Materialism vs. Physicalism



“Materialism” has gone out of favor, replaced by “Physicalism” (for no good reason — as our definition of ‘matter’ changes).

Physicalism (as many writers point out) presumes that everything can be reduced to physics. But “Is there a theoretical reduction of chemistry to physics?” is debated today by scientists and philosophers.

Materialism — which treats all matter (quarks, atoms, molecules, cells, brains, galaxies, …) with equal respect — doesn’t have this problem. It is agnostic in the current debate.

(So the safest stance is to be a Materialist vs. Physicalist. It’s too early to commit to the completeness of physics.)


Philip Thrift


To tell the truth


There are two types of truths (identified by their domains):

μ-truths η-truths
fictional material
mathematical physical
simulative synthetic
linguistic substrative
logical phenomenal
μ = lower-case M for Myth (fiction)
η = lower-case H for Hyle (matter)

In Fictionalism (in the philosophy of mathematics), Nominalization is the process of translating mathematical (fictional, μ-truth) language into physical (material, η-truth) objects. In contrast to Fictionalism, in Platonism mathematical μ-truths are taken to be “real”.

In Kantianism, η-truths are “things-in-themselves”— the truths we can only point to with μ-truth expressions.


Philip Thrift


It’s (probably) the chemistry, stupid.




This note is about PC — phenomenal consciousness — and three camps who talk about it:

(PC-)Anti-Materialists, Anti-PC-Materialists, PC-Materialists

  • PC-Anti-Materialists, or just Anti-Materialists, or Dualists: PC requires immateriality. (I suppose there could be Anti-PC-Anti-Materialists. Who are they?)
  • Anti-PC-Materialists: PC doesn’t exist. (Some philosophers and neurobiologists say this.)
  • PC-Materialists: PC exists and “Real” Materialism incorporates PC.
    Basic argument: There is no reason to reject materialism: Everything that is real is material. We accept that phenomenal consciousness is real. Real materialism thus includes phenomenal consciousness.

But at what level (and to what degree) does PC (or proto-PC) appear?

· particle
· atomic
· molecular               ?
· cellular
· multicellular

The molecular (chemical) level is perhaps the most promising fundamental level for protophenomenal matter. The References at the end of this Note provide some options.

Almost certainly wrong (or insufficient) approaches to PC — those that do not involve chemistry — are information-theoretic (integrated information theory) and network-dynamic (dynamical patterns of “neural network” activity).


Materialism — and the definition of matter — has changed over the centuries. Quantum mechanics provided perhaps the most recent revolutionary change. (Time will tell if change in its defintion could occur in incorporating dark matter and dark energy.) Why can’t incorporating PC also lead to a change in the definition of matter? Just as QM was a “special sauce” that updated Materialism, PC could as well. Matter is not a fixed-Platonic form — its definition is updated as more is learned about it — as any good scientific process would do.

But there is a mathematical language — several dialects (e.g. Hilbert Space, Matrix Mechanics, Path Integral) of mathematical language, in fact — to express QM.

A language for PC could be a synthetic bio-cellular-phenomenal language (BCPL)* that requires a synthetic compiler (as in biocompiler/bioprinter) to produce a living, material output.

Here is the difference:

One can translate a mathematical dialect of QM into a library of code written in some (conventional) programming language, and a program Q built from that library could be run as as a simulation on a (conventional) computer.

Suppose there is a library of code written in BCPL, and P is a program built from that library. That program could only be “run” as the output of a synthetic compiler, not as a simulation on a (conventional) computer** — because (conventional) computers cannot (fully) experience anything! The synthetic output of P, however, would be phenomenally conscious (at whatever level).

(Suppose we had a physics “TOE” – a complete theory of physics – one that unified all the usual forces – etc. It still could be that there are laws governing chemistry that are in addition to the TOE of physics. A bigger TOE would be needed to include these additional laws. [Wikipedia: Philosophy_of_chemistryCan chemistry, in fact, be reduced to physics as has been assumed by many, or are there inexplicable gaps? Some authors, for example, Roald Hoffmann, have recently suggested that a number of difficulties exist in the reductionist program with concepts like aromaticity, pH, reactivity, nucleophilicity, for example. The noted philosopher of science, Karl Popper, among others, predicted as much.] [SEP: chemistryGiven that quantum mechanics cannot tell us why a given collection of atoms will adopt one molecular structure (and set of chemical properties) or the other, Hendry argues that chemical properties cannot be recovered from quantum mechanical properties.] Proposal: Try to write a compiler C2Q that [realistically] compiles a program c in computational chemistry into a program q in purely quantum language, and a decompiler Q2C that reverse compiles q into a program c’, c’ ~ c. Cf.

In the chain QM → Chemistry → Biology → PC, the chain from QM to PC is problematic (raising the prospect of quantum consciousness). The possibility that there are new principles (strong upward emergence | downward causation) of nature at the chemical level in addition to those at the quantum level would provide a path forward.

* Not to be confused with the historical BCPL [Wikipedia].
** One can write Sim(P) for the simulation of P on a (conventional) computer, Syn(P) for the synthetic compiler output. Syn(P) has true experientiality; Sim(P) doesn’t. Thus there is the dichotomy of a program Q for which Sim(Q) is “sufficient” (does not “require” a synthetic or matter compiler) and a program P for which Sim(P) is not “sufficient”; only Syn(P) is.

Understanding the biology behind consciousness (or self-awareness) is considered by some to be the final frontier of science.
Why we need to figure out a theory of consciousness

(This Note appeared in The Pandeist Daily, Saturday, Jun. 16, 2018.)


Panpsychism [and Panqualityism] Versus Panprotopsychism
[in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism
Galen Strawson

Panpsychism and Panprotopsychism
David J. Chalmers

Consciousness: A Molecular Perspective
Robert Prentner

Cell phenomenology: The first phenomenon

Biology of consciousness
Gerald M. Edelman, Joseph A. Gally, Bernard J. Baars

Molecular Consciousness: Why the Universe Is Aware of Our Presence
Françoise Tibika [bio]

The Astonishing Hypothesis
Francis Crick

The Phenomenological Mind
An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science
Shaun Gallagher and Dan Zahavi
[pdf, 244 pages]

The Science of Consciousness Conference
TSC-2018 · April 2-8, 2018 · Tucson, AZ
[Info] [Abstracts] [Main]


Philip Thrift


Living according to nothingness—and being!


It is said that the motto of Stoicism is

Live according to nature.

We are designed, by nature, to seek out the things we need to live, and are given, again by nature, the choice to grow and change in the way that each particular human is ‘meant’ to, or to work against that inborn potential.

The contrasting motto of Existentialism would be

Live according to nothingness—and being!

Sartre contends that

  • human existence is a conundrum whereby each of us exists, for as long as we live, within an overall condition of nothingness (no thing-ness)—that ultimately allows for free consciousness. But simultaneously, within our being (in the physical world), we are constrained to make continuous, conscious choices.
  • any person of a serious nature is obliged to continuous struggle between: a) the conscious desire for peaceful self-fulfillment through physical actions and social roles—as if living within a portrait that one actively paints of oneself, and b) the more pure and raging spontaneity of no thing consciousness, of being instantaneously free to overturn one’s roles, pull up stakes, and strike out on new paths.
  • Wikipedia:Being_and_Nothingness


The Existentialist views nothingness as their origin, versus (the confines of) nature: There is no “human nature” that limits the Existentialist in creating their own being and meaning (cf. Existentialism is a Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre).

Existentialism can be further contrasted with Stoicism by the table

  Stoicism Existentialism
logic fixed flexible
physics deterministic stochastic
ethics virtues choices

On ethics

Stoicism: “Be virtuous.”
Existentialism: “Be authentic.”

On logic

The Stoic’s logic is likely to be fixed, Aristotelian, and something belonging to a conceptual space that is apart from the empirical space of physics. In contrast, the Existentialist’s logic could be flexible and adaptable to circumstances.

On creativity

The Stoic’s philosophy in general could lead to an uncreative culture.

According to a stereotypical view, Stoicism in the period of the Roman Empire was philosophically uncreative. … Like all stereotypes, this one contains an element of truth.”
the cambridge companion to THE STOICS

In contrast, the Existentialist’s philosophy could lead to … too much creativity?

On property rights

The idea of “perpetual” property rights, essential to libertarianism, is also essential to the right-wing religion (evangelical) notion that God gives particular people the ownership to particular land. Stoicism is compatible with – or at least is not antagonistic to – the libertarian/evangelical (sans God) property rights view whereas Existentialism is opposed. Man (and Woman!) begins with nothing and what he/she possesses is what he/she makes on his/her own, not what he/she steals from the Earth or is given to him/her by God.

On Spock (of Star Trek: TOS)

Spock’s had his existentialist moments when he got out of his Stoic box: when he disobeyed his father and went to join Star Fleet instead of the Vulcan Science Academy; when he jettisoned the fuel of the shuttlecraft to signal the Enterprise; …


· Jordan Peterson and the Return of the Stoics
· The impact of Stoicism on Roman culture

(Thanks to Skye Cleary @Skye_Cleary for indicating the being half be emphasized.)


Philip Thrift




The blend of the natural and the artificial is the synthetic.

(Conceptualists talk of a conceptual space separate from an empirical space. Synthetists talk of blends.)

Synthetic biology, synthetic chemistry, synthetic materials are amone the new (synthetic) sciences.

The Synthetist (vs. Platonist) view of mathematics is that

  • Matter has mathematicality (describable in some mathematical language).

  • Manipulators (of symbols) evolve from Matter.

  • Manipulators make Mathematics (a language) to describe Matter — as well as fictional things (infinite sets like natural numbers, real numbers, etc.) — and Machines to explore it (experimental mathematics).

Blends also arise in politics.

Welfarism is a blend of Socialism and Capitalism in a democracy.

Definitions from Free Dictionary:

so·cial·ism (sō′shə-lĭz′əm)
1. Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.
2. The stage in Marxist-Leninist theory intermediate between capitalism and communism, in which the means of production are collectively owned but a completely classless society has not yet been achieved.

cap·i·tal·ism (kăp′ĭ-tl-ĭz′əm)
An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development occurs through the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market.

wel·far·ism (wĕl′fâr-ĭz′əm)
The set of policies, practices, and social attitudes associated with a welfare state.
wel′far·ist n.

welfare state
1. A social system whereby the state assumes primary responsibility for the welfare of its citizens, as in matters of health care, education, employment, and social security.
2. A nation in which such a system operates.



The welfare state is a concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the social and economic well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life. The general term may cover a variety of forms of economic and social organization. The sociologist T. H. Marshall described the modern welfare state as a distinctive combination of democracy, welfare, and capitalism.


T. H. Marshall wrote a seminal essay on citizenship, titled “Citizenship and Social Class”. This was published in 1950, based on a lecture given the previous year. He analysed the development of citizenship as a development of civil, then political, then social rights. These were broadly assigned to the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries respectively. His distinctive contribution was to introduce the concept of social rights understood as the welfare rights. Social Rights are awarded not on the basis of class or need, but rather on the status of citizenship. He claimed that the extension of social rights does not entail the destruction of social classes and inequality. T. H. Marshall [ …] involved in a turn in liberal thought that was called “new liberalism”, a liberalism with a social conscience. T. H. Marshall also talks about industrial citizenship and its relationship with citizenship. He said that social rights are a precursor for political and civil rights.

The 20th-century T. H. Marshall may have been foreshadowed by the 17th-century Spinoza:

Law Without Authority: Sources of the Welfare State in Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Arthur J. Jacobson)

Spinoza and the Political Theology of Moses Hess [pdf]


Spinoza was already two centuries ahead of 18th-century Adam Smith.

Philip Thrift


The dispensability of category theory


Is category theory really nothing but a dispensable gloss of type theory?

Thesis: Anything in category theory can be replaced concretely by something in type theory.

cf. Type-theoretic definition of category


Philip Thrift


Code theory from alternative worlds


Code theory – the theory that everything is codical in terms of some (domain-specific) language — the doctrine called codicalism — can come from (one might say) alternative worlds.

The Code Theoretic Axiom
The Third Ontology
Klee Irwin

A logical-physical ontology is code theory, wherein reality is neither deterministic nor random. In light of Conway and Kochen’s free will theorem and strong free will theorem, we discuss the plausibility of a third axiomatic option – geometric language; the code theoretic axiom. We suggest freewill choices at the syntactically free steps of a geometric language of spacetime form the code theoretic substrate upon which particle and gravitational physics emerge.


In this world, the domain of business analysis, something I know little about, comes with its own vocabulary and higher-level semantics (above so-called IT – information technology), and is an interesting domain for code theoretic analysis.


Philip Thrift