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Materialism (aka Non-materialists in denial!)

  1. Dec 20, 2003 #1


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    To spare Flipton, LWSleeth, Royce et al from my rather continuous ranting on the other thread, I've set this one up so my ranting may be safely ignored. :wink:

    What I think materialism is:

    My form of materialism is the fundamental denial of a material immaterial distinction. All concepts thought of as immaterial are thus either material in disguise, or non-existent entities. All things that are real are material, and this reality is because it acts in a material way - by having some sort of influence on other things which make it possible to be measured or perceived. (Of course, I think Flipton believes this not to be materialism at all, so I'll be happy for anyone else to come up with a name for it.)

    In short:
    Material = exerting some sort of influence that renders it detectable
    Reality = that which is material
    Immaterial reality = contradiction in terms, as to be real, it must become material.

    What do you think?
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  3. Dec 20, 2003 #2


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    FZ+, I'll buy this:

    provided the definition of material includes things like light, fields and if necesary "virtual" things that exist but cannot in priciple be detected as individuals, but only by collective behavior. In other words things whose reality status is somewhat challenged by traditional standards but which are necessitated by contingently successful theories. Their acceptance being at the same level of contigence as the theories that require them.
  4. Dec 21, 2003 #3
    I am your typical Evil Materialist.

    What is Materialism?
    Short definition: Belief that only physical things truly exist.

    Complex Definition (from dictionary.com): Philosophical theory stating that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena. Things that fail to meet to those 2 criteria cannot and do not exist.

    My Annotated Definition: All things in the universe that exist or occur can be explained in terms of matter and natural phenomena, all things behave according to "natural law" (for lack of better terminology).

    What does "material" mean?

    Things which are material are classified as followed:
    1. Either made of matter
    2. Or a physical property of matter

    By Special Relativity, matter and "energy" are equivelant. The computer in front of you is essentially [oversimplified]"congealed energy"[/oversimplified].

    Why might people reject materialism?

    Before, most people were skeptical of the existence of atoms. In April and May of 1905, Einstein published two papers. In one he invented a new method of counting and determining the size of the atoms or molecules in a given space and in the other he explains the phenomenon of Brownian motion. The net result was a proof that atoms actually exist - still an issue at that time - and the end to a millennia-old debate on the fundamental nature of the chemical elements.(Source).

    Now, most Immaterialists reject Materialism because they dont understand how it accounts for consciousness. The reasoning goes like this:
    1. Atoms are not conscious
    2. You are made of matter (as stated by Materialism)
    3. But you are conscious
    4. Therefore, Materialism is logically inconsistant

    Of course, that would be an example of a logical fallacy of composition, so it has no weight.

    Not all Immaterialists reason like that.

    However, as I've explained many times before, consciousness is described by Cognitive Neuroscience. Due to that fact, consciousness and Materialism are compatible. Here is some information worth reading:
    http://www.neuropsychiatryreviews.com/oct02/npr_oct02_consciousness.html [Broken]
    http://www.sci-con.org/theory/20030401.html [Broken]

    What is reality?

    Simple answer: The place where everything exists.

    My Annotated Answer: The totality of all things which exist objectively.

    What does it mean to "exist"?

    Existence means "to be real in objective reality".

    Interesting observation: Existence is a qualititive property an object can have, however "existence" itself is not real within objective reality.

    A simple test of whether things exist: The Jar test.

    The Jar test means that that exist can be put into a jar. "Existence" cant be put into a jar, pencils can. "Beauty" cannot be put into a jar, human beings can. The number 1 cannot be placed into a jar, electomagnetism (as a physical property of matter) can be put into a jar.

    Note: Consciousness is a word used to describe an object which is self-aware, "consciousness" itself is in fact an abstract concept. In the same way, words like "alive" and "dead" are also abstract concepts.

    Things which do not exist are known as "abstract concepts".

    If any of yall are familiar with Lifegazer, I was one of his routine opponents. He was absolutely incapable of grasping how "'existence' doesnt really exist". He's migrated over to the JREF messageboards, lots of fun he is...

    What else should I know?

    As an extension of what I said above...
    There is definite need to differenciate between "Objective Reality" and "Subjective Experience". For the reason, "red", numbers, prepositions, smells, and other abstract concepts do not exist in Objective Reality.

    Kittens are adorable.

    Materialism does not imply Determinism or Fatalism. The concept of "free-will" is compatible with Materialism.

    Materialism states that things dont need to be observed to exist.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  5. Dec 21, 2003 #4


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    I am very sensitive to Beauty, and I have never had any trouble with seeing it as a behavior of my brain. So in your formulation it would be a property of matter, a pattern of material behavior, and a lot less iffy than those virtual particles I mentioned.

    To return to those, all quantum field theories have the problem that in the mathematical sense "they do not exist". That is, there is no proof that there is something that behaves like quantum field theory. The (terrific!) results of such theories are gotten by adding up the first few terms of a series that may or may not converge. So these theories do not even pretend (though some of their supporters do) to be THE WORD. And thus the existence-value of the virtual particles, and the ghosts, and the tachyons that are essential parts of such theories has for me to be qualified with the asterisk of contingency. Next week somebody might find a replacemtnt for field theory tht doesn't have them in it.

    With that caviat, I'm as fierce a materialist as anybody.
  6. Dec 21, 2003 #5
    You'll need to explain why this has no weight. It certainly isn't obvious. If consciousness is matter then zombies can exist (entities identical to humans but not conscious). However if a zombie is not conscious and a human being is then clearly consciousness is something different to matter.

    Neuroscience has not explained consciousness. It cannot even prove it exists. What you mean is that neuroscience hopes to explain it some time in the future, assuming it can get over the logical obstacles.

    Reality is a place?

    So anger doesn't exist?

    So feelings, perceptions, phenomena don't exist?

    Objective reality does not exist?

    What's this 'beauty' thing? I thought you arguing it didn't exist.

    So mathematics doesn't exist?

    Not by anyone I've ever heard of.

    Every concept is abstract, including 'atom'. After all concepts only exist in consciousness.

    Quite right. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to mean that we won't one day be dead.

    Is that your final decision?

    If you mean that existence is an illusion of some sort then fine. If you mean that the word 'existence' doesn't exist then I'd disagree.

    That's asking for trouble. We all should know more.

    True enough. But it does not follow that they don't exist, after all you're talking about them.

    Only if you are a substance dualist, and there are so many problems with thus view that few people, not even in science, adopt this view any more. These days physicalists deny freewill. After all the idea that consciousness is causal contradicts science (unless you're a substance dualist).

    It states that they have to observable in theory, although not necessarily by human beings.

    I think that you're using the term 'abstract' to mean 'does not exist'. This is not normal useage.
  7. Dec 21, 2003 #6
    I still fail to see how matter or objective material is primary and the prerequisite for existence when matter is an effect, product or result of the organization of energy. In light of the Big Bang, symmetry, string theory etc how can matter be the cause of anything.
    I also have several problems with Yehweh's post. Namely that electromagnetism is a property of matter and thus can be put in a jar.
    This just doesn't make sense to me as EM is one of the four forces to which matter is subject to and makes matter possible, not the other way around.
    Again it is which way the arrow points. Materialist say it points from matter to everything else. I and others think that it points the other way, from everything else to, finally, matter. We are justified in this as it has never been shown that matter does anything on its own without outside forces acting on it. A rock is a rock is arock forever until and unless something outside of the rock acts on it.
  8. Dec 21, 2003 #7


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    A little clarification here. You're defining materialism as the belief that only the physical exists. You then define the physical as things either made of matter or properties of matter. How then, do you define matter? What properties must an object have for it to be considered material??
  9. Dec 21, 2003 #8
    FZ it seems as if you have maintained this view that materialism cannot be distinguished from anything else with this:

    But then you go on to make a distinction with this:

    So a definition of immaterial things would be = something that exerts no influence that renders it detectable. Now that we have this distinction we can determine if all the materialists and non-materialists agree that this is what distinguishes their beliefs. I suspect it isn't but this is only the first attempt. You cannot have a discussion of such things if you do not understand what the other persons view is. I hope this is clear.

    The first part of your definition of materialism does not allow for an opposing view. Yet opposing views run rampant here. Clearly, people are using a different definition from you. I say there can be no more debate on the truth of materialism until everyone is on the same page with regard to what it actually means. Already, several people have posted a definition that is not consistent with yours. So much debate over a topic no one can define. If there is a god, I'm sure he finds this entertaining.
  10. Dec 22, 2003 #9
    The reason why the argument has no weight is because the reasoning is terrible, so terrible it is known as Logical Fallacy of Composition.

    The Fallacy of Composition is to conclude that a property shared by a number of individual items, is also shared by a collection of those items; or that a property of the parts of an object, must also be a property of the whole thing. Examples:

    "The bicycle is made entirely of low mass components, and is therefore very lightweight."

    "A car uses less petrochemicals and causes less pollution than a bus. Therefore cars are less environmentally damaging than buses."

    Do you see why such an argument has no weight?

    Yes, I am very familiar with p_Zombies.

    However, I'm afraid your reasoning (a zombie is not conscious and a human being is, then clearly consciousness is something different to matter) is an example of forming a general rule by examining only a few specific cases which aren't representative of all possible cases, this is properly called "Hasty Generalization".

    The p_Zombie arguement essential boils down to semantics. Personally, I define consciousness as "knowledge of one's own existence, condition, sensations, mental operations, acts, etc; self-awareness" (thats a generalized definition, I know some people who'd like to break that down to a semantics based discussion), I see it as a qualititive property that an object can have. I dont see "consciousness" as something which exists seperately from matter or as an immaterial "entity" (I could name a few people off the top of my head who do).

    Here is one reason why the p_Zombie debate is nullified: For what it's worth, I side with Dennett (a philosopher who believed "If it behaves like a person and is indistinguishable from a person, then it is a person"... Note: I've heard people rebuttle this by saying "dreams are indistinguishable from reality, does that make them reality", thats merely a Red Herring arguement which means information unrelated to arguement is being brought in, it is effectively a logical fallacy) and those who think that the concept of the p-zombie is a logical absurdity. If the "zombie" exhibits all the symptoms of consciousness, then the "zombie" is not a zombie; for to exhibit all the symptoms of consciousness is to have consciousness, which the zombie is denied by definition. And therefore, the entire notion of p_Zombies is a contradiction in terms (such as asking if a light can be both on and off at the same time is contradictory).

    I gave a few links regarding Neuroscience and its efforts to explain and describe consciousness.

    Most people have a hard time with consciousness. They just dont like the idea of consciousness being reduced down a few materialistic principles (for that reason, they would deny that machine could ever be conscious). Of course, this relates back to consciousness as a qualititive property an object can have as opposed to an immaterial "entity".

    You're neglecting the second part where I stated "My Annotated Answer: The totality of all things which exist objectively."

    I always try to give several definitions. I dont know who might be reading the things I write, I give "simple definitions" for those who might not understand the things I say, then I give much more detailed definitions afterward (see Annotated Definition of Reality).

    Its just my effort to compose myself as a good technical speaker. I always tell myself "Its not help to anyone if you try to teach someone by talking over their head".

    (This apply to all but "phenomena") Not in Objective reality.

    That is the part that always gets people...

    Here, I'll describe why anger, perceptions, and feelings do not exist in terms of farts (it sounds funny but I'm going to make a serious point).

    The smell of a fart does not exist. The process of smelling a fart is a physical process occurring in your brain. The memory of what a fart smells like is stored in the structure of your brain. The experience of remembering what a fart smells like is a process in your brain, and so on.

    When we talk about the smell of a fart, we are talking about a process as though it were an object. That is just a quirk of language, based on intuitive preconceptions which date back hundreds, and even thousands of years. It is not an indication of what the true nature of reality is.

    I think I see where you are going with this. The mistake in the "primary and secondary qualities" idea is not that there is no difference between things like length, and things like color. It is that the color of an object is not a "quality" of that object at all.

    The color of an object is a part of the experience you have when you see, or remember seeing, that object. It is a physical process occurring in your brain.

    There are qualities of an object which correspond to the experience of color. Namely the wavelengths of light that it emits and/or reflects. Those are standard qualities of the object, fundamentally no different than length or mass.

    The idea that scientists claim that color itself is just a wavelength of light, or a property of a wavelength of light, is a misconception. The color of an object is a process occurring in your brain, usually (but not always) as a result of light of a particular wavelength entering your eyes. It is not a property of the object itself. We tend to intuitively think of it that way, but as is often the case, our intuition is simply wrong.

    Two options (and possibly a hidden third option):

    1. I reread my statement, I understand it just fine. I'm afraid you misread what I was trying to get across.

    2. I have a hard time putting the things I want to get across into intelligible words (its not unusual for me).

    I'm leaning towards options #1. I did not imply "Objective reality does not exist".

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  11. Dec 22, 2003 #10
    Continued from last response

    I think you are unintentionally misrepresenting the context of what I said.

    I was dumbing down how things can or cannot exist using the "Jar test". Stated that "beauty" cannot be put into a jar because it doesnt exist.

    Again, you are unintentionally misrepresenting the context of what I said.

    And strictly speaking, Mathematics (the study of the measurement, properties, and relationships of quantities and sets, using numbers and symbols) does not exist. "Mathematics" wouldnt be made of matter, its not a physical property of matter, it fails the Jar Test.

    And to relate your last 3 or 4 statements, Some people say "exist the mind", but that is a phrase which is used candidly, a bit of a quirk of the English language (possibly other languages as well), I differenciate between things exist in objective reality, and things which are concepts.

    I'll admit, it might be difficult to discern the things I write in intelligible ways, but I dont understand your objection.

    Another quirk of language.

    The word "atom" is itself conceptual, however its only semantics soup when you forget that the word "atom" references a thing which exists in objective reality. (Again, if this is confusing for any reason, I have a hard time putting the things I like to say in intelligible sentences.)

    Well it would be quite a contradiction in terms for something to both exist in reality and remain an abstract concept (again, its like the light being both on and off which I mentioned above).

    I'll try to reiterate in simplified terms:

    Existence is not a substance (that is the part where Lifegazer disagreed with me... I dont know why, however...).

    Hopefully, I reiterated clearly enough with my statements above.

    First, it necessary to define "free-will".

    I define "free-will" as the ability to consciously choose at one's own accord. (Note: There is a distinct difference between "free-will" and "free-action". Because you "will" to shoot lasers out of your eyes only limits your "free-action", the limitation is entirely unrelated to "free-will"... of course, Hobbes would disagree with me, but only because he had a different definition of "free-will" which too "action" into account).

    The antitheses of "free-will" is of course, Fatalism and the general lacking of being able to consciously choose at your own accord (perhaps you dont have the structures to permit it, or maybe you're a rock).

    Free-will is not a substance (and it fails the Jar test).

    Most of the Physicalists, Naturalists, and Materialists I know do not deny that people have the ability to choose at there own accord.

    Free-will is compatible with Materialism in the Philosophy of Compatibilism. From http://en2.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism [Broken]:
    The bold part describes how Materialism and Free Will are compatible.

    I'm not sure what you mean by this, could you elaborate.

    I agree.

    Interesting anecdote: On the JREF boards is a troll (actually, its hard to tell if he's a troll, or merely someone a bit psychotic who's debate tactics resemble that of a troll). He posts under the name Franko, and occasionally under the name Wraith. He thinks Materialists believe things have to be observed before they exist (because that's what he believes... except he's not a Materialist). So what he did was created his own deity which he named "Logical Goddess" who observes and controls everything in the universe so that they exist. His "Philosophy" is actually much much crazier than that because he's a Fatalist, Solipsist, and Deist. About everything about his "Philosophy" is documented here.

    Again, I sometimes have a hard time expressing the things I'd like to say conherently:

    When I say "abstract", I mean "does not exist concretely in objectively reality".
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  12. Dec 22, 2003 #11
    Matter is defined in Physics as: Something which has mass (and usually takes up space).

    Keep in mind, matter and energy are equivelant to one another. Solid things are essentially "congealed energy".
  13. Dec 22, 2003 #12
    Believe it or not, I also had the same problem (that EM could be put into a jar). I was using the Jar Test example as a very crude dumbed down way to test something's existence.

    I'll get a little more technical:

    See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Abstract Object:
    The Jar Test is essentially flawed testing for things such as EM. However, EM does happen to exist concretely, nothing surprising about that.

    I'll admit, the Jar test, in my opinion, is not the best way I could have described what makes things exist or non-existent.

    I understand what you are saying, but I'm missing how does a rock with nothing acting on it implies "everything else to, finally, matter".
  14. Dec 22, 2003 #13
    Re: Re: Materialism (aka Non-materialists in denial!)

    It was kind of like Zero's definition from the "bias against materialism" thread, Fliption, and I'm not about to defend that, but I do have a suggestion as to a working definition :

    Materialism: The belief that physical reality exists, and that there is nothing else but this physical reality.

    Non-materialism: The belief that something other than physical reality exists, whether the physical exists or not (of course, radical skepticism doesn't allow this last part to be a sensical choice, but the fact remains that Solipsists believe that there is no physical or objective reality).

    Also, as to the subject of objective reality, Materialism is not the only philosophy that postulates an objective reality, it's simply the only one that postulates that this reality is physical. Subjective experience would also be physical, since everything is physical, to the Materialist.
  15. Dec 22, 2003 #14
    Re: Re: Re: Materialism (aka Non-materialists in denial!)

    Yes, you're right. It is the exact same definition used by Zero. Talking about Zero's definition is what got FZ and I talking about this to begin with in another thread. He then started this thread to focus on it more. But yes I think he and Zero agree with this non-definition.

    Ok, this is a start. But here I am a person trying to reason which view is the correct one; Materialism or something else. After reading this definition, I still cannot reason that because I now have to ask "what does it mean to be physical or non-physical?
  16. Dec 22, 2003 #15
    Be careful with the quote marks. You put words in my mouth that I don't agree with.

    I don't understand your reasoning on this. You said:

    If atoms are not conscious and we are, which I take it you accept, then consciousness is epiphenomenal on atoms. In this case consciousness is something different to atoms.

    This argument is in fact a reduction ad absurdam derived from the first assumption, that atoms are not conscious. If they are conscious then the argument falls down. The point is that if one assumes that atoms are not conscious then one must assume that consciousness is not matter. There's nothing weak about this argument, it's generally accepted.

    I don't think so. If one argues that zombies can exist then it leads to a contradiction with the physicalist thesis. That's one of the main reasons why very few people think zombies can exist.

    In that case you are definitely a substance dualist. Logically this position is inherently problematical, which is why so few people, especially scientists, adopt it these days.

    I probably agree with that. This is why so few people are substance dualists. Mind you, scientifically speaking there are no such things as 'signs of consciousness,' so the whole issue is a bit of a muddle.

    All neuoroscience links will say the same, that they haven't explained consciousness yet. This is because they haven't. I don't know what you mean by 'describing' it. Any fool can describe it.

    Ok, you're entitled to your opinion. However if you can prove of any of this then you'll become an academic superstar overnight.

    So your first definition is wrong and I should use your second one? This one is a good definition of the phsyical Universe. Whether it's a good defintion of reality is moot.

    Ok, but please make them agree with each other.

    It must be a hard cross to bear, as they say.

    HOhohohahaha. Ahem, sorry. You're obviously not a regular user of public transport. You'll certainly make a great partner for someone one day.

    What do mean here by 'an experience'? An experience of something that does not exist? The experience of the smell of a fart exists (how did I get into this?) but the smell doesn't? That makes no sense.

    These are tricky issues and you've obviously thought about them a lot. But you are letting your death grip on your assumptions lead you into inconsistencies.

    So experiences of colour exist, but not colour? Hmm.

    I've never heard even a neuroscientist claim that colour doesn't exist.

    It's very difficult by email, I agree. But I know what you're saying.
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2003
  17. Dec 23, 2003 #16
    Re: Re: Re: Re: Materialism (aka Non-materialists in denial!)

    Ok. Well, what if we said:

    Materialism: The belief that physical reality exists, and that there is nothing else but this physical reality. The definition of "physical" may change with scientific discovery, but whatever that definition is, that's all that exists.

    Or, to be more serious:

    Materialism: The belief that wavicles and spacetime exist, and that nothing else but these exists at all.

    That would work along with modern science, wouldn't it? And it would be falisfiable, too.
  18. Dec 23, 2003 #17


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    Wouldn't it be simpler to suggest physicalism is the belief that spacetime is ultimately all that exists? We can consider things like waves and energy to be properties of spacetime.
  19. Dec 23, 2003 #18


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    Hmmm, how about fields?
  20. Dec 24, 2003 #19
    Depends on what kind of field...

    Electromagnetic Field: Yes, because it exists concretely.

    Football Field: Yes, because it exists concretely.

    Auric Energy Field: No, because its pseudoscience.

    Field of Psychology: No, because that's abstract

    You get the idea...
  21. Dec 24, 2003 #20
    If I put words into your mouth, it was inadvertantly. I would never deliberately misrepresent someones position.

    Personally, I have problems with Epiphenomenalism.

    Epiphenomenalism characterizes consciousness as almost a byproduct of neural process. Its comparable to the way shadows are a byproduct of physical objects, but the shadow can do nothing to influence the physical object. Unless something is wrong with my reasoning, I would say cognitive events do happen to have a definite role in affecting the physical environment (i.e. I am deliberately typing this arent I). I think its obvious our cognitive perceptions do play are in our physical environment, hence the obvious absurdity of Epiphenomenalism (most people today, including most Materialists, reject Epiphenomenalism for that reason). (Of course, any strong-will Epiphenomenalists would respond in kind with a remark regarding Causal applications of consciousness... for instance he can say while consciousness accompanies the physical environment, it does not cause anything, in the same way while increased usage of cars has occurred along side falling literacy rates, the cars dont cause illiteracy... Of course, I always have a response for that one also...)

    The reason why the argument is weak is because of the nature of it. It assumes the that a property shared by the indivual items which make up something larger, it must also shared by that something larger (which is a logical fallacy).

    Another reason why the argument is weak is due to the fact that atoms and cognition are not equivelent. The systems involved for individual unconscious atoms are not comparable to the systems involved in cognition. I could detail much further, but that is essentially the most fatal flaw of the argument.

    I am most assurredly not a Substance Dualist.

    What I think of the mind: I dont believe "mind" is seperate from matter, I dont believe consciousness is a substance.

    Dualists assert that you are the (indivisible) mind, the (divisible) material part of you is what extends into space. However, dualists cant explain how disease, large heavy objects, drugs, or alcohol affect the mind, they also cant explain the significance of genetics when if comes to the "essence" of who you are.

    The word "describe" is a technical term, it doesnt have the same connotation as it does it casual conversation.

    I would posit there are a set of Materialistic functions which are responsible for the arisal of consciousness. Something I dont understand about the Immaterialist position: What makes consciousness any different from other functions of the body (digestion, reproduction, growth)?

    It wasnt too long ago when your ancestors asked about where lightning and earthquakes came from, mind you there was an Immaterialist explanation for those ones...

    I'd probably need to build a machine which is self-aware... of course, that wouldnt stop people from judging the machine is simply responding to pre-programmed algorithms, and that is really isnt conscious...

    Of course, I believe it was Descarte who said something similar to that effect:
    Animals dont have souls and thus cannot feel pain, they are only programmed to act like it.

    While I am a programmer, my expertise is mainly in ASP/ADO, Visual Basic, and I'm teaching myself C++. I dont have the know-how to create many high-level applications, much less robotics.

    Why consciousness is so much more special than a heart that pumps blood around the body, I wouldnt know...

    Yes, use the second definition.

    I'll try.

    Leave it up to the English language to make the word "smell" both a verb and a noun.

    The whole smell thing is a little hard to grasp at once, I think you need to read it over a few times.

    I've certainly done plenty of thinking, but I havent found any inconsistencies as of yet.

    The one you found, I think you just misread or misunderstood what I had written.

    Quite an epiphany, isnt it?

    (That should be "experiences/sensations of color occur", not "exist").

    The "color" itself does not exist concretely. (Actually, that subject make up one of the most heated debates of Philosophy that still continues today.)
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