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xgunther's avatar

Philosophy: How does an idea get into the matter?

Asked by xgunther (446points) January 22nd, 2008 from iPhone

Plato thought that every object in the material world had a programed idea or purpose. But how did the idea get there? How does a tree know how to be a tree? Had anyone in history have a theory about this?

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5 Answers

lifeflame's avatar

Hmm, interesting question.
It seems like “purpose” can have two aspects. One is intentionality, while the other functionality.
So, a cup can fulfill its purpose (function) of holding stuff; but it doesn’t need to consciously “know” (intend) its purpose, nor have the conscious intent of fulfilling its function.

In any case, from what I remember from Plato’s forms, he suggested that the material world is actually shadow of the “real” world of archetypal / abstract forms—and therefore actually, it’s not that the ideas somehow “got into” the matter, but rather, the matter is a reflection of the idea.

@sferik, what are you suggesting with Einstein’s equation… are you suggesting that energy is equivalent to intentionality and therefore is related to matter?

hossman's avatar

Liebniz had a lot to say about that, but he should have stuck to math and stayed away from philosophy.

Arglebargle_IV's avatar

was that the ‘shadows in the cave’ metaphor for reality?
I remember it as every idea, thing, manifestation in reality was a ‘shadow’ of its greater reality (beyond our ken or awareness).
I read Plato to say that there was a higher plane of reality and the world we live in is its poor shadow.

SourIntel's avatar

xgunther i had trouble with your question “How does a tree “know” how to be a tree?” Well, Can trees “know” anything at all, is that a property of theirs (to not be able to know)?

I don’t believe trees can know what they are. Things are what we perceive them to be. The tree, to me, really doesn’t need an idea of purpose in the metaphysical sense. It has a physical purpose.

Metaphysically speaking i think your question really is asking “what is the essence of things?” Instead of ‘how does a tree know how to be a tree,’ it should be what makes a tree a tree.

Think about this: If were to take the “idea or purpose” of that tree by some extremely odd means (super powers I don’t know) and swap it with this hard-drive does that make my hard-drive’s purpose the purpose of a tree? and vice-versa, does the tree now serve the same purpose as my hard-drive once did?

that is quite absurd. In actuality, the “essence” of things has a horse load of theories and arguments including Liebniz, Locke, Spinoza, and especially Russell in “The Problems of Philosophy.”

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