The Quantum Thomist

Musings about quantum physics, classical philosophy, and the connection between the two.
On Bell's Theorem

Clarifying Catholicism interview.
Last modified on Fri May 29 21:21:46 2020

Last weekend I had an interview with William Deatherage of Clarifying Catholicism. Our discussion focussed on the first way and various objections to it from Newtonian and quantum physics. My notes for the interview (which are a bit rough, but go into more detail than I could do during the discussion) are available here.

Riots and Racism

Reader Comments:

1. Robert Sarah
Posted at 00:18:14 Friday June 5 2020

David Oderberg - Real Essentialism

Hello Sir,

I was wondering if you've read "Real Essentialism" by David Odeberg and would like your thoughts on his argumentation. Alongside his other works "Applied Ethics" and "Moral Theory". Would make for a great book review.

2. Francis A.
Posted at 12:47:39 Friday June 5 2020

Summary Book.

I was wondering if you were ever planning to release a summary book as a complement to your main work I.e. a "Summa of the summa" type work covering the main definitions, principles, arguments, rebuttals broadly speaking. For example like the set of notes you attached after this interview. I feel it would make the work much more accessible to introduce the concepts to someone.

3. Nigel Cundy
Posted at 17:41:41 Friday June 5 2020



I have read Oderberg's Real Essentialism (albeit a while ago -- I keep meaning to re-read it) and Moral Theory, although I haven't got round to his Applied Ethics yet. I largely agree with most of what he writes (with regards to Moral Theory just a few minor differences in definitions, but nothing major; Real Essentialism I would have to double check; but I don't recall any major points of disagreement I noted when I read it). Obviously he is one of the leading classical philosophers today, and I'm not, so he presents the arguments far better than I am capable of.

Francis -- yes, I would like to create a more user friendly version of my work, and also discuss some extra topics which I couldn't fit into my original book. My plan is to start working on that late next year -- albeit that my planned schedules never seem to work out as intended. It will probably take me some time to write it, though.

4. Winifred Boniface
Posted at 13:27:08 Monday June 8 2020

Starting own video podcast series

Have you ever considered starting your own video podcast or series; going through the basics of your argumentation? It could even be paid service.

Finally it you be great to see you on bigger podcasts e.g. Matt Frad, Catholic Answers (with Trent Horn), The Thomistic Institute. Or smaller scale but we'll informed YouTubers e.g. "Classical Theist" and "Mathoma"

5. Naoya Inoue
Posted at 20:27:50 Tuesday June 9 2020

What exactly is "matter" and "form"

In a Hylomorphic view of reality what exactly is "matter" versus the popular understanding of the term. Similarly is form to be understood as simply the organising principle of matter? Do (substantial) forms come into existence?

6. Nigel Cundy
Posted at 22:19:56 Wednesday June 10 2020

Matter and Form

Dear Naoya,

Thanks for your question.

My own answer to this (which would possibly make some philosophers squirm) is as follows: we know that we are able to create abstract representations of physical objects. One aspect of this is the scientific description. Obviously our abstractions are not precise, but that is due to our own limitations: the more we learn, the more precise and accurate our representations get. That only makes sense if there is a target which we are gradually approaching: a genuine abstract layer that accurately represents the being which we could in principle (if not in practice) perfectly understand. We also know, through the success of science, that this abstraction really does represent the being. There is a part of the being which can be represented abstractly. On the other hand, this abstract construction we have in our minds can never be the actual being. There is always going to be something in the being that our abstract representation lacks. Our mental or symbolic representation of a water molecule is never going to actually be a water molecule, even if it can be used to make accurate predictions about the motions and properties of the molecule. There is thus also part of the being which gives it some concrete or physical reality, which cannot be mapped to a mental or symbolic abstraction. The part of the being which we can (in principle) represent in our scientific (or other models) is the form. The part of the being which we can't represent is matter.

The form is not a single structure; it allows for variation. In part it describes the set of states which the being can have. For example, a water molecule will have numerous vibrational modes, each one represented by a different energy state. The form of the molecule encompasses all of those. I use continuity to distinguish between different types of being. If you have two different states A and B, then if you can get from A to B via continuous changes of the energy bands (such as from one vibrational state of the water molecule to another, where you are just moving the atoms around a bit) then they are of the same form; if you can only get from A to B via a discrete step, such as going from water to methanol (which requires adding a carbon and two hydrogen atoms, but more importantly a complete reshaping of the energy bands which bind all the atoms together) then they are of different forms. The form can be used to compute the properties of a being and how it interacts with other beings. The form is more fundamental; properties and attributes are derived from the form (which is why we can study such things scientifically). It is also the universalising principle, while matter is the distinguishing principle: every water molecule has the same form, but different matter.

Note this is different from Plato's vision of form, in which the forms existed by themselves in some abstract realm. Here forms (at least of material beings; angels are something of an exception, and God is a special case different from everything else) can only subsist in something else (whether that is a mind, or as part of a material substance).

That's my usual way of thinking about it.

The more official way of thinking about form and matter (which I'm paraphrasing from Feser's Scholastic Metaphysics) makes use of the act/potency distinction. In any change, there is a potency to be actualised, and the actualisation of the potency. There is a determinable substratum that is the seat of the potencies; and a series of determinable patterns that the substratum takes on as the potencies are actualised. The seat of the potencies is matter; what it takes on is form. In other words, pure or prime matter is infinitely flexible. It can be used to build any material substance. But when it undergoes a change, it becomes something in particular (let's call it X). What makes it X rather than Y is the form. The underlying substratum which becomes either X or Y is the matter. Matter is what needs actualising; form is that which results from actualisation. Form is not just structure, or colour, or how matter is organised (although it contains all of these), but entails a complete description of the being in question.

That's my paraphrase of Feser's account, anyway, and I hope that it makes some sort of sense (you do need to think about it; plus he has 160 pages of technical detail before he gets to this point which obviously I have skipped over).

This can be compared to the mechanistic picture, which, crudely, is probably what most people imagine these days. In mechanism, everything is made up of some fundamental stuff, which are indivisible and indestructible particles. One name given to these objects was atoms; since that word is currently used for something which is divisible and destructible, I prefer to call them by the alternative name corpuscles (ignoring the technical distinction between the two words in the early mechanical literature). These corpuscles basically represent matter. More complex objects are made up of different arrangements of corpuscles. But they are, basically, just a pile of corpuscles; all their properties and attributes are just down to the corpuscles themselves, and their arrangement and organisation. Complex beings are just the sum of their parts. Ultimately, everything can be related by continuous changes: you just move some corpuscles away, and rearrange the others, and you have a different being. There is no discontinuous shaping of the energy bands, because the energy of the complex object is only derived from the motions of the individual particles, and not how they are bound together. But in hylomorphism, form is not just a matter of how the corpuscles are arranged. When two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom come together to form water, you get something very different, and entirely new substance. The energy bands of the water molecule are not just those of hydrogen and oxygen added together; there is a discontinuous change.

Anyway, I hope that is helpful and makes some sort of sense. Let me know if it doesn't.

7. Arnold Janssen
Posted at 10:39:19 Thursday June 11 2020

Can you determine when a substantial change has taken place?

I'm aware an example of substantial change is from life to death. But for inanimate structures i.e. a plank of wood burning at what point does the substance cease to be a "plank" and become ash.

Secondly for example a pile of soil, is the pile a single substance? If you split the pile into two; do you have two substances? How far can this go? Do different piles of soil/dirt have different substances or do they merely appear different but it's solely accidental. Is the soil a different substance when it's just found in the ground as opposed to a pile? Thanks

8. Nigel Cundy
Posted at 14:04:45 Sunday June 14 2020

Substantial Change

As alluded to above, I distinguish substances by whether or not you can map from one state to another by a sequence of continuous changes to the Hamiltonian, or have to include a discontinuous change. This works well for physics and chemistry, but you might need to use an analogous definition to distinguish biological species. (I try to avoid discussing biology beyond the very basics if I can, since my knowledge of the subject is fairly limited. As I recall, David Oderberg had a detailed discussion of biological species in his Real Essentialism, and I am content to accept that.

A substantial change is then a change which involves change from one substance to another.

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