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Metaphysics


Metaphysics means, literally,  'beyond physics'.  Metaphysics deals with phenomena which are either:

  • More basic than physics

          or

  • Beyond the reach of physical methods of analysis and understanding.

 

1. More basic than physics
This category would at first appear to include mathematics, but mathematics itself is traditionally excluded from the scope of metaphysics.   However, such 'metamathematical' topics as the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the physical sciences and the origins of number are objects of metaphysical speculation. 

The origins of the laws of physics themselves, and the reason why the universe appears the way it is, also belong to this first category.

2. Outside the scope of scientific understanding
The second category includes all phenomena which are not amenable to physical study (including investigation by those sciences which are reducible to physics - such as chemistry, biology, neurophysiology etc). 

To be capable of analysis by physical and scientific methodology, a phenomenon must exhibit behavior which can be predicted and understood in terms of algorithms and datastructures  - that is to say  it can be modelled using a computer.  

Phenomena which cannot (even in principle) be understood in terms of procedures and structures fall within the scope of metaphysics.  The classic examples are irreducible subjective experiences (or 'qualia' as they are known in the trade). 

Another example of an irreducible function of the mind, is the actual scientific understanding required to formulate models of the real world in terms of algorithms and datastructures  - the legendary 'Mother of all algorithms' , which is itself not algorithmic.

- Sean Robsville


Links:

Why does mind understand matter so well?
'....So we are left with something of a mystery. According to the physicalist worldview, the mind (including mathematicians' minds) is an epiphenomenon of matter which has evolved solely to ensure the survival of the selfish genes which code for it. Why should this 'top-level' phenomenon have such intimate access to the 'bottom level' phenomena such as quantum physics? After all, the two levels are supposedly separated by less well-understood (in some cases) explanatory layers such as evolutionary psychology,   neurology, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, and chemistry.'

Platonic realms?
'.....in the final analysis the entire number system has been generated by the play of mind on emptiness, in the complete absence of the need to refer to any material thing, or things, which are being counted.  Numbers do not exist by reference to physical reality, nor are they self-existent, abstract 'things in themselves'...'


Observers create reality
'...It is important to emphasise that the mathematical equations of quantum physics do not describe actual existence - they predict the potential for existence. Working out the equations of quantum mechanics for a system composed of fundamental particles produces a range of potential locations, values and attributes of the particles which evolve and change with time. But for any system only one of these potential states can become real, and - this is the revolutionary finding of quantum physics - what forces the range of the potentials to assume one value is the act of observation..'

Emergence
The mind cannot be an emergent property of the brain or any other physical system, since emergent properties and emergent phenomena are psychological in origin, and require the pre-existence of an observer's mind in order to become manifest.

Primordial Mind and the Structure of the Cosmos
'....Throughout its early history the universe continued to develop as an immense superposition of probabilities. Not only was the structure of the universe superposed, but all logically possible states of matter, physical constants, properties and laws were simultaneously present and evolving into ever increasing diversity. Quantum theory states that any physical system remains in a superposed state of all possibilities until it interacts with the mind of an observer. At some instant one of these possible alternative universes produced an observing lifeform - an animal with a nervous system which was sufficiently evolved to form a symbiotic association with a primordial mind. The first act of observation by this mind caused the entire superposed multiverse to collapse immediately into one of its numerous alternatives...'

The inadequacy of the computer as a model of the mind.
Computer intelligence has been promised for 50 years, yet it seems further away than ever - Why?

Qualia - the irreducible phenomena of subjective experience. 
Will understanding the mechanisms of the brain help us understand the mind?

Inherent existence of ordinary things
'.......all things have no fixed identity ('inherent existence') and are are in a state of impermanence - change and flux - constantly becoming and decaying. Not only are all things constantly changing, but if we analyse any phenomenon in enough detail we come to the conclusion that it is ultimately unfindable, and exists purely by definitions in terms of other things - and one of those other things is always the mind which generates those definitions...'

Qualia, mind, and biological fitness 
What does it mean to be a sentient being, as distinct from a machine/automaton/robot/computer?

Meditation on the non-procedural and non-structural nature of the mind
provides intuitive understanding that the mind is not a machine or program.

The Three Poisons
Hatred, Ignorance and Desirous attachment.


Inherent existence of God
'...Caesar-in-the-Sky has been so overspecified with superlatives, especially with the fatal feedback loop of omniscience, that he has been constructed into what philosophers would call a 'logically necessary being' (ie a changeless, inherently existent being).   But a logically necessary being can neither change anything, nor undergo change itself. Nor can it make a decision or in any other way interact with contingent reality. The concept of the Creator is fraught with difficulty.  Who created the creator? If the Creator 'just is' then maybe the universe 'just is'. Why multiply entities unnecessarily?...'

Philosophy for Children and Young People  - A small charity whose members are interested in the role of philosophical enquiry in education, both as a model of rigorous thinking and as a celebration of wonder and open-mindedness.

RATIONAL BUDDHISM
If we regard Buddhism as a combination of a philosophy, psychology and religion, then how much mileage can we get from the first two aspects before we have to start invoking religious faith?

 

Christian versus Buddhist metaphysics

Buddhism in Everyday Life
The Daily Meditation