One of the Largest and Most Visited Sources of Philosophical Texts on the Internet



Tony Thomas


Tony Thomas was born in England in 1939, and is a retired bureaucrat living in Brisbane, Australia. He has an Australian wife, two adult daughters, a dog and a cat. He holds a degree in economics from the University of Queensland. His interests are catholic, and include: writing fiction, poetry, and political diatribes to the newspapers. Other abiding interests include political and social philosophy, with occasional forays into logic and the foundations of mathematics. His politics are left wing anarchism, but his activities are restricted to the pen rather than the sword. Tony is actually a well known poet, writer, mathematician and logician of some stature, though he modestly complains that on the contrary, he is not only obscure - but unknown, and should probably be described as such. On this website his prose pieces and poems attract an increasing number of regular readers - so I reckon he is wrong for once - enjoy. ( Editor.)

GUNK A lighthearted romp through the gunkyverse Tony Thomas


Gunk is a theoretical substance that is infinitely divisible. Superficially, it is rather like water, which can be dispersed into a fine mist. However, the finest drop of water is composed of water molecules which are not themselves drops of water. Water molecules can be transformed into hydrogen molecules and oxygen molecules by electrolysis so these atoms cease to be the basis of water droplets. An evaporated molecule of water no longer has the macroscopic properties of the aggregate of such molecules we recognise as water.

This example shows that matter, in this case water, is not gunk. Similar arguments will show that other forms of ordinary matter are not gunk because it can always be resolved into molecules at the lowest level of division. This preserves the general idea that matter is not infinitely divisible. However, it does not prove that molecules, atoms and their subatomic constituents cannot be divided further or resolved into constituents that are infinitely divisible.

If the gunk concept does apply to matter, then it has to be accepted that there is a preliminary division of matter up to the single molecule or atom that comes before true gunk is reached. In other words, there may be gunk at the subatomic level, but the gunk has boundaries before this point where molecules form aggregates. If the gunk hypothesis is accepted it would be necessary to show that further hiatuses do not occur and that there is no final basis of matter which cannot be divided further.

Even if pure gunk does form the subatomic stratum, there would have to be some way of detecting that it was there. If a gunk detector were devised, there would need to be a means of measuring the fineness of gunk at every level, otherwise the assertion that it was infinitely divisible could not be established empirically. Infinite divisibility could never be established by experiment, but could only be assumed on the basis of divisibility up to the sensitivity of the instruments used to measure the particularity of the gunk.

A further problem is the relative size of the particles from one level to the next. Mathematically, the simplest ratio would be 2:1, but there seems no reason why it could not be any other ratio. For example, it might be an irrational ratio, and the ratio from one level to the next might not be constant. Such speculation is unrestricted and could only be resolved by empirical data.

Presumably, gunkologists would like their hypothetical substance to conform to some kind of mathematical model. Basic information about atoms does exhibit numerical characteristics both in terms of atomic mass and number of entities, but the fact is there are a finite number of elements and therefore of atomic nuclei. The occurrence of boundaries, based on subatomic and electrical forces leads to a finite rather than infinite material basis. Gunk, by contrast, is based on an infinite concept that leads to an infinite variety of gunk particles.

An obvious problem with the gunk theory is how to explain why gunk sticks together. In the case of liquids and solids, it is the superficial electrical bonds associated with electrons that bind atoms together to form molecules and molecule to form solids or liquids. At a lower level, where gunk begins, these forces are absent. However, it is conceivable that there is a binding force between gunk particles of the same magnitude. The problem then becomes how they can be separated in order to divide the gunk at this level. If the gunk is divided, as it must if it is infinitely divisible, the problem becomes an infinite regress, as splitting apart the particles at the next level only leads to finer particles that must be split.

The alternative approach is to hypothecate homogeneous gunk which has no particles, but which can be divided like clay, but without limit. The question then arises as to whether the 'glue' between smaller bits of gunk is weaker, stronger or the same as between the larger bits from which they came. The deeper question is why gunk sticks together at all.

The laws of gunk might be opposite to the laws of electricity and magnetism, so that the surface of a piece of gunk attracts another piece of gunk according to an inverse power law. The attractive force between two bits of gunk would then be a function of their volumes, assuming that gunk has a homogeneous density. When divided into sufficiently small fragments a piece of gunk would be a cloud of particles that would only weakly be attracted together, rather like space dust. However, given sufficient time, all gunk would eventually coalesce into one big lump, or the Gunkyverse.

The Gunkyverse would be rather boring because its homogeneous character would preclude the formation of parts in the usual sense, where such parts had attributes other than the volume and any mass associated with it. Indeed, the Gunkyverse would contain no parts at all within the blob totality of undifferentiated gunk. This is because there would be no gunk cutters within the Gunkyverse who could divide the gunk into forms.

If the Gunkyverse were infinite, then the usual four-dimensional space-time would provide a model. For every function of this geometrical space, a corresponding gunk form would hypothetically exist, but without a discriminating power, would have no separate existence. What would be required is a gunk-god who could divide the gunk into the forms that It desired.

Having conceived the Gunkyverse, it seems a pity not to take the matter further and invent the god as well. The next but difficult step would be to show how the gunk can be transformed into the elemental particles that seem to constitute our universe. Some king of gunk explosion might be required, presumably arising from the infinite compression of the gunk ball into a point, from which it magically transforms into the kind of stuff that can evolve rather than just lie there in a funk.

If the gunk-god is thought passť, we may have to dump the gunk idea altogether. That the cosmos that we know is nothing like the Gunkyverse suggests that the gunk hypothesis is just a load of, well, gunk. However, it might be the case that physics is incapable of detecting the Gunkyverse, just like the aether that also defied detection and so was deemed not to exist. It seems, therefore, that only Occam's razor can cut through the gunk and show that it is just another general idea that provides no information that corresponds to empirical observations about our rather inhomogeneous world world.