Abstracting from reality

Electric charge is a quintessential ‘physical’ property.  In what way, however, is it an abstraction?  In what way does reality exceed the formulas?

What we too easily forget is that an electric charge is something unnatural.  The mere fact that entire industries have sprung up around the unnatural abstractions of electricity and electronics and created a separate electrical reality does not speak to this more basic issue.

It is a categorical mistake to suppose that the electron in your brain is the same as the electron in your computer.  Only in a very narrow technical sense might they even be compared.  The electron in you brain has holistic properties that are absent in the computer.

Turning the argument around leads to the conclusion that there are no electrons in your head.  Electrons cannot be taken from your head; they may only be abstracted therefrom.  Until we can appreciate this basic distinction, we will not understand the distinction between artificial and natural intelligence.

It is true that quantum physics does recognize the issue of entanglement.  Electrons never exist as individual entities.  They exist only as irreducibly entangled components of systems, be they natural or unnatural systems.  What quantum physics fails to appreciate is that just because we can take a system apart does not mean that we can put it back together again.

Quantum physics tells us that electrons behave as waves, not unlike acoustical waves.  An electron wave function of a particular energy would have some of the properties of a pure musical tone.  Can we not then synthesize a musical work out of such tones?  The simple mechanical act of transcribing and recording music should serve to demonstrate that.

Clearly the tone out of context bears no subjective resemblance to the tone in context.  But the technology insists that this distinction is merely subjective.  This may be the whole point.  Where is the proof ultimately if it is not in the pudding?  I am contending that objectified music is no music at all.  How do we manage to confuse the scratches on vinyl with the real thing?

The composer and conductor have an idea about a piece of music and they are more or less successful in conveying that idea into my mind through various media including airwaves.  We analyze that conveyance objectively and come up with a sequence of tones.  The tones convey the idea of the music by being the tokens of it.  May we not then suppose that charges, electrons and other such entities are mere tokens of the systems from which they are abstracted or objectified?  But the system itself need be no more objectifiable than the music.

Can we be that dense?  Can we be confusing the map with the territory?  Is that what scientific materialism and physicalism are all about?  At times the map can be very helpful.  It can prevent us from getting lost, but at other times it may just lead us straight into the woods.


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rev. 1/28/00