Ladyman and Ross, Every Thing Must Go

I recently finished this book, which aims at correcting current ways of doing metaphysics by insisting that metaphysicians take seriously what contemporary physics tells us about the world.

The problem is that “many” (I guess) contemporary metaphysicians suppose that the world, ultimately, is composed of tiny, billiard-ball like particles, which bang in to each other, and somehow generate the macroscopic world we experience. Sure, there are supposed to be some complications coming from the direction of quantum mechanics, but metaphysicians typically suppose that whatever complications there are may be safely ignored.

Not so, say these guys. Lots of claims passing for “apriori” or “intuitively certain” among metaphysicians are just false, if we take physics seriously. The positive campaign of this book is to show what a scientifically-respectable metaphysics would look like. As it turns out, we are wrong to think of thing-like particles as fundamental. What’s fundamental, it seems, are certain structures best described through mathematics, from which we derive claims about so-called “particles” and “waves” and “fields”. So what’s real, ultimately, are structures. Further down the road, we discover that these structures somehow contribute, at some level of analysis, to “patterns,” which we may identify as macroscopic objects (including you and me), and their characteristic behaviors. Structures and patterns; that’s it. Every thing must go!

I skimmed 80% of the book, since I’m not well-educated enough to follow all the science. But I hope I’ve come through with a roughly accurate summary. I like the way it confirms Nz’s view that we are wrong to let our grammar determine our ontology, and Spinoza’s view that individuals aren’t genuinely real, when all is said and done. But I’m wary, since more than once I’ve read something like this and entered into discussion with physicists, only to discover I’ve been sold a bill of goods. It really does frustrate me that there’s no easy way to get a decent synopsis of all this important stuff, and incorporate it into philosophy, without doing all the real work required to have a thorough understanding. What’s a lazy guy like me to do?

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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4 Responses to Ladyman and Ross, Every Thing Must Go

  1. Shorter Ladyman & Ross: Not only aren’t fundamental particles like billiard balls; billiard balls aren’t even like billiard balls.


  2. Huenemann says:

    I like it!


  3. vince says:

    Physics of the 20th century has definitely been fascinating. The strangeness of modern physics undermines the concepts of billiard ball physics. After some discussions on this blog and USUPhilosophy blog, I can see that Ockham’s altering the philosophy of physics towards individuation (isolated things) leads to the atomistic billiard ball physics. Modern physics undermines this view.

    The existence of a thing called an electron cannot really be examined as an isolated thing. It is always in a context. In fact, the properties of every electron (which are amazingly identical) may arise simple from the existence of one Higgs Boson in the universe. The God Particle’s mere presence orders every other physical ‘thing’.

    Perhaps ‘individuation’, which has become so dominant in the 20th century in psychology and philosophy, needs to be reexamined for other fields besides physics.

    Individuation :

    Such a re-examination may now be leading to psychologies and philosophies based on individuals within the context of community rather than the isolated individual. This is the very place where I think modernist philosophy and psychology fails. For example, I still don’t see how Nietzsche can be used to provide a based for community.

    Ignoring individuation in physics and other fields is useless, too. Somehow the whole picture must acknowledge the individual in the context of community.


  4. John Collier says:

    “Perhaps ‘individuation’, which has become so dominant in the 20th century in psychology and philosophy, needs to be reexamined for other fields besides physics.”

    Of course. Much of my work, especially on autonomy, is directed to this goal. Currently papers can be found on my website at

    I say currently, because my page is subject to new regulations requiring everything to be approved by the University hierarchy, and it disappeared at this address for a while until I said its absence was seriously hurting my research.


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