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Oldie but a Goodie
Posted: 08 June 2012 01:28 PM   [ Ignore ]
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What’s the difference between you and the Universe? 

If we looked down to the atomic level it’d be hard to tell the difference between where your finger, say, ended and the air around it started.  So what’s the difference between the thing we call the universe and the thing we call you and me?  Is the relationship one of Whole to Whole, Whole to Part?

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Posted: 08 June 2012 02:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Whole to part. You are a part of the universe. How else could it be?

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Posted: 08 June 2012 02:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yeah.  That analogy doesn’t really work.  The air isn’t part of your finger.

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Posted: 11 June 2012 06:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Well, first of all, what exactly is “you” (or “me”)? It’s not as easy a question as it sounds. (Unless you want to change it to “your body.”)

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Posted: 11 June 2012 10:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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dougsmith - 08 June 2012 02:05 PM

Whole to part. You are a part of the universe. How else could it be?

You could BE the Universe itself, as in “conscious beings are the way the universe contemplates itself”.

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Posted: 11 June 2012 10:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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FreeInKy - 11 June 2012 06:30 AM

Well, first of all, what exactly is “you” (or “me”)? It’s not as easy a question as it sounds. (Unless you want to change it to “your body.”)

Exactly, that’s my question.  It only *seems* simple if we ignore everything other than what are not so good visual system takes in.  If our eyes were as good as the best electron microscopes, maybe we’d consider the question “you/me vs the universe” very differently.

BTW, the reason I titled this topic Oldie But Goodie was that my question really is roughly the same as Plato’s Forms notion. (And no I’m not saying I came up with this idea and therefore I’m like Plato…I’m closer to Playdough!)

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Posted: 11 June 2012 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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CuthbertJ - 08 June 2012 01:28 PM

What’s the difference between you and the Universe? 

If we looked down to the atomic level it’d be hard to tell the difference between where your finger, say, ended and the air around it started.  So what’s the difference between the thing we call the universe and the thing we call you and me?  Is the relationship one of Whole to Whole, Whole to Part?

Intuitively, it seems obvious at the macro level that you, as a sentient entity on the earth, is part of the earth, the earth is part of the solar system, the solar system is part of the milky way galaxy, the milky way galaxy is part of all the galaxies and the galaxies are parts of the universe.

So, you are one miniscule part of the universe. But, is it so?

However, at the quantum level, it is not so obvious as quantum objects are vague objects. That quantum objects are indiscernibles which can exhibit superposition and entanglement seems to imply that they, you and the universe (both of which consist of quantum objects) is one indivisible whole.

This leads us to mereology, the study of parts and wholes.

From the wiki on mereology

Axiomatizations:

Mereology has been axiomatized in various ways as applications of predicate logic to formal ontology, of which mereology is an important part. A common element of such axiomatizations is the assumption, shared with inclusion, that the part-whole relation orders its universe, meaning that everything is a part of itself (reflexivity), that a part of a part of a whole is itself a part of that whole (transitivity), and that two distinct entities cannot each be a part of the other (antisymmetry). A variant of this axiomatization denies that anything is ever part of itself (irreflexive) while accepting transitivity, from which antisymmetry follows automatically.

The “assumption that the part-whole relation orders its universe” makes sense at the macro level but it is only an assumption and as such, it could be wrong.

OTOH, there are other philosophical perspectives to consider.

From the wiki on gunk (mereology)

In mereology, an area of philosophical logic, the term gunk applies to any whole whose parts all have further proper parts. That is, a gunky object is not made of indivisible atoms:

  If something is made of atomless gunk then it divides forever into smaller and smaller parts—it is infinitely divisible. However, a line segment is infinitely divisible, and yet has atomic parts: the points. A hunk of gunk does not even have atomic parts ‘at infinity’; all parts of such an object have proper parts.
  —Ted Sider

From the wiki on mereological nihilism

Mereological nihilism (also called compositional nihilism, or rarely simply nihilism) is the position that objects with proper parts do not exist (not only objects in space, but also objects existing in time do not have any temporal parts), and only basic building blocks without parts exist. Or, more succinctly, “nothing is a proper part of anything.”

Explanation:

A number of philosophers have argued that objects that have parts do not exist. The basis of their argument consists in claiming that our senses give us only foggy information about reality and thus they cannot be trusted; and for example, we fail to see the smallest building blocks that make up anything, and these smallest building blocks are individual and separate items that do not ever unify or come together into being non-individual. Thus they never compose anything. So, according to the concept of mereological nihilism, if the building blocks of reality never compose any whole items, then all of reality does not involve any whole items, even though we may think it does.

From the wiki on mereological essentialism

Mereological essentialism is a philosophical thesis about the relationship between wholes and its parts, and the conditions for their persistence. It holds the view that objects have their parts essentially, implying that if an object were to lose or gain a part, it would cease to exist—that is, it would no longer be the original object but a new, different one.

So, what about quantum objects? Do they have parts? Are they discernible objects?

From this article at the SEP on The Identity of Indecernibles

The Identity of Indiscernibles is a principle of analytic ontology first explicitly formulated by Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz in his Discourse on Metaphysics, Section 9 (Loemker 1969: 308). It states that no two distinct things exactly resemble each other. This is often referred to as ‘Leibniz’s Law’ and is typically understood to mean that no two objects have exactly the same properties. The Identity of Indiscernibles is of interest because it raises questions about the factors which individuate qualitatively identical objects. Recent work on the interpretation of quantum mechanics suggests that the principle fails in the quantum domain (see French 2006).

So, what is a whole and what is a part?  cheese

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Posted: 11 June 2012 11:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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CuthbertJ - 11 June 2012 10:05 AM

You could BE the Universe itself, as in “conscious beings are the way the universe contemplates itself”.

I’m not so egotistical as to think myself identical to the entire universe.

Also, the entire universe includes Jupiter, which is a bit too large to fit in my stomach. smile

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Posted: 11 June 2012 11:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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CuthbertJ - 11 June 2012 10:15 AM

... my question really is roughly the same as Plato’s Forms notion.

You’ll have to explain that one to me.

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Posted: 11 June 2012 05:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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CuthbertJ - 08 June 2012 01:28 PM

What’s the difference between you and the Universe? 

If we looked down to the atomic level it’d be hard to tell the difference between where your finger, say, ended and the air around it started.  So what’s the difference between the thing we call the universe and the thing we call you and me?  Is the relationship one of Whole to Whole, Whole to Part?

Whole and Part are useful human concepts, but they have no objective truth. We are part of the universe in the sense that a human is a subset of “the universe”, physically speaking. We are also made of the same stuff as the rest of the universe. But to say we are the universe is just redefining words in a mostly useless way. It may be good for a little zen meditation, but not much else.

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Posted: 11 June 2012 06:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Isn’t it sort of the same as asking what’s the difference between a molecule of water and the ocean?

Occam

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Posted: 11 June 2012 07:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Occam. - 11 June 2012 06:38 PM

Isn’t it sort of the same as asking what’s the difference between a molecule of water and the ocean?

It is similar to the Sorities paradox

The sorites paradox (from Ancient Greek: σωρείτης sōreitēs, meaning “heaped up”) is a paradox that arises from vague predicates. The paradox of the heap is an example of this paradox which arises when one considers a heap of sand, from which grains are individually removed. Is it still a heap when only one grain remains? If not, when did it change from a heap to a non-heap?

With molecules of water:

X molecules of water is an ocean. (Premise 1)
X-1 molecules of water is still an ocean (Premise 2)

Repeated applications of Premise 2 (each time starting with one fewer molecule), eventually forces one to accept the conclusion that an ocean may be composed of just one molecule of water (and consequently, if one molecule of water is still an ocean, then removing that one molecule of water to leave no molecules at all still leaves an ocean; indeed a negative number of molecules of water must also form an ocean. 

So, “empty” space, quantum objects and you, a miniscule “part” of the universe, is the universe.

LOL

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Posted: 11 June 2012 08:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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We have a joke in Czech that you may have here as well: a man comes to a gas station and asks how much a drop of gas is. The attendant answers that it doesn’t cost anything to which the man replies that he would like the tank filled up with the drops. I guess it doesn’t sound that funny in English…

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Posted: 12 June 2012 04:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Occam. - 11 June 2012 06:38 PM

Isn’t it sort of the same as asking what’s the difference between a molecule of water and the ocean?

Yep. Or a glass of ocean water and the ocean. If this isn’t a part/whole relationship, then it’s not clear what a part/whole relationship is.

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Posted: 12 June 2012 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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George - 11 June 2012 08:46 PM

We have a joke in Czech that you may have here as well: a man comes to a gas station and asks how much a drop of gas is. The attendant answers that it doesn’t cost anything to which the man replies that he would like the tank filled up with the drops. I guess it doesn’t sound that funny in English…

Well, that is an example of the sorites paradox, though in reverse. Since one drop of gas isn’t worth anything, then since a liter of gas is just a whole bunch of drops, logically a liter of gas isn’t worth anything, either.

One problem that someone might bring up is that really, a drop of gas does have value, albeit minuscule, maybe less than a penny but it could theoretically be derived. (The value of fluids is pretty robust until, arguably, you get down well below the visible threshold; though there are certainly examples of drugs and other very high value fluids where you could probably even attempt to value countable numbers of molecules).

This is why for the sorites to really work well you need vaguer concepts like “pile”, “lake”, “island”, etc. One grain of sand isn’t a pile. One drop of water isn’t a lake, or even a pond or puddle. But puddles, ponds and lakes are all made up of drops of water.

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Posted: 12 June 2012 04:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Occam. - 11 June 2012 06:38 PM

Isn’t it sort of the same as asking what’s the difference between a molecule of water and the ocean?

Occam

The difficulty is coming up with objective parts.

I think this is made particulary clear when thinking about temporal parts. So you are spread out from birth to death and we can divide you, over time, into parts.

But how could those parts be objective? I might pick 3 second divisons, or 3 year divisions, or daily divisions, but in each case I’ve drawn the lines between the parts.

What are the objective lines between your temporal parts?

Stephen

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