What is this life if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
Materialism is the belief that everything is due to matter and the flow of matter from place to place. Materialists tend to believe that we get our identity and meaning from our interactions with society and the world in general and there is no need for any inner mind or soul. Materialism differs from Physicalism (see Note 1), Physicalism does not as yet make any emphatic predictions about mind or soul. Materialism is widespread because it is taught in school as "science".
Materialism does not allow the transfer of information from the past to the present except as recorded data so the frozen instant is all that exists in the materialist paradigm. The instant is frozen because there is no time for motion to take place at an instant. If everything is due to the flow of matter and only the frozen instant exists then time is like the succession of frames in a motion picture. At every instant reality is a frozen three dimensional pattern, like a single frame in a movie.
The materialist concept of reality as but a single instant is what underlies the "homunculus" argument in the philosophy of mind. The homunculus argument runs as follows: photons might flow to create an image on the retina and the image on a retina can create a pattern in nerve cells in the brain but then what sees that pattern? The pattern on the nerve cells might be transferred to another set of nerve cells but then what sees that pattern? According to materialist reasoning it always seems as if another person, a little man or homunculus within us, is needed to view the content of our minds. So materialism contains a contradiction - all reality is held to be due to the flow of matter but this flow can never be our experience now, at this moment, and materialism has no other time available for experiencing anything. The problem of how we can experience anything will require a scientific approach rather than the ideological approach of Materialism.
Aristotle understood this flaw in materialism, he said that perception is a problem because it seems to involve the endless transfer of "impressions" from place to place. Leibnitz saw the difficulty when he realised that mechanical devices just push one upon another. Modern philosophers see this problem when they debate how perception can be any more than the transfer of "information" from place to place. Computer scientists see the problem when they argue about the "grounding" of data or information in computers, in Leibnitz's terminology computers are just electrons pushing one on another. Aristotle, Descartes, Leibnitz, Searle, Ryle and hundreds of other philosophers have all made reputations from pointing out that you can't get to the way we perceive the world by just transferring stuff from place to place.
These arguments all describe how successions of fixed 3D states seem to fail to describe mind and the arguments are still fairly topical – Harnad, Searle, Ryle etc are recent philosophers. This topicality demonstrates that the materialism being considered here is not a straw man but an active philosophical paradigm (See Note 1).
The problem is very severe, people have been thinking about it for millennia and have split into two main groups:
The materialists say that the physical world is made from stuff moving from place to place and time is like the frames of a film so if this does not describe mind then mind does not really exist. As a result everything we call mind is really "functions" (ie: motions from place to place) and judgements are the result of functions. We only judge that we have conscious experience.
The dualists say that the physical world is made from stuff moving from place to place and time is like the frames of a film so if this does not describe mind then the mind is non-physical. As a result science has little to say about religion.
Now, notice that both the materialists and the dualists have the same theory: that the physical world is made from stuff moving from place to place and time is like the frames of a film. This underpins both philosophies which is why they love debating the issue with each other.
Nowadays materialists are a subset of "physicalists" (see note 1) that adheres to nineteenth century science with the same tenacity that dualists adhere to pre-sixteenth century science. Both agree that they should use the idea of time and space that was current when Alexandria was in its heyday. Both groups use the Alexandrian model of time in which only the present instant exists without addressing the problem of how anything can exist for no time at all (the present has no duration) or, given that reality would be frozen at the hypothetical present, how anything can be known. Both groups use the time-extended nature of their actual experience to knit together the impossible instants of their theoretical idea of the world into a continuous whole without realising that this continuum is impossible in their Alexandrian cosmology.
Both materialists and dualists have the wrong cosmology, the physical world is not made from stuff moving from place to place in a simple way and time is not like the frames of a film. Over the past hundred years scientists have discovered that the world is not like this. Of course, it could never have been like this because we are not frozen like frames in a movie and do not experience an endless regress as the individual frames play from one homunculus to another without ever being seen. Now I wait for the gasps of denial, remember, materialism and dualism are not scientific ideas, they don't say "show us the observations and we will make testable hypotheses", they just deny that any cosmology after 100 AD has any relevance to what they claim is the "real" world. Relativity? It will be claimed that it is a materialist idea and anyway, only applies to things moving at high speed. Quantum physics? It will be claimed that it is just spooky nonsense that only applies to things that can't be seen.
Both materialists and dualists should update their cosmology and read some simple introductory texts such as Wikibooks Special Relativity, especially the section on the modern approach or Taylor's elementary educational texts such as Quantum physics explains Newton's laws of motion.
It is really shocking for materialists and dualists but the truth is that the whole of physics is based on relativity and quantum theory. As an example, dynamics, which is the basis of materialism, is due to the interchange of kinetic and potential energy and kinetic energy is an entirely relativistic effect even at low velocities. The true import of Relativity is that it tells us that the universe has four dimensions. Time is not like a series of movie frames, it is another direction for arranging things, a dimension, that is interdependent with the dimensions of space. Furthermore the path taken by moving objects is a quantum effect due to the interference between all the possible paths that an object can take so the materialist idea of motion itself is suspect. Physics portrays reality as a shimmering kaleidoscope of possible events that is unmasked as the point of the present moment sweeps over it.
I know that any materialists and dualists reading this are likely to just shrug their shoulders and declare that all of this "New" (ie: century old) physics only applies to special situations like high energy laboratories. Firstly it doesn't only apply to high energy laboratories, secondly, even if it did, it shows that the physical world is not simply stuff moving from place to place and so undermines the entire basis for the dualism/materialism debate. Just read the simple introductory texts in the links above.
Any scientist will always have been appalled by the way that materialists use theory to deny observation. This dismissal of observation is now doubly appalling because modern physicalism is much wider than materialism. Materialist cosmology is now known to be false and just a sort of "folk physics" that offers illusory certainties.
The alternative to materialism and dualism is empiricism. According to empiricism the mind is a valid observation that needs to be explained and we should not jump to premature conclusions when we know so little about how the universe works (see Time and conscious experience for a new empirical start to the problem of mind). Materialists reject empiricism because if there is only the frozen instant then all experience must be doubted because nothing can be known right now. This is a highly successful intellectual trap where the erroneous theory protects itself by denying even the possibility of evidence that might contradict it. If you remove the frozen instant then the absolute doubt is unwarranted. Given that Alexandrian cosmology is false it is amazing that this creed of doubt is so widely believed. See Time and Conscious Experience for another approach that is not constrained by ancient ideas about time.
The big difference between materialism and empiricism is that materialists believe we are like frames in a film whereas empiricists can see that we are looking at the film and try to explain how this could happen. The materialist error is straightforward, materialism reasons that a geometric line is obtained by placing points adjacent to each other, a plane is obtained by placing lines next to each other and a volume is a stack of planes so time is a stack of volumes. No! Dimensional time does not enter into physics as a stack of volumes and this is evident from the equations that describe spacetime. (See Presentism and the denial of mind and Some notes on projective geometry for more discussion).
Incidentally, it is precisely because we are not like frames in a film that we find it so easy to fantasise that computers could be like us. We have the ability to join the frames together into a continuous piece of cinema, we experience the movie but each frame of the film in the projector cannot experience anything. Digital computers are just static arrangements at the end of each clock pulse so the materialist claim that digital computers could be conscious is exactly equivalent to claiming that a photograph is conscious.
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Note 1: There is a difference between materialism and physicalism. In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry for physicalism it states: "Physicalism is sometimes known as materialism. Historically, materialists held that everything was matter -- where matter was conceived as "an inert, senseless substance, in which extension, figure, and motion do actually subsist" (Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge, par. 9). The reason for speaking of physicalism rather than materialism is to abstract away from this historical notion, which is usually thought of as too restrictive -- for example, forces such as gravity are physical but it is not clear that they are material in the traditional sense (Dijksterhuis 1961, Yolton 1983)."
Note 2: Look at any recent issue of philosophy journals that deal with conscious experience. In the Journal of Consciousness Studies December issue the titles are: "Must Phenomenology Rest on Paradox? Implications of Methodology-Limited Theories" and "False-Belief Understanding and the Phenomenological Critics of Folk Psychology", both of which are saying no more than that materialism does not explain mind, the paradoxes of phenomenology being related to the regress argument and "Folk Psychology" being the term used by folk physicists to describe the observation of mind.