Materialism and Mechanisms

#1
I agree that there are things whose mechanism is unknown. But it seems as if you are saying there are things without mechanisms at all. That's what I don't get.

~~ Paul
It depends what you mean by a mechanism. The word itself implies sequence and consequence. In the case of poltergeist phenomena, while there are characteristics like disembodied voices, apports and thrown objects, there is no way of discovering any mechanism by which such events take place. Without a mechanism, the only way a materialist can accommodate such phenomena is by implying fraud or delusion.

There may be a mechanism, but its relationship to what we currently think of by the word is sufficiently remote to render it invalid as a description. The vacuum between data (poltergeist accounts) and proof (lab testing) is filled by the description 'anecdote'. Anecdote operates as a kind of materialist purgatory, where claims are placed before succumbing to the inevitable mechanism. However in cases of strange phenomena, the gap between accountability (method) and data (testimony) is unbridgeable because the mechanism is wholly lacking, leading to the kind of crass assumptions skeptics habitually make with regard to such phenomena.

Poltergeists are interesting because they manifest material phenomena, without conforming to any of the usual conditions such things operate within.
 
#2
Everything has a cause: but are all causes mechanisms? Here's a dictionary definition of mechanism:

1. an assembly of moving parts performing a complete functional motion, often being part of a large machine; linkage.​

2. the agency or means by which an effect is produced or a purpose is accomplished.​

3. machinery or mechanical appliances in general.​

4. the structure or arrangement of parts of a machine or similar device, or of anything analogous.​

5. the mechanical part of something; any mechanical device: the mechanism of a clock.​

If one thinks of the universe as essentially wholly machine-like, then it's unthinkable that anything could be accomplished without some kind of mechanical or analogous process being involved. If one doesn't limit the universe to mechanism, then other causes become conceivable. If they are inconceivable, that says as much about the limitations of the mind of the conceiver as about all possible causal principles that might apply. I for one can conceive of cause in other than in mechanistic terms. But then, I don't think the universe is wholly machine-like, so it's not so difficult for me.
 
Last edited:
#3
Yeah, that's what I thought - talking past each other.

The idea that the universe is machine-like or mechanical died a hundred years ago, so that wasn't what Paul was referring to. He was referring to the same kind of thing that the immaterialists are referring to, which is definition number 2.

"The agency or means by which an effect is produced or a purpose is accomplished."

As far as I can tell, immaterialism doesn't say anything different from materialism (that a mechanism is unknown or isn't composed of 19th century "matter" doesn't exclude it from the modern "materialism"/physicalism/naturalism/informationism which scientists now use). The only difference between materialism and immaterialism seems to be that immaterialism proposes an agent with intent.

Linda
 
#4
The only difference between materialism and immaterialism seems to be that immaterialism proposes an agent with intent.
I don't know what this means. Agency, the role of an agent or perpetrator, is assumed but unless there's evidence for such an agent, the words are meaningless. What is a poltergeist? It's impossible to say as it manifests only as a set of characteristics. People who study such things vary in their conclusions, from the spirit of a dead person, non-localised energy from a living person, a demon, to the spasms of a dyspeptic universe. Each theory tells us very little, and nothing at all about mechanism. Paul continually asks proponents to show him a mechanism, and casts doubt on a phenomenon in its entirety unless such process is available.

I'm attempting to show that materialism as a philosophy has information flowing the wrong way. Data can be consistent without a model on which to base the evidence. Anecdote doesn't cover well known repeat phenomena, and attempts to subvert their provenance simply for lacking a material explanation, not for want of evidence. Skeptics do not claim poltergeists exist but lack a known cause, they exclusively claim (to the best of my knowledge) poltergeists are a variety of misinformation.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#5
It depends what you mean by a mechanism. The word itself implies sequence and consequence. In the case of poltergeist phenomena, while there are characteristics like disembodied voices, apports and thrown objects, there is no way of discovering any mechanism by which such events take place. Without a mechanism, the only way a materialist can accommodate such phenomena is by implying fraud or delusion.
Why do you say there is no way to discover the mechanism? The poltergeist has some way of affecting the physical world, moving objects, throwing things, etc. If there is an interface between the poltergeist-world and the physical world, there is a mechanism involved. If there is no interface, then I'm at a loss to understand how it can possibly happen.

There may be a mechanism, but its relationship to what we currently think of by the word is sufficiently remote to render it invalid as a description. The vacuum between data (poltergeist accounts) and proof (lab testing) is filled by the description 'anecdote'. Anecdote operates as a kind of materialist purgatory, where claims are placed before succumbing to the inevitable mechanism. However in cases of strange phenomena, the gap between accountability (method) and data (testimony) is unbridgeable because the mechanism is wholly lacking, leading to the kind of crass assumptions skeptics habitually make with regard to such phenomena.
Again, why do you think there is no mechanism? The only way you have of asserting this is by noting that we haven't found any mechanism yet. If you believe there is no mechanism in principle, then I have no idea why you think it is crass to assume the whole idea is fabricated.

Poltergeists are interesting because they manifest material phenomena, without conforming to any of the usual conditions such things operate within.
I'd say that poltergeist activity needs to be investigated more thoroughly.

~~ Paul
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#6
Everything has a cause: but are all causes mechanisms? Here's a dictionary definition of mechanism:

1. an assembly of moving parts performing a complete functional motion, often being part of a large machine; linkage.

2. the agency or means by which an effect is produced or a purpose is accomplished.

3. machinery or mechanical appliances in general.

4. the structure or arrangement of parts of a machine or similar device, or of anything analogous.

5. the mechanical part of something; any mechanical device: the mechanism of a clock.
Number (2) is a more general definition of the sort I use. Of course a mechanism does not have to be literally mechanical.

If one thinks of the universe as essentially wholly machine-like, then it's unthinkable that anything could be accomplished without some kind of mechanical or analogous process being involved. If one doesn't limit the universe to mechanism, then other causes become conceivable. If they are inconceivable, that says as much about the limitations of the mind of the conceiver as about all possible causal principles that might apply. I for one can conceive of cause in other than in mechanistic terms. But then, I don't think the universe is wholly machine-like, so it's not so difficult for me.
I'd love to hear the description of a cause that doesn't involve a mechanism, at least one like (2) above. Now, we may disagree on the quality of such a description if the agent affects the target by violating physical laws or something like that.

~~ Paul
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#7
I don't know what this means. Agency, the role of an agent or perpetrator, is assumed but unless there's evidence for such an agent, the words are meaningless. What is a poltergeist? It's impossible to say as it manifests only as a set of characteristics. People who study such things vary in their conclusions, from the spirit of a dead person, non-localised energy from a living person, a demon, to the spasms of a dyspeptic universe. Each theory tells us very little, and nothing at all about mechanism. Paul continually asks proponents to show him a mechanism, and casts doubt on a phenomenon in its entirety unless such process is available.
There are processes that I believe probably exist even though we don't yet have a mechanism. What I don't understand is the idea that an immaterial agent can affect the material world without any mechanism at all.

I'm attempting to show that materialism as a philosophy has information flowing the wrong way. Data can be consistent without a model on which to base the evidence. Anecdote doesn't cover well known repeat phenomena, and attempts to subvert their provenance simply for lacking a material explanation, not for want of evidence. Skeptics do not claim poltergeists exist but lack a known cause, they exclusively claim (to the best of my knowledge) poltergeists are a variety of misinformation.
Partly because much poltergeist activity has explanations that involve know mechanisms, such as whacky children. And even when the obvious culprit has not been identified, I can't help but think the phenomenon simply hasn't been carefully investigated, or the culprit is cleverer than the investigators.

But let's say we do have a pile of data about some phenomenon that remains unexplained. Why the heck would I leap to inventing some kind of immaterial entity with a nonmechanistic means of affecting the physical world? Instead, I would simply assume we hadn't figured it out yet.

~~ Paul
 
#8
I don't know what this means. Agency, the role of an agent or perpetrator, is assumed but unless there's evidence for such an agent, the words are meaningless. What is a poltergeist? It's impossible to say as it manifests only as a set of characteristics. People who study such things vary in their conclusions, from the spirit of a dead person, non-localised energy from a living person, a demon, to the spasms of a dyspeptic universe. Each theory tells us very little, and nothing at all about mechanism. Paul continually asks proponents to show him a mechanism, and casts doubt on a phenomenon in its entirety unless such process is available.

I'm attempting to show that materialism as a philosophy has information flowing the wrong way. Data can be consistent without a model on which to base the evidence. Anecdote doesn't cover well known repeat phenomena, and attempts to subvert their provenance simply for lacking a material explanation, not for want of evidence. Skeptics do not claim poltergeists exist but lack a known cause, they exclusively claim (to the best of my knowledge) poltergeists are a variety of misinformation.
Let put it as plainly and simply as possible using the noisy ghost as the example and proxy for all other things psi. When a noisy ghost throws an object, how, does it accomplish that action? That's what Paul is asking when he asks for a mechanism.
I don't know what this means. Agency, the role of an agent or perpetrator, is assumed but unless there's evidence for such an agent, the words are meaningless. What is a poltergeist? It's impossible to say as it manifests only as a set of characteristics. People who study such things vary in their conclusions, from the spirit of a dead person, non-localised energy from a living person, a demon, to the spasms of a dyspeptic universe. Each theory tells us very little, and nothing at all about mechanism. Paul continually asks proponents to show him a mechanism, and casts doubt on a phenomenon in its entirety unless such process is available.

I'm attempting to show that materialism as a philosophy has information flowing the wrong way. Data can be consistent without a model on which to base the evidence. Anecdote doesn't cover well known repeat phenomena, and attempts to subvert their provenance simply for lacking a material explanation, not for want of evidence. Skeptics do not claim poltergeists exist but lack a known cause, they exclusively claim (to the best of my knowledge) poltergeists are a variety of misinformation.
Linda:The only difference between materialism and immaterialism seems to be that immaterialism proposes an agent with intent.
What linda is saying is, in her estimation; immaterialism supposes there is a guided purpose to this universe. That's the same sense I get from people here.
 
#9
Yeah, that's what I thought - talking past each other.

The idea that the universe is machine-like or mechanical died a hundred years ago, so that wasn't what Paul was referring to. He was referring to the same kind of thing that the immaterialists are referring to, which is definition number 2.

"The agency or means by which an effect is produced or a purpose is accomplished."

As far as I can tell, immaterialism doesn't say anything different from materialism (that a mechanism is unknown or isn't composed of 19th century "matter" doesn't exclude it from the modern "materialism"/physicalism/naturalism/informationism which scientists now use). The only difference between materialism and immaterialism seems to be that immaterialism proposes an agent with intent.

Linda
Have I defined what you said correctly? See post 8
 
#10
I don't know what this means. Agency, the role of an agent or perpetrator, is assumed...
That's what I mean - something which is causing the action (i.e. a mechanism) is assumed under both materialism and immaterialism. So the difference between immaterialism and materialism isn't that materialism assumes a mechanism. Immaterialism also assumes a mechanism. The only difference between the two is that materialism/physicalism/naturalism/informationism assumes "some sort of unknown mechanism", while in order for a mechanism to be immaterial, it assumes "some sort of unknown mechanism involving some sort of conscious intent". After all, if "spontaneous anti-black holes" were discovered to be the mechanism behind spontaneous movements of objects, immaterialists wouldn't embrace it as "the spasms of a dyspeptic universe". That description needs the universe to have some sort of awareness or intent.

...but unless there's evidence for such an agent, the words are meaningless.
Why give up so easily? Now you are making it look like the difference between the two is that immaterialism gives up looking for an agent and inserts a wishful-thinking-placeholder instead ("God orders the movement of the heavenly bodies"). While materialism goes ahead and discovers "gravity".

What is a poltergeist? It's impossible to say as it manifests only as a set of characteristics. People who study such things vary in their conclusions, from the spirit of a dead person, non-localised energy from a living person, a demon, to the spasms of a dyspeptic universe. Each theory tells us very little, and nothing at all about mechanism.
I agree with that, but that's not the point. The point is that all those things are still meant to be "mechanisms".

Paul continually asks proponents to show him a mechanism, and casts doubt on a phenomenon in its entirety unless such process is available.
I think he is just pointing out the same thing which you just pointed out..."each theory tells us very little or nothing at all about a mechanism."

I'm attempting to show that materialism as a philosophy has information flowing the wrong way.
And I am attempting to show you that your conception of materialism has information flowing the wrong way. Discoveries made about mechanisms aren't based on "models of matter". "Matter" is merely a discovery made along the way when one looks for an agent. That's why current understandings of "matter" look nothing like the nineteenth century descriptions favoured by immaterialists.

Data can be consistent without a model on which to base the evidence.
Agreed. And materialism/physicalism/naturalism/informationism thinks this as well.

Anecdote doesn't cover well known repeat phenomena, and attempts to subvert their provenance simply for lacking a material explanation, not for want of evidence.
I'm not sure what you are trying to say here. The problem with undocumented stories ("anecdotes") about poltergeist activity is that it is unlikely that the events happened as described in the first place.

Skeptics do not claim poltergeists exist but lack a known cause, they exclusively claim (to the best of my knowledge) poltergeists are a variety of misinformation.
Exactly. It's not the lack of a mechanism. It's the lack of documentation that the events happened as described which gets immaterialism into trouble.

Linda
 
#12
First, given the empirical evidence I accept the existence of poltergeists.

Second, if "mechanism" is defined as how to work a phenomenon, then there may be a mechanism for poltergeists, but we have not discovered. In fact we have clues: most poltergeists occur only in the presence of teenage girls who are going through great stress, so one can speculate that there is a kind of energy that only is generated during adolescence and it can move objects at a distance. Maybe not all poltergeists work of this form but the most.

Third, if "mechanism" is defined as how to work a phenomenon according to the laws of motion, some psi phenomena but no poltergeists suggest that they can not be explained mechanically, for example, psychometry on a map, where a semantic connection between the map and the terrain as opposed to a mechanical connection.

And finally, about if can be phenomena that do not have any way to work, this is almost inconceivable, but in the case that these phenomena exist, we never know they have no mechanism.
 
#13
Whatever agency we ascribe to the action, anthropomorphic or metaphoric, takes us no closer to an explanation, because the known laws of physics, of which mechanisms are a part, have been contravened by poltergeist phenomena. We may as well say the frying pan chose to jump from the shelf, which could be closer to the truth. An act has taken place - a child's building brick hovers in mid-air before describing an arc across a room, for example - but that is the limit of our perception. Ghosts can exist, for anyone open minded enough to accommodate them, because they can be put down to a mental effect from proximity to an unknown field, but poltergeists interact with the world of matter by contravening its rules. In that context the term mechanism is reaching, because none of the known causal agents of the movement of matter exist.

Someone recently posted a link to a YouTube video in which a medium traced a series of intense poltergeist and haunting type activities to an area behind a wall under some stairs. When the old wall was broken down, toys belonging to the current child of the house were found, along with various older artefacts, in the cavity behind it. I use this example to show the extreme contravention of the laws of physics such cases entail, for which an electromagnetic or similar explanation, doesn't begin to answer the facts.
 
Last edited:
#14
I don't think that works, though. There have been lots of phenomena along the way which seemingly contravene the current understanding of a mechanism. What's the point of giving them the placeholder name of "immaterialism" and how would you know when to do so? How does it change things if the missing mass in the universe is called "dark energy" and "dark matter" or "the dark lord?

Linda
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#15
I think the question is at what point is something irreducible. So the immaterialist usually believes there is some consciousness or proto-consciousness that is irreducible. What we might define as a "proponent" holds that the irreducible consciousness/mind has agency.

At which point we're dealing the question mental causation, which as McGinn notes is not necessarily the same as physical causation.

The nature of the Phenomenal, which might encompass both individual consciousness and the AFAWeKnow randomness at the quantum level means the mechanism may not be reducible.

One example that might illustrate the difference is synchronicity, defined as "acausal connection of two or more psycho-physic phenomena.". Taking an agnostic position as to the reality of synchronicity, if we assume it is real it would be an example where mechanism is disconnected from the usual ideas of cause and effect. The "cause" is an individual consciousness needed to be served by reality.

Another example where mechanism deviates from the materialist expectation is Syntropy, where final causes can effect the present. That would relate to Nagel's ideas regarding teleology:

It’s a bold claim, but not in itself an unscientific one. Indeed, what Nagel’s critics rarely conceded was the fact that teleological talk remains rampant to this day in popular and even academic science writing. Vast subterranean seams of purposive metaphor imply a picture of final cause not only in modern biology but in chemistry and physics, too. It has long been accepted that ordinary descriptions of biological function, such as ‘The heart is for pumping blood’, are teleologically inflected shorthand. But we also commonly read, for example, that subatomic particles ‘know’ or ‘choose’ the ‘right’ path to take; that molecules rearrange themselves ‘in order to’ achieve a certain energy state; or that traits in organisms evolve ‘in order to’ allow the animal to do something new.
 
#16
Okay, so both materialism and immaterialism deal with unknown mechanisms, but when faced with an absence of knowledge, immaterialism makes assumptions about the nature of those unknown mechanisms.

Linda
 
#17
Okay, so both materialism and immaterialism deal with unknown mechanisms, but when faced with an absence of knowledge, immaterialism makes assumptions about the nature of those unknown mechanisms.

Linda
Those assumptions are based round their similarity to motive. A knife closely misses the resident of a house, so we say 'a poltergeist did it'. It resembles a familiar action sufficiently to determine agency, only in so far as 'a knife wanted to play a game' sounds absurd.
 
#19
Exactly. We have a tendency to infer intent.

This seems to be sufficient, for some, to propose anti-materialism.

Linda
Well we don't have anything to compare such actions to except intent. A materialist may wish to account for poltergeist phenomena as an unknown physical force, but he must also account for the rest of reality, the chairs, the walls, the carpet, the light fittings, behaving exactly as one would expect them to, while one aspect decides to party. He can either say matter is ordered, or it is capricious. Or as more commonly happens, question the evidence as the most immediate way of not having to examine it too closely.
 
#20
That's what I mean - something which is causing the action (i.e. a mechanism) is assumed under both materialism and immaterialism. So the difference between immaterialism and materialism isn't that materialism assumes a mechanism. Immaterialism also assumes a mechanism. The only difference between the two is that materialism/physicalism/naturalism/informationism assumes "some sort of unknown mechanism", while in order for a mechanism to be immaterial, it assumes "some sort of unknown mechanism involving some sort of conscious intent".
I think the crucial thing is that a mechanism is decomposable into parts. The theoretical physicist, Roger Penrose makes the distinction between things that have a mechanism and those that don't.

So from this point of view, a complicated thought might be decomposable into simpler thoughts, but a thought couldn't be decomposed into something ultimately simple, like a piece of computer code. An thought might be expressible in a physical way - e.g. the electrons bringing this idea to you - but you need another mentality - yours - to comprehend it again.

There might well be something that could be called a chemistry of thought - in away psychology studies just that - but it could not resolve completely into something that was not thought.

David
 
Top