MIND, LIFE AND BODY

by     Reginald O. Kapp

PART I - THE PROBLEM IN GENERAL TERMS

Chapter VII - THE CASE FOR MATERIALISM


I HAVE said in the first chapter that I would attempt to shake the pillars that support the roofs both of monism and dualism and that I would begin with the latter. So let me state now as cogently as I can the case against the theory that influences without location ever control the course of events in the organic world. To do this is to state the case for monism.

Objections to the view that anything lacking location can do any controlling are strong. Firstly the concept of an influence without location is repugnant to common sense (I am using the term "common sense" with the meaning that philosophers give to it); secondly, if not incompatible with religion it raises, at least, difficulties for the theologian; and thirdly, it appears to be incompatible with one of the most fundamental principles of physics, the principle of conservation of energy. Though the last of these objections is the only scientific one and so the only one with which we ought to be concerned, I think the others are significant enough to be worth mentioning.

I have analysed in Science versus Materialism the reasons why common sense cannot accept the concept of an influence without location. All that I need point out here is that we are in the habit of taking it for granted that what is must be somewhere. To believe that an influence can have reality, can be effective, and yet be nowhere demands an intellectual effort that none of us would make unless strong proof were forthcoming that the effort cannot be avoided. The concept of an influence without location is, for common sense, unattractive.

I should not venture to speak for the theologian. But he may well deprecate my description of a monist as a person who believes that the whole of reality has location. To say that a person can only receive the more idealistic label dualist if he believes that some active influences are literally nowhere may well seem too uncompromising to the theologian. For do not most of his congregation adopt the judgement of common sense and believe that what is, be it matter or spirit, must be somewhere? Although the ordinary non-philosophical Christian says that the souls of men are non-material he likes to think of those who have departed this life as inhabiting some definite region in space; he likes to think of the human soul as being "somewhere" after it has left the body. Existence without location must seem to most religious people as unhappy a prospect as extinction. A religion in which heaven was declared to be nowhere would lose many of its consolations.

And a religion in which God was said to be nowhere would, I fear, lose much of its appeal to the multitude. Knowing this the preacher tells his congregation that God is "everywhere". I doubt when he says this whether he is making a logical distinction between the place where a thing is and the place where its influence is felt. If a company director sends a telegram to his associated firm in the U.S.A. he thereby exerts an influence on that firm. But one does not say for that reason that the director is in the U.S.A. Similarly the moon exerts an influence on the tides; but one does not say therefore that the moon is in the sea. And the preacher may justify his statement that God is everywhere by saying that he does not mean I that God acts from everywhere, but only that He acts on every place.

But I doubt whether many preachers would be bold enough to tell their congregations that God acts from nowhere, even if they thought so. For the preacher is in a dilemma. He must temper his statements to the simple minded, who, after all, form the most numerous part of his congregation. And to do this he must practise a little deception. He must encourage the notion that the things he declares to be spiritual are "somewhere", that they can, on occasion, transmit the energy necessary to let them be seen and heard, that they are what a scientist or philosopher would have to call material. Most devout Christians are happiest with some measure of materialism.

This is why the concept of influences without location is not only unattractive, but also lacks the backing of authority. Most of those who assert their belief in non-material influences would rather not say whether they mean thereby influences with or without location. One must go back to Descartes if one would find a thinker who can bear even to contemplate such a choice between unattractive alternatives.

And the distinction that I have made in the last chapter between diathemes and adiathetous structures has as little backing from authority as the concept of influences without location. The theologian, who sees God's guiding hand in every nook and corner of our universe, who tells us that the stars in their courses, floods and earthquakes, the winds that bring us fair weather or rain, are all subject to divine intervention, the theologian who regards every event as determined partly by the action of matter on matter and partly by the action of a non-material God on matter must deny that there are any adiathetous configurations. To him every configuration is, in my terminology, a diatheme, and doubly determinate. If he did not think that he would never pray for fair weather on a voyage or for preservation from flood and earthquake.

For the materialist, on the other hand, who denies the reality of any non-material influence, there is no such thing as a diatheme. Every configuration is adiathetous, single determinate. Both these views are backed by authority and may be called traditional. But the view expressed here that some things are singly and some doubly determinate has neither the backing of much authority nor of much tradition.

The objections to the theory that I have mentioned so far are, perhaps, only valid for those who prefer the criterion of attractiveness to the criterion of truth. They may not carry much weight with a scientist. I do not know. But there is another objection that must be valid for a scientist, although theologians might not think it very important. It is the only one that need concern us here, and I shall have repeated occasion to return to it. It is that no one has yet succeeded in reconciling belief in non-material influences either with elementary mechanics or with the principle of conservation of energy. This may not seem at first sight to provide very strong support for monism, but it really does provide a support that it is very hard to shake.

As already pointed out, a non-material influence must, by any acceptable definitions of matter, both lack location and be incapable of transmitting energy. But no physical change can be effected without the transmission of energy to or from the configuration that is being changed, for every such change depends on the movement of material particles. This is obvious when the particles are large and their movement is conspicuous. It is not so obvious when the particles are small and cannot be easily identified. Thus changes in chemical constitution, changes in colour, changes in temperature do not seem to depend on the movement of material particles. But yet they do. Though they appear to our senses as changes in the quality of a substance, they can only be interpreted in physics as changes in the position or velocity of constituents of the substance.

It must be remembered that the chemical constitution of a substance depends on the relative positions of the atoms of which the substance is formed. A chemical change occurs when some of these atoms move from one place to another. Similarly the colour of a surface depends on the spacing of minute particles on the surface. The colour changes when these particles assume a different spacing. The temperature of a substance, again, depends on the average velocity of its component particles. The greater this velocity is, the higher the temperature.

If the atoms in a chemical substance or the particles in a surface are to move into new configurations they must first be set in motion, that is accelerated. And if they are to remain in the new configurations they must subsequently be stopped, that is decelerated. Similarly particles in a system must be accelerated if its temperature is to be raised, for this can only be done by increasing the average velocity of the particles; and they must be decelerated if the temperature is to be reduced to a value corresponding to a lower average velocity. It is in fact axiomatic that no physical change can occur in any system without the acceleration or deceleration of particles in that system.

Now a material particle always has inertia and can, by Newton's laws of motion, only be accelerated or decelerated if a force is applied to it. So forces act on parts of every system that is undergoing any sort of change. Forces (and I mean by the word ordinary mechanical forces) act during every chemical change, during every change in colour, during every change in temperature, during a change in any observable quality whatever, while a thing is becoming softer or harder, while it is being magnetised or demagnetised, while it is acquiring or losing an electric charge, while it is melting or freezing, condensing or vapourising.

There is nothing mysterious about an ordinary mechanical force. In common language it is called a push or a pull. And these terms are accurate. So things are being pushed and pulled about whenever there is a physical change. The things may be large, or they may be very, very tiny. But always there is literally pushing and pulling ; not only metaphorically.

Now a thing that is pushed is pushed from somewhere, and a thing that is pulled is pulled from somewhere. So it is meaningless to speak of a push or a pull as coming from nowhere. Indeed the notion is scientifically impossible. Whenever a force is applied to an object an equal force in the reverse direction is applied to some other object. Physicists express this by saying that action and reaction are always equal and opposite. The truth of this law is demonstrated by the kick of a rifle and it is fully explained in every elementary textbook on mechanics.

This means that the origin of a force must be somewhere. It must have location. It must, according to any acceptable definition of matter, be material. A non-material influence, lacking location, cannot provide the mechanical force needed for a material change of any kind whatever. Thus can one argue, very cogently, against dualism.

The same argument can be presented in slightly different terms and is then, perhaps, even more cogent. Each of the forces needed to produce a physical change must operate over a finite distance. And the product of force and distance is energy. So every physical change requires an expenditure of energy. To say that every material change depends on pushes and pulls is to say that it depends on the transmission of energy to or from the place where the change occurs. But an influence that lacks location cannot transmit energy; for as I have said in Chapter II, it would be incompatible with the principle of conservation of energy for an influence without location to do so.

How then can an influence that lacks location and cannot transmit energy play any part whatever in the causation of a physical change? It cannot exert the necessary forces; it can neither supply nor receive any of the energy that must be transmitted from place to place so that the change can be effected. This is the question to which the dualist must find the answer.

Thus must every scientist argue who would decide whether he believes in the effectiveness of non-material influences or not. Anyone who would like to reject monism must first come to realise that the monistic argument appears to be very strong indeed, almost cast iron. If he thinks it is irrefutable he will have to believe that all effective influences, though he may elect to call some of them non-material, are, nevertheless, somewhere, that they have the power to transmit energy, that, given suitable apparatus, they could all be observed by physical means. Most of those who reject monism on religious grounds would, as I have already said, prefer it that way. It is the more comforting belief.

But, unfortunately for the peace of enquiring minds, there are certain hard facts that must cause scientists to scrutinise this apparently cast iron argument very carefully. And it is some of these that I propose to put forward in the next chapters.

Top of Page

 Title Page      Contents      Chapter 6       Chapter 8