johnhspence

Although Kurt Gödel has not become a household name like Albert Einstein, he was one of the greatest logicians in history, a towering intellectual giant who was also a close companion of Einstein and John von Neumann at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. What on earth (or in the heavens) could have prompted Gödel to reject materialism?

Materialism, the metaphysical assumption that only physical things are real, has become the unquestioned foundation of so much of mainstream science. Ironically, the fact is that a great many of the pioneers of modern science, from its beginning several centuries ago to the developers of quantum physics such as Max Planck and Werner Heisenberg, thoroughly rejected materialism.

As Mario Beauregard clarified in a recent guest blog post, there is no scientific necessity to embrace materialism, and here I will add that there is no logical necessity, either. For example, we are logically forced to conclude that the laws of physics themselves are either real, which would make materialism false, or these laws are not real, which would make the foundations of science itself unreal. In other words, if you believe materialism to be true, you can never claim that this supposed truth is a scientific fact, because if materialism were true then there would be no scientific facts in the first place, as all of science would be resting on a delusion, on something unreal. So, either science is delusional, in which case it cannot be said to prove materialism (or anything else for that matter – pun intended), or science is resting on a foundation that is rooted in reality, in which case materialism would necessarily be false. But how can that be?

Let’s see if we can offer a logical argument in support of Gödel’s rejection of materialism (while keeping in mind that a symbol is not the thing that it represents; i.e., the word “tree” is a symbol in English that represents an actual physical entity, but the symbol “tree” is not an actual tree.)

1. The laws of physics are foundational to all of science.
2. The laws of physics are mathematical relations.
3. Mathematical relations depend upon numbers.
4. All numbers are built from 1 and 0 (“2” is merely 1 + 1, and zero is the absence of any 1)
5. Zero itself has no physicality (it represents nothing, after all).
6. One itself has no physicality (you can find 1 tree, or 1 car, but you cannot find a pure “1” itself in physicality – if you don’t believe me, I invite you to look for it).
7. Since numbers represent “something” that is not physical, then the laws of physics represent and/or ultimately depend upon something that is not physical.
8. Therefore, we are left to conclude that either: (a) the laws of physics are real but not physical, which makes materialism false; or (b) the laws of physics are not real, which makes the foundation of all of science unreal.
9. Despite its apparent extraordinary success, if the foundation of science is unreal, then ultimately it cannot provide any basis for objective truth in reality, and therefore cannot be said to prove materialism (or anything else) to be objectively true.

This issue can get far more complicated very quickly, and if you want to know more, then please dive into The Eternal Law. In any case, it doesn’t matter how many logical arguments you present against materialism, or how many pioneering scientists you quote who reject materialism, because in the end the hardheaded materialist will refuse to listen. One is left wondering: was Plato correct in referring to materialists as ‘terrible men’ and ‘very stubborn and perverse mortals’?

9 Comments

  • ora exacta says:

    Am aflat aceasta pagina, dupa ce am cautat despre Materialism is false pe Google.
    Se pare ca informatia dvs e foarte valoroasa, mai ales ca am mai gasit aici si despre
    ora, ora exacta, lucruri interesante si folositoare. Mult succes
    in continuare!

  • Brandon Mcgillis says:

    interesting

  • More briefly stated :- The laws of physics are themselves not material; according to materialism only material objects can exist; therefore, according to materialism the laws of physics cannot exist.

    • Dr. John H Spencer says:

      Yes, if materialism were true then the laws of physics would indeed be unreal, which would make the whole of science unreal. However, there are many important subtleties and details required to unfold this argument, which I do in The Eternal Law and also in my contribution to the forthcoming Post-Materialist anthology. For example, some anti-realists would be happy to say that science is unreal, but they are also happy to use the various technologies that result from scientific understanding. And some materialists would say that the laws of physics must be real without at all understanding that admitting the reality of the laws of physics necessarily renders materialism false, and that the non-physical realm must ontologically be prior to the physical. The reality of the non-physical realm also necessarily implies some sort of mysticism, since it is a deep mystery how the non-physical and the physical are integrated, such as the mystery of how non-physical numbers allow us the scientific power to manipulate physical matter.

      The irrational and unscientific resistance demonstrated by various parts of mainstream academia to these relatively obvious conclusions is quite strong. Fortunately, there seems to be a growing movement that is ready to reject this dogma. It is especially ironic that many of the greatest pioneering physicists throughout history have rejected materialism, and yet they still believed in the objective reality of the laws of physics, an indisputable fact that materialists and anti-realists have tried to ignore.

  • Pax Terminus says:

    Totality of existence goes beyond physical matter, that became obvious in practical application the moment first computer was turned on. Microsoft Excel exists and yet it is not tied to any physical medium: it is fully transferable across any type of physical medium for which a human consciousness provides the rules for encoding and decoding.

    Computers and their software prove that entities can exist independently from any physical constraints. Hence physical reality is a subset of existence. If you write a computer game, then the objects in that game will have hard physical properties for the characters / entities that exist in that game. Their physical reality exists only conceptually on our level of abstraction.

    Also, certain general rules of existence start to emerge. Like the fact that physical objects from one level of abstraction cannot penetrate to another recursive level of abstraction. This is conceptually impossible, hence impossible in all totality of existence. On the other hand physical objects on the same level of existence, but from parallel realities can be readily translated and moved around various realities.

  • It is not that the material world is “founded” upon mathematical relationships. It is, rather, that mathematical relationships are capable of modeling (or in some cases predicting) phenomena in the material world. Gödel’s 1st theorem of incompleteness states merely that any complex system that can be modeled in mathematical terms will have at least one theorem that we can know to be true, but cannot prove it to be true using rubrics within the system itself. It thin that it would be wrong to say that since math is immaterial, then the entire apparatus of the material world is “based upon” something outside of itself. While personally agree that materialism is false, I think this page presents the wrong argument (although I find the argument interesting).

    • Dr. John H Spencer says:

      Good to hear that you think materialism is false. However, the argument is not wrong. In fact, it is the knockdown argument against materialism.

      The details of this position are laid out in The Eternal Law.

      (You may enjoy the book, and enjoy discovering Gödel’s foundational metaphysical beliefs, which go far beyond his incompleteness theorems.)

  • Daniel J. Viet PHAM says:

    Dear Dr John Spencer,

    Your very interesting article, “Materialism is false” – Kurt Godel, has inspired me to write a Vietnamese article about philosophy of science. You can see here it is:
    https://viethungpham.com/2015/11/30/godel-materialism-is-false-godel-chu-nghia-duy-vat-la-sai-lam/

    I would like to say thank you so much for what I have learnt from your discussion, especially for 9 logical steps of proving materialism to be not objectically true. It’s great!
    I have said to some of my colleagues that if they want to know better about philosophy of science, they should read Dr John Spencer’s.

    Daniel Joseph Viet H. Pham
    Sydney, Australia

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