Matter Matters

10 November 2009 at 9:17 pm (Uncategorized)

Going in, I expect that this will be short.

To postulate non-material accounts of certain phenomena such as “mind” and “life” and so on is to be ignorant of the history of science. More accurately, it is to be impatiently, desperately, pervasively ignorant, full stop. While there are many deep scientific questions that have yet to find an answer, there are no examples of a real effect that has usefully, fruitfully and/or informatively yielded to or been illuminated by a non-material account.

None. Not any. Not a single, solitary one.

If there were even just one, we’d have at least some cause to take other proposals in such a vein more seriously. Anti-materialists will argue that science, by its pigheaded insistence on objectively repeatable evidence, excludes from the outset anti-materialist accounts because the essence of “evidence” is a materialist notion: that which is in some way perceptible. And therein, as the Bard put it, lies the rub. If it isn’t perceptible, whether directly or indirectly, you’re arguing with hot air anyway, aren’t you? If it is perceptible you’re refuting your own anti-materialist premise. So it’s quite a mystery why some people still feel compelled to bang a goofy-shaped peg into a fractal hole.

Demolish the brain, and life disappears. Injure the brain, and mind diminishes. Enter a sleep state and brain activity changes qualitatively, erasing consciousness. Those are oddly incongruent things to happen to ectoplasmic quintessences that ostensibly can exist without any material carrier. The limits of philosophical materialism have hardly been exhausted. Inductively (with all the, er, grave, er, spectres that induction raises), attempting to construct non-material accounts is a premature act of wishful thinking. Or desperation maybe: Any answer will do as long as it’s not “I don’t presently know.”

Going out, my expectation of brevity is largely met: Anti-materialists want security at the cost of what is properly defensible. Their baser instinct, in particular the one that says “I am not my body alone,” trumps their intellect. Clear thinking takes effort, discipline and humility, and that’s why superstition and stupidity will always win.



  1. Michael Meadon said,

    Hear hear…. And very well written indeed.

  2. defollyant said,

    Thank you, Michael. It’s always good to be appreciated.

  3. Objective said,

    “Their baser instinct, in particular the one that says “I am not my body alone,” trumps their intellect. Clear thinking takes effort, discipline and humility, and that’s why superstition and stupidity will always win.”

    And so it does – speaking of clear thinking!

    I think (and i know i have said this before on many occasions) that the problem is not so much a lack of discipline, effort and humility but rather of an inability to question not only some of the assumtions that you address but essentially their own minds. To discover how they think and to apply such thoughts to any and all questions and arguments.
    The problem is not in our genes but in how we think and how willing and able we are to learn to think given the base of rubbish that resides in most brains and the stupendous effort required to overcome that handicap. An excellent example are the majority of participants on Leadership online.
    Can this problem be addressed and overcome? If i had to produce a testable theory of knowledge today…will that willfully ignorent mass be prepared to make an effort to understand it or will they spend the energy on finding examples to prove it wrong?

    How come they are prepared to spend so much energy on searching for crap arguments to support their thinking when they may spend the same in an effort to learn something of value? Can they learn something of value with what they have to work with between their ears?

    An excellent piece of writing all the same as always.

  4. defollyant said,

    Thanks, Objective. While I agree that your points are correct, it was my intention to produce a short and punchy piece, unencumbered by too much lofty and distracting detail, about the silliness of rejecting metaphysical materialism in favour of mystical “thinking.” Still, the ability and willingness to reflect carefully and critically on one’s own assumptions and thought processes is one specific aspect of the effort, discipline and the humility that I spoke of. There are several others, of course.

  5. Objective said,

    I think short and punchy works better for those who fire a neuron at a time!

  6. Balanced Truths said,

    Although I agree with, and enjoyed this brilliant piece of writing, I find it difficult to discount the concept of anti-materialism on the basis that it does not conform to materialistic scientific observation. It would by its very definition not be observable in this manner.

    Even basic thought, or love, or hope, are electro-chemical material manifestations that are observable.

    The fact that not one such observation has been made in this Universe only goes to show that spiritual matters, pun intended, and the concept of God, lies beyond this line of thinking. The only proof of a personal, dubiously benevolent, God would be in long term record keeping and data analysis, it would only be observable in patterns in the materialistic observable.

    In other words, the anti-material would only be observable by spotting repeated, if not repeatable,examples of material cause and effect where the cause does not entirely compute the entirety of the effect.

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