Resolving the Materialism Versus Idealism Debate

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Glendale, California


Resolving the Materialism Versus Idealism Debate

I fear my genius son-in-law, a theoretical physicist, will hate this.

Another physicist I know may share a similar loathing. He said this:

Philosophy only gets in my way.


Despite their presumable disappointment, I pursue this controversy raging some 5,000 years.

I boldly if arrogantly strive to finally resolve the debate.

Materialism refers to the idea that all matter, including your mind, is reducible to the physical. According to materialism, even your thoughts and feelings emerge from objectively observable, physical entities.

Nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications.

I think it ridiculous.

In contrast, idealism, heralded by Hegel (who no one understands), holds that all knowledge is based on the activity of the mind.

Three simple arguments support the superiority of idealism:

  1. Until we meet aliens — silicone or even carbon-based like us – we have no idea that our scientific belief systems extend beyond homo sapiens. Yes, physics can predict where projectiles will land with great accuracy. Yes, medicine discovered antibiotics that literally saved my life from endocarditis in 2008. (The disease has a 40 percent mortality rate, making me a a huge, personal fan of science). But all scientific knowledge has emerged from the human mind. Where else could it come from?
  2. Doesn’t Einstein’s famous equation, E=MC2, combine the physical and the energetic. Doesn’t that resolve the matter? All is energy.
  3. As many philosophers have argued (see below), consciousness can never be explained materially. Neuroscientists feverishly work to understand it. They call it the “hard problem.” Whether or not it’s a delusion (as the Buddhists think), the “me” or “I” that I know (sometimes with love, sometimes with hate) is mine. It emanates from my wet-ware. It includes heart, kidney, liver, lung and other-organ function, and requires air, water, food, and love.

As a final arbiter, I cite the ancient Chinese text, the Tao Te Ching:

Section 2 includes:

Being and non-being create each other.

Section 32 reads, in part:

When you have names and forms,

know that they are provisional.

Or section 74 proclaims:

If you realize that all thing change,

there is nothing you will try and hold on to. 

Take that, Drs. G and O!!



Capra, F. (1999). The Tao of physics. Boston: Shambhala.

Dennett, D. (2012). Consciousness explained. New York: Little, Brown, and Company.

Hegel, G.W.F. (1977). Phenomenology of spirit. Trans. A. V. Miller. London: Oxford University Press. (Original work published in 1807).

Mitchell, S. (1988). Tao te ching. New York: Harper.

Nagel, T. (2012). Mind and cosmos: why the materialist, neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false.* London: Oxford University Press.


*That little phrase, “almost certainly false,” invites self-doubt and humility.


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