarily be a precise boundary between when it is a pile of sand, and when it is no longer a pile of sand.  Were we to say, “There is no precise boundary, but it is still an object”,  we would be indulging ourselves in the terrifying sin of self-contradiction!  For then, we would be arguing that one object can merge into another object while yet remaining independent of the object it is merging into.  Frightful!

And the very same problem — the boundary problem — applies not just to our pile of sand, but to all objects.  When, for instance, does a shirt become not a shirt if we start picking away at it, one molecule at a time?

Shocking as it might be to us, we must now come to the full realization that we have been shamelessly seduced by our own imaginations into believing that physical reality is promiscuously strewn with objects.  In truth, those “objects” are nothing more than wanton concepts in our mind.

A Most Titillating Implication!

No doubt the natural excitements of the discussion have so far been just as robust and numerous for you, dear reader, as they have for me.  Perhaps you are even thinking, “Too much!  Far too much fun!”.  But I must ask you to stick with me for only a few words longer, for I now aim to briefly expose an astonishing implication of all that has gone before.

 You see, if objects are merely concepts, then it follows that scientists can not actually study them as physical realities.  But this logically raises the question of how can scientists, when studying physical realities, distinguish one physical reality from another?

The question is a large one, too large to explore here in this one post.  I propose, however, to explore it in a future post to be published on this same blog.  For now, it is time to bring to a close what, doubtlessly for some of my readers, has been a day of strenuous excitements!

12 thoughts on “Scandalous! The Shocking Truth About Objects!

  1. Function. Could that be what it comes down to? A pile of sand ceases to be a pile of sand, when it no longer functions as a pile of sand, or a shirt, or a mountain? Perhaps a mountain slowly eroding functions as a mountain until it begins more to function as a pile of sand? I know, still hard to pin down an exact point at which it changes, but a river, as long as it has flowing water, functions as a river, regardless of how many water molecules pass by – when it’s frozen, it functions more like a glacier, no?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Boyd Stace-Walters here! Parachuting in to address your question, Mr. Methylated! And thank you very kindly for it!

      First, I must say I am struck by the creativity of your response! Rare quality, creativity, these days. Especially when it comes to formulating a decent first order propositional calculus. Shame, that.

      But I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for us, Old Boy. Much as both of us might want to save the object, so to speak, it can’t be done by resorting to functional definitions of it. At least not in my opinion. The reason is that a function does not seem to be an inherent property of the thing. Rather, it seems to be an abstraction, a concept, about the thing.

      To be sure, it might seem to us that a function could be an inherent property, if only because we are so familiar with thinking about the functions of things. For instance, it might seem obvious to us that a shirt inherently functions as a garment. But try thinking of it this way: If a shirt inherently functions as a garment, then it should do so in some sense or respect for everything. Not just for humans, but for everything.

      To understand why, take as an example a genuine inherent property of something. Say, the mass of a pea. Mass is, of course, a genuine inherent property of the pea. And, as you surely know from your casual Sunday morning reading, the mass of a pea is, in part, its resistance to acceleration when a net force is applied to it.

      Now the pea’s mass is the same for everyone and everything. It doesn’t matter who is applying the net force. You, a fox, or the wind will equally do. That’s because the mass of a pea is a real property of it.

      But the function of a shirt? Can’t say the same thing, Old Boy! The shirt’s functions are different for a fox than they are for you, and different for the wind than they are for either you or the fox. Which means those functions do not exist as real properties of the shirt, but only as concepts in our own minds.

      At least that’s how I myself see it.

      Your brother in logical thinking,

      Stace-Walters

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  2. By the reverse process described above, if an object once did not exist as an independent physical reality then it can never exist at any time in the future. Objects are temporary instances of physical reality that occasionally have an influence upon or conscious awareness of them. Objects can be independent and still be subject to interaction with other objects and forces which change their form Objects do not have to (cannot?) be permanent to be an object at some point in time.

    love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Boyd Stace-Walters here! Parachuting in to address your comments, Mr. Iwbut! And thank you kindly for them!

      I’ll hazard that we are in substantial agreement here. But if I may, I would like to turn your comments into a concrete example of what I suppose you mean, just to be sure that I do quite understand your points.

      As I see it, this would be an example of what you mean, rendered in concrete terms. First, suppose the most fundamental unit of matter is the string. Next, suppose we have a tennis ball. We might call that ball as it exists at some specific moment, “Object 1”. Let’s further suppose we take away over the next picosecond exactly one string from Object 1. Object 1 would then cease to exist, and we would instead then have Object 2. Am I on the right track here, Mr. Iwbut?

      Assuming that I am indeed on the right track, then I would say you and I so far agree. I would caution, however, that we do not allow ourselves to indulge in the licentious belief that Object 1 and Object 2 are somehow physically the same object. The fact is that they are physically different, albeit only minutely so. They “exist” as the same object only in our minds.

      Are we still in agreement, Mr. Iwbut?

      Your brother in logic,

      Stace-Walters

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Happy to receive your reply (any reply really! 😉 ) (Mr) Stace-Walters and please, call me love (the ‘ell’ part of ellwbut – i really wish wordpress would better distinguish between lower case l’s and upper case I’s)

    I would also hazard we are largely in agreement but i do so love to split hairs (or strings as may be this case).

    I am prepared to concede that TECHNICALLY, under the strictest definition, the two objects you describe might be able to be IMAGINED as ‘separate’. But if we are talking a difference of just one string – a thing so infinitesimally small (should it ever even be proven to exist!) as to be immeasurable by current methods and certainly to any observer’s naked eye – then no ‘real’ (human) observer would be able to distinguish object 1 from object 2 and would have no reason to believe they were not, in fact, one and the same ‘independent object’. To continue your example, if object 2 then regains a string of identical nature to the one that was lost i assume you would describe this as object 3? But then how do we distinguish between object 1 and object 3? If this keeps on happening once every picosecond how many objects do we end up with? What would be the practical purpose in assigning a separate object number to something that undoubtedly exists (in one of two states) at any given picosecond?

    My problem here is that i am actually proving the initial hypothesis (objects don’t exist independently) while wishing to disprove it 😀

    Actually we do not need to reduce the difference down as far as the string dimension (planck length) level to determine that an object doesn’t exist. It can be stated with considerable more certainty that objects don’t exist as anything more than a framing of our own consciousness as the act of observing instantly changes the object being observed into a different (technically, if not apparently) object, as would all subsequent observations still further change the ‘original’ object. The most common change being a change in every atom’s energy level that emits or reflects a photon that is then detected, in whatever manner, by said observer.

    I believe my actual argument was not intended so much with the physical, as the verbal definition of an ‘object’.

    The definition given in the post was: “An object is anything that exists as an independent or discrete physical reality.”

    I believe a more useful definition would be: “An object is any set of things that one or more observers can detect and agree upon as an independent or discrete physical reality contained within the same space at a particular time”. 🙂

    Admittedly this could give rise to problems if different observers hold to different standards of observation.

    Of course it all depends what the actual objective is in wishing to prove or disprove that objects don’t actually exist – i.e. what does it benefit anyone to understand that no object that appears to exist actually exists after we observe it?

    Your’s in (somewhat convoluted) logic,

    love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Boyd Stace-Walters here to respond to your comments, Mr. Love, and thank you for them!

      First, I must apologize for not quite clarifying what I was up to in my first response to your comments. The fact is, I was not proposing that strings are indeed the universe’s fundamental units of matter and/or energy. Instead, I was merely proposing a thought experiment using strings as an example. But most any unit of matter would do. I could have asked, for instance, for us to imagine an object comprised of “chunks”, rather than strings. The principle would remain the same: Take away a chunk, and you no longer have the old object, but a new one.

      Another clarification I need to make is that the traditional definition of an object (i.e. more or less, “An object is anything that exists as an independent or discrete physical reality.”) implies that an object exists independent of not only other objects, but of our minds. I will edit my post to make that explicit, because it’s a key point. Apologies for not having done that sooner.

      I think your proposed definition of an object is admirably thought-provoking, and yet it gets perilously close to the topic of my next guest post on this blog. Rather than go into it here, I would prefer to reserve most of my comments on it for that post. The only thing I think that needs to be said here is that your definition might seem to be radically different from the traditional definition of an object. It all depends on how necessary you believe the observers are to the existence of the object. My guess is that you will say the object exists independent of them, and that they are not at all necessary to its existence. If we leave it at that, then in my opinion, you do have a traditional definition of an object. But in that case, then I am not sure why it is necessary to mention the observer’s at all. For to do so would seem to me to imply that the object is a concept in their minds. But perhaps I’m not clear as to what you meant. Do feel free to clarify if necessary!

      Your brother in logic,

      Stace-Walters

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am indebted to your kindness and patience in your reply Mr Stace-Walters. I am happy to await your next post to respond fully but will gladly expand on my line of thinking regarding ‘independent’ objects ( bearing in mind this is in no way currently ‘fixed’ as i do not have ALL available information on the issue). My preference is to think of objects as (largely) independent to my perception as i believe my perception is mine alone and other people have their own ( but similar) perception of any given object and we need to be able to have consistency in agreement on any ‘external’ (to an observer) object. If we cannot agree that the object in discussion even exists outside of us problems ensue.. My apparent ambiguity arises from my scientific studies which demonstrates that at the very small scale the act of observing or recording in some way sub-atomic particles alters the particle in some way so that it is not the same after the observation as it was before. Generally however the act of say observing a projectile in flight does not affect to any noticable degree the projectile or it’s flight path rendering it effectively the same object for all observers unless one physically interacts with it.
        Take for example the idea that a ball only exists as a construct of my thought. I throw it hard at a second person ( also a construct of my thought?) and it hits him even though as far as he was concerned the object did not exist because he did not observe it himself.
        Further i consider an object can still be the same object even if a ‘chunk’ is removed. I define an object as being able to be modified ( within some degree of reason) over time, for example a hydrogen atom that is at it’s natural rest energy state is the same object if energy is applied to it and an electron moves to a higher energy level and then decays that energy back to the original state whereas it would be a different object if the energy was sufficient to remove the electron entirely ( an H atom is a diferent object to a H+ ion.)

        I hope this clarifies my ‘current’ understandings?

        love.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Boyd Stace-Walters here. Galloping in to respond to your comments, Mr. Love, and quite apologetic that I’ve failed to respond to them earlier. Thank you for greatly clarifying your current understanding of the object!

        To be sure, I believe we are in agreement that there exist realities outside of our own minds. In the case of your thrown ball, we would both say that the ball exists apart from our minds. The exciting difference seems to be that you regard the ball as an object, while I myself do not (Although I would say that it can be regarded as an object purely for the sake of convenience — so long as it not understood to be an actual object).

        But that aside, your definition of an object as able to be modified “within reason” while still remaining the same object raises to my mind the question of whether you believe there is some general principle at work to determine the boundary between “within reason” and “not within reason”?. Or are there various reasons that are applied ad hoc, case by case, as it were?

        For example, imagine if you will, a motorcar. Now take a part from the motorcar, then another, and another. At what point, if any, does it become “within reason” to call what you now have a different object than what you began with? And, of course, what precisely is the reason for calling it a different object? Last, is that reason of such general nature that it can be applied to all objects?

        I am grateful to you for such an engaging conversation, Mr. Love.

        Stace-Walters

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    • Boyd Stace-Walters here. Parachuting in to address your question, Ms. Teresums! And thank you kindly for it!

      It’s a very astute question, Old Girl, and it’s a question that I shall be addressing in my next guest post on Mr. Sunstone’s blog, Café What’s-its-name. I must ask for you to await the hour that post is published, for the answer to your question is not an entirely simple one. Sorry, that.

      By the way, Mr. Sunstone has told me that you have several questions about the fact objects exist only as concepts in our heads, and not as physical entities. If you wouldn’t mind sharing those questions with me, I’ll do my best to address them for you.

      Your brother in logic,

      Stace-Walters

      Like

      • Thank you for responding! Yes, i do have some questions, like, what is the difference between a concept and physical reality? Why does an object only exist in a picosecond? And why is time an illusion? Explain! explain!

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      • Thank you for your questions, Ms Teresums!

        The difference between a concept and physical reality is very similar in principle to the difference between a map and the terrain the map refers to. The concept is the map. Reality is its terrain.

        Suppose you had a map of France, and on that map there was a dot standing for Paris. A dot in no way resembles Paris, so the dot is not an accurate or true representation of Paris. But it might still be a useful stand in for Paris. So here, you see, the dot is the concept, Ms Teresums, and Paris is the reality. And while the concept is not true to reality, it can still be useful.

        Does any of that make sense?

        As for your other excellent questions, I will be addressing those in a future post, so I must beg your indulgence to skip over them here — as I do not wish to write a full blog post in response to you here.

        Stace-Walters, your brother in logic.

        Liked by 1 person

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