Wednesday, 22 December 2010

I'll Be Back, Therefore I Am: A Refutation of Materialism

I was asked to do a blog post on my videos of the Philosophy of Mind stuff I did on YouTube, but most of that, if not all, is already covered in a previous blog post. This blog post shall instead be a mass refutation of materialism, that way, I will have way more to write about than if I just focused on dualism and philosophy of mind. Why is materialism false? Many reasons:
  1. Materialism cannot explain or account for consciousness.
  2. Materialism cannot explain or account for free will.
  3. Materialism cannot explain or account for information.
  4. Materialism cannot explain or account for the laws and constants of physics.
  5. Materialism cannot explain or account for the origin of the universe.
  6. Materialism is logically self-contradictory and is untestable.
My principal argument is that the existence of consciousness and free will refutes materialism.

P1 If materialism is true, then it logically follows that reductionism and determinism are also true.
P2 If reductionism and determinism are true, then consciousness cannot exist.
P3 Consciousness exists.
C   Therefore, materialism is false.

In a material universe, only physical matter and energy exist. Therefore, everything that exists is composed solely of physical matter and energy. Physical matter and energy can only behave in ways that physical matter and energy behave. So, human action would simply be the result of the interactions of atoms, etc. and not the result of actual choice. Human action would be able to be determined by equations. However, this is not so. Furthermore, if all that exists is physical matter and energy, where does consciousness come from? This is where things get bad for the materialist.

First we have the Turing Test. Person A is locked in a room with a computer. With this computer he can talk to two different people over a network using instant messaging software. One of these persons is an actual human being, aka Person B, but the other "person" is an AI chat bot. Person A has to figure out which one is Person B, the real human, and which one is the AI chat bot. To date, no AI has EVER passed the Turing Test. AI chat bots have always been eventually stumped in conversation, by language it cannot understand. This is probably being too harsh on AIs, as it is conceivable that, eventually, at some point in time, it is possible that one day an AI will be able to fool people into thinking it is human. However, if such thing is possible, we are very far indeed from such a possibility. Yet, this is not a major problem for materialists, what IS a gigantic problem is that even if an AI can pass a Turing Test, we have no way of knowing if it is actually conscious as we are.

Enter the Chinese room argument. A man is locked in a room. A letter written in Chinese is slid under the door, yet he cannot understand Chinese. He has instructions in English that tell him how to respond, yet the instruction do not reveal the meaning of the Chinese symbols. He writes his reply and slides it under the door. The person on the other side reads the letter and assumes that it was written by someone with a good understanding of the Chinese language. The man is not aware of the meaning of the symbols, yet is still able to have a discussion with someone in Chinese. Imagine a vast collection of human beings, one for each cell there is in the human body, performing tasks each cell would normally fulfil. They combine together to form a single superhuman 'zord' if you will. None of them are aware of the meaning of the information they send. Would this 'zord' be conscious? In a strictly materialist view, each person is simply the sum of their parts, and none of these parts themselves possess consciousness. In a stictly materialist universe, living things should, theoretically, only be mindless automatons, unconscious robots blind to the cycle of cause and effect that they are caught in.

Yet, this is not the case. Humans are aware of their surroundings, they are aware of the meaning of the information they convey to other humans, they are aware of the meaning of the information they perceive. What is most interesting of all, is that humans have the ability to choose. The situations we find ourselves in are often beyond our control, yet we still possess an ability to think, to reason, to process information and develop a plan. If materialism were true, then this should all be automatic, unconscious and immediate. People should only ever behave in ways that would further their own survival. Yet not only are we aware of all of this thinking and reasoning, we are capable of abstract thinking, thinking about the noumenal in addition to the phenomenal. We are also able to readily defy natural selection, and thus cause and effect. Our personal decisions are not based on physical laws, but are deliberate and arbitrary. We are even capable of going against our 'natural' or 'gut' feelings, instincts and even subconscious reactions can be overcome with enough effort.

We are aware of our existence, we are aware of our 'self'. Yet what are we? Are we our bodies, a precise configuration of cells? The answer is no, as our cells die and are replaced by news cells on a daily basis. What about our brains? This is the materialist's trump card. The materialist will bring up brain damage and split brain research as some kind of definite proof, the ultimate refutation of dualism and the single evidence to prove the validity of materialism. Yet, ironically, nothing they cite actually proves materialism. When people suffer brain damage, they sometimes suffer a change in personality, and can lose functions. Diseases of the brain have a similar effect. This is proof, say the materialists, that we, our 'selves' are our brains. Yet, this is a massive non-sequitur. Think of how we perceive the world. We have our sensual organ which take in data, we have nerves which transmit data and we have our brains which process the data. If any of these are damaged, then the way we perceive reality is altered. The most important of these is the brain. If the way we actually process information is altered, then what effects would this have in the dualist system? Quite a lot, as we would expect. In a dualist system, we, our 'selves' interact with the physical world through our brains, through our physical brains.

To use an analogy, think of a person in a sealed room, within a giant robot. The only information they have about the outside world comes to them from the robots sensory apparatus, yet this is filtered to them via an onboard computer. When the computer is damaged, the information can be altered, and thus the person could receive unreliable data. Furthermore, the commands the person enters into the computer to control the robot can be altered so that the robot behaves differently to how the person wants them to behave. Of course, a more accurate analogy would be the movie Avatar, where people control artificial bodies but can 'feel' everything the body feels as if it were actually them. When a person is brain damaged, the same principle applies. Plus, brain damage can cause memory loss. If your perception of reality is altered, then you need to learn to make sense of it again and if you forgot who you are, then you are free to reinvent yourself. Far from demonstrating materialism, this serves as a buttress for dualism.

Another problem with materialism is that it cannot explain nor account for information. Language, art, and so on. The words of these blog mean something to those who read them. A person who cannot read English would be unable to understand their meaning, to them it would just be a collection of lines and dots. Of course, over time, they might be able to translate it, yet even a person who cannot understand English recognises that there is some kind of information present as the letters are arranged in definite patterns instead of being randomly disordered. Information requires  a conscious intelligence, yet materialism cannot account for consciousness, let alone a conscious intelligence. This is a philosophical question beyond the realms of scientific enquiry, yet the only tool the materialist will use is science. This is because the materialist believes all that exists is physical matter and energy, and so believes science, which explains how matter and energy behave (to put it incredibly simply) can therefore explain everything. Yet, the fact that there are things that science cannot answer or expain is lost on the materialist, even after it is pointed out to them.

For instance, mathematical and logical truths are beyond the realms of scientific enquiry. Science presupposes logic and mathematics, and so to use science to explain a logical or mathematical question would be to argue in a circle. Science has no bearing when it comes to moral and aesthetic values. The good and the beautiful are not things that are quantifiable, testable or able to be repeated in an experiment. Science has no bearing on metaphysical truths, such as, there are minds other than my own, the world was not created 6,000 years ago with the appearance of age, I am not a brain in a vat and so on. Science cannot even be used to demonstrate the scientific method, the validity of the senses and so on. Science cannot answer 'why questions either, only 'how' questions. For example, science can explain how a car is made, but it cannot explain why a certain car was made. Science has no bearing on personal agents. The choices of a personal agent are inaccesible to the scientific method. As useful as science is, it is limited, and so therefore not the only source of information we have about reality and how things work. If materialism were true, then this simply would not be so. I can do something for a specific purpose, such as draw a picture. You can measure all sorts of quanifiable aspects, yet science is unable to detect the purpose, the 'why question'.

Another major problem with materialism, is that it cannot account or explain for why there are physical laws or constants in the first place. Given that science presupposes such laws, to explain their existence using science, is, again, circular. Science is more or less contained to explaining how mass-energy behaves within our space-time, yet science is unable to answer 'why' mass-energy behaves within our space-time the way that it does. In the initial conditions of the universe, there were no laws or constants that mass-energy followed. For a brief time, there was total chaos. Order did not arise until later. A ridiculously small time beyond our comprehension, but a period of time nonetheless. Mass-Energy could behave any way, if we assume materialism, it could behave randomly, without order. Yet mass-energy behaves in an ordered way, and an ordered way in which intelligent life is possible.

Furthermore, science is totally unable to provide an account of how space-time and mass-energy came into existence. I'm sure that various people will clamour over string theory, or multiverses or some other some such drivel. Repeat after me: THERE IS NO OBSERVABLE OR TESTABLE EVIDENCE FOR THESE. They are not even theories, but simply nice ideas. Some of them aren't even capable of being tested, and so I wonder why they are even regarded at all, let alone as science. Of course, when you assume materialism, you have to assume an 'anything but God' approach, to be logically consistent you see. Furthermore, none of these actually explain how there is something rather than nothing, let alone why. The idea that the universe created itself 'out of nothing' is logically impossible, and the idea of the multiverse only pushes back the problem. Until we can reach a terminating explanation that not only provides an adequate explanation for our existence, but also its own existence, then we are no closer to an answer, either to how or why we are here. Since science is the only tool avaiable to the materialist, materialism fails and fails spectacularly hard.

Lastly, materialism is logically incoherent and self-refuting. How does one prove materialism? The simple answer is one cannot, given that conscious beings are an impossibility in a materialist universe, by the very definition of materialism. Even if conscious beings were magically possible in a materialist universe, it gets no easier. What are our tools? Science? Science can only inform us about the physical, yet that science cannot provide us information about the non-physical is another point that is lost on materialists even when pointed out to them. Using science to prove the existence of the non-physical would be like trying to detect mass with a ruler or length with a set of scales. You cannot not magically decide that something does not exist, because your measuring tool cannot detect what it is you are trying to discover. So, to turn around and say that the thing your tool can measure is the only thing that does exist is circular reasoning. There are other problems with materialism too. If materialism and natural selection are true at the same time, then we have no way of knowing what beliefs are true or not. Because our brains evolved to aid our survival, not to provide us with true beliefs, and so if we lack a component not beholden to natural selection, such as a non-physical mind, then we have no way of knowing what beliefs are true.

And so there we have it. I, therefore I am. I am, therefore materialism is false. I'll be back, therefore you should stay tuned for later blogs, and, of corse, YouTube videos. I am currently working on my book, but when I get back to my uni room after Christmas, I shall be doing a hilarious video about a YouTube user named BionicDance, who has incurred my wrath for being a douchebag to two thoroughly decent chaps I am friends with, despite their best attempts to reason with them. Thank you, much love and goodnight.

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