Apologetics,  Consciousness,  Physicalism

On the Completeness of Physics

All is Physical and Physics is All

Physicalists say that all facts are fixed by physical facts. Whatever physics tells us there is – that’s it. And physics tells us that there are no non-physical things.

This creates two questions: What are qualities and what are mental properties? If physicalism, of the strongest kind, is true, then qualities are identical to quantities and mental properties are identical to physical properties.

On physicalism of this stripe, all effects are physical and all causes are physical. If all the effects that we can observe are physical then all the causes are physical. Empirical evidence renders non-physical causes for physical effects implausible. The measurable quantitative properties of the physical causally explain what is qualitative and are nothing more than the quantitative. The quality of a color is identical to the quantity of saturation, hue and brightness. The mental property of pain, likewise, just is the physical property of a neurological state.

If you meet a physicalist there are some objections you can offer.

Three Possible Objections

Multiple Realizability of mental properties means that S and G can have the same mental property at the same time, but realized in a different physical bases. S and G can both be said to have the mental property of believing that “Raleigh is the state capitol of North Carolina.” The dimensions of the property are identical – both the content and the strength with which S and G affirm it, are identical. If, however, mental properties are identical to physical properties, then the property that S and G have cannot be identical since it is reducible to different physical entities – the brains of S and G. The physicalists cannot say that the mental property of “believing that Raleigh is the state capitol of North Carolina” is the same property instantiated in S and G. But surely this is wrong. If S and G believe the same thing with the same strength they have the same property – a mental, non-physical property.

“I” refers to me. If I am a brain then whatever is true of I and whatever is true of my brain is identical. I can conceive of being in another body. I could exist while my brain doesn’t. If it is true that it is possible that I exist when my brain does not then there would be something that is true of “I” that is not true of my brain. Therefore, I and my brain are not identical. This shows that there is at least one property that is not identical to a physical property.

Empirical observations assume the uniformity of nature. Nature works according to laws that are predictable and knowable though repeated testing. Consequently, empirical observations carry maximal warrant. How do we know that nature is uniform? We know nature is uniform by observing the uniformity of nature. In order to empirically observe the uniformity of nature we need to assume the uniformity of nature. But that means we must assume something in order to prove it. But then there is something we would have to know that Physics cannot tell us.

Cf. David Spurrett & David Papineau, “A note on the completeness of ‘physics’”

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.