The Physical—Position, Motion, Acceleration

In my "Ontological Hierarchy of Differentiation," which is a mouthful, but still more brief than "An Outline Of How All Material Existence Is Differentiated And By What Specific Attributes That Differentiation Is Identified," which is what the briefer title was meant to convey. But you can forget them both, at least for now, because here I am going to explain why I used a distinctly unphilosophical description of the physical aspect of material existence in my hierarchy.

Just a small warning. If you have absolutely no background at all in the physical sciences, specifically the very fundamental aspect of physics called dynamics (or sometimes mechanics), this explanation will probably be meaningless, though it is not difficult.


First, some basics. Everything that exists must in some way be different from everything else that exists. If two things were identical in every possible way, they would not be two things, but the same thing. What makes things different are their attributes (or qualities, or characteristics).

Things of the same kind are the same kind because they share those attributes that make them that kind. All dogs have the attributes that make them dogs.

But every unique entity of the same kind must have some attributes that will make them different from all the entities of that kind. Every dog must have some attribute or attributes that are different from all other dogs. We say those different attributes, "differentiate" individual dogs from each other.

Ontological Differentiation and Hierarchy

Ontology is the philosophical study of the ultimate nature of material existence. Unlike the sciences, which are the study of physical existence, ontology attempts identify the nature of existence in a fundamental sense that makes both science and all other knowledge possible. It describes the nature of existence in terms that make it knowable and what the nature of that knowledge must be.

One of the first things ontology must do is identify what exists, that is, what is there? This is not as difficult as might be imagined, in fact it is quite simple, because most of us already know.

There is physical existence. The world we live in and see, the entire universe, even we ourselves are physical. It is what the physical sciences study.

Some of those physical things are living, and they different from mere physical non-living things.

Some living things are conscious, like the animals and ourselves.

Some animals, only humans, are are also capable of making conscious choices (volition) and reasoning and gaining knowledge (rationality).

So what exists are physical things, some of which are also living things, and some of those are also conscious, and some conscious things also have volition. And, what differentiates living things from the mere physical is life, and what differentiates conscious beings from simple living ones is consciousness, and what differentiates rational conscious beings from the merely conscious is volition.

Here, there is automatically a hierarchy. At the bottom is the physical, an attribute that will be shared by all existents. Next are those with the attribute life, which all living things share, but mere physical existents do not. Next are conscious organisms, which all conscious animals share, but mere physical, and simple living organisms do not. Finally, there is volition, which only man enjoys, and no other mere physical or living thing does.

Analogy From the Physical

To explain what this hierarchy of differentiation means I used an analogy based on the nature of physical existence itself. All the attributes studied by all the sciences can be reduced to three attributes of the physical, that is, they can be described in terms of them. To actually use them in describing most physical phenomena would be awkward, but nevertheless, no physical phenomena is impossible to described in terms of these three concepts: position, motion, and acceleration.

Other concepts of physics such as mass, force, and momentum can all be reduced to position, motion, and acceleration. Even the geometric characteristics of the physical can be reduced to positions and their relationships. It is not necessary to understand the details of this reduction however.

The purpose is not to re describe physics, but to illustrate what is meant by differentiation in an ontological sense. The illustration works as follows: Using position alone, an entire physical universe might be described, at least in terms of the shapes, sizes, and relative positions of things. Picture a three dimensional model of the universe, for example. But such a universe is static a real universe is dynamic.

Perhaps we can turn our static universe into a dynamic one by rearranging the components of our model universe, change the size and shape of things, or make other positional changes. Obviously, no positional arrangement will produce a dynamic universe. A new kind of attribute is required. What is needed is motion, but no arrangement of positions produces motion. Only a change in position will produce motion.

By introducing "change in position" to our model universe we now have a dynamic one, but it is not yet a true physical one. Motion alone is incomplete, and if things simply moved, even if they are all at different rates, they will simply move until they have all moved away. In a real physical universe another attribute is required, one that makes it possible for things to move in orbits, and have attributes like force and mass. No matter how many different motions we introduce into our model, and no matter how we arrange them, we will never get those other physical attributes. Another change is needed, a change in motion, which is acceleration.

Each of these, position, motion, and acceleration, is a differentiation, that is, they differentiate things from each other. If any two things are identical in every way, they may still be different, if they have different positions, for example.

Secondly, each of these is differentiated from the others by a differentiating attribute, change. No arrangement of positions will create motion. No arrangement of motions will produce acceleration.

Thirdly, there is a hierarchy. There must fist be positional attributes, which changed are motions, then there must be motion, which changed is acceleration.

The purpose of the analogy is to illustrate the hierarchical nature of material existence, and the fact that every aspect of it is the result of a differentiation of the previous level of that hierarchical existence. The entire hierarchy then, would be, position, motion, acceleration, life, consciousness, volition. Each level requires some differentiating attribute or change which makes the attributes of the new level possible.

The first three levels, of course, are the physical, and are always present. Philosophically, the physical is the lowest level of the hierarchy, because the physical described in terms of position, motion, and acceleration could not be known without science, and philosophy is not informed by science, or should not be. So while this illustration is scientifically correct, for philosophy it is only an illustration or analogy.

Ontologically, the point of the illustration is, just as no arrangement of positions can produce motion, but only a change that produces a new level in the hierarchy of physical attributes, no arrangement of the physical can produce life, but only a change that produces a new level in the hierarchy of existence (living) can produce life.

In the same way, consciousness is not just a reorganization of life, but a new level of differentiation, and so volition is not just a very complex version of consciousness, but the final level of differentiation.

Not So Important

There are many people in various fields, such as AI, for example, who are convinced that consciousness can some day be produced in computers, for example. Since consciousness is two levels away from the physical, and each requires a kind of differentiation that cannot be "introduced," the hopes of man-made consciousness are obviously dashed. There are other reasons why such a hope is in vain, such as the fact that consciousness is a subjective non-demonstrable experience (you cannot show anyone your consciousness), so even if it could be produced, it could never be known.

The same kind of difficulty attends the question of the "creation of life," of course.

Neither of these is terribly important mistakes, and I observe them only because such considerations help us maintain a clear sense of reality.

Much More Important

There is an easy-to-make philosophical mistake that this entire discussion is subject to (as well as most other philosophical discussion). The roots of the mistake lie in Plato, but are most common made just by not being careful.

We frequently say things like, "a thing's attributes make it what it is," which can easily be mistaken to mean a things attributes have some kind of causative or determining power. They do not. A things attributes are what they are, because the thing is what it is. The attributes of anything are all we can know about it, and in that sense, are what it is, but they are what they are because the thing is what it is. The attributes have no independent existence, separate in any way, from that which they are the attributes of. Nothing, for example, can be made into or changed from anything by adding or removing attributes. Things can be changed, which will necessarily change their attributes, but the attributes themselves cannot be changed.

In reality, position, motion and acceleration cannot be added to things as in my illustration. They exist, where they exist, as attributes of real physical things, and in no other way. So life, consciousness, and volition cannot be added to or taken away from things, and exist, where they exist, in real living, conscious, and volitional beings, and in no other way.