Philosophy

The Physicist Brian Greene Does Not Exist — And Neither Do You — If The Nonexistent Greene Is Right

The excerpt of a collection of sounds from a thing which is called Brian Greene, but which isn’t, is here:

The full “interview”, which isn’t really an interview, because Brian Greene doesn’t exist, and since he doesn’t exist, and neither do you, the interview cannot exist, and so there is no you to absorb it.

Why we bother, then, is not clear. But let’s push on and see what we can discover.

The thing which is called Brian Greene, but which isn’t, says the thing that isn’t Brian Greene is just a “collection of particles”.

The collection of particles which isn’t Brian Greene goes on to emit sounds waves of this shape, “And those particles are are fully governed by the ironclad laws of physics.”

Before pausing to consider how astonishing it is that a collection of particles could speculate on the so-called ironclad laws of physics, the collection of particles which is not Brian Greene goes on to emit, “Every action you take, every decision you make, every thought that you have is nothing but your particles moving from this configuration to that configuration. And that move is full governed by mathematics.”

Somehow, and the thing which isn’t Brian Greene does not say how, 2 + 2 = 4 gets up off its feet and compelled the thing which isn’t Brian Greene to continue in this way: “The feeling of making a choice, the feeling of freedom, the feeling of intentionality, that’s real. The causal influence of what you do is certainly real. You are part of the causal chain of how things evolve from here to there if you are involved in that process, but you are not the ultimate author of that process. That process has been set in motion a long time ago.”

And then, at last, the thing which is not Brian Greene called out from the darkness of nonexistence to the thing which this nonexistence wants to be, which is Brian Greene, but which it cannot, because collections of particles have no boundary and no will. The collection of particles emitted “and your particles are merely carrying out their quantum mechanical marching orders, and you are the vehicle that allows that to happen”.

It is true. In this philosophy, there is no boundary to any collection of particles, all such boundaries being arbitrary and meaningless. Individuals do not exist; only collections of particles exist, wherever and whatever those particles might be. Strings, or whatever. The universe is like a bowl of undifferentiated particle soup, all chugging along with no intentionality. but completely determined. It is only certain collections of particles that define separations in the broth, separations which cannot have any significance.

Funny thing, though. Collections of particles cannot feel like they are making choices. They cannot feel anything. They are only collections of particles. There is no feeling in physics, nor in math. Collections of particles cannot grasp meaning, being slaves to unbreakable quantum mechanical marching orders. Being less than slaves, actually. Slaves have understanding; collections of particles cannot.

How, then, does this collection of particles, which cannot believe or have feelings or even illusions, a collection of particles which believes it is Brian Greene, but isn’t, because it is only a collection of particles, believe it is Brian Greene?

The collection of particles which calls itself Brian Greene doesn’t say. It can’t say. There would be no way for it to say anything. Certainly it can emit noises, because collections of particles the physics allows noises. But those noises cannot mean anything.

There can’t be any person there to grasp a meaning which doesn’t exist. Not if we are just, as the collection of particles which isn’t Brian Greene, a collection of particles.

Since we can grasp his meaning—which is that he’s nuts—we must be more than collections of particles. Greene can’t see that, though, because he does not allow himself to move beyond his theory, which he cherishes. The theory doesn’t say how a man can grasp concepts. Therefore, says Greene, the man cannot grasp concepts. That is the concept he wishes you to grasp. So besotted is he with his theory he cannot even see the contradiction.

I did not stick with the interview, but there must have come a point where Greene, like all who love the colleciton-of-particles theory, must have said we can all become better people and make better choices when we realize we cannot make choices. I’ll let readers confirm this.

It was by divine coincidence, though, that as I was writing this, I was reminded of a quotation by de Finetti (who was adamant the theory that claimed probability existed was wrong). He said “The mathematician abstracts from reality, falls in love with the abstraction, and blames reality for not conforming to it.”

That is how a man can believe he is not a man but a collection of particles. Greene has made the classic theory-lover blunder: because he cannot say how a thing happens, he says the thing that happens does not happen. This subtle form of madness, a kind of hubris, is assuaged by absorbing the praise of other theory lovers.

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Categories: Philosophy

47 replies »

  1. Greene’s speculations about mind and consciousness are as one with his work on string theory, which is to say they’re not science. At best mathematical metaphysics. Or, as Pauli’s criticism goes: “Not even wrong!”

  2. It doesn’t matter whether or not we are “just a collection of particles”. We LIVE AS IF WE HAVE FREE WILL and exist as more than particles. It changes NOTHING if we are a collection of particles since we will still believe we are more and live as if we are more. It’s a stupid mind game that overpaid theorists think means something.

    Was watching “Big Bang” the other night and discussing how theoretical physics is just glorified science fiction. I think Greene may have helped to show this. (Yes, it’s a TV show, but Greene would say that does not matter.)

  3. In the realm of truth and falsity, the collection of particles that identifies itself with noises that sound like “Brian Greene” falls into “Not addressed. Out of cheese error.”

  4. Knowledge without wisdom is just….particles making noises.

    This guy must be like the Pope of Scientism.

  5. Well, certainly, it’s love for the hypothetical construct (not theory, in Greek, ‘theorein’ means to know, more or less). Because he has to believe theoretical physics IS true, that quantum mechanics IS true (of course, if it IS true, then the collection-of-particles-[non materia signata] stuff falls apart); and not an aproximation to save apearances, as Saint Thomas (S.Th., I, q. 32, a. 1, ad. 2da) says, as well as Cardinal Saint Robert Bellarmino, Pierre Duhem, etc. But, besides, if it is true, then, there are laws in the universe, so the contradiction goes deeper, because laws are not particles…. Intelligibility us a b…., bad woman.

    But there is a much more dangerous aspect of this “nonsense”, a pespective from which it all makes perfect sense. The perspective of the satanical totalitarian and genocidal tyranny. Who would care if we were to smash, say, thirty million of these collection of particles….? especially if it saves the comfort of these 100 rich MEN and their families. As Aldous Huxley says, no one believes in materialism (he should know, as one fabian socialist, devoted to propagate the ideology of materialism): those defending it, are just trying to advance some political agenda. I say: it is true of those aware; but you also have those that don’t know the meaning of their words, so they believe the others and think that identity is ADN and conscience is brain…. THERE IS NO MORALITY, AND MEN ARE THE PLAGUE, to be exterminated, OF THE UNIVERSE.

  6. Greene’s error has a long historical pedigree. As I wrote in my book “Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things:”

    “Physicalists solve the problem by insisting that all mental events are physical events. In its essentials, their argument is the same as it was over 2,000 years ago when the Roman poet Lucretius wrote in ‘De Rerum Natura:’

    ‘All nature, as it is in itself,
    Of two things: there are bodies and there is void
    In which these bodies are and through which they move …
    Impossible without body, must we not Admit that mind and spirit are bodily?'”

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/0692151559

  7. Materialism is a religion. It’s not science and nor is it supported by the science and evidence out there. What puzzles me is how some of these scientists don’t even seem to know the science out there that supports free will like Libet showing that a person can override the “readiness potential ” in the brain in making choices. And also the various experiments/ observations that show how our thoughts can effect our brains or the so-called ” quantum zero effect and the brain “.

  8. Such simplistic materialist, mechanistic reductionism as this guy is peddling isn’t even interesting enough to be boring. About like the “new atheist” fad 10-15 years ago. Nothing actually new, profound, or even shocking – just the same tired, boring drivel re-packaged.

  9. He does not appear to grasp the distinction between a heap and a thing (ousia) and thinks that mathematical descriptions have causative powers.

  10. > Collections of particles cannot feel like they are making choices. They cannot feel anything. They are only collections of particles.

    A collection of water molecules can’t be wet because individual water molecules aren’t wet. This is a fallacy of composition. The wetness of water molecules is usually referred to as an emergent property. In a similar way, the subjective impressions and feelings we have as human beings could be emergent properties. The fact that we are inclined to preserve the integrity of our collection of particles backs this up.

  11. @Dennis: You’re right. I didn’t watch the interview. Why bother? If you’re going to pay any attention to guys trying to construct a religion without sin, much more engaging to focus on the ones trying to do that from within the Church.

  12. A Nobel Price is not even a collection of particles, so why bother awarding it, or chasing it? Tenure is not even a collection of particles, so why bother chasing it? Physical laws are not even a collection of particles, so why bother discovering them?

    Books are just a collection of particles, so why write them. Universities are nothing more than a collection of particles, so why bother teaching not even collections of particles to collections of particles. Collegues are nothing but collections of particles so why bother collaborating with them?

  13. Materialism is a religion. It’s not science

    Nor is the concept of “free will”. What’s your point?

  14. Alfred North Whitehead used to say that the class of people who devote their minds to demonstrating that they don’t have one comprise an interesting object of study.

    DAV is half-right. ‘Free will’ is not science. But neither is it religion. It is properly an object of philosophy.

  15. DAV is half-right. ‘Free will’ is not science.

    “Half-right”? So then it IS partially science?

  16. DAV, In answer to: Materialism is a religion. It’s not science, you wrote:
    Nor is the concept of “free will”.

    I took this to mean that the concept of “free will” is a religion. It’s not science,
    which is half-right. The second clause is right; the first, wrong.

  17. Well, one proposition can be in the domain of more than one discipline: God exists, religion and philosophy. The principle of non contradiction: belongs to every realm of human endeavour. ETC. Materialism is an ideological position, that also concerns philosophy… but it can be and is a religion, at least according to John Searle… and the behavior of materialists: I mean, try to discuss with one of these people. It’s very easy to show that it is inadmissible as a rational position, but they retreat to irrational reluctance to accept consequences… Searle says that it is held irrationally and with the prohibition of making questions, so it is protestant-marxist religion. So, as such, the point is valuable, because knowledge is the highest activity of man; but practically, it is important to notice, because, as I said before, this irrationality is very dangerous…

  18. I took this to mean that the concept of “free will” is a religion

    Yeah it was ambiguous. Could have been better. I was focused on the second statement particularly in light of the seque into “scientific” evidence for free will by the OP.

  19. Carlos Julio Casanova Guerra,
    Materialism is an ideological position … It’s very easy to show that it is inadmissible as a rational position

    Materialism is the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. How is this irrational? How is the non-materialist belief more rational?

    You said it’s easy to show this. Please do.

  20. Entropy isn’t an argument against God it is a description of mechanism of what is observed about the operations of particles. That is entirely consistent with the existence of ‘purpose’. That is not the level where the mystery is. That is just mechanism of changes of state.

    Consciousness is in a separate domain. It is the consciousness which provides the freedom of truth, time and being, through which the entropy and all the rest is allowed to be called true.

    It wasn’t a great example because it was more a celebrity interview about the man than the topic.

  21. “A collection of water molecules can’t be wet because individual water molecules aren’t wet. This is a fallacy of composition. The wetness of water molecules is usually referred to as an emergent property. In a similar way, the subjective impressions and feelings we have as human beings could be emergent properties.”

    I don’t see how this is a good illustration of the fallacy of composition considering that “wetness” doesn’t seem to be a real property of material objects but only a kind of impression that we get from certain objects like water. Some philosophers like John Locke would consider “wetness” to be only a secondary quality in objects which is to say that it’s not really apart of the object but only a sensation that we get from certain material things. Moreover, not all reasoning from parts to wholes is a fallacy of composition. If someone were to tell me that every single component of a chair were made out of metal then I can reasonable conclude that the whole chair is made out of metal.

    Besides, how exactly is a collection of unconscious matter – say atoms – that have no conscious thought and perception and have no potential to be each individually conscious are going to somehow combine together and form a conscious being? Piling a group of corpses isn’t going to somehow create a whole new stream of awareness. Putting a group of bricks together isn’t going to all the sudden create thought processes. Sounds like we have a kind of “combination problem” here with the assumption that permanent unconscious parts – or particles – are going to somehow create a conscious subject.

  22. “Consciousness is in a separate domain. ” Yes, in a sense that’s correct. And it’s the basic reason why matter or material objects cannot be the only things in existence. Consciousness is something real and something in addition to matter, which is why a rigid materialism or physicalism cannot be true.

  23. All right, DAV, easy, as I said. 1) First, iy has a little modicus of plausibility, because things in our experience are material and objects of our senses. 2) Even so, take any concept of matter, hylle (Aristotle), chora (Plato), res extensa (Descartes), atoms, are the main historical ones, in neither one of them matter has any determination, even qualities. 3) So, to explain even the simplest of physical phenomena, the mechanical qualities, let alone intellectual knowledge, the unity and identity of living beings, freedom, intelligibility, it’s completely incapable. It is reflected in William’s article. 4) That’s why materialists say there is no life, no conscience, no intellect, no freedom, no morallity… that’s why Descartes wanted physicists quit even mechanics, and stop talking about action at a distance ofield theory), etc. You see? Easy piecey, Japanesey….

  24. Some philosophers like John Locke would consider “wetness” to be only a secondary quality in objects which is to say that it’s not really apart of the object but only a sensation that we get from certain material things.

    “Emergent properties” are those arising from a system or collection of objects. Viscosity of a liquid, for instance. It’s a property of the liquid and not individual molecules. It can be measured and is not merely a sensation

    Consciousness is something real and something in addition to matter, which is why a rigid materialism or physicalism cannot be true

    And why can’t consciousness be an emergent property resulting from interactions between living neurons? Because emergent properties are somehow not real?

  25. Carlos Julio Casanova Guerra,

    Sorry but that sounds like gobbledegook. Seems to boil down to 1) we don’t really know what matter is 2) theories involving it are wanting and 3) this is why materialists don’t say some things.

    In what way does that mean believing in the existence of only material things (say, subatomic particles) and denying the existence of the supernatural (say, souls) is irrational?

  26. Sooo glad that God is real and that He has revealed Himself to us so that we know that He is real!!
    We are spirit, soul, and body. The world is here for a time and then it will be done and Jesus will return.
    His Word is full of explanations, and is filled with His Love!
    God bless, C-Marie

  27. What is the feeling of intention if intention is nothing? Brian Greene has been bewitched by language. He experiences the feeling of speaking sense, but he speaks nonsense.

  28. I ended up at a table at a restaurant with a few astrophysics or theoretical physics guys from Princeton. I’m no dummy, doubt I’m a super genius too. I picked these guys brains for maybe 2 hours trying to understand their current fancies and what they’re trying to prove, or whatever they do that isn’t proving. I’m more of a literature, history, philosophy type guy as far as mental interests, although I also love construction and working with my hands. I know these guys were smart, but I left there thinking they were some of the most daft people I ever met and everything they work on is nonsense.

    The best part was that the guy whittled things down to this: the universe does things efficiently and going from void to having a universe with the structure we currently perceive over the course of zillions of years would be inefficient, so it makes more sense that everything actually came into being exactly as it is. This blew my mind as I said “you’ve somehow cut off every other option except for the truth of creationism.” I pray that some day these two guys take the next step and become actual creationists.

  29. Saying the soul, the principle of life, is supernatural is so off… No, the soul, principle of intelligible structure, is the very essence of the nature of a living being, not “supernatural”. And saying that my point 2 is lacking should demand an explanation from you: in what way is that lacking? Is there a conception of matter other than those listed, essentially different? Which one is that? If that conception includes qualities and determinations in matter itself, isn’t it an untenable position? Well, it seems, since, from Descartes to Daniel Dennett, to the guy of the interview above, all of them say matter has no quality… as did before them Plato, Aristotle, and every thinker of stature who lived after Socrates. If you don’t clarify, the discussion is non existent, it’s I providing arguments and you not accepting them in the void. Regarding 3″ materialists do give explanations and be that as it may, that’s irrelevant, the thing is that reality has those features, and they are out of reach for materialism, because it’s impossible to reduce them to matter. So, in that sense, saying that my 2 is lacking and, then, saying that, regarding 3, materialists keep their silence, for a cause -“this is why”, you say- is talking from both sides of the mouth, in irder to fish… Nice talking to you, I know, as Gilson said, that it isn’t to be expected that the other side simply remains silent, without an answer, but, unless you adress the thing about the nature of matter, I take this as a finished discussion, but nice, thank you

  30. Saying the soul, the principle of life, is supernatural is so off
    Then pick a better example. It’s hardly important. I could have just as easily said “whatever”.

    And saying that my point 2 is lacking should demand an explanation from you: in what way is that lacking?
    I was listing what I see you actually saying. It wasn’t a point by point recap.

    I take this as a finished discussion, but nice, thank you
    Fine. I’m not surprised.

    You actually avoided saying how believing in only the material and denying the supernatural is irrational nor have you said why believing in the supernatural is more rational..

    Something you claimed was easy to show.
    You are admitting it wasn’t so easy after all.

    To turn it around,
    1) no one really knows what the supernatural is
    2) there is no actual evidence for the existence supernatural
    3) theories involving it are wanting
    4) explanations by believers amount to hand waving

    Pretty much the same “reasons” for the irrationality of materialism. So why doesn’t that make belief in the supernatural irrational too?

  31. “And why can’t consciousness be an emergent property resulting from interactions between living neurones? Because emergent properties are somehow not real?”

    They could be, I’m prepared to accept that they could be. Problem is, the argument that the truth itself is undermined and it renders everything that is in the human experience, an illusion. Which rubs everything out.
    So both ‘sides’ of the argument break down but only one side will admit it.
    The side which is supposed to be ‘faithful’ won’t admit what faith really is.

  32. “Emergent properties” are those arising from a system or collection of objects.

    Or else, it’s shorthand for “then a miracle happens,” esp. when it’s used as a hand-waving non-explanation for where something non-material came from.

    They are better understood as “formal causes,” that is, causes that work top-down from the whole rather than bottom-up from the parts. For inanimate things, form can be considered as ‘shape’ or ‘arrangement.’ For example, an atom of chlorine and one of sodium are both composed of the same parts: otherwise identical protons and electrons. What makes one a gas and the other a flammable metal [under standard conditions] is the number and arrangement of those parts. That is, the form the atoms take causes their gaseous or metallic properties to ’emerge’ from matter that is neither.

    Animate things also have form, but of a more complex nature. Anima, the word translated into English as ‘soul,’ simply means ‘life,’ so to say that a thing has soul, means that that thing is alive. The existence of soul is thus empirically verifiable and the remaining questions are details about the vegetative, sensitive, and rational varieties.

    We all believe in immaterial things. How else would we distinguish a regular commutative ring from a differential equation? The irrationality of materialism is why so many materialists now call themselves ‘physicalists’ and admit to their pantheon such immaterial beings as 3 or =. Reality, the physicalists say includes not only matter but arrangement of the matter. They ought to add, ‘in different forms.’ But then, they’re halfway to soul anyway.

    But to say that consciousness ‘may be’ an emergent phenomenon is whistling past the graveyard. It’s not an explanation, only the hope for an explanation ‘someday.’ One has yet to establish it as fact. One must explain how a dead petunia differs in any material way from the recently alive petunia. For higher beings, like dogs, we can say it is because the dog’s neurons are firing; but this may be getting the cart before the horse because the neurons are firing only because they are a component of a living being. That is, they derive their properties from the whole. But Newton tells us that nothing changes its motion unless an outside ‘force’ acts on it. (Force is another of those immaterial things in which materialists must believe.) Once they are alive, inertia (aka the struggle for existence) keeps them alive, but how did they come alive in the first place?

  33. “Emergent properties” are those arising from a system or collection of objects. Or else, it’s shorthand for “then a miracle happens,” esp. when it’s used as a hand-waving non-explanation for where something non-material came from.
    Great comment YOS! The wetness of water is cited as an “emergent property.” But it can be explained in terms of surface tension, which in turn can be explained in terms of relative strengths of H2O-H2O attraction compared to H2O container molecule attraction.
    Consciousness cannot be explained in such terms, nor, according to the Mysterians and other philosophers, will it ever be possible to do so.

  34. Matter is mutable. How can it be that that’s all that there is? How can something mutable come to be without something not mutable making it so? Mutable, by definition, means something that can change forms, without necessarily changing its ultimate essence. If you believe that the physical universe is all that there is, you are making a faith statement, since you can’t *know* that any other way; though you can *claim* it. Absence of evidence is not, in itself, evidence of absence.

  35. Well, Truth is Himself…and He cannot be wiped out. Our brains can only go so far along the lines of this topic and then they are wholly spent. Amazing discoveries can be found out along the way, but if attempted to be continued past reason’s ability to grasp, even the most able person’s able brain must choose, we just cannot find out more than this, Lord Jesus, or ridiculousness.
    God bless, C-Marie

  36. Nice sarcasm, but totally wrong.

    Dr. Greene’s claims as interpreted in the context of your comments here amount to the two claims that it’s particles all the way down and that those particles act in deterministic ways. Religious believers should embrace this idea because it leads to a clear and supportable answer the question for which, many many decades ago, I got kicked out of a pre-school: who is God’s father? The answer, given Greene’s thesis, is that God and intelligence co-evolve each other through the inevitable grouping together of some particles. Basically God cannot exist without the universe and the universe cannot be perceived without God.

    It’s a nice answer, and the math works – more than I can say for strings 😉

  37. The wetness of water is cited as an “emergent property.” But it can be explained in terms of surface tension, which in turn can be explained in terms of relative strengths of H2O-H2O attraction compared to H2O container molecule attraction.
    But surface tension still is not detectable until there are at least two molecules. It’s a property of the interactions within the system and not that of individual molecules.

    https://web.ics.purdue.edu/~durbin/Exam2docs/Lect16.pdf
    Emergence – some phenomena are undetectable when looked at “in the small”. They emerge only when looking at the system as a whole rather than its parts.
    Spoiler alert: Diffusion is an emergent property!

    I guess you could call it shorthand for “then a miracle happens”.

    Consciousness cannot be explained in such terms
    So what then does explain it?
    Another miracle?

  38. So what then does explain it? (consciousness)
    Another miracle? possibly, or most likely it will remain a mystery, as Colin McGinn, William James and other philosophers of the “New Mysterian” school assert.
    And of course, if one speaks of “interaction” then more one thing is required to interact, unless you’re talking about self-interaction in quantum electrodynamics. And that’s a real messy business.

  39. Quantum theory is best understood as a form of perspectivism not physicalism.

    Nietzsche introduced the idea of perspectivism: in the final analysis, all we really have is a manifold of interlocking perspectives. For example, consider the following toy model. If humans are small finite, represent each possible human perspective by a small non-empty subset of {1,…,n} where n is a large natural number. Then, there are minimal perspectives, but no maximal human perspective. Still, there is an ideal finite perspective which sees everything! If n=infinity, then there is still an ideal infinite perspective which sees everything! (God’s eye-view!) If one accepts the standard quantum logic, then one has a manifold of perspectives which cannot-by Gleason’s Theorem-be embedded into any single perspective! There are now maximal perspectives, but no universal perspective!

    P.S. For details see: “The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics” on my website (David Edwards, UGA)

  40. At least the emergent possibility can be (at least theoritcally) tested. It opens avenues of exploration. You can’t say that about the spirit-in-the-sky did it “explanation”. The latter is an intellectual dead end. Its cousin is “thunder is caused by Thor swinging his hammer and that’s that. No need to look further”.

    Aren’t you even the least bit curious? Instead of finding reasons to reject emergence try looking for reasons it might be true. You’d still have the Sky Spirit “explanation” for fallback.

  41. @ Bobcat,

    > I don’t see how this is a good illustration of the fallacy of composition…

    Fine. Use whatever analogy you prefer.

    > Moreover, not all reasoning from parts to wholes is a fallacy of composition.

    There are true part-to-whole claims (walls made out of red bricks are red) and false ones (walls made out of 2kg bricks weigh 2kg). It’s necessary to look at the context to work out which is which. Briggs’s claim has no context, it’s basically just ‘atoms can’t think therefore brains can’t think’, which is unsound.

    > how exactly is a collection of unconscious matter – say atoms – that have no conscious thought and perception and have no potential to be each individually conscious are going to somehow combine together and form a conscious being?

    how exactly is a collection of non-living matter – say atoms – that have no life and have no potential to be each individually alive are going to somehow combine together and form a living being?

    Answer: because arangements of parts can do things that the individual parts cannot.

  42. I’ll plug the recent film by the creators of ‘The Principle’ about physicist Wolfgang Smith – ‘The End of Quantum Reality.’ Highly recommended! Essentially the answer to much of the insanity of the materialist physicists is what Smith terms ‘Vertical Causation.’ That the boundaries of our reality are set from on high, versus the randomness and quirky nature of what is observed below that defies consensus opinion.

    https://philos-sophia.org/about-the-film/

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