Science forces us to embrace materialism

Does science force us to embrace materialism?

I would argue that science has reached the point where it is quite difficult to adopt realistic materialism. The limit around what is considered physical has steadily widened over time and is now well above what previous generations would have considered material.

We have field effects and warped space and necessary indeterminacy, none of which really accords with the idea that the world is really material. I can't see that this does anything other than keep growing, with reality on other levels becoming less and less like the middle ground for pedestrians that forms our basic ideas about what is material or mechanical.

Believing that something is going on that we can never materially grasp is not a problem for any modern physicist. Once you have started discussing the imaginary dimension of time as a complex number, you are not talking about anything material. They are inventing devices that offer better predictive power but are obviously not designed to appeal to our natural sense of material reality.

Since Popper pointed out what makes real science succeed and pseudosciences fail, the real question for people questioning science is really whether forecast is the right approach to validating knowledge. Does power only exist in a certain form of control or is there a certain underlying intuition that remains necessary? Is thinking basically a neoliberal capitalist endeavor that selects the ideas that will optimize our overall returns?

I think this question is answered by the existence of a moral feeling. "Right" has nothing to do with "effective" at any point in time: we know that killing all stupid people is wrong, even if it would be a huge improvement for the world. And if we want to keep that perspective, science is not going to help.

Having a minimal example isn't of much use, however. We need a real sense of the borderline around 'productive mythology' in the sense of CS Lewis' Christian apologetics. And we need it to be freed from religion and brought into secular philosophy in some way.

Yechiam Weiss

"The line around what is considered physical has kept widening over time" - as far as I know (correct me if I'm wrong), materialism has widened too. Your other points are excellent.


And what's wrong with that? Materialism has a definition, it is not infinitely flexible. You can go back to "physicalism" and then go back further, but no, the definition of what can be considered material is really limited for most people.

Yechiam Weiss

I tried to say that materialism is catching up with physicalism. And to be honest, I've never heard of a physical concept that can't be called material.


OK, you heard the example I gave. The imaginary part of the complex value of time can be interpreted as material? It's part of Hawking's physical explanation of the Big Bang and entropy. If you want something with a better family tree, what is curved space material like?

Yechiam Weiss

Yes, I agree with you, see the processing of my question. I was wrong about the term I used. You made that clear to me.