Life is Physics

Hmm, I’m not sure about this, or perhaps I am just not understanding what you are saying. In the end it’s a matter of convention, but a person using studying how clams move in water would use physics to study the entire organism.


It is the biologist, not the physicist, who defines what is a clam.

This is quite a philosophical way to answer the question; I’ll have to think about it.

I’ve been studying human cognition and and consciousness. And that study persuades me to question much of what people take for granted.

Roughly speaking, there are no particles; there are no organisms; there are no objects. We humans carve up the world into things such as particles, organism, objects so that we can better understand that world. But our carving up is messy. So our indivisible atoms turn out to be divisible. The boundaries of our organisms turn out to be indeterminate.

And we are conscious of things in the world because we ourselves carved up the world to give us those things.

That is true for 99% of cases. However, quantum theory is finding its way into the field of protein folding and enzyme kinetics. The biology of the small seems to intersect with the physics of the small.

Yes. But ‘protein’ is not a term in QM. As Neil points out, one needs biochemistry to recognize that phenomenon.

I do think that there is something important in what you say: scientists model some phenomena by mechanisms relating different scientific domains: In your example, the phenomenon being modelled is biochemical and the components are interrelated, organized QM entities.

Psychological phenomena modelled using neuroscience is another standard example.

I think science does do limited reductions of one scientific domain to another via mechanisms That practice does not depend on the possibility of the grand philosophical idea of unifying science via intertheoretic reduction.

The obligatory SEP link:
Relations between Scientific Disciplines: From Theory Reduction to Mechanism Integration

Our success in scientifically-based action under our scientific schemes tells us how the world is: ie it yields actual causal patterns (allowing for fallibility).

I owe this link on conceptual schemes to Sophisticat, late of TSZ, who now posts from time to time in PF.

Stove’s Discovery of the Worst Argument in the World

For the philosophically adventurous:
Ontic Structural Realism

QM certainly isn’t my forte, but protein chemistry is something I am familar with. For those who are interested, this paper illustrates how the two fields are starting to bump into one another:

I fully agree. Reductionism is a massive part of the modern paradigm of scientific research, but it would do us all some good to remember it has limits and is not necessarily correct. Methodological naturalism is not Reductionism, so we should never falsely equate science with Reductionism.

1 Like

Second attempt to reply. The first attempt ended with “the site is in read only mode”.

I’m not a fan of Stove, but I will credit him with indicting himself as one of the purveyors of “worst” arguments. Perhaps all of philosophy fits his “worst arguments in the world” characterization.

The trouble with philosophy (by which I mostly mean academic analytic philosophy) is that it wants to do everything using logic. And the problem with logic, is that it is empty. Logic is great for building a solipsistic world, but it does not provide a way of connecting to the real world. So philosophers smuggle in aspects of reality that derive from their intuition, but they never seem to give a non-circular account of it.

The core problem ought to be “How do we connect our natural language words to reality”. But philosophers always seem to brush that aside and fall back to circular reasoning, which is the only kind of reasoning that logic itself can support.

1 Like

Aside from X-Phil (which some say is psychology), I agree that philosophy by definition does not do empirical science. Instead it builds non-scientific models, analyses concepts (including scientific ones), grapples with the nature of morality, and so on. So if “empty” means separate from empirical work, then yes philosophy is not science (as is also true for math).

But philosophy is in touch with and use the results of science – at least the parts I am interested in do – and I think that applies to most of current analytic philosophy. Metaphysics uses physics, philosophy of mind uses cognitive science, ethics uses psychology and anthropology, philosophy of language uses linguistics, free will and moral responsibility work use neuroscience, psychology and anthropology, to name a few examples.

Most of what you personally say about conceptual schemes, the nature of science and consciousness, etc., is itself philosophy.

1 Like

[the following is mostly tongue-in-cheek]
It is interesting me that this discussion was between physics and biology, what happened to chemistry? It is, after all, the central science (so says one of the most popular general chemistry textbooks). I would say chemistry is what all the other disciplines aspire to. Physics is merely overly simplified chemistry … and biology is overly simplified chemistry.

OK, back to the serious stuff. I am a physical chemist teaching both chemistry and physics courses in a department of Natural, Health, and Mathematical sciences. We have 2 mathematicians, 1 physicist, 2 chemists, 3 biologists, 2 exercise science/kinesiology, 1 computer scientist … all in one department. We spend a fair amount of time talking to each other about the relationship between our disciplines. Most of it comes down to the finite ability for people to understand and study the world around them. It’s fine for the physicist to say that biology reduces to physics, but good luck trying to explain disease mechanisms or animal physiology with “it’s all a bunch of quarks”. It may be true, but we can’t really “access” higher orders of “organized quarks” effectively without abstracting it in some way. Biology asks different questions than physics, and uses different tools, and different methods, and has different social norms, etc. so philosophically and socially I think there are limits to reductionism.

Within the philosophy of chemistry community even, there is still some debate as to whether chemistry can really be reduced to physics.


According to SEP, the consensus is not reducible

The arguments for no are sophisticated versions of those presented in your note and elsewhere in this thread. From article updated a few days ago.