Basic Structures of Reality: Essays in Meta-Physics

Basic Structures of Reality: Essays in Meta-Physics

Basic Structures of Reality: Essays in Meta-Physics

Basic Structures of Reality: Essays in Meta-Physics

Synopsis

In Basic Structures of Reality, Colin McGinn deals with questions of metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind from the vantage point of physics. Combining general philosophy with physics, he covers such topics as the definition of matter, the nature of space, motion, gravity, electromagnetic fields, the character of physical knowledge, and consciousness and meaning. Throughout, McGinn maintains an historical perspective and seeks to determine how much we really know of the world described by physics. He defends a version of "structuralism": the thesis that our knowledge is partial and merely abstract, leaving a large epistemological gap at the center of physics. McGinn then connects this element of mystery to parallel mysteries in relation to the mind. Consciousness emerges as just one more mystery of physics. A theory of matter and space is developed, according to which the impenetrability of matter is explained as the deletion of volumes of space. McGinn proposes a philosophy of science that distinguishes physics from both psychology and biology, explores the ontology of energy, and considers the relevance of physics to seemingly remote fields such as the theory of meaning. In the form of a series of aphorisms, the author presents a metaphysical system that takes laws of nature as fundamental. With its broad scope and deep study of the fundamental questions at the heart of philosophy of physics, this book is not intended primarily for specialists, but for the general philosophical reader interested in how physics and philosophy intersect.

Excerpt

This book consists of a series of essays written over a ten-year period, all of them published here for the first time. They were not originally conceived as chapters in a book, but as independent works. I have knitted them together into book form—and they do form a natural unity—but each essay can be read independently of the others. This has necessitated some repetition, for which I hope to be forgiven. The essays deal with questions at the intersection of physics, ontology, epistemology, and philosophy of mind. I hesitate to describe the book as “philosophy of physics”: it is better described as philosophy conducted in the company of physics. I might even call it “philosophical physics” by analogy with “philosophical psychology” (as opposed to “philosophy of psychology”). It aims to develop a philosophical understanding of basic physical concepts. It does not attempt to do metaphysics by doing physics; nor does it subject physics to a metaphysical critique. Rather, it seeks to articulate the philosophical content of physics: what it presupposes, its distinctive mode of theorizing, the kind of knowledge it generates, and its wider significance.

My interest in the subject has two main sources. First, I have had a longstanding interest in the science itself—from an amateur perspective. I think this has something to do with the way physics combines the speculative and the rigorous. Physics is mind-stretching and controversial, both historically and contemporarily, yet also mathematical and experimental: it is rigor mixed with intellectual soaring. Physics is the imagination rendered mathematical. I see an affinity with philosophy, which is also speculative yet rigorous: big mind-stretching questions treated with careful analysis and argument. Philosophy is wonder rendered logical. Philosophy and physics thus make natural partners. Second, physics attempts to plumb the depths of the world—it asks ultimate questions and seeks ultimate answers—and thus represents human inquiry at its most ambitious. It is therefore an ideal place to examine the scope and limits of human knowledge. Physics is a case study in epistemology. I have a special interest in that because of my interest in natural mysteries—phenomena of the world that baffle our theoretical efforts. How mysterious is the physical world? Are its mysteries related to other mysteries—such as the mystery of consciousness? What is the source of the mysteries of physics, if there are such? In physics we see the human mind at its outer limit—thrusting and striving, succeeding and . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.