Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

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Stanley Huang
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Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Stanley Huang » September 24th, 2012, 4:12 am

When I was around 17 years old, at that time, I was interested in idealism and I said to my tutor that everything is created by our own minds.

My tutor said: “That is philosophy. Science is based on what you can observe.”

So in the past, from what I have read, people tend to feel that physicists are materialists, especially when they read about Einstein having faith in material monism.

But now, I feel this may not be so, or a physicist may not need to be a materialist, and just because Albert Einstein was a materialist that does not mean that a scientist must be a material atheist.

Because German philosopher Kant, interested in physics, he wrote how a person can fall in love with science, yet, having faith in the philosophy of idealism.

Kant believed that a person’s interest in the material world is only a creation from his own mind or own thinking, where he believed, that the unity existence of body and mind are just nothing more than ideas, making a scientist, not need to have faith in materialism, where his interest in the material world is just purely ideas, to Kant.

Now, when I read a bit more, Einstein and Russell’s faith on materialism were not the mainstream, because people like Bohr and Heisenberg were not believers of material philosophy.

Bohr and Heisenberg might be empiricists, believing that what he can see is the real existence from his senses, while idealist may feel that the real existence is created by his own mind, and not the 5 senses.

And just then, I was so excited to find out that there was a physicist who was an idealist. James Hopwood Jeans was a physicist who believed in idealism, and when I found out that there was a physicist who had faith in idealism, I was happy because it answered my question that a scientist does not need to be a materialist or atheist, in other words, one does not need to be a material atheist in order to be a physicist.

Even though I was interested in the philosophy of Kant, I am not a believer of idealism and I do not agree with Kant or what he said.

Now, I am not an idealist and I am not an empiricist, because I do not believe that facts are created by our one’s own mind. I do not believe facts belong to the five senses. To me, there is a fact before what we can observe. There is a fact before what you think, so I am not an empiricist.

But when my tutor said that science is based on what you can see, I now feel that may be his philosophical faith, and maybe there is more than one ‘ism,’ which we cannot deny that an ideal physicist will say that science is created by his own thinking or his own mind, right?

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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Quotidian » September 24th, 2012, 5:51 am

I don't believe Albert Einstein was a 'materialist' in any sense of the term, either socially, or philosophically. He was not a religious man, in the conventional sense, but had a strong mystical streak. Heisenberg wrote an essay on 'The Debate between Plato and Democritus' and came down in favour of Plato. He was certainly not a materialist either, and his book On Physics and Philosophy is well worth reading.

Currently I am reading the excellent new biography of Erwin Schrodinger by John Gribben. Schrodinger had a life-long interest in Schopenhauer and also Advaita Vedanta. I related this fact on a well-known evolutionary materialist website the other day, and they were all shocked by the fact that a scientist 'had religious beliefs'. How could this be, they wondered. It is such an ignorant thing to say. Schrodinger was one of the foremost scientific geniuses of the 20th Century. He was a real champion of reason, and nobody's fool. He also believed that ultimately, there is but one mind, and we are all facets of it. He presumably felt he had very good grounds for saying that. But it upsets many people, basically because they want to cling to what they think they know so well - the concrete reality of the world around them, which they natively believe has the hallmark of 'reality'.

As for your lecturer - I would expect a science lecturer to say those kinds of things. That is presumably why s/he picked 'science lecturing' as an occupation. I would only hope that they would realize that, in the spirit of enquiry, the world is still a mysterious place.

I am meaning to study Kant in more detail, as I think he is very important, and I don't think his central idea of 'transcendental idealism' has been overturned by anything discovered since. Nor could it be. But to understand why, is a philosophical question, not a scientific one. And there's a difference.
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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Syamsu » September 24th, 2012, 8:01 am

Stanley Huang wrote: But when my tutor said that science is based on what you can see, I now feel that may be his philosophical faith, and maybe there is more than one ‘ism,’ which we cannot deny that an ideal physicist will say that science is created by his own thinking or his own mind, right?
Only creationism is valid science. You can also see this in history, that science started out with creationism. At first in the middle-ages facts and opinions were in one intractible mess. In such a situation the church has authority over the mess, and science cannot flourish. Only after creationists in the late middle-ages, like Occam, distinghuished fact from opinion, did science flourish. Generally religion had the domain of opinion, and science the domain of fact.

What creationism does is to distinghuish fact from opinion, validating both in their own right. Then later came materialism which said that only facts are valid. But materialism led to social darwinist pseudoscience, where opinions about what should and should not, were represented as if they were facts, because everything is a matter of fact for the materialist.

So if one accepts that there is a rule in science that what ought and ought not cannot be part of science, this rule establishes that materialism cannot be true, and creationism must be true.

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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Stanley Huang » September 24th, 2012, 8:57 am

No, Einstein was a materialist. If you do not believe me, read his debate with the Indian poet Tagore and also read about his view, where he said: "I like to think that the moon is still there, even if I do not see it."

So he is a material atheist.

Now, I have a new word which is 'factualist.' What factualist is that if a person feels that there is fact before his 5 senses, then, he is a factualist.

So whatever the fact is, that is, if there is a physical world, or if there is no physical world, whatever it is, if a person feels that there is a fact before him, then, he is a factualist.

What factualist may differ from materialist is that materialist may feel that there is a material world before him, while factualist feels that there is fact independent of his observation, whatever the fact is. That is, if there is a material world, then, this is a fact; if there is no material world, then, no material world is the fact.

So factualist is a new world I use, which differs from materialist, where a factualist will not say that there is a material world before us, rather, there is a fact before us, and whatever the fact is, or depending on what the fact is, and so, if there is a physical world, then, this is a fact or part of the facts, or if there is no material world, then, the fact will be that there is no physical world.

So maybe I will be the first freethinker to use the word 'factualist' as a metaphysical thinker who feels the fact before his senses.

Secondly, I feel the weakness with idealism may be that an idealist may not agree that there is a fact independent or before him, or he might miss it.

In the past, the philosophers debated was the question of whether or not the material world exists.

But maybe beginning from me, the future debate will be whether or not the fact exists.

And if you think or if you do not agree with me, or if you support idealism, at least, can you come up with an argument to refute my words or to support idealism, if you are an idealist.

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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Thinkingcat » September 24th, 2012, 3:40 pm

Stanley, you may have misunderstood what your tutor meant. There is no contradiction between believing that "everything is created by our own minds" and that "science is based on what you can observe". Your tutor's point was probably that whether everything is created by our minds or not is irrelevant to most scientific endeavour, since even if stuff is created by our minds it can still be usefully investigated by observation. Most of science is concerned with discovering rules by which we can predict what will happen. The philosophical sense in which it is "happening" does not diminish the value of such knowledge. For instance it does not alter the fact that suffering can be alleviated by advances in medicine due to an understanding of biology based on observation. And discovering the equations which govern the interaction of sub-atomic particles tells us something about the nature of things, whether it be a clue to the nature of an external reality or a reflection of the nature of our own minds.

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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Quotidian » September 24th, 2012, 5:23 pm

No, Einstein was a materialist. If you do not believe me, read his debate with the Indian poet Tagore and also read about his view, where he said: "I like to think that the moon is still there, even if I do not see it."

So he is a material atheist.
Rubbish. You don't need to be a 'materialist atheist' to be a scientific realist. I suggest you read Walter Isaacson's biography of Einstein, published 2008, which has a whole chapter on Einstein's God. He is quoted as saying 'I know there are those who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is when they quote me in support of their views'.

As for the rest, you're just making it up as you go along.
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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Martian Visitor » September 24th, 2012, 5:48 pm

Quotidian wrote: Schrodinger was one of the foremost scientific geniuses of the 20th Century. He was a real champion of reason, and nobody's fool. He also believed that ultimately, there is but one mind, and we are all facets of it. He presumably felt he had very good grounds for saying that. But it upsets many people, basically because they want to cling to what they think they know so well - the concrete reality of the world around them, which they natively believe has the hallmark of 'reality'.
It upsets me because he didn't have good grounds for saying it. If he'd had good grounds for saying it, it wouldn't have been a religious belief, would it?

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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Stanley Huang » September 24th, 2012, 7:47 pm

Quotidian,

You do not need to be a material atheist in order to be a realist. But Einstein was a material atheist. What Einstein was saying was that he believed in the existence of the laws of nature as godly, he was a follower of Spinoza.

So you did not read about Einstein's view on Spinoza.

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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Spectrum » September 24th, 2012, 11:35 pm

A scientist is one who does Science.
Science is very specific and conditioned within the Scientific framework that has it own rules, procedures, methods, assumptions, delimiters, etc.
A person who conforms exactly to within the scientific framework and is recognized by his scientific peers is a scientist-proper.

A chess player is one who play chess in accordance to the rules of chess as generally accepted by the chess federation.
The same principles applies to all profession, games, 'specialized' philosophy, etc.
One exception that is no-holds-barred is philosophy-proper.

From a philosophical deliberation perspective, there is no such thing as 'a materialist' without any qualification.

A scientist-materialist is one who adopt the definition of matter within Science. In that sense, all scientists are scientific-materialists.

A scientist-materialist may or may-not be a philosophical-materialist.
Einstein is both a scientist-materialist and a philosophical-materialist.
The term theistic or atheistic-materialist is ineffective.
Einstein is a theistic scientist-materialist and theistic-philosophical materialist.

Btw, philosophical-materialism is obsolete and denounced by Berkeley.
The latest terms should be philosophical-physicalism to cover QM. The other dichotomy is philosophical realism vs philosophical anti-realism. Einstein is a philosophical realist.

Stanley, your comment on Kant is too shallow.
Not-a-theist. Religion is a critical necessity for humanity now, but not the FUTURE.

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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Stanley Huang » September 25th, 2012, 1:03 am

No, Einstein was not a theist. Einstein did not believe in the idea of personal God. His faith in God was his faith in the laws of nature as godly.

Now, Einstein was either an agnostic or an atheist. But he was not a theist, or at least, he did not believe in a personal God.

Maybe he did when he was little, but in his later years, he rejected the concept of personal God, and so if you read Spinoza, then, that is Einstein's metaphysical view.

Now, not all physicists are materialists. Like I wrote above, there was a physicist who supported the concept of idealism. If you do not believe me, then read wikipedia.

Now, the weakness with idealism may be that an idealist ignores that there is a fact before us, whatever that fact is, which I am unsure of, but at least, I feel there must be a fact before us. whether materialism, atheism, nihilism, or whatever, I feel there must be a fact before us, which idealists ignore, and which is a weakness.

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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Spectrum » September 25th, 2012, 2:45 am

Stanley Huang wrote:No, Einstein was not a theist. Einstein did not believe in the idea of personal God. His faith in God was his faith in the laws of nature as godly.
Now, Einstein was either an agnostic or an atheist. But he was not a theist, or at least, he did not believe in a personal God.
Maybe he did when he was little, but in his later years, he rejected the concept of personal God, and so if you read Spinoza, then, that is Einstein's metaphysical view.
Einstein did not believe in a personal god, but he nevertheless believe in some sort of universal God. Note, he stated, 'God do not play dice'. Einstein's God was similar to the Spinoza God. That is still a form of theism, i.e. pantheism.
Now, not all physicists are materialists. Like I wrote above, there was a physicist who supported the concept of idealism. If you do not believe me, then read wikipedia.
All physicists are scientific-materialist, they may not be philosophical-materialists. Note the difference.
Now, the weakness with idealism may be that an idealist ignores that there is a fact before us, whatever that fact is, which I am unsure of, but at least, I feel there must be a fact before us. whether materialism, atheism, nihilism, or whatever, I feel there must be a fact before us, which idealists ignore, and which is a weakness.
There are many types of 'idealism', which 'duck' are you shooting at?
Idealism do not ignore fact before us.

This is what Berkeley the famous subjective idealist said,
35. I do not argue against the existence of any one thing that we can apprehend either by sense or reflexion. That the things I see with my eyes and touch with my hands do exist, really exist, I make not the least question.

So, when did a famous so-called idealist like Berkeley ignore facts?
Not-a-theist. Religion is a critical necessity for humanity now, but not the FUTURE.

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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Quotidian » September 25th, 2012, 3:37 am

Martian Visitor wrote: It upsets me because he didn't have good grounds for saying it. If he'd had good grounds for saying it, it wouldn't have been a religious belief, would it?
But that is *because* you understand religion as "beliefs held without good reason". That is how you see it, your understanding of the terminology. I suggest that this is actually a very specific, historically-conditioned interpretation of the meaning of the word.

In fact Schrodinger did not want any part of organised religion, and he didn't present his philosophy as a 'religious belief'. Schopenhauer was scathing in his rejection of God but read the Upanisads throughout his life. Neither of them saw Advaita Vedanta as 'religion' but as a way to understanding a higher truth about the nature of reality. But if you don't have any framework to interpret this in - and this is not an easy thing to come by - then it will be interpreted as 'religion' and treated accordingly. I suggest that is a dogmatic view of another kind.
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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Stanley Huang » September 25th, 2012, 4:00 am

Spectrum said: "I do not argue against the existence of any one thing that we can apprehend either by sense or reflexion. That the things I see with my eyes and touch with my hands do exist, really exist, I make not the least question."

But is Berkeley saying that what he sees exist in his empirical senses, or is he saying that what he sees exist before his senses? There is a difference.

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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Martian Visitor » September 25th, 2012, 4:04 am

Quotidian wrote: (Nested quote removed.)


But that is *because* you understand religion as "beliefs held without good reason".
What I'm saying is that you understand it that way too. You asserted that Schrodinger must have had good grounds for his belief that "there is but one mind and we are all part of it": but what are those grounds? You know there aren't any!

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Re: Does a Scientist Need to Be a Materialist?

Post by Quotidian » September 25th, 2012, 4:09 am

How do you know that I know that? Have you read any of Schrodinger's philosophical reflections? Do you know why he says he has that view? There are quite a few scientists who have come to various types of idealism or dualism on the basis of Quantum Mechanics. Have you done any reading on the question?
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