Aristotelianism on Steroids
Every biology student learns that water has a wide range of particular properties that are crucial for life. It expands, rather than contracts, when it freezes leading to ponds merely freezing at the top rather than all the way through, in the winter; it is the universal solvent; and it absorbs heat without increasing much in temperature. Here is how a new research paper summarizes water:
Water is one of the most common substances yet it exhibits anomalous properties important for sustaining life. It has been an enduring challenge to understand how a molecule of such apparent simplicity can encode for complex and unusual behavior across a wide range of pressures and temperatures. … Water challenges our fundamental understanding of emergent materials properties from a molecular perspective. It exhibits a uniquely rich phenomenology including dramatic variations in behavior over the wide temperature range of the liquid into water’s crystalline phases and amorphous states.
The paper finds that water’s many properties can be explained with an N-body model with electrostatic forces. And as is so common, the authors use teleological language to describe the phenomena. Watch for the infinitive form:
We show that many-body responses arising from water’s electronic structure are essential mechanisms harnessed by the molecule to encode for the distinguishing features of its condensed states.
So the water molecule harnesses its electronic structure to encode its distinguishing features. Such Aristotelian language and thought are ubiquitous in the natural sciences. This suggests that it is not easy or natural for practitioners to study the natural world strictly from a materialistic perspective. The world didn’t “just happen.”