Is it Useful to Describe Intangible Things as "Non-Physical?"

Is it Useful to Describe Intangible Things as "Non-Physical?"

Scientists and philosophers sometimes describe things such as software, love and language as non-physical because they do not manifest in tangible form, but this may confuse learners and compromise their understanding of physics and chemistry.

When scientists describe intangible phenomena as "non-physical," they are aiming to emphasize the bodiless-ness about it. This article is an argument that modeling intangible phenomena as "non-physical" may lead to inaccurate models of nature, physics and chemistry. Learners may presume "non-physical" means lack of physics, which isn't supported by evidence.

Many philosophies such as idealism, pantheism, transcendentalism and mysticism do outline the physical world as being illusory and inferior to a "divine" reality that transcends physics. These are intuitive predictions, but they are  not supported by empirical evidence.

When a phenomena such as love or language appears bodiless, this doesn't mean it lacks physical principles. Here is a list of physical principles (go to "General concepts of physics:"

If software, language or even ghosts acts within/by the laws and principles of physics by exhibiting force, form and other physical traits, what is the reason for using "non-physical" to describe this?

Physics isn't only for hard materials.

Learning physics can bring a number of benefits to the general public. It helps people understand the underlying principles of how the world works, from the smallest subatomic particles to the largest structures in the universe. It enhances one's understanding of the world, fosters critical thinking and informs personal and collective decision-making. 

Software is made up of electrical signals that travel through computer circuits and obey the laws of electricity. Love can be viewed as a series of chemical reactions that take place in the brain, and these reactions are governed by the laws of chemistry. Did you know chemistry is considered a branch of physics? In both cases, principles of physics are at work.

Any proposed "non-physical" phenomena like emotions, thoughts, music, values, language and software are empirically physical by operating with conditions of physical principles. Even virtual realities are physical, and there are physicists and scientists who study and support this.


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The use of the term "non-physical" to describe intangible phenomena like love, software, and language may be confusing for students because these phenomena do operate in chemical (physical) conditions, as noted. They have physical expressions and consequences, and their existence is dependent on physical devices, systems, and networks. To avoid this confusion, a different word, such as "abstract" or "impalpable," might be more appropriate to describe the intangibility of such phenomena.

This terminology better captures the idea that they are not hard objects, but they do exist in a different physical form, beyond the realm of visible or weighty objects yet nonetheless part of physics. Using a different word to describe abstractness would support clearer understanding of physics, chemistry and avoid potential confusion caused by the use of the term "non-physical."


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