Philosophy Friday - Materialism
Materialism holds than the only thing that exists is matter, and everything action in the universe is governed by matter and the forces between it. More basically, it says that anything that has any effect on anything in the universe (or the universe itself) is material, and subject to the laws of nature.
The first philosopher to detail materialism was Lucretius, working off of the work by Democritus and Epicurus (among others). He wrote that all that exists is matter and void, and that everything is the result of motions and conglomerations of base particles (named “atoms” by Democritus). This would prove to be remarkably prescient.
Materialism is also one of those words that can have heavy overtones, some people use it almost as a slur, as if the world being material is an inherently bad thing. Wikipedia says, “Materialism has frequently been understood to designate an entire scientific, rationalistic world view, particularly by religious thinkers opposed to it, who regard it as a spiritually empty religion.” I’ve found that much anti-evolution propaganda uses in this way (although this is based on only a few pamphlets).
One of the things that lead to be believe that materialism is correct (besides being the most parsimonious hypothesis for how the world works) is a fairly simple thought experiment (that might not remain a thought experiment for much longer). Imagine that every single molecule, every single atom, every single quark and electron have been copied exactly. All umpteen trillion of them. Their quantum states and positions relative to each other have been completely and accurately measured, and faithfully reproduced. Imagine that you had been duplicated, “quantum Xeroxed”, so to speak.
What would the resulting duplicate be? Would it be you? It would have your face, your heart, your brain, your stomach, your bones, your scars, your lunch in its stomach, your neurons in its brain, even your bacteria in its mouth. Would it have your thoughts? Your memories? Your opinions? Would it think like you? Would it be possible to tell the difference between the you and it?
To me, it seems impossible that it wouldn’t have your memories and opinions along with your lunch in its stomach. Which means that dualism is wrong, and materialism is the most plausible philosophical stance. But this thought experiment is one of the best ways I’ve found of examining whether the universe is monist or dualist, because they both predict different outcomes (although I’m not exactly certain what a dualist would expect to happen). But since this is based only upon what you think would happen, it’s really only a gauge of what you personally perceive about the world around you, I’ve just found that, when materialism is presented like this, people find it more plausible.
Thus concludes the first Philosophy Friday.