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Conceptual Systems vs. Physical Systems

The universe is comprised of physical systems which are comprised of objects (which in turn are comprised of systems, ad infinitum). However, the appearance of objects and all possible experiences and observations, is a result of consciousness.

Nick Herbert is a physicist and author of various books on quantum physics and philosophy. In his book “Elemental mind” he endeavors to make sense of the mind/body problem from a scientific standpoint. The universe, he writes, “…seems to consist of two kinds of phenomena: mental experiences and physical objects” (23). The nature of consciousness is the main subject of his book, but this paper ignores it and instead focuses on the conceptual nature of systems.

The human world is overrun with physical objects and concepts. One might not even be able to tell the difference between them. A rainbow might be thought of as a physical object, but it can not be touched. If one goes closer to it, it just seems to get farther away or disappears. The image of a rainbow is a mental phenomenon, like the illusion of water in a desert (a mirage). A rainbow itself is not a physical object, but there is a physical aspect to it. It is a physical system consisting of rays of light passing though many drops of water which are suspended in air.

The American Heritage dictionary defines a “system” as: “a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole” (system). A physical system (PS) is comprised of matter and energy. The objects of a PS can be observed or experienced. A conceptual system (CS) is comprised of ideas or theories. The elements of a CS only exist in one’s mind or by virtue of the CS itself. For instance, one does not have to mentally calculate every possible outcome of the equation “x-x” to know that “x-x=0” is always true; it is simply a fact by virtue of the system’s rules.

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