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Physicalism Is Probably False

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/20/2017 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 933 times Debate No: 100462
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (6)
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Physicalism is the doctrine which essentially states that everything is physical. I am going to argue that this thesis is probably false.

What does it mean for something to be physical? I think the most comprehensive definition is as follows:

X is physical if it is spacetime, or is a field, force, piece of matter or energy within spacetime (or a collection of any of them).

First round is for acceptance.


I'll take you up on the offer. I accept your debate.
Debate Round No. 1



I wanted to thank my opponent for accepting this debate. There are two forms of Physicalism:

(i) Reductive Physicalism

(ii) Non-Reductive Physicalism

Non-Reductive Physicalism does not apply to my definition of Physicalism outlined in the debate as I do not believe it is valid form of Physicalism. That is to say, it is not worthy of the name. Non-Reductive Physicalism entails the supervenience of the mental on the Physical, while acknowledging that mental properties are not themselves physical. But if mentality isn't physical, then how can we say Physicalism is true? As Philosopher Uwe Meixer notes:

"The necessary question to ask here is the following: does the supervenience of the mental on the physical entail that all mental entities are physical? If no, then this position is compatible with Dualism, and therefore a comprehensive doctrine of Physicalism, properly so called, cannot be identified with it." - Uwe Meizer [1]

So this debate will be about Reductive Physicalism. This is the thesis that everything is/ reduces to the physical. I will be arguing that this position, if not false, is at least probably false.

---The Mind Is Not Physical---

P1: If Physicalism is true, then the mind is physical

P2: The mind is not physical

C: Therefore, Physicalism is not true

The argument is valid Modus Tollens, and P1 simply follows from the Physicalist's thesis. P2 will need to be defended.

The mind, or consciousness, is not physical because it doesn't have physical properties. Physical things take up space, or have mass or trajectories (or other things of this nature). However, a perception takes up no space, a thought cannot be split in half, you cannot weigh emotions ect. This provides compelling reasons to believe that consciousness is not physical and that Physicalism is false. If consciousness or mentality reduced to something physical, what physical thing, or things, could it reduce to? Reductive Physicalists would say that mental states reduce to brain states (Identity Theory). There are two arguments I would like to give to show that this is false:

-Sub-Argument 1-

P1: If mental states are brain states, then the examination of mental states cannot take place without the examination of brain states

P2: The examination of brain states can take place without the examination of brain states

C: Therefore, mental states are not brain states

P1 is true via Leibniz' Law (if A is B, then whatever is true for A is also true for B). P2 is the due to introspection. When we introspect (or meditate), we come across mental states but not brain states. If we came across brain states then we could do neuroscience by pure introspection (which we clearly cannot). Thus, we can examine mental states without examining brain states. As Neuroscientist Sam Harris notes:

"There is nothing about introspection that leads you to sense that your subjectivity is at all dependant or even related to voltage changes and chemical reactions going on inside your head... You can drop acid, you can meditate for a year, you can do whatever you want to perturb your nervous system, you can feel yourself become one with the universe, and at no point in that transformation do you get a glimpse that there is one hundred trillion neurons in your head, or synapses in your head, that are doing anything." - Sam Harris [2]

Since the argument is valid Modus Tollens, and the premises are true; mental states are not brain states.

-Sub-Argument 2-

P1: If mental states are brain states, then spectrum inversion is logically impossible

P2: Spectrum inversion is logically possible

C: Therefore, mental states are not brain states

If mental states are brain states then it would be logically impossible for two people who shared the exact same brain states to experience different colour qualia at the same time (as the mental phenomenon of experiencing a particular colour would simply be a particular brain state). However, there doesn't seem to be any logical contradiction in spectrum inversion. We can easily conceive of two people with the same brain states who experience different colours at the same time. This may not be convincing to somebody who already believes in Identity Theory, but what is even more convincing is that visual perception expert and Cognitive Scientist Donald D. Hoffman mathematically proved the logical possibility of spectrum inversion with the Scrambling Theorem [3]. Since the argument is valid Modus Ponens, and the premises are true; mental states are not brain states.

Since the only potentially plausible physical states that mental states could reduce to are brain states, and mental states cannot reduce to brain states; Reductive Physicalism is false.

---Emergent Space And Time---

P1: If spacetime is probably emergent, then Physicalism is probably false

P2: Spacetime is probably emergent

C: Therefore, Physicalism is probably false

The argument is valid Modus Ponens. P1 is true based on the definition of Physicalism; P2 shall be defended.

Scientists have been trying to find a way to unify Relativity with Quantum Mechanics for some time now but with not much luck. All the promising ideas involve space or time (or both) emerging from something else. Basically, we cannot seem to keep both space and time or else contradictions arise and Relativity and Quantum Mechanics remain incompatible. This was the purpose of Physicist Fotini Markopoulou's paper "Space doesn't exist, so time can" [4]. However, time is plausibly not fundamental either. As Physicist Sean Carrol points out (and as Einstein pointed out), quantizing gravity is pretty much impossible, so gravitizing quantum mechanics is going to be the best road to a theory of Quantum Gravity [5]. However, this entails space is emergent from something else (information most likely, or qubits). Everything physical is defined with respect to space and time, so this means Physicalism is probably false as a theory of Quantum Gravity needs to go beyond the physical to account for the physical.

Also, we have evidence, albeit, indirect, that time itself emerges from quantum entanglement. The Wheeler-DeWitt equation was a breakthrough equation as it brings together Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, but there is a "0" on the time side of the equation indicating that time is not fundamental. Ekaterina Moreva conducted an experiment supporting the Wheeler-DeWitt equation which showed how dynamics (time) emerges from quantum entanglement [6]. If time is woven in space as one spacetime fabric as the Minkowski view of Special Relativity holds, then this is evidence that space too is also emergent (which we already knew was probably the case anyway).


We have seen that Physicalism is probably false. The mind (or, consciousness), doesn't have physical properties and cannot be reduced to brain states. This provides powerful reasons to reject Physicalism.

Also, physical things are defined with respect to space and time. Since space and time are probably emergent from something else; space and time (along with space and time's contents) are probably not all that exist.

The resolution has been affirmed.







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Debate Round No. 4
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by Rational_Thinker9119 3 years ago
Sub-Argument 2 is Modus Tollens, not Modus Ponens; my apologies.
Posted by Rational_Thinker9119 3 years ago
Virtual particles equates to short lived energy creation within spacetime, so I don't see a problem with virtual particles technically being physical.
Posted by SarcasticIndeed 3 years ago
Will be following
Posted by MagicAintReal 3 years ago
Would virtual particles within a quantum field count as physical in your definition?
Posted by Rational_Thinker9119 3 years ago
Fair enough :)
Posted by socialpinko 3 years ago
lol I'm tempted to take this but lack of time is what's kept me from debating for so long and I don't want to put this into limbo if I can't post in time.
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