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A Non-Mental Reality Must Exist.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 10/23/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,327 times Debate No: 63771
Debate Rounds (4)
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Mental: Of or relating to consciousness (a "Mental reality" being one that is contained solely in consciousness

Reality: That which is real - that which exists.

In this debate, PRO will argue that there must be a non-mental reality, with "mental reality" used as defined above. I do not have to show that there are no mental aspects of reality, but that they must not be all there is in the makeup of reality.

The first round will be for acceptance only - I will present my argument in the second round, and my opponent will present his, along with any objections to my arguments that he sees fit to write. The third round will be used for counter-arguments and defences, as well as new arguments. The fourth round will contain no new arguments, and will only serve to allow the debaters a chance to both give final counter-arguments targeting the already-established arguments put forward earlier in the debate, as well as letting them conclude their arguments.

The BOP will be split - I will have to affirm that a non-mental reality MUST exist, while my opponent must hold that a non-mental reality DOES NOT exist.

No abusive semantical arguments, etc - I doubt that this will be a problem so I don't think I need to go into detail about this.

You will have 72 hours to post a round, can use up to 9,000 characters per round, and the debate will be in the voting period for ten days.

I don't care much about voting, but please be fair.


I accept the conditions.
Debate Round No. 1


Let it be kept in mind that I am arguing that there must be some non-mental reality that exists, not that it is only non-mental reality that exists. I am arguing against the concept of an all-encompassing mental reality, and I must show that, even if some form of mental reality exists, there is a non-mental reality outside of it.

Consciousness without data

My first point is as follows: if all that exists exists within consciousness, and consciousness is that which interprets data, what data would a consciousness in a void interpret? If it is given that data cannot be nothingness (otherwise there is no sense in calling it data), it holds that any data is data that has content about something. In other words, any piece of data must have something to which it relates to. If consciousness is all that exists, then it follows that all data is data relating to consciousness. If there was data not related to consciousness, then something other than consciousness must exist for the data to be related to. As such, if I can show that some data is not related to consciousness, then I have shown that there is something other than consciousness that exists.

Assume that there is nothing but a mental reality – there is only a reality created by consciousness, that thing which interprets data. Where, then, did the data come from? If consciousness is only an interpreter of data, then consciousness only has any content or can act at all if data is given to it. It is impossible that the data come from a consciousness in a world in which there is only consciousness - this is equivalent to saying that something can come from nothing. There must be something there initially for anything further to come.

If consciousness is all that exists, then, at the outset or beginning of time, nothing existed. To say that something can exist when all that exists is consciousness is to say that, at the first point of time, consciousness had data to interpret – the question, then, is “data of what?” If there is no external world for consciousness to interpret, then it is by necessity empty. An interpreter cannot have content without outside intervention – it must be fed data to interpret. If the data is of itself, then the first data would be data related to an empty (read: nonexistent) entity. This data would have no content, and, as such, could not count as data at all.

I do not deny that, after some data has entered the system, consciousness can reflect on itself – this, however, assumes that there is some data that enters the system at some point, which I have explained to be impossible unless an outside world exists.

Distinction between mental and non-mental

It can be seen that, if everything that exists is mental, there wouldn’t even be a discussion on this topic. The very designation of “mental” implies that something non-mental exists, for if the category of “mental” is needed, then it is needed to distinguish the mental from the non-mental. In a world in which only consciousness exists, there would be no way of knowing that only consciousness exists. In the same way that, if life were just a dream, the concept of “dream” would become meaningless, if reality is just consciousness, then the concept of “mental” would become meaningless. The mental is distinguished as being the realm of consciousness only because there is a realm of non-consciousness that exists. To claim otherwise would be akin to claiming that the concept of “black” has any meaning in an all-black world – there is nothing to differentiate “black” from anything else, since “black” is all that exists.

One knows only that he was dreaming because he wakes up – if he doesn’t, how could he conceptualize dreaming?

If there must be some distinction between the mental and non-mental, then it holds that the non-mental exists.



A “non-mental reality” amounts to “inconceivable concept”, and is thus an oxymoron.

Every set, process, object or law is identical to a description and thus qualifies as “mental”. One may be tempted to prop up a distinction between definition and that which is defined, but this leads to problems. For if definition does not distribute over definiendum, then either the definiendum is inconceivable and the distinction meaningless, or the definiendum somehow differs from how we’ve defined it, thus amounting to “X =/= X”.

In other words, anything we can point to is necessarily an expression of cognition. “Out there” is either meaningless or mental by cognitive embedment and thus a projection of our minds. As Chris Langan observes: “...insofar as the mind is that which perceives and theorizes, and insofar as there can be no perception or theorization without the mind, the structure of the mind necessarily intersects with that of phenomenal reality.” The intersection is total.We cannot even conceive of a situation or context in which “something” is non-mental.

One may ask: “If everything is mental, how can we distinguish between things which exist and things which are merely imagined? After all, thinking something does not make it so.” The distinction does not lie within the concepts themselves, but rather in the relationship between concept and reality. That is, a purely imagined concept only describes itself, while a “real” concept describes our conception of reality in a general sense.

Reality amounts to a kind of theory whose rules of inference determine its composition. Since reality is defined within a theoretic context - since “reality” is by definition a definition - it follows that “inclusion in reality” requires that something be mental - otherwise it cannot be mentally included in our conception of reality. Since any absolute difference between reality and our conception of reality is inconceivable, such a difference is necessarily irrelevant to our notion of real and thus doesn’t exist i.e., is irrelevant to “reality”.

Our experience is obviously shaped by more general structure than solipsism allows for. Our perceptions and thoughts are not ours to choose at whim, but are in a sense “sculpted” by the world around us. However, this does not imply that this structure is non-mental, for that would lead to contradiction. Rather, it implies that our minds are images of the mind of reality as a whole. That is, our experience of reality amounts to reality experiencing itself within the bounds it’s set for itself. This does not mean that we must be consciously aware of this structure, or that we have to agree with it, for it to take effect. It merely implies that the overall structure of reality is implicit in the structure of our minds, and that any descriptions of this structure amount to reality describing itself. In other words, our minds define and are defined by reality. Although for most purposes, a non-mental reality might as well exist.

My opponent argues that “mental” is meaningless without a logical complement. While this is true, it is irrelevant to whether or not a non-mental reality exists. For by the same logic, reality is meaningless without a logical compliment. And yet, if non-reality exists in the sense my opponent is talking about, it would be part of reality, in which case reality would have no logical complement. And if reality is meaningless, then my opponent can hardly make any definite statements in regard to it. Since I am associating “reality” with “mental”, the case really is no different. Anything which is “non-mental” is irrelevant to “reality” and thus unreal. Therefore, “mental” is defined in juxtaposition to “unreality” just as reality is.
Debate Round No. 2


I want to begin by saying that I fully agree that, if my opponent's position that conceptions of things are indistinguishable from things themselves, my position falls apart and I have lost the debate. As such, I'll devote most of my time to this point.

My first objection is that my opponent misrepresentates the relationship between concepts and concretes, or the relationship between epistemology and metaphysics. He raises the point as follows:

"if definition does not distribute over definiendum, then either the definiendum is inconceivable and the distinction meaningless, or the definiendum somehow differs from how we’ve defined it, thus amounting to “X =/= X”."

This misses out on a few major things - firstly, what a concept is. A concept is a formation of the mind to classify existents - it observes similarities between like objects and unifies them according to those similarities. For instance, from two tables the concept of "table" can be formed by looking at their similar features: they both have legs, they both are used to support objects, etc. What is not looked at is their differences: their sizes, colours, materials, etc. These are disregarded because a concept does not describe a specific existent, but a classification or group in which all members have a specific set of qualities (their essence, if you will).

When you think of the concept "table", you think of specific existents or potential existents as a way of seeing an example of something which would be a table - this does not mean that, by "table", you are referring only to one concrete. Although there are concrete tables, there are many of them and many potential tables, so it can be seen that a concept is nothing but a classification.

While it is true that all knowledge is conceptual, this in no way leads to the idea that all existents are conceptual. When you think of a concept, it is fine to say that you are thinking of a mental construct. Even looking at a specific concrete, it is fine to say that you are looking at the conceptualization of sense data. The point of disagreement is that concepts are formed via observation, and, in a world in which only concepts exist, there would be nothing to initially observe. A concept of "tables" is only formed by observing similar objects via sense data - data of non-mental existents.

In my opponent's quote above, it can be seen that he treats definitions as being one with concretes, which is not the case and can be seen to be so just from observing what concepts are. He assumes many things and uses those assumptions to verify the assumptions - he assumes things such as that concepts being distinct from existents implies that x =/= x, which is only the case if it is already assumed, from the outset, that concepts = existents. This has not been justified in any real and non-circular manner. As I have explained, concepts describe groups of entities with the "essence" of that group, but this does not mean that those entities are identical in all aspects - they must only be identical insofar as the concept is narrow or broad. If it is true that multiple and distinct entities can be thought of as having the essence of a concept, and that concept = concretes, then it follows that the following contridiction comes:

concept = y

concrete 1 = x

concrete 2 = z

y = x (since x is included in y and, as my opponent states, concepts = the concrete referents)

y = z (as above)

From this, it is drawn that x = z, which is absurd.

I would also want to drop my argument about “mental” being meaningless without the non-mental that I had at the end of my r1. I do not think that this hurts my case at all, and I believe that I still have fulfilled my BOP regardless.



My opponent’s position can be summarized as follows:

Concepts are subjectively-formed mental constructs which describe abstract relationships between concretes. Concretes are not concepts, and concepts are impossible without concretes.

This argument has a number of problems. First, it places unnecessary restrictions on the descriptive scope of “concept” - restrictions which do not apply to the term as I intended to use it. For example, he asserts that “a concept does not describe a specific existent, but a classification or group in which all members have a specific set of qualities (their essence, if you will).” If this were true, one could not form a concept of the Empire State Building or of any particular person. What my opponent appears to be referring to is an abstraction, which is a subset of concept. Second, my opponent is attacking a strawman. When I say that everything is a concept, I don’t mean that everything is a concept of a concept, I mean that everything is conceptual. That is, “concept” is also a concept.

A little reflection should reveal that no matter how “objective” (non-mental) one tries to get, one is ultimately dealing with cognition. When my opponent attempts to differentiate between conceptions of things and the things themselves, he is not addressing the fact that both would be identical to their own descriptions. Something independent of mind is not theoretically meaningful, for if it were truly independent of mind it would lack meaningful definition. Insofar as it is intelligible, the property “independent of mind” is itself mental by cognitive embedment. There is no escape.
Debate Round No. 3


I, for the sake of argument (the only meaningful differences are irrelevant to the topic at hand), accept my opponent's summation of my argument.

My opponent's example of a concept of the Empire State Building does not show that my use of the term "concept" is wrong - it assumes that any concept of the Empire State Building does not follow the formula for conceptualization that I have given previously. This counterexample can be neutralized by considering that, even in such seemingly-narrow concepts, the concept of the Empire State Building can hold all those entities, potential or actual, which have the "essence" of the Empire State. If this is rejected, how, then, could the Empire State be conceptualized at all? After all, if such a concept is specific enough to detail every quality of an entity, then it follows that the concept would apply to the Empire State at one moment and not to the next. From these points of time, some change has occurred - since we do not make a new concept for every new moment, it can be seen that, when the word "concept" is used in any discussion, it refers to a non-specific category of things.

As I have tried to explain before, my opponent is confusing the epistemological with the metaphysical. Even if I accept that all knowledge of things is conceptual, and even if I accept that concretes can only be experienced via concepts, there is no problem with my position. My opponent is taking a stance on how we know things, not what things, in themselves, are. If we cannot know what non-conceptual things are non-conceptually, this does not refute the necessity of conceptual referents (as I have shown in my previous rounds - my opponent has not addressed these points properly).

If I cannot say what, exactly, a conceptual referent would be like, this does not dilute the fact that something non-conceptual, in any form, must exist. I do not have to be any more specific than that in order to fulfil my BOP. As such, any problems my opponent finds with the endeavour of defining or pinpointing the nature such referents is irrelevant. It is fine if I cannot think of the non-conceptual in non-conceptual terms - this does not refute the fact that the conceptual implies the non-conceptual by its very nature.

Thanks for reading, reader - and thanks for debating, Dylan :)


You can't define "information" without implicitly including cognition.

In the conventional model, percepts are objective observables that actively imprint themselves on, and thereby shape and determine, the passive mind and its internal processes. But a more general (and therefore more scientific, less tautological) description of percepts portrays them also as having a subjective perceptual aspect.

Suppose you're wearing blue-tinted glasses. At first, you think that the world you see through them is blue. Then it occurs to you that this need not be true; maybe it's the glasses. Given this possibility, you realize that you really have no business thinking that the world is blue at all; indeed, due to Occam's razor, you must assume that the world is chromatically neutral (i.e., not blue) until proven otherwise! Finally, managing to remove your glasses, you see that you were right; the world is not blue. This, you conclude, proves that you can't assume that what is true on your end of perception (the blue tint of your lenses) is really true of reality.

Fresh from this victory of reason, you turn to the controversial hypothesis that mind is the essence of reality...that reality is not only material, but mental in character. An obvious argument for this hypothesis is that since reality is known to us strictly in the form of ideas and sensations - these, after all, are all that can be directly "known" - reality must be ideic. But then it naturally occurs to you that the predicate "mental" is like the predicate "blue"; it may be something that exists solely on your end of the process of perception. And so it does, you reflect, for the predicate "mental" indeed refers to the mind! Therefore, by Occam's razor, it must be assumed that reality is not mental until proven otherwise.

However, there is a difference between these two situations. You can remove a pair of blue sunglasses. But you cannot remove your mind, at least when you're using it to consider reality. This means that it can never be proven that the world isn't mental. And if this can never be proven, then you can't make an assumption either way. Indeed, the distinction itself is meaningless; there is no reason to even consider a distinction between that which is mental and that which is not, since nature has conspired to ensure that such a distinction will never, ever be perceived. But without this distinction, the term "mental" can no longer be restrictively defined. "Mental" might as well mean "real" and vice versa. And for all practical purposes, so it does.

A theory T of physical reality exists as a neural and conceptual pattern in your brain (and/or mind); it's related by isomorphism to its universe U (physical reality). T<--(isomorphism)-->U. T consists of abstract ideas; U consists of supposedly concrete objects like photons (perhaps not the best examples of "concrete objects"). But the above argument shows that we have to drop the abstract-concrete distinction (which is just a different way of expressing the mental-real distinction). Sure, we can use these terms to distinguish the domain and range of the perceptual isomorphism, but that's as far as it goes. For all practical purposes, what is mental is real, and vice versa. The T-U isomorphism seamlessly carries one predicate into the other.

Assume that a photon has no abstract existence. Then since ideas are abstract, it corresponds to no idea. But you know the world through ideas. So for you, a non-abstract photon has no existence. But you're discussing photons that exist. So the photon you're talking about is abstract (as well as concrete).

If we form a theory of some aspect of reality, it may or may not be correct. But even if not, we can be sure that the correct theory will conform to our mental structures, since otherwise we won't be able to create a conceptual isomorphism with it (and that's what a theory is). A "syntax" is to be interpreted as any set of structural and functional constraints applied to any system. A syntax takes the form of general information and is implemented by generalized cognition.

This, of course, is what philosophers call "solipsism", but without the assumption of personal control. In a word, it's impossible to prove that the universe doesn't exist entirely inside our minds, and that all that "objective reality" out there isn't just some kind of subjective internal simulation. While it's true that control of the simulation seems to be distributed among many people and influences, this merely amounts to a kind of "distributed solipsism" after intersect of solipsistic viewpoints in one and the same meta-solipsistic universe. In other words, the solipsistic abstract/concrete "Self" of the universe distributes over all of its contents, and our own "selves" are just mini-solipsistic aspects of it.

So the objective and solipsistic models are as indistinguishable as U and T, abstract and concrete, and we have to drop the distinction. And in this case, (objective) isomorphism equals (abstract, subjective) identity; when we talk about T and U, we're really talking about different aspects or characterizations of the same thing. So the perceived universe and the perceiver are one, and the universe is "self-perceptual". This is where reality theory meets the philosophy of mind. But that's fine, because as should by now be obvious, they need each other.

In conclusion, physical reality has a general abstract existence. This is what happens when you embed physical reality in a space of abstractions in order to theorize about it; real objects necessarily conform to more or less exact configurations of an abstract distributed syntax. Since there's no way out of this requirement, it's pointless to theorize about it without admitting it from the outset. A theory that doesn't is nothing but an oxymoron; it contains an implied logical inconsistency from jump street and invalidates itself.


Debate Round No. 4
37 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by bossyburrito 2 years ago
Posted by vi_spex 2 years ago
the opposite of mental, is physical, nothing and something, 0 and 1
Posted by dylancatlow 2 years ago

Sign up please
Posted by bossyburrito 2 years ago
It's already been a week?!? Jesus christ, time flies.
Posted by dylancatlow 2 years ago
Still waiting on that essay...
Posted by dylancatlow 2 years ago
Mhhmmm :P
Posted by bossyburrito 2 years ago
We all know the winner, anyway :)
Posted by dylancatlow 2 years ago
Posted by dylancatlow 2 years ago
In other words, since in the context of reality "irrelevant" and "unreal" are synonymous, something "non-mental" is irrelevant to any conceivable definition of reality and therefore cannot be considered real.
Posted by dylancatlow 2 years ago
"He confuses metaphysics with epistemology"

He doesn't conflate the two without reason:

Indeed, the distinction itself is meaningless; there is no reason to even consider a distinction between that which is mental and that which is not, since nature has conspired to ensure that such a distinction will never, ever be perceived. But without this distinction, the term "mental" can no longer be restrictively defined.

"he doesn't distinguish from perfect sense data and faulty conceptions"

Oh really? Then why would he say:

If we form a theory of some aspect of reality, it may or may not be correct. But even if not, we can be sure that the correct theory will conform to our mental structures.
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