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The Myth of Matter, p. 9

Matter as Metaphor

We begin this section where we ended the last one. Quoting Prof. Max Jammer–

Since the end of the nineteenth century physicists and philosophers have been cherishing the hope that all of the problems related to mass could be resolved if a theory could be constructed that reveals what they called “the nature of mass,” that is, a theory that explains the origin, existence and phenomenological properties of mass. Of course … any talk about “the nature of mass” would be scientifically meaningless or metaphysical rigmarole. [Yet] the quest for a theory of the nature of mass arises from a profound epistemological motivation. It is no exaggeration to say that all experiments and certainly all measurements in physics are in the last analysis … ultimately based on observations of the position of a particle or of a pointer on a scale as a function of time. … Hence, the term ‘mass’, thus defined, has no absolute meaning since it always implies a relation to an object chosen to serve as the unit of mass.[1]

Unless I am mistaken, Prof. Jammer is saying that the whole of physics is one great circular argument, and that the idea of “the nature of matter”, simply and not self-referentially defined, is mythical. Since “all measurements” are based on matter, and since matter itself is only defined in an axiomatic sense, one might see physics as a belief system, albeit a very powerful and constructive one.


[1] Concepts of Mass in Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, pages 139–140

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The Myth of Matter, p. 4

John Wycliffe – Heretic

We know him as the first person to translate the Holy Bible into common English.[1] We may also know that he stood in disagreement with the Catholic Church. Today he is known as “The Morning star of the Reformation” because his religious ideas preceded Martin Luther’s by two centuries.

John Wycliffe, Heretic

In addition, Wycliffe “was an innovative thinker, a prolific writer, and extremely influential in his time.”[2] One of his innovative ideas was very similar to what later became known as the “Law of Conservation of Matter,” an idea he got from reading the Bible. When Wycliffe read in Genesis that God created the heavens and the earth, that He saw that it was good and that He rested, Wycliffe inferred, “God cannot annihilate anything, nor increase or diminish the world.”[3]

Let’s pause now in considering the matter of ‘matter’ to think about how revolutionary Wycliffe’s ideas were and still are…

  • The truth expressed in Holy Scripture superseded the truth declared by men, e.g., the papacy.
  • Transubstantiation[4] didn’t happen.
  • Personal salvation came from faith in God, not from church.
  • God predestined true believers, according to Rom 8:28-30.
  • War was un-Christian.

These ideas, which went largely unpunished during his lifetime (probably because of the Great Schism) earned Wycliffe the distinction of having his grave dug up, his remains burned and scattered, and all his writings suppressed.[5]


[1] Wycliffe is the namesake of Wycliffe Bible Translators, http://www.wycliffe.org/. “God’s Word, accessible to all people in the language of their heart.”

[2] Atomism in Late Medieval Philosophy and Theology, p. 185.

[3] Atomism in Late Medieval Philosophy and Theology, p. 187.

[4] The conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ at consecration.

[5] Refer to the Council of Constance.

The Myth of Matter, p. 1

This atom is mythical.

We might be pretty sure we know what the word ‘matter’ means– “anything that has mass and takes up space[1]. As children, we learn that matter can assume the forms of solid, liquid and gas while still maintaining its essential characteristics. If we so choose, we might learn about potential- and kinetic energy, crystallization, specific heat, plasticity, the combined gas law, …, and a whole bunch of other concepts intended to help us grapple with our material world.

A few of us decide to study science or technology. Whether or not by choice, these students experience concepts that substantially modify the meaning of the ‘m’-word. Uncertainty becomes a principle. Mass depends upon velocity, as does length. Laws of science give ground to theories of relativity.

A few of the few then choose a path leading them further away from the original ‘classical’ idea of what matter is. These few can either be technologists[2] (engineers) or aesthetes[3] (physicists). As they proceed along their courses of study, they begin to notice a disconnection between their “everyday experience” in the laboratory or the computer model and the everyday experiences of everyone else they used to know. At this point, differing ideas about “the substance of which we are all made”[4] creates a seemingly unbridgeable disparity between the minority specialists who deal more deeply with matter and the majority of us who merely live and move in it.

If you are a member of the “mere many” you might not even realize the depth and breadth of the gulf. As a hedge against this possibility, let us spend some time discussing concepts associated with ‘matter’. Realize that you will not know what the specialist knows, but you will at least know something about their knowledge.


[2] “A person who uses scientific knowledge to solve practical problems,” http://wordnet.princeton.edu

[3] “One who professes great sensitivity to the beauty of art and nature,” wordnet

[4] Wikipedia//Matter

The Blind Men and the Elephant, p. 6

If Darwin and Wallace could co-labor, can’t we?

I have certain basic beliefs –

  • Science and religion are both metanarratives whose validities hinge on the way they are acted out.
  • ‘Just so’ stories are not properly basic ever, at any time in any narrative.
  • Everything is a metaphor for everything else.
  • (Therefore) ‘Truth’ may best be encapsulated within ‘Myth’.
  • (So that) Even our most basic understanding of physical reality, e.g. ‘matter’ may be viewed as mythological.

Everything I ‘know’, I know by ‘faith’.

I think it would be nice if you would share…

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