The Experiment that Proves Empiricism

In a recent discussion in this space, which I, unfortunately, am finding I have insufficient time to spend discussing in proper and thorough detail, I issued the following challenge to not just the materialist I was debating, but to any any all materialists reading these word who might care to comment:

Is there ANYTHING ANYWHERE that ANYONE uses empiricism for other than ARGUMENTS ABOUT EMPIRICAL FACTS? Is there anyone anywhere who can even imagine, even as a joke, what proving a non-empirical fact about law, or ethics, or mathematics, or economics, or theology, or any other nonempirical discipline using only empirical arguments would even mean?

My question in other words asks whether radical materialism holds any non-empirical statements to be true or knowable or both? I assume the answer would be a simple negative: Hume says only empirical statements can be known and confirmed.

My assumption was defeated. The rather elliptical (and haughty) answer I got was this one:

You have too restricted a view of the senses. You have repeated the mantra of weight, length, and so on several times; but these are not all the empirie there are. We have seven, not five, senses: Sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, balance, and brain states. That is, the seventh sense is the one that tells the mind (and for this purpose we need not argue about whether the mind is physical or not) what the brain is doing. Thus, if I say “My act was just”, and you agree, this is your seventh sense telling you that your brain-atoms have executed the “test-for-justice” algorithm and returned true. But since this is all internal, it feels like something you apprehend with the mind directly and not with any sense. This is illusion. You are sensing the movement of brain-atoms just as you are seeing the movement of photons.

The answer here defines “empirical” to include non-empirical reality such as the consciousness.

This either summarily concedes the argument to me (because we have now defined the word “empirical” to mean both those things that can be reduced to statements of mass, length, duration, temperature, amount, candlepower and those things like statements about truth, logic and justice that cannot be) or it contradicts itself both by saying that my seventh sense of conscious self-awareness is empirical evidence that consciousness exists, and by saying that my seventh sense of conscious self-awareness is an illusion–which, in other words, undercuts as if with a Buddhist doctrine, the primacy and truth value of sense impressions as a source of knowledge.

If all knowledge comes through the senses, and one of the senses lies and lies all the time, then all knowledge does not come through the senses — or at least not through that sense.

Of course that seventh sense, my self-awareness, is a category underpinning the category of sense-impressions (one cannot be aware of an external object without being aware) so if it lies and lies all the time, all the other six senses are liars as well.

Instead of consciousness, conceptualization, and reasoning processes, we are informed that there is now a ‘test-for-justice’ algorithm in my brain. We are told that when my brain atoms, acting on their own, run through this algorithm and return a positive response (to whom?) this is the same as my ‘seventh sense’ which is my awareness of brain atom motions, becoming aware of what my brain has been doing in my absence.

Ergo what really happens is that the non-existent “I” suffers or experiences a non-existent illusion that “I” was just performing some non-existing “thinking” about the non-existent abstraction called justice. When “I” “think” “I” “reached” a “conclusion” about the “reality” of “justice” what actually happened was that non-I non-reached a non-conclusion about a non-abstraction not called justice.This reaction of non-thought was performed offstage by someone else, and I was merely informed of the results, but since neither I exist, nor can I be informed or become aware of things, I am not sure what this model of the universe actually represents or what it is good for.

How a nonselfaware machine can be made aware of its own internal workings if awareness is an illusion, or how there can be a person to be deceive if person-ness is a deception, escapes me.

My brain simply informs my non-existent consciousness what it was non-thinking while the non-I was doing something else, and apparently non-I do not get a vote, or do not have to suffer a process of legal reasoning or soul-searching to know what justice is — it is merely an algorithm, an automatic mechanical process.

This answer is merely, once again, using a mechanistic metaphor to explain or describe deliberation and thought as if these things were undeliberate responses or reactions to unknown outside forces, or internal pressures, like the reaction of a clock to the pressure of a mainspring.

All my questions so far to the gentlemen debating me, and to any materialists, have merely been rewordings of this same absurd (and I mean both absurd in the sense of logically self refuting and absurd as in droll) mechanical metaphor.

Because the gentleman, nor any materialist, will acknowledge it to be a metaphor.

For the same reason defining the “senses” to include things that we do not and cannot reach through our senses, such as abstract concepts of justice is likewise either a concession or a self-contradiction.

To wit: My “senses” when they run through my “algorithm of makes-no-sense” tells me that the statement “radical materialism makes no sense” returns a positive response! This is a direct sense impression, and therefore according to the rules of radical empiricism, it is knowledge from the only source of knowledge open to man.

Let me ask one more question.

Let us suppose for the sake of argument that the radical materialism is correct. This universe is nothing but a clockwork mechanism working without final cause or deliberate purpose, and nothing in it, either living things nor thinking things,have anything about them that cannot be reduced to a statement of physical and external motions of dead matter. No statements not confirmed by empirical sense impressions are true or known to be true. Everything in this universe, including man, is just mechanics in motion. I grant you your whole argument.

But let us further suppose you, O materialist, were suddenly and without warning transported as if by an evil genii, a mad prince of Amber, or a transporter malfunction to the Mirror, Mirror universe.

Welcome to the New Universe!

This is a universe outwardly similar to this one, but one where radical materialism just so happens not to be true.

Either the dualism of Descartes is the case, or the immaterialism of Bishop Berkley, or the Monism of Leibniz, or the Maya of the Buddhists or some other arrangement obtains between empirical and non-empirical reality.

In this universe, you are planted on a world which has roughly our current level of scientific learning and technology, with the scientific staff and laboratories of a great university at your beck and call.

The rulers of this version of Earth, the Crime Syndicate of Earth Three, are willing to extend to you every courtesy and every resource you need for your experiments.

The Crime Syndicate Agrees to Aid your Research!


What empirical test would you or could you possibly perform that would tell you that this new not wholly materialistic universe was not a  wholly materialistic universe like your old one was?

You have no instruments or sciences we on Earth do not presently posses. There is no method for reading the exact location of every particle in the brain nor to interpret their meanings. There is no way to make exact copies of the brain. The sciences of psychiatry and neurophysiology exist at the exact same level as they do here in our home universe.

If you answer that not just our home universe, but all logically coherent universes are and must be the universe described by radical materialism, then you have made an absolute and hence non-falsifiable and hence non-empirical statement, since all empirical statements are contingent upon sense-impressions for verification.

If you answer that a test or process that does not yet exist on Earth would confirm your results, then you admit your conclusion is speculation about tests not yet run, no more probative than Michelson or Morley speculating that the result of their famous 1887 test would show the nature of luminiferous aether, and to what degree it alters the speed of light.

If you answer that no possible empirical test could confirm nor deny, nor even lend any probative weight to a metaphysical proposition, then you have answered correctly and must therefore admit that radical materialism is a metaphysical and not an empirical conclusion.

If radical materialism is correct, only empirical conclusions are true or knowable or both.

Therefore, if radical materialism is correct, radical materialism is not true, or not able to be known to be true, or both.

If materialism is true, the statement “materialism is true” is false.


UPDATE: The only answer I have gotten so far to the question “what experiment proves materialism to be true” is the proposal that brain scans or ingesting alcohol proves that some tentative measure of correlation of some sort might some day show that material brain conditions influence or effect states of consciousness.

This answer is so woefully inadequate that it cannot even be mocked with the mockery it deserves.

From the premise “drinking alcohol can effect your powers of concentration” the conclusion “all non-empirical statements of any kind whatsoever in this or any possible universe, including statements about abstract concepts such as justice,  can be reduced to descriptions of the mechanical causes of eternal pressures affecting brain atom motions, so that what seems to be a statement about justice is merely a report of a person reciting his own internal brain-atom-motion algorithm of that part of the cortex that reacts to encoding on the topic of justice, etc.” does not follow.

The real answer, of course, is that materialism is a metaphysical proposition, not an empirical or scientific conclusion of any observation or experiment.

I challenged any and all comers to repeat to me the observation or the experiment on which his belief in materialism was based, and the answer received was so inadequate to the task that this topic can be laid to rest with a condescending chortle.

No, the fact that drunks get bleary in the head does not prove that all statements about final causes can be reduced to mechanical causes; it does not prove that all non-empirical statements about symbols and concepts can be reduced to mere  recitations of the position of molecules and atoms; it does not prove that free will does not exist; it is not even tangential to the same topic as any of these things.

The real answer is, O materialist, that materialism is a supposition, not a piece of empirical knowledge springing from neuro-science. It has more to do with Lucretius, Hobbes, and Marx than it has to do with Aristotle, Averroes, Roger Bacon, Isaac Newton, or Albert Einstein.

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