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Author Topic:   Materialism
Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 116 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


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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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 116 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 17 of 114 (738180)
10-05-2014 6:59 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by Faith
10-05-2014 1:38 PM


Re: Mind-Body Problem
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.

Quite. Part of the problem is: if we found ghosts, what's to stop us from announcing that they're made of a new form of matter which we've just discovered and which we'll call "ghostium"? Now, you may say that that would be silly, but unless we can find a definition for matter that would exclude whatever-it-is-that-ghosts-would-be-made-of-if-there-were-ghosts, then it's not so silly that people couldn't do it.


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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 116 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


(1)
Message 23 of 114 (738193)
10-05-2014 11:58 PM
Reply to: Message 18 by Faith
10-05-2014 7:06 PM


Re: Mind-Body Problem
Although I've encountered people who claim that some of the spirits do have a degree of materiality or physicality, the usual idea is that they are "made of" the same thing mind is made of.

Well, if you can see ghosts they must reflect light. This suggests that they're ... stuff. I mean, assuming they exist and have the properties usually ascribed to them.

So would you say the same about mind -- consciousness, ideas, thoughts, feelings etc? That it must be made of "mindium" or something like that?

I would say that they have a material substrate, namely the brain.


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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 116 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 24 of 114 (738194)
10-06-2014 12:05 AM
Reply to: Message 22 by Faith
10-05-2014 11:27 PM


Re: Mind-Body Problem
I think it's kind of interesting that the only categories of things that aren't material are mental or spiritual things, qualities or activities of living things, or the contents of mind such as concepts, ideas etc., and other qualities of mentality such as feelings and motivation etc. Could there even be a category of nonmental nonsentient things in the universe that are also nonmaterial

How about the velocity of an object? It has a material substrate, namely the object, but is not itself material.


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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 116 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 31 of 114 (738209)
10-06-2014 11:43 AM
Reply to: Message 26 by Faith
10-06-2014 12:09 AM


Re: Mind-Body Problem
OK velocity makes an interesting example. There must be others. However, to be accurate, velocity isn't a "thing."

Well, that would depend on what you mean by "thing". If you mean a material object, then no it isn't, that's the point. But in that respect isn't it like the other things (or not-things, pesky English language) that you mention, such as feelings? Is boredom (for example) a "thing" --- or is being bored something (pesky English language again) that my mind does, just as a car travels at 30 mph (or "has" a velocity of 30 mph)?

To take another example, consider inflation. It would sit uneasily on the tongue to say "There is no inflation" or "Inflation doesn't exist" --- that makes it sound like we're saying the inflation rate is 0%. But it is far from being a material substance. (It does have a material substrate, the exchange of physical things such as goods and money.) Might we not say that it stands in the same relation to the economy as an emotion does to my mind or brain?


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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 116 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 46 of 114 (738253)
10-07-2014 11:54 AM
Reply to: Message 45 by 1.61803
10-07-2014 10:18 AM


Re: Music
Yes ... but if you destroyed all the recordings of (say) In the Hall of the Mountain King, burned all the scores, and shot everyone who's ever heard it, would it still go on existing "as a non-physical idea"?

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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 116 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 47 of 114 (738254)
10-07-2014 12:02 PM
Reply to: Message 43 by Faith
10-07-2014 7:05 AM


Re: Mind-Body Problem
Don't even get to see you write it, see your fingers plunk the keys that make the little marks that I can read as words. No big mystery, yeah, but the point is that the physical agencies of all of this are performing quite incidental mechanical mindless actions, while the main thing is that you are conveying your mind to mine by these mechanical actions. You, your mind, not your fingers, etc. The material part is just a tool of your mind, the mind is really the main thing.

But if you then traced the causal chain back further, you'd find more physical events, you'd find electrical impulses going from his brain to his fingers, and then back still further you'd find neurons firing in his brain, and back still further you'd find photons from his computer screen hitting his retina ...

I've never seen why mental materialism, as applied to humans, is anathema to so many religious people. Why should the mind, or the "soul", not be instantiated as meat? --- especially since it evidently is.


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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 116 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 53 of 114 (738273)
10-07-2014 8:18 PM
Reply to: Message 51 by Faith
10-07-2014 5:10 PM


Re: Mind-Body Problem
Yes, you'll find all that but in all that finding you're not going to find the mind itself. Ah the doggedness of the materialist is impressive.

Less inspiring is the laziness of the dualist, who supposes that a thing exists precisely because he's given up looking for it.

Unless the dualist can find a break in the causal chain, somewhere where the laws of physics get mugged along the route from the photons leaving the screen to the fingers hitting the keyboard, then the mind is simply what the brain does.


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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 116 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 55 of 114 (738275)
10-07-2014 8:46 PM
Reply to: Message 54 by Faith
10-07-2014 8:30 PM


Re: Mind-Body Problem
Yeah, well when you can reproduce by material means Einstein's thought pattern that led to E=MC2 or all Plato's arguments, or a great piece of music of some famous composer, or great painting by some famous artist etc., or an idea for a viable invention, or even just your own thoughts about what to have for lunch, then I'll take seriously that mind is reduceable to matter.

Er ... those would be things that happened "by material means" in the first place. Unless you can find that elusive magical event, the break in the unbroken chain.


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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 116 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 57 of 114 (738278)
10-07-2014 11:54 PM
Reply to: Message 56 by Faith
10-07-2014 8:54 PM


Re: Mind-Body Problem
What do you mean "reproduce" it? We have the material means, they're called brains. I can in fact reproduce brains, I'll need nine months and some women. I don't see what else you want. It's not like I'm saying "I swear, I saw a brain think once, but now it's gone, you'll just have to take my word for it". We got lotsa brains. I don't have to do anything.

But if you would care to show us a mind without matter, that would be great.

Edited by Dr Adequate, : No reason given.


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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 116 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 81 of 114 (738315)
10-08-2014 5:00 PM
Reply to: Message 61 by Faith
10-08-2014 2:31 AM


Amnesiac Homunculus
Say you're lost at sea or your plane went down on an uninhabited island and your radio is broken, it only occasionally works a little and mostly dissolves into static and the voices that occasionally come through only occasionally seem to be responding to anything you are saying if at all. Seems to me that's sort of the situation with a damaged brain. YOU are still there, or you may be, there's no way to say you aren't for sure, YOU are still having thoughts and wanting to communicate but the apparatus that conveys those thoughts isn't working well enough to do the job for you. You are absolutely dependent on this apparatus for that job, you can't do without it, but that doesn't change the fact that IT isn't initiating the communications, YOU are, IT is only the means for conveying them which it normally does well enough, only in this situation it can't, it's garbling the message, garbling memory, garbling personality.

Well, this picture of what's going on seems to raise some questions (apart from "do you have a shred of evidence", of course, we'll come back to that one).

For it would seem that when we combine this model with what we know about brain damage, my mind doesn't actually know anything. It has no memories, it can't understand English, let alone read or write, it cannot identify commonplace household objects or their uses, it can't recognize faces or remember names ...

But, you say, if someone has a normal brain, then the mind has access to these faculties as it chooses. But what's puzzling me is on what basis could it possibly choose?

By analogy, if I knew how to read and write, but nothing else, and I was set down in the British Library and allowed to read any book I liked, what are my chances of forming a coherent picture of the world? How would I know which books to read? Suppose I start with Alice In Wonderland, or spend my whole time reading the books on the art of macrame. Now suppose me to have no long-term memory, so that I have to build up this picture of the world by taking notes as I go along ... You see, a library is only useful if I know quite a lot of stuff to start with.

Now consider the analogous behavior of the mind in your model. Suppose the sofa in the corner of the room catches fire. What my mind needs to do is look up in my brain certain important facts about fire, how it spreads, what happens if I get some on me. But it doesn't know that these are the important facts before it looks them up. For all my mind knows, it might as well look up the history of sofas or the Italian word for "haddock" or the lyrics to Does Your Chewing-Gum Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight. This would be impractical --- and also it is clearly not what's going on.


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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 116 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 111 of 114 (738760)
10-15-2014 10:39 AM
Reply to: Message 110 by Ed Conrad
10-15-2014 9:53 AM


Re: GREATERST CONSPIRACY IN THE HISTORY OF HISTORY
This is hilarious but off-topic.

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 Message 110 by Ed Conrad, posted 10-15-2014 9:53 AM Ed Conrad has acknowledged this reply

  
Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 116 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


(1)
Message 112 of 114 (738765)
10-15-2014 11:46 AM
Reply to: Message 101 by Faith
10-10-2014 2:48 PM


Re: Mind-Body Problem
You are asking questions I've answered umpteen times already on this thread. I believe the relation of mind to brain is that the mind is the driver and the brain the machine, and that this is a matter we know from observation and experience.

But people who study the brain seem to know the opposite from their observation and experience.

The problem with the materialist view is that it ignores the amazing originality and individuality of mind. Imputing that quality to the firing of neurons takes some kind of reductionistic mentality that boggles MY mind.

Ah, the argument from personal incredulity. Have you ever convinced ayone of anything with that?

And in fact it ignores the mind's felt reality as opposed to the total lack of felt reality of the material side of things. We are aware of our own minds and we are aware of other people's minds far more directly than we are aware of anything about brains.

This isn't much of an argument. If I had measles, I would be far more aware of the rash and the fever than of the virus, but the virus is still the cause of the symptoms and not vice versa.


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