Friday, 2 August 2013

- Defined by Materialism? -
What is it that defines me? We, Us, or You? Perhaps an imminently obvious answer is that I and we am/are defined by my beliefs, or my personal system of beliefs.

There are many labels that your everyday Secular Humanist may use to define their self, that being one of them. Many use 'Atheist', as do I, fewer use 'Anti-theist', some say 'naturalist', many also say 'Materialist'. Materialist is definitely an interesting label here because it could be regarded as the most common denominator belief of all of these other labels. Anyone calling themselves an atheist or a naturalist would almost certainly not believe that they own/are a soul that could survive the death of their physical body. A belief that the universe is solely composed of material, that is material that is unexceptionally subject to the laws of the physical. Tied in to this is the assumption is that the opposite does not exist in reality, the immaterial is a non-existent concept.

What else defines me? Well the material that I am using to type this certainly belongs to me, but does it define me? Do my physical attributes define me? Well yes, I think that they do. People often refer to each other based on their physical attributes. 'Derek, you know, that tall and handsome gentleman? Has a beard and wears glasses.' This is all too common and is definitely a process of definition. Certainly my face defines me, in terms of others forming schemas defined by me. My face, and what comes out of it, unquestionably defines me. What comes out of my face, referring to the speech and subsequent social interactions also define me as well but this starts to push onto the fringe of what we normally call 'Material', in a sense. To be strict, social interactions are all mediated by physical processes. For example, a reductionist perspective would describe my voice as a series of sounds produced by the physical processes of pressurised air being manipulated to cause my throat to vibrate and project waves of air pressure towards a receptacle, like ears and a brain, that can decode it . That's all my voice is?

We know that the physics of sound and air pressure can be appropriately applied to explain a voice. We also know that this explanation, despite being correct, is incomplete. Yet hear at the 'fringe' of this voice metaphor, many would start describing the added, humane, extra part as some sort of perhaps immaterial conscious entity that adds a conceptual layer of semantic understanding to the physical sound of the voice. Is this social, human, conceptual, communicative quality of a physical sound within the framework of materialism? My voice and beliefs define me, but I am a solely physical being, right?

Psychology is complicated. The study of behaviour, when considered at a human level, almost always involves directing questions towards the brain. As an orchestrator of experience and behaviour, the brain must be involved in the explanation of human behaviour, from time-to-time. The current model of Neuroscience is one of materialism, in that all conscious experience, cognition, memory and so on is mediated by explicitly material processes. How the brain achieves this may always be unknown, and because of this it does leave space for those that do believe in the soul to believe that this amazing neurobiological feat is some spooky ghost in the machine.

Social interactions are what give meaning to the material that makes me. Mediated by my complex 'neuro-organ', I can ascribe (reasonably) complicated conceptual associations to many other people, or material that makes others, through my brain. This will ultimately be found to be within the framework of materialism.
That'll do for now, signing off.  

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