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Essay/Term paper: Views of matter

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Philosophy

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What exactly is matter, it is not an every day question that one asks one"s own self. When looked at there are many different views on this subject, however because of the numerous numbers of different views, it is only possible to look at three of the discourses. The three discourses of matter to be looked at are; the Religious, Scientific, and Philosophical. Each discourse has evolved through time into the views that we know, and accept today. The distinction between these views on matter differs greatly, however it is possible to say that all three views came from the same place. This place being ancient Greece; it was their belief in gods that brought about religion, philosophy, and then science.
The scientific view of matter has evolved over time. Science for many centuries has been accompanied by philosophical thought, throughout time the mixture of the two is very evident. The beginnings of western science, namely physics, coincide with that of the first period of Greek philosophers. Physics is in fact a term derived from the Greek word "physis" which means "the endeavor of seeing the essential nature of all things" (Capra, 1977, p. 9). The basic ideas evolved from the Greek philosophers, and philosophy remained a big part of science right up until the Newtonian view of the universe.
Newton had a mechanistic view of the universe. He saw the universe as a three dimensional space. This space was unchangeable and always stagnant.
"In Newton"s own words, "Absolute space, in its own nature, without regard to anything external, remains always similar and immovable." All changes in the physical world were described in terms of a separate dimension, called time, which again was absolute, having no connection to the material world and flowing smoothly, from the past through the present to the future." (Capra, 1977, p. 43).
The things, which made up the absolute space and time, were material particles. These were perceived by Newton to be a part of all matter, as well as indestructible. Newton"s views were very parallel to those of the early Greek atomists. "Both were based on the distinction between the full and the void, between matter and space, and in both models the particles remained always identical in their mass and shape." (Capra, 1977, p. 43).
The difference between these two views came in the forces that acted upon the particles. The early Greeks did not elaborate on these forces, they merely accepted that there are forces that do act upon particles. Newton thought that it was the force of gravity that acted upon the particles. He also thought that God created the particles and the forces that act upon them.
Newton"s theory of a mechanistic universe was extremely popular with the physicists of the early nineteenth century. Newton"s laws were seen as the basic laws of nature, however in less than a century, a new set of theories of physical reality was discovered and the limitations of Newton"s theories were exposed.
This new physical reality was no doubt the work of Einstein, but it was not entirely his. There were some other key scientists who"s work contributed to that of Einstein"s. Their names were Michael Faraday and Clerk Maxwell. Faraday was responsible for producing an electric current through a copper wire, and together with Maxwell they both produced a complete theory of electromagnetism. Instead of saying that two charges had an attraction towards each other, they felt it more necessary to say that they disturbed each other. This led to the theory of a force that is called a field. "This was a most profound change in man"s conception of physical reality. In the Newtonian view, the forces were rigidly connected with the bodies they act upon." (Capra, 1977, p. 48).
Maxwell tried to explain his theories in mechanical terms, "interpreting the fields as states of mechanical stress in a very light space-filling medium, called ether, and the electromagnetic waves as elastic waves of this ether." (Capra, 1977, p. 48). Maxwell did not focus on the field entities of his theories, but instead on the mechanistic entities. Einstein focused on the fields, and stated that no ether existed, yet that these electromagnetic fields were physical entities themselves. He also stated that they were able to travel through empty space, and explanation through a mechanical view was impossible.
In 1905 Einstein changed the world of science with his two theories which started modern physics. These theories were the quantum theory, and the theory of relativity. The quantum theory was a new way of looking at electromagnetic radiation. The relativity theory stated that, "space is not three dimensional and time is not a separate entity. Both are intimately connected and form a four-dimensional continuum, "space-time"." (Capra, 1977, p. 48).
So the view of matter has evolved from the Greeks to Newton, to Einstein. The Greeks believed that there were basic building blocks which they called Atoms, however they did not look any deeper into what the Atoms were made of. Newton went a bit farther by introducing the concept of forces, which acted on these Atoms, he also felt that matter is always conserved and is essentially passive. These forces were an attraction towards each other.
Maxwell and Clerk went further by introducing the idea of a field created by the Atoms, and instead of an attraction, they believed that there was a disturbance. And finally Einstein developed the quantum theory and the theory of relativity. In the twentieth century, with the development of X-rays, the structure of the atom has been revealed. Now the Atom itself is not the smallest possible physical form, yet the substances which make up the Atom, such as electrons and protons and the nucleus, are now the smallest physical entities.
Today"s view of matter is very confusing and complex. Matter as well as light can consist of waves or particles; this idea gives matter a dual entity. At subatomic levels matter shows tendencies to exist, the quantum theory expresses these tendencies as probabilities; that is to say that matter can come in and out of existence. This is the reason why matter can be both a wave and a particle.
The scientific view of a vacuum is this. A vacuum is not empty by any means, instead it is full of an infinite number of particles, which can enter existence and vanish without end. The reason for this view, according to scientists, is that it is possible for particles to exit and enter the void. That is, it is possible for particles to disappear and reappear at random. The science view of emptiness is that there are no empty spaces. This is explained by the same reasons as to why a vacuum is not empty. Which means that there is no such thing as "nothingness" or "non-existence".
The philosophical view of matter starts off with the Milesian school of philosophy, and works it way up to the philosophy of the Greek Atomists. After the Greek Atomists the focus of philosophy switched from material to spiritual, and intellectual. The Milesian school of philosophy was varied in belief, because they wanted to "discover the essential nature, or real constitution, of things which they called "physis". "The Milesians were called "hylozoists," or "those who think matter is alive," by the later Greeks, because they saw no distinction between animate and inanimate, spirit and matter," (Capra, 1977, p. 6). That is they saw no distinction between the living and the non-living.
The Milesians view of the world was continued in the philosophy of Heraclitus of Ephesus. The philosophy of Heraclitus was as follows,

"Heraclitus believed in a world of perpetual change, of eternal "Becoming". For him all static Being was based on deception, and his universal principle was fire; a symbol for the continuous flow and change of all things. Heraclitus taught that all changes in the world arise from the dynamic and cyclic interplay of opposites, and he saw any pair of opposites as a unity." (Capra, 1977, p. 6).
So Heraclitus believed that the world is always changing, and that all changes come from the contact of opposites. There came after Heraclitus a new train of thought, which split the unity between the opposite forces, which Heraclitus had believed in. This split began with the Eleatic school.
The Eleatic school believed in a Divine Principle, which was a God above all other gods and men. This school started a trend that developed in to the common western philosophical thought of dualism, which is the separation of spirit and matter. Parmenides of Elea was a big contributor of this dualism. He was strongly opposed to the ideas of Heraclitus. His basic principle was called the Being. His views were in direct contrast to those of Heraclitus, Parmenides saw change as impossible, and he believed that our senses were not to be trusted because they were only illusions. Thus the western idea of indestructible substances came from this line of philosophical thought.
After Heraclitus and Parmenides, the Greeks had to resolve the contrast between the two theories. The philosophers of that time assumed the following, "they assumed that the Being is manifest in certain invariable substances, the mixture and separation of which gives rise to changes in the world." (Capra, 1977, p. 7). The Greek philosophers at this time (around 500 BC) felt that both Heraclitus and Parmenides were right. There were substances that could not be changed at the core, however the mixture and separation of these substances does give rise to change. Therefore both of them are right.
These ideas were the foundation for the idea of the atom, which took its clearest form in the philosophy of Leucippus and Democritus. The atom is the "smallest indivisible unit of matter," (Capra, 1977, p. 7). So now the philosophical view of matter is that it is made up of tiny indestructible atoms. "The Greek atomists drew a clear line between spirit and matter, picturing matter as being made of several "basic building blocks". These were purely passive and intrinsically dead particles moving in the void." (Capra, 1977, p. 7). The forces which act on these particles and cause them to move was never explained, however it was associated with spiritual forces, which are different from matter. From this train of thought came the separation of mind and matter, and became a basic element in western thought.
With this division of spirit and body, philosophers turned away from the material world, and toward the spiritual one, and questions like; does matter exist at all? Now philosophy wonders if it is our senses that make up the world around us. The philosopher Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, contributed to this train of thought with his famous phrase "I think therefore I exist". Descartes believed that the only existence that he could believe in was his own. This is because he imagined a deceitful demon that deceives perceptions. Therefore if Descartes doubted than he existed, if he had experiences than he existed. This new kind of philosophical thought wonders if things are just sensory data. If they are things can spring in and out of reality, this phenomenon is explained in the next quote.
"If the cat appears at one moment in one part of the room, and at another in another part, it is natural to suppose that it has moved from the one to the other, passing over a series of intermediate positions. But if it is merely a set of sense-data, it cannot have ever been in any place where I did not see it; thus we shall have to suppose that it did not exist at all while I was not looking, but suddenly sprang into being in a new place." (Russell, 1959, p. 22)
If what is said about the cat in the previous quote is true, then existence depends on our continuing perception of it. However our instinctive beliefs lead us to believe different things about the external world. That is to say "that the external world does really exist, and is not wholly dependent for its existence upon our continuing to perceive it." (Russell, 1959, p. 25). Instead it exists separately from our minds, and remains even when we turn our backs on it. Thus this philosophical view leans toward the question of weather or not matter really exists at all. Is matter just an illusion created by one"s own mind or is it real.
When looking at the Religious view on matter, it is first important to know the definition of Religion. "A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a church, all those who adhere to them." (Durkheim, p. 47). Because of the many different religions, and the amount of diversity between them, it is hard to come up with a concrete answer that works for everyone.
In general it is safe to say that religions are supernatural. Many things which modern science cannot explain are explained by religions. For example, Christians believe that God created the earth; for them this is concrete and unquestionable. Science, on the other hand, has the "Big Bang" theory, but it is not concrete, for the science community, and many questions are unanswered. So what science cannot answer, religion does, and although there may not be proof of the answer, followers of religion do not need one because they have faith.
So it seems easy to conclude that the religious view on matter for the most part is a belief that one God, or many gods created the earth, and thus created matter. And that the forces which act in nature are that of the supernatural, created by a higher source of power, such as God.
Some religions, namely Buddhists, see emptiness as the beginning of life, or creation. So then a vacuum must be a facilitator of life, because a vacuum is something which is empty of matter. Next we have the question of non-existence which can easily be answered by stating that there is no such thing as non-existence. This is because even though a vacuum is empty it is the beginning of existence, because it is empty. So if something is empty it does not exist because there is nothing in it, but because it is empty it is the beginning of existence because emptiness is the beginning of life. It is therefore easy to conclude that non-existence is the beginning of existence.
Thus the different views on matter are 1. Religion: God created All matter. 2. Science: All matter is made up of tiny particles, (molecules/atoms) which have forces that act upon them to create movement. 3. Philosophy: Questions the existence of matter (what is real?) and shows why it exists if indeed it does. Religion is mystical and is supernatural, and believes that God has created all matter. Science got its beginnings from early philosophers, but when philosophers moved away from the question of what is something made of, to the question of; does it exist? Science still tried to prove our existence, through what matter is made of. Religion and philosophy differ in that religion has an answer to the question of the existence of matter. This is the same for science; it has proved that there are tiny particles called atoms that make up every thing. So of the three discourses, philosophy is the only one still searching for an answer to the question of the existence of matter.
Capra, Fritjof. The Tao of physics. Bantam Books, Toronto, 1977.
Russell, B. The problem of philosophy. A Galaxy Book, New York, 1959.

Durkhiem, E. Elementary focus of the religious life.

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