Material vs. Immaterial

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Reply Sun 26 Oct, 2008 08:57 pm
What is the difference between material and immaterial? Matter and energy are very much the same and are both interchangeable. And in order for one to have potential, the other must exist. So I suppose I can make the obvious assumption here that actuality does not constitute form; as in matter and energy(and I suppose now I have to prove that energy is form), actuality must be none of the two. But anyways...

I have read this context for matter and energy, being that "matter is just bound energy". This makes sense, but then what does it mean for energy to be bound? It becomes completely different from unbound and we call this material, yet so simple a difference.

Is there any difference between the two other than the obvious differences to the mind?
Reply Sun 26 Oct, 2008 10:58 pm
Very good question and very relevant to many of the topic on this forum.

I would say that there is no essential difference between material and immaterial; in other words, they are the same; i.e. the terms are meaningless. There is only existance. The difference is generated in our own minds; some might say that that mind is a product of the material world; I am inclined to the inverse. Immaterial is linked to our 'inner experiences' as material is to the 'outer world'; such a division is speculative and unneccessary.
Reply Mon 27 Oct, 2008 06:17 am
The traditional philosophic definitions for the two terms make them synonymous with physical and non-physical; thus, material objects are available to sense-perception, and non-material objects to intuition or rational understanding.
Reply Mon 27 Oct, 2008 06:19 am
Holiday20310401 wrote:
What is the difference between material and immaterial?

Yes, excellent question. Here's how I see it:[INDENT]These are terms we give to what we perceive to be the current state of <something>. Perhaps it could also be defined as the relative state of energy's stability. In what we perceive to be a "solid state" or "matter" his <thing> is more stable - on the molecular level - than what we perceive to be in a "charged" state.
[/INDENT]I hadn't given it much thought, but on first-blush, this is how I view the relationship/differentiation.

Reply Mon 27 Oct, 2008 01:57 pm
Does anyone actually think that there is a real difference between the two? Any Cartesians willing to explain the relation of 'tangible' to 'intangible', how one affects the other?
Lithe Oleander
Reply Sun 8 Nov, 2009 11:01 pm
Matter and energy are both material. They have limitations. Even though (in the modern view) people think that energy has no mass does not make it immaterial. Light travels, it has momentum, it travels in packets, it has similar properties of that of a material. It's limited and bounded by the "material universe" just like matter. A stone that has a message written on it is material. But the message... isn't that what is considered immaterial? The stone can be destroyed, but does the message get destroyed too? (Even if it has never been read?... and the person who wrote it died?) I think immaterial deals more with thoughts, ideas, those kinds of things. Everything in physics is the study of the material world. I should know, I've been majoring in it for a while, and heavily delving into it leisurely.
Reply Tue 10 Nov, 2009 07:52 am
@Lithe Oleander,
well i see material/immaterial as more like a classic dualism or binary opposition. Light/dark, mind/body, on/off ..... where none of the polarities are as clear cut as they may first look. Relativity creeps in soon enough Smile

Even science can be seen as not entirely studying the material world. Concepts like kinetic energy, momentum, angular momentum, entropy, etc are all system qualities even if the systems are considered material in constitution.

The prettiest star is more than materially different to the rest. Is beauty immaterial? Not usually entirely ......... but then again maybe sometimes.
Reply Wed 11 Nov, 2009 12:15 am
I think notions of 'an immaterial thing' or a 'spiritual substance' are incorrect and have caused untold difficulties in Western philosophy. I deny that there is any such thing as an immaterial substance or non-material existence. Yet I am not a materialist. Here is an explanation based on what little understanding I have of the Neo-platonist attitude to the question of the nature of transcendent reality.

I think it can be easily shown that reality itself consists of much more than simply 'what exists'. Very simplistically, if you regard 'reality' as being the sum total of 'things that exist' (and many do) then you need to find the fundamental elements of existence. These, you might think, would be atoms. However 'atomism', in this naive sense, is no longer tenable, as the atom has been split and can no longer be regarded as the 'fundamental unit of material reality' as it was in the heyday of scientific materialism. (Maybe this is why they are calling the Higgs Boson The God Particle.)

So what fundamentally exists? Actually the difficulty you will have in answering this question is that nothing exists absolutely or in its own right. Sure everything is composed of elements, and elements are composed of atoms: but atoms are composed of...? As yet, the 'fundamental constituent of matter' is still an open question.

To change tack a little, what of things that don't exist but are real? Perhaps it can be demonstrated that what is real, and what exists, might be different.

Reality contains everything that exists, but existence is only a subset of what is real. Nothing unreal exists, but some things which are real do not exist. Existence is of objects, while reality also covers ideas beyond objects. A number is only real, while a baseball exists. The gross national product is only real, while Antarctica exists. The probability of the sun not rising tomorrow is real, while the sun itself exists. A number (in the sense beyond numeral) cannot be a sense object and so does not exist... there's no place to go to look for a number. Anything which has no spatio-temporal meaning (and thus no "there" to be at to observe) cannot be said to exist. Such things can be real if properly derived out of experience, but they do not exist.(1)

When you think about it, the same logic applies to many, perhaps all, elements of our experience. All of our experience, the nature of reality itself, seems to consist of the experience of 'objects' and sensations related to those objects, which in turn seems to consist largely of matter, 'dumb stuff', being randomly pushed around according to physical laws.

Yet the relationships of all of these objects to each other, and to us, and the manner in which they exist, is not actually revealed by their mere existence. (This follows from the fact that they cannot be completely analysed.) To begin with, they exist 'for us', or in relation to our particular sensory and intellectual capabilities (cf Kant). However Neoplatonism would add, there is also a sense in which the existence of any particular object is intelligible only insofar as it is lawful, and the laws themselves are not disclosed by any of the objects of perception. They obey these laws (which, perhaps, are still acknowledged today in the idea of 'scientific law', which arguably did evolve from this paticular aspect of Western philosophy) and are 'real' only because they are 'instances of universals'.

In other words, because matter is mere 'dumb stuff' it would not exist as objects - nor would there be any intelligence to perceive it - were it not for the lawful forms which precede all existence and cause it to be arrayed in the manner in which we see it. These 'forms' do not in themselves exist; they are beyond existence. 'Things' do the hard work of existing, but only in accordance with the forms.

We could go much further with this type of analysis but the point of it is that it can be used to illustrate the nature of 'the transcendent intelligence' (a.k.a 'One Mind', 'The One', 'Spirit') as a completely different kind of thing to the idea of 'an immaterial substance'. In fact it suggests that this dualistic opposition between 'matter' and 'spirit' is a false dichotomy. (This may well have had something to do with the triumph of the Nominalists over the Realists?)

For in this picture, which is the nature of reality according to the Platonist tradition, long since abandoned, 'that which creates the forms' can never be regarded as a thing or object of perception. All we see are the effects of it, the consequences of its creative ideation. 'Spirit' or 'Mind' or whatever you would like to call it, does not exist, but is beyond existence, and can, therefore, only be intuited by the 'purified intellect' of the Philosopher, on account of the relationship of the individual intellect to the One. So contemplation of these realities is the role of 'the philosopher' insofar as his/her intellect is able to 'ascend' to the realm of Form.

OK that is pretty far out, I realise, and there may be a lot wrong with it, but *I think* it points to a way of understanding the nature of the idea of 'spirit' in a competely different way to that depicted in Cartesian dualism, which I think came down from a particular aspect of Aristotlean thought where he differed greatly from Plato.

Criticisms welcomed....

1. Philosophy Forums: Reality, Existence, and the Atom
Fil Albuquerque
Reply Wed 11 Nov, 2009 08:25 am
I see no difference between material and immaterial...
Reply Wed 11 Nov, 2009 08:29 am
well jeeprs i certainly agree that the words existence and reality can get very confused, and there are a number of creative ways of distinguishing them.

But taking your definition :- material as existence, and reality as all that exists plus non material things (that don't exist because they are not material).

because matter is mere 'dumb stuff' it would not exist as objects - nor would there be any intelligence to perceive it - were it not for the lawful forms which precede all existence and cause it to be arrayed in the manner in which we see it. These 'forms' do not in themselves exist; they are beyond existence. 'Things' do the hard work of existing, but only in accordance with the forms.
what i find odd about this approach is that it doesn't go all the way. ie 'to all is mind'. I mean where is the evidence for materiality if not from perceptual forms? If so why distinguish them? To stop half way and say there is the existent material world and then the rest of reality created by the transcendental forms, seems like itself as an unnecessary dichotomy in order to get rid of another dichotomy!

These 'forms' do not in themselves exist; they are beyond existence. 'Things' do the hard work of existing, but only in accordance with the forms.
.... which i take to mean that they don't exist because they are non material, yet they are real even though they are non material. What i geuss i find confusing here is the difference (if any) between 'non material' and 'immaterial'.

Are you suggesting that reality includes material existence but also includes the non material transcendant? The latter breathing life into the former to give its very existence (materiality)? ......... This compares to reality as being composed of material and immaterial existence, neither of which is necessarily considered transcendant? (In addition the likes of number, love, identity in such a scheme of reality may be a different kind of immaterialty to say the non collapsed wave state of a soon to be materially existent object.)
Reply Wed 11 Nov, 2009 02:03 pm
good questions and I will need to give it some more thought and reading. However one immediate response is that the idea of the forms is that again, they are not existing objects of any kind, but are more like ingrained patterns of tendencies, or formal causes of particular types of things.

Also I would not be so bold as to say I have made a definition, only a distinction, or perhaps even only a suggestion, namely that 'reality' and 'existence' have different meanings, and are often assumed synonomous.

What I am trying to illuminate is the naive realist idea that reality itself is simply the aggregation of material particulars (Carl Sagan 'Cosmos is all there is'). In fact there is an obvious (but neglected) sense in which reality comprises also the manner in which all things are related, and also the way that they are perceived, or that they 'exist in perception'. When I say 'related', one example is that through the relations between simple particulars, you can have emergent effects, which are not at all anticipated by the properties of the component parts, but only become manifest when they interact. But there are many other examples.

I think the previous posts in this thread are basically grappling with the idea of immaterial things being 'energy'. The point of this approach is to show that this is a misunderstanding of the very idea of 'immaterial', that the idea of 'immaterial realities' is only meaningful within a different level of perception, namely the metaphysical. So, in answer to your question, perhaps there is no difference between 'non-material' and 'immaterial' but in either case, we are not referring to a kind of 'ghostly object' or 'object of perception' in the normally understood sense. The apprehension of the 'Ideas' or 'Forms' requires a different level of understanding: as has been remarked in some other thread 'metaphysics requires metacognition'.

Nevertheless, good questions and I shall do some more pondering on them; metaphysics is indeed a difficult subject, especially when one only knows parts of it, and because the modern tendency is to reject all of it, and simply revert to 'Cosmos is all there is'....
Reply Thu 12 Nov, 2009 10:21 am
hi jeeprs

well yeh we agree a great deal re naive realism.
I think the previous posts in this thread are basically grappling with the idea of immaterial things being 'energy'. The point of this approach is to show that this is a misunderstanding of the very idea of 'immaterial', that the idea of 'immaterial realities' is only meaningful within a different level of perception, namely the metaphysical.
i see what you mean. But does it follow that your version of the immaterial necessarily requires life to physically exist? If so what about when before life physically existed in the universe? Was reality then pure physical existence?
Reply Thu 12 Nov, 2009 02:33 pm
To be honest, I don't know how to tackle that question. Although I sometimes reflect that the idea of the universe existing prior to our awareness of it, is still an idea, as is the idea that in the absence of our awareness of it, it would not exist. We are never in a position to make our awareness of the universe the object of perception or to consider what the universe might be, independent of our awareness of it. Of course the modern outlook has a very strong belief in the idea of the 'independent objectivity' of the Universe but this too is a construction. There is a sense in which the scientific outlook has substituted the 'vast objective universe' for God. (And it is a most unsatisfactory substitution, in my view).

I think my interpretation of Platonism is probably very idiosyncratic, as I have never studied it formally, and it is a difficult subject. But for all that, I still think that some understanding of Platonism and Plotinus is indispensable for understand how the idea of 'immaterial' might be interpreted, ESPECIALLY in terms of the Western philosophical tradition. Have a look at the reviews of Neoplatonist Scholar Johannes Platonicus on Amazon, and some of the source books he recommends on Platonism.
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 09:54 pm
material = mass / condensed / finite
immaterial = quality / infinite / of mind

of course, you could always argue its a matter of perception, seeing as how all quality absorbed from the environment is in fact, thought, and assembled inside the mind.. but for the purpose of separating terms, due to our nature as existence separated from the environment, we separate.. It is by separation we may scrutinize and differentiate.. thus grow, learn, move forward, ect, by absorbing more quality from our finite environment.. it then becomes us, and we create and apply those newly distinguished qualities to our own realities.. it is safe to say, that all we do, is absorb information (quality) from our environment, so that we may re-create it (the environment)..

like a walking antenna, i convert material, to immaterial, and the environment around me changes.. in a way, material is all that is unknown, condensed quality that I have yet to discover.. and over time, we turn all of that mass into quality and absorb it into our minds, until there is no more mass to absorb quality from.. we create that entropy.. the entire process is that of entropy.. we are decaying organized mass into a single chaotic infinite form of quality of mind
Reply Mon 30 Nov, 2009 02:46 am
The word "infinite" is just a negation of the word "finite." Or isn't it? I don't think infinite can be conceived. I think its the same with immaterial, a negation of material.

This is not to deny that the word "immaterial" is useful for hinting at a different sort of material than the usual. I realize that its all just language games. <---Including that statement.

Anatole France wrote beautifully on how much of philosophy is a sort of negative myth. In-finite. In-corporeal. Im-material. Ab-solute. Non-causal.

You can find it quoted in Derrida's Margins, in the chapter The White Mythology. It opened my eyes to the power of negative prefixes.

Reply Mon 30 Nov, 2009 03:16 am
There is a sense in which that is true that it is the 'negation of finite' but I am also sure that the implications and resonances of the term Infinite are such that it sustains volumes.

  • Negative prefixes - in Sanskrit, the negative particle, placed in front of an adjective, is 'A' - which more or less equates to 'un' (as in 'unknown', 'unbecome', 'unborn'.) So - vidya = knowledge, avidya = ignorance; atma=self, anatma = no-self

  • 'A' is also the first symbol in the Sanskrit alphabet thus signifiying the beginning of all written and spoken language.

  • For these reasons it is known as the 'supreme transcendental wisdom' (prajna-paramita') in One Letter.

There are other presentations of the same subject occupying 108,000 lines of prose; so this is the most succinct known scripture in the history of world religions.

This understanding is a considerable help in meditation as it is the negation of all positive attempts to understand the nature of reality - whatever you presume reality to be, it is not this, or not that. Therefore it can be meditated upon to assist with the realization of emptiness.
richard mcnair
Reply Mon 30 Nov, 2009 07:09 pm
There's something i've been thinking about. No doubt most of us would have heard of the ontological argument for the existence of god - the very fact that we can have the notion of god proves gods existence etc. Well obviously given our modern understanding if the word 'god' as a personal anthropomorphic being, clearly this doesnt work.

However, what about an ontological argument for the existence of the immaterial, and the super-natural? If everything in the universe is material; always has been, and always will be; everything about me is purely material; nothing exists anywhere but the material; matter, matter, all is matter; than how could I possibly even have the notion that the immaterial even exists?
Also, the same for the natural. If everything is purely natural, and nothing else exists, than how would it be possible to even postulate the idea that something might be unnatural, which we do all the time?
If everything that exists, anywhere, ever, and all I, as a human being am composed of, is purely material, natural and finite, then how would it be even possible for me to have the notion of the immaterial, a genuine free will, and the infinite?

Hope I've made some sense... thoughts anybody?
Reply Mon 30 Nov, 2009 07:34 pm
What is 'material'?

You will find if you really examine it, that the concept of material is actually not coherent.

Is it gaseous? Liquid? Solid? Compound or simple? Energetic or inert? Oh, it's all of those things.

So - what is it? It used to be thought that it was reducible to indivisible units called 'atoms' - from the Greek, meaning 'indivisible'. Now the atom is known to be mostly empty space, and some of the 'particles' which comprise it seem to have very dubious ontological status. The idea of the ultimate hard massy point is long deceased.

And besides, as stated elsewhere, we don't know enough about nature to know what is 'super' to it. Or as Augustine said 'Miracles are not contrary to nature; they are contrary to what we know about nature'.
Reply Mon 30 Nov, 2009 11:32 pm

I found both of your last posts excellent.

It's fascinating that they use the first letter of their alphabet as the prefix of negation. Reminds me of indeterminate being as equivalent to nothingness. The beginning of Hegel's logic.

Also Heidegger would cross out (put under erasure) the word Being to stress that the signifier was not the signified. I think the word "Being" under erasure is equivalent to the word "Consciousness" under erasure.

A void at the heart of Being, or just at the heart of "Being."

I do believe in the value of mystical traditions, but I wonder if infinite (as concept rather than symbol) can do much more than suggest the negation of the finite.

I agree in my own words that miracles are not against the "laws" of nature but rather against the consensus concerning these laws.

I do enjoy the subject. Much respect.
Reply Mon 30 Nov, 2009 11:43 pm
It's not so much 'the void' as the negation of the attempt by the finite activity of mind to gain foothold on the immensity of the present moment. It is more like 'reality defying all attempts at description'. (I do think that is what Heidegger was getting at too, but I am certainly no authority on his writing, I have only picked up snippets of it.)

The great sage Nagarjuna said that 'the teaching of emptiness (sunyata) is only offered as an antidote to those who cling to views. But for those who cling to the view of emptiness, there is no hope'.

(If I had a gong sound I would insert it here.):bigsmile:

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