Materialism, Mechanism, and Evidence

Materialism is inconsistent with the evidence, if we take “materialism” to mean a “mechanistic view of nature.”

A.  What do I mean by a “mechanistic view of nature?”

1–The questionable idea that all causation between real entities (ultimate units of nature) must ONLY be efficient causation (as opposed to final);

2–The questionable idea that what are actually composite entities (humans, rocks, pencils, etc.) are taken to be real and final entities;

3–The questionable idea that there’s only one type of causal relation, and this causal relation is an external relation (as opposed to the view that there are two kinds of causal relations, external and internal);

4–Given 1-3 above, the questionable conclusion that all real entities are devoid of any kind of “experience” or “prehension” or “primitive feeling” or a “receiving data into the constitution” of another entity.  (I.e., the parts of the world are utterly separated from each other at the fundamental level.)

In other words, the entities of materialism are actual, but they’re “vacuous actualities.”  They are totally inert, inactive, dormant, idle, and lifeless.  They are exactly like a rock or a pencil–completely passive–unless they are thrown at something and move it by striking it (purely an external relation, and purely efficient causation).  (Note that the non-materialist or non-mechanistic view (the process philosophical view) DOES NOT espouse that actualities express CONSCIOUSNESS!  Self-awareness and consciousness come 15 billion years later in the form of animal nervous systems.  Self-awareness and consciousness are entirely different from prehension or primitive experience or internal relations.) The paradigm of the mechanistic view, of course, is David Hume’s is mechanistic cosmology (started by the “material” side of Descartes’ ontology).  Hume’s view spawned positivism, behaviorism, and sensate empiricism (and other related worldviews which were picked up by the scientific community starting in the 19th century).

B.  The mechanistic view of nature is inconsistent with the evidence in about a googol different ways.  I will only mention one or two.

First, the mechanistic view provides no logical basis for causation/induction.  We feel that we are causal agents and that thus we cause things.  We also feel that things in the environment cause other things.  Science (induction) is based on this assumption.  There’s a lot of evidence for induction.  But as Hume argued (in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding) on the mechanistic view, causation is impossible.  Further, no one yet has countered Hume’s argument, and in principle it CAN’T be shown to be false–simply put, Hume’s arguments (with his ontological assumptions) were 100% right.  This is why Quine, Ayer, and Putnam have all said that Hume cannot be logically countered, but we just have to “give up” and be logically inconsistent for the time being, because “science works.”  Maybe Hume will be answered some day, they say, but not now.  Also, Colin McGinn has said that the mind-body problem and the problem of causation are “cognitively closed” to humans, where this means there IS a solution, but our brains cannot comprehend the solution.  Indeed, science works, but just not in the way Hume and others think it works!

Second, there are some scientific reasons why mechanism as a worldview isn’t adequate.  The mechanistic view gives no reason why there should be anything like gravitational stresses between purely externally-related actualities (Whitehead argues this in his book “Modes of Thought”).  A corollary is that the flow of time itself makes little sense such that it’s an “accident” (a contingency) rather than being essential (necessary) in relation to actual entities (I think Whitehead argues this on p. 50 of his book “Science and the Modern World,” as well as in “Modes of Thought”); another corollary is that purpose (as well as sentience itself) has no place in the mechanistic cosmological scheme.  One of my favorite quotes from Whitehead (it’s in Function of Reason) is, “Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.”  As David Griffin says, it is hopelessly futile to explain complexities like human experience and behavior purely in terms of a mechanistic view with the locomotions and external relations of vacuous actualities.

BTW, for those who want to dismiss this entire post because they think physics “proves” there’s no such thing as prehensive or experiential action at the most fundamental level, they should realize that physics itself takes no position about the nature of the final actualities of the world.  The current range/scope of scientific investigation cannot (yet) address this question.

Now, of course, if by “materialism” you mean something different than a purely mechanistic worldview, then that’s an entirely different story.  Some people try to argue that materialism can still mean that the ultimate actualities of the universe are internally related, prehensive etc. (especially given evidence in quantum mechanics), but this doesn’t really keep with the spirit of “materialism” does it?  (No pun intended about the “spirit of materialism.”)  Webster’s says materialism is “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.”  Note that the word “matter” is critical in this definition.

Of course, if one is utterly wedded to the word “matter” they may redefine “matter:”  The argument can be made that matter is ultimately energy, and that energy is ultimately prehensive.  On this definition, energy/matter is not limited to external relations, and is dynamic and internally related to itself.  But nevertheless “matter” (in this sense defined) is still fundamental.  OK, I certainly buy this argument.  It’s essentially Whitehead’s argument; one thing he’s doing is redefining matter.


Evidence: Raw sense data?

Troy, nice job on THIS BLOG ENTRY about whether or not to dismiss or evaluate a claim, and if evaluation is merited, then how many resources should be used and to what extent it should be investigated (if at all). You lay out a good approach. Rejecting out of hand illogical claims and non-verifiable anecdotal claims makes good sense. To go into a little more detail: You perspicuously point out, regarding your approach to dismissing or evaluating claims, that there must be “…some sort of evidence obtainable that will meaningfully demonstrate the truth or falsity of the claim.”

First, I submit we take another step back—the interest level of a claim is more important than its truth or falsity. Logicians tend to think that truth/falsity of a claim is paramount, but our experience in the world says otherwise.

Second, exactly what kind of evidence is required? In sensation-based empiricism (Hume’s work is the quintessential example), the only elements admissible as evidence are sense data. However, the sensationist theory of perception and its accompanying epistemology don’t permit causality or induction. Hume’s arguments are clear, cogent, and forceful on this score. However, we have to know that the same process happens today as happened a billion years ago when two hydrogen atoms combine with one oxygen atom (production of water), and on the sensationist epistemology, we can’t know that. Further, it’s more than just causality and induction which are in question. The status of the continuity of time, the status of mathematical objects, and the status of truth itself are also in question on the sensationist ontology (but never mind as there’s plenty of grist for the mill to simply focus on induction and causality!).

A.J. Ayer and others have simply thrown up their hands and say we just have to assume it’s rationally possible to conduct science in the way we’re doing it now, and can’t sit around and wait for the logical problems to be solved! The irrationality coming from such an otherwise amazing mind is—well—mind-blowing. Isn’t there a good REASON that logic dictates major problems on this score?!?!

Anyway, one answer is Whitehead’s theory of perception, which combines Hume’s sensationism with modern science’s view of the human nervous system and its visceral/kinesthetic modes of operation. Thus Whitehead’s theory of perception is holistic and doesn’t succumb to the logical problems of a purely sensationist/empirical theory of perception. Rather than the constituents of reality being hard material stuff which hits our sense organs and activates them in an externally-based sense, reality is actually internally related to itself and data is passed directly through it from moment to moment. As our brains and nervous systems interact with reality there’s a lot more going on than just photons hitting the body and causing (woops—there’s that logical snafu again) reactions on the skin, eardrum, etc.

But therein is the problem for the materialistic, atheistic, reductionistic, sensationistic ontology and accompanying epistemology: The Process ontology explains how real causality and real induction are possible and the exact same set of arguments also show how time, mathematical objects, and universals are real, and how the correspondence theory of truth makes complete sense. And they don’t want to hear about realism.

Talk about Bass-Ackwardness! The process philosophy and theology requires realism, while so-called objective, scientific empiricism has to deal in coherence and pragmatic theories of truth, and has to argue for ultimate relativism and anti-realism! Post-modern science has really gotten itself into a terrible snafu.

However, my guess is as science, especially neuroscience, gets deeper and deeper into the details of the operations of the brain, that the neuroscientists will be among the first to admit that spatiotemporal events which are actually internally related to each other are at the base of reality rather than material stuff. Once there’s scientific energy put in this direction, Whitehead and others will be re-discovered and their work hailed as visionary. (This is for another post, but this is the reason Heidegger, the phenomenologists, and the Existentialists probably won’t experience the same kind of re-discovery, because they didn’t take on science and accept science qua science like Whitehead did.) Aloha

Core Doctrine of Process Philosophy #5 (of 10)

I added in a sentence in this explanation which was missing which clarifies the idea of “analyzability:”

Core Doctrine #5: “All enduring individuals are serially ordered societies of momentary ‘occasions of experience’.”   From Griffin, “Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism” (p. 6)

This is how process deals with the issues of efficient and final causality, and freedom vs. determinism.  All things, such as chairs, minds, electrons, and elephants are not actually and fundamentally those things per se, rather they are firstly analyzable into atoms, subatomic particles and quarks, and secondly (actually and fundamentally) they are analyzable into momentary events (occasions of experience), on the most basic level.  Griffin says (p. 6): “…each enduring individual, such as a living cell or a human mind, oscillates between two modes of existence: the subjective mode, in which it exerts final causation or self-determination, and the objective mode, in which is exerts efficient causation upon subsequent events.”

Core Doctrine of Process Philosophy #1 (of 10)

Over 10 blog entries, I will set out the 10 Core Doctrines of process philosophy (of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne), as given by the process philosopher and theologian David Griffin.

Core Doctrine #1:  Process integrates “…moral, aesthetic, and religious intuitions with the most general doctrines of the sciences into a self-consistent worldview [and considers this] as one of the central tasks of philosophy in our time.”  From: Griffin, David R.  “Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism” (p. 5)

Another way to say this is the integration of science and religion; to be able to put religion in a context that someone who takes science seriously may countenance, and to be able to put science in a context that someone with religious beliefs can countenance.

#1: (TGT): Let’s Begin…Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith (TGT)

This is a discussion of David Ray Griffin’s book: “Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith” (here identified by “TGT”) with a foreward by Howard J. Van Till.

It’s all over the media, in synagogues, mosques, churches, scientific labs, and universities everywhere: there’s gigantic conflict between science and religion.  Well, of course there is!  It’s a huge and direct conflict, after all, EVERYBODY knows it is.  (Argumentum ad Populum)  Well, David Ray Griffin (and process philosophy/theology in general) would rather delve deeper into both science and religion and take a more informed, synoptic view.

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#2: (MOS) Breif Summary

Chapter 1 deals with Immanuel Kant.  It “…presents Kant’s philosophy as a foundation for understanding…Heidegger and Whitehead.” (MOS 2)  Smith then delineates his new way of reading Kant as a postmodern thinker, which we’ll get to when we look directly at chapter 1.

Chapter 2 sets out Heidegger’s project.  Heidegger rethinks the analysis of a knowing, substantial subject, as it has been taken for most of western history, and transforms it via an existential analysis of “Dasein.”  This summary of Heidegger I’m sure readers will find complete-but it is very compact (but this is Heidegger-there’s probably no way around this).

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#1: (MOS) Let’s Begin: Myths of the Self (MOS)

This series of posts is about Dr. Olav’s Smith’s famous (or should be famous) book: Myths of the Self: Narrative Identity and Postmodern Metaphysics (called MOS here).  (Click here for partial text at Google Books).  Dr. Smith is a lecturer at California State University, Chico.  The book is based on Smith’s doctoral dissertation under David Ray Griffin at The Center for Process Studies at Claremont in Los Angeles, CA.

William Desmond, Director of the International Philosophy Program at  KU Leuven says:  “This is a very intelligent and engaging essay in constructive postmodern metaphysics.  Olav Smith brings Whitehead into provocative and fruitful dialogue with the philosophies of Kant, Heidegger, and Ricoeur.  The diverse discussions are marked by many illuminating and surprising connections.”

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9/11–The New Pearl Harbor

Dr. David Ray Griffin

Dr. David Ray Griffin

Regarding 9/11 and the destruction of the World Trade Center: Wow!  19 backwoods guys defeated the greatest military power in the history of the world, and took down 3 skyscrapers by hitting two of them with planes… (the 3rd one, somehow, blew up by itself…I guess the terrorists got lucky)…  Not only that, but we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to specialized companies with specialized knowledge and equipment to get buildings to “implode,” yet these bumpkins somehow did it.

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