Is materialistic reductionism self refuting?

In his book “Is Religion Dangerous?” Keith Ward makes the statement:

“The only reasonable beliefs are those that can be confirmed by the methods of science, by public observation, measurement, and experiment is self-refuting.”

Materialism, he says, is “entirely dissolved by quantum physics”, and “consciousness resists translation into purely physical terms”.

“If truth, beauty, and goodness are things that really exist, then materialism will not match our experience at all.”

Similarly, the English philosopher Mary Midgley argues there are many windows through which we can view reality, with empiricism being only one.

“We need scientific pluralism; the recognition that there are many independent forms and sources of knowledge, rather than reductivism – the conviction that one fundamental form underlies them all and settles everything.”

Mary writes that it is helpful to think of the world as:

“… a huge aquarium. We cannot see the whole from above, so we peer in through a number of small windows, each with its particular and unique perspective.  We can make sense of this habitat if we observe for long enough and patiently assemble the data from these competing viewpoints.  However, if we insist that our own window is the only one worth looking through, we shall not get very far.”

Are revelation, the transcendental, and empirical materialism really equal paths to truth?

While I agree with Mary’s premise of a single shared reality, a reasonable measure of a viewpoint’s accuracy is the predictive powers and utility it wields on this reality.  So far, empirical science beats everything else hands down.  But according to both Keith and Mary, the idea that “nothing exists except matter” is self-refuting because if it were true neither it, nor any other idea, would actually exist.

Behind each of these notions is the premise that ideas, thought, and conciseness itself simply cannot be fully explained by purely materialistic means.  There must be some additional realm of existence in which our minds (or spirits) reside – one which interacts with our physical being, but is nonetheless separate and distinct.  This is supported by Keith’s commentary:

“There is no spiritual dimension to reality.  To make matters worse, thinkers like Richard Dawkins hold that religious views are based on ‘blind faith’.  Looking around my philosopher colleagues in Britain I would say that very few of them are materialists.”

Identity theorists such as J. J. C. Smart, Ullin Place, and E. G. Boring claim ideas exist materially as patterns of neural structure and activity.  They challenged the dominant theories of their time (behaviourism and dualism) by arguing consciousness was nothing more than brain processing.  This view is now known as “The Identity Theory of Mind” or “Australian Materialism”.

Interestingly, Ullin Place donated his brain the to the Adelaide University where it is on display with the words:

“Did this brain contain the consciousness of U.T. Place?”

While it may be true to say that matter itself does not have a property called “consciousness”, it is an error to extrapolate this observational fact of constituents toward the whole.  No amount of scientific inquiry into flour, butter, sugar, or eggs will lead to a cake.  There is no property of flour called “cakiness”.  However, this does not prevent a cake from emerging from the combined properties of its ingredients.  In a similar manner, consciousness is a emergent function of brain structure, composition, and chemistry.  This form of materialism does not eliminate the mental, it encompasses it as an emergent (and entirely physical) property of a physical brain.

Consider the computer you are using at this moment.  While images and words flick across the screen these do not actually exist in the computer as identifiable entities.  Each image, word, and sound is stored, processed, and transmitted as pits on the surface of a DVD, as changes in magnetic polarisation on a hard drive platter, as electrical signals in microchips or network cables, or the glowing pixels of your monitor.  At no stage are the images, words, or sounds within the computer separated from the physical, they remain encoded within the physical at every step.

The language we use to describe this reality somewhat obfuscates the truth.  We tend to think of software running ON the computer, but the fact is software is part of the computer.  It forms a aspect of the computer’s physical construction, whether it’s on a USB stick, hard drive, within the memory banks awaiting processing by the CPU, or as an electrical signal on a wire – the software physically exists within the computer.

In much the same manner (albeit in a biological sense) the human brain consists of trillions of interconnected neurones which pass chemical and electrical signals to each others, producing a symphony consciousness and subconsciousness activity.  Consciousness is the software of the brain – not separate from the brain, but an emergent property from the culmination of these trillions of neural interactions.

It can be difficult to think of ourselves in this manner as we seem to experience ourselves as somehow separate from our body.  Our experience of existence seems to originate somewhere above our neck, behind our eyes, and between our ears – does anyone find this purely coincidental?.  We often don’t stop to consider we are looking out at the world through physical senses and processing the information with physical brains.  The temptation toward the Cartesian theatre is strong.

Dualists would have you believe this sensation is due to the “mind”, “soul”, or “spirit” within – the ghost in the machine.  However, given what we know about human physiology and neurology, this does not seem to be the case.  Alcohol, drugs, injuries, and even deliberate surgery can alter the character and behaviour of individuals.  We now know enough about biology and biochemistry to explain exactly how these substances and processes affect our brains.  Recent experiments with with magnets (how do they work?) can induce strong spiritual feelings – the so called “god helmet”.  Every advance in modern science is tearing down the artificial walls between neurology, psychiatry, and the spiritual.

It’s not that ideas, concepts, consciousness, truth, beauty, and goodness do not exist.  They do, but as complex patterns of structure and neuro-chemical interactions within entirely physical and highly complex brains.  I find this explanation far more wondrous and exhilarating than a simple “mind” or “soul”.

The ghost in the machine is not only dead – it never existed in the first place.

Further Reading

Posted December 8, 2010
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  • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

    You seem to be oscillating between materialism and emergentism.. Is an idea or philosophical view matter or emergent from matter?

    In a similar manner, consciousness is a emergent function of brain structure, composition, and chemistry. This form of materialism does not eliminate the mental, it encompasses it as an emergent property of a physical brain.

    That's not materialism, that's emergentism, and what I've read of Ward, he would also agree that consciousness is emergent from the brain – but not reducible to it.

    We tend to think of software running ON the computer, but the fact is software is PART of the computer. It forms a aspect of the computer’s physical construction, whether it’s on a USB stick, hard drive, within the memory banks awaiting processing by the CPU, or as an electrical signal on a wire. The software physically exists within the computer.

    I disagree – I can have a computer without the software, so the software really does run 'on' the computer. It too is emergent from the computer.

    According to both Keith and Mary, the idea that “nothing exists except matter” is self-refuting because if it were true neither it, nor any other idea, would actually exist.

    Behind each of these notions is the premise that ideas, thought, and conciseness itself simply cannot be fully explained by materialistic means.

    Right – because as Ward notes, the view that all things are reducible to material is not itself material – it is a philosophical 'meta' statement about material. The only way to get around this self-refutation is to beg the question and assume that such reductionism is true and that this idea must too be nothing but physics and chemistry.

    Emergentism is the view that things like consciousness (and ideas) emerge from physical brains, but that attempts to reduce them purely to that always leave a residue – the sum is greater than the parts. So you're right, Ward doesn't think things like ideas can be fully reduced to physics and chemistry.

    I've read one of Ward's other books (Doubting Dawkins) but I haven't read the one mentioned here.. I'm assuming you've read it?

    I'm a little confused by the title – because Ward's point, so it seems to me, isn't that empiricism is self-refuting, but that materialist reductionism is.

    • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

      "You seem to be oscillating between materialism and emergentism.. Is an idea or philosophical view matter or emergent from matter?"

      I am not using the term "emergent" to draw in something extra.

      "That's not materialism, that's emergentism, and what I've read of Ward, he would also agree that consciousness is emergent from the brain – but not reducible to it. "

      Read the article again. Consciousness is IN the brain – you cannot separate brain structure or chemistry from consciousness.

      "I disagree – I can have a computer without the software, so the software really does run 'on' the computer. It too is emergent from the computer."

      And you can have a brain without any consciousness – it's called brain death. Besides, a computer with software is physically different to a computer with software, even if the difference is only the orientation of magnetic particles on a hard drive platter.

      "Emergentism is the view that things like consciousness (and ideas) emerge from physical brains, but that attempts to reduce them purely to that always leave a residue – the sum is greater than the parts"

      I disagree – the sum of the parts is exactly equal to the sum of the parts. You are using emergentism to sneak in a mind, consciousness, or soul to suit your own agenda.

      • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

        I am not using the term "emergent" to draw in something extra.

        It's becoming more clear why I was initially confused by your apparent oscillation – you seem to be using the term emergent somewhat equivocally – using it not in its normal sense, but to describe a kind of reductionism that is actually the opposite of what emergentism is. I don't think I'm using the term to 'draw in something extra' either.

        Consciousness is IN the brain – you cannot separate brain structure or chemistry from consciousness.

        Emergentism doesn't separate – but neither does it reduce. It sees consciousness as an emergent layer – yes it emerges in humans from the brain, but it rejects the idea that it can be reduced entirely to chemical structures within the brain.

        And you can have a brain without any consciousness – it's called brain death.

        Sure (let's not get started on what 'life' is or how it starts!). One might expect, if consciousness is reducible entirely to chemical structures and electrical signals in the brain, that one could zap a brain and revive consciousness, even in a 'dead' one, wouldn't you think?

        Besides, a computer with software is physically different to a computer with software, even if the difference is only the orientation of magnetic particles on a hard drive platter.

        Sure – that still doesn't mean the software doesn't run 'on' the computer.

        I disagree – the sum of the parts is exactly equal to the sum of the parts.

        Of course you'd say that – you're arguing for materialist reductionism! I'm not convinced you can show / have shown that there is no remainder.

        You are using emergentism to sneak in a mind, consciousness, or soul to suit your own agenda.

        Nope – you're making assumptions about what you expect me to be saying. I've said nothing about soul, not this time, nor last time we talked about consciousness. I hardly think one needs to 'sneak in' a mind or consciousness, as I think it's a given that we have these. I'm not using emergentism as an agenda, or to sneak anything in, rather, I think it's a somewhat better means of accounting for and making sense of consciousness and semantic meaning than materialistic reductionism. The debate about the mind-brain relationship continues to rage in the academic world, and as materialism is still a minority philosophical position, I'd be wary of trying to take any kind of intellectual high ground on this point if I were you. The jury is still out, and I think it best that we don't assume our positions are beyond doubt and that any who disagrees has an agenda or anything of the sort.

        I am very keen to see the promised post about determinism, and in particular, how you view personal responsibility and the individual will in relation to that – particular if what we think is nothing but "physical constructs and chemical interactions". Indeed – would not my disagreement be determined too? I'm very interested…

  • http://twitter.com/ColdDimSum @ColdDimSum

    I completely disagree. Emergentism holds that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole but that is just wishful nonsense.

    True emergence is just looking at an aggregate of many actions at a higher-level. The image represented in the computer in some physical form is not greater than the sum of its parts, in fact, it is a good bit LESS than the sum of its parts. It takes a LOT of extra parts to make the image.

    Tornadoes emerge from the physics of hot and cold air masses, it would require an immense amount of calculation to simulate one based on raw physics so instead of describing EVERY interaction in the world in terms of the 10^40th calculations they represent we just label them: Tornado, apple, etc.

    • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

      The image represented in the computer in some physical form is not greater than the sum of its parts, in fact, it is a good bit LESS than the sum of its parts. It takes a LOT of extra parts to make the image.

      Except that if the image – the result of all those 1s and 0s has any semantic meaning, then I think it does.

      • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

        @ColdDimSum is right.

        Your semantic meaning exist as a combination of physical constructs and chemical interactions within your physical brain. There is no need to create "meaning" which exists separately from the physical.

        • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

          I disagree.
          If meaning were nothing but "physical constructs and chemical interactions within your physical brain" then to pass on that meaning you would surely need to pass on such constructs. But we don't – those constructs carry meaning, but are not meaning. Likewise, as Lennox once stumped his Oxford colleague who claimed to be such a reductionist with – the letters ROAST carry meaning, but that meaning cannot be explained in terms of the physics and chemistry of the ink on the paper – they are carriers of the semantic meaning. I think you confuse such carriers with being the ontological entity itself.

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            Right, you're saying "meaning" is not material – it is only carried. So what is it if not material?

            There is no reason to conclude a concept must be represented by the same physical constructs between individual brains. The pits on a DVD and the magnetic particles on a hard drive may contain exactly the same computer code, yet each is vastly different physically.

            The ink and paper contain so sense of the word "roast" (see my point about cakes), yet are interpreted by our (physical) brains. The physical photons hits your eyes and are converted to electrical impulses within your brain where the symbols are matched against learnt languages to assign conceptual meaning. At no stage have we left the physical realm.

            You are confusing the map with the place.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            So what is it if not material?

            Non-material…. an idea, a concept.. It seems like you're trying to get a physicalist kind of description, which just won't work.

            There is no reason to conclude a concept must be represented by the same physical constructs between individual brains.

            There is if you assert that the concept is nothing but those physical constructs.

            The pits on a DVD and the magnetic particles on a hard drive may contain exactly the same computer code, yet each is vastly different physically.

            Right,which just goes to show that they carry the meaning / information rather than being the meaning and information.

            The ink and paper contain so sense of the word "roast" (see my point about cakes), yet are interpreted by our (physical) brains.

            Did you mean 'no sense'? If so, I pretty much agree – you can't get the meaning by looking at the physical and chemical makeup of the letters on the page.

            The physical photons hits your eyes and are converted to electrical impulses within your brain where the symbols are matched against learnt languages to assign conceptual meaning. At no stage have we left the physical realm.

            Right – because it is physical constructs carrying the message / meaning.That does not mean the meaning or message can be reduced to those constructs. The very fact that these physical constructs are not all alike makes it seem pretty obvious to me that they are thus carrying the meaning.

            If we take the example of a phone call – we might posit that the message originates in the mind of person A which involves interactions of chemicals etc, the phonating mechanisms are instructed by the brain to move in a certain way as to create and manipulate various frequencies, these are then received by the handset and turned into a digital signal and send via a certain wavelength to another handset which in turn uses magnets and a membrane to produce certain frequencies that resemble the ones received which are in turn received by the ear apparatus of Person B, and turned into a signal sent to the brain. At each point the message is being carried by a physical construct, but at no point can you examine the specific physical construct in the reductions (physics and chemistry) way and actually see the message. Monitoring brain activity won't tell you, analysing sound waves won't tell you. It cannot be reduced only to the physical constructs which carry it. The meaning is an emergent layer.

            You are confusing the map with the place.

            I don't understand what you mean by this. What I'm not doing is confusing the passengers with the train.

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            Your phone example illustrates my point nicely. As I said, nothing about flour can tell you about a cake, but the combination of this entity with others forms a structure we label "cake". In the same way the structures and biochemical signals within the brain for something we can label a "thought".

            The reason the passengers are not the train is that we label different levels with different words – schematics. A train is not a seat, wheel, coal, food buffet, steam, or window either. The combination of all of these things (in the right configuration) forms something we call a "train".

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            It's quite interesting that you think my illustration demonstrates your point (I can't see how btw unless you agree that the meaning 'assigned' is not actually part of the brain itself), and I think your illustration demonstrates my point.

            The difference between a cake and thought, however, is that if you want to give me the cake, you have to give me the flour and all the structures that make up a cake. You don't give me any of the biochemicals in your brain when you pass on a thought. Various physical means carry it (the brain chemicals tell your fingers to type, which creates a digital code which is then turned into a light signal recieved by my eyes etc.), but it cannot be reduced to them. None of those physical things are the message or make up the message, they simply carry it. And if the cake has 'Happy Birthday Jimmy' written in icing, then we have a layer of meaning added which certainly cannot be reduced to the chemistry of the icing. The sum thus becomes greater than the physical parts – no matter how much explanation of the physical and chemical properties that make up the cake, you have, it will never explain the meaning of the message and thus you have a remainder.

            I find it interesting also that you use the language of emergentism ('levels' or layers) and take my illustration and still appear to maintain that a layer can be fully reduced to the level below it. You're right – the train may be made up of any number of different physical components, yet the passengers it carries are not the train, even though they use the train and its components to get from point A to B. LIkewise, the train is 'carried' by the tracks, yet it too cannot be reduced to the tracks.

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            In order to hand you a cake I need to give you something physical made up of the various components. In order to give you an idea I need to transmit (give you) something physical (sound waves, written word, etc) made up of the various components (sounds, letters, etc). What's the difference? In both cases something physical is being transmitted and received. No magic going on there.

            People and tracks are NOT trains. That's why we have different words to describe them. I can't dumb this down any further for you. If you don't get it, then I think we are done here.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            What's the difference?

            When you give me a cake you give me the very same physical stuff. When you give me an idea, various physical constructs carry it, but I don't get the same physical stuff that is in your brain (the chemical construct that you say is the idea). That is the difference. That is why I say the physical constructs you want to reduce it to are simply carriers. I said nothing about magic, so don't be obtuse.

            In both cases something physical is being transmitted and received.

            When I get off the train in Frankfurt, the train is 'received' at the station too. And we agree that I am not the train. I think you are confusing the message with the means of transmission.
            When you give me a cake, I can put it under a microscope – can I put and idea under a microscope? I can put the various different physical 'tracks' it was carried on, but none of them, when put under a microscope show meaning or the idea itself.

            People and tracks are NOT trains.

            My point exactly. Likewise, meaning is not chemicals in the brain or the letters on a page, it too is a connected (emergent) layer. Tracks carry trains, trains carry people, and they are not the same thing. My phone illustrations shows the physical phenomena- the tracks – the message is carried on, but that does not mean the message is those constructs. The message is not the means of transmission.

            I can't dumb this down any further for you. If you don't get it, then I think we are done here.

            Just because I don't agree with you doesn't mean I don't get your point. I mean, it seems you 'don't get it' yet either because you think my own 'dumbed down' illustrations back your point, when they clearly don't. More to the point though, if you're going to be condescending instead of civil (especially as the scholarly 'jury' is most certainly still out on this one), then yes, sadly, we must be done here.

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            Are you seriously suggesting I must remove my brain states and transfer them to your brain in order for you to grasp a concept? This is absurd. It is no wonder you find what I am saying so difficult to comprehend, for this is nothing like what I am suggesting.

            Things we can agree on: Tracks, people, and coal are not trains. No examination of a single component in isolation necessarily illuminates higher levels. Words are schematic symbols to physical realities (maps to things) – this is why we have different words for tracks, people, and trains. The meaning of a sentence is not carried by a single word or letter – we require the entire sentence to interpret meaning. A sentence is required to interpret its meaning (although we can sometimes extrapolate complete sentences where words are missing).

            Here is where we differ: I am stating a sentence (no matter how it is transmitted) remains in, is indistinguishable from, and is nothing more than the physical forms it is built from. On the other hand, you seem to be stating the physical carries the meaning, but is something immaterial.

            I have challenged you on this last point, but you simply state "Non-material…. an idea, a concept.. It seems like you're trying to get a physicalist kind of description, which just won't work". This is just a bald faced assertion which does not support your claims. I have read the remainder of your posts and can find no arguments of evidence for your position beyond simple assertions.

            Please take the time to think about your position and post an entry on your blog explaining the nature of meaning and exactly how it transcends the physical. Please be as clear as possible for simpletons like me.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            Are you seriously suggesting I must remove my brain states and transfer them to your brain in order for you to grasp a concept? This is absurd. It is no wonder you find what I am saying so difficult to comprehend, for this is nothing like what I am suggesting.

            I agree, it's absurd, but it is what is implied (whether you meant to or not) by your cake illustration.

            Here is where we differ: I am stating a sentence (no matter how it is transmitted) remains in, is indistinguishable from, and is nothing more than the physical forms it is built from. On the other hand, you seem to be stating the physical carries the meaning, but is something immaterial.

            Yes, that is a fair description of our differences. You are promoting materialist reductionism, and I'm holding a more emergentist view. You seem to be saying that the meaning of sentence can be reduced to the physics and chemistry of the sentence (the physical form it is built from) and I think that this physical form merely carries the meaning, which cannot be totally accounted for in terms of physics and chemistry.

            What is confusing is that on the one hand you say things like 'no, it's not the physical construct – I don't have to give you the physical construct of my brain to give you a concept' and then you say things like 'Here is where we differ: I am stating a sentence (no matter how it is transmitted) remains in, is indistinguishable from, and is nothing more than the physical forms it is built from.' – this all seems very much like trying to have your cake and eat it. To me that you don't give me the physical construct of your brain makes it very obvious that it cannot be reduced to that, and that this is a carrier. I don't understand why you can't see that. If the physical form is at various points in the transmission completely different (e.g. brain states, sound waves, ink on paper) then how can it be reduced to these? When you give me a cake, the very same physical construct goes from you to me (carried perhaps by the physical construct of your arms?) At all times from point A to B it remains the exact same physical construct. But that is not the same for a concept. We agree that the physical construct in your brain (which you say the concept can be reduced to) does not get transferred. Between points A and B it takes any number of different physical constructs. When I drive between X and Y at all times I'm (basically – depends how many chips I eat!) the same physical construct, transferred between the two points, but the roads I take to transport there are not always the same physical construct (bitumen, concrete, grass, dirt). And of course, we agree that I'm neither the car or the road – yet you still maintain that meaning / concepts are the 'road' even though the road is often very different. That is why I don't think it can be reduced to the physical
            'tracks' as you think. It is a higher layer which cannot be fully reduced the layer below.

            I have challenged you on this last point, but you simply state "Non-material…

            Yes indeed. And if it's not material, as seems to be the indication, then it must be non-material. In order to say that I find your reductionism insufficient, I am not forced to explain everything about how it is an emergent layer asa it appears to be. I am quite at liberty to note that the physical appears to be a carrier for an emergent non-material layer of some kind. If I were to try and assert what kind of non-material emergent layer it was, then yes, I would need to do that, but I'm not. I have sufficient reason to reject your reductionist view (even if it is couched in emergentist terms sometimes!). I do not need to fully explain something in order to recognise that it seems to be a kind of non-material emergent layer. There is still much we do not know, much to learn, and much debate amongst the experts!

            "This is just a bald faced assertion which does not support your claims. I have read the remainder of your posts and can find no arguments of evidence for your position beyond simple assertions. "

            The feeling is, of course, quite mutual. I don't think you've done much different than assert that it is nothing but the physical constructs without actually showing how that is the case. I do think I've made my case for rejecting materialist reductionism fairly clear.

            But thanks for clarifying the map-place point from earlier:

            Words are schematic symbols to physical realities (maps to things)

            I think you're begging the question. Drop the word 'physical' from before realities and we'd agree. The reality of meaning is not in question, but the very issue is whether it is a physical reality or non-material reality emergent from physical constructs.

            And you're not a simpleton, you're just looking at it through the lens of your own assumptions.. as we all do. And it's ok for us to disagree without it being anything personal, btw.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            Please take the time to think about your position and post an entry on your blog explaining the nature of meaning and exactly how it transcends the physical. Please be as clear as possible for simpletons like me.

            Here you go: http://www.thingsfindothinks.com/2010/12/kieth-wa

  • http://twitter.com/ColdDimSum @ColdDimSum

    Whenever someone invokes "quantum physics" to draw some inference about reality (beyond what is actually known of quantum physics anyway) you can almost be certain that complete hogwash is about to ensue.

    • http://thinkingdoesnthurt.blogspot.com/ David_Gibson

      Oh yeah nothing like the combination of misrepresenting what can be classified as 'material' to only matter and a large serving of uncertainty to put people's mind on a water slide to bizarre conclusions about reality.

      • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

        uh… what else, besides matter, is material?

        • http://thinkingdoesnthurt.blogspot.com/ David_Gibson

          E=mc^2

          Matter does not constitute all the 'material' universe empirical science has discovered, most of it is actually energy.

          It is common for people to only think of physical matter when they comment on what is accessible to empirical science (I actually think the biggest limitation of empirical science is time but that is a completely different issue). It is somewhat understandable for those who are not particularly scientifically educated or interested in scientific knowledge but it is still major flaw in their thinking.

          Human minds are also terrible at handling probability and uncertainty (in a scientific sense) and these two features of thinking can lead to some astounding conclusions about the nature of reality.

          That was what I was referring to.

          Case in point, the film 'What the bleep do we know?'

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            "… the film 'What the bleep do we know?'

            Oh, how I despise that movie.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            Ok, yes the materialist view is that only – matter, energy space and time – exist.

            It is somewhat understandable for those who are not particularly scientifically educated or interested in scientific knowledge but it is still major flaw in their thinking.

            I don't know that this accurately describes Ward (nor am I convinced that Andrew has represented his argument completely accurately, actually.. but then I haven't read the book he's quoting from) – I would bet that he's better and more widely read than all of us put together. However, I'll own up to it ;)
            Without seeing how he argues that materialism is destroyed by quantum physics, it's difficult to really say anything about his argument, actually. I do agree with him that the kind of 'Scientism' the opening quote seems to refer to is self-refuting.

          • http://thinkingdoesnthurt.blogspot.com/ David_Gibson

            I wasn't really commenting on Ward's own argument as I haven't read the book either (although plenty of people are more widely read than I – doesn't stop me from concluding they're wrong in some fashion on a particular issue). I was directing my comments more towards the more common practice of blending a poor understanding of quantum physics and spirituality (thus the movie I mentioned).

            Without seeing how he argues that materialism is destroyed by quantum physics, it's difficult to really say anything about his argument, actually.

            In my experience it is the uncertainty that does it for most people who make such an argument but I have no idea if this is a feature of Ward's argument.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            although plenty of people are more widely read than I – doesn't stop me from concluding they're wrong in some fashion on a particular issue

            Oh, I agree.

  • LuminousMonkey

    Just to completely talk about a different subject, because you mentioned software (which I think is the perfect example of the whole brain/mind).

    In Bryan Cantrill's talk on DTrace, he relates that the development of DTrace was started with the question from Jeff Bonwick, "Does it bother you that none of this actually exists?"

    Mentions it on his talk on DTrace at Google:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-80028011

    Starts around 4:00 – 4:30 into the video.

    And for some interesting reading on the brain/mind, I would recommend Jeff Hawkin's book "On Intelligence". It's a theory on how he believes intelligence operates. Or you can read the papers on their website: http://www.numenta.com/htm-overview/education.php

    You want something empirical on the mind, there you go.

    • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

      I get his point, but he does preface the point with "the design IS the machine". This is exactly the my point. While the software does not really exist in the manner we model of conceptualise it (I must be careful with my words here) – it DOES exist within the machine. That's the entire point of software creation – to create code that can be shipped and executed on multiple machines.

      I will look into the articles you posted. Thanks!

  • Pingback: Kieth Ward, Materialist reductionism, semiotic meaning and the mind-brain problem, trains and cakes. | Things Findo Thinks

  • Paul Murray

    I wasn't aware that materialismn and emergentism were different – let alone incompatible – ideas.

    Consider the ancient problem that an arrow cannot move, because at any instant it is stationary. We deal with this by saying that its momentum, its instantaneous motion, is part of its physical state at each instant.

    Can't we reconcile materialism and emergentism similarly? It seems that the complaint that thought can't be reduced to neurons is that "materialism" doesn't include the brain's current "motion". But it we include the current motion as part of it's material state, then that problem disappears.

    Or maybe it's just a quibble about whether or not our chunked-together understandings of aggregates of things (a house, a car, a person) ought to be treated as "real" things or not. In which case – jeez, guys, you get paid for this?

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  • Tavmaker

    What happens though is that, There is no proof that the brain creates consciousness, How can unconscious pieces of matter create rich inner subjective experiences. And also atoms or matter act probabilistic, So if the mind or consciousness really was created by the brain we would just be doing things randomly with no free will. But we do have free will though, And free will is part of the mind or consciousness and this is the big problem for materialism or emergentism. And also emergentism can’t escape the fact that atoms and matter are probabilistic same with materialism, Read the book called (irreducible mind by Kelly and Kelly) and also look at the (Quantum Randi challenge) everything we do is in consciousness you can not go behind consciousness.   

    • http://godless.biz Andrew Skegg

      Let me rephrase you question and put it back to you: How can unthinking electrical circuits perform calculation or play music?

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