RE: [asa] Definition of Physical

From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
Date: Sun Apr 19 2009 - 19:58:24 EDT

For the physical to be amenable to objective, scientific, quantitative studies, it is not inconceivable that all that humans senses can detect can invariably be accomplished equally by means of purely physical devices. Touch, seeing, and the other senses can be reduced to physical interactions of humans with their physical surrounding. It is the nonphysical and supernatural in humans that can “detect” what the purely physical devices cannot. Herein lies to domain that cannot be penetrated by science.

From: [] On Behalf Of Bill Powers []
Sent: Sunday, April 19, 2009 1:24 AM
To: Don Winterstein
Cc: asa
Subject: [asa] Definition of Physical

I'd like to return to this question of what is meant by the physical.
I have suggested that it, at least at one time, and ought to now have a
phenomonological reference.

Aristotle believed that the primary sense was that of touch. It seems
that this is a good place to start. Our primordial sense of what is
physical is that it is tangible. We can touch it and feel it. This seems
to be what we all have meant by what is physical. Ghosts and spirits are
not physical because we cannot feel them, even if we can see them. We may
often speak of ideas as nonphysical for the same reason.

Metaphorical extensions of physicality would follow from extended
notions of touch. Note that this might be different from extended notions
of seeing. We speak of seeing solar neutrinos because we believe we can
observe them remotely.

How are metaphorical extensions of seeing different from touching? I am
reminded that it was once said (I can't remember who) that something is
real if when you kick it, it kicks back. Such an idea appears close to the
idea of touch, and hence to the idea of something being physical. I don't
see the danger in an electric fence when we approach it. But when it
kicks back, we are certain of it. Do we say, then, that something
physical has hit us? We can see a mirage, but touching/tasting the
water is convincing.

Perhaps our very notion of an 'effect' is an extension of touching. It
does seem to me that touching is considered more reliable than seeing.
Thomas said that unless he could see and touch the wounds of Jesus, he
would not believe. It is true that we rely upon both senses. But isn't
it so that, even if blind, if we can touch something, we believe it real,
and, for the sake of this discussion, physical.

So I guess that's as far as I'll go at this late hour.
The suggestion is to look for metaphorical extensions of touching, perhaps
in contradistinction from that of seeing, which is what is more commonly


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Received on Sun Apr 19 20:00:25 2009

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