Materialism Unbound

No, I’m not certain why I chose that title, but it seemed to make a good sound bite in my head at the time.

I want to dismantle a post I found at dogmaeatdogma because it attempts to define materialism as ignorant of the world and in contention with their view of the world. To simplify it, the post claims that materialism is wrong because of preconceived notions of what defines the world.

The materialist point of view is undignifying to all things sacred. To reduce things like love and joy to merely chemical reactions and nerve firings in the brain not only denies the sacredness of these things, but it denies that they even exist at all.

Let’s put some definition on that.

Undignify: : to take dignity from

Dignity: the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed


1     a : dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity<a tree sacred to the gods>
       b : devoted exclusively to one service or use (as of a person or purpose) <a fund sacred to charity>
2     a : worthy of religious veneration : holy
       b : entitled to reverence and respect
3        : of or relating to religion : not secular or profane <sacredmusic>
So basically they are saying that a materialist view takes away the worthiness of what is considered by some to be sacred, though there is no evidence that the author can show that what they hold sacred is in fact worthy in some universal or objective way. It’s simply asserted to be true as ‘a priori‘ knowledge. To know all the constituent parts of concrete, down to the electron, proton, and quarks, does not deny the value of concrete. When we substitute in the blogger’s argument it falls apart. From this we can conclude fairly that the author is adding in bits without explanation.

Sure, the materialist will say, we can detect that one might be experiencing a thing called love by monitoring their brain activity, but this experience is not something like the soul being overcome by some mysterious and powerful force (mainly because, to the materialist, there is no soul)… it is merely the brain reacting to its own chemicals.

Ah, an opportunity to hammer on that word ‘love’. Sometimes life just hands you a ham sandwich and pickle without even having to stretch out for the brass ring. Love is something we all can say we understand yet none of us have exactly the same understanding of it. If you check a dictionary there are no less than 9 definitions for love. Love is an act, a feeling, an object and so on. We can love our children as do many other mammals, and all apes. We can love our kin just as other mammals have shown. We can love other species, shown with compassion and empathy just as other mammalian species have been shown to do. What we humans call love is not restricted only to humans. It would be fair then to say that if a human has a soul that also gives them the ability to love, so then should other higher order animals. Recently, scientists have found enough evidence to say that higher order animal species do have consciousness.

It is wise to remember that Romeo and Juliet were in love. They loved each other. Their love drove them to act. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t turn out well for them.

I think it is fair to say that love has no standard definition, rather it is a simplistic attempt to describe what we have no good label for. By good label I mean a label which clearly identifies a well defined aspect of something. We also love chocolate, steak, and many of us love a beautiful sunset. Some of us love children in a way that the most of us think is the wrong way and yet others love animals in a similarly wrong way. We love our television shows, our siblings, and many other things. There is not one kind of love, nor one state of it and so on. If a lack of good definition requires a soul then there are many activities and feelings that would require a soul yet these are easily accomplished with aplomb by many animal species. I won’t define love but I will derail any attempt to define it in just one way. The label is one that cannot be nailed down without modifiers and definition. That’s how we use it and it suits our communications to do so.

For the materialist, this reductive view of life reduces life to something lifeless, love to something loveless, and the soul to something soulless. There is nothing outside of, underneath of, inside of, or beyond matter.

This last bit is pure speculation, and relies completely on the assertion that there is more to life and existence than the materialist view. This attempt to use the undefinable as evidence that there is more to it is a logical fallacy that basically relies on the canard: If I can’t explain it there must be magic involved. Remember that concrete example? (did you like that play on words? I do). The author will not deny the value of concrete simply because they know the constituent parts but love and life and souls… they’re magic. There is more there than we can possibly know…. according to the author.

Oh, how I like this next bit. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. Why yes, I do enjoy this… you don’t?

Most materialists will object to this characterisation of feeling lifeless and empty and this is due to an important fact… these so called materialist do not in fact believe what they profess. At least, thankfully, they do not live it.

The author of this post does not know me. Clearly. Well, they did say ‘most materialists’ so I suppose there is wiggle room. I do live it. Every quark of it. It harms me not one bit to know that I exist because uncounted particles of energy come together to form trillions of cells who all work together to be ‘me’ … I do not deny my own existence. This author denies science if their being is not because of, or caused by, those very particles of energy. The author uses materialistic views in the rest of their life but insists there is a magic soul to explain the parts that they cannot personally explain. This kind of thinking is god of the gaps thinking… and false, without evidence.

Anyone who has ever truly loved anyone or anything would say love was a fire in the heart before it was a firing in the brain.

Here is an assertion that if the reader does not agree with the author they have not truly loved anyone or anything. This author cannot possibly know if I  have truly loved. Clearly this was not thought through well or at best it was not written well because it makes an assertion that the author cannot back up… not ever. It also demonstrates that the author has, more or less, no clue how the brain works and what the heart actually does. Obviously they are using metaphors, but doing so to ignore what the brain does and what the heart does. The heart is to a human what a water pump is to a car. That is why people who have heart replacements with mechanical devices do not stop knowing how to love. At this point I want to use the phrase ‘fucking idiot’ but I’m not sure exactly how to work that in.

Anyone who has ever beheld someone or something precious in a silent and still moment of awe has recognised the electricity as enveloping their soul before it sparks in their skull.

Here the author acknowledges electricity. Science tells us this is an effect due to a difference in potential between electrons and protons. Very small materialistic parts that make up all the effects we collectively call electricity. So while denigrating the materialist the author shows their own materialist thinking. They describe a feeling as happening outside their ability to sense it before they can sense it. This implies that the human conscious exists without a brain.  A supposition that is without evidence and which in fact has much evidence to the contrary. If a human or animal loses parts of their brain they are not the same. This indicates that there is no soul, but that all consciousness occurs inside the brain and is wholly dependent on the interaction of energy particles to exist. That we experience is not a miracle or the result of a soul. It cannot be experienced without a functioning brain. The author does not understand how a brain can work and asserts that there must be a soul involved, that there must be magic involved. This is down without evidence. It is simply the assertion that because the author cannot explain it, there must be some magic involved.

That they were experiencing something quite outside of and beyond themselves. That, after all, is the original meaning of ecstasy, rising out of oneself.

This assertion would mean that brain dead people experience or can experience ecstasy. Do they? Where is the evidence? It also means that ecstasy can be experienced without consciousness. Where is the evidence? I’m still looking for entomology that says ‘rising out of oneself’ but it’s not too far off. This statement assumes a definition of ‘experience’ that the author offers no definition for. Experience is presumed to be universal or objective. The movie “A Beautiful Mind” tells us that experience is completely subjective, and implies that this movie is about someone who has a soul because they experienced the world differently than the rest of us. We know this is not the case for various reasons. The protagonist knows this is not so as well. That is the point of the movie. Perception is not reality. Shared experience is all that we can rely on even if it is not shown to be 100% true.

The main reason they do profess this view is because their atheism induces them to. If one denies God and the human soul, one has to deny other subtle intangible phenomena… or else reduce it to merely physical phenomena. And in doing this, they have denied the existence of these phenomena altogether.

This is flatly false. Denying gods does not require acceptance of materialism, but acceptance of materialism does obliterate any evidence given for gods. Saying that the evidence for gods is not conclusive or is in fact false does not deny the existence of life or love. This author is clearly unaware of those countries where 99% of the people deny the existence of gods. Materialism does not deny the fact of experience, it simply offers a reasonable explanation for it without resorting to magic.

The author of this post is one of those people that has a brain that accepts the basics of reason: A thing happens so there must be a cause, but because they do not understand the cause they assert that magic happens and do so without evidence for such assertions. When you ask them to explain the magic they have nothing because it’s magic.. it just is and they will then assert that actual explanations are not valid because they cannot understand them.

This post is complaining that materialists are wrong because they don’t believe in magic. I argue that accepting that I don’t know everything is more valid.

  1. Epic! I like the way your mind works… good to see you back writing, too.

    • Thanks john. Work has been killing me lately… trying to focus and get a couple of posts out.

  2. Wow. I am flattered that not only would someone take this much time and energy to offer a riposte to my musings, but to do this for my very first post! I think I may have struck a nerve. I thank you for your comments and your indignation.

    I am sad, however, to have to inform you that so much of this time and energy was wasted, as most of your comments are either based on a misreading of my original post, your deficient sense of the poetical, or based on something you only think I said but didn’t. Let me try to clarify if I can.

    I read a rather unimpressive essay just yesterday which dismissed the validity of likening God to love. The author said that God is not like love because “love is a physical thing. We know the chemicals responsible for the feeling of love. If love were not physical, it would not be confined to our brains.”

    Now I don’t deny that certain neurological responses occur when one experiences a particular phenomenon. And it may be true to say that certain chemicals produce certain sensations. However, I find my common sense immeasurably challenged when I try to convince myself that Love Itself is merely a chemical reaction. That love is no mysterious power working through us from outside and beyond us, which has the power to transform us. No, love is merely… a chemical reaction inside our skull. It’s not difficult to see how this is degrading to something so many people hold sacred.

    It does, to be sure, take the life and romance out of the Romeo and Juliet you mentioned. There was no strange and secret divine power which brought the two star crossed lovers together, it was merely neurotransmitters crossing the synaptic cleft. Be still my beating heart.

    • @dogmeatdogma
      I reckon most materialists are grown up enough to appreciate the ”romance” AND understand the chemical reactions.

      As author ,Terry Pratchett noted, without things, humans are just clever animals.

      And only an ignoramus or complete idiot would include God and Love in the same sentence.

      Oooh, my wife has just climbed out of the shower…there go my damn neuro transmitters; off the scale again…sheesh!

      • I really do need to be more clear for some of my readers. I never said materialists would not or could not appreciate romance. I was making the point that conceiving of love as mere physical processes takes the romance out of love stories. It was a bad joke, but I’m amused you not only misread it, but took it seriously.

        Well I am pretty sure I never called anyone any childish names in my previous post, so I’ll admit your suggesting I’m an ignoramus and an idiot (while it may be true) disappoints me. I sincerely hoped I might have attracted an opponent of more sophistication and tact.

        Did you have any salient point to make, or were you contenting yourself with this courageous display of barbarism?

        • Smile.
          Ah…a wit. Sans or avec a ‘T’., I wonder? Let’s see…

          Sorry, mate. Have little time for philosophy, no matter how you want to couch it.

          You consider my remarks disappointing, well maybe I too have hit a nerve?
          As your About page says zip at this stage, it may be premature to make any further judgments on your religious/spiritual leanings.

          If you are, in fact ,not at all of a religious, spiritual persuasion then my humblest apologies.
          However, you mentioned the word ‘soul’ in your post, so unless you were merely using this in a metaphorical sense……

          Best wait til you clarify a point or two, okay?

          Again, if you are not at all god-inclined then a thousand apologies effendi.

        • Oh, I missed this.

          ‘I read a rather unimpressive essay just yesterday which dismissed the validity of likening God to love. ”

          I referenced the mention of the essay you read. If you could point out where I said that YOU were an ignoramus and an idiot I would be obliged. Ta!
          Although on second thoughts…as you seem to think I did say this about you……

          • Why would you be so eager to make some judgment about my spiritual or religious leanings, as you put it. I was hoping you could just answer the comments I put forward. I hope by you having no time for Philosophy you dont mean you don’t have time to consider difficult questions.

            • @ dogmaetdogma

     I will take a stab and so you do have religious leanings, unless you are merely being obtuse for the sake of it?

              Philosophy? Difficult questions. RFLMAO.
              I accept the challenge, fire away hotshot, the floor is yours!

              • Why do I get the feeling you want to know my religious affiliation so you can mock it instead of attempting to reply to the substance I already put forward in previous posts? I’ve come across your type before. You clearly don’t want to have an intellectual discussion. You just want to mock my beliefs.

                • You cannot have a truly intellectual conversation about religion because it includes the word RELIGION, and belief in a sky daddy.
                  Such back and forth has being going on since granddad fell of the bus and I doubt you have any new insight to bring to the table, which is why
                  religion is deserving of mockery and scorn.
                  Yet, I have clearly stated up front, if my assessment so far is incorrect, fell free to call me out and accept my apologies.

                  “My type” – love this turn of phrase. Its a bit like saying “You people” or “My friend” .

                  As you have deigned not to ‘come clean’ as it were, then I will leave you in the hands of the blog host.
                  He may have more patience with your pseudo intellectual spiritual ramblings.

                  • I’ve updated my ‘about’ section.

                  • You keep replying to me and yet you’ve offered no perceivable substance or argument to this point. I’m losing interest.

                    I’ve updated my ‘about’ section by the way.

                    • What form would you like the substance to be presented?

                    • Giant Stay Puft marshmallow man!


            • However, if I may….

              “If one denies God and the human soul, one has to deny other subtle intangible phenomena… ”

              You should recognise this, I am sure.

              So, before you fire your opening salvo, would you like to clarify which god you are referring to in that sentence?
              A direct answer would be appreciated rather than an obscure one, please.
              Let’s lay our cards on the table up front shall we?

    • Interesting that you didn’t link to the post you mention so we could all enjoy.

      All you’ve done here, it seems, is to again assert that there is some magic without any explanation and simultaneously reject an actual explanation because it’s not the magic that you want to be true. I’m pretty certain that is exactly what I claimed in the original post here.

      Perhaps you have an explanation for the magic thing you call love that we can all get behind but I’ve not seen you state it anywhere.

      • No, I don’t have an explanation for love. That is my point. It’s a mystery and cannot be explained as a biological reaction. I don’t see what’s so controversial about this.

        • Here is the problem with that statement. Love is not a mystery. It can and has been explained as a biological function. Your statement to the contrary is the controversy. You have not investigated what we know about the brain and how it works yet you claim to know things without any evidence. This makes your claims controversial. You ignore facts and science so you can claim there is some magic going on.

          That works good in a pop music song, but not so much in real life.

          You have just claimed that love cannot be explained as a biological reaction yet you admit you do not know what it is. Can you not see the difficulties this creates? You make opposing claims in the same sentence practically.

          “I don’t have an explanation for love”
          “It’s a mystery and cannot be explained as a biological reaction”

          You claim that you can’t explain it but you also claim that you can know what it is not. To know what a thing is you must also be able to say that it is not anything else. To say that the thing is not xyz you need to back that up with evidence. You have no evidence. You simply make claims that magic is involved. Do you not see how childish this is in view of the existence of a provable answer which is the answer you reject?

          • You seem to be concluding that because certain neurological activity gives rise to a PHYSICAL sensation associated with love (butterflies in the stomach, increased heart rate, flushed cheeks, rush of adrenaline, etc) that that physical sensation is love itself. But surely you agree that that is only the biological manifestation of love. If this is not what you believe then this is where we differ. But I don’t see love in such a demystified way. And I would think that if you caught yourself in a moment of love that would you agree that there is more to it than some purely biological process. You can dismiss my belief that some greater force above and beyond us could draw us together in some sudden and inexplicable moment of surrender, but the burden of proof is also on you to show that this divine power does not exist. And it’s no good saying it doesn’t exist because it isn’t there. That’s the same as me saying it does exist because it is there. Perhaps, in the end, you just have your faith that there is only matter and I have my faith that matter alone does not matter.

            Thanks for your comments.

            • Love as you call it here is the brain’s perception of the physical machinations of our body and brain. You clearly do not and do not want to understand how your brain works. To get a good grip on this you should see the TED talk by Jill Bolte-Taylor and read her book ‘My Stroke Of Insight”.

              When you claim that love is some external power or force you have to also claim that hate is, and envy, and anger, and depression, and disgust and so on. Perhaps you believe that we are controlled entirely from external energies. That’s not very Christian or monotheistic of you.

              You continue to need to add mystery magic to a situation that has a perfectly good physical explanation. Then you claim that it is on me to prove that your magic does not exist. Well, I think there is an invisible butt gnome living in your lower intestines and controlling your thoughts to make you talk this way and the burden is on you to prove there is no invisible butt gnome living in your butt.

              It is not faith that there is only matter. The evidence shows that we have matter and energy. It does not show anything else. To believe that there is more than matter and energy requires blind faith. To speculate something without evidence is called bullshitting. To hypothesize and not prove with testing is shitty science. You have no credible evidence and no tests. You simply think you know and will ignore anyone with an actual testable physical explanation and make fallacious claims that it is the burden of those who don’t believe you to prove your unfounded claims wrong and they have to do this by proving that something which doesn’t exist is not there.

              To summarize: You have no idea how the brain works. You do not understand logic and reasoning. You think that anything you can say deserves respect and a place in the public square without ridicule. When truly pressed you run away from the discussion with the ‘agree to disagree’ attitude rather than work to get to actual facts and truth.

              You can go ahead and use that space you were saving on the mantle for a Nobel award.

              • Clearly you do believe in the supernatural because you’re continually telling me what I am thinking. Although I have to report that you are rather a bad clairvoyant because you’ve not come close on any of your mind readings.

                You also seem to claim expertise in many areas I’m sure you’re not an expert by telling me that I don’t know how the brain works. I’ve met many actual experts on the brain who have a much more humble opinion of science’s understanding of the brain than you. I would follow their lead.

                Contrary to your claim, hate is not an external energy. Hate is a result of constricting one’s heart which closes oneself off from the possibility of love. (Careful there. That’s a metaphor and not to be taken literally.)

                I’m actually quite disappointed that you’ve replied in the spirit you have. I really thought my last reply to you was respectful and absent of arrogant sarcasm. Because I expect your tone to continue like this and because I tend to cringe when witness to such arrogant condescension, this will be my last reply to you.

                I’m sure you’re a good person but your offensive style makes you seem very ugly and unpleasant.

                Good luck with that.

                • As does your condescending tone….

  3. Those parts on love sound like the parts from the movie goodwill hunting and is a conversation between Robbin Williams and Damon, that aside however, this is awesome. To expect people to accept magic just because there is no other proper explanation is being lazy.
    Love like the word god are all ambiguous, no one gives a proper definition, they just claim they exist and sometimes go as far as to say one is the other!

    • Thanks for the kind words. Some claim that god is love – which is funny because love is just a mix of chemical reactions and imagination in the brain.

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