January 24, 2024

Transcending Physicalism

For some people, a world view rooted in physicalism is insufficient to explain what they observe in the world.

I've covered physicalism in detail in a few posts previously. Not because I believe in it, but just to understand it.

Let us look at the viewpoints of Dr. Bruce Greyson , a licensed psychiatrist and professor at UVA, who has been researching NDEs (Near Death Experiences) for about 50 years.

June 17, 2023

Physicalism - II

Physicalism and Objective Realism are useful tools but they say as much about the true nature of 'external objective reality' as Newton's Laws.

Physicalism (the belief that the world is fundamentally composed of physical entities) and objective realism (the belief that there's an objective reality independent of consciousness) are foundational to much of modern science.

However, these philosophies also have limitations. They can struggle to account for certain phenomena, particularly those related to consciousness and perception. As our scientific understanding progresses and we delve deeper into the mysteries of the universe, from the vast realms of cosmology to the tiny world of quantum mechanics, we are discovering that reality may be more complex and strange than the straightforward physicalist or objective realist perspectives can fully encompass.

A colourless, silent, tasteless reality....

The investigation comes down to 'inherent properties of the physical world independent of an observer', to establish what inherent qualities exist in 'Objective Reality'.


1. The physical world has radiation of different wavelengths, but no colour. Colour is a quale. 

2. The physical world has only pressure waves, but no sound. Sound is a quale. 

3. Physical substances have no taste. The brain experiences 'taste'. Taste is a quale.

4. Colour is not an inherent property of objects, but a result of how our eyes perceive different wavelengths of light. It is a quale.

5. Sound is not something that exists in the world independent of an observer, but a perception created in our brains in response to patterns of pressure waves in the air. Sound is a quale.

Could it ever have been different...?

Answer: No.

Does 'Objective Reality' have anything 'solid' in it? Are physical objects 'solid'?

On a fundamental level, what we perceive as "solid" is mostly empty space. The solidity we experience is a result of the electromagnetic forces at work on a microscopic scale. 

In an atom, electrons create a "shell" around the nucleus, and the electromagnetic repulsion between these electron shells is what we perceive as solidity. 

An atom is mostly empty space. The nucleus of an atom is incredibly small compared to the size of the atom itself. If an atom were the size of a stadium, for instance, its nucleus would be about the size of a pea in the centre, and the rest would be empty space, except for the incredibly tiny electrons whizzing around - which no one has seen and will most probably never see.

In terms of quantum mechanics, particles aren't just little balls bouncing around, they're also waves and exist in a state of superposition, being in many places at once, until measured or observed. 

Solidness is a quale.

All these concepts challenge the traditional notions of what's solid, what's real, and what objective reality is. 


1. Colour is a quale.

2. Sound is a quale.

3. Taste is a quale.

4. Solidness is a quale.

A quale is something you experience. It is not an inherent property of 'Objective Reality'.

In philosophy of mind, "qualia" (singular: "quale") is a term used to refer to the subjective, experiential aspects of consciousness. 

Qualia are what it is like to have a particular experience. They are the "raw feels" of experience, like the redness of seeing a red apple, the sourness of tasting a lemon, or the feeling of solidity when you touch a solid object.

May 08, 2023

A look at Physicalism

Physicalism is a philosophical position that holds that everything that exists is fundamentally physical or material in nature. 

According to physicalism, all phenomena, including mental processes, emotions, and consciousness, can ultimately be explained in terms of physical processes or properties, such as those described by the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. This view contrasts with dualism, which posits that there are both physical and non-physical (or mental) substances, and idealism, which holds that reality is primarily mental or immaterial.

Physicalism has its roots in the empiricist tradition of philosophy, which emphasizes the role of observation and experience in acquiring knowledge. It is closely related to materialism, which has a similar focus on the physical world but may differ in some nuances.

There are different forms of physicalism, including reductive and non-reductive varieties. 

Reductive physicalism posits that mental states and properties can be completely reduced to, or explained by, physical states and properties. 

Non-reductive physicalism, on the other hand, argues that while mental states depend on physical states, they cannot be fully reduced to them.

Physicalism has been a dominant position in the philosophy of mind and metaphysics, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries. It is often seen as compatible with the scientific worldview and has been supported by advances in neuroscience and other sciences that study the relationship between the mind and the physical world.

Problems with Physicalism:

1. The hard problem of consciousness, posed by philosopher David Chalmers, asks why and how subjective experiences (qualia) arise from physical processes in the brain. While physicalism may offer explanations for the correlations between brain states and subjective experiences, it has not yet provided a fully satisfactory account of how and why subjective experiences emerge from brain activity.

2. Decoherence: The transition from the quantum scale to the macroscopic scale, where objects exhibit classical, deterministic behaviour,  this transition is not defined by a specific scale or size but rather by the emergence of classical behaviour from the underlying quantum phenomena.

The process that links the quantum and classical worlds is called "decoherence." 

Decoherence occurs when a quantum system interacts with its environment, causing the superposition of quantum states to break down and the system to behave more classically. In essence, the quantum effects are "washed out" by interactions with the surrounding environment, and the system starts to exhibit classical behaviour.

The scale at which constituent particles behave classically is determined by the extent to which decoherence takes place. Due to the large number of particles in a physical object and their constant interactions with each other and their environment, the quantum effects become negligible, and the object behaves as a classical object with a well-defined position, size, and shape.

There isn't a specific scale at which the transition from quantum to classical behaviour occurs. Instead, the emergence of classical behaviour in macroscopic objects, is a result of decoherence brought about by the interactions between particles and their environment. This process effectively "hides" the underlying quantum nature of the particles and gives rise to the appearance of an objective, classical reality.