What is Physical? – Crumbling Physicalism

When Physical Became Synonym with “You’ve Got to Take This Seriously”

Full script:

First Part:

Physicalism: the ontological thesis that everything is physical or that the real world consists only of physical entities. In other words, physicalism is the position that everything which exists is no more extensive than its physical properties, that there are no kinds of things other than physical things. From the physicalist world view, all phenomena – including thoughts, feelings, emotions, consciousness and intent – can be explained in terms of physical interactions.  

Note that, nowadays, the term physicalism is still used interchangeably with materialism by many people. Personally, I like to make a distinction between these two world views, although the distinction is mostly based on historical factors. If you have not watched it yet, you may want to watch my previous video titled “The Fall of Materialism”, also available from my channel. In addition, note that physicalism is also commonly associated with an entire package of other metaphysical views and methodological doctrines – such as reductionism, causal closure, empiricism or atheism, for instance. In this video I will NOT cover any of these other associated views; I will just cover physicalism, in the way it was previously defined.

So it is pretty obvious that the big question we need to answer here is… What do we mean by physical? Is physical just all of that which we can directly measure with our instruments? Or does the term physical also extend to other theoretical entities which may not be directly measurable, but nevertheless entities which have more or less become accepted within mainstream science? But is it wise to constrain our definition of physical, natural or real to just those things which we can directly measure with our instruments or to just those things which are currently being modelled by our most popular scientific theories?

And what qualifies as a measuring instrument, anyway? Is human consciousness a valid instrument? Is consciousness itself physical? Is it sensible to consider all those things which we cannot measure with our material instruments or which we cannot currently explain in known physical terms, as not real, not physical or to mockingly call them imaginary or supernatural? How about all those things we cannot measure directly but which can still produce consistent, indirect measureable effects? Are those things real? Are they physical? Are they natural?

In this video, more than aim to answer any of these questions, I will aim to shine some light onto the fact that, most of the time, the physical vs non-physical, the natural vs supernatural, or real vs not real discussion is, in my opinion, a complete waste of time. It is much wiser to take a step back from any ideologies or metaphysical ontologies we may subscribe to or feel identified with, and realise that getting hung up on definitions is not only limiting but completely unproductive. It is much wiser to remove our attachment from terms or labels which today, for all intents and purposes, have been rendered practically meaningless, as it becomes evident for instance, when we take into consideration the latest discoveries and theories being developed in modern physics.

The way I see it, a great part of the problem stems from the fact that we all tend to get a bit too attached to creating clearly defined boundaries, such as  the one between "physical" and "non-physical", or between what is real and what is illusory,  between what is natural and what is supernatural, and so on. Each time somebody uses these words, it is usually within the context of a different metaphysical world view (such as physicalism, idealism or dualism) and hence why these terms often mean very different things to each of us, depending on the world view we might identify the most with.

The end result is that the words "physical" and "natural" have ceased to mean anything in particular. For instance, those who subscribe to physicalism, tend to use the word non-physical as synonym with supernatural, imaginary or not real… On the other hand, those who identify mostly with a dualistic worldview, tend to use the word non-physical as synonym with mental, non-material, or as synonym with all of that which exists separately from the physical. Finally, those who feel more identified with idealism, see the physical and non-physical realms as being part of the same unified whole, which is seen as being fundamentally mental by nature.

So, upon close examination, it becomes quite clear that "physical" is actually a rather ambiguous and abstract term with no defined ontological basis, it is ultimately just semantics, a changing concept that is evolving in the same way that our culture and our scientific discoveries and models are evolving. It is a term that no longer serves us any purpose.

I like how Noam Chomsky’s talks about this issue. He says:

"The term physical is just kind of like an honorific word, kind of like the word 'real' when we say 'the real truth'. It doesn't add anything, it just says 'this is serious truth'. So to say that something is 'physical' today just means 'you’ve got to take this seriously'. […] As soon as we come to understand anything, we call it ‘physical’ " Noam Chomsky, Linguist, Philosopher & Cognitive Scientist

It seems to me that we have become so obsessed with creating well-defined conceptual boundaries, that we are so used to creating clearly delineated categories of understanding, that we end up forgetting about the high level of abstraction implicit in the creation of these boundaries or categories. Not only we create unnecessarily rigid conceptual boundaries but we then proceed to equate these purely conceptual barriers with real existing barriers which we think divide ontologically distinct realities, a process which obviously leads to catastrophic consequences.

Anthropologist Mary Douglass talks about this in her book Purity and Danger. She writes:

Powers are attributed to any structure of ideas. The yearning for rigidity is in us all. It is part of our human condition to long for hard lines and clear concepts. We have to either face the fact that some realities elude them, or else blind ourselves to the inadequacy of the concepts.” Mary Douglas, anthropologist, author of "Purity and Danger"

The erection of all of these rigid conceptual barriers inevitably contributes to our struggle in explaining how such different things can possibly interact with one another. We fall into the dualistic trap. We are baffled by questions such as how can something non-physical ever interact with something physical? How can something as immaterial as mind interact with something as physical as the material body? Or… How can a wave function, a mathematical abstraction operating in an abstract space, possibly have a real effect on the physical world?

Mainstream science has tried to stay away as much as possible from the dualistic trap by subscribing to materialism, or more recently, by subscribing to physicalism, otherwise called naturalism. As the definition of matter has become more and more ethereal, and as entities such as immaterial fields, space-time, virtual particles, black holes or parallel universes are being discussed within science as real existing entities, classical materialism has had to inevitably evolve into something which can potentially accommodate all sorts of weird abstract entities. And the irony of it all is that we are currently utterly unable to directly measure most of these abstract entities.

I like how Alan Wallace touches on the problem of defining the physical world. He asks:

“What is the Natural world? Many people equate it with the physical world… So we’ve got physical space, time, matter, energy… That pretty much well should do it, right? The problem with ‘physical’, is the very notion of the category, because the category of the ‘physical’ is a moving target, and it is moving now. A crucial element here that is often overlooked is that the demarcation between physical and non-physical is created by human beings. Nature didn’t whisper into the ear of a physics department at MIT ‘this is the real definition’! Is a probability function physical? Is a mathematical description of an electromagnetic field physical? Is dark matter physical? How about dark energy? How about the laws of physics? So what does the word physical even mean anymore? What we know is it’s become very ethereal and what we know is there is no consensus.” – B. Alan Wallace, physicist & philosopher, author of “Hidden Dimensions” & “Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic”

It is quite obvious that, when viewed from a historical point of view, this process highlights our desperate attempts to re-establish our position as being the most rational and scientific while at the same time having no other option than to expand our rigid and outdated world views to the study of phenomena which not only defy our notions of what is physical, but to the study of phenomena which in fact defy our very notion of what lies within the scope of science since some of these phenomena are well beyond the scope of our scientific method, as it is currently formulated. For instance, consider the idea of parallel universes or extra dimensions and any theories which assume the existence of such entities.

This transformation of materialism into physicalism is nothing but our attempt to re-establish some clearly defined boundaries between what we consider likely to exist and what we don’t, between what we think is describable in terms of physical laws and physical models and what we think is not, funnily enough, independently of whether the scientific method is currently applicable to the study of our theorised entities or not. We can’t deny that this pysicalisation process of reality is just crumbling; the boundaries are not only expanding quicker than ever before, but in fact they seem to be completely dissolving before our eyes! Perhaps the most important thing is that we realise that it is precisely our beliefs, prejudices and dogmatic attitudes which are the biggest obstacles when it comes to breakthroughs within science. That it is mostly our own rigidity that is getting in the way.,,,

“No part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena; indeed those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all” Thomas S. Kuhn

For instance, consider the field of study involving ESP or mind-matter interaction. Often, it is simply because we don’t believe that certain woo-woo phenomena exist, or simply because we belief there is not enough evidence to support their existence, the only reason we cannot possibly grant these supernatural things the honour of being thrown into the supreme category of the physical, the category of phenomena we are prepared to take seriously enough. It is usually more of a question of beliefs and prejudice than anything else.

After studying these phenomena through the lens of science for about 30 years, I've concluded that some psychic abilities are genuine, and as such, there are important aspects of the prevailing scientific worldview that are seriously incomplete. […] those who loudly assert with great confidence that there isn’t any scientifically valid evidence for psychic abilities don’t know what they’re talking about. […] the hysterical rants one finds in various online "skeptical" forums appear to be motivated solely by fundamentalist beliefs of the scientistic or religious kind” – Dean Radin, Chief scientist at IONS, Author of “The Conscious Universe”, “Entangled Minds” & “Supernormal”.

The fact of the matter is that, from a rigid physicalist perspective, the core of the problem is not going away. Think about the mind-body problem for instance. Your consciousness, your own subjective experience, your thoughts, your emotions, your conscious intent… None of these seem to have any of the attributes of what we call a physical thing (such as charge, mass, location, momentum and so on). And they can’t be measured directly with our instruments either – since by their nature they are only experienced in the first person – nor can they be said to follow or emerge from any known physical laws…. Surely they can’t be called physical by any conventional meaning of the word! And yet, what else could they be if one views the world from a narrow physicalist perspective?

Does this mean that we are forced to deny their existence simply because they do not fit into the physicalist world view, hence ending up in the territory of eliminative materialism?

“Consciousness is an illusion of the brain, for the brain, by the brain.” Daniel Dennett, Philosopher and Cognitive Scientist, author of “Consciousness Explained”

“It’s pretty clear that there is only the physical brain. […] There is no non-physical mind, soul or spooky stuff.” Patricia Churchland, philosopher, author of “Touching a Nerve”

Or does this mean that – realising that denying their existence is perhaps somewhat silly – we are then forced to explain their existence only in terms of those entities we currently define as physical, thus often falling prey to reductive physicalism?

Reductive Physicalism: the view that claims that all psychological states of the mind (1st person perspective) can be reduced to physical states in the brain (3rd person perspective). This view allows for mental states, but these are assumed to be explicable in purely physical terms by observing the correlated brain states.

Eliminative Materialism: a much stronger view than reductive physicalism. In its strongest form, it denies the existence of any sort of mental states. To eliminative materialists there are only physical states.

Or… if we still feel we can’t possibly allow ourselves to completely let go of physicalism just yet, how about this other option … Maybe we can somehow expand our physicalist world view to make it compatible with the concept of emergence?

Non-Reductive or Supervenience Physicalism: the view which claims that all non-physical properties in the world metaphysically supervene upon the physical. If all non-physical properties in the actual world metaphysically supervene upon the physical, then there cannot be a world that is just like ours in all physical respects, but which differs from ours in some non-physical respect. Supervenience physicalism has been seen as a form of emergentism, in which the subject’s psychological experience is considered genuinely novel. While some forms of emergentism appear either incompatible with physicalism or equivalent to it, others appear to merge both dualism and supervenience.

Still, emergence doesn’t seem to solve the core of the mind-body problem, it doesn’t solve the hard problem of consciousness…

“You are a different kind of experience – a different quality of experience – when you see red, when you see green, when you hear middle C, when you taste chocolate… Whenever you are conscious – whenever you have a subjective experience – it feels like something.”  David Chalmers, Philosopher and Cognitive Scientist (who coined the terms “hard problem of consciousness”)

So how about I tell you what my favourite option is? If a problem is so persistent and difficult to solve that it simply refuses to go away from the perspective of the physicalist world view, would it not be a wiser and more practical option to just try to let go of that world view altogether and start looking at things from a completely different angle, an angle where all the implicit assumptions of the physicalist worldview are not taken for granted anymore? Beliefs and assumptions that are so ingrained in our culture won’t be easy to let go of, but the time has come for a shift in perspective, and this shift cannot occur unless we make an effort to abandon our rigidity and resistance to change, unless we make an effort to abandon our prejudices and really open our minds to alternative world views.

Second Part:

Ok, now let me take you back to the problem with the definition of the physical world by using a couple of very interesting examples from the world of physics.

Let’s start with the quantum wave function. Ask yourself this question: is the wave function physical? Let’s examine this in detail… Well, a wave function is clearly our own abstraction, our own mathematical description of what Nature may be doing behind the scenes, when nobody is looking, when no measuring is taking place. In addition, we know that a wave function cannot be measured directly, it is an entity which describes a process taking place in an abstract space which has nothing to do with our familiar, everyday space-time. As Werner Heisenberg pointed out, the wave function can be considered to be representative of some sort of potential world which has not yet been brought into actuality. Therefore, in every possible sense of the word, if we analyse it carefully, it seems clear that the wave function is actually pretty much a non-physical thing…. It has no attributes whatsoever of what can be defined as physical, not to mention the fact that the wave function is something which cannot be measured!

Nevertheless, we can indeed say that the wave function does somehow seem to represent some sort of underlying process in Nature, and we can say this because the results of our quantum mechanical experiments agree with quantum theory to such a high degree of accuracy that we cannot escape the conclusion that the wave function is in fact describing a layer of reality which does indeed exist. Yes, the wave-function is just an abstract mathematical concept, but it does seems to describe some sort of behind-the-scenes reality, or at least some sort of process running in the background which has a direct relationship with what we ordinarily call the physical world.

Whether you want to call the wave function or the "space" it describes physical or non-physical is a just question of semantics. Personally, because the wave function is our own mathematical tool (it is an abstraction, an idea, a concept) and because it’s not directly measurable, I would say that the wave-function is non-physical. But, honestly, I think this is completely irrelevant. What’s important here is that we realise that the wave function does appear to describe a layer of reality beyond our familiar space-time which is indeed operationally real, a layer which is somehow linked to our familiar physical world, through the process of measurement, with observable effects which we can indeed measure within the confines of our own space-time.

Here’s another fascinating example. Take virtual particles, for instance. What do you think… Are virtual particles physical? As I explained in my previous video on materialism, these particles are postulated to pop in an out of existence all the time, out of nothingness, of out emptiness. Although in principle, these virtual particles cannot be observed, that is, they cannot be measured directly, the net effect of the quantum fluctuations in the vacuum associated with these particles has indeed been measured; and it turns out that this net effect has a magnitude which was very well predicted in advance:  it is called the Casimir effect.

The Casimir effect is related to the so-called zero-point energy, the energy of empty space, where virtual particles are postulated to pop in an out of existence in a continuous state of fluctuation. The experimental confirmation of this effect led to the process whereby virtual particles, despite being unobservable, gradually acquired the status of being considered to be real existing entities, given that that these entities did produce effects which were in fact measurable. However, real or not real, physical or not physical is beyond the question, because, remember, what we call virtual particles is just our own abstract conceptualisation of something we cannot directly measure. The point is that this conceptualisation is useful and it seems to describe a layer of reality, namely the vacuum, or zero-point field, a kind of emptiness filled with potentiality, which does indeed interact with our more familiar physical world.

Can you see what I am trying to show from these two examples? What is truly important is not whether something can be said to be physical or not. The distinction between physical and non-physical is created by us and therefore it is ultimately irrelevant. What’s important is not whether we can successfully objectify our postulated entities; because obviously, if anything has become evident with the advance of modern physics, is that the objectification, the conceptualisation, the physicalisation of reality is proving more and more elusive, as we dig deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. We just have to get used to the fact that, nowadays, science has to constantly deal with abstract, unfamiliar, unobservable, unobjectifiable entities.

For all intents and purposes, all that we really want to know is whether these weird theoretical entities that we are trying to describe or understand produce any effects which are measurable. No matter how weird, counterintuitive, supernatural or impossible to conceptualise these entities appears to be, all that we should be concerned with is with finding out whether we can measure this thing directly, and if not, which is often the case, finding out whether we can indirectly measure their existence through the measurement of their effects.

I would like to finish this video with some of Tom Campbell’s thoughts, which I think summarise the essence of this video quite well. He explains how, as a physicist and as a keen consciousness explorer, he dramatically expanded his views on what can be considered real, independently of whether one perceives it as a physical thing or not. He therefore emphasises the importance of forgetting about the physical vs non-physical debate and stresses the importance of using the concept of operational functionality instead. Put another way, what we need to ask is: does this thing we are trying to study or describe produce any measurable effects, independently of whether the thing itself is directly measurable or not?

I particularly like the following passages, where he elaborates on these ideas using examples from the world of physics and also using the example of personal subjective experience. He writes:

“Up to this time, I believed that meaningful existence was confined to an operational reality. […] if something can be measured, it is real. To be measurable, a thing must interact with our senses or with some device that interacts with our senses. […] It was that simple; things were either operationally real or irrelevant. Things that are not measurable, but can be inferred from other things that are measurable, fall into the grey area of conjecture. All things theoretical or hypothetical fall into this grey basket. […]

The primary mission of the academic research scientist is to collect enough valid, repeatable, measurement data to transfer a grey theoretical construct into a real object or effect. […] quantum mechanical wave packets, black holes, quarks, justice, and love all fit into that grey area. […] With enough real measured data one might eventually move a thing, such as black holes for example, from the realm of the hypothetical to the realm of the real – but only with sufficient good quality data. That particular attitude has never changed. I continue to feel that way, work that way, and employ that methodology to sort out what is real from what is not.

But I had to change my philosophy of reality. There were those things that were non-measurable yet functionally operational (including my meditation state, which is properly defined as an altered state of consciousness) that fell into the category of subjective experience with objective results. One can use these non-measurable states of mind to operate on real things. […] My reality expanded […]

If a thing is well-defined and consistently functional, then it must also be real. How could something not real directly affect things that are real? By definition, in an operational reality, things that are not real have no measurable effect, cannot interact with, and have no relevance to, things that are real. […] Real things, significant things, must now be either objectively measurable, or consistently and predictably interactive with real things. That was a major expansion of my real world. […] Any credible conception of reality must include subjective experience that can consistently and universally lead to a useful objective functionality.”

Tom further expands:

“Most people are comfortable with the fuzzy notion that what we can directly measure is by definition physical and everything else is non-physical. This places two familiar groups of things into the non-physical camp: those that are inferred but not yet directly measurable (neutrinos for example) and those that are conceptual (such as wave packets, dark matter, strings in physics theory, as well as ego, love, ethics and justice). Inferred entities can only be indirectly measured by actually measuring something else that is assumed to be causally related. […]

Initially, conceptual entities are defined into existence (as were neutrinos or quarks) by our need for them to support and maintain the consistency of our current world view. Their operational functionality and their ability to help us maintain logical consistency is accepted as proof of their potential physical reality. […] They are operationally significant. That they are initially operationally non-physical (cannot be directly measured) only relegates their existence to the theoretical, not to the absurd. They are in the wings waiting for scientific experience to give them full membership into the world of the physically measurable – or at least into the world of things with physically measurable effects. Thus it is with mind, consciousness, and intuition – all operationally significant, all with indirectly measurable effects. Non-physical does not mean non-useful, non-real, or non-existent.”  – Tom Cambpell, physicist & consciousness explorer, author of "My Big TOE"

I will leave you with this famous quote by Nikola Tesla…

“The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.”  Nikola Tesla

I can’t help but wonder what definition of non-physical Nikola Tesla had in mind… It does have its irony, doesn’t it?  I hope that what he meant is that he thought that scientists need to be a bit more open-minded to the study of non-directly-measureable phenomena that may not necessarily fall in the category of what they believe is real. That, in general, they should be more open minded to the study of those things which many would call imaginary or supernatural nonsense.

Perhaps we’ll always be stuck with our fuzzy definitions, because the ultimate reality may be truly ineffable and unbounded. But I do think that our curiosity, our imagination and thirst for knowledge will always end up beating our close-mindedness, our rigidity and unfounded beliefs. Thank goodness for that… !


References / further info:

What is Physicalism? http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/#12

Hempel’s Dilemma: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hempel's_dilemma

Sean Carroll – Science of unobservable things: http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2008/03/15/science-and-unobservable-things/

Margaret Wertheim – The Limits of Physics: http://www.aeonmagazine.com/world-views/margaret-wertheim-the-limits-of-physics/

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10 comments on “What is Physical? – Crumbling Physicalism
  1. Pankaj Seth says:


    I have enjoyed your writing and found it to be exceptionally clear and concise, here and in your other blogs.

    Epistemology indeed cracks the nutshell. Two quotes from the Upanishads below…

    "Knowledge, including self-knowledge is of two kinds, hitorical and timeless. And thought cannot reach the timeless. In order to know the immortal you must become the immortal." – Mundaka Upanishad

    "The immortal here is veiled by the real." (real = measurable) – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

    Other quotes here… http://deepyoga.ca/dial_up_108/classical_references/clasref-108-dialup-main.html

  2. Pankaj Seth says:

    "most of the time, the physical vs non-physical, the natural vs supernatural, or real vs not real discussion is, in my opinion, a complete waste of time"


    The real vs. non real is especially troublesome. The duality featured in the Upanishads is impermanent/finite/measurable vs. immortal/unborn & deathless/without beginning or end/ beyond measure/infinite. So both the impermanent and deathless are 'real', even though improper translations use the word 'illusion' for the impermanent. But things are only being pronounced impermanent, not unreal (as that is a boondoggle, as you show and as was/is known)


    Measurement requires the actual separation of subject and object, but since the cosmos is both the knower and the known, this is not the case. Maya is the result of trying to measure the immeasurable. Knowledge by identity supercedes measurement and that is how the immortal is known. Thus all the first person language by mystics… 'I am the truth etc."

    Due to concentration, self awareness changes in form. The trinity of perceiver-perception-perceived collapses, knower and known become one. The infinite is then known as a self-knowledge (the only possibility) called 'Liberation/Moksha'.

  3. Christopher Inman says:


    I will persist in the illusion that we are discussing this over a cup of coffee pursuant to your remark at the end of one of your earlier videos, if it's alright with you. While the videos are very enjoyable, I waited for you to post your transcript so that I could give it the time it deserves.

    You mention that physicalism is the position that that which exists is no more extensive than its physical properties, which seems right to me. And then ask what constitutes a phenomenon being considered physical: must it be directly measurable or may it be inferred. Assuming we are talking about logical inference from the readings of instruments (such as Michaelson, Morely and the constant speed of light) then it seems right to me too that true “things” may be inferred to exist.

    I have a problem thinking of consciousness as a measuring instrument because it seems to me that mental phenomena are either there or not, qualitative rather than quantitative but this could indeed be lack of insight on my part.

    As to what is real and what is illusiory and whether the distinction is important: I think it is. The difference, it seems to me is driven by our evolution as an aspect of life. Ultimately the difference reflects the need to assess the environment with a view to personal survival. Medical catalogs (DSMV?) for instance, consider a mental disorder to be that which impairs the conduct of life. Addictions and other forms of confusion like schizophrenia impair the ability to survive, let alone thrive.

    The conflation of the illusory with the unreal may be a side effect of the Reformation. Certainly the confusion of mind and soul seems to be. The birth of science and the reliance on sensory data for confirmation of reality and the dismissal of classical metaphysics entirely all seem to go together.

    You note that the definition of the physical has become more ethereal. The ethereal is back as an aspect of third person phenomena I agree. It is “proved” real by virtue of having the theoretical assertions posited to avoid logical contradiction in physics allow accurate predictions which are measurable (observations confirmable by a confirmed instrument).

    Here is where I would like to inject the thought that the ontological status of logic itself and of probability itself need to be examined. In my experience it is the elephant in the room. If you buy Seth Lloyd's argument that information and physical events are identical (which I find I must, with reservations dealing with consciousness), then logic may be a psychological capacity like categorization of individually perceived object into kinds, only for our experience of natural law. And like so many of our natural abilities, may have gotten a bit out of hand through time. An alternative might be that logic is a conscious phenomenon, but I think logic may be shown to underlie behavior which is not conscious.

    I agree classical physics is incomplete. It is also restricted to a scale of measurement more immediately apprehended by the people. There should be more books like The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics to open the everyday mind to the presence of QM effects in our daily lives, not strange or queer at all (lasers, disc drives, TV, phones, etc.).

    Lloyd, in equating information with events, must be referring to Shannon information, which does not address meaning other than qualitatively to say it is surprise. The only way I could make sense of that is to take meaning to be an inundating wash of contextual events which becomes associated with the one you start with. A looping of physical events contextualizing each other and thus creating meaning. This of course does not address the hard problem or free will, but it takes care of everything else I can think of. I find Lloyd's statement at FQXi that he thought free will would turn out to be related to the halting problem interesting.

    So I agree with your exerpt of Tom Campbell's that operational functionality is more meaningful than “physical” versus “non-physical.” “One can use … non-measurable states of mind to operate on real things.” For some reason it occurs to me here that there might be some relationship between the concept of consensus and that of probability.

    I had never parsed the fuzzy notion of the physical into the logically inferrable non-physical and the mental conception: so thanks for that quotation, I may be buying his book.



  4. David Rain says:

    Great blog

    Given your interest in an informational based alternative view of how reality functions, you may find my book thought promoting. It is written to be hopefully easily read by a diverse audience, and so not philosophically twisty, but focussed on social and personal consequences of the view. Understanding the position in existence of "mind" within physics, and clearly distinguishing it from consciousness, whilst recognizing the natural limits of measurability, has social consequences. In this messed up world of conflicting beliefs I think recognition of the nature of the centre of experience, and its fundamental shared identity between all beings is the only way for the masses trapped in magical thinking to move on to a more grown up view of life.


    Thanks David

  5. Christopher Inman says:


    You introduced me to FQXi so I thought I would let you know, if you haven't already seen it, that there is an interesting recent article called "Six Degrees to the Emergence of Reality" and a link within to another interesting article called "Embracing Complexity" from 2012.  You, with your background would get much more out of them than I was able to.  Rationalizing time and QM with classical physics using network theory seems promising.

    Chris Inman


  6. don salmon says:

    I love Chris' version of the definition of mental disorders: That which impairs the conduct of life.

    Alan Wallace speaks of "reificiation" as the ultimate source of human suffering – imputing inherent existence to the objects of perception (that is, taking them to exist as perceived OR conceived – entirely independent from the act of perception or conception). ; in other words, physicalism, – the ultimate source of human suffering.

    I can tell you as a psychologist, if you trace the root of almost any mental disorder, Chris would be right!

  7. Tom Nielsen says:

    ‘learn to think like gnostics,..’

    The journal NeuroQuantology published an invited paper by Philip Carter titled Consciousness and Perception in Higher-Dimensional Quantum Space-time in which he concludes that

    The central message of this paper is that, in order to solve physics, 
    we must learn to think like gnostics, to think in terms of inner space
    and not just outer space,…

    Carter ‘s framework for consciousness includes two imaginary planes, inner dimensions added to the classical three dimensions of physical, outer space. More


    NeuoroQuantology recently announced that it has decided to make the journal available as open access  to all readers. So, from 1 January 2003 to 2012; Vol 2 will be available from journal web site at no cost. See: http://www.neuroquantology.com/index.php/journal/issue/archive

    – Tom

  8. Cece B says:

    This video really hits a cord with me… altho I am not so sure Physicalism/Naturalism/Materialism has totally crumbled. There seem to be a lot of prominent, vocal proponets out there… 
    Bohmian Mechanics and Quantum Field Theory have been a real discovery for me. Unfortunately, these alternatives aren't so well discussed, leaving me unsure if they have been dismissed for good reasons, despite the fact there are so many 'unusual' "mainstream" theories as well… And while they may make Quantum reality seem more reasonable, in my opinion at least, the Copenhagen Interpretation's randomness and non deterministic nature seems so much more friendly to intuitive notions about consciousness and free will. 
    While it is easy to talk about keeping an open mind, and noting some compatibility of Physical concepts with Eastern Philosophy, keep in mind there have been discussions where ideas from Quantum theory have been co-opted to promote specific views (for example, that there is fine tuning in various constants, that justifes the demonstratively incorrect theory of creationism). Hence some (Like L Krause), may embrace phsicality or naturalism. 
    Ultimately the truths we search for seem to get more and more elusive, the more we claim we are within spitting distance of the final answers to our questions. And we always seem to find Nature or Reality more marvelous and ingenious, then we ever imagined when we try to get to the bottom of some question. Perhaps it is the journey that is the point of it all.
    Well Dolores, keep the videos comming! And thanks!

  9. Cece B says:

    BTW: Seth Lloyd's comments here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIWemQthcZg on unpredictability and various other paradoxes that affect free will are quite interesting.

  10. Mike Wells says:


    Thanks for providing a forum for exploring interesting and new ideas. PhysicsForum.com agressively supresses any such talk. I can undersand why, though. It is easy to get off track when amateurs (myself included) begin spouting a bunch of speculative nonsense. However, as long as such discussions are respectful and not dogmatic, it can be great fun and a great way to learn.

    Just a few comments about reality, consciousness and time. No response is required since you appear to have your hands full.

    I think it will be possible to keep realism in a modified form as long as we do the following:

    1.  Create a new object class which can be used to explain both relativity and quantum mechanics.

    2.  "Atomize" reality so that it is no longer a single monolithic given that just "is". Instead, reality becomes an emergent construct.

    Keeping realism is not so important. It just makes understanding how things work a heck of a lot easier. For example, I am working on a model that meets the above criteria. I hold no delusions that this model is the "One" (like Jet Li's movie "The One"). I work on it more to show that such an approach is possible and also to learn about physics.

    The model is relatively simple. and it has a lot of explanatory power. There are even some consequences that could be validated (or invalidated) with experiment. I should probably just bite the bullet and create videos and a website like you have done. I am no experimental/theoretical physicist. I need help with the physics.

    I call the model the "multiple, recycling aether model". Right off the bat I am fighting an uphill battle with the use of the word aether. However, it is what it is. There are five premises which define the model. They are: 

    1.  Innumerable finite overlapping aethers pervade the universe.

    2.  Each aether is a semi-rigid, elastic medium.

    3.  Particles are holes in aether.

    4.  Each particle/hole consumes the aether that intersect with it.

    5.  The consumed aether creates a single aether that is associated with the particle/hole.

    Simple, right. Probably too simple. It has more holes (pun kind of intended) than a Swiss cheese Titanic. However, it can be used to explain quantum mechanical reality, time, and consciousness along with a bunch of other stuff such as gravity and the Big Bang. I will focus quickly on the first three. I really should make my own website.

    Quantum Mechanical Reality: Each aether has a "record" of each and every particle it intersects with. However, each record (within each aether) is slightly different. When a particle could interact with another particle, the records for both particles are summed to decide whether an interaction actually took place and how the interaction proceeded. All records are reset (so that everyone agrees). Going forward, however, divergence creeps in until the next potential interaction.

    Time: Each particle/aether pair is a clock or more precisely like an hour glass. A clock to be a true clock must have a start time and a way to distinguish each instant. The creation of the particle is the start time and the size of the aether is the counter of time. The downside is that without particles there is no time. Time is emergent.

    Consciousness: Likewise, consciousness is also emergent and not fundamental. Nature has constructed consciousness using some form of undiscovered particle (dark matter???) and its event horizon as an interactive "projector". I know, cheesy. Maybe even limburgery.

    There. That ought to be worth two cents. Sorry for the wordiness.


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