Steven Novella has a second essay on the brain/mind debate (we have several posts here on the first):Reports of the Demise of Materialism Are Premature – Part II (see also: Dualism Dueling With Science?
With all this discussion of materialism I guess I should define it. Put simply, it is the philosophical position that all physical effects have physical causes. There are no non-physical or non-material causes of physical effects. Historically materialism has been defined as the philosophical belief that matter is all there is – the only type of substance that can be said to exist in nature. Materialism stands specifically in opposition to dualism and other philosophies that posit a spiritual or non-material aspect of existence.
Is that the definition of materialism? I thought materialism was about blobs of ‘matter’. Anyway, the debate on both sides shows distinct signs of being undecidable given the way they use the terms.
The immediate problem with this definition is that the ‘action of the will’ (and we can call it material or not) is ambiguous as a physical cause. Whether dualism characterizes ‘reality’ it certainly characterizes the logical space of dialectical antitheses.
Actually this definition (and I don’t mean it to support dualism for this reason) is metaphysical: it makes assertions about things we don’t observe.
One classic resolution of these issues is Kantian ‘transcendental idealism’ which isn’t really transcendental or an idealism, but an adjunct to space-time physics clearly delineating the range of phenomena (in relation to the noumenal,which isn’t the spiritual): we don’t really observe the total self. And that is not necessarily a statement about it being ‘spiritual’.
One could recommend a study of Indian Samkhya, with its universal materialism encompassing all levels from mass to mind to spirit: body, soul, spirit, (to use transposed western terms) are all material, yet distinct modes of being.
In any case, the abuse of ‘buddhism’ by New Agers veils the fact that it is potentially highly precise, and arose in the wake of Samkhya and defines its principal concepts in terms of its practices rather than metaphysically.
It is like software vs hardware. We need no knowledge of hardware to use software. So with the mind.