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CONSEQUENCES OF MATERIALISM
Valdemar W. Setzer
Original in Portuguese of 25/6/10; tranlsated on 22/7/10; this version 1.3 May 1, 2012
3. Why are so many people materialists?
4. Consequences of materialism
4.1 Denial of free will
4.3. Breach with mankind's past
4.4 Simplistic conception of reality
4.5 Mechanistic view of the world
4.6 Feelings just for pleasure
4.7 Education as memorization and training
4.8 Art as dilettantism and pleasure
4.9 Senseless life
4.10 Incoherent life
4.11 Ignoring good and evil
4.12 Denying recent human evolution
4.14 Denying higher individuality
Appendix: Determinism, nondeterminism, randomness, self-determination and free will
This paper is a translation of the original in Portuguese, "Consequências do materialismo".
Initially, I characterize what I consider a materialist world view, and make considerations about why nowadays so many people are materialists. Then I cover the consequences of this view, showing for each one how it would not exist had the world view be non-materialist, that is, if it would be a spiritual view. In an appendix I define or characterize certain terms used in this paper, such as determinism, nondeterminism, self-determinism etc.
It is important to stress from the beginning that my world view is a spiritual one, but it does not stem from any connection to any religion or religious confession. For more detail on that view, please see my papers "Is there spirit or just matter in the universe?" and "Science, religion and spirituality". In the latter, I characterize my world view as a "scientific spirituality", that is, based upon working hypotheses, coherent theories and objective observations, both not contradicting any scientific fact and any inner or outer observation done by anybody, and not being based upon any kind of faith.
Some readers may find it strange that, although I employ the world ‘spirituality’, I don’t use the words ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’. If I had used them, I would have to extend myself characterizing what could be understood by them, and what are their differences, which I have done in another text. I also don’t use the word God, because a notion of what this entity could be has been completely lost. I use the expression ‘non-physical’, although a negation does not produce a definition; I want to refer with it generically to everything that is not physical – and which has no sense from a materialist point of view.
Finally, it is important to make it clear that I am not against science, on the contrary. I accept any scientific fact, albeit not accepting some scientific judgments. I am convinced that the present scientific method is partial and may be extended to encompass a spiritualist view of the world.
Translations from other languages are mine. As usual with my texts, criticisms and suggestions are most welcome (see my e-mail address at my home page).
Materialism is the world view that considers the universe as being constituted exclusively of physical matter and energy, and of physical processes which act upon them. A person is a materialist if his way of thinking is based on this view. In this sense, it is very important to recognize that many people who declare themselves religious, or belong to some religious confession, are in fact materialists. For example, someone may frequently refer to an abstract entity God, which should transcend the physical world; nevertheless, if in his everyday life, and for justifying his positions, this person thinks solely on physical processes, he is a materialist.
On the contrary, a spiritual person admits the existence of ‘substances’ which cannot be reduced to physical matter, and the existence of non-physical members in each living being, in particular in humans. For a description of these members, see my text on this subject, where the distinction between the four realms of nature – including humans and animals – is justified by the hypothesis of the existence of different non-physical members in some realms but not existing in others. Perhaps a spiritual person may even admit the existence of divine beings, entities without physical manifestation. But the most important point is that in her way of thinking she includes non-physical processes, and considers that physical phenomena are a manifestation of non-physical ones. In particular, I have a theory on how a non-physical process may act upon the physical world in living beings: by choosing one of different physical nondeterministic transitions. The choice of what transition to take in the next instant does not require energy (see the Appendix). Various processes in living beings may be nondeterministic, such as what amino acid, from many possible ones, will be generated from a certain gene, which cell of some tissue will be the next one to subdivide or to start dying, if a neuron fires or not under certain input conditions etc.
It is possible to observe, in history, an increasing development of materialism. In remote antiquity, the existence of something non-physical in the human being, as well as the existence of non-physical entities (the divine beings) was taken for granted. Nobody had any doubt about this, as one may see in all sacred scriptures and all myths of all peoples. Only in relatively recent times a doubt about these existences began to appear, at the same time as one tried to explain all phenomena in the world through physical causes and effects. The scientific method established by Galileo (1564-1642), Descartes (1596-1650) and Newton (1643-1727) was based on this type of explanation, with the addition of mathematical modeling involving measurements done with experiments. Observe that, curiously, mathematics has no physical consistency – for instance, nobody has ever seen a perfect circle. But all those precursors still spoke freely about God and even about a non-physical ‘soul’ associated to every human being. This has also disappeared, as shown by the title of the book by Julien O. de La Méttrie (1709-1751), L’Homme-Machine, published in 1748. A landmark of this development was the famous phrase by Nietzsche (1844-1900), "God is dead", which he used for the fist time in his book Die fröhliche Wissenschaft ("Joyful science", 1882), expressing with it that this entity had no more significance for humans, thus it didn’t exist.
Nowadays a great part of people with a certain degree of culture is materialist. There are many reasons for this. I think one of the main ones is due to religious confessions. Modern humans do not wish to believe, they want to understand. They do not want to admit dogmas without explanations. They do not want to blindly follow customs, laws and commandments: they want to eventually follow them because they are recognized as being constructive or morally valid. They consider their ideas as being always subjected to revision, and are willing to change them if they encounter other, more valid or coherent ones. They do not want to participate in mysterious cults which cannot be satisfactorily explained – if there is any explanation for them. Well, religions go against all these points: they impose faith, dogmas, attitudes and cults, in general without reasonable explanations. Thus, we have a terrible paradox: the currents that should lead humans to spirituality end up directing them to materialism. Observe that the Latin origin of ‘religion’ is religare, reconnect. That is, religions should reconnect people to something whose connection with was lost, that is, the non-physical world, including with the non-physical human constitution. Nevertheless, the result is precisely the opposite: a greater disconnection.
From a spiritual point of view, one may suppose that mankind was, in its beginnings, connected to divine beings. This is magnificently represented by the biblical image of Paradise. But, gradually, it separated from the divinity, and gave more and more importance to what its senses could perceive, with increasing sharpness, in the physical world. At the same time, the capacity for abstract thinking led to the scientific conceptualization of physical processes, especially from the 15th century on. An example of this development was the appearance of linear perspective. In some time between 1412 and 1425, Brunelleschi (1377-1446) did an experiment in the Santa Maria del Fiore plaza, in Florence, to the great astonishment of those present, demonstrating how it was possible to paint with perspective, imitating the optical perception (Zajonc 1993, p. 58). Tridimensional reality is one thing, another one is the optical vision one has about it; before the time of conscious introduction of perspective, people were so much in touch with reality that they did not represent it as one sees it, but as it is. It is the same as drawing railroad tracks in the vertical, always parallel, as they really are. Our optical system makes us see them approaching each other. In the same vein, the visual impression of the Sun and of stars moving along the sky during day and night is very strong. It is necessary to have a great capacity for abstraction to think that they are fixed and we are rotating with the Earth. Observe that Compernicus (1473-1543) developed his heliocentric system for a purely conceptual reason: setting the planets' orbits around the Sun, he eliminated some epicycles, making it easier to calculate orbits and eclipses. In epicycles, the planets move along a circle with center in a point where there was nothing; this point turned, in his theory, around the Sun. Epicycles were necessary to produce the deviations of the orbits in relation to circular movements.
A modern person, with a certain cultural level, when entering in touch with present religions, their world views and how they impose attitudes, should feel at least great discomfort. Observing extreme religious fundamentalisms and fanaticisms, so common, she should become horrified. Probably in all these cases she will feel and recognize a return to past times, in which the world view and the way of thinking and feeling was different from our times. In other words, I think that religions constitute one of the biggest causes for so many people being materialists. Precisely those that should show spirituality as a present need for humanity, end up moving humanity away from it!
Another reason for being a materialist is the fear every cultured person has of falling into faiths and mysticisms, thus losing part of his rationality.
Yet another reason is a lack of understanding of ancient sacred texts, and of myths involving non-physical entities. A literal reading, according to our present experience, leads to absurdities which people with a certain cultural degree cannot admit. For instance, how is it possible to imagine Noah’s Arch, with couples of all animals living together for 40 days? Unfortunately, many religious precepts are derived from myths that, clearly, are images and not conceptual descriptions of reality. Modern humans long for an explanation of these images of scriptures and myths, thus being able to relate to them and with humanity’s past; they are not satisfied with abstract explanations given by science (such as evolutionary theories) or by religions.
Modern science is clearly materialist. Its successes on technology and the resulting increasing mastering over nature led to confidence on the scientific-materialist view of the world. This confidence is in part due to the publicizing that scientists and technicians do about their results, in general showing their successes and never their failures. Incompleteness and contradictions of certain scientific theories or even of experimental results are rarely made public, probably due to a fear that most of humanity will stop believing in what scientists say – yes, science has become a question of faith for many scientists and for laymen who blindly believe and trust it. An additional reason for the belief in science is the fast, increasingly complex technological advancement. For example, not so long ago everybody could understand the whole functioning of a car motor. Nowadays, with electronic ignition and other computer controls, not even mechanics comprehend it anymore – they simply exchange components without understanding their functioning. This complexity produces a great admiration for machines and for the science that is behind them. It also produces a kind of unfortunate mental paralysis: laymen find it so difficult to comprehend how technology works, that they simply do not try to understand it, an attitude contrary to the natural human curiosity for understanding phenomena. A typical example is that most people ignore why planes fly, an application of Bernoulli’s principle, so simple to verify: take a piece of thin paper, touch its shorter side just below your lower lip, blow the air and see how the paper goes up (the speed of the air being blown over the paper is higher than the still air under it).
Finally, school and university education in general is done in such a way as to induce a materialist mentality. One considers that the child or youth should enter in touch as soon as possible with science, that is, have their way of thinking influenced by the materialist conception of living beings and the world. One tries to induce a genuine belief in science, ignoring or even ridiculing any approach that is not materialist.
A human being has free will if she is able to consciously determine some inner action (as thinking some thought) or external (such as moving an arm) without being possible to predict these actions from her previous physical condition, and these actions are not determined by her instincts, unconscious will impulses or feelings (in the Appendix these concepts are more formally characterized). For example, if a person acts in a certain situation due a sense of duty (Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’), she does not act freely. Neither if she acts out of fear. Therefore an action performed by free will must be a conscious action, chosen from among several possibilities. Note that humans rarely act in freedom: the reader may recall what he has done during the previous day, and how often he stopped to think of several possible next actions, having consciously chosen one of them. For a thorough study of freedom, see Rudolf Steiner’s fundamental philosophical work, The Philosophy of Freedom (Steiner 1963).
The first consequence of materialism that I will address seems to me the most important and tragic one: the denial of free will. It necessarily comes from the fact that physical matter and energy are inexorably subjected to physical 'laws' and conditions. Otherwise, for example, machinery and civil constructions, which are designed and constructed according to strict physical laws, would not exist. If these laws were not inexorable, machines would work only sporadically and buildings would collapse. Note that I am not assuming that physical laws and conditions, as well the behavior of matter are deterministic; since man is also a physical being, this would eliminate free will. According to the theories of quantum mechanics, I am assuming that the behavior of matter is not physically deterministic, at least in certain phenomena. However, from the physical point of view this nondeterminism would lead to behaviors with some randomness. Free will excludes, in certain human attitudes and activities, both determinism and the randomness of nondeterminism. Human free will is characterized by self-determination, as will be explained below (for definitions of determinism, nondeterminism, randomness etc., see the Appendix).
Let's see where the idea that there is no free will comes from. It is not possible to associate free will to an atomic particle, whatever it is (physicist do not know what it is). Therefore, a cluster of these particles, forming an atom, is not free (again, physicists do not know what an atom is; they just have good mathematical models for the simplest atoms, but these models cannot be fully understood, as we shall see in section 4.5). Therefore, a cluster of atoms forming a molecule cannot be free. A cluster of molecules, forming a cell of a living being, cannot be free. A cluster of cells forming a tissue, idem. A cluster of cells forming a body organ, ibidem. A cluster of cells, tissues and organs forming a human being can not be free. Therefore, humans can not have free will. As Daniel Dennett wrote, "The whole cannot be freer than its parts" (Dennett 2004, p. 61.) Free will simply makes no sense from a purely physical point of view.
A consistent materialist must necessarily deny free will.
The denial of human free will has decisive and tragic consequences: without freedom there can be no dignity (matter has no dignity) or responsibility (matter has no responsibility) and not even what I will call the ‘higher individuality’. This is a component of every human being that transcends his bodily individuality, his memories, instincts, impulses, desires etc., as we shall see in section 4.14. However, this component only makes sense from a spiritual point of view. The denial of free will must also lead to denial of morality, because it does not exist in pure matter.
A word about responsibility. None other than Einstein, in my opinion a great materialist, denied free will and human responsibility, thus following Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). "I am a determinist. I do not believe in free will." (Isaacson 2007, p. 397.) "I do not believe in absolute free will in the philosophical sense. Each person acts not only under pressure from external compulsions, but also according to internal needs." (p. 401.) "Human beings, in their thoughts, feelings and actions, are not free, but are imprisoned by causality in the same way that stars in their movements." (Idem.) Concerning the illusion of free will, he said "I am compelled to act as if there is free will because, if I want to live in a civilized society, I must act responsibly." (p. 403).
Dennett puts it as follows: "For a human agent to be properly held responsible for something done, it must be the case one way or the other that agent’s choice of this action was not determined by the total set of physical conditions that obtained prior to the choice. "(Dennett 2004, p. 98, my emphasis.)
Dennett declares himself a materialist: "My uncompromising materialism really is an integral feature of the view I will be defending, […]" (2004, p. 23.) However, he recognizes free will in a somewhat mysterious way, because he says that consciousness and all human actions originate in the brain. For this, he obviously uses a collection of speculations rather than scientific facts (pp. 227-255.). He said "If [...] you think that free will might be morally important without being supernatural, then my view is that free will is indeed real […]." (p. 223.) He also acknowledges human responsibility which, from the standpoint of his characterization mentioned above, can have no material cause. So to me he is incoherent.
Fortunately, most of materialists are not consistent. For example, scientists and professors greatly appreciate the so-called 'academic freedom': the ability to choose their research topics and methods, as well as the contents and forms of their lectures, and being able to work intellectually in the hours that they determine by themselves. Einstein was not a consistent materialist: when he learned in 1941 of the existence of concentration and extermination Nazi camps, he attributed responsibility to the whole German people! (Jammer 2000, p. 71.)
It is important to observe that individual freedom begins with thinking. In fact, no one can, for example, jump 12 feet high without using a stick, but anyone can innerly observe that she may freely determine her next thought, that is, self-determining it (for a characterization of self-determination, see the Appendix). I know that for a materialist this makes no sense: he will say that we have the illusion of being able to think freely. However, this is not the experience anyone can have in her thinking. For example, one can think of two numbers (e.g., with three digits) which do not evoke any memory or preference, and imagine a display showing each one alternately, innerly ‘saying’ each one as figured in the imagined display. Then one may choose one of these numbers and focus thinking on the selected one, imagining its image on the display and innerly 'saying' it repeatedly, without thinking, at least briefly, of another inner 'image' or 'sound'. If the person realizes that she has the tendency of choosing one of the two numbers, she can easily concentrate her thoughts on the other. The key in this thought experiment is to observe that there is nothing which imposes the choice of the number in which one decided to concentrate. With this experiment one may observe, through thinking, how the latter can be free. Any idea that some physical neuronal process imposes the choice of the number that is focused is based on mere speculation – since no one knows why and how neurons work –, and not the experience of inner observation. It is not even known where and how each person 'stores' in the brain the number 2! And how about what is common to all symbolic representations of the number 2 (ii, II, .., two, due, deux, dos, zwei, gba etc.)? This is a pure concept without symbolic representation; how then could it be physically 'stored' in the brain?
A careful observation may show that animals are not free: they follow their instincts and conditioning. Animals could only have free will if they could think. Again, careful observation shows that animals do not think in the human sense. For example, much of our thinking is done in the form of innerly 'spoken' concepts. No animal speaks – indeed, the emergence of speech is one of the great problems of neo-Darwinian theory of evolution (Tattersall 2001). Therefore, no animal can think of concepts expressed in inner words. Yet another aspect is that animals always act based upon instincts or conditioning. Humans are the only ones who think and therefore may have self-consciousness and free will. Therefore, only humans are capable of thinking of the consequences of their actions before acting, thereafter changing or repressing their acts. Because of this, animals are not responsible for their actions in the human sense.
The acquisition of free will and freedom was perhaps the greatest achievement of mankind thus far. But it has not happened from the point of view of Darwinian evolution, as interpreted by Dennett (2004, chaps. 6 and 7).
It is very important to recognize that materialism was a necessity for the evolution of mankind. In fact, freedom and free will can only occur in the physical world, because it is here that human beings can make mistakes. Thus, the progressive separation in relation to the non-physical world and beings allowed for the development of free will. One of the evidences of this fact was the gradual disappearance or degeneration of the concept of reincarnation. If the idea of reincarnation, quite common in remote antiquity (it was an essential part of Buddhism and occurs, e.g. in Plato’s Phaedrus and Meno, and even in the New Testament, e.g. in Matt 11:14 and Acts 23:6), had remained, human beings would not have fallen into matter the way they did, because, from a materialist point of view reincarnation makes no sense. Nowadays it is possible to clearly conceptualize and understand its meaning.
An action is selfish if the individual who practices it aims his own sake or that of his family or community, regardless of the consequences of his actions to others. On the contrary, an action is altruistic if it is performed consciously and freely, without any self-interest, seeking the good of another person, community or even of mankind.
Altruism does not make sense from a materialist point of view because, as characterized, it should stem from free actions and, as we saw in the previous item, free will cannot be derived from physical matter. From materialism, one only gets to selfishness.
As animals have no free will, they are selfish by nature. Again, careful observation may show that any seemingly altruistic action of an animal is due to instinct and therefore is not truly altruistic. That is, for example, the case of an animal feeding or protecting its offspring.
It is interesting to note that since Charles Darwin (1809-1882), there is a typical materialist trend to think that man is a mere animal. Perhaps a materialist may assume that humans have some different physical characteristics than animals, such as the vertical spine, forming a double S, which allows for our upright position; the arched palate, which enables speech; the bare skin etc. But a materialist cannot recognize something fundamentally different in humans and animals. Since every animal is selfish by nature, this view of human beings as mere animals can only lead to selfishness.
Darwin talked about altruism – in fact, he used other words such as 'benevolence' and 'moral sense'. In his 1871 book The Descent of Man, he said that altruism evolved because people who are more altruistic are more accepted by the community, thus having greater chance of surviving and leaving offspring with this same trend. Except that neither he nor present biologists can explain why a person is altruistic – even if they discovered an 'altruism gene', since they would not be able to explain how this gene configures someone to act altruistically (and neither why such a person may suddenly act selfishly).
Only a spiritual view of human beings can lead to the assumption that they can be truly altruistic.
It turns out that selfishness is destructive, at least in the long term, both for the individual who practices it for the people he eventually hurts with this attitude. The reason is that selfishness is inherently antisocial, and humans are social by nature and necessity. On the contrary, altruism is constructive, being highly social. For example, any competition is antisocial because someone always wins and therefore becomes happy, and someone else always loses and gets frustrated. So who wins becomes happy at the expense of the frustration of the losers. Lately, cooperative games have been developed; they are highly social, and of paramount importance in educating young children instead of competitive games, so that in the future one may reverse the mentality that competition is healthy – a typically materialist way of thinking. Moreover, since the book by Adam Smith (1723-1790) The Wealth of Nations, materialistic mentality of selfishness and greed has ruled in capitalism, and the result is the 'wild capitalism' in which we live. Smith had expected that encouraging individual selfishness and greed, a mysterious ‘invisible hand’ would eventually bring wealth and general happiness. However, what is observed in wild capitalism is a growing social misery. For example, we can produce food for the entire population of the earth; nevertheless, due to selfishness and ambition, a great part of humanity suffers from hunger. Another example is unemployment.
Thus, a consistent materialism must inevitably lead to selfishness, and therefore the destruction of society. Besides the aforementioned growing social misery, the consequences of this fact can be clearly seen in the social degeneration occurring in all corners of the world. It is manifested by the increasing aggressiveness and violence of individuals, and through the increasingly difficulty of understanding among individuals, with the consequent inability to maintain a family and to interact professionally and socially.
A symptom of the inability for a real social life is the demand and preference for electronic virtual contacts. In such a contact between two people, each one does not exist as a personality to the other, as opposed to a physical personal interaction. It has been statistically proven that electronic media affect sociability (see my article "Negative effects of electronic media on children, adolescents and adults", ch. 13, "Isolation and other social problems", in Portuguese; it is already partly translated into English).
Note that, with these considerations, I am blaming materialism for an important part of the increasing degeneracy, in general, of mankind.
I'm totally pessimistic about the mass of humanity; it is increasingly falling into materialism, both of the scientific kind as in many religious forms. But I have hope on individuals; this is why I am writing this article. I have also to make clear that I recognize great recent progresses of humanity, such as the human rights, environmental and world peace movements. They are small lights at the end of the huge tunnel of growing individual and social miseries.
As described in section 3, until the 15th century, maybe even up to the 17th century the whole of mankind had spirituality. One spoke of soul, God, divine beings (angels, archangels, devas etc.) quite naturally. No one doubted their existence.
From a materialist point of view, sacred writings, myths and divine beings are mere 'stories' invented by humans. With this, it opens an unbridgeable gap to ancient mankind, because for the latter a non-physical world actually existed, and was experienced, as shown by the scriptures and myths, from the Gilgamesh epos and the Baghavad Gita, up to the Bible, Goethe’s Faust etc. From that point of view, how our distant ancestors regarded themselves and the universe becomes absolutely incomprehensible, unless for typical evolutionist speculations (for example, of the type "who invented the best supernatural stories were better accepted by the community"), and psychological speculations ("humans need to believe in something supernatural to overcome their fear of nature") etc.
From a spiritual standpoint, it is possible to admit that there exists something non-physical within each human being and in the universe. In the early days of mankind there was a direct contact with and experience of divine beings and with one’s own spiritual members. This contact was gradually lost. There came a time that it was only attained with very special preparations and inner exercises, by selected people who underwent very strong discipline and preparation done in special secluded temples, the ancient Mystery centers (some of the famous were the Greek Eleusis and Ephesus – the latter was destroyed in 356 BC). Subsequently, only a memory of those non-physical phenomena remained, and an intuition that they should exist. Finally, with the advent of materialism, that contact and experience were completely lost. Without a spiritual view of mankind’s past, it was simply composed of brute and superstitious people, and it is not possible to recognize the deep inspired wisdom our ancestors had.
There is a spiritual conception of the world, which consistently explains the path taken by mankind in detail, and in full accord with historical facts, describing its gradual fall into matter. I will not mention it here because I do not wish to sound sectarian. I just want to make clear that I am not writing these topics without a solid knowledge ground. I may state that the history of mankind can only really be understood from a spiritualist point of view.
By reducing everything to matter, energy and physical phenomena, materialism tends to simplify concepts about everything. A typical example is the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. Its great persuasive power lies in its extreme simplicity: genetic mutations followed by natural selection. It turns out that nature has really an infinite complexity – so much that, as already mentioned, no one knows what an atom is. Furthermore, no one knows what are the supposed dark energy and matter (which supposedly constitute most of the universe!) or how electromagnetic waves propagate (see the next section) etc. Observe a stone, and just imagine all the complexity that was involved in the millions of years it took to form, both in its composition as in its aspect: there is nothing simple in a stone. Why are physical constants so fine tuned that just small changes in them make matter, the universe and life impossible to exist? (See, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-tuned_universe.) Turning to living beings, we get to a complexity that by far surpasses any materialist explanation. For example, what is life? Why would a DNA gene sometimes produce an amino acid, sometimes another? How is the sap of trees able to climb dozens of feet? Why blood flows in the human body? In this regard, note that in each human body there are thousands of miles of blood vessels, mostly capillaries, and blood is a much more viscous liquid than water – if blood flowed through the action of the heart as a hydraulic pump, this pump should have a very high power and an enormous size (and weigh much more than the regular 300-350 g). Moreover, the embryo's blood begins to flow before the heart is formed.
A final example. I suggest that the reader look at some object and grab it with his hand. How were arm and hand movements made? To start with, the complexity of muscle fibers, and of tissues and cells that compose them, is simply unthinkable since these fibers, tissues and cells interact with each other, some expanding, others contracting. One should never characterize the arm as a lever, because there is no mechanical lever with this complexity. And why did the arm move? Maybe it was due to a series of electrical impulses transmitted to the muscle fibers. Great, but how did these impulses originate? Maybe in some region of the brain. Great, but why did this region issue these impulses? If it is due to impulses coming from another brain region, what caused the latter to send their impulses? If one follows in a living being a sequence of physical causes and effects, one always, absolutely always comes to a dead end. This is not an infinite regress: there is always a point in this chain of causes and effects where the cause that led to the observed effect is unknown. This regression reminds me of people who assume that the origin of life on Earth is due to bacteria or microbes which have come from another planet. Great, but how did they got there? This type of reasoning just does not explain the origin of life in the universe. Moreover, it is interesting to note that Darwinian evolution explains, simplistically, the evolution of living beings, but not the origin of life.
Any simplistic view of nature is partial and false. There is good reason for materialism providing simplistic explanations: it wants to be convincing and to induce the idea that humans and living beings in general are mere mechanisms, physically understandable. This leads us to the next section.
The whole mechanism of a machine can be fully explained and understood (unless for an understanding of what matter is, and its direct consequences). One of the foundations of materialism is to explain everything in the universe as a mechanism.
The mechanistic conception of the world pervades science, often in an improper way. For example, one speaks about 'electromagnetic waves'. However, 'wave' is a mechanical phenomenon that can be observed, e.g. by throwing a stone into a lake, or moving vertically the end of a rope keeping the other end fixed. These movements are due to parts, particles, 'pulling' and 'pushing' each other with a certain rhythm, hence the propagation in the form of a wave. But what 'pulls' and 'pushes' in an electromagnetic ‘wave’, i.e., what produces its propagation? Nobody knows. This does not mean that the wave model is not useful, for example in the design of antennas. But it does not explain at all what an electromagnetic wave is. Rather, the popular use of the name mystifies the nature of the phenomenon, just as the popular use of the planetary model of the atom, introduced in 1909 by Rutherford, mystifies what an atom is. If this model was true, the centrifugal acceleration of electrons for them to revolve around the atom nucleus would produce emission of electromagnetic energy. Hence the electrons, losing energy, would make a spiraling motion, always falling into the core (see, for example, http://library.thinkquest.org/19662/low/eng/exp-rutherford.html). Electrons are not tiny balls and do not revolve around the nucleus, although this is taught in schools as facts. Mathematical models of quantum mechanics, which predict with remarkable accuracy the behavior of atoms (but only the simplest ones) is incomprehensible to reason based on the senses. The following sentence is attributed to the Nobel Prize physicist Richard Feynman: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you do not understand quantum mechanics." It is interesting to note that for modeling the measurable behavior of matter in its smallest parts, it is necessary to use mathematical models that are not understandable (one concrete case is the spin of atomic particles, which has no classical limit; this is not a rotation in the usual sense). Apparently, in the atomic realm matter ceases to behave in a way comprehensible to the intellect based on our senses. Maybe in this realm matter begins to cease to be just physical matter?
In a living being, no mechanism can be fully explained from a purely physical point of view. Moreover, no one should talk about mechanisms such as the one which drives our limbs, as exemplified in the previous section with the arm movement. One frequently reads, even in scientific papers, about the 'brain machine'. There is no precise knowledge of how the brain works, therefore from a scientific point of view one should not associate it with a machine, much less with a digital computer. For instance, in the brain there is no synchronization of electrical pulses, unlike computers, where it is locally or globally produced by a central pulse generator, the so-called 'clock'. Logical gates would not function properly without synchronization of input pulses. Furthermore, note that any machine part is replaceable. In humans, any body part is individualized, so that transplants always produce a rejection.
The materialist mechanical view of the world, if carried consistently to its ultimate consequences, regards humans being as machines, in the sense of purely physical systems (see my paper "AI – Artificial Intelligence or Automated Imbecility? Can machines think and feel?"). It is an aberration to have compassion for a machine, for example, having pity of turning off a computer. Therefore a consequence of that increasingly prevalent view, even outside the scientific realm, is handling humans with no compassion and dignity – besides interfering with their freedom, since, as we saw in Section 4.1, from the materialist point of view free will cannot exist. By the way, no mechanical device is free. I have a conjecture that the increasing aggressiveness and violence in the world, manifestations of a growing lack of pity and compassion and lack of sensitivity towards human suffering, is in large part due to the materialist view of the human being. Incidentally, religious fundamentalists who kill people because of their ideologies are obviously materialists. If they were really spiritual people they would respect and have compassion for every human being. Pity and compassion lead us to the scope of feelings, the subject of the next section.
From a materialist point of view, feelings are merely mechanical reactions of the organism. Its sole purpose is to make the person feel a sense of pleasure; any feeling of discomfort or pain is considered an improper diversion, and should be eliminated. This necessarily leads to existentialism, taking advantage of every moment to have pleasure. Human life becomes a quest for pleasure. Feelings must serve selfishness.
Aldous Huxley, in his landmark Brave New World, which should be read and pondered by everyone, prophetically showed how mankind would be dominated by well-being and pleasure. In his romance, an individual out of the mainstream – the Savage character – could not preserve his individuality, which distinguished him from all other citizens. Neil Postman, in what I consider his most important book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, showed that there was great fear that Orwell's 1984 would be realized – the state dominating society, and how brainwashing can be terrible, a libel against totalitarianism of communism – but mankind did not realize that what was taking shape was Brave New World (Postman 1986, pp. 111, 138). These two works have something in common: the materialism implicit in the two described societies. By the way, Huxley’s Savage is a spiritual person due to the traditions of his people, and tries to preserve the purity of his feelings, something not understood by those who have been indoctrinated into materialism.
From a spiritual standpoint feelings can be viewed in a much deeper manner: as a source of knowledge and of non-rational relationship to the world and to other people. After all, the human being is not just a rational being, and feelings are an essential part of his existence. As pointed out by Rudolf Steiner: "Thinking is the element through which we take part in the universal process of the cosmos; feeling, that through which we can withdraw into the narrow confines of our own life. Our thinking unites us with the world. Our feeling leads us back into ourselves, and this makes us individuals. If we were merely thinking and perceiving beings, our whole life would flow along in monotonous indifference. If we could only cognize ourself as a self, we would be totally indifferent to ourself. Only because with self-knowledge we experience self-feeling, and with the perception of objects pleasure and pain, do we live as individual beings whose existence is not exhausted by the conceptual relations in which we stand to the rest of the world, but who have a special value for themselves as well." (Steiner 1963, p. 125, author’s emphases.)
Suffering may be necessary for personal and mankind development. Incidentally, there is a profound distinction between original Buddhism and Christianity: according to the first, suffering is caused by the physical world (stemming from the three experiences of the Buddha when he left the paternal castle: disease, aging and death). Therefore, to avoid it, one should disconnect oneself as much as possible from that world, e.g. by sublimating desires originating from it. From the original Christian point of view (one should ignore all the aberrations that religious currents which called themselves Christian did in the name of Christianity), suffering is something that destiny makes humans face so that they may have a chance to develop. It may even be a sacrifice of an individual to people who are around her so that the they can unselfishly help the former, and then have a chance for their own personal development. From a materialist point of view a conscious sacrifice does not make sense – it goes against the 'natural' selfishness of every living being.
It is interesting to note that science has no explanation for thinking – it assumes that it has something to do with the brain, being mysteriously generated by it. It has even less explanation for feelings. They are much more nebulous, we do not have in them the clarity and self-consciousness that we have in our thoughts. In section 4.1 a mental exercise was expounded to observe that we can determine our next thought. This is impossible with an emotion. For example, a person who likes okra feels pleasure while eating it; another one who hates it feels displeasure. It is impossible for the former saying "now I am going to hate okra" or, for the latter, "now I will love okra" immediately changing their tastes. We cannot control our feelings; what we can is to become aware of our feelings through our thinking about them, and then control our actions so that we are not carried out by our feelings. For example, the second person can force herself to eat okra, even though not liking it, in order to try to develop a taste to it. Over time, the feeling of repulsion for okra can turn into attraction for it, but this is not a conscious process as any thinking process can be.
From a spiritual point of view, feelings may be regarded as non-physical processes that reveal something of the object that caused the feelings, as well as of the very person who is experiencing them.
What happens with a consistent materialist teacher who regards his students as physical machines? He treats them as mere objects, for example by measuring their knowledge with notes, this educational aberration that tries to measure the immeasurable. He does not bother to enthuse his students. He does not attempt to know each one, understanding her individual problems. His main concern is to pass data to students as if they were data storage machines – at most, he is concerned whether there has been such memorization. He does not care about each student's overall maturity. The result is that his students will loathe the subject being taught, having enormous difficulty of studying it. It is obvious that, fortunately, not all materialist teachers do like this, since they are not consistent with their view of the world. When, for example, they have compassion and try to understand and inspire their students, they do not act based on their ideas, but on their temperament and feelings.
On the other hand, a spiritual teacher can understand the existence of a higher individuality in each student (see item 4.14), and recognize that she is there to help the student’s full development. In this sense memorization of data is absolutely secondary. Such a teacher may have as her objective forming free individuals – which, as we have seen in section 4.1, makes no sense from the standpoint of materialism. For example, she presents history as representing the overall development of mankind, and not as a mere cultural development. She never sees teaching as an animal training, because she recognizes that the human essence transcends that of animals. Every training means reducing a little bit the human being to an animal.
If the human being is regarded as a physical machine, then one does not see any problem that part of teaching is done by machines – one of the reasons for the increasing use of computers and the Internet in education. See my web site for several papers I have written against this use.
From a materialist point of view, art can only aim to produce pleasure. Art becomes something utilitarian, a luxury item.
On the contrary, from a spiritual point of view, art, which should be directed primarily to feelings, and secondarily to thinking, may reveal a non-physical reality, and therefore be an additional source of knowledge different from intellectual cognition. With art one may convey something that transcends our physical world, in the form of images rather than concepts as does science. Thus, art presents a complementary form of knowledge acquisition in relation to science. By involving feelings, such complementarity is essential to liberate human beings from the one-sidedness of purely formal, abstract and dead ideas of science. Perhaps many materialists enjoy and even exercise an art due to an unconscious need of their non-physical constitution, longing for something transcendent that materialist intellectualism cannot provide.
I have deep pity by imagining a materialist enjoying only the aesthetical sense of magnificent works of art with deep spiritual contents, such as Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parsifal (written between 1203 and 1217) which, for that kind of person, must be simply a collection of chivalry adventures. For a spiritual understanding of this wonderful epic and its profound symbols, including the Graal, see the book by Sonia A.L. Setzer Parsifal, a Precursor of Modern Human Being (Setzer 2008, in Portuguese). Another example is the monumental work by Mozart (1756-1791), his opera The Magic Flute, whose deep spiritual contents has to be totally ignored by a materialist. As for painting, it is worth mentioning the wonderful works of Rafael (1483-1520), especially his Madonnas, which reveal a deep intuitive spiritual knowledge. How can the great medieval cathedrals, e.g. Chartres (built around the end of the 13th century), be materially understood? Their grandiosity simply makes no sense from a materialist utilitarian point of view.
From a materialist point of view, life is due to mere chance and, therefore, is meaningless. Matter itself cannot have a purpose, it simply exists. The universe also has no meaning, a raison d’être: it also simply exists.
On the other hand, from a spiritual point of view, one may well associate a mission to humans. For example, it could be to develop altruistic love. For this, one must acquire knowledge and develop free will. This leads to moral attitudes based on knowledge: one should not interfere with other people’s freedom, unless in the case of those who are socially dangerous.
From this viewpoint, the physical universe itself may have the purpose of being a base for the physical existence and therefore development of each human being.
The lack of a materialistic sense to human life leads people to having a deep fear of death. In a certain way, materialism creates a ditch where each human being is: on the one side a big wall, his birth, which has to be just the result of chance; on the other side, another big wall, his death, which makes no sense. And along the way between both walls, meaningless occurrences such as disease, sufferings, joys, meetings etc.
From a spiritualist point of view, it is possible to consider that birth and death are not accidents: they are part of the development the higher individuality (see 4.14) inherent in every person should do. Imagine what a tragedy it would be nowadays to each person and to mankind if there was no death! Diseases may acquire a deep meaning: they are chances for the development of the individual and should be treated as such, so that the patient can develop herself as much as possible through them (obviously, without putting her life in danger). Materialistic medicine sees diseases as deviations, errors, or even as course accidents, to be eliminated at any cost.
A very common inconsistency among materialists was already addressed in item 4.1: although free will does not make sense from a materialist point of view, many materialists cherish human freedom, beginning with their own. But this is not the only incoherence of many materialists, there is another one, chasing all those who have this conception of the world.
Many materialists say "I only believe in what I can see or measure." However, every human being has occult, inner activities that he clearly experiences, but cannot show them to the outside world and prove that he exercises them: thinking, feeling (having sensations and emotions) and willing (leading to actions). One can perceive that some types of them are occurring, for example by means of brain scans. But no brain scan will be able to show specifically what one is thinking, feeling or willing. The fact that a brain injury may influence some inner or outside activity or behavior, does not mean at all that this activity is generated by the injured area, a typical materialist conclusion – e.g. the basis for Antonio Damasio’s conclusion that the brain generates those functions (Damasio 1994). From a strictly scientific standpoint, one should at most say that the injured area takes part in the process that has been changed. In section 4.1 evidences were shown that thinking is not purely physical; one of them was the possibility of freely choosing the next thought. Feeling and willing are strictly subjective, personal inner activities. But all physical machines are universal, as I showed in my paper on artificial intelligence (therefore, machines will never have feelings). Thus, one can hypothesize that those three inner activities are not physical; however, part of their processes is accompanied by detectable physical reactions. Dennett describes at length an experience done by B. Libet in 1999, in which the latter discovered that a person has a brain activity to move a hand before being aware of this fact (2004, p. 227). Based on it, Dennet draws conclusions that consciousness is generated by the brain. If he could admit that thinking is not physical, but it is reflected to consciousness through the brain, he could have perhaps explained that delay.
Assuming that this hypothesis is true, the inner life of a materialist is incoherent by nature. For example, in order to explain his materialist conception of the world, he has to use his mind which, according to the hypothesis, is not purely physical.
Everyone has the experience of having intuitions, that is, new ideas. Where do they come from? Obviously, a materialist will say that the brain works unconsciously, and this ends up generating new ideas. It must be clear that this theory is mere speculation, because there is no precise idea how the brain works. From a spiritual point of view, thinking can be considered as an organ of perception of the Platonic (non-physical) world of ideas. In particular, mathematical concepts are not physical, like the concept of a perfect circle, because it cannot physically exist; what may exist in the physical world are approximations thereof. Likewise, the mathematical concepts of point, line and plane, the bases of the whole Euclidean geometry, do not exist physically. However, all these concepts are absolutely clear and objective and therefore have a universal character. One may conjecture that they exist outside of human beings, and are grasped by each person’s thoughts.
These are internal inconsistencies in each materialist person. Furthermore, there are universal ones, like the origin of matter and energy in the universe, and its limits, which make absolutely no physical and therefore material sense.
Finally, every materialist is inconsistent in the sense of relying solely on material, physical phenomena, but is not able to physically explain what matter and energy really are.
Physical matter and energy cannot have a beneficial or malevolent tendency, they simply exist. Therefore, a consistent materialist is not able to talk or think about good and evil. He may speak about a person having constructive or destructive, social or antisocial tendencies. But he cannot trace them back to an external influence of something or some entities that can be characterized as good or evil.
It seems to me that along with the denial of free will (section 4.1) this is the most tragic consequence of materialism. For example, starting from the spiritual hypothesis that humans can have free will, and that developing the latter is a fundamental part of the positive evolution of mankind, forces and trends that undermine individual freedom are a manifestation of evil. This is the case of advertising, which is the science, technique and art of influencing people to take actions that they would not take without such an influence. This is why so much of advertising is subliminal, such as inserting into an ad here in Brazil, during the soccer World Cup, a green and yellow soccer ball (our traditional colors, present in our national flag, are green and yellow). Also, using TV for propaganda, because the former is subliminal by nature, since it normally puts its viewers in a state of drowsiness, thereby recording everything that is transmitted directly into the subconscious (see my article "Electronic media and education: TV, video game and computer" and "The antieducational TV", the latter in Portuguese). Another case is producing propaganda for children who have no enough knowledge and awareness to criticize it; this type of advertising is literally criminal. Incidentally, for an exposition of the damages caused by electronic media, especially in adolescent children, see my article "Negative effects of electronic media on children, adolescents and adults", in Portuguese.
Many sacred scriptures of various religions, especially of Judaism and Christianity, broadly deal with good and evil. However, contrary to many religious and spiritual currents, it is necessary today to recognize that evil exists and is a necessity for mankind, for without it there would be no distinction to goodness, so there could be no free will, that is, the possibility of choosing. If there was only goodness, humanity would still be in the state of awareness and lack of freedom represented by the magnificent Genesis image of Paradise (Gen 2:8-3:24). The Manichaeans had as one of their mottos "Love evil well" that is, evil should not be eliminated, but redeemed, transformed into goodness. This was one of the causes for their destruction by the Catholic Church, especially by Saint Augustine (354-430). He had been a Manichean, but departed from this doctrine and turned against it for not agreeing on many of its views and practices, besides not being able to pass through all the steps of Manichean initiation. He claimed that evil does not exist because how could God, being only good, have created evil? For him, evil was simply a deviation from God. Perhaps this is a major source of difficulty people have in recognizing the reality of evil. By the way, it seems that Augustine originated the concept of 'original sin' that would have been committed by Adam and Eve in the image of the biblical Genesis (where the word 'sin' does not appear!). Accordingly, since then every human is born sinful (in German, the expression is Erbsünde, 'inherited sin’). If one carefully reads the story of Paradise, it is clear that Adam and Eve were not conscious, and therefore could not 'sin'. Only after 'eating' the fruit of the "tree of knowledge of good and evi" (Gen 2:17) they realized they were "naked" (Gen 3:7), i.e., after separating from divinity mankind developed self-consciousness. Therefore, according to that image, evil was introduced into humans without their choice, because before then they were not able to make conscious choices.
In Goethe’s Faust, Mephisto says about himself (scene of the study room): "Ich bin diejen’ge Kraft / Die stets das Böse will / Und stets das Gute schafft." ("I am that force / that always wants evil / but always creates goodness"). One may infer that Goethe (1749-1832) had the intuition that evil is necessary.
A spiritual conception of the world can clearly characterize the various aspects of evil, for example, illusions an individual has about himself and mistakes he makes of his view about the outside world; excessively connecting oneself to matter, ignoring the spirit, or to the spirit, ignoring matter; returning to past ways of thinking, feeling and acting (so typical of religious fundamentalism) and improper advances of the future. It seems to me that the freedom introduced by the Internet, without humanity having developed sufficient consciousness and knowledge, is such an undue advance of the future – on the dangers of the Internet to children, adolescents, uncultured or old people, see my article "How to protect your children and students from the Internet" (in Portuguese). A clear characterization of evil is essential for a conscious development of mankind towards goodness, i.e., for a positive development of humanity.
From a materialist point of view, the human being consists just of his physical body, which has not changed in recent millennia. Every change in mankind was due to cultural developments, including knowledge.
On the contrary, from a spiritual point of view one may recognize that humans have been evolving through changes and development of their non-physical constitution. For example, two of these changes took place in the 7th century B.C. and in the 15th century. In the first, we have the emergence of Greek philosophy, that is, there was an extraordinary development of human rational capacity. In the second, the human being starts to observe the world objectively, which leads to the discoveries of new continents and extraordinary philosophical, scientific and artistic developments. In this latter sense, the experience of Bruneleschi in the beginning of the 15th century, cited in section 3, was a demonstration of a new consciousness and a new capacity for abstraction. The same occurred with the Copernican heliocentric system as described in that section.
In particular, two major developments have been the recent human individual freedom and human rights. The concept of individual liberty and its pursuit is now profoundly rooted in the modern human being which, as we saw in section 4.1, produces an inconsistency with the materialist conception of the world. The fairly recent, remarkable development of human rights is shown by the development of deep, social and legal respect to ethnic and sexual differences, and towards the disabled and the elderly. All of this makes sense from a standpoint of a non-physical development in the human constitution: there is an increasing, albeit intuitive, perception and knowledge that there is a higher, non-physical individuality present in every human being, described in section 4.14. This higher individuality has no sex, race, nationality or religion, so that these externalities should not influence the way one perceives and respect people.
Another recent manifestation of the development of respect for individual freedom is the restriction that has been done on smoking in collective environments.
It is interesting to note how the development of arts from the 15th century on shows the (non-Darwinian!) evolution of individual freedom. For example, baroque music follows very strict rules, both in harmony and in form, e.g. in sonatas and concertos. (Nevertheless, the introduction of the temperate tuning of instruments showed an independence to natural combination of tones, and the abstract search for leveling off certain disharmonies.) The period of classicism has introduced more freedom, but there were still quite rigid forms, such as the symphonies and quartets, introduced in this period. From the romantic period on (where performers got a lot more freedom of expression), composers began to liberate themselves from the bonds of harmony and form; this clearly appears in impressionistic music. An example of the latter style is the minimalism introduced by Ravel in his Bolero, something totally new and that would reappear much later with minimalist music. But it was with expressionistic music of the 20th century that composers fully expressed themselves with the disruption of traditional harmony (which reflected a natural one, the combination of tones), for example with the twelve-tone (dodecaphonic) and atonal music, and then with electronic music, where a disruption occurs even with the notes. These latter styles show a keen awareness of the composer, without ties to musical traditions. The same development towards freedom of expression can be traced in painting. Rudolf Steiner said "Subconscious art has its past and with this past it also came to its end." (Steiner 1911, lecture of 11/14/1911, p. 60.) According to him, instead of the former intuitive way, only a new, conscious spiritual inspiration could make art continue to reveal the realities of the non-physical world (as described in section 4.8).
A materialist view of the world must deny the existence of something that is not material, that is, something beyond physical matter and energy, and must admit that there are only physical processes in living beings and in the universe. Unfortunately this leads many materialists, especially scientists, to develop a visceral prejudice against everything that relates to something non-physical. Modern science is a major pillar of materialism. However, interestingly, having prejudices goes against one of the basic principles that should guide scientific attitudes: having no prejudices or preconceived ideas and be willing to investigate and study any idea or phenomenon. The result of this prejudice is an undue restriction of scientific research. I will mention two examples.
There is a Brazilian tradition among simple farm people, perhaps quite old if it originated from Indian traditions, that thatch grass should be cut in the waning moon, otherwise it gets insects or fungi more easily. A typically biased materialistic attitude is that this is nonsense, because how could the moon exert such influence? With that, I think one has never investigated the veracity of this tradition; a positive or negative result could be very useful.
Another example is that of homeopathic drugs. Some homeopathic preparations are so highly diluted, that no molecule of the diluted substance should remain in the diluent. The materialist prejudice states that therefore this type of drug that has no therapeutic effect unless for the placebo effect, and investigation on its efficiency is simply not carried out by mainstream research. It would be easy, for example, experimenting objectively the effect of homeopathic diluted substances on the growth of plants. Or experimenting with animals, where the psychological placebo effect obviously does not occur.
I should state here very clearly that I also acknowledge the existence of prejudice in many people who claim to have spirituality. Incidentally, every religion is naturally biased, because its adepts must perforce acknowledge that their religion is better than all others – except in the case of someone who is an adept just for convenience or inertia. This is why, in my Paper "Science, religion and spirituality", I showed how both the current scientific and religious ways of thinking must change, and then there could be a confluence of science and religion, not around beliefs in both fields, but using working hypotheses.
From a materialist point of view, humans are purely physical, biological beings. Their individuality is imprinted in their physical body, and is an exclusive consequence of heredity and of past influences of the environment. In this sense, human beings are not different from animals.
A careful observation leads to the conclusion that this view is partial. In fact, examining the history of monozygotic twins who had almost the same education, it is possible to observe that their adult life greatly varies from one another. A classic example was the Canadian Dionne quintuplets twins (born in 1934). Despite the same education, if I remember well, one became a nun, two of them died before reaching middle age, one became a teacher, three married, one died of cancer, and on May 2010 two were alive. Obviously, a materialist will blame this diversity on small variations in the influence of the environment, but the noticeable differences in the development of monozygotic twins are in general not small. The ideals of a person simply does not come from her physical body.
In section 4.10 I spoke about the inner activities of thinking, feeling and willing. These activities also influence the individual. For example, it is known that the brain configures itself with experience, not only through external stimuli but also with internal ones. Thoughts and feelings are internal experiences that influence the very person who has them. Thus, each individual is not simply the result of her genes and the environment: she is also the result of something internal that transcends these influences. From a spiritual view, it is possible to assume the existence of a non-physical ‘higher individuality’ in each human being. It is also called in English ‘higher self’, but I prefer the other formulation, distinguishing it from the ‘lower individuality’, which contains one’s memories, desires, instincts etc. This higher individuality should be respected and helped in its development and manifestation. When a child is born, this higher individuality has just a slight manifestation. With aging, it starts to manifest itself more and more; it takes about 21 years for its full manifestation – an intuitive knowledge of this development established up to some time ago this age as the landmark for full civil responsibility. In this sense, education should have as its main goal providing the means for the higher individuality to gradually manifest itself. Free will and self-consciousness are due to it, and its development, which continues during the whole life, is moral. Note that acquiring knowledge is necessary for an individual to act professionally and socially. But just this acquisition may lead someone to producing destruction, e.g. by designing, constructing and using instruments for the physical and psychological destruction of human beings. Only knowledge that has as its goal the acquisition of free will, unselfish love, and the moral development of the higher individuality may lead to a real improvement of mankind.
There are tragic consequences for the necessary materialistic denial of a non-physical higher individuality. For instance, forcing a mass way of thinking is fully justified, as it is the elimination of any individual characteristic that goes against social trends. Why be different? A leveled society of George Orwell’s 1984 type or the one described by Aldous Huxley in his magnificent Brave New World, already mentioned in section 4.6, is much easier to control and gives less problems for governments. The capitalist ideal is that everybody should be a good technician, a good consumer, a peaceful petit bourgeois who does not pose questions and protests . The socialist ideal is that all people should be equal in everything. It is unfortunate that in the latter case it is not recognized that needs and creativity vary from individual to individual; in these areas, equality undermines individual development. In the satisfaction of needs, the basic spirit should be one of brotherhood or solidarity. For example, if someone consumes too much, others will necessarily consume too little; furthermore, one should produce according to individual needs which, incidentally, should not be forced or induced, as they are in ‘savage capitalism’ through advertising. In creative activities (including services), the basic spirit should be freedom.
Animals do not have this higher individuality. This is one of the reasons for humans being so different from them, even in their physical organization, which is adequate to the manifestation of that individuality.
Several adverse consequences of materialism were expounded here. The whole picture shows that only a too narrow, simplistic and superficial view of the world can make anyone satisfied with materialism. Another possibility for this satisfaction is avoiding deep questions of the issues raised by science. A classic example of the latter attitude is the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. Interestingly, scientific research itself is beginning to show that this theory, which is largely based on great speculations, does not hold. For example, scientific articles are beginning to appear, e.g. the paper by Durrett and Schmidt (2008), showing that coordinated mutations undergone by genes, leading to positive functional changes in organisms, would require much longer than the estimated elapsed time for changes and emergence of new species. In particular, the enormous changes that led to the appearance of many new species in the period called 'Cambrian explosion' simply cannot have happened during the 'short' time calculated for its duration, from 2 to 9 million years.
I tried to show that materialism is, in essence, anti-human and this is perhaps one of the major reasons for the rapid increase of individual and social degeneration.
Unfortunately, people who are materialists and have a certain degree of culture do not have, in general, the courage to seek a satisfying spirituality. Obviously, they will not find it in organized religions, nor in typical oriental spiritual movements, because none of them address understanding, but feelings, which characterize them as mystical. However, there exist ideas about the spiritual world that can fully satisfy modern and educated people who seek an objective understanding of human beings and the universe. Adopting these concepts greatly widens the field of scientific research. Thus, contrary to what many materialists believe, spirituality is not necessarily unscientific, forcing someone to abandon a rational world view. Rather, it is now possible to have spirituality and be a consistent scientist at the same time, as I showed in my paper "Science, religion and spirituality."
Another strong reason for materialists not seeking a spirituality that satisfies them is the prejudice mentioned in section 4.13.
In closing, let me make clear that materialism was and is a necessity, as stated at the end of section 4.1. Only a person who has experienced it can freely choose whether to adopt a materialist or a spiritual world view. However, to reverse the current process of individual and social degeneration, materialism must be individually supplanted. There is no other possibility for the salvation of a part of mankind. Unfortunately, watching its development since the beginning of the 20th century, I have no hope that most of it will resist the temptation of materialism. A worst tragedy could not occur.
Let a system be a physical organism or any part of an organism, or a physical or abstract mechanism (such as a formal mathematical automaton). A state of a system is the set of configurations of all the elements constituting the system at any given moment.
If the system is in a particular state in a certain instant, a transition is the passage of this system, in the next instant, to another or even to the same state, possibly due to internal actions or to the input of impulses external to the system.
Note that if the system is discrete (as in the case of digital machines), each state is perfectly well defined. But if the system is continuous (analog) – assuming such a system exists – the characterization of each state is not clear. I will assume, in this case, that certain parameters are established for the system, representing it in the best feasible way and possibilities, and that their values at a given instant characterize a state. The passage from one state to another really implies an infinite number of intermediate steps that will be ignored. Obviously, this is an extremely simplified model of reality.
A system is deterministic if, and only if, being in any state, every inner action or set of outside inputs produce a transition to a single state.
A system is nondeterministic if and only if, being in a certain state, there is an inner action or some set of input impulses that can produce various transitions to different states. These various possible transitions from a certain state are called nondeterministic transitions.
A transition sequence from an initial state to a final state is an ordered set of transitions in which each state, excluding the initial, is the result of a transition from a previous state.
A system is random if, for an arbitrary transition sequence, the next state that follows this sequence can be, with equal probability, any of the possible states for the next transition.
In fact, the probability could vary from transition to transition among the possible next transitions, but here we simplify assuming equal likelihood.
An interesting example is an irrational number like pi. The generation of consecutive digits that appear in this number is deterministic, that is, their sequence is fixed, and can be calculated with as many digits as wished. However, taking any sequence of digits of pi in decimal representation, the next digit after the sequence has probability of 1/10 to be one of the 10 decimal digits. In fact, the calculation of pi can be used as a pseudorandom number generator with a fixed number of any digits. For example, taking numbers with two digits, we have the random sequence, from the beginning, 31, 41, 59, 26 etc. The pseudorandomness of pi comes from the fact that the sequence is always the same from its beginning. Only with physical systems one may have a truly random generator; the classic example is each measure of a Geiger radiation counter. Computer random numbers generators always produce pseudorandom numbers, since given the initial value (the 'seed'), a formula calculates the sequence of consecutive random numbers, which will always be the same for that initial value.
Note that humans do not normally seem to be random systems. If they were, their limbs and head would move randomly in all directions; in addition, there could be no concentration of thinking, for instance when doing some arithmetic calculation. Not even plants are random: there is clearly a developmental sequence of each one. Locally, it may seem that a plant presents randomness, e.g. the choice of where a new branch or a new leaf will appear on a branch with many leaves.
A nondeterministic biological system is self-determined if, being in a state, something non-physical inherent to the system can choose a certain transition among various nondeterministic transitions that can be made from that state.
A system may seem random, but actually be self-determined. If a person concentrates her thinking, the sequence of her thoughts is not random. Watching my cat, I often cannot predict what it will do and might find that its actions are random. But its actions always have a certain coherence.
Two of my basic working hypotheses are that every living being contains something non-physical associated with it and it is a self-determined system. Note that the choice of which transition to take among several possible nondeterministic ones does not require energy. It is in this kind of choice that some non-physical member associated with a living being can act upon the physical development of that being. An example is which cell of an organism will begin to divide or die in the next instant. This is how I explain why living beings develop and maintain their organic forms characteristic of each species, including amazing symmetries. For example, observe the characteristic curves formed by the separated edges of a Cheese Plant (Monstera deliciosa) leaf, or formed by the tips of the leaves of some palm trees. Observe also butterflies with complex symmetrical designs in their two wings that, surprisingly, are formed within the cocoon! In other words, in this conception there exists a non-physical model associated with the living being that 'chooses', during growth and during tissue regeneration, for each state of the body which nondeterministic transition will be taken. At a given instant the state of a living being could be partially imagined as the state of all its cells, and in the next instant the next state would have the new situation of all its cells. Obviously, each state of a living being is, in fact, infinitely more complex than that. The mentioned non-physical model is the one which imposes organic shapes and symmetries by controlling cell subdivision and death. In butterfly, from a physical point of view the relative randomness in the growth process would not produce such symmetrical shapes. Also, thinking on chaos theory, a small change during growth could produce big differences later on. On the other hand, it is impossible to imagine that a small piece of a butterfly wing communicates with the corresponding piece in the other wing so that both may control their growth in order to preserve the symmetry of colors and shapes. By the way, the same thing applies to the relative symmetry of the ears of every human being; ears do not stop growing throughout life.
Note that in my characterization, a deterministic system is not self-determined. In addition, no mechanical system can be self-determined because it is purely physical.
A self-determined system may be free or may have free will if, and only if, the choice of some of its nondeterministic transitions is done consciously, that is, in self-consciousness.
I will take here 'consciousness' and 'self- consciousness' in a naïve way, because anyone has the experience of these phenomena. An example may help to clarify these terms. When one feels some pain, for example, at the knee, one becomes aware that something unpleasant is happening to it. Normally we are unaware of our knees (unless we look at them or touch them with another part of our body), but if one of them hurts, we become conscious of its existence. When one feels the sensation of pain and thinks about it, like "I'm now having a sore knee", one is being self-conscious. Self-consciousness always involves an awareness of one’s own individuality. Animals have consciousness (poking a dog with a needle, it feels pain and reacts), but do not have self-consciousness (no dog has ever thought, "let me remember the taste of that steak that my owner gave me yesterday"). A fundamental distinction between animal and human memory is that humans can consciously 'retrieve' memory.
Anyone may have the inner experience of being able, at least briefly, to mentally concentrate in self-consciousness, and choose the next thought. A typical example is doing arithmetic. If one does not concentrate the mind in the calculations, and does not control this concentration with self-awareness, one will certainly think about other subjects and the calculations will probably go wrong.
Therefore, only humans can be free, because they are the only living beings who have self-consciousness.
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Addresses of my cited papers
"Electronic media and education: TV, video game and computer": http://www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer/electr-media.html
"A TV antieducativa" ("The anti-educational TV", in Portuguese): http://www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer/tv-antieducativa.html
"Science, religion and spirituality": http://www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer/science-religion-spirituality.html
"Como proteger seus filhos e alunos da Internet" ("How to protect your children and students from the Internet", in Portuguese): http://www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer/como-proteger-resenha.html
"Efeitos negativos dos meios eletrônicos em crianças, adolescentes e adultos" ("Negative effects of electronic media on children, adolescents and adults" in Portuguese – an English version is finished in part and may be requested from the author): http://www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer/efeitos-negativos-meios.html
"AI - Artificial Intelligence or Automated Imbecility? Can machines think and feel?": http://www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer/AI.html
"Is there just matter or also spirit in the universe?": http://www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer/spiritualist.html also published in The Southern Cross Review No. 55, Sept./Oct. 2007
On the non-physical human constitution: http://www.sab.org.br/antrop/const1-eng.htm
I thank William Fernandes for the inspiration to write this paper, and my wife Sonia A.L. Setzer for reviewing the text and for some suggestions.