Against materialist dogma: the reality of non-material consciousness

In this entry I have collected key comments of mine from the huge thread at Mangan’s Miscellany, “Discussion on evolution and purpose with Lawrence Auster,” in which I argue for the objective existence of non-material reality, as seen in the fact of our own consciousness. I am grateful to Dennis Mangan for hosting the discussion, as well as other recent stimulating discussions at his site.

Much of what I say in the below comments consists of my replies to extremely dogmatic materialist commenters who insist that consciousness is material. However, it’s an understatement to say that they “insist” that consciousness is material. Rather, they use language and arguments that exclude the very possibility of a non-material reality, by defining the non-material as the material. See hcl’s comment for example. My arguments for a non-material reality develop largely out of my responses to these dogmatic materialist statements that preclude the very possibility of non-materiality.

I have also argued here and in other recent threads against the materialist fiat that only falsifiable statements have truth value. What this means is that any assertion that cannot be proven or falsified by experimental means—which would include any assertion of a non-material reality, such as “I experience an inner psychic life which is different from the external world,”—is ipso facto a statement of faith, not an statement based on evidence and reason. But as P.D. Ouspensky succinctly and definitively demonstrated, the statement, “I experience an inner psychic life which is different from the external world,” is an obvious fact, even though it cannot be proven or falsified. The standard of falsifiability, which is the standard of modern materialist science, thus excludes from the realm of knowledge the indispensable basis of all knowledge, our consciousness which is different from the things of which it is conscious. Therefore the falsifiability standard cannot be true. It is a dictat by which the materialists seek to banish all non-material views.

If you don’t want to read all of that, you could jump to the brief comment near the end where I draw all my arguments together and say that since our subjective, non-material experience of our own consciousness is the indispensable ground of all our knowledge, including scientific knowledge, therefore science must recognize this subjective, non-material experience as part of reality and stop denying it. Also be sure to read the passage from P.D. Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum which follows that comment and which is the principal source of the ideas stated in that comment.

The thread was very large, and this entry represents only a very small part of it, namely my own comments related to the reality of non-material consciousness.

First, from early in the thread, is a comment (abridged and edited) where I reply to two materialists named hcl and Zorkmid. Here the focus is on whether materialism is compatible with human purpose and desire (as reflected in the entry title and the earlier comment by me that Dennis Mangan quoted at the beginning of the entry). Later the focus is on whether materialism is compatible with consciousness itself.

At 8/11/2009 08:58:00 PM, Lawrence Auster said…

“hcl” writes:

Replicators exist to replicate. That’s their “purpose.”

Hel has folded purpose and consciousness into pure materiality. What he’s done is one of the purest expressions of the materialist hell that I have ever seen. In hcl’s view, it’s not even possible to have a discussion about materiality versus non-material consciousness, mind, and purpose, because non-material consciousness, mind, and purpose have been defined out of existence by being defined as materiality. Quite a neat trick.

Zorkmid writes:

Desire, like fear, and joy, and other emotions, is a feeling we experience (produced by and in the evolved structures of our brains) which motivates us to various actions. Our feelings of desire might, hypothetically, be evolved from primitive tropisms such as those which prompt plants to turn toward the light. To say that Darwinian evolution cannot produce a brain capable of feeling desire shows a want of critical thinking on Auster’s part. “(I wonder if Auster would think the feeling of “hunger” could arise by ‘Darwinian’ evolution. If it could, then why couldn’t “desire(s)” for other things evolve?)

Animals have a rudimentary element of non-material consciousness. When a sentient being is experiencing hunger or fear, there is already an element of non-material consciousness there. That’s what “sentient” means—endowed with feeling and consciousness. But once you get to humans, non-material consciousness is fully developed. The darkness of materialism, and the farcical comedy of it, is that you guys are, every moment of your lives, experiencing non-material consciousness. Your consciousness of yourself as you sit before your computer screen reading my words is not “in” your body, and it’s not “in” the world. It is something else. It is non-material. And yet you deny the existence of this consciousness which you are experiencing every single moment of your waking existence, and by means of your materialist belief system you define the non-material as matter.

Eastern philosophy has a concept of ignorance, of not knowing God. But you guys have gone beyond that. You’re ignorant even of your own consciousness. Or at best you rationalize it out of existence. You are more radical destroyers than any liberals are. Even egalitarian liberals, who seek to destroy every particular society and institution (or at least our own) because it is not equal, are not as radical in their program of destruction as you are. You define the primary fact of humanity, our very consciousness, out of existence. Congratulations.

[end of commnt]

In later comments, my interlocutors denied that they were denying consciousness. They said that they are just saying that consciousness is material. But to say that consciousness is material is to deny what consciousness, by definition, is—our awareness of, perceptions of, representations of, thoughts about the material world, all of which by definition are different from the material world.

We’ll start with my restatement of Deogolwulf’s excellent comment:

: At 8/12/2009 06:21:00 AM, Lawrence Auster said…

That’s a great statement by Deogolwulf, helping clarify the issue. Part of his argument could be summed up as follows:

I (Auster) say that feeling and consciousness exist, and that it cannot be reduced to matter.

The materialists say that feeling and consciousness come out of the evolved organic structures of the brain.

The materialists say that my statement is faith based, etc., and that their statement is scientific.

But, in reality, my statement is based on empirical experience, namely the undeniable empirical experience that each human being has of his own consciousness, feelings, thoughts, etc., while the materialists’ statement is nothing but a theoretical assertion. The materialists have NOT shown that feeling and consciousness emerge out of evolved organic structures in the brain. Yet, amazingly, they deride as “faith-based” the empirical evidence of each person’s immediate apprehension of his own consciousness, while they declare as “scientific” a mere assertion for which they have zero evidence.

Further, Deogolwulf continues, not only has the emergence of feeling and consciousness from evolved organic structures of the brain not been demonstrated, but there is no evident reason why such emergence should be true at all. He writes:

“The great mystery which comes with the mechanical-materialistic conception of the world revolves largely around the questions of why there is any feeling at all, and of how feeling—including the felt sensations of colour, sound, taste, etc—could emerge from a background conceived as being entirely devoid of anything of the kind. Furthermore, there seems to be no reason—or rather, we have no inkling of a suspicion of a clue on the mechanical account—why a purely material-functional animal, if such we be, should be accompanied by felt experiences when everything that is needed for its functional processes and survival is contained in functions without such experiences.”

This is very well stated.

Here are comments that came later in the thread.

At 8/13/2009 04:09:00 AM, Lawrence Auster said…

… Mr. Mangan says,

“I don’t know what caused the universe, I assert that no one does, and that it doesn’t matter.”

Ok, let’s sum up the state of science, relating to the three biggest questions:

E.O Wilson has frankly written (in a 2006 article) that science has no idea how consciousness came into existence.

Richard Dawkins has baldly stated (to Ben Stein in Expelled) that science has no idea how life came into existence.

And now Dennis Mangan says (correctly) that science has no idea how the universe came into existence.

Given that science has no material answer, and has no reasonable prospects of finding a material answer, for the most fundamental facts of existence, shouldn’t the promoters of material science be just a tad more modest about their claims and pull back from their statements that (1) material science can explain everything; (2) only the material exists; and (3) people who say that there is a non-material reality in addition to the material one are anti-rational superstitious, faith-based morons? [Note: I do not mean to say that all materialists call non-materialist “morons,” but they do consistently state that non-materialists’ statements are based only on “faith” and are non-rational.],

At 8/13/2009 12:29:00 PM, Lawrence Auster said…

Desmond Jones writes:

“Mr. Auster keeps groaning about faith-based arguments being dismissed, but fails to provide a third way. Either arguments fall into the camp of falsifiability or fall under the realm of the metaphysical. There are no other choices.”

I really have a communication problem with Mr. Jones! I have not once complained about faith-based arguments being dismissed. I have complained that my arguments have been falsely characterized as faith-based arguments.

Further, I do not claim that my arguments are falsifiable, for the simple reason that I am not advancing a scientific hypothesis. I am making reasoned statements about the falsity of the materialist-Darwinian view, the meaning of which any human being of normal mentality can understand, whether he agrees with me or not.

The hell of material consciousness, which Mr. Jones perfectly displays in his comment, is that it reduces all assertions about the world to one of two possibilities: falsifiable scientific statements, or “faith.” The materialists cancel out and prohibit normal human reason. And that is not the least sense in which they are anti-human.

In their denial of the validity of normal human reason, in their prohibition of normal reasoning and questioning, the materialists act like totalitarians. And this should be no surprise. Consider Marxian Communism, the materialistic ideology which explicitly prohibited any questions about man’s nature, because such questions would inevitable lead to the non-material aspects of human nature.

Materialists and Communist totalitarians are thus close kin, since both groups deny the reality of, and seek to ban discussion about, major sectors of the reality in which we live.

At 8/13/2009 06:17:00 PM, Lawrence Auster said…

Mr. Jones’s last comment is extraordinarily silly, but well worth responding to, as it shows in extreme form the fantastic state of alienation and suspicion in which the materialist mindset can end up. It also provides me with an opportunity to explain further what I mean by the reason which is neither scientific nor metaphysical/faith-based.

I had written:

“I do not claim that my arguments are falsifiable, for the simple reason that I am not advancing a scientific hypothesis. I am making reasoned statements about the falsity of the materialist-Darwinian view, the meaning of which any human being of normal mentality can understand, whether he agrees with me or not.”

Now when I said that I was making “reasoned statements” accessible to anyone of “normal mentality,” I meant the same as is meant by such phrases as common reason, common sense, and like-mindedness (homonoia), that basic quality humans must share in order to engage in discourse with each other about what is true and false, good and bad.

And how did Mr. Jones reply?

“Perhaps Mr. Auster can explain to we humans of sub-normal mentality how his normal human reason fits outside of the realm of science or the metaphysical?

“Unfortunately, it the religious who are the totalitarian. A scientist must accept the possibility that the theory will be falsified. The religious can not accept that faith is a function of evolution. However, more power to Mr. Auster and his fellow Christians, because Christianity, even as a theocracy, is adaptive.”

Such is Mr. Jones’s dogmatic hostility toward any assertion other than falsifiable scientific statements that he sees my appeal to our normal human reason not only as a put down of himself, but as totalitarian!

Instead of seeing that I was speaking of our shared, normal human experience, the same as human beings (the overwhelming majority of whom have not been scientists) have used throughout history to talk with each other, he thought I was excluding him from the normal. No, I was inviting him to participate in the discourse.

And the thing that makes that invitation possible is something that we all truly have in common, our consciousness of ourselves as sentient beings, which could be described as, “The world exists. I exist.” Having that primary human experience in common, we can begin to talk to each other and understand each other. This is not formal scientific reasoning (though logic and an appeal to evidence are part of it), and it’s not religious faith. It’s homonoia—the likemindness which is the basic of all discourse. (Of course, people also have to have cultural commonalities in order to communicate with each other; and here I am assuming such commonalities.)

Mr. Jones’s main concern is that without the standard of falsifiability, anyone can assert anything he likes. This is not correct. Being falsified by scientific experiment is not the only way an assertion can be shown as wrong. It can be shown as wrong by ordinary reasoning. Consider the number of times at my website that I’ve taken a view on something, and then, on the basis of further thought, or a new insight by a commenter, or new evidence (though not what Mr. Jones would consider “scientific” evidence), I’ve changed my view (e.g., this recent entry). I didn’t change my view because I had proposed a scientific hypothesis and then tested it. I changed my view because a process of reasoning had persuaded me that it was less true than another view, which was more true.

This is human discourse. And it doesn’t require the formal scientific method. The scientific method is a specialized type of thinking, applicable to the systematic examination of physical reality. If only scientifically falsifiable statements were allowed, human interaction would cease and the human race would go extinct.

At 8/16/2009 10:51:00 AM, Lawrence Auster said…

Back on August 12 OneSTDV made a series of points I didn’t reply to, points that express the heart of the materialist error. I think Kristor replied to some of them, but there is more to be said about it.

OneSTDV wrote: “Further, you ignore the growing evidence of modern science (that I presented above) that thoughts can be measured with physical equipment (actually this has been proven).”

But of course no thought has ever been measured by physical equipment. What has been measured by physical equipment is electrochemical events in the brain, namely the incredibly rapid changes in the chemical composition of each neuron which allow electrical current to move from one neuron to the next. But electrochemical activity, which can be measured, is obviously not a thought. If physical instruments are picking up lots of electrical activity in the brain, that doesn’t tell the physical instruments the content of the thought, let alone the nature of the thought. All that the physical science tells us is that when a person is engaged in cerebration, there is an increase in electrical activity in the brain. Meaning that there is a correspondence between the subjective experience of cerebration, and the objective event of electrochemical brain activity. But science does not know (1) the causal relationship between the cerebration and the electrical activity, and (2) the nature of the thought itself.

OneSTDV: “If thoughts and vividly experienced events can be caused by a change in electromagnetic fields, then why go any further?”

Again, a total, laughable misstatement. There is no evidence that thoughts are caused by electrical events; rather thought and electrical events occur at the same time. The relationship between them is not known.

OneSTDV: “Why not apply Occam’s Razor and say the simplest definition of consciousness is that it’s all in the incredibly complex brain?”

At Wikipedia I find this about Occam’s Razor, also known as the law or parsimony:

“To summarize the common understanding of the principle, of several acceptable explanations for a phenomenon, the simplest is preferable, provided that it takes all circumstances into account.”

Obviously the commenter’s statement, “consciousness is all in the incredibly complex brain,” is not taking all the circumstances into account, since it is not explaining the existence of consciousness but is merely begging the question of the existence of consciousness. An acceptable theory has to provide a plausible explanation of the phenomenon being studied. Brain science has no plausible explanation of consciousness. All it knows is that the amount of electrochemical activity going on in the brain correlates with the amount of thinking going on in the (subjectively described) mind of the person being studied.

OneSTDV wrote: “By positing a segment of consciousness removed from the brain, you interject an ambiguous mechanism that somehow bridges the physical (brain) with the incorporeal (the mind). You fail to provide a connection between them and it really doesn’t make sense. Some part of the mechanism would have to exist both as a physical and a non-physical entity.”

But the mystery the commenter points to is precisely the mystery of consciousness which we do not understand. I don’t claim to understand how consciousness exists. No one knows how consciousness exists, just as no one knows how life exists, or how the universe exists. All we know about consciousness is our own subjective apprehension of it. And that is why I have repeatedly said in this discussion that the starting point of knowledge is the recognition of our own consciousness, which we as human beings share in common. Even though we directly experience only our own consciousness, we can tell by the similarity of other humans to ourselves that they experience the same consciousness. I am saying that that is the absolute starting point of our knowledge of the world and of ourselves, the sine qua non of all valid knowledge.

OneSTDV wrote:

“My main point: Human experience is surely not the stuff of science and to assert that it’s empirical is laughable. You don’t win the Nobel Prize in physics, medicine, or chemistry (all sciences) by appealing to ‘undeniable human experience.’”

But as I’ve just pointed out, the starting point of all empiricism is our apprehension of our own consciousness and thoughts, without which we could have no scientific knowledge or any knowledge.

Again, we see the fantastical irony and self-delusion of materialism. The commenter rejects human experience as being non-scientific, and he says that we must only depend on the findings of physical instruments that measure measurable things. What has he left out of this picture? The human consciousness which perceives that scientific evidence as measured by those instruments. Without human consciousness, (the reality of which the commenter rejects because it’s not scientific), there would be no one there to take in this marvelous scientific information.

Over and over, we see the amazing comedy, the self-alienating error, of the materialist mind in action, the way it places all its eggs in the basket of physically observable material reality, while denying the reality of the physically non-observable, immaterial consciousness that is perceiving and thinking about that material reality.

At 8/16/2009 11:18:00 AM, Lawrence Auster said…

One more point to clarify what I said above.

It is in the very nature of reality that the starting point of all human knowledge is subjective, namely our subjective experience of our own consciousness, perceptions, thoughts, feelings, etc. Since this subjective experience of our own consciousness is the indispensable ground of all our knowledge, including objective, measurable, scientific knowledge, a truly scientific picture of the world must include and take into account this subjective dimension of reality, rather than dismissing it as non-scientific.

Roebuck-Auster exchange

Alan Roebuck to LA (8/17/09):

Whenever the materialists begin defending their doctrine, we find ourselves in a target-rich environment. Thanks, Larry, for continuing to hold down the fort.

And I think your argument that

“this subjective experience of our own consciousness is the indispensable ground of all our knowledge, including objective, measurable, scientific knowledge”

is a valuable new line of reasoning against the materialists.

LA replies:

You write: “Whenever the materialists begin defending their doctrine, we find ourselves in a target-rich environment.”

That’s funny.

You write:

And I think your argument that

“this subjective experience of our own consciousness is the indispensable ground of all our knowledge, including objective, measurable, scientific knowledge”

is a valuable new line of reasoning against the materialists.

I don’t think this is new, though maybe the way I put it is slightly different. While it is experientially true for me, and, I argue, true for everyone, it is basically my restatement of the opening of P.D. Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum (a book I first read when I was about 20). Therefore my comment at Mangan’s would not be complete without the Ouspensky passage, and I’ve added it there.

Ouspensky wrote:

We know that with the very first awakening of knowledge, man is confronted with two obvious facts:

The existence of the world in which he lives; and the existence of psychic life in himself.

Neither of these can he prove or disprove, but they are facts: they constitute reality for him.

It is possible to meditate upon the mutual correlation of these two facts. It is possible to try to reduce them to one; that is, to regard the psychic or inner world as a part, reflection, or function of the world, or the world as a part, reflection, or function of that inner world. But such a procedure constitutes a departure from facts, and all such considerations of the world and of the self, to the ordinary non-philosophical mind, will not have the character of obviousness. On the contrary the sole obvious fact remains the antithesis of I and Not-I—our inner psychic life and the outer world.,

Further on we shall return to this fundamental thesis. But thus far we have no basis on which to found a contradiction of the obvious fact of the existence of ourselves—i.e., of our inner life—and of the world in which we live. This we shall therefore accept as the given.

This however is the only thing that we have the right to accept as given: all the rest demands proof and definition in terms of these two given data.

[end of Ouspensky quote]

A couple of observations.

First, Ouspensky is actually stating not two facts in this passage, namely “the existence of the world in which [man] lives,” and “the existence of psychic life in himself,” but also a third fact that proceeds from the first two: “the antithesis of I and Not-I—our inner psychic life and the outer world.”

Second, in addition to the stunning clarity of Ouspensky’s main idea about the obvious fact of the antithesis of our inner psychic life and the outer world, notice the brilliantly concise way he dispenses with the materialist attempt to assert that consciousness is material. Sure, he says, anyone can claim that our psychic life is really just a part or a product of the material world. But such an statement involves going beyond the self-evident fact of the existence of psychic life within ourselves as distinct from the external material world. While our experience of our consciousness as distinct from the material world is a fact, the materialists’ assertion that that consciousness is really material is an unsupported and wildly counterintuitive theory. Yet—the supreme irony—the materialists describe the ineluctable fact of our non-material consciousness as a mere “faith-based” assertion, while they describe as empirical, scientific truth their totally unsupported theory that consciousness is a form of matter.

- end of initial entry -

M. Jose writes:

On your recent discussions about consciousness, I think that the best argument for consciousness being non-material is that materialistic consciousness cannot be true consciousness because it lacks identity (while this sounds like an Ayn Rand argument, I am not a Randian).

Put another way, without some immaterial identity, then there is nothing distinguishing you from an exact copy of you. That means that there would be nothing “keeping you together” over time, connecting your moments into a single person’s experience. You would be a collection of molecules, but ever-changing (adding new molecules and taking old ones out) so that there is nothing making that collection a coherent person.

Put another way, it’s like the old question: When Kirk is beamed down to the surface of a planet on Star Trek, is he actually beamed down there, or is he killed and an exact replica made of him? What keeps him “Kirk” during the teleportation process? Take that question, then expand it into the fact that we are being destroyed and rebuilt all the time, just at a much slower pace.

I think that this has led some materialists into admitting that consciousness cannot be explained materialistically, but then responding to that by denying that consciousness exists; or at least denying that anything that we would recognize as consciousness exists.

LA writes:

A further thought about this thread.

I know I may put off some people with my at times relentless hammering at opponents. But when people deny, or rather define out of existence, the reality of human consciousness, that is the same as denying our humanity. They may not realize they are doing it, but they are doing it, and it deserves a very strong response. Second, I feel I made some worthwhile progress in this discussion. In the act of confronting the (to me) scary and anti-human ideology of dogmatic materialism, I felt I got to an absolute core of non-materiality that the materialists cannot deny.

Ben W. writes:

LA: “But as P.D. Ouspensky succinctly and definitively demonstrated, the statement, “I experience an inner psychic life which is different from the external world,” is an obvious fact, even though it cannot be proven or falsified.”

Can I ask you how you define “proof” such that a conclusion is indubitable?

LA replies:

In this context I was using proof in the conventional scientific sense, and saying there are things we know are true, such as the existence of our own consciousness, even though they cannot be proven scientifically. Of course brain science is light years beyond where it was when Tertium Organum was written in the early 20th century. We know vast amounts of what happens in the brain. We can trigger memories by touching certain spots in the brain. But for all that, the memories being spoken by the patient may just be the behavior of an automaton. Science sees behavior, science sees electrochemical activity in the neurons of the brain. But science does not see consciousness. In the strictest sense of the word “proof,” our consciousness is not proven and is not provable, though, of course, we all know for a self-evident fact that it exists.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 18, 2009 06:38 PM | Send

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