Five ways materialists beg the question

Hidden but still visible.
Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released
in the public domain.
To 'beg the question' is a logical fallacy in which one takes the conclusion of an argument as a premise of the argument. For instance, if one says: 'God exists because the bible says so, and the bible is true because it was written by God,' one is begging the question of God's existence. As such, to beg the question is a kind of circular reasoning. Although the circularity of the reasoning is obvious in the simplistic example I just gave, one often begs the question in an indirect and somewhat hidden manner. In this essay, I want to summarize some of the common ways in which materialists beg the question: that is, the ways in which they argue for the validity of materialism by assuming materialism in the argument. The circularity of their reasoning becomes clear once it's pointed out, but it is astonishing how often educated, intelligent materialists fall for it. The list below is in no particular order of importance or ranking.

1 - 'Our sense perceptions provide direct evidence for a world outside consciousness.' Whatever else they may or may not be, our sense perceptions are certainly a particular modality of conscious experience. Other modalities are thoughts, emotions, and imagination. The difference is that we often identify with our thoughts, emotions, and imagination – that is, we think that our thoughts, emotions, and imagination are part of us – and seldom identify with our sense perceptions – that is, we do not think that the world we see around us is part of us. Moreover, we often have some degree of direct volitional control of our thoughts and emotions, while we do not have any direct volitional control of the world we perceive around us: we cannot change the world merely by wishing it to be different. Therefore, all we can really say about sense perception is that it is a modality of conscious experience that we do not identify with or have direct volitional control of. That's all. When materialists assert that sense perception is direct evidence for a world outside mind, they are assuming that things we do not identify with or have direct volitional control of can only be grounded in a world outside consciousness. This, of course, begs the question.

2 - 'We cannot say that reality is in consciousness because that would require postulating an unfathomably complex entity to be imagining reality.' The hidden assumption here is that consciousness can only exist if it is generated by something else; by an entity outside consciousness, whose complexity must be proportional to the level of consciousness being generated. This is a hardly-disguised way to assume materialism in the first place: to assume that mind must be reducible to complex arrangements of something outside mind. Naturally, when one claims that reality is in consciousness, one is claiming precisely that consciousness is irreducible, primary, fundamental. Consciousness, as such, is not generated by complex entities or, for that matter, by anything outside consciousness: it is simply what is. To say that irreducible consciousness generates reality requires no more complexity and poses no more problems than to say that irreducible laws of physics generate reality. In fact, it poses less problems, since it avoids the hard problem of consciousness altogether.

3 - 'The stability and consistency of the laws of physics show that reality is outside consciousness.' The hidden premise here is that all conscious processes are necessarily somewhat unstable and unpredictable. This would be true only if all conscious processes were tied to neuronal activity, for neuronal activity is often unstable and unpredictable. But that is an implication only of materialism. There is nothing in the statement that all reality is in consciousness requiring that all conscious processes be tied to neuronal activity. There is nothing in it that precludes the possibility that certain processes in the broader, non-personal levels of consciousness unfold according to very stable, strict patterns and regularities that we've come to call the 'laws of nature.' If all reality is in consciousness, then it is brains that are in consciousness, not consciousness in brains. As such, consciousness is not limited or circumscribed by brain activity. To assume so is to beg the question of materialism.

4 - 'Since our minds are separate and we all experience the same external reality, this reality must be outside consciousness.' The idea here is to suggest that, if reality is fundamentally in consciousness, as a kind of collective dream, how come we can all be sharing the same dreamworld, given that our minds are not connected? How can the dream be shared? Naturally, this begs the question entirely: it is only under the notion that our minds are generated by our bodies that we can say that our minds are separate; after all, our bodies are indeed separate. But if reality is in consciousness, then it is our bodies that are in consciousness, not consciousness in our bodies. The fact that our bodies are separate in the canvas of consciousness simply does not imply that our minds are fundamentally separate at the deeper, subconscious levels. To say so is analogous to stating that, because one has two applications open in a computer screen, one must be using two separate computers! It is the application that is in the computer, not the computer in the application. Separate applications do not imply separate computers.

5 - 'We know that subconscious brain activity can determine later conscious experience. For instance, by measuring brain activity neuroscientists can predict a subject's choice before the subject is conscious of making the choice. Therefore, brain activity generates consciousness.' Here, materialists beg the question by equating neuronal processes outside self-reflective awareness with processes outside consciousness. As I elaborate upon in my book Why Materialism Is Baloney (see this freely-available excerpt), our self-reflective awareness amplifies certain contents of consciousness and, thereby, obfuscates others. This is analogous to how the stars become obfuscated in the noon sky by the much stronger glare of the sun. The stars are all still there at noon, their photons still hitting your retina. Strictly speaking, you are still 'seeing' the stars, but you don't know that you are seeing them because they become obfuscated. Similarly, the contents of consciousness that become obfuscated by the 'glare' of egoic self-reflection are all still in consciousness, but you are not conscious that you are conscious of them; that is, you are not self-reflectively aware of them. There is a strong sense in which not knowing that you know something is equivalent to really not knowing it, this being the reason why we think that we are not conscious of certain things when everything is, in fact, in consciousness. The brain activity that neuroscientists can measure to predict a subject's later conscious choices are simply the image of these contents of consciousness that become obfuscated; not their cause. I have elaborated on this notion that the brain is the image – not the cause – of self-localization processes of consciousness in my book Why Materialism Is Baloney. The argument is briefly summarized here.

I personally believe that most materialists beg the question sincerely. They truly are confused: they can't see the circularity of the ways in which the interpret, and then think to confirm their interpretations of, reality. This happens because we live in a culture that has completely lost objectivity: we can't see past the assumptions and beliefs we are immersed in, and indoctrinated into, since childhood. This is all understandable, even though it remains one's personal responsibility – if one is actually interested in truth – to overcome it at some point.

However, when it comes to militant materialists – often scientists – who make it their mission in life to promote the materialist metaphysics, the stakes are much higher. When these people come to the mainstream media and beg the question of materialism so vocally, arrogantly, and blatantly, they are going much beyond doing harm to themselves: they are doing harm to countless others. It is your children, especially those still going through the educational system, who are listening to them with the openness characteristic of those who trust authority and aren't yet ready to evaluate more critically what's being said. Whether these militant materialists are genuinely confused in their question-begging or not is irrelevant: by making the choice to militantly promote the materialist metaphysics, they take on the responsibility of knowing better. After all, ignorance of the law does not entitle anyone to commit the crime. Their actions are damaging and irresponsible. It would be hilarious to watch these people promote idiocy with the hubris of an emperor with no clothes. However, the reality of it is tragic, and something must be done about it.

Do you want to see more? Check out the video below.

Copyright © 2014 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. Some remarks:

    'begging the question'
    In what way do you think that your philosophy (Idealism) is *not* begging the question, and is not already assuming and arguing from the point of view of Idealism.

    Is there even a strictly "neutral position" possible in philosophy? If so, which one?

    1 - 'Our sense perceptions provide direct evidence for a world outside consciousness.'

    If that were not true, then are you not just simply arguing from the point of solipsism? We are not the only mind in the world, we can share our experience about the world with others, and from that information we conclude that there exist an objective reality, outside of our and anyone's direct mental control. So at least these things in 'outside reality' do not exist in our consciousness. Since we divide the world according to that criterium, we also give it a different name. The outside world we call material. Our mental experience we call consciousness.
    It would be dubious to call outside reality also conscious, because then the understanding of how and why we split the world in two gets lost. We know that our conscious experience of the world is based on a material brain. If everything, the outside world and ourselves would be "consciouss' then why would we need a brain in the first place?

    The other part of this is that we can not merely divide the world into two substances. If we do that, we would raise the issue of dualism, and we could not explain how we could for example move our fingers, because that requires a physical, material interaction of our brain with the nerves that send signals to our muscles.
    Therefore our consciousness must exist in material form. So the world IS one, united at the basis of matter. Consciouss experience, thought, etc. is just a secondary feature of the world, and specifically of a material and highly organized organ, our brain.

    Just interchaning the term for material reality and call that consciousness, simply does not add any explanatory power to the way materialism describes the world.
    Our fundamental reality is basically matter. Human beings are material (and historical). Our faculty of reasoning, thinking, perceiving and experiencing are all based on the same material reality.
    But consciousness is a specific quality of material reality, not present in all other forms of matter, requiring a highly organized material organ: the brain. Stones do not dream, have no feelings, and do not reason. Yet stones do experience the material forces, water, gravity, wind, etc.
    It is therefore misplaced to use the term consciousness for all of material reality. But what matters is not what name we give to these concepts, but what they mean.


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    1. >>In what way do you think that your philosophy (Idealism) is *not* begging the question, and is not already assuming and arguing from the point of view of Idealism.<<

      If you think I am begging the question, it's up to you to say where and why. Idealism only assumes the primary datum of existence: conscious experience. To assume what is patently obvious is not begging any question.

      >>Is there even a strictly "neutral position" possible in philosophy? If so, which one?<<

      What? Where did I claim neutrality...? I'm pretty much NOT neutral: I think materialism is total baloney.

      >>If that were not true, then are you not just simply arguing from the point of solipsism?<<

      There we go again... I already answered this question in other comments you made. No, idealism is NOT solipsism. Idealism says that all reality is in consciousness, not only in MY PERSONAL, localized segment of consciousness.

      >>we can share our experience about the world with others, and from that information we conclude that there exist an objective reality<<

      Look at point 4 of this very post.

      >>So at least these things in 'outside reality' do not exist in our consciousness.<<

      BS. The fact that something is outside your personal consciousness does not mean that it is outside consciousness in general. It's amazing how your comment reproduces precisely the circular reasoning I talk about in the essay.

      >>The outside world we call material. Our mental experience we call consciousness.<<

      This is argument by renaming and it is obviously silly. I am not disputing that there is a qualitative difference between sense perceptions (the 'world outside') and private thoughts, feelings, and imagination (read the post). But despite your naive apologetics above, materialism actually states that the 'world outside' is also fundamentally outside consciousness. That I do dispute.

      >>It would be dubious to call outside reality also conscious<<

      I'm not saying it is conscious; I am saying it is IN consciousness. Is it dubious to say that the 'external world' of your nightly dreams is in consciousness? Is it dubious to say that the 'external' hallucinations of a schizophrenic are in consciousness?

      >>We know that our conscious experience of the world is based on a material brain.<<

      I don't know it. I just know that there are correlations. You're just stating the point in dispute.

      >>If everything, the outside world and ourselves would be "consciouss' then why would we need a brain in the first place?<<

      Just read my posts, watch the video. I can't keep on repeating my arguments in comment sections.

      >>Therefore our consciousness must exist in material form. So the world IS one, united at the basis of matter. Consciouss experience, thought, etc. is just a secondary feature of the world, and specifically of a material and highly organized organ, our brain. ... Our fundamental reality is basically matter. Human beings are material (and historical). Our faculty of reasoning, thinking, perceiving and experiencing are all based on the same material reality. But consciousness is a specific quality of material reality, not present in all other forms of matter, requiring a highly organized material organ: the brain. <<

      Blah blah blah. These are just arbitrary re-statements of the materialist position. You're making no argument. There is nothing here to reply to.

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    2. >>But what matters is not what name we give to these concepts, but what they mean.<<

      Exactly. If all reality is in consciousness and the brain is merely the image of partial consciousness localization, one implication is that consciousness never disappears; it only de-localizes upon physical death. But if consciousness is generated by particular arrangements of matter, then it disappears upon physical death. There are several other different implications of the materialism vs idealism question. It's quite painfully obvious that it is not just a matter of words.

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    3. Rob, let me make one final attempt with you. Give me some credit just for a moment and try not to instinctively disregard whatI am about to say: you are begging the question of consciousness existing inside your body, as opposed to your body inside consciousness. The consciousness I am talking about is not personal, it is the substrate of reality. It is your body that is in it, as a localized segment of it, not it inside your body. Try to re-read everything I am saying with this in mind, and you may understand the simplicity of what I am trying to get across.

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    4. Bernardo - having had these kinds of conversations for the last several years (actually, many years, but for most of that period, perhaps a few year. I started having them regularly in 2011, after publishing my article, "Shaving Science With Ockham's Razor." The non materialists - to a person- loved it. There were perhaps 2 or 3 materialists who said it made them rethink their beliefs, but by and large, the reaction from materialists was much like Rob's. Your patience is admirable - they really come up with the same half dozen (or maybe a dozen, or maybe 10, I'm not sure:>))) confusions ( I would say rational objections but there's really no rationality to it).

      The thing is, by arguing - which i think is fine - you're playing in the field of the left brain. If Rob and others like him have done very well in school or in professions requiring analytic thinking, they're going to be likely to have difficulty with experiential examples, and the idea of "everything in mind" is going to be filtered through a highly analytic thought process.

      I'm not sure I have anything practical to offer, but if this makes sense to you, i wonder if there's some bridge between purely abstract, analytic ideas that you try to counter the materialist with, and the use of very alive images like your whirlpool image (you may recall I prefer the lucid dream analogy, though I can't say I've had much success with that).

      My own sense is that through the medium of music and video it might be possible to link the abstract arguments with the more experiential kind that rob and others will need to get through the left brain filter that keeps them rooted in materialism.

      Just a thought.

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    5. By the way, I have a question for you - and I hope you can help. I am a psychologist with very little training in the physical sciences. it seems to me there is an argument within the sphere of physics that only takes a few sentences, and is by itself enough to completely defeat materialism - that is, to show that materialism has absolutely no explanatory power for ANYTHING in the universe. But I'm assuming that there are so many people out there who are much smarter than me, they must have thought of this, and if it hasn't gone viral and already defeated materialism, there must be something I'm missing.

      So here it is, and please tell me why this is not sufficient to completely dissuade anyone from thinking that materialism has any explanatory power whatsoever:

      Materialists tell us that out of total, complete randomness and chaos, suddenly, out of nowhere, with utterly no explanation, order emerges, and patterns begin to occur.

      This by itself should be enough to convince us that materialism is the most fantastic, extraordinary claim ever made. To say that out of a completely dead, unconscious, non intelligent nothingness, order just "emerges" and to think that needs no explanation, and then to base your entire science on that, just seems the most extraordinary leap of faith, greater than 3rd century Christian theologian Tertullian who, when asked why he believed in the Christian faith, said, "I believe because it is absurd."

      But wait, there's more - first we're asked to believe that order just "happened." Well, maybe if somehow, there wasn't really nothingness, but random chaos that persisted for an infinity of time, maybe for one instant, just by chance, something resembling order could occur. That even I - arch denier of materialism - could comprehend. But no, they want us to believe not only did this order, these patterns, emerge for a few infinitesimal moments, for a few nanoseconds. No, the materialist wants us to believe - in a world of pure chance, dead, stupid, unconscious, these patterns persisted, not just for minutes, weeks, or years, but billions and billions and billions of years.

      And not only that, they got more complex.

      There's much much more, but it seems to me, the first 2 -that patterns and order could emerge out of nothingness, and that they could continue, in the absence of any kind of intelligence, just boggles the imagination. I think your post here sums up the reason why this isn't the killer argument it should be - because so many scientists just accept, well that's the way it is, and we don't need to explain it. But if you can't explain how order emerged and how it persists, and virtually every scientific explanation wholly rests on that order, then your vaunted scientific materialism explains absolutely nothing.

      Now don't get me wrong, I think the #1 argument against materialism is that we can never know anything directly but what occurs within consciousness. Therefore the burden of proof lies on the materialist to show why we should believe something that is pure faith and can not only never be proved but for which there could never even be any evidence.

      But I think the argument about order coming from unconsciousness doesn't trigger the materialist's hidden assumptions as quickly as the one saying all we know is conscious experience. It just seems SO OBVIOUS that the world around us is objective, independent and existing outside consciousness - i mean it seems so to the dyed in the wool materialist - that he just can't escape the feeling long enough to think clearly. The laws of nature argument doesn't immediately trigger his amygdala, so his cerebral cortex is thus capable of at least semi-rational thought, for perhaps a few minutes, which might be long enough for him to start questioning his reality, at which point of course, his mind will close shut very tight and you'll have lost him for awhile:>)))

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    6. "1 - 'Our sense perceptions provide direct evidence for a world outside consciousness.'

      If that were not true, then are you not just simply arguing from the point of solipsism?"

      What you're saying is that our *experiences* provide evidence for the unexperienced. However, by *definition* what we perceive cannot provide evidence for the unperceived.

      Under idealism what we refer to as external reality only exists, and can only exist, by virtue of consciousness. It's a bit like saying grins can only exist in the context of a face.

      Also the fact that it only exists by virtue of consciousness doesn't mean we can manipulate it with our minds. If you were to believe in telepathy then another's thoughts might enter your consciousness. Clearly the fact it is in your consciousness doesn't entail you were the origin of that thought or that you could will that thought to be anything other than it is.

      I've written an extremely short introduction to Berkeley's idealism which you might find helpful (I have no idea how close it would be to Bernardo's idealism.

      http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/a-very-brief-introduction-to-subjective.html

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    7. Don,

      >> Materialists tell us that out of total, complete randomness and chaos, suddenly, out of nowhere, with utterly no explanation, order emerges, and patterns begin to occur. <<

      Yeah, the trick here is this: materialism says that there was only 'chaos' in the beginning as far as the arrangements of matter and energy. But materialism also acknowledges more than arrangements of matter and energy: it acknowledges the _laws of physics_. The laws of physics are a given in materialism, an irreducible ontological primitive (like we claim consciousness to be). It is those laws that bring order and pattern into matter and energy. Specifically, random quantum fluctuation in the originally uniform distribution of matter int he universe got amplified by the law of gravity, forming clumps that eventually led to stars, galaxies, planets, moons, you and me. So the idea is that LAW + CHAOS = PATTERN. You were missing the LAW part. Indeed, there are computer programs called Cellular Automata (google it) that encode a few simple rules (laws) and apply them to initially chaotic configurations of pixels. Very quickly beautiful patterns emerge.

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  2. Excellent post! Very helpful on a number of levels. And then writing that example comment under the robheus pseudonym was the icing on the cake. I mean it really shows the level of true belief one can fall into; where you read through such heavy prior belief filtering that you essentially don't read at all, and your comment becomes a poster child for the post. It's good to be reminded of this as we all do it occasionally. It was a bit of an exaggeration though.

    As tedious as this would be, gradually compiling a glossary on the site, might help with the talking past each other problem that seems to happen when people are first exposed to your ideas. Hopefully newbies will be an ever increasing number of participants. Also some kind of Start Here page that you can direct people to, might save you the trouble of endlessly having to restate your basic ideas. It could just be a collection of links.

    Bob

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    1. Cheers Bob! Regarding robheus, I'm afraid it isn't me. No, really, it wasn't. As far as I know, robheus is a real person holding those positions for real. The glossary may be a good idea, although the 'search' functions is very useful in that regard too. I will think about it.

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    2. Sorry I should have put a :) in there. I never thought it was you. Another example of how one has to be very careful with humor online. A lesson I never seem to be able to learn.

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    3. :)
      I would have understood it if you had added a ";)"
      Cheers, B.

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  3. what do you think about Donald Hoffman theory of mind? It would like you a lot!

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