The illusion of material solidity

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Magical Realist, Aug 18, 2013.

  1. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Last edited: Aug 18, 2013
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  3. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I don't for a moment think that material solidity is an illusion.

    Physical objects typically can't penetrate the spaces occupied by other physical objects. That's why my butt is planted firmly in my chair, and why both the chair and my butt aren't falling towards the center of the Earth.

    We might proceed to produce physical explanations for why this observed material solidity exists. But those explanations don't imply that the solidity doesn't exist. Instead, they provide us with an account of why and how it does exist.
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  5. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    There is no physical substance filling up space and so excluding more of that substance. There are only the spaces between the solid nuclei which are occupied by the foggy clouds of electrons extending far beyond those nuclei. So you don't actually feel anything solid and you don't see anything solid. You are merely experiencing the repulsive forces of electrical charges spread out into space. Matter is mostly made of a fog of electronic probabilities with nothing solid that is ever interacted with. Solidity is the substantialist illusion of common sense realism. It's the lazy generalization of brain that can no longer distinguish between points in space, like how the pixels on old TVs blended together to form solid-looking colors and images. Or like how tiny water droplets can appear to be solid white clouds from a distance.
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  7. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    Gonna have to side with Yazata on this one.
    And, Mr. Magical Realist, you should probably rehash your studies of Cathode Ray Tubes - because the : "It's the lazy generalization of brain that can no longer distinguish between points in space, like how the pixels on old TVs blended together to form solid-looking colors and images." - more accurately describes the affects of viewing a newfangled LCD/LED monitor.

    Besides, if it is 99 and 44/100ths empty space, how can it matter - which Yazata seems to cover with : "...those explanations don't imply that the solidity doesn't exist. Instead, they provide us with an account of why and how it does exist."
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2013
  8. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Since his empirical realism is akin to or grazing at the edge of direct realism[2], Kant (as well as neutral monist / positivist Ernst Mach) might agree that the apparently field-less, solid materiality of the phenomena in our extrospective experiences is what counts as primarily "real" or confirmed[1]. As long as such objects and their macroscopic properties [as perceived] are intersubjectively present to or validated by multiple individuals.

    However, one can't dismiss all the experiments and instruments that support the scientific version of matter. As Kant elaborated in later works, the natural world had its own internal metaphysics for explaining the regularities of everyday perceptions, though such physics conceptions aren't classed as that anymore. Nevertheless, the latter's openness to being revised, re-interpreted by new developments or discarded / assimilated by new theories in the future makes a fully "real" status more of a tentative judgement to apply to them; in contrast to the unaided perceptions of solid bodies and observed activities whose ordinary identifications and understandings have endured through the ages as our first and "immediate grasp" of them. The products of reflective thought being just that: Not "given" or quasi-given from the outset, but requiring invention from reasoning and methodological interrogation of the extrospective / publicly accessible environment[3].

    [1] Which was contrary to rationalist tradition, where a metempirical rather than the empirical realm was posited as the "real world". Though Kant flitted back and forth without warning between that traditional usage of "real" and his own, such that the misconception arose that he was still much in line with the classic view (i.e., declarations about the "noumenal world" had truer merit).

    [2] ANDREW BROOK: Kant's dominant view of the sensible foundation of knowledge is that we are immediately aware of nothing but our own representations. However, as Paul Guyer has so richly documented, a streak of direct realism can also be found in his work from time to time, a streak that would seem to be in considerable tension with the official view. In the first Critique, this streak of realism shows up most clearly in the Refutation of Idealism: he tells us at one point that we must have "an immediate awareness of the existence of other things outside me" (B276), of "an external thing distinct from all my representations" (Bxli), being careful in these statements to include both the empirical sense of externality, being located in space (`outside me', `external thing') and the transcendental sense (`other things', i.e. things other than myself, which are `distinct from all my representations'). --Realism in the Refutation of Idealism

    [3] KANT: . . . When Galileo caused balls, the weights of which he had himself previously determined, to roll down an inclined plane; when Torricelli made the air carry a weight which he had calculated beforehand to be equal to that of a definite column of water; or in more recent times, when Stahl changed metal into lime, and lime back into metal, by withdrawing something and then restoring it, a light broke upon all students of nature. They learned that reason has insight only into that which it produces after a plan of its own, and that it must not allow itself to be kept, as it were, in nature's leading-strings, but must itself show the way with principles of judgment based upon fixed laws, constraining nature to give answer to questions of reason's own determining. Accidental observations, made in obedience to no previously thought-out plan, can never be made to yield a necessary law, which alone reason is concerned to discover. Reason, holding in one hand its principles, according to which alone concordant appearances can be admitted as equivalent to laws, and in the other hand the experiment which it has devised in conformity with these principles, must approach nature in order to be taught by it. It must not, however, do so in the character of a pupil who listens to everything that the teacher chooses to say, but of an appointed judge who compels the witnesses to answer questions which he has himself formulated. Even physics, therefore, owes the beneficent revolution in its point of view entirely to the happy thought, that while reason must seek in nature, not fictitiously ascribe to it, whatever as not being knowable through reason's own resources has to be learnt, if learnt at all, only from nature, it must adopt as its guide, in so seeking, that which it has itself put into nature. It is thus that the study of nature has entered on the secure path of a science, after having for so many centuries been nothing but a process of merely random groping. --Critique of Pure Reason
  9. Rav Valued Senior Member

    My arse doesn't fall through my chair because of virtual particle exchange. That is to say that the forces involved are mediated by force carrier particles. So it's not like there is no "substance" to electromagnetism, or any other force for that matter. Further, there is no such thing as empty space anyway. There is substance to that as well. Whether we're just talking about something like quantum foam or a fabric of gravitons as proposed by some string theorists, space is not nothing. And perhaps all of these things are essentially manifestations of some more fundamental underlying fabric, or structure, such as filaments or fields of energy, or whatever. We are simply not yet at the point where we can draw truly definitive conclusions, thus this discussion is ultimately about speculative metaphysics, not physics.

    I do agree though that solidity, as we understand it, is something of an illusion, but only in the sense that we can't apply macroscopic properties to the subatomic world and expect to be accurately characterizing it.
  10. Yazata Valued Senior Member


    Of course I do. I'm using the word 'solid' in the states-of-matter sense, where it's contrasted with liquids and gasses.

    The atomic theory didn't make solids and everything solid suddenly evaporate like a mirage. It just gave us a better account of what solids are structually on their micro-scale, and why they have the properties that they do.

    And you are contrasting that with what? I get the impression that you have an implicit metaphysical theory in mind, in which 'solid' means a continuous spatially-extended volume of... substance or something. Since that's what you think solids not only are but must be in principle, you're convinced that atomism deconstructs solids into illusions.

    That seems to be your theory, not mine.

    I'm defining 'solids' to refer to the kind of solid mesoscale objects that I (and scientists as well) encounter every day. Objects that have a fairly-rigid shape, resist interpenetration by other solids, and so on. The kind of matter that your walls and floor are presumably made of. That doesn't presuppose the truth of any additional philosophical theories about what's happening inside solids. Physicists learn about that by investigating it.

    If you can demonstrate the ability to walk through walls, I'll take your dismissal of solidity more seriously.
  11. gmilam Valued Senior Member

    Really? Ever hit your thumb with a hammer? Feels pretty solid to me.
  12. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Feels pretty painful too. But that doesn't mean the hammer has the objective property of pain that your thumb is somehow sensing.
  13. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    I'm not assuming anything metaphysical. I'm simply assuming the truth of physics in it's definition and description of matter. If you wanna insist on some naive realist intepretation of physical reality instead then why not also assume color is a property of objects. That the sun rises and sets. That softness and hardness are objective qualities inhering in matter itself. Might as well just throw out everything science has taught us and accept reality as we've always experienced it.

    I already told you about the repulsive electrical fields. If it weren't for those your hand WOULD go thru a wall like a liquid. Your hand as well would probably melt into the wall. It'd be a frigg'n mess of displaced atoms.
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2013
  14. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    Okay, throw out, as you put it, "everything science has taught us ".
    Now, has the apparent color or any other property of any object actually changed - or has it in reality remained the same?
    Now, has the apparent rising and setting of the sun actually changed - or has it in reality remained the same?
    Now, has the apparent softness or hardness of any material changed - or has it in reality remained the same?

    Thinking or imagining or restating or perceiving or coming up with a new theory of something does not manifest material, elemental changes in reality.

    Looking at a 1/2 glass of water as half full as opposed to half empty does not change how much water is in the glass.

    You speak of "some naive realist intepretation" - do you mean "interpretation" - if so , who or what is this "naive realist interpretation" you speak of ?
  15. gmilam Valued Senior Member

    And only a moron would think it does.
  16. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    You seem to have this idea in your mind of what the underlying nature of 'solidity' must be, atomism is inconsistent with your idea, so you conclude that atomism has revealed solidity to be nothing but an illusion.

    Science still seems totally convinced that solids exist. 'Solid' remains one of the states of matter along with liquids, gases and perhaps more exotic states as well, ranging from plasmas to Bose-Einstein condensates.

    In fact, there's a whole specialty of physics devoted to solids, called solid-state physics.
  17. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    yazata, you are, of course correct.
    Correct, however, does not seem to be what Mr. Magical Realist chooses, in any way, to be associated with.

    His first statement begins with : "I'm not assuming anything...".
    His immediate next statement begins with : "I'm simply assuming...".
    Diametric opposition?!!

    Mr. Magical Realist seems to succumb to assumption instantaneously and seems to be, indeed, simple - I repeat, seems.
  18. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    "Under ordinary, everyday conditions the electrons swarming around the nucleus prevent the nucleus of an atom from making contact with the nucleus of any other atom. If two atoms bump together, only the electron swarms interact. If the nucleus of an atom were represented by a tennis ball on the 50-yard line of a football stadium, the electrons would be tiny particles whirling around at the outskirts of the stadium. The neighboring atoms in a solid would be other tennis balls several hundred yards away, each with their own swarm of electrons. This analogy holds even for a dense material like lead or gold -- the solidity of everyday objects is an illusion due to the electrical force within atoms. The emptiness of normal matter is one of the amazing consequences of atomic theory!"---

    "And even something is mostly nothing. Atoms overwhelmingly consist of empty space. Matter’s solidity is an illusion caused by the electric fields created by subatomic particles."---

    "I have settled down to the task of writing these lectures and have drawn up my chairs to my two tables. Two tables! ... One of them has been familiar to me from earliest years. It is a commonplace object of that environment which I call the world ... It has extension; it is comparatively permanent; it is coloured; above all it is substantial ... Table No. 2 is my scientific table ... My scientific table is mostly emptiness. Sparsely scattered in that emptiness are numerous electric charges rushing about with great speed ... There is nothing substantial about my second table. It is nearly all empty space ... my second scientific table is the only one which is really there – whatever ‘there’may be."-- (Sir Arthur Eddington, The Gifford Lectures, 1933, pp. xi-xiv)

    Re: Is a quark solid? Can we speak of solidity at the quantum level at all?
    Date: Tue Apr 27 20:43:14 2004
    Posted By: Randall Scalise, Faculty, Physics
    Area of science: Physics
    ID: 1082221545.Ph

    Dear Marc,

    Part of the problem is using a word and concept, solid, from everyday
    experience to try to describe a subatomic object. Solidity is an
    illusion. Since atoms are mostly empty space, a small dense nucleus
    surrounded by a sparse cloud of electrons, even a material that we
    normally associate with solidity, like lead, is 99.9999999999%
    nothing by volume.

    A better question would be: "Does a quark have structure?" And the
    answer would be: To the limit of resolution of current experiments
    (10^-18 meters), each of the six varieties of quark has no internal
    structure. In contrast, protons and neutrons are observed to be
    spheres of radii 10^-15 meters (with quantum-mechanically smeared
    boundaries) containing quarks and gluons, which carry the strong
    nuclear force and bind the quarks together. So protons and neutrons
    do have structure. The electron, like the quarks, appears to be

    It may be that quarks and electons do possess structure, but at a
    scale far too small to resolve in current and near-future experiments.
    String Theory describes the fundamental objects of Nature as extremely
    tiny one-dimensional strings. The physical properties of the object
    (mass, spin, etc.) are associated with the way that the string
    vibrates. Although experimentally unverified, the strings are
    expected to be on the order of 10^-35 meters in length.

    --Dr. Randall J. Scalise

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    Last edited: Aug 21, 2013
  19. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


    Which is why when stars end their productive life, they are able to form entities such as White Dwarfs, Neutron/Pulsars and BHs under incredible cosmic forces overcoming the electrical forces, Electron Degeneracy pressures and in the most extreme case of BHs Neutron Degeneracy Pressures.
  20. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

  21. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    I had just run across this quote before you posted this. It never occurred to me how stars create new more compressed matter by overcoming the electron repulsion of the shells:

    "It gets even worse when you read quantum physics. The more I studied, the more I developed an eerie sense that the world we think we inhabit and all existing things are some sort of fiction.

    For example, take steel. It can be a 100-foot bridge girder or it can be the coil of a bass piano string, a long wire spiraled into a hard spring. All the curves of that spring are composed of iron atoms locked rigidly to each other in a strong crystal lattice that is nearly unbreakable.

    And yet, those atoms are an illusion of emptiness. They are a void of unknowable electrical charges. They are virtually a vacuum. They are as empty as the solar system. If you look at the night sky and see how remote the planets are, that's how remote the parts of an atom are from each other.

    If an atom were the size of a 14-story building, the nucleus would be a grain of salt in the middle of the seventh floor, too tiny to be seen. Therefore, heavy, rigid steel doesn't exist the way we think it does. It's 99.999999 percent vacuum -- as empty as the night sky.

    Sometimes I picture atoms as soap bubbles: empty but bumping against each other and sticking together. The buzzing outer electrons are negative, and they repel the negative electron clouds of adjoining atoms. This holds the atoms apart and gives them an illusion of solidity. Yet, they are bound to each other by valence bonds and hydrogen bonds and Van der Waals bonds and other electrical links.

    Atom emptiness is the key to white dwarfs, pulsars, and black holes.

    At the end of their life cycles, stars explode. Then, what's left of them collapses, and gravity pulls the collapsing material into incredible density. If the residue is small, compressed electrons in the seething stellar plasma of crushed atoms push back fiercely and resist further collapse. This produces a white dwarf that is nearly impossible to comprehend. The material of a white dwarf weighs around 10 tons per thimbleful. How could something the size of a thimble be so heavy that 100 strong men couldn't lift it? It might crush a house. A large crane would be required to pick it up.

    But that's just the first step in removing the empty space inside atoms. A teenage genius, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, computed that, if a collapsing star has 1.4 times the mass of our sun, its gravity would be too great to be stopped by the resistance of the electrons. He didn't know it, but he was predicting pulsars, or neutron stars, which later were discovered. Their enormous gravity squeezes the electrons into the nucleus of each atom, where they merge with protons to form a solid mass of neutrons. This material weighs about 10 million tons per cubic centimeter. A c.c. is the size of a bouillon cube. Can you imagine a bouillon cube weighing more than the World Trade Center? But that's what matter is when the empty space is removed between the nucleus and the electrons of atoms.

    If 10 million tons of actual substance is the size of a bouillon cube, how much real material is in a 180-pound man or a 120-pound woman? Not as much as a dust speck. Not enough to see with a microscope. Our five-foot or six-foot bodies, like all material things, are an illusion made of vacuum and whirling electrical charges.

    It gets worse. Even the packed neutrons in a pulsar are not basic material. They, too, are empty and compressible. If the remains of a collapsing star are 3.2 times larger than our sun, the gravity is too strong to be checked at the pulsar level. The collapse continues until it passes the point of no return -- the Schwarzchild Radius -- and becomes a black hole, the ultimate pit of gravity, where everything is compressed to nothing.

    If planet Earth were squeezed to its Schwarzchild Radius, it would be the size of a pearl. Can anyone imagine the matter of the entire Earth being reduced to fingernail size -- but retaining all its weight -- and continuing to shrink beyond that point?

    This isn't Captain Marvel comics. Pulsars are real. So are black holes, the astrophysicists say. If they are actuality, then what is our everyday world?

    The non-reality of matter is just one of many enigmas that science reveals."--James Haught, "The Code of the Universe",
  22. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    Nice post Magical Realist!
    It certainly makes the mind boggle!!!
    Especially for an amateur like myself. The Universe is certainly a weird and wonderful place.
  23. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


    I don't really know what Magical Realist's agenda is.....If he indeed has one....I'm not really interested in agendas anyway.
    It is scientific fact though, that the picture he is trying to paint re matter/solids, consisting of mainly empty space is real.
    It's our scale of perception that prevents us seeing it for what it really view M31 [Andromeda] through a telescope. We see an apparent solid like disk with variations in density with spiral arms.
    But we also know that M31 is similar to the densities within our own galaxy....that is apparent sparse distributions of stars with planets, with many light years separating them.

    Maybe illusion is the wrong word, but I see the point of the thread as discussing the scales of perceptions as to what we see as apparently solid, and what we would see at another lower scale of perception.

    Myself I compare the solidity of an atom as placing a pea [the nucleus] in the middle of a large football stadium....we would then see the electrons orbiting at around the furthest rows of seats in the grandstands.
    And as I have also said, it then enables one to consider the possible formations and densities of WDS, Neutron/Pulsars and even BHs.

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