Platonic Forms And Modern Scientific Thought

A short discussion of how Platonic forms cannot be applied to modern scientific thought. Criticizes form theory as it breaks down during a increasingly specific scientific understanding of water.

Plato's concept of forms raises many interesting questions. The concept that everything in the physical world has a form or ideal theoretical existence seems fairly valid upon a cursory examination. A theoretically perfect model for an object created by a human is rooted in common sense. This, however, is largely due to the mathematical and geometrical relationships between a "chair" and a constructed chair and a "house" and a constructed house. The form in terms of mathematics is much more easily identifiable than the abstraction involved in an organism's form.

When brought to the level of science, this trend is more easily explored. The more mathematical science of physics is understandable in terms of mathematical forms. F=m*a has a very definite mathematical relationship which transcends force relations in the physical world. My main objection, however, is the universal applicability Plato assumes from the mathematical validity of forms.

Let's take the example of water. Someone who understands water only in terms of the wet stuff that comes out of the faucet obviously has an incomplete conceptualization of water's form. If water is reduced to two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom with covalent bonds, the idea of water is becoming more complete. We can still further investigate water, noting its dipole moment, free electron pairs, and characteristic hydrogen bonding, thus explaining its surface tension, its extremely high boiling point, and its incredible versatility for use in biological systems. At this point, we seem to have a rather well defined concept of water, theoretically bringing us closer and closer to the realization of its form. A further reduction of water, however, yields some disturbing results.

Going from a molecular to an atomic level, we can describe much more of what exactly water "is." In the final analysis, however, we find that the electrons which account, at least partially, for every characteristic of water fail to find definition, or a form. The only way to describe the multidimensional orbitals of electrons in water is through probability theory. History has seen the failure of the plum-pudding model, Bohr's orbital model, and every other definite model for the circulation of electrons. The only theory which adequately accounts for electron circulation in water, and thus, as a result, for all its more broadly recognized properties, is probability theory. Probability theory is, by the way, a method of saying, "We don't know!?"

An easy rebuttal to this objection is simply that we don't yet know the truth about electrons and water, and thus the form. This objection has no scientific basis. Any more accurate description of electron theory can become only more complicated and more "uncertain" than the current probability based theory.

Another rebuttal is that probability theory is a mathematical model, thus it has a form. Probability theory, however, is not an abstraction. It is a concrete consideration of the likelihood of any event in the physical world taking place. This does not rest on some theoretical or abstract principle, but on an earthly consideration of mundane and observable phenomenon.

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