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UnMereology: A bit before homeworking.

Isn't it great when you find out the name of some odd idea you put together but couldn't quite explain? no? maybe? Ok.

Well, I discovered the names of some of the philosophical positions I've taken of late and have been working from in developing the theories I've been putting together. Last time I mentioned how I'd given up on needing free will and such; this came from my assuming determinism is true. I talk more about that another day as I already knew what that was called.

One of the positions I found out about the other day is existential nihilism. This idea derives from, if roughly, from the existential premise that there are no essential properties, that existence precedes essence and such. It basically says there is no meaning. I had mostly figured that that part of the positions I'm working from was related to existentialism, so I won't talk much about that today, but it is important. Possibly.

The term that was new was mereological nihilism. This is a bit odd and then super obvious (to me at least, but then I'm crazy?). Basically, there are no proper parts of anything and no proper wholes of anything, just fundamental bits arranged in such a way and called a certain thing (though that name or thing we call it is not identical to the actual arrangement of fundamental bits). So basically, although the atoms in a table are arranged in a table-wise fashion, they do not, even as a whole, become a table; that is, they do not become some singular, whole table object thing. They remain individual atoms arranged like a thing we call tables.

I was moved to this position largely under the influence of the video I posted below. Veritasium is an excellent channel for science and awesomeness; here, he explains where our mass comes from. But to do so, he posits a very nice explanation of quantum chromodynamics.


Watching this video made me more seriously aware of something of which most of us are generally aware: All things are made of stuff; but this stuff is made of bits. Obviously enough. But these bits are blind to the stuff they're in; due to their properties, they impart the stuff they're in with certain physical properties and such, but they don't do so "knowingly." That is, an up quark is an up quark is an up quark; this up quark does not become "up quark, type table" when it is a part of a table, any more than it is "up quark, type Chris" when it's part of me (I guess I ate the table?). It's just an up quark, or what have you.

And that is it. That is matter. That is the universe. It is just particles quivering in a gluon void; we are just particles quivering in a gluon void. They happen to be in our shape and allow properties like our mass and such, and emergent properties have arisen such as our consciousness, whatever that may be, but that is it. That is all.

(Of course, there is much yet to be understood about our universe, but I strongly doubt that suddenly we'll find quarks becoming table-quarks in tables or some such, and even if something like dark-quarks happen to quarks in dark matter (assuming dark matter has quarks) it doesn't change much.)

Without knowing quite so much of the particulars about these two nihilisms, I've been using mereological nihilism as a proof for existential nihilism.

Basically, there is nothing in a so-called table that makes it a table; there are not a special subset of table-quarks or table-particles that, in themselves, impart some essential quality of tableness. Sure, some of the simpler properties come from those quarks; the hardness of the table, for example, comes from the molecules formed from the atoms formed from quarks, and through these interactions allows the hardness we observe. But this hardness is no different than if we'd used the wood instead to make a chair or a desk or a floor for a room. It is not table-hardness, it's just (wood)hardness.

There are a couple of goals and ideas I have in developing the theory I'm seeking. Some of which I'm probably gonna forget to mention or end up butchering in this list as I'm kinda winging it without coffee this morning.

  1. I realize quantum chromodynamics is a theory and not the only one, either. In fact, one of my subgoals is to avoid quantum woo and such, so I'm glad I've been able to side-step the actual-actual-actual specifics as I feel like that would probably lead me woofully off track. Rather, I imagine and assume that whatever the actual nature of subatomic particles is, whatever theory best describes them someday, there will still be a lack of intrinsic properties of the whole inherent in the particles themselves. So that even if it's all string theory or some such, I'm assuming there are not table-strings vs chris-strings, but just strings doing their do in tables as they would do in Chrises. That is, whatever the nature of subatomic particles and atoms may be, they're still as blind and indifferent to the whole they are a part of as I've argued above.
  2. I don't mind if the theory I develop ends up defining a world that, ultimately, is quite similar to the one we're in, just that there is some acknowledgment of the reality of things, of the absurdity and fictions. Maybe I'll go more rogue about it later, but for now I think I'd be okay with that consequence as long as the theory works (though preferably not because it surreptitiously tries to use that resemblance as a crutch...). For example, if I describe how we create the meanings of things, this theory doesn't mean those meanings aren't significant, at least not for us; they're obviously significant for us or we probably wouldn't have bothered devising them. However, in acknowledging the existential nihilism and such forth, the significance we attribute may need humbling. I've always thought we take ourselves and what we do way too seriously, and this theory or it's premises allow a good explanation of why we should turnd down from time to time.
  3. As I mentioned, I haven't talked much about my position on determinism (very, very hard/strong) or other supports I use for existential nihilism, but they come together in a way that makes things like (moral) responsibility and significance very hard to establish in the usual sense. I'm trying to find at least some way we can have these things, or at least a concept of these things, that is largely compatible with the nihilismz and other views I've been mulling over and hold true. This is part of why, naturally, I'm okay with the consequences of my theory resembling the way we currently look at the world.
  4. One odd detail I'm noticing, is the theory I'm developing doesn't necessarily require mereological nihilism or existential nihilism to work. This is actually pretty awesome because then if mereological or existential nihilism or the sciences I've been talking about end up somehow disproved someday, or alternative systems of responsibility and such win out, my theory still works. Kind of a pascal's wager of sorts, I guess?
  5. I'll get into the details another time, but essentially I'm using 'reactive attitude theories' to deal with the problems determinism poses for (moral) responsibility; my theory basically posits that if, by determinism, there is only causal responsibility, we can characterize and understand even that responsibility in a way that allows things to be adequately fit subjects for reactive attitudes (eg, resentment, praise, blame, anger, etc). I'm still workshopping terms here (it was so convenient finding out 'mereology' was already a word, even if people seem to arrive at or argue mereological nihilism differently than I have...?). For now I'm using functional causal responsibility and agentive causal responsibility; I'm imagining them existing on a continuum, allowing flexibility and distinguishing in awkward or different circumstances and also reflecting different degrees of fittness for reactive attitudes. Functional causal responsibility is much like typical causal responsibility (that is, if I move a stone with a stick, the stick is (functionally) causally responsible for the stone's movement), whereas the degree something can be a fit subject for reactive attitudes regarding some action has to have at least an equivalent degree of agentive causal responsibility for that action (in moving the stone, I am an agent). 
  6. This relationship conforms to everyday experience. At least sometimes. I'll continue workshopping the whole thing but let's go back to the stick and me. If, instead of a stone, I'm using the stick to move a cake you spent hours making, and I move it off the counter, and it goes splat, you will probably be mad at me and not the stick (or, at least, madder at me than at the stick). Being mad at me is a reactive attitude, one you direct at me because of my agentive causal responsibility in pushing the the cake off the counter and one you do not direct at the stick because it lacks the same kind of causal responsibility (it is merely "functioning" in this causal chain).
  7. This post has gone on forever, and I still don't have coffee. My theory should involve more coffee.
  8. A new development in my theory (as of last night at work) takes into account a sort of regress of causes in determinism; I'll discuss this all another time, but essentially i'm taking as causally responsible all causes in the chain, however, the proportions of agentive causal responsibility vary throughout that chain (with the vast majority of causes, such as those occurring billions of years ago, accounting even in sum for little to none of the agentive causation) and these distributions of agentive causal responsibility allow distribution of blame/praise/gratitude/etc. I'm really quite excited about this one.
  9. At another time I'll explain how we are agents and what's special about them (not much is special about them, really, but there's enough that is...). One important thing to know now, though, is my aversion to any association with agent causation; in fact that's why I'm so insistently using agentive causation instead. I want nothing to do what uncaused-cause nonsense. (For those unfamiliar, it's a version of indeterminism used in some philosophically libertarian descriptions of free will that allows an agent to (somehow?) cause their own actions, and thus have free will and be responsible and such forth.)
  10. I got nothing.
So I'll end it there. As the post title suggests, I have homework to do. I also have coffee to make. Mmm.

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