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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Mar > Mar 20

Re: Defending The Indefensible - Reason

From: Cathy Reason <CathyM.nul>
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 15:35:15 -0000
Fwd Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 09:34:31 -0400
Subject: Re: Defending The Indefensible - Reason

>From: Martin Shough <parcellular.nul>
>To: <ufoupdates.nul>
>Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2007 14:57:58 -0000
>Subject: Re: Defending The Indefensible

>>From: Mike Good <boneheadart.nul>
>>Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 10:05:55 -0700 (PDT)
>>To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
>>Subject: Re: Defending The Indefensible [was: UFO Photos The Future]


>And science does not take "a literal view of a material
>universe". This harks back to an archaic philosophical
>distinction between materialism and spiritualism, arising from a
>classical Newtonian notion of matter as inert stuff.

Hello Martin,

I'm afraid I find this a rather narrow, and historically not
very accurate, way of defining materialism.

My Penguin dictionary of philosophy defines materialism as:-

"the theory that matter alone exists. It immediately implies a
denial of the existence of minds, spirits, divine beings, etc,
in so far as these are taken to be non-material."

What is at issue here is the question of physical completeness,
not whether matter is "inert".  I think you are right that, in
the aftermath of QM and Relativity, it no longer makes sense to
talk about "matter" as the universal constituent of anything.
But the doctrine of physical completeness - which is actually
what most people today mean by materialism - survives under the
name of "physicalism". The same dictionary defines this as

"The view that everything is constituted of the entities taken
to be basic by the physical sciences... This is the modern
version of materialism."

So first, it's clearly not true that materialism is "archaic".
The question is whether it makes any sense. I think one can
argue a good case that physicalism is simply nineteenth-century
materialism with a few changes of name, in which "matter" is
replaced by "the entities taken to be basic by the physical
sciences" as the placeholder for some sort of metaphysical
"stuff" out of which everything in the unverse is supposed to be
made. To the extent we regard the entities of physical science
as mathematical abstractions, this is evidently rather daft -
 how are conscious living beings supposed to be made up entirely
out of mathematical abstractions?  But the philosophical
significance of QM and Relativity is precisely that the entities
of modern physical theory can no longer be interpreted as
measures of some sort of metaphysical "stuff" - or that if they
could, no-one knows how to do it.

Given this situation, it seems to me we have three alternatives.
One is to stick to pure operationalism - eg, the Copenhagen
interpretation. The second is to throw out materialism.  But the
third is simply to hold on to materialism regardless and just
ignore the philosophical implications of the last hundred years.
Mr Good and Mr Dickenson appear to be saying that, in practice,
most physicists are adopting the third approach - I think they
are probably right. And I can say for sure that, even if this is
not the case in physics, it is definitely the case in other
disciplines such as neuroscience and consciousness studies.

And as for your point about Young Turks and Old Professors, I
think it's worth noting the Old Professors are now considered to
be people like Schrodinger, Wigner and, especially, Neils Bohr -
people who were only too well aware of the philosophical
implications of modern physics, and were not afraid of facing up
to them. By contrast the Young Turks, it seems to me, are now
peddling a distinctly dusty, old-fashioned version of
deterministic local realism. It's difficult for me to see what
could possibly be motivating this other than an esthetic
commitment to the sort of nineteenth-century materialism which,
you confidently tell us, has long since been dispensed with (by
all the best people, at any rate).


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