Saturday, July 11, 2009

When is butter no longer butter?


In Steven Pollock's TTC course on "particle physics for non-physicists" he asks: how many times can I cut a piece of putter and still have butter?


If I take a package of Bregott (the typical swedish brand of butter) and cut it once I think that most people would agree that I will get two pieces of butter. But what happens if I cut it again and again and again - after a certain number of division I may have a piece that is a couple of nanometers in width - is that butter? I can make it even smaller and I will end up with a piece that is one angstrom across - the size of an atom and as far as I know butter is not in the periodic table...

The point I guess is that everything around us that we can touch is made up of protons, neurtrons and electrons - or if we go further down the reductionist tree - quarks and leptons. Butter is simply quarks and leptons arranged in a certain pattern with certain forces acting on it, and the same is true for us - we are also just quarks and leptons arranged in a particular pattern. In other words we are made out of the same building blocks as butter. Since our quarks and leptons respond to the forces of nature the same way leptons and quarks in butter does - we should have as much free will as my package of Bregott in the fridge...

7 comments:

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Daniel said...

With the same reasoning our mental experiences and volitions can't cause anything, I think u agree with that.

For me that's a huge problem so I can't agree with your conclusion.

I think there are a couple different possibilities for free will, the most obvious is that the laws of nature that act on the quarks and leptons are indeterministic and in theory that could mean there are non-physical causes.

I don't think we are "just" quarks and leptons, we have a mental life and that could mean it also exists mental causes (which is different from the physical causes).

Kold_Kadavr_flatliner said...

Guess few people rise-up to Heaven now because they think God's only for one-hour on Sundays. Sad.

rasmussenanders said...

Thank you for the comment Daniel,

It is true that the laws that act on quarks and leptons are indeterministic in the sense that you can only talk about probabilities, there seems to be a random factor involved. However, to say that mental activity would somehow bias this randomness in some way is a great leap of faith and there is no evidence whatsoever to support that claim.

In other words it would be more ok to argue that there is a randomness associated with your behavior, but that is different from the claim of free will. The fact that there is a random factor in behavior, certainly is not the same as free will.

Your last paragraph suggest some sort of dualism, a philosophy that seems intuitive but which I would reject any time because of the many logical problems that arise and because there is really no evidence for it.

rasmussenanders said...

Thank you for the comment Kold_kadavr.

I would be even worse of than the people you are talking of, since I don't even give him an hour a week...

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