Over on another post, we’ve gotten into a discussion about something I find quite interesting (but which you might find boring as hell), and that is… Can something be said to “exist” that is in no way “physical.”
The discussion started based on the description of a ghost being supernatural or “non-physical.” I find it difficult to understand just what such a description actually means. As I see it, “to be” is to be physical. Now, as I commented over in the other post, that doesn’t mean something must be made of matter. A photon, for example, has no “at-rest” mass, it is pure energy that behaves (sometimes) as a particle — but that doesn’t mean a photon is non-physical or supernatural. It is natural, and it is physical. How something can be, but be in no way “detectable”how it can be said to exist, but its existence leaves no trace or imprint — seems to me a fundamental contradiction. Furthermore when we “detect” a ghost, does that mean we are “seeing” somethingthat is non-physcial, what could that possibly even mean?
Then commentor Anna made this excellent point:
I am not sure we should equate being with the physical, or we cannot say that numbers or information or thoughts exist. Or most money, for that matter, which is no longer in physical form.
Yet I would argue (and I did) that numbers or money ARE, in fact, physical. Their existence is etched somewhere in some substrate — it might be data on a harddrive or simply as an idea in a person’s head. It seems to me that idea’s have a physical reality — just as an un-recalled memory exists as electrical/chemical energy and as connections between structures (neurons) stashed away in a brain…
But my answer begs this question, does “2″, for example, exist beyond the idea of 2? Or to get even trickier, let’s use a song as an example. It is not the notes alone that make a song, but the ordering and spacing of them — the “song” only exists when that ordering has been done… the song lives not in the notes but in the between of the notes.
Now again, I would say the song is physical because at it’s most basic level it “lives” in our heads — you can watch a PET scan of a brain on music and it will appear different than one that is not… the question is, does the song “exist” apart from the idea of the song? Did that song actually exist before anyone (the songwriter) wrote it… or I suppose, in this case, discovered it.
If someone can convince me that the unwritten songs existed first, I will concede that non-physical things do as well…