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A persuasion towards physicalism

  1. May 1, 2005 #1
    A persuasion towards physicalism....

    Shouldnt be too hard considering the nature of this forum, but as stated in the paper, physicalism has its own ramifications that one should be aware of. This is a metaphysics paper im going to hand in, if your interested, lets discuss.

    The achievements of philosophy are simultaneously the most beautiful and the most ugly marks of progress towards a human’s understanding of layers in his or her own conception of the world. Philosophy was born when man became aware that his existence was relative to other existence in the world. With this acknowledgement of relativism came the distinction between our consciousness, that is, our interpretations of the world, and everything else. Everything else is also known as the physical realm. This paper will try to define core contrasts between dualism and physicalism and make the case for an academic belief in physicalism. Phenomenalism will also be compared and woven into general physicalist sentiments in order to define a more broad monistic perception of the universe.

    It turns out that an inherent property of man is that he/she likes to have control of his/her own destiny. Man likes the idea that his/her cause has affect and that he can create his own cause and therefore design his own effect. This interaction is free by nature, and enables man to choose his own actions. It seems that even children with no sense other than that which they were born with subscribe to the freedom model. Dualism is the logical application of this freedom feeling we have to the physical world.

    It is important to note that dualism came about before physicalism, and the motivations that created each theory are quite telling of their strength against reason. Dualism was the answer to this innate feeling we have within ourselves as defined previously. It is the acknowledgement that the physical universe we observe through our instruments does indeed exist, but that the freedom feeling we have inside of us is perceptive of another truth and is also valid, and that the two exist together. It can thus be drawn that dualism was created as an application to our characteristically subjective beliefs and feelings. It stemmed from the innate push for congruence with our feelings.

    Physicalism on the other hand came later and in response to dualism. It came after the realization that the universe is only experienced through our eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and fingertips. The more pragmatic skeptics based their faith in the measurements we gained from our senses and went out on a limb and accepted that the physical world does indeed exist. They claimed the gauges on our instruments were the only indicators of what the universe is really like. Physicalists noticed the direct and exact interactions between one physical constituent and another and wondered how the mental, on its isolated pedestal above the physical, could exist along side such an exact and mathematical substratum. How can the ugly exactness of the physical relate to the freedom of the mental, how do they talk to each other, they asked. Eventually, they came to the conclusion that the mental was just another system of the physical. Physicalism stemmed from the cascades of logic against our subjective and innate beliefs, and it came from the facts we gathered from the universe around us. So one can see that dualism stemmed from the feelings we have, and physicalism stemmed from the facts we gathered from the universe around us. Origins of each are based on different motivations and reveal the values each has to its own philosophy. Dualists tend to value the innate feelings we are born with, and physicalists tend to value the facts we gather from the universe around us.

    Defining the physical can be relatively simple from the atomist’s standpoint. First off, as acknowledge previously, one must go out on a limb and accept that the physical does indeed exist. After that is done, the next step is to go about finding its attributes. Upon deep thought, one could say that existence is seen as matter, and that the intrinsic property of matter is that one particle reacts with another. The nature of their reactions leads to laws, which hold true to all parts of matter, at least under empirical observation. The laws drawn from these empirical observations are simple but profound. Atoms are said to be singularities which are bountiful in our universe. Each atom is limited by the laws that it contains. Each atom is finite by the energy that its laws dictate. The interactions between atoms are limited by their laws. It is therefore evident that combinations of interactions of atoms with each other produce the number of possibilities in our universe. Mathematically this theory can be seen as X interactions of quantities of atoms are divided by an unknown degree of Y laws to yield the total number of possibilities in our universe. Again, composites of atomic reactions are limited (given possibility) by their laws and quantities. Each possibility is unique and different from other possibilities, but the same possibility can emerge plurally and simultaneously.

    It was stated above that physicalists eventually made the case that the mental was reducible to the physical, and a strong explanation of this is taken from the reductive physicalist and the atomist. One can see that the only observable interaction in this universe is done through the structure of mathematics. Mathematics by nature is an exact science, one that does not give freedom any elbow room. This viewpoint states that everything complex can be reduced to the workings of simple units of matter and energy, and that everything seemingly complex supervenes to the simple physical. If something complex is different from something else complex, then their simple physical constituents (atoms) must also be different. Alternatively, if an arrangement of simple physical constituents is different from another group of physical constituents, than the complex must also be different. This axiom can be said about the mental (the complex) always being reduced to atoms (the simple physical.)

    The ramifications for adopting reductive physicalism are quite heavy. The only universals within reductive physicalist’s philosophy are possibilities. Possibility 8,947,190,975 in the realm of laws and interaction is a universal only in the sense that it remains without physical existence. Just as a finite number of legos with a finite number of possible arrangements can be existent, it is also possible that a possible arrangement can be duplicated with base particles that are all the same. Ramifications in the relationship to personal identity bear heavy consequences. Reductive physicalism does hold that you as a composite of atoms remain unique in relation to other possibilities, but with that it also holds that your arrangement of atoms can be in existence many times. Under this theory, personal identity is nonexistent. Finally, the feeling of free will that we are born with, is regarded as completely false within the realm of the reductive physicalist. The mathematics that governs our model regards the idea of choice as incoherent.

    A popular objection known as compatibalism is argued in a clever but inevitably dualist format. Compatibalism holds the view that although humans are apart of a mathematically determined system, as long as the conservation of energy is not violated, we have a sense of choice. For example, if a person has taken in 10 units, it is understood that he has 10 units to expend, and that he has choice about where to put these units. He may put 3 units here and 7 units there, or 4 units here 1 unit there and 5 units over there. As long as this adds up to 10 units, we are okay, the compatibalists argue. Although this obeys the laws of conservation, it does draw a line regarding the scope of physicalist mathematics. Does not the physicalist mathematics run up the complexity ladder all the way to the workings of our thoughts? Aren’t our thoughts determined by laws and interactions of the physical world? View it this way; Compatibalists concede that both the mind and an electric circuit work under the same physical laws and interactions. Would an electric circuit with a given amount of energy, say 10 units, be able to choose which way the current runs bearing its number of circuits? It is agreed by hard determinists and compatibalists alike that it couldn’t; however, would a mind, with the same physicality of an electric circuit, be able to choose where to distribute its energy? Compatibalists say yes, and it is at this point that they are placed into the dualist camp.

    Both phenomenalism and physicalism talk about what really is. They talk about the true nature of the universe, the universe beyond our senses. Both assert that there is something beyond our senses; physicalism argues the mind independent world while traditional phenomenalism argues towards the existence of God and his creation of a public world that is always “on.” Most physicalists and phenomenalists acknowledge the presence of laws, and both assert that laws can be used to predict outcomes. The only difference between the two in essence is what each regards as real or true. It seems that the idea of real or true is incoherent and irrelevant, because the only links we have to the supposed public reality are our senses, to which the definition is agreed upon by both sides. So why can’t the community stop short of making guesses about what is real and discuss the nature of what we do know, the perceptions we get from our senses. Through this general agreement, we can continue to expand the monistic model into more completion and continue on one’s quest to understanding.

    In conclusion, dualism was an application of the apparent truths of the physical in relation to our innate feelings towards freedom and identity. Physicalism emerged in light of inconsistencies in the dualist model as observed by empirical data. Dualism came forth under conformity and application to feelings, and physicalism dawned in the light awareness of the universe around us. Dualism is undoubtedly the soundest model to humans, but it is not valid. Conversely physicalism is not sound to a human’s interpretation, but it is valid. In hindsight, E=mc^2 hits the same nerves that physicalism hits, but E=mc^2 is becoming rock solid scientific knowledge and has been built on for the last 100 years. So let physicalism be built upon too. One does not expect anything but the academic belief in reductive physicalism, for it may be impossible to even envision physicalism customarily. Einstein’s relativity is not something we conceptualize when we think of the universe, and in fact we are still born with the traditional concepts of space, time, and matter; however, the academic belief in Einstein’s relativity has yielded real results, and so physicalism may too.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 3, 2005 #2
    What is the dualist view on mind? Does it argue for the spirit?
    You have mentioned "units" when you spoke about the free will; what kind of units?

    Here's my view about "free will":
    The brain works just like electrical circuits when it comes to thinking. Its ability to choose is set by the fact that it's biologically desinged to keep itself alive, thus we can tell what the brain may choose (we may not even call it "choosing"). It knows how to keep itself alive by the information we know as "emotions".
    Why stay alive?; I can't tell.


    Also, about "supervenience", I know that physicists can explain how cream combines with coffee to form that certain beverage using simplified explanations on atomic level whilst in "normal time flow"; but if time were reversed, then one could not explain how that certain beverage decombines into coffee and cream.
    But this is more in regard with time rather than physicalism.

    I can't see any difference between physicalism and naturalism...
  4. May 8, 2005 #3
    Dualism has many varied beliefs, but the standard viewpoint is the belief in a soul manifesting itself through the brain.

    The units I was talking about were any types of physical units. Physical units are what make up the physicalist world(you can just assume they are units of energy), and the dualist accepts the existence of these. The dualist however does not accept that the physical causally affects the mental.

    Not necessarily cloning, it is more of an attack on identity. Even clones can have their own identities, because they are each affected by the environment and can be affected in different ways.
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