Clifton's Empirical Case Against Materialism

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Sciborg_S_Patel

#1
Not finished with my first pass through it, but I think it lays out the immaterialist case nicely:

An Empirical Case Against Materialism

Empirical arguments for materialism are highly circumstantial —based, as they are, upon inductions from our knowledge of the physical and upon the fact that mental phenomena have physical correlates, causes and effects.

However, the qualitative characteristics of first-person conscious experience are empirically distinct from uncontroversially physical phenomena in being—at least on our present knowledge—thoroughly resistant to the kind of abstract, formal description to which the latter are always, to some degree, readily amenable.

The prima facie inference that phenomenal qualities are, most probably, non-physical may be resisted either by denying their existence altogether or by proposing that they are properties of some peculiar sort of mysterious physical complexity, located, for example, within the functioning of the brain.

It is argued here, however, that the first, eliminative hypothesis is empirically absurd—while the second is extravagant, vague, ad hoc and (for various additional reasons) profoundly implausible.

Taken together, these considerations provide a compelling empirical case against materialism—yet its converse, mentalism, is usually regarded as subject to serious difficulties of its own.

I conclude by suggesting empirical and theoretical desiderata, respectively, for the vindication of materialism and alternatively, for the development and defense of a potentially robust and viable mentalist theory of consciousness.
 
#3
From the concluding statement:
The empirical arguments I have presented in Secs. 3–5 do not, of course, constitute rigorous proofs that materialism is false. Nevertheless, I believe they provide sufficient grounds for treating this position as exceptionally dubious.

This conclusion gives rise to a profound philosophical dilemma. On the one hand, it now seems that materialism is immensely implausible — but on the other hand, it is usually assumed that the same is true of mentalism. The least attractive option, in these circumstances, would be to throw in the towel and admit to hopeless bafflement — but it if that is truly all that we can do, we must be honest about our uncertainty; we have no justification for maintaining that either position, materialism or mentalism, is more likely to be true than the other.

We may, I suggest, begin to consider materialism position credible if, and only if, we are presented with a valid — but permissibly, very rudimentary — formal description of at least one phenomenal quality. Further support for materialism would also be provided by a plausible defense of some version of the cryptic complexity hypothesis — preferably, accompanied by positive supporting evidence.

A mentalist theory, on the other hand, must also overcome a number of formidable hurdles if we wish it to be taken more seriously. It must be scientific in spirit and as parsimonious as possible; the fewer fundamental entities and psychophysical laws such a theory proposes, the better. It must avoid the trap of eternally separating mental subjects from objects and thereby implying an infinite regress of inner observers. It must propose a coherent, theoretical account of the causal relationship, if any, between non-physical mental phenomena and physical events in our brains and bodies — consistently on the one hand, with evidence suggesting the reality of mental causation and on the other hand, with evidence which is held to suggest that the physical world is causally closed. A truly respectable mentalist theory should give rise to predictions that are testable, at least in principle. Ideally, it should also offer some account of mental phenomena other than phenomenal qualities, such as intentionality, the unity of consciousness, personal identity and mental causation.
Clifton keeps the debate strictly in the philosophical domain. I think his arguments against materialism are good, but he seems to imply that the issue entirely hinges on theoretical philosophical arguments and whether there exists a robust "mentalist" theory. He doesn't even mention the extensive body of empirical evidence from 150 years of psychical research, and the vast amounts of (anecdotal) human experience. This lack of coverage implies either that he dismisses the empirical evidence, or doesn't want to deal with it. This kind of argumentation is all very interesting, but I think the empirical evidence of psychical research trumps it.
 
#4
From the concluding statement:


Clifton keeps the debate strictly in the philosophical domain. I think his arguments against materialism are good, but he seems to imply that the issue entirely hinges on theoretical philosophical arguments and whether there exists a robust "mentalist" theory. He doesn't even mention the extensive body of empirical evidence from 150 years of psychical research, and the vast amounts of (anecdotal) human experience. This lack of coverage implies either that he dismisses the empirical evidence, or doesn't want to deal with it. This kind of argumentation is all very interesting, but I think the empirical evidence of psychical research trumps it.
Is it not odd, then, that Clifton claims he is producing "An Empirical Case Against Materialism", yet ignores or rejects nearly all the empirical evidence!

Clifton says he considers 'what we can definitely say, empirically' and footnote 8 here says:
8 that is, in this context, based upon rational consideration and interpretation of sensory experience.
 
#5
Is it not odd, then, that Clifton claims he is producing "An Empirical Case Against Materialism", yet ignores or rejects nearly all the empirical evidence!

Clifton says he considers 'what we can definitely say, empirically' and footnote 8 here says:
8 that is, in this context, based upon rational consideration and interpretation of sensory experience.
I guess Clifton must consider the empirical evidence of psychical research as irrational, because it certainly is (ultimately) sensory experience. A taste of his rather academic and densely written arguments can be seen in this:

"(1) Materialism, with respect to the nature of consciousness, is the view that subjective mental phenomena are extrinsic physical phenomena, that is, structures, relationships or spatiotemporal patterns that obtain amongst instances or collections of fundamental physical entities (whose essential nature, if any, is presumed to be non-mental).

(2) All known extrinsic physical phenomena, including those which are poorly understood, admit to an empirically valid, non-ostensive, non-qualitative, formal description — at least to some degree of approximation — such that they can be identified, with significant reliability, on the basis of that description alone.

(3) To our knowledge, all known mathematical translations or transformations of a formally describable spatiotemporal form into some particular aspect or manifestation thereof invariably yield a formally describable spatiotemporal form.

(4) From (2) and (3), it is overwhelmingly likely that any physical phenomenon which, as materialists claim, constitutes the content of a particular conscious experience will be amenable, at least, to a rudimentary yet empirically valid formal description.

(5) There is no evidence to suggest that an empirically valid formal description, to any degree of approximation, of any phenomenal quality has ever been discovered.

(6) Therefore, materialism is probably false."

Presumably, if (5) was not the case, Clifton would consider materialism as more probably true. He automatically refuses to consider that a simpler and more direct argument to the falsity of materialism is the simple existence of a certain large body of empirical experimental and experiential evidence. Evidence that stubbornly stands regardless of whether it conflicts with things like the supposedly causally closed nature of the known laws of physics, and the lack of a satisfactory theory of mental or spiritual existence and its interaction with the physical. Maybe it is the refusal to tolerate any degree of cognitive dissonance.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#6
But not everyone agrees on the quality of evidence, or that there is any reason to even look at said evidence. I do think a collection of the best evidence suggestive of immaterialism should be collected somewhere. I know Radin has a list of studies, but many of them only describe possible findings. Even Krippner's data offers possibility, and that got endorsed by a Yale psych dept char as showing ESP needs further research.

I think you need arguments that get people to consider doubting materialism, which is where the work of people like Clifton and Chalmers comes in from philosophy as well as Goswami & Zeilinger & Peat & Josephson in physics.

Even someone like Tegmark with his panpsychic perceptronium concept has a role to play in expanding minds.
 
#7
But not everyone agrees on the quality of evidence, or that there is any reason to even look at said evidence. I do think a collection of the best evidence suggestive of immaterialism should be collected somewhere. I know Radin has a list of studies, but many of them only describe possible findings. Even Krippner's data offers possibility, and that got endorsed by a Yale psych dept char as showing ESP needs further research.

I think you need arguments that get people to consider doubting materialism, which is where the work of people like Clifton and Chalmers comes in from philosophy as well as Goswami & Zeilinger & Peat & Josephson in physics.

Even someone like Tegmark with his panpsychic perceptronium concept has a role to play in expanding minds.
The biggest problem with rejecting the empirical evidence is that this denies generally the validity of any reported human experience that seems to conflict with some well regarded theory (in this case materialism), no matter what the quality of that experience and account, the number and credibility of the witnesses or experimenters, etc. This attitude devalues human experience. However, your point is well taken, given that perhaps the people most needing to consider doubting materialism that you refer to are the academic intellectual intelligencia of our society, the people that are considered the arbiters of the nature of reality. Unfortunately the majority seem to have closed minds on the subject and are impervious to both empirical evidence and philosophical arguments. Too much invested in the reigning physicalist metaphysic.
 
#8
The biggest problem with rejecting the empirical evidence is that this denies generally the validity of any reported human experience that seems to conflict with some well regarded theory (in this case materialism), no matter what the quality of that experience and account, the number and credibility of the witnesses or experimenters, etc. This attitude devalues human experience. However, your point is well taken, given that perhaps the people most needing to consider doubting materialism that you refer to are the academic intellectual intelligencia of our society, the people that are considered the arbiters of the nature of reality. Unfortunately the majority seem to have closed minds on the subject and are impervious to both empirical evidence and philosophical arguments. Too much invested in the reigning physicalist metaphysic.
How much research have you done into the reasons why we might want to be concerned about reliability and what factors should be taken into account in assessing reliability?
 
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