Quora answer: Philosophy: Is it the nature of experiments themselves that suggest a discontinuous and varied characteristics of matter? In other words is it in the experiments themselves that the secrets of matter lay hidden?
I have already mentioned that this is I think a deep question.
I think first of all I would like to say why it is deep. For instance Mendeleev came up with the table of elements. But we do not really know the properties of any elements until we actually find that element or make it, just knowing the atomic numbers do not tell us the properties of the substance. Similarly, with molecules and even complex molecules that have interesting properties due to their folds that are generated in living things and now synthetically. We can predict in a general way their properties by seeing what family or what column in the periodic table they belong to, or what other complex molecules of the same type are like, but actually science has no way of telling us before hand what the properties of any given substance will be like for certain except after the fact. So the question has to do with the relation of science to the patterning of properties in nature of substances. Science is actually mute on this issue as far as I know. However, there are attempts to answer this question, and the theory of propensities is one way that an answer to this question has been attempted.
Joshua Engel has made the case for the structure of matter and believes that it is going to end up with a unified theory of everything. But actually I don’t think this is the crux of the question, at least in my interpretation. The crux of the question is where the variation comes from in the quality and emergent characteristics of these particles or these atoms, or these molecules. Quantitative characteristics we have down pretty much, and we have discovered after the fact a lot of the Qualitative characteristics, but we could not have predicted the qualitative characteristics from the quantitative characterizations. So for instance we believe that there is going to be a stable point at about element 114. Until we make that element we do not know that it really is stable and if it is stable we do not know what its characteristics will be except in some really general ways. We are hoping that there is an island of stability, but we just do not know it is really will exist or what it will be like if it does exist. And this fact that quantitatively exact physics does not know what it will find on the qualitative side in emergent phenomena that is really the Achilles heal of Science. In other words we do well predicting motions, or incidences, or probabilities with equations but we cannot predict emergent effects that appear as Qualitative characteristics except in a very vague way by analogy, for instance among elements in the same column of the periodic table.
Now my approach to this problem is based on propensities and there are many others that take this approach to this problem. In fact, I am not sure that there is really any other candidate answer. The propensity answer says that substances have dispositions that are deeper than their attributes and in fact that lead to their having certain attributes. Most of physics relates just to the primary attributes and ignore secondary attributes. But all attributes except enumeration of individuals are qualitative. Qualitative attributes can be measured and thus appear as secondary quantitative measures. Emergent properties are always appearing as qualities of one sort or another, which cannot be predicted based on looking at the components that go into the phenomena. So for instance, electrons, positrons, and neutrons all look identical to us. But when they are put together in Atoms there are various emergent qualities that appear unexpectedly at each atomic number level. Some of the properties are very special like for instance those of water that make life possible. Looking at other substances that have gas, liquid, and solid forms we would not predict the properties of water. Life uses the special properties of water to leverage itself into existence and to remain viable. And one answer to how all of this works is to take the qualities and explain them structurally by positing propensities that get combined to produce the attributes of substances like water (molecule) or oxygen (element). And as we get into the mechanisms in the cell we find many amazing little machines that do the work of life within the cell, or different specialized cells within the organism. Basically what propensity theory does is say that there is a substrate to all the characteristics of a substance of propensities and these are brought together to give a specific set of qualitative characteristics. Usually we think of the various attributes of a substance as separable from each other, but actually in each substance they are uniquely fitted together into a single emergent panoply of effects. Propensities or dispositions are used to explain the constituents of this panoply of qualitative characteristics. However, this is hard to do, and there are those who do not believe that propensities or dispositions exist. But basically those who do believe in them are just trying to do what worked to understand the quantitative structures of substance, by explaining the qualitative patterns as constructed of various combinations of propensities or dispositions or tendencies. However this is hard because often we do not see the dispositions that we are positing as separate, like Quarks they are never seen in isolation.
But I think that this approach is workable based on the idea of the meta-levels of Being which are Pure, Process, Hyper, Wild and Ultra. There are kinds of mathematics associated with each kind of Being. So we can see that:
Pure = Determinate Functions as in Calculus
Process = Probabilities
Hyper = Rough, Fuzzy Possibilities (max and min across multiple worlds)
Wild = Propensities, Dispositions, Tendencies, etc.
Ultra = Singularities
Now the real point where propensities comes into their own is when we are trying to explain how it is that anything crosses over from potential to actual and the relation between possibility, or impossibility and necessity. It turns out that modal logic is really a mess, and no one actually knows how things come from the adjacent possible into actuality via potentiality either by necessity, or chance and how impossibilities are avoided in this transition. Propensities at least give us a way to think about this, which I treat in an unpublished chapter in my dissertation. I completely had written my dissertation when I discovered that no one actually knew how possibilities became actualities and the only good accounts I could find used propensities as a transition point. This works because attributes are actually mass-like. Therefore, we can posit the instances that make up those masses and hypothesize that these instances have propensities. It is the propensities of the instances that give the mass-like emergent characteristics that appear their qualitative manifestation. This more or less means that it is the propensities that mediate between the possibilities and the probabilities that approximate determinations.
What this suggests is that Science has really only done the easy part so far, which is figuring out the quantitative aspects of substance by smashing things together. The harder part which is far more subtle is understanding how the propensities and possibilities combine to make actualities, and how those possibilities become adjacent to actuality so they have the potential for being realized. How the line is crossed into actuality out of adjacent possibility via potentiality is extremely mysterious. There are few attempts I could find to explain exactly how that works.
It seems to me that this is the nub of the question at hand which I think has real depth. And if someone knows of a good explanation of this phenomena I would really like to know about it.