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Author Topic:   Materialism
Dr Adequate
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Message 1 of 114 (738115)
10-04-2014 10:02 PM


I've always had a bit of a problem with materialism. The problem is that I'm not quite sure what it means.

"Read a bloody dictionary", you suggest helpfully. OK:

Materialism: a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter.

Now, at first glance, this seems reasonable enough, and indeed true. But if you look at it more closely, you start to wonder if it is a theory. What would falsify it? What sort of thing could we find that we would declare not to be matter?

'Cos, after all, what do scientists do when they find something that isn't a solid or a liquid or a gas or a plasma or a liquid crystal or a Bose-Einstein condensate or ... etc, etc. Why, they say "We have discovered a new form of matter which is neither a solid nor a liquid nor a gas nor a plasma nor a liquid crystal nor a Bose-Einstein condensate nor ... etc, etc". They do not, ever, say "We have found something that isn't matter, thus falsifying materialism".

So can we identify a point at which this must stop? Can we think of anything that can't be called matter, or having a substrate which can't be called matter? If not, is materialism actually a theory, or just an agreement about how to use words?

---

I guess this goes in the "Is It Science?" forum.


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AdminPhat
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Message 2 of 114 (738117)
10-05-2014 1:42 AM


Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thread copied here from the Materialism thread in the Proposed New Topics forum.
    
Pressie
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From: Pretoria, SA
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Message 3 of 114 (738118)
10-05-2014 3:23 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Dr Adequate
10-04-2014 10:02 PM


To me it seems as if that dictionary you consulted didn't use the word theory in a scientific sense.
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Tangle
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Message 4 of 114 (738119)
10-05-2014 3:27 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Dr Adequate
10-04-2014 10:02 PM


As I've always understood it - as much or as little as I have - materialism is not a scientific issue but a philosophical one, more to do with whether we are merely bundled of atoms or whether we transcend matter because of consciousness.

It's difficult to describe a thought as 'matter', albeit it is a function of matter.


Life, don't talk to me about life - Marvin the Paranoid Android

"Science adjusts it's views based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved."
- Tim Minchin, in his beat poem, Storm.


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Pressie
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From: Pretoria, SA
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Message 5 of 114 (738120)
10-05-2014 3:48 AM
Reply to: Message 4 by Tangle
10-05-2014 3:27 AM


That's how I understood it, too. The basic article on the word materialism on Wiki is more-or-less what I do and have understood about it for a long, long time. The first sentence on Wiki in connection with it reads:

Wiki writes:

Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.

Now, I don't really know what exactly philosophical monism entails; only that it's philosophic.

To me the word materialism basically is a word lots of YEC's spurn out as a swear-word every few seconds. They use it for anyone who doesn't believe in a 6-day creation a few thousand years ago...


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PaulK
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Message 6 of 114 (738135)
10-05-2014 8:48 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by Pressie
10-05-2014 3:48 AM


"Philosophical Monism" means the belief that there is one substance, usually as opposed to two "Dualism".

Really the name and common expressions are out of touch with modern science, since matter turns out to be rather different from intuitive. Really it's better to leave it at the idea that "Mind is not a substance". And the evidence currently favours that view.


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Pressie
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From: Pretoria, SA
Joined: 06-18-2010
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Message 7 of 114 (738137)
10-05-2014 8:56 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by PaulK
10-05-2014 8:48 AM


So, the word materialism has no meaning in modern times?

I don't believe that there's one 'substance'.

Maybe the word "materialism" is something from an old age and not applicable today?

Edited by Pressie, : No reason given.


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Jon
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Message 8 of 114 (738145)
10-05-2014 10:15 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Dr Adequate
10-04-2014 10:02 PM


quote:
Wikipedia on Materialism:

Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.

Materialism is typically considered to be closely related to physicalism; the view that all that exists is ultimately physical. Philosophical physicalism has evolved from materialism with the discoveries of the physical sciences to incorporate far more sophisticated notions of physicality than mere ordinary matter, such as: spacetime, physical energies and forces, dark matter, and so on. Thus the term "physicalism" is preferable over "materialism", while others use the terms as if they are synonymous.


quote:
Wikipedia on Physicalism:

In philosophy, physicalism is the ontological thesis that "everything is physical", that there is "nothing over and above" the physical, or that everything supervenes on the physical. Physicalism is a form of ontological monisma "one substance" view of the nature of reality as opposed to a "two-substance" (dualism) or "many-substance" (pluralism) view. Both the definition of physical and the meaning of physicalism have been debated.

Physicalism is closely related to materialism. Physicalism grew out of materialism with the success of the physical sciences in explaining observed phenomena. The terms are often used interchangeably, although they are sometimes distinguished, for example on the basis of physics describing more than just matter (including energy and physical law).


'Cos, after all, what do scientists do when they find something that isn't a solid or a liquid or a gas or a plasma or a liquid crystal or a Bose-Einstein condensate or ... etc, etc. Why, they say "We have discovered a new form of matter which is neither a solid nor a liquid nor a gas nor a plasma nor a liquid crystal nor a Bose-Einstein condensate nor ... etc, etc".

It seems that science operates under an assumption of materialism/physicalism. Thus, "if we can address the matter scientifically, then it must be material/physical".

And this is probably okay, since materialism is a philosophical position and not a scientific one. It's a philosophical position that seems to be taken as an assumption as part of doing science (like empiricism or logic). This is probably due to the nature of non-material things (like souls) being inaccessible to study and investigation by others.

So science seems to prefer the material and to label as material anything it can investigate. This might be circular, but sometimes that's how definitions go. As you say:

If not, is materialism actually a theory, or just an agreement about how to use words?

It's probably the latter.


Love your enemies!

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Modulous
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Message 9 of 114 (738147)
10-05-2014 10:29 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Dr Adequate
10-04-2014 10:02 PM


materialism:- n, not dualism.

Well maybe not quite, but the point is that materialism to me seems like atheism. It's saying 'I reject your notions of an afterlife realm, a divine realm, your realm of ideas etc.,'

If we did find another universe that was composed of something 'exotic' the dualists and the materialist seem to be able to claim it so it's certainly a futile position to argue in favour of.

I think it's just a {sometimes} useful label for summing up the gist of someone's position when you are referring to it.


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Pressie
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Posts: 1858
From: Pretoria, SA
Joined: 06-18-2010
Member Rating: 2.1


Message 10 of 114 (738149)
10-05-2014 10:42 AM
Reply to: Message 9 by Modulous
10-05-2014 10:29 AM


Materialism, not dualism?
To me the word materialism does not mean the same as atheism, at all
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Modulous
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From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005
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Message 11 of 114 (738154)
10-05-2014 10:51 AM
Reply to: Message 10 by Pressie
10-05-2014 10:42 AM


Re: Materialism, not dualism?
To me the word materialism does not mean the same as atheism, at all

That's fine, but I wasn't claiming it means the same, I suggested it shared the property as the label 'atheism' in that it is largely defined by what it is not.

I could have been clearer, but there it is.

Edited by Modulous, : No reason given.


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PaulK
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Message 12 of 114 (738155)
10-05-2014 11:45 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by Pressie
10-05-2014 8:56 AM


Oh, I think that it has a meaning. It's just that that meaning has to be extended from the original idea to include modern physics.
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Faith
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(1)
Message 13 of 114 (738159)
10-05-2014 1:38 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Dr Adequate
10-04-2014 10:02 PM


Mind-Body Problem
This question can be put in terms of the "Mind-Body Problem" too I think, or at least it's related to it. That is, is mind a function of the body so in some sense material like the body, which is the monist view (there is only one substance), or is it not material at all, which is the dualism some have mentioned here (substance and something else). The question gets pretty convoluted but I agree with those here, PaulK at least I think, who simply say that mind or consciousness is not material, not a "substance" in itself, even if you regard it as a function of the material body. I think most of us regard mind, consciousness, thoughts, feelings and other such "epiphenomena" as real but not material in themselves.

ABE: Perhaps the problem starts to get stickier, or more relevant to your concerns in the OP, if you include the soul or spirit, ghosts, angels, demons, "spiritual beings," God Himself, and that sort of thing, which materialists are not obliged to believe in at all because they can't find evidence for them.

Edited by Faith, : No reason given.

Edited by Faith, : No reason given.

Edited by Faith, : No reason given.

Edited by Faith, : No reason given.

Edited by Faith, : No reason given.

Edited by Faith, : just the usual futzing around trying to get it clearer

Edited by Faith, : punctuation


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nwr
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From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005
Member Rating: 2.6


Message 14 of 114 (738174)
10-05-2014 5:14 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Dr Adequate
10-04-2014 10:02 PM


I've always had a bit of a problem with materialism. The problem is that I'm not quite sure what it means.

That's pretty much why I don't consider myself a materialist.

Materialism: a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter.

I take materialism to be a philosophy, rather than a theory.

Mathematics does not seem to be material. Some materialists say that mathematics is pencil marks on paper, but that seems too superficial. Others may say that mathematics supervenes on the material, and perhaps it does. But studying material won't help you learn mathematics.

I tend to characterize myself as some kind of behaviorist (but not a Skinner behaviorist). Our behavior in the world leads us to know something about material and something about mathematics.


Fundamentalism - the anti-American, anti-Christian branch of American Christianity

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nwr
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Posts: 5544
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005
Member Rating: 2.6


Message 15 of 114 (738175)
10-05-2014 5:21 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by Pressie
10-05-2014 8:56 AM


Maybe the word "materialism" is something from an old age and not applicable today?

Yes, that probably correct.

The view often expressed is that we should be considering physicalism, rather than materialism. The distinction is that physicalism allows time and space without requiring that they be made of material.

However, I do not embrace physicalism either. And that's because I'm not sure what it entails.


Fundamentalism - the anti-American, anti-Christian branch of American Christianity

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