She’s A Material Girl … And A Particle Physicist
I know, you’re thinking I’ll never deliver on that title… amiright?
That might be a long way to go to get to thoughts on materialism, but I think they segue nicely.
philosophy : the belief that only material things exist
1 a : a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that
all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations
or results of matter
b : a doctrine that the only or the highest values or objectives lie in material well-being and in the furtherance of material progress
c : a doctrine that economic or social change is materially caused — compare historical materialism
2 a preoccupation with or stress upon material rather than intellectual or spiritual things
Okay, yes, that’s Merriam-Websters definition but there is a more specific philosophical definition:
Materialism is the idea that everything is either made only of matter or is ultimately dependent upon matter for its existence and nature. It is possible for a philosophy to be materialistic and still accord spirit a (secondary or dependent) place, but most forms of materialism tend to reject the existence of spirit or anything non-physical.
Some theists (and others) get caught up in the idea that materialists do not believe we have free will. Let me correct that for you. In my opinion the right thinking materialists understand that consciousness is an emergent property and does not rely on billiard ball interaction between past and present to make decisions. The argument is clearly one fraught with issues on all sides. I maintain that we have free will because consciousness is not an elemental part of the physical world, rather it is an emergent property of parts of the physical world. It is dependent upon the physical world yet operates independently of it, at least in the ways we think are important: making decisions and experiencing the world etc.
Yes, I know Sam Harris said this or that, and he’s wrong on free will. Trust me, that’s another argument altogether.
Mind body dualism has a fair bit of dogma attached to it. It is neither necessary nor useful when explaining consciousness. Yes, I know you’ll want support for that but you’ll have to wait. I promise it’s coming. The point is that simply claiming materialism does not preclude you from understanding mammals to have free will. If it did, we would need proof that the mind is not an emergent property which acts in discord with the physical world – meaning that it acts with self agency rather than simply react to the physical world. It would be best if I could prove this, but currently we have no proof either way on free will for materialists. I do know that Sam Harris is wrong because he makes simple assumptions about a set of observations without considering the whole of the brain and how it works. His views are like saying that vehicles are fuelled by passengers because they never go anywhere until there is a passenger in the vehicle.
In the quote above I highlighted ‘most forms’ for the reason that not all forms of non-physical are necessarily beyond the physical world. For instance (shout out to the philosophy students) red is immaterial but is only part of the physical world. Before you jump too far, the color red is only a problem for philosophers, physicists are quite alright with it. Philosophers are not an overly helpful lot. All this talk about brains and thinking yet not one of them can define what a thought is. They’ve had a pretty good run at it and just can’t get over that hurdle.
I’m a materialist and I know we have free will, all mammals do and probably even more species of life on this planet.