THE PROBLEM WITH MATERIALISM

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Can we really see a feeling or a thought, as Michio Kaku claims? Not at all. Of course, it depends what we’re calling a feeling or a thought. Materialists tend to conflate two different things. In point of fact, a feeling like pain can’t be observed; it has to be felt. Even in a clinical setting, what is felt by the subject on the one hand and observed by the medical practitioner or scientist on the other constitute distinct phenomena. They may run parallel, but are not equivalent. The same can be said of the mind, indeed of the person in general. The objectively observed physiological process (even one that is a mirror image of what is actually seen by the subject) and the experienced event of feeling, thinking, seeing, etc. (of being a person), call for different ways of access and for totally different descriptions. The one can be reduced to somatic functions; the other, being a perspective one has and undergoes rather than something that can be externally observed, is simply not susceptible of a physiological description. Since first person experience can’t be reified without fundamentally distorting what it is, materialism tries to discount it by calling it subjective. It classifies the mind as an epiphenomenon, a mere byproduct of the brain (a “secondary effect” of the body). What really counts for materialism is what can be externally observed. Everything else becomes “merely subjective.” But this means that the act of undergoing gets sidelined and, with it, what we have traditionally called the spirit or soul, by which we mean what can’t be reduced to body-centered ways of apprehending.

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