A Disturbance In The Force
In the introductory post ‘Nothing Else Matters I’ I took a stance for ‘materialism’, the believe that nothing except matter exists; albeit an expanded version of materialism that doesn’t rely on antiquated notions or ignores fundamental forces. This rather philosophical debate is quite relevant to atheism since the atheist-theist debate can be viewed as a sub-discussion between scientific materialism and an immaterialist duality. In this discussion between opposing metaphysical believes though, the allegiances are a lot less clear-cut, with many theists reserving immaterialism exclusively for their divinity and some atheists being entirely dismissive of ‘conservative’ materialism all together. In-between we find various philosophers, new-agers, Buddhists and doctorates of various disciplines that either level critique at materialism attempting to correct it or as a means of openly introducing immaterialism. Since all can be utilised to justify immaterialism we need to look at a large sample of them if we are to justify a belief in materialism. This is not a religious belief. Like the belief that we, ourselves, actually exist, it is a pragmatic assumption justified in the absence of counter-factual evidence.
In this post the reader will encounter 3 interwoven narratives: the first being a rough chronological one, moving from the past to the present. The second one goes from established facts to unknowns and conjecture. The third, rather as a consequence of the former, will evolve from Science to Pseudo-science. Additionally in this post we will mostly focus on the arguments against materialism that arose in the context of scientific progress. As much as is possible I will try to avoid the problem of human consciousness. This single aspect will require an entire post of its own. Despite that, even in this post, we will see that immaterialist assumptions about human consciousness unavoidably seep in and are subliminally present in both scientific and pseudo-scientific arguments favouring immaterialism. The division I made here is merely an attempt to keep things readable. A fruitless attempt perhaps, given the scale and complexity of the subject.
Why you should care
While this discussion may not be for everyone, I maintain that it is in defence of naturalistic materialism that atheism is both at its weakest (given the ubiquitous counter-opinion) as well as facing its greatest opportunity to change the world. I do this because I stand for a ‘strong’ atheism, taking the position that not only is a god-notion unconvincing, it is actually utterly improbable, to the point that its proponents should eventually be dismissed for the obstinate ‘flat-earth’-like wishful-thinkers they are.
Unlike theists often claim, to believe in the existence of something requires that it is actually supported by the structure of reality if it is to enter that reality. Counter to what is shown in the movie ‘Who framed Roger Rabbit’, our universe does not support cartoons jumping off the screen and walking around our world like they own the place. Similarly a maths-reality constructed from the powers of 2 does not support odd prime-numbers. Likewise a naturalist reality can’t support super-natural interventions if it doesn’t at least also possesses a non-naturalistic sub-layer. If so, the presence of such a layer must be demonstrated via the same channels as it is commonly assumed to interfere in our world. Because even the ‘idea’ of ‘God’ itself, if it references a real thing and is not like I personally think, an echo of a brain-meme propagating through waves of mankind’s generations; even that would require that at some point said ‘God’ inserted itself into our realm of reality to make ‘itself’ known. While no trees were cut down in order to do this, considerably many electrons were frightfully disturbed regardless and in clear violation of physical conservation laws. While theists may claim ‘God’ requires no proof and is just an artefact of belief, their underlying assumptions about the nature of our reality most definitely requires proof and justification. So far, I find them severely lacking.
A. The Objective Case Against Matter
1. Charge of weak definition
In the previous post I gave a rather broad description of naturalistic- or scientific- materialism. This description was tailored to maximally included the laws of Physics and reductionism, all while trying to oppose the incorporation of speculative futuristic ideas. I also tried to convey the notion that I fully expect that our understanding of the properties of matter will continue to evolve. This tactic however, of allowing Science to move the goalposts (although I made no apologies in the face of the ‘conjured-up’ immaterialism) has opened it up to a critique flowing from a simple question: “So what is matter now actually?”. While this seems a simple and very reasonable question, the most truthful reply may be ‘well, I actually don’t really know’. But then, if we fail to answer this question, by what right can we distinguish between the material and a possible immaterial realm or claim either is or isn’t real?
This is basically the point of Michel Bitbol in “A MORE RADICAL CRITIQUE OF MATERIALISM”, CNRS/ENS, Paris, France, Oxford University Press, 2007.:
“Let us now assume that materialism is indeed a stance, that it relies on the ever-changing characterization of matter by science, rather than on a precise definition of matter. The problem is that, in this case, the materialist “ solutions ” to several conundrums of philosophy are seriously challenged, not because they are provably wrong, but because one cannot even formulate them univocally.”
In the 19th century ‘Matter’ used to be defined as an ‘impenetrable enclosure of space containing mass’. Such a definition became rather untenable in the light of the discovery of atoms, who showed us that most of matter was just empty space that is utterly penetrable by various other essential particles. Atoms themselves, their name suggesting ‘indivisibility’ (from the Greek ‘a temnein’, ‘not cutted’) invoked the idea of ‘point-like particles’ that acted like billiard balls. This changed very little when it was discovered that atoms could actually be split in even more fundamental electrons, protons and neutrons. The latter two, in their turn, consisting of different configurations of massive quarks.
That things were not all as simple as they seemed became clear when Thomas Young aimed a light at two slits in a screen and found that instead of two clusters of ‘light’ hitting the photoelectric plate, a wave-interference pattern formed instead. Much later the domain of Quantum Field Theory would be developed, combined with the observations surrounding magnetism and electro-magnetism, as an answer to the question ‘a wave in what exactly?’.
The image became even slightly less intuitive as Einstein unified matter and energy, reinforcing materialism at the cost of several of its absolute properties. With Special Relativity not only did speed become relative but also mass, as particles increased mass as they accelerated towards the relatively ‘Maximum Speed’. Speed with respect to some other object. Henceforward mass would be described as ‘mass-at-rest’, whatever that meant in the case of the leptons whom were never-ever ‘at rest’ relative to anything.
Building on top of Max Planck’s study of black-body radiation Einstein also laid the basis for quantum-mechanics, as he showed light only travelled in discrete quantized packets. This would introduce several uncertainties regarding particles’ momentum and position. General relativity had made mass a relative concept, it increased by accelerating or by being in the gravity well of another mass. But how could this be if ‘mass’ was ‘locked’ inside the quark? ‘Mass’ also posed several other problems. Why did particles that had no noticeable difference in volume (they seemed to occupy the same space) have such different masses? Why did certain particles have lots of mass, when symmetries would suggest they’d have none? The answer was another field, the Higgs field, whose interactions with the other fields’ excitations (or particles) ‘gave’ the latter mass.
What once had been a massive, solid, volume turned into a collection of things that were neither point-like nor waves but combined both natures with fundamental uncertainties. That is to say they were ‘being smeared-out’ in space-time dimensions receiving their mass through their interaction with yet another field. ‘What is matter?’ If we ask wikipedia it says “matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume.” the answer is not wrong but it says nothing definitive about the fundamental nature of matter since none of these properties are innate or absolute as we now know.
The Bitbol conclusion is therefore quite justified:
“Most physicists still speak of “ particles of matter ” in a quasi-mereological sense. Yet, when they use the word “ particle ”, it is with so many qualifications that virtually nothing is retained of the familiar notion of material body. What I wish to emphasize here is that these qualifications convey a list of awkward features which come close to inconsistency, and that therefore the associated atomistic representation does not stand up alone. Were it not for the operational value of the research program in which it is embedded, and the need for historical continuity it fulfils, this representation would soon be relinquished.”
Even before, when we still thought of matter as ‘point-like objects’, we should have realised that this definition was quite circular, since what are ‘objects’ if not ‘corporal’ or made of matter? Then again, once we think about it, ‘matter’ is hardly the only thing that is so fundamental that its definition remains somewhat elusive. ‘What is Space?’, ‘What is Time?’ It’s a problem of definition that’s not even exclusive to Physics. We also encounter it in man-invented Math: ‘What is a number?’ ‘What is a point?’ Have we really defined a mathematical ‘Set’ if we need to use the word ‘Collection’ to do it?
In the end we must recognise that all definitions rely on an intertextuality of meaning. Words get meaning by analogy or discrepancy with other concepts. Border-concepts, concepts that represent the outer border of the field they are part of, can’t have a ‘sandwiched’ definition. ‘Infinity’ can’t be described as ‘a number between A and B’ because there is no definition of ‘B’ independent of ‘Infinity’. Which is why ‘forever’ is often used to define ‘Infinity’.. and vice versa! The latter may only serve to indicate how utterly lacking our mental-representations of such vast concepts as ‘Infinity’ or even ‘God’ must be. How ill-advised it would be to depend on our own intuitive reasoning on such matters.
It may not be possible to give a concise definition for ‘Matter’ but this hasn’t detracted from the validity of atom-theory or “Avogadro’s constant”. Our evolving understanding of matter has always been reducible to those in the exact same way. As a result we may need to revert to a phenomenological definition of matter, as being just ‘the thing particle physics and Quantum Field Theory study’.
Or as Bitbol states it:
“Or one is content with the looser statement that what quantum physics describes is matter, while leaving open the issue of the nature of the entity that plays this role.”
Instead of trying to pinpoint (no pun intended) the exact nature of matter, Bitbol seems to suggest we can work with how it presents to us in systematic, repeatable and objective ways.
“The first additional motivation of materialism becomes clear when one realizes that ‘matter’ often works as a covering word for commitment to objective science.”
- “Something is material if it may appear in space-time to anybody, and if its appearances are constrained by certain clauses of objectivity.”
- “consists of a web of empirical contents connected with each other by rules which are both necessary and universal.”
- “This connection is law-like;”
- “Manifestation in space-time, plus law-likeness (objectivity) applied to probabilistic predictors of classes of phenomena, is enough to characterize matter.”
“The very concept of an angel or ghost is averse to the idea that their manifestations are subject to law-like constraints. A ghost may manifest (to somebody), but it is not objective. Therefore it is non-material.”
In my opinion this contains sufficient parameters for distinguishing between matter and the immaterial. Nor does it appear to conflict with the position I took in NEM I.
2. Charges for an updated Rutherford-Bohr model
The charge against classical determinism from matter’s wave-particle duality
In hindsight the demise of classical mechanics should have been visible to all, even before its very birth. As Newton described the deterministic model with which he could calculate Earth’s orbits around the Sun, he declined speculating on the precise mechanics that bound distant bodies together. In fact it collapsed even long before that, when the first magnet was stuck to a metal object. For if reality was to be understood as a backdrop filled with point-like particles, pushing each other with their various momenta, how did magnets stick to refrigerators, humans stick to planet-surfaces and how did all those particles stay stuck-together in the first place?
On Earth the seemingly dominant interaction between objects had always been ‘pushing’, based on multiplying mass with momentum and the law that says no two bodies can occupy the same space. Yet outside the atmosphere, away from friction, the dominant mechanics seemed to work at a distance and ‘pull’ or ‘suck’ rather than push. The answer would be to introduce maths-like concepts that ‘enveloped’ all objects and permeated space: Fields. On his grand unification of electricity, magnetism and light James Maxwell postulated the existence of such permeating fields and pictured particles travelling as ‘undulations’ through them.
Proving they are not simply waves.
Maxwell thus laid the groundwork for not only light-particles (photons) but also electricity-particles (electrons) having wavelike properties. But in a grand mockery of those willing to simply substitute waves for particles, experiments showed that light-waves, like particles, still had momentum. Additionally, the model for ‘heat’ in matter was based on the ‘motion’ of particles which was hard to transpose onto waves as they were already dynamic excitations of their own. The appropriateness of this heat-model was further confirmed by the application of laser-cooling, using the momentum of light-particles to stabilise the motion of other particles until they approached temperatures near absolute-zero. It seemed that elementary particles had a nature that was both wave- and particle-like and that neither metaphor was sufficient by itself to describe matter.
Furthermore this duality remained part of composed particles, such as individual atoms, to gradually disappear (because of shorter and shorter wave-lengths) as composed-objects became bigger and thus more classical. On the smaller, least massive scale of photons and electrons we had a field-excitation that had a non-zero probabilistic value throughout the entire field, meaning it was a bit everywhere or could appear everywhere (when measured) in function of the probability of that location. As such this field-excitation was able to interfere with itself as it seemingly travelled through two slits of the double-slit-experiment at a time. Yet on the massive scale of bulldozers we had classical objects that had a value of zero everywhere, except in the single actual place they were, utterly unable to change even the size or vector of their momentum without the application of considerable force.
The charge for non-locality following Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle
This radical shift in the paradigm surrounding matter, such a failure of the simple assumptions that had stood for so long, irked some to such a degree that they spontaneously enacted a vengeance on materialism as a whole:
In ‘Why Quantum Theory Does Not Support Materialism’ Bruce L. Gordon, Ph.D. In Physics and Metaphysics
“In order for a particle to be a material individual, it must possess one or more well-defined and uniquely identifying properties. The prime example of such a property is spatio-temporal location. In order for something to exist as an individual material object, it must occupy a certain volume of space at a certain time. If it does not, then whatever it is – if it’s anything at all – it’s not a material object. The problem for the materialist is that the particles of relativistic Quantum Mechanics are not so localizable.”
I’d hesitate to argue against Dr. Gordon since his credentials in this field are clearly orders of magnitude above mine, if it were not that his argument could only refute the most naive kind of materialism. Sure we can conceit that in order for things to exists it is an insufficient but necessary condition that they have properties. But Dr. Gordon himself indicates that a fixed spatio-temporal location is just an ‘example’ of such a property. So I don’t understand how he sees that lack thereof is sufficient to both declare particles to either be immaterial objects or even non-existent. It would appear to me that if we allow things to have volume in the 3 spatial dimensions it should not precluded them from having ‘volume’ , being ‘smeared out’, in the time-dimension either. Thus making its position at a certain point in time probabilistic. Would a particle with no volume in space but ‘smeared out’ in time and which produced measurable effects not be considered to have sufficiently ‘well-defined properties’ to be considered ‘existent’?
I admit it is not an intuitive notion but then neither is ‘time-contraction’ or the notion of an upper limit to relative speed. Discovering that the nature of a systematic manifestation is fundamentally different than assumed thus-far, does not refute that such a systematic manifestation does occur independent from the observer, place or time. One can’t simply take ‘non-locality’ to mean ‘immaterial’ just because it conflicts with ones intuitive notion of what matter is. Immaterialism does not (and cannot) appear by clarifying more and more properties (like non-locality) of quarks and electrons. Because you are not rebuking prior measurements and those quarks and electrons still follow the same laws of physics. It is certainly interesting that, on the scale of individual particles, they stop behaving in a classical way. But it is still more an expansion on the existing laws and certainly not a argument favouring Caspar The Friendly Ghost at all.
It is also unclear what the aim of Dr. Gordon’s critique is, unless if it is to re-label everything as being ‘immaterial’. Which is but a semantic redefinition of reality at best. The result is still a single integrated system in which all elements must follow the same rules and not a duality. Not a system in which some elements are more equal than others or infused with agency allowing them to act in arbitrary manners and in spite of the laws of physics.
There is nothing innately classical or even deterministic about materialism that would cause failure of either of these principles to automatically indicate a failure of materialism itself. Quantum Field Theory is in no way a theory of immaterialism. Its just that matter is no longer a intuitively understood concept. Nor does Quantum Field Theory allow for arbitrary inventions of additional fields or the introduction of wilful ‘action at a distance’. Ghosts, Chi and the ‘touch of an angel’ are just as unproven and unlikely in Quantum Field Theory as they were in the most classical sense of materialism. Although materialism wasn’t “married” to either spacial-temporal locality or determinism, their weakening by Quantum Mechanics, as we will see, would still be used to either re-label materialism as ‘immaterial’ or as arguments for an immaterialistic ‘side’ to reality.
3. Enter Quantum Mechanics
There may be books and articles on Quantum-Mechanics that don’t quote Richard Feynman explaining how no-one truly understands Quantum-Mechanics but they are likely a minority. Indeed this blog-post is no different. Despite our lacking intuitive understanding of this, fundamentally, mathematical model of reality, no other tested theory has exceeded Quantum Mechanics in precision between predictions and measurements. See:‘Predictions from QED’ Yet none also have challenged intuition as profoundly. It is a world very crisply, almost exclusively described by maths and any attempt to describe it through metaphors (even though you kind of have to in order to learn, unless your name is Sheldon Cooper) takes away from the exactness of the description.
There is no ‘solution’ for the wave-particle duality as demonstrated by the near massless particles like electrons; no apt metaphor to aid in building a correct mental picture, unless it is one that somehow also violates the essence of the truth. For instance the radiation from a black-hole can be explained as half the virtual particles at the Event Horizon of a Black hole falling in while the other half escapes. But to understand why the information of objects falling into Black Holes is conserved (Information conservation being one of the most important laws of Quantum Mechanics) one needs to ‘see’ this through the calculation of Fourier Transformations, which is just slightly out-of-scope of this blog-post. I am, of course, fully capable of doing these calculations, but like Fermat I just seem to lack enough space in this post’s margins to write it all down ☺.
The counter-intuitiveness of Quantum Mechanics, some ambiguous explanatory metaphors and the incomprehensible mathematics that best describe it. All have contributed to the rise of al sorts of people taking a single thing from this field of Science and building unrecognisable Fantasy-Castles upon them. Some of them saw in Quantum Mechanics the final death-knell to materialism.
4. Critique against mass-less matter, following the Higgs field confirmation
In 1991, Paul Davies and John Gribbin released a book titled ‘The Matter Myth’. In the first chapter, “The Death of Materialism”, they wrote:
“Then came our Quantum theory, which totally transformed our image of matter. … An extension of the quantum theory goes beyond even this; it paints a picture in which solid matter dissolves away, to be replaced by weird excitations and vibrations of invisible field energy. Quantum physics undermines materialism because it reveals that matter has far less “substance” than we might believe.”
In fact the lack of ‘substance’ would be far worse than they’d imagined. The LHC’s confirmation of the Higgs Field in 2012 (by demonstrating the existence of a Higgs boson particle within the parameters as predicted by the Standard Model) affirmed what had long been suspected: that the dualistic components of matter do not posses ‘mass’ as an innate property. They do carry an innate relation with the Higgs fields which, in turn, supplies them with said mass. This 1-off removal of one of the last intuitive notions about matter was hailed as both the pinnacle of materialism by some and its anti-thesis by others. The former were contented to see that, if not gravity itself, the fundamental property that caused it at least resulted from the same Quantum Field Theory as all other forces. Quantum Mystics on the other hand insisted that, since matter lost a fundamental property what had previously helped define it as ‘matter’, we’d now concede that there in fact was no matter and that reality was constructed from immaterial stuff. But just as there are edible green-tomatoes and black-tomatoes our understanding of what matter was had been nuanced but not replaced. Tomatoes were still on the menu together with all laws of chemistry. We merely understood now the full nature of matter’s mass like we now better understood the ‘theory’ of tomato-colour.
As we saw earlier, removing a previously thought innate property of matter and making it relational, by linking a force-field, does not prove matter doesn’t exist at all. It just signifies what we suspected for a long time: that we understood matter poorly. The LHC at Cern was build for proving this very deeply held suspicion and it took decades to build it, inventing dozens of technologies along the way. Arguably, treating the outcome of the biggest Scientific-experiment ever as a potential uppercut to Science itself could only serve to illustrate the profound levels of incomprehension on anything remotely related to the subject. Like drinking ‘water’ instead of ‘H2O’ because that’s “chemical”.
5. Informational matter
On the other hand of the spectrum new speculations arose, suggesting that perhaps matter was just a point of information and our universe the result of some kind of elaborate ‘computer-game’. Indeed with the removal of the last ‘lumpyness’ of matter a door was opened to the idea that the manifestations of matter resembled those of virtual worlds. However, as inhabitants of the system we’d never be able to [dis]prove that the manifestations of reality were ‘real’ or just representations of objects by code in the system. In which case the laws of Physics would be just how the system was programmed. This is an useful metaphor but not one without problems. In our reality Information can’t live without an information-system, a universe-computer of sorts. Which draws the question in which ‘reality’ that ‘computer’ exists, possibly opening the metaphor up to infinite regression. It also is an un-falsifiable concept, seemingly directly inspired by ‘The Matrix’, that differs little from religious claims surrounding divinities, except perhaps to stop short of giving it agency and divine will. This view, though possibly more attractive, doesn’t actually ring more true now then before the Higgs-confirmation since there is no reason ‘mass’ couldn’t be ‘programmed’ in with matter. So the Higgs is not an actual indicator in this direction at all.
6.The Holographic Principle
Another possibility that opened up with the removal of the last ‘mass’ is that of the holographic principle, discussed in ‘Nothing Else Matters I’, and proposed by theoretical physicists Gerard ‘t Hooft and Leonard Susskind. If matter carries no more weight than information does, it may as well be a manifestation resulting from a holographic projection from the surface of a sphere circumscribing the universe (although it is probably also incorrect to assume the Universe is ball-shaped). Additionally I think I’m justified to say this ‘projecting’ is mostly a metaphor.
As discussed this idea resulted from the discovery by Quantum Mechanics within the study of Black Hole radiation that the maximum information density (therefore the maximum entropy or number of particles) in our universe was proportional to the surface of the circumference. Studies of certain properties of Black Holes had additionally supported a discrete structure for Space-Time, with Planck-length and Planck-time intervals respectively.
This hypothetical model provides us a logical reason for the upper-limit for information density as well as a deeper understanding of why two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time. Even though they can still exist at multiple locations at once. In computer-science one often has multiple objects referring to the same memory-location while one can only encode 1 data piece in any one location at a time. Incidentally, the Holographic Principle also comes build in with a explanation for non-locality and quantum-entanglement (with ‘spooky action at a distance’). The place of projection of a particle may not be ‘decided’ until the information on the particle is requested. Measuring, in this model, the information of an entangled particle works instantly over arbitrary distances on the entangled particle, since it is in fact the same particle being ‘mirror projected’ further away.
It is ironic that the same Max Planck, after whom the above fundamental intervals (of our discrete space-time-structure) were named, was in fact an ardent theist if not anti-atheist. Yet while he is talking about a divine cause underpinning matter I can’t help noticing that his description isn’t necessarily all that different from the ideas reviewed above.
Max Planck, Das Wesen der Materie, 1944
“Removing” the ‘massyness’ from matter is much like describing colour as a filtering of light. Instead of a tomato ‘being’ red it’s redness is a property that follows from how it reflects light, there are no red tomato’s in the dark. That does not mean there is no ‘red’ or that ‘tomatoes’ don’t exist nor does this deny that it still the property of tomato’s to interact with light in such a way as to reflect red wavelengths. In the same way the manner in which the building blocks of atoms interact with the Higgs field is still an innate property of this piece of matter. Atoms are still the building blocks of everything. ⚛ Unlike Max Planck I do not think that such a simplistic concept as ‘God[s]’, first construed when man was barely capable of making fire, is a necessary or even a better mechanism to ‘will everything into being’.
7. Critique against matter’s objective existence from the ‘Participatory Anthropic Principle’
One of the least understood notions from Quantum Mechanics has been the one of ‘the observer’ in the ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’ of Quantum Mechanics.
“According to the Copenhagen interpretation, physical systems generally do not have definite properties prior to being measured, and Quantum Mechanics can only predict the probabilities that measurements will produce certain results. The act of measurement affects the system, causing the set of probabilities to reduce to only one of the possible values immediately after the measurement. This feature is known as wave function collapse.” Wikipedia
It is the ‘observer’ whose measurement makes quantum-wave-functions collapse and Schrödinger’s superposition-cat emerge from the box in a definite dead- or living- state. A significant number of people interpret this to mean that reality emerges by grace of being observed by a consciousness. Typically they propose there is an immaterial quality emerging from the mind of the observer that collapses wave functions.
One of the first and most serious proponents of this idea was actually the physicist John Wheeler, who named it (PAP) the ‘Participatory Anthropic Principle’. Having worked on the Manhattan Project Dr. Wheeler was a extremely renowned physicist and incidentally the man who also coined the terms ‘black hole’ and ‘wormhole’. In his hypothesis, which was not well received by his peers, not only did he reclaim a central role for mankind in the Universe, he also proposed that this ‘observer’ effect rolled back in time, to explain why most of the universe preceded us. Despite little support within the community of physicists, countless other doctors in various semi-related sciences joined his position.
Quoting UNMATERIALISM 4.0
“One of these speculative scenarios is the idea that the different quantum possibilities collapse into one outcome when an observation is made. And an observation is made when the physical system interacts with consciousness. This isn’t my idea; it has been circulating amongst physicists for decades. However, if we take this position, what we are saying is that our observations occur when we become conscious of a thing, and that we do not observe anything without being conscious of it. What has been overlooked is that this is the starting point of unmaterialism.”
That this opinion is quite ubiquitous is further demonstrated below. Among appearing in articles in various magazines focusing on neurology, ‘PAP’ was one of the subjects of a 3-day ‘immaterialism’- conference in Tucson Arizona as recent as 2014. This conference was attended by all types of doctorandi whom felt they had been ostracised by the ‘materialist, conservative’ scientific community.
Mario Beauregard, PhD. Neuroscience (University of Arizona), Gary E. Schwartz, PhD. Psychology (University of Arizona), Lisa Miller, PhD. Clinical Psychology (Columbia University) and Founder of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute, Larry Dossey, MD, Alexander Moreira-Almeida, MD, PhD. Psychiatry, Marilyn Schlitz, PhD. Social Antropology, Rupert Sheldrake, PhD. Biology, and Charles Tart, PhD. Psychology and Parapsychology. From: “Manifesto for a Post-Materialist Science” (hereafter named ‘Manifesto’)
If the point of the authors of the ‘Manifesto’ was to impress with overwhelming title-spam they may well have succeeded. As we will see, they might have been a little more impressive with a few more references to said experiments regarding their claims, instead of depending solely on their credentials. I shall decline to be impressed and focus only on their arguments. Since, together with John Wheeler, their view is based on a crude interpretation of the Copenhagen Interpretation.
Not only is Wheeler’s backward propagation of the ‘measurements’ (to explain a universe much older than mankind) unconvincing, it is entirely unnecessary. As these proponents of Quantum mysticism systematically fail to notice: none of the measurements described in the Copenhagen Interpretation is conducted without the use of ‘Matter’. Wave functions don’t collapse because a consciousness has become aware of them but because it comes in contact with, or has become constricted by, other matter that isn’t in superposition. Superposition is like getting on a passenger-train: if it is empty you can be in any seat you like and switch as many times as you like, if it’s full, you can’t.
Not only is the Mind ‘not the only way’ of collapsing the wave-function, it is not even a way at all and no ‘being conscious of’ or ‘concentrating on’ has materialised the slightest wave-function of an electron-spin. That this physical, material measurement mechanism is sufficient in itself to collapse wave-functions, can be clear from double slit experiments where mechanical detectors on slits were quasi randomly turned on and off, and succeeded in collapsing electron interference patterns without anyone being conscious of what they were doing.
Thinking a little further about the famous thought-experiment from Erwin Schrödinger with a cat in a box, containing a vial of poison, a nuclear unstable atom and a hammer bound to a detector.
The Copenhagen interpretation not only takes the nuclear element to be in a unstable quantum state but in fact the cat itself is in a super-position of both being alive and death. Only to snap to a definite state of either these things when the box is opened.
In the context of the PAP principle we may ask ourselves why a box is needed in the first place. Would it not suffice to simply have the observer keep his eyes closed for the super-position to occur? Obviously Schrödinger meant for the cat to be materially isolated from all sorts of ‘disturbances’, among others, light-particles.
Under the PAP principle, if we open the box but keep our eyes closed, does the cat’s state ‘collapse’? What if we put a video camera on the scene, open the box, close it again. Does the cat then collapse on reviewing the video footage? Clearly, according to the PAP principle, a tree that falls in an unvisited forest not only does not make a sound, it doesn’t even exist, nor does the forest.
From the postulate that the observation of the event impacts the event, Quantum mystics and ‘PAP’-proponents extract a believe that reality emerges by the grace of someone observing it. This is a rather romantic notion because it gives ‘Consciousness’ a defining role in the universe as ‘collapser of probabilities’ and ultimate creator of things. It is a romantic, but damning notion and doesn’t explain why most of the Universe had definitely turned steady before the first thing remotely qualifying as a mind emerged.
‘How about God, then, could his mind not have collapsed the universe to a definite state?’ Well yes, but only if he violated General Relativity as a member of an immaterial duality realm. We receive light from parts of the universe that, because of inflation of space-time, could not have benefited from a human-‘mind’-collapse-event or even God-‘mind’-collapse-event before sending out that light-signal. There is plenty of information only being transferred ‘one-way’ in the Universe, which wouldn’t be and couldn’t be if reality first required a mind-signal for collapsing reality. This is why PAP-proponents need the ‘Consciousness’-wave to act instantaneously at arbitrary distances and even roll-back into the past. Which is a very big set of assumptions to solve a non-existent problem.
Likewise in order for God to serve as collapser of things he should be supernatural and unbound by Physics. But then one is postulating a being to defend the possibility of immaterialism without which the postulated being couldn’t exist or exert influence. On top of a circular reasoning copious amounts of assumptions are stacked to the wheel, with plenty of implications leading to testable predictions… that don’t pan out. Instead of this simplistic ‘mind’ concept ‘the observer’ from Quantum Mechanics is anything that forces a particle to either get a more determined speed or a more precisely determined position, with the rule stating that the basic Heisenberg uncertainty can’t be lower than the combined uncertainty of either, multiplied by Planck’s constant.
The claim that an observer is needed to collapse the wave function has injected a severely anthropomorphic element into quantum theory, suggesting that nothing happens in the universe except when physicists are making measurements.”
The Information Philosopher ‘wave-function collapse’
Victor Stenger Physicist, PhD ‘Materialism Deconstructed?’
While there are many aspects of Quantum Mechanics that are strange and not well understood and several experiments with results that beg for a better model of reality. Quantum Mechanics does not deny the objective phenomenological monism that is the foundation of reality. Nor does it suggest the presence of a substance that isn’t included in the things we labeled ‘matter’. Counter to a superficial or romantic reading of Quantum Mechanics, it does not support an immaterialist or dualistic view of the world.
Victor Stenger Physicist, PhD ‘Materialism Deconstructed?’
8. Charge over the hypotheses of ‘Dark Matter’ and ‘Dark Energy’
Apart from light-emitting bodies a lot of the mass in our Universe is dark and therefore obscured from our direct detection. For a long time, astronomers have been trying to estimate the ratio between visible and obscure mass in order to estimate the universe’ mass-density. One of the ways this could be estimated was by observing the manner in which galaxies rotated. From it, it was possible to calculate the minimum mass required to keep galaxies intact under its centrifugal forces. With improved observations and means of calculating it was surprisingly found that the matter required was a multitude of what was actually seen. Furthermore, not only was this matter not emitting light, most did not even ‘obscure light’ or interact with light at all. This was confirmed by observations involving the gravitational lensing of the microwave background. Something was significantly impacting gravity yet not interacting with electro-magnetism in the slightest. The name coined for this phenomenon was ‘Dark Matter’. A better name might have been ‘unknown gravity phenomenon-1’ because it is far from certain some form of unknown matter is causing this.
Admitted, some form of matter with properties that slightly divert from known matter is a nice fitting explanation for the observations. If we could identify a massive particle that did not interact with electro-magnetism, basically a ‘heavy neutrino’, that certainly would explain the phenomenon most adequately. Like the hypothetical particle, neutrino’s are one of the most abundant particles that exists and yet we didn’t know about it until relatively recently. When it was first proposed, as a solution to a Feynman -diagram of some decaying particle, it was proposed only as a theoretical solution. Few believed a particle could be so un-interacting yet so abundant. The same would be the case for the dark-matter particle.
Since ‘mass’ is but an indirect property of particles its ‘massiveness’ is not a contradiction to its ‘non electromagnetically engaging’-nature. Furthermore the Higgs reveals that particles can have variant degrees of interacting with force-fields. Electrons and neutrons have barely any mass, meaning they interact very weakly with the Higgs-field. In the same way dark-matter particles could be ‘insensitive’ to interacting with electro-magnetic fields and the strong-nuclear force. This wouldn’t present the slightest caesura in the range of properties of particles and would explain why we hadn’t found this hypothetical particle sooner. In other words, ‘Dark Matter’ if it exists, does not signal immaterialism.
This doesn’t mean that such a particle is the only solution or an unproblematic one. For starters such a huge increase in mass in the Universe requires the concept of ‘Dark Energy’ which is an even more hypothetical force for which no immediate explanation is available. The reason for proposing Dark Energy is because our measurements tell us the Universe is flat and expanding, meaning that the hypothetical Dark Matter must be prevented from ‘gravity-collapsing’ the Universe into Big Crunch by an even more speculative off-setting force. If both hypotheses pan out Dark Matter would comprise 85% of the mass of the Universe and the combo Dark Matter-Energy 95% of all matter-energy. Consequently it must be admitted that those are huge hypothetical concepts.
As with most scientific progress the immaterialist found here a crevasse to crowbar some of their assumptions in. They specifically jumped on those numbers: ‘95% of the Universe is something you can’t see, feel or tough and totally different from what scientards have discovered before. Obviously this dark-matter was immaterialism and incidentally massively more significant than common matter.’ In this reasoning they confuse volume for functionality. If your boss gives you a new task on top of the three you already do. A task that will henceforward engage you for 95% of your working days. Can you tell him it will take you 9 times the combined training times of all three other tasks to master it? Or will he assume it will take you about as long as any of the three tasks separately? Even if Dark Matter meant that we’d only ‘know’ 5% of reality at the moment, contrasting Dark Matter to ‘common matter’ is misleading because the hypothesis is that it IS common matter. As discussed, tweaking some of the known variables of matter does not ‘magically’ make it non-matter. Like water and steam are not two distinct fundamental elements the proposed Dark Matter is still matter. As much must be clear from the fact that the hypothesis is derived from a physical observation involving a physical force.
The reason that Dark Matter and the much more speculative Dark Energy are not good arguments for immaterialism is because they follow from a single unexplained physical observation, ‘unknown gravity phenomenon-1’. The fact that it is a physical observation suggests it is not caused by a third aspect of reality. Although this is not impossible. It might be that in search of whatever Dark Matter is we stumble upon a space-button marked ‘Press to end tutorial and start level 1’. But until we do we can only expect that, like in the past, unexplained phenomena will lead back to and only increase our understanding of the two sides of the same coin: that matter and forces are all there is.
B. The Subjective Case Against Matter
1. Materialism as Cultural Superiority bias
I could be accused, given how much of the broader Eastern culture revolves around immaterial concepts, of taking a strictly Western position of cultural-superiority in my defence of materialism. This would overlook centuries of Western thought involving immaterial things like Angels-on-pins and discussions on saviour-gods being also human or not. Nor does it explain why many of the eastern immaterial concepts have found eager adoption in many Western countries. European instructions for the legalisation of acupuncture date from 1997. Giving credibility the existence of ‘Qi’ in the body that can be regulated by inserting sharp needles into ‘acupuncture points’. This is an age old ‘traditional’ form of Chines medicine, which actually is around 80 years old, since the technology to make these ultra thin, consequences-less needles is only that old. Just one example of where ignorance informed politics.
Feng shui manipulations, ‘Qi’-like surgery performed by interior decorators on yuppy-apartments are available for hard cash world-wide. The existence of pseudo-scientific publications like ‘The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology’ illustrates that ‘spirituality’ is certainly not a eastern monopoly. And yet, I must admit Asia has produces more than it’s share of immaterialist concepts. If there is any difference with ‘Western’ immaterialism it may be that in the west the focus is on ‘matter that isn’t Matter’ whereas in the East it tends to be ‘energy that isn’t Energy’.
2. The ‘Girl-in-the-library-problem’ (GIL) (a.o.)
I cannot and will not address the entire world of parapsychology, precognition, telepathy, ESP and near-death experience in this post. Not only because they would be better suited in the next post (on the immaterial mind), but also because I feel they have been adequately addressed and debunked by many other sceptics. If any was actually as scientifically rigorously attested (as is claimed in “TART, CHARLES T. (2009). The end of materialism: How evidence of the
paranormal is bringing science and spirit together.”) it would be trivial to win the James Randi award for a million dollars. James Oliver did a recent segment on ‘Psychics’ that is available on YouTube in which he quickly disposed of any pretence that ‘mediums’ were anything but charlatans. I shall not pretend otherwise.
Instead I want to make a point with some hypothetical quackery of my own:
So there you are, that night, in the library, studying as are many other people. You get distracted by a thought on what you are reading and look up. A few tables over a pretty girl is also studying. You notice her. Then you turn back to the book. But you are tired and easily distracted. You look at the girl again. Suddenly she looks up, looking straight into your eyes. You feel kind of embarrassed, like you were caught starring at her, which was kind of true but not really. You turn back to your book.
I think this is a recognisable situation, matching experiences each of us has had, if we ignore the gender pronouns. Now here is the question: Why did she look up? Why did see look directly into your eyes when she did? Was there an immaterial mental connection? Is it that we are evolved to recognise eyes looking at us in our periphery vision? Did she notice you looking earlier without realising it? Inversely, why do stalking victims often not notice being watched? Why does the ‘mental connection’ disappear with distance? Why does it not work when starring at the back of someone’s head, although in fiction books the opposite is often claimed?
Other examples of ‘weird mental stuff’ at a distance, similar to GIL, is the Shared Brain Experience (SBE). Why do people, who know each other well, sometimes say the exact same thing at the exact same time? Why can they sometimes demonstrate the intention to call each other at the exact same time? What is up with that feeling that something is wrong with a loved one, only to find it confirmed? How about the coincidences of twins living the exact same life-style without knowing anything about each other? Patterns? Confirmation bias? Biological determinism? Or immaterial mental connections?
While most of these anecdotes can be dismissed on the basis of human nature they needn’t all be. For instance we may notice how there’s form-likeness between ‘telepathy’, between brains, and particles in quantum-entanglement. It is not impossible (if still unlikely) that a better understanding of the latter reveals something about the former as well. There’s no use in speculating over ‘future-physics’ as explanations for unexplained phenomena. Likewise it’s no use to use the latter unexplained phenomena (if we can call it that) and assume immaterialism results from them. Naturalistic materialism may already adequately explain these phenomena, if they ever prove objectively attestable. So far they weren’t.
3. From Déjà Vu to Mediums
Now a personal one for me: Déjà Vu! I often get dreams of which I retain snippets of sentences that linger, only to seemingly have these ‘conversations’ in real life several weeks or months later. Almost exclusively these sentences pertain and follow a period of heightened stress in my life yet the ‘fore-knowledge’ never seems to contribute to solving the issue or mitigating it. This pattern has gotten so frequent that I feel I can predict which lingering thoughts from dreams will result in a Déjà Vue. Only to still be surprised and shocked as the Déjà Vue actually happens, unsure if it was the one I had predicted. So here are my questions: Is something immaterial happening through space and time? Is it selection bias? Is it a faculty of recently passed stress ‘matching up’ with memory-brain-patterns? After all, it is not because I vaguely remember having had a dream that I actually did have that dream. It is also possible that my brain pattern-recognition capabilities get hijacked to produce an illusion. I am very sceptical even if subjectively it is quite profound.
Now for the larger point: I have subjective reason to believe I am clairvoyant and that this is a violation of naturalistic materialism. But I don’t trust that perception, largely because it has yielded zero verifiable predictions and because it has symmetries with common biasses that provide alternative explanations, with fewer assumptions. Among ESP, near-death, the GIL-, SBE- and “Déjà Vu”- problem it is possible we can find some actual phenomena which we don’t understand yet. The same was true for lightning once upon a time (actually a lot about lightning escapes us still). Without a theory that produces testable predictions we can’t say whether your telepathy issue was an illusion, a symptom of an immaterial mechanism or a symptom of a material phenomenon. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology would want us to believe the scientific community wants to muzzle them on these phenomena. That we are sceptic on their reported symptoms, while in reality we are often just ‘agnostic’ to them. We can’t prove the existence of head-aches and your theory about it being caused by Demons does not make any predictions. The alternative explanation of it having physical causes, that can be re-mediated by medicine does produce predictions however, since aspirin makes the head-ache go away. We don’t know what stuff, if any, your telepathy is made of and neither do you. So to conclude ‘materialism is wrong’, on its basis, is at the very least slightly presumptuous.
3. Back To The Future
In case more evidence was needed to demonstrate that academic titles do not inoculate one from over-extending one’s authority into domains of wishful thinking. Specifically in the context as we saw above with respect to mediums and quackery, I will not spare you a few excerpts of the collective brain-child of our Manifesto-authors:
Mario Beauregard, PhD. et all “Manifesto for a Post-Materialist Science”
If you are dubious on whether you want to laugh or cry at this, I have struck the right nerve. Point remains that hidden beneath their wild claims of proper scientific research are gigantic claims regarding non-standard physics. This is not something that would be censured, just like the Manifesto itself wasn’t. Yet no Physics Phd. undergrad has found a way to make any of it work as something to not only promote on, but gain a meaningful lifelong income for basically just documenting. That this has not been the case suggests none of it was objectifiable or independent from actor, place or time. Additionally the authors of the manifesto don’t fail to self-identify, not as a furthering of scientific progress, but as a correction on it, going back to a supposed but forgotten past:
Mario Beauregard, PhD. et all “Manifesto for a Post-Materialist Science”
In all seriousness, they may be correct about one thing, which is that what they are proposing can have very profound impact on society as a whole. They also see it as a return to the past. Which, they think, is a good thing. Seeing themselves as a Galileo to our Inquisition. I fear what they propose is a return to the past indeed, but not a brighter one at that.
The fundamental thesis of this series is that reality is sufficiently and exhaustively described by matter and the fundamental forces that act upon it. This means that immaterialists need to find a third fundamental aspect if they want to ‘save’ entities that obey none of the laws that matter and forces must. Like the alchemists that went before them, no matter how they bake, mix, squeeze or boil matter, they will not make ‘gold’ or come up with ‘something’ that dissolves the rules of baking, mixing, squeezing and boiling. Much like those alchemists they have no fundamental understanding of how things work and are motivated only by the hope of a ‘free-lunch’. Either directly by finding gold, or, in the immaterialist case, by striking a deal with the immaterial-world for removing part of their incompetence in the real-world in return for ‘sucking up’ to an imaginary one. An imaginary realm onto which to project the battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, from which to derive meaning and abuse as a source for non-existing absolute morality. Any clashes of that world, with what is possible or moral in this one, is instantly resolved by divine agency and power. ‘It is possible, because God can do anything!’ It is good because ‘good’ is whatever God decides, regardless of its consequences’.
In this post we reconnected on the previous one in which we attempted to clearly define the scope of the ‘naturalistic materialism’ I’m defending; only to realise that a clear definition of ‘Matter’ has always been hard to make and still eludes us somewhat. Like with many concepts we were forced to revert to a definition based on how it manifests to us. Following that we progressed across various improvements by Science on the matter-model, which all produced immaterialist counter-movements that either argued to relabel materialism as immaterialism, a nuance without a difference, or drew conclusions that were based on erroneous interpretations. Fact remains that our image of matter is considerably less intuitive now, but none of the scientific findings have broken reductionism or suggest anything other than that reality is a monistic “ghost-free” integrated system.
We saw that the Copenhagen Interpretation (which can’t claim a monopoly over Quantum Mechanics) has invoked some pretty romantic anthropocentric notions that among other things, assume a non-material mind. This same assumption connects it to various hypotheses associated with extra-sensatory experiences and basic quackery. While materialism is perhaps a very Western ‘viewpoint’ it would be wrong to think immaterialism as being the monopoly of the East. Despite that, many of the new-age adoptions of immaterialism have definite Eastern roots in religions; whom have a much more explicit allegiance to immaterialism than the Abrahamic religions which have come to dominate the West.
This relation will reappear in the next post in which we will treat the supposed non-material basis of human consciousness. Mind-Body dualism. A subject so vast that even slight subsections of it have produced entire libraries and which (to make it palatable for you, the reader) can’t possibly be truly done justice in any website-prose. I will do my best regardless.