Is Materialism the Best Explanation for Reality?

Interesting discussion by molecular biologist and Faraday Institute Director Denis Alexander concerning how materialistic explanations are limited (and I would say the same is true for ontological naturalism) in that we must always consider reality with our minds – and once our minds enter in, we involving something which isn’t merely physical. That incidentally is one of the (many) reasons I find physicalist ontologies problematic – at their base, all such beliefs undermine our confidence in our rational faculties, and so undermine physicalist beliefs.

Advertisements

11 Responses to Is Materialism the Best Explanation for Reality?

  1. Justin says:

    …at their base, all such beliefs undermine our confidence in our rational faculties, and so undermine physicalist beliefs.

    I don’t think that many people comprehend the force of this point. To be honest, it has taken me a while to fully appreciate how true this is, and this is after listening to Plantinga make this argument three or four times.

  2. jackhudson says:

    I saw him publicly lecture on that topic last October – it is a powerful argument, one that I haven’t heard a definitive answer too from atheists.

  3. Yes, but what modern neuroscience is teaching us is that mind design is purely the bi-product of physical processes.

    With that distinction in mind, what is your proof that all modern cognitive research is wrong? Granted we still don’t know every little detail about how the brain works and how the mind comes into being… but I think we know enough to claim it is purely physical in nature. Though there is still the illusion that it is not merely physical, this illussion has very good physical/material explanations.

    I can recommend some extremely heavy reading if you require the exact explanations… but I don’t even consider there to be an argument here. The evidence is just too far in favor of material physical processes. Any of the work of Dennett, Novella, Hood, Wilkes, James, Taylor, Changeux, and many more I am aware of have written a lot on the subject of consciousness, and are worth checking out.

  4. jackhudson says:

    I appreciate the reading recommendation Tristan, (along with the subtle implication that I am uninformed on the subject  ), but the problem here is that if the claim that it is an “illusion that it [the mind] is not merely physical” is true, then ‘you’ don’t exist – the concept of an individual’s will, one’s ability to decide what one should believe is not a product of choice but physical mental processes.

    So you can’t actually make recommendations at all – don’t you find this problematic?

  5. Mike D says:

    This argument presupposes substance dualism, when any and all evidence suggests that consciousness arises from the brain, not that it’s some ethereal force which “uses” the brain. If an area of the brain is damaged, we lose the function of whichever area was damaged: we can lose short- or long-term memories, the ability to recognize faces, basic cognitive and motor skills, our ability to empathize with others, and our personalities can change dramatically. Yet somehow we’re supposed to believe that if the whole brain is damaged in death, the consciousness somehow rises off the brain with all our memories and faculties intact?

    But dualism is fundamentally flawed: There’s no self-evident reason why some sort of “non-physical substrate” constituting the mind would resolve your objection to materialism, since you’re simply “pushing it back a step”. What is it about a non-physical substrate that would allow free will and individuality where a material basis for the mind would not? Of course, since you have no direct, objective access to “supernatural realities” that could illuminate what exactly this non-physical substrate is or how it works, you’re just using an appeal to mystery as a justification for an argument from ignorance.

    Steve Novella had some debates with Michael Egnor about consciousness, subjective experience, neurology and dualism some time back that goes into a lot more detail (you have to scroll down a bit):
    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/?s=dualism

  6. jackhudson says:

    The problem of denying ‘dualism’ is that in denying it, you effectively deny control over what one thinks and believes. There is no ‘you’ there to express a will after all – what you consider to be choosing amongst opinions, ideas and beliefs is merely the operation of mechanisms of the brain – there is no ‘you’ there to choose at all.

    This means every time you express an opinion about something or claim to have come to a conclusion about an idea based on a set of facts and evidences, you are making an argument for dualism. Now the fact that you think you are choosing to believe one thing or another may in fact be delusional – but if this is true, then on a fundamental level you are no less delusional than you claim religionists to be – and no more acting according to set of facts than they are.

    It’s not that it is just a useful convention Mike – it’s that if it its true that the mind doesn’t exist, neither of our arguments matter.

  7. Jack, never claimed the mind didn’t exist. What was hinting at is thae idea that the mind is independent of the brain is an incorrect assumption. The “I” wich you are refering to is not apart from the material processes, but rather, part of an intricate whole.

    And that’s what the evidence shows. Therefore the illusion is the duality you are using to prop up a metaphysical claim, and which subsequently has no basis outside of philosophical conjecture as fas as I can descern..

  8. If I could recommend just *one book to help you resolve this difficulty, I would suggest you read “Self Comes to Mind: Conscious Brain” by Antonio Damasio.

  9. jackhudson says:

    Tristan – given the statements above are predicated on an evaluation by material processes of the brain, on what basis can it be contended those processes are reliable with regard to beliefs that emanate from those processes?

  10. Mike D says:

    There are two major problems with what you’re arguing.

    The first is that, as I said, you’re just pushing the problem back a step without actually offering a solution. You claim that we assume that our perception of reality is accurate, and that’s generally true. But, as our ability to make reliable and valid predictions about reality imply, it is a reasonable assumption.

    Positing a supernatural ground for the mind does not remove this assumption – you still have to assume that the mind is properly using the brain, and that it is giving you accurate sensory information. Except now, since you’re dealing with a “non-material substrate” to which you do not have direct, objective access, you cannot actually learn anything about the nature or function of mind.

    The second problem is that you haven’t offered a reason why the mind cannot arise from material processes – all you’ve done thus far is assert, without further evidence or argumentation, that a material ground for the mind is untenable. Certainly naturalism requires that the mind possesses properties not present in its parts – so the question is, why do you think that a whole cannot exhibit properties not present in its parts?

    “I”, or “the self”, is not so mysterious, and it’s here a little reading in cognitive psych would go a long way. Our brains organize sensory information into categories. The self is an amalgam of sensory information which is organized by the brain into an ontological category that is “me”. Like all categorical information, our inferences are constructed, reinforced and validated by continual interactions with the physical world.

  11. jackhudson says:

    The first is that, as I said, you’re just pushing the problem back a step without actually offering a solution. You claim that we assume that our perception of reality is accurate, and that’s generally true. But, as our ability to make reliable and valid predictions about reality imply, it is a reasonable assumption.

    I don’t have to offer a solution, just point out that the materialist position undermines the reliablity of cognitive mechanisms with regard to our ability to asses reality and choose what we believe. Once that is understood, there are no solutions. And no assumptions either, as such assumptions would be made with the same flawed mechanisms.

    Positing a supernatural ground for the mind does not remove this assumption – you still have to assume that the mind is properly using the brain, and that it is giving you accurate sensory information. Except now, since you’re dealing with a “non-material substrate” to which you do not have direct, objective access, you cannot actually learn anything about the nature or function of mind.

    If it is understood that our brains were designed to aquire and assess true beliefs (rather than foisting illusions on our senses, as materialism contends) and that we have the means to objectively assess those beliefs from a vantage point outside the mechanism itself, then it can be reasoable asserted that we can understand and choose ideas which describe reality. With the materialistic scenario, we cannot.

    The second problem is that you haven’t offered a reason why the mind cannot arise from material processes – all you’ve done thus far is assert, without further evidence or argumentation, that a material ground for the mind is untenable. Certainly naturalism requires that the mind possesses properties not present in its parts – so the question is, why do you think that a whole cannot exhibit properties not present in its parts?

    Actually, I am (as always) open to the notion that a mind (that is a seat of will and personality and self-awareness) can arise from materialistic processes – of course you have provided absolutely no evidence that this has happened, nor offered a mechanism whereby it could happen. Real science Mike involves making claims that can be proved or disproved. A proof of the notion that purely mechanical processes can produce a mind would entail detailing those mechanisms, re-creating them, and then demonstrating that they work. Let me know when this has happened.

    “I”, or “the self”, is not so mysterious, and it’s here a little reading in cognitive psych would go a long way. Our brains organize sensory information into categories. The self is an amalgam of sensory information which is organized by the brain into an ontological category that is “me”. Like all categorical information, our inferences are constructed, reinforced and validated by continual interactions with the physical world.

    If the brain is creating that ‘category’, then what you call the ‘I’ or the self doesn’t actually exist except as projection of the brain. And you haven’t solved your primary problem – which is that your primary sense of existence is still illusory, and the brain isn’t subject to any evaluation except it’s own. You have no opinions, ideas or understanding of the subject because ‘you’ don’t exist, and you have no means of causing the brain to choose amongst disparate constructs of reality. And yet you devote your entire life to acting as if this isn’t true.

    And while I appreciate the ‘little reading’ you have done on the subject, the fact remains there is no actual physical component of the brain to which ne can point and call it the seat of self. The fact that there is conjecture on this point by people who reject anything but the most reductionist view of the nature isn’t scientific evidence for the assertion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: