Generative Science

Putting the Fire in the Equations; Generating multilevel dynamical processes in Physics and Psychology

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Generative Physics

Process Theory and the Concept of Substance

Since the failure of both pure corpuscular and pure wave philosophies of nature, process theories assume that only events need to exist in order to have a physics. Starting from an ontology of actual events, a dispositional analysis is shown here to lead to a new idea of substance, that of a `distribution of potentiality or propensity'. This begins to provide a useful foundation for quantum physics. A model is presented to show how the existence of physical substances could be a reasonable consequence of a theory of processes.

Real Dispositions in the Physical World

The role of dispositions in the physical world is considered. It is shown that not only can classical physics be reasonably construed as the discovery of real dispositions, but also quantum physics. This approach moreover allows a realistic understanding of quantum processes.
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 39 (1988) 67-79.  Also: Jstor, pdf

The Nature of Substance

Modern physics has cast doubt on Newton's idea of particles with definite properties. Do we have to go back to Aristotle for a new understanding of the ultimate nature of substance?
Cogito, 2 (1988) pp 10 - 12. Also: pdf

book: Philosophy of Nature and Quantum Reality

Pragmatic Ontology: Identifying Propensity as Substance

In a pragmatic approach to ontology, what is necessary and sufficient for the dispositional causation of events is interpreted realistically, and postulated to exist. This leads to a concept of `generic substance' (Aristotle's underlying `matter') as being constituted by dispositions, not just being the `bare subject' for those dispositions. If we describe the forms of objects according their spatiotemporal range, then this form is best viewed as a field, and substances themselves are best conceived as 'fields of propensity'. With the help of such a concepts, we can try to understand some of the more mysterious quantum features of nature, such as the nature of measurement interactions and non-localities, not as well as the duality of wave and particle descriptions.  

Derivative Dispositions and Multiple Generative Levels

The analysis of dispositions is used to consider cases where the effect of one disposition operating is the existence of another disposition. This may arise from rearrangements within aggregated structures of dispositional parts, or, it is argued, also as stages of derivative dispositions within a set of multiple generative levels. Inspection of examples in both classical and quantum physics suggests a general principle of 'Conditional Forward Causation': that dispositions act 'forwards' in a way conditional on certain circumstances or occasions already existing at the `later' levels.

Discrete Degrees Within and Between Nature and Mind

Examining the role of dispositions  (potentials and propensities) in both physics and psychology reveals that they are commonly derivative dispositions, so called because they derive from other dispositions. Furthermore, when they act, they produce further propensities. Together, therefore, they appear to form discrete degrees within a structure of multiple generative levels. It is then constructively hypothesized that minds and physical nature are themselves discrete degrees within some more universal structure. This gives rise to an effective dualism of mind and nature, but one according to which they are still constantly related by causal connections. I suggest a few of the unified principles of operation of this more complicated but universal structure.

Power and Substance

An ontological extension of dispositional essentialism is proposed, whereby what is necessary and sufficient for the dispositional causation of events is interpreted realistically, and postulated to exist. This ‘generative realism’ leads to a general concept of ‘substance’ as constituted by its more fundamental powers or propensities appearing in the form of some structure or field. This neo-Aristotlean view is reviewed historically,  and in respect to quantum physics.


Author: I.J. Thompson (except as stated)