Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Why Monistic Physicalism Is Rejected As A Valid Form Of Scientific Materialism

 If it is true that not all Materialist philosophies are created the same, and there is a subset that must be false, then it is incumbent on us to expose the latter. One of these in the case of Materialism  overall, is panpsychism which imputes a degree of mind and purpose to material entities.  Going back in antiquity, for example, Thales (624-545 B.C.) argued for an attribute of mind that tended toward panpsychism.   The argument depended on the idea that minded beings were 'self-movers'  That is, they used their own mental power to achieve an end. 

 In general, however, modern Materialism disavows such "intentionality" as being unnecessary and moreover, harboring an unproven teleology. (All physicalist Materialisms reject teleology - or the imputation of hidden purpose - in any form.) 

Similarly in Scientific Materialism one form which is suspect is monistic physicalism.

In a stirring article appearing in Philosophy Now, Graham Smetham cogently argues that since formal quantum mechanics dispenses with the fiction of a truly objective observer (hence configurations of matter are dependent on the observer and his apparatus) then the mind cannot be reduced to the brain[1]. Nor can mental processes be reduced to simple interactions of molecules in the brain. To show this, Smetham, as I have done in previous books, references the work of physicists Henry Stapp and David Bohm.

Contrary to a physicalist model that incorporates quantum mechanics and mind, we have the hyper-reductionists real locality models which Smetham dismisses as false. These embody a false Materialism because they attempt to explain something as complex as thought and consciousness using simple bio-chemical interactions. As Smetham puts it[2]:

In the most up-to date understanding of quantum theory, it is quite clear that all apparently material structures and processes, including the brain, are emergent from quantum insubstantial ‘dream’ stuff, to use a description by Wojciech Zurek.


 I have no complaint with this description. It simply means there can’t be an independent, material reality from which consciousness springs or is excited. That is what I call the Reductionist myth. Instead of the reductionists’ nonsense, it must be true that acts of consciousness produce reality from quantum potentiality[2].  In other words, in the valid theories of Materialism, consciousness is not an epiphenomenon of material hardware but rather the author of the brain’s running software. In other words: the material of the brain is ultimately immaterial[3].

Instead of the reductionists’ nonsense, it must be true that acts of consciousness produce reality from quantum potentiality.  In other words, in the valid theories of Materialism, consciousness is not an epiphenomenon of material hardware but rather the author of the brain’s running software. In other words: the material of the brain is ultimately immaterial.[4]

 Central to discriminating opposing Materialist models of mind are qualia. The term refers to subjective properties perceived in the material world, including colors, shapes and sounds (music). Arguably, none of these have objective existence but are tied to our neural processing and mode of consciousness. The qualia problem is often also called the Mary problem since it presents a hypothetical character (“Mary”) who inhabits a black and white world, but knows everything about colors in physics terms. Still, though she knows what color signifies – a particular wavelength in the electromagnetic spectrum – she has never experienced it.  The qualia problem helps to distinguish between what many call monistic physicalism and what I refer to as quantum physicalism. Monistic physicalism in its most rudimentary form can be summarized by Victor Stenger’s comment[5]:

It does not matter whether you are trying to measure a particle property or a wave property. You always measure particles. Here is the point that most people fail to understand: Quantum mechanics is just a statistical theory like statistical mechanics, fundamentally reducible to particle behavior

And the biggest contradiction to Stenger’s interpretation is[6]:

Although Y is a real field it does not show up immediately in the results of a ‘single measurement’, but only in the statistics of many such results. It is the de Broglie –Bohm variable X that shows up immediately each time.

          On account of the latter position, physicist Henry Stapp has correctly noted[7]:

Brain processes involve chemical processes which must, in principle, be treated quantum mechanically. In particular, the transmission process occurring at a synaptic junction is apparently triggered by the capture of a small number of calcium ions at an appropriate release site. In a quantum mechanical treatment, the locations of these calcium ions must be treated quantum mechanically

          In Stenger’s monistic physicalism, reality is structured around locality (predicated on particles), and quantum wave mechanics and its inherent potentiality never enters the field Y  to the extent of overturning particle dominance. In this way, emergence and holism are kept at bay. Conversely, J.S. Bell’s awareness of the hidden variable X enables quantum waves to supersede particles and in turn, demands the brain is treated as a quantum mechanical device.

          Frank Jackson[8], in his consideration of the rejection of monistic physicalism reduces the Mary (or qualia) problem to a simple syllogism:

The existence of qualia is incompatible with the claims of (monistic) physicalism

But qualia exist

Therefore, monistic physicalism must be false.

Perhaps the most compelling and succinct disposal of monistic physicalism is depicted (by Smetham) in a sequence of diagrams progressing from: 1) macroscopic apprehension of a color (as yellow wall) in cones of retina and visual cortex, to 2) the visual stimulus reduced to the molecular scale, to (3) the sub-quantal scale which essentially annihilates the last remnants of any permanent particle-ism. As Smetham puts it[9]:

We are forced to say that…probabilistic vibrations within the quantum potential field are the ultimate source and these vibrations are made into determinate matter through perception of them.       

In other words, consciousness has primacy, as opposed to being relegated to a secondary effect of particles.  If indeed consciousness is capable of altering macroscopic observations then humans become much more than passive spectators to the cosmic drama.  They become actual participators, re-shaping every scene with their observations.  As participators, humans contribute to the evolutionary unfolding of the universe and give meaning to this unfolding.  As Henry Stapp puts it[10]:

  Reinstatement of human freedom by appeal to quantum theory resurrects human responsibility. This approach to the mind-body problem creates a quantum mechanical conception of Man and his role in nature. He is no longer a passive observer of a cataclysmic act of creation but rather an active participant in the act of creation.

See Also::

[1] Smetham, Philosophy Now, No. 93, 28.(Nov./Dec. 2012)

[2] Op.cit., 30. The author also cites from a dozen different works that bear out his position.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Stenger, God and the Folly of Faith, 155

[6] Bell,: Foundations of Physics, (12,) .989

[7] Stapp, H. Mind, Matter & Quantum Mechanics., p. 152

[8]JacksonJournal of Philosophy, (83), 291.

9] Smetham, op. cit. 30

[10] Stapp: Foundations of Physics, (15), 35.

[9] Smetham, op. cit. 30

[10] Stapp: Foundations of Physics, (15), 35.

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