How can Space be Material?
PSI Blog 20170412
How can Space be Material?
Like many others, Bill is still having trouble understanding the difference between matter and space. He takes offense at this quote from a PSI Blog 20170322 (Infinite Divisibility of Matter and Space):
“GB: … The “block universe” you and others write about is impossible because matter cannot take on the characteristics of either end member of the matter-space continuum …”
BW: This formulation strikes me as self-contradictory. There can’t be a “continuum” without end points. You can’t talk about what’s between the “end members” if there is no distinction between matter and space.[GB: I have to admit that I also used to have difficulty with this problem for many years after I graduated from college when I was still an idealist. Fortunately, continua are common features in the natural world. For instance, in earth science there is a continuum between plagioclase and albite. The ideal end member plagioclase contains calcium and the ideal end member albite contains sodium. I used to believe that pure plagioclase and pure albite actually existed. In nature, however, we find only mixtures of the two. No one has ever found plagioclase without some sodium or albite without some calcium. Those ideal end members are simply ideas, concepts we use to understand the continuum, which has minerals ranging from those high in calcium to those high in sodium. What we call “matter” and “space” form a similar continuum.
With regard to the ideal (though nonexistent) “empty space” end member, Professor Einstein, former aether denier, had this to say in an address delivered on May 5th, 1920, at the University of Leyden:
“Careful reflection teaches us that special relativity does not compel us to deny ether. We may assume its existence but not ascribe a definite state of motion to it …” “There is a weighty reason in favour of ether. To deny ether is to ultimately assume that empty space has no physical qualities whatever.”]
BW: The way I read your argument, you’re saying that there is NO space between physical objects: all space is occupied by some smaller physical object (Aether-1, Aether-2… Aether-457, etc). To my mind, that logic claims that there are never collisions of any two objects, since they’re all in contact with other objects. That makes no sense to me.[GB: Then you must have trouble just getting around or hitting a baseball, for that matter. The air molecules in the doorway and between the bat and ball simply are shoved aside. In other words, what appears to be “empty space” in those situations simply contains microcosms that are not massive enough to prevent the collisions of more massive microcosms. There is no reason to believe that this situation is any different at any other scale. Absolutists have trouble with this because they cannot imagine that the world consists of anything other than black and white, solid and empty, something and nothing. The reality, however, is that the perfect world of the idealist cannot exist. Nature is messy, grey, never either solid or empty, never either something or nothing.]
“GB: … That would result in an empty universe. In actuality, every
subdivision anywhere along the continuum always ends up with both properties: solid matter and empty space.”
BW: Except space has no properties: it is the absence of matter.[GB: Let me repeat this from the great man: “To deny ether is to ultimately assume that empty space has no physical qualities whatever.” So your position ultimately was not even defended by the greatest perpetrator of aether denial himself. He never became known for this recantation of aether denial because indeterminists did not find it useful. The widespread aether denial in physics and cosmogony has gotten severely out of hand as seen in our previous Blogs:
BW: Something cannot interact with nothing, nor can nothingness be “divisible” in any sense of the word. It seems to me that you are one of the “absolutists” you condemn, in contending that there is an “infinite divisibility” of matter. How do you “divide” matter if not by the existence of space: not matter?[GB: Reread the above paragraph. Can you see that you are idealizing “matter” and “space” as clear-cut opposites? Can you see that you are using these ideals as if they are absolute realities? Do you realize that no one has ever discovered pure matter or pure space? That is because what we think of as matter always has space and what we think of as space always has matter. In every case, what we consider “matter” simply is stronger, denser, or more massive than what we consider “space.” Pure ideal matter and pure ideal space, like pure ideal plagioclase and pure ideal albite do not and cannot exist.
It is fine to use idealisms to understand the intervening reality, but it is important to never consider those idealities as realities themselves. That mistake was already made by Plato, who thought that the perfect sphere that he imagined was the reality and that actually occurring spheres were mere imperfect imitations. I spend so much time on this because it is this type of thinking that has given us relativity and the Big Bang. Aether denial and the assumed finity on which it is based are the essence of the regressive physics and cosmogony that currently afflicts us.]