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From Stars to atoms to strings , everything seems to be impermanent in physical universe.

My question is : Has it been philosophically accepted that everything physical is impermanent? Or is there anything physical which is not impermanent?

  • Has philosophy ever completely accepted or rejected something? Is your question just about the existence of such thought? – rus9384 Apr 26 '18 at 17:06
  • Natural numbers, geometric triangles, highest good and the rest of Platonic ideas, God, angels... – Conifold Apr 26 '18 at 17:57
  • Abstract notions as those in mathematics are an example of permanence. Is that what you meant? – Mark Andrews Apr 26 '18 at 18:08
  • @Conifold Mathematics (therefore Geometry) is permanent as far as our Universe is concerned, if the Universe ends, then... Gods and angels, as in our human acceptions, are not physical, neither real. – William Apr 27 '18 at 1:46
  • Do you consider 'time' to be '"physical"? – Alexis Apr 27 '18 at 10:43
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Anything which is 'physical' it will exist for a certain period and perish eventually. So there is nothing physical which is not impermanent...(means permanent).

But you can find a permanent thing that helps you to know even about physical things. It is the Chaitanya (consciousness). See this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaitanya_(consciousness)

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    Buddha says even consciousness is not permanent. – Dheeraj Verma Apr 27 '18 at 12:24
  • Was it about the Immutable? See the second para in the link. – SonOfThought Apr 27 '18 at 12:30
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It seems safe to state that all physical and mental (or psycho-physical) phenomena are impermanent since nobody can show otherwise. If there is a permanent phenomenon or substance then it must be beyond beyond time and space.

Further to SonofThought's answer...

...The language is difficult here but putting it clumsily - For the mystics the 'Real' would be the only permanent phenomenon. (In Kantian terms this would be a non-phenomenal phenomenon). This would not be an object or 'thing' and so no-thing would be permanent.

It has not been fully accepted by philosophers that the mystics are correct about this. Many follow Democritus with his idea of permanent atoms. In logic, however, the idea of anything having a permanent existence fails. Thus those who endorse the permanence of the Real place it outside of space-time and beyond the distinction between existence and non-existence. What is unmanifest would be permanent and all that is manifest would be an impermanent. (I have sacrificed some rigour for the sake of simplicity).

For this view not only would existing things not be permanent but they would not even really exist. They would reduce to the Real. (Cf Bradley's Appearance and Reality.)

As you refer specifically to physical objects then the simple answer here is no, they are never permanent. The question is more interesting if you include mental objects but the answer would be the same. These things appear in time and so must begin, end, move, change, come and go.

The consciousness that SoT mentions, this timeless/permanent unchanging state or 'hypostase' of consciousness, would be not just non-physical but non-mental. It is quite literally the Holy Grail for the meditator. Regrettably for many philosophers it is a flying spaghetti monster, but they are unable to slay it.

Here is an interesting quote from Plotinus explaining our usual paradoxical ideas about Matter and Change, which I see as being a similar argument to that which Zeno makes about our usual paradoxical ideas of time.

"…[I]t is a general principle that a thing changing must remain within its constitutive Idea so that the alteration is only in the accidents and not in the essential thing; the changing object must retain this fundamental permanence, and the permanent substance cannot be the member of it which accepts modification. Therefore there are only two possibilities: the first, that Matter itself changes and so ceases to be itself, the second that it never ceases to be itself and therefore never changes. We may be answered that it does not change in its character as Matter: but no one could tell us in what other character it changes; and we have the admission that the Matter in itself is not subject to change."

Plotinus Enneads III. 6, The Impassivity of the Unembodied, 10.

  • Is it the inductive reasoning which suggest that everything is impermanent ? Or is there something more fundamental to the existence which makes everything impermanent ? – Dheeraj Verma Apr 27 '18 at 14:35
  • @DheerajVerma - For me it would be a logical conclusion. One argument would be that if things have a beginning they must have an end. Another would be that time and space cannot be fundamental. Another would be that only a fundamental 'thing' can be permanent and there cannot be two fundamental things. I feel that induction wouldn't work in this situation for it never does in metaphysics. There would be an 'Ultimate' (nihilism would be false) but it would not be a 'thing' that exists.in the way things exist. – PeterJ Apr 28 '18 at 10:52
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I don't know a type of physical objects which exist permanently. Therefore I agree with your diagnosis.

Your examples from stars to atoms are decomposable and impermanent objects. Stars have a finite lifecycle, e.g. our sun has a lifetime of about 10 billion years.

Atoms are stable, but there is the possibility of nuclear fission. Even stable elementary particles like electrons can be annhilitated by interaction with their anti-particles. Here matter annihilates to gamma radiation.

Strings are hypothetical entities, which have not yet been detected. Also the corresponding theory is not yet established. Therefore we do not know about the lifecycle of strings.

The question of permanent existence has found different answers from philosophers. E.g. one of the Hindu philosophical school (Samkhya) assumes the existence of a primordial matter (prakrti) which has not been created and will exist for infinite time.

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We need first to be clear about the terms that are in use. To be "permanent" implicit make the assumption of some time notion or some movement notion.

There is two possible notions of eternety that could be applied:

(i) The extension of something in time such that this extension is not finite (Could be foward, backward or both).

(ii) The idea of something outside time (and space normally).

To be time-permanent is to satisfy (i) or (ii), depends of the ontological notion that you are in. The problem here is to define exactly what is "a thing". For some schools the primordial matter like the greek notion of hylé or the Hindu notion are not "things" because they lack some ontological aspect (like form in Aristotle terms) that put then in other plane of existence.

if you are talking about something that have form and are in space time (that is the commum sense when we think in a "thing" or physical object) then i would suggest that the answer is no, there is no such thing that is permanent, because this thing have to satisfy the condition (i) and all that we have experienced are contingent, could easely not exist and i have no reason to think that something like that would have some eternal duration.

This notions of primordial matter that was mention, are what could be called aeviternal, something in the "middle" of eternety in the notion (ii) and this world, that is composed of finite duration things. For some thinkers this world is just a fenomenological manifestation of this "matter" in the space-time, and this manifestation is ever of impermanent things because of they nature as objects in the space-time box.

Now, some observations:

(1) The mathematical objects are in some traditions "things" and for others not. Is a triangle a thing, or just a form or just a word? In a Aristotelian perspective a triangle is not exactly a "thing" but an instance of the universal triangularity, a form that could exist in the things(not by its own). The same discution could be made about moral aspects.

(2) For Aquinas God is the only that is eternal in the (ii) sense. The angels and prime matter are aeviternal because they existence depends of the existence of God, they have secondary existence in this ontological "order", so they are not "eternal in themselves". Are they permanent? just in secondary terms too. God could anihilate all the angels, for exemple. So, the permance of all angels depends of God's will.

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The Universe itself is eternal.

(Phys.org) —The universe may have existed forever, according to a new model that applies quantum correction terms to complement Einstein's theory of general relativity. The model may also account for dark matter and dark energy, resolving multiple problems at once.

That said, it is probably the only permanent thing in existence.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2015-02-big-quantum-equation-universe.html#jCp

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    What you link to is one model that is not universally (or even widely) accepted. So the correct formulation is: The universe may be eternal. – celtschk Apr 30 '18 at 18:10
  • It may be eternal. And of course there is no consensus with regard to that theory. I happen to believe it, but what I think is insignificant. So please feel free to believe as you wish. – Bread Apr 30 '18 at 21:03
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Potential positive answers to your question:

  • Facts about mathematics are impermanent if anything is. (If, that is, facts about mathematics are "things" at all, whatever that would mean)
  • The universe as a whole. Any specific thing might cease to exist, but the bits that used to make up the thing remain part of the universe. So maybe the universe could be impermanent even if none of its parts are.
  • Laws of Nature. Again, if they count as things that exist, they are arguably things that exist for all time.
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One could argue that "nothing", which would be the absence of all things, would be permanent in this world.

If we were not required to have evidence to back our existential claims, then a theorist who fully explained the phenomena with one set of things could gratuitously add an extra entity, say, a pebble outside our light cone. We recoil from such add-ons. To prevent the intrusion of superfluous entities, one might demand that metaphysicians start with the empty world and admit only those entities that have credentials. This is the entry requirement imposed by René Descartes. He clears everything out and then only lets back in what can be proved to exist.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nothingness/#WhyTheSomRatThaNot

Most philosophers would grant Peter van Inwagen’s premise that there is no more than one empty world. They have been trained to model the empty world on the empty set. Since a set is defined in terms of its members, there can be at most one empty set.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nothingness/#TheMosOneEmpWor

Both these arguments look sound to me. You only have to argue that "nothingness", can exist. From there it's a short step to saying that it always exists.

In the second case particularly, linking nothingness to the empty set, say that the empty set exists, then it is always a member of all sets that exist, due to it's simplicity. Of course, one would never be able to detect nothing, since one can only detect physical objects which exists, so actually proving the argument is impossible.

  • If you have a link or reference to someone who actually argued that, it would be helpful. Also providing an outline of the argument might be helpful as well. – Frank Hubeny Apr 29 '18 at 13:27

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