Parable of the Stopsign

A reader asked me about materialism and immaterialism.

It was not the absurdly dishonest Dr. Andreassen, also known as Mechanoshakespeare-Man, so I thought it no waste of time to answer and explain my reasoning.

In case any one of my readers is a masochist, or a new reader, or a student of philosophy interested in what is perhaps the most trivial question of philosophy imaginable (radical materialism, also called panphysicalism) here is yet another round of discussing a question I discussed extensively, beyond any possible curiosity or merit.

It is also the easiest of argument to solve, once the definitions are clear.

Sadly, clarifying the definitions is very difficult, because it requires anyone brainwashed by a modern education to enter into a whole new world of concepts never before imagined.


The human soul and its relation to the body is like the relation of the meaning or spirit of a book to a book, except, of course, that a book cannot rewrite its own story as the story is being told and the human can.

I do not believe that the body and soul are separate any more than the inside of a box is separate from the outside. However, in speech, we can make a separation, that is, speak about the inside of the box without talking about the outside.

Likewise, we can speak about the story without talking about the particular hardback or paperback book in whose pages we read the story. Albeit, obviously again, we could not read the story (which is immaterial) without using our material eyes to catch material photons bouncing from the material page, and then using our mind to associate the symbols seen with the objects those symbols represent.

Material objects have only material properties: mass, length, duration, temperature, current, candlepower, moles, and their derivations.  A material property is a measured multiple of a unit standard, as two feet are twice one foot in length. They have no meaning aside from comparison to a unit measure such as a yardstick, stopwatch, or balance scale.

Mental objects have only immaterial properties: true or false, valid or invalid, good or evil, fair or foul, beautiful or ugly, useful or vain, desired or feared, glorious or shameful, and on and on. An immaterial property is always in relation to some concept, idea, ideal or goal, as truthful statements approach absolute truth, valid statements adhere to the absolute rules of logic, good acts are aimed at absolute goodness, and so on.

Ideas and ideals are always ABOUT something. They REFER to something or POINT AT something. Every statement has a topic: “The sun is hot today” is about the sun. “Thou are fair of face, my beloved” is about your beloved’s face. “Unicorns have one horn” is about unicorns. “All mimsy were the borogroves” is about borogroves and their flimsy and miserable state. “Minimum wage laws produce unemployment” is about minimum wage laws. “Any statement that contradicts itself is not true.” is about statements, specifically statements of logic. “This statement has five words” is the curious case where the topic of the sentence is the sentence itself.

The weight of a brick or the duration of a solar eclipse or the temperature at which paper burns are not about anything. They do not refer or point to anything. They are facts: a brick weight five pounds. A solar eclipse lasts seven minutes and a half. Paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit

Now, to be sure, the sun is a physical object, and so is your beloved’s face, but a unicorn or a borogrove is a chimera, an imaginary object made of the mismatch of physical objects, and minimum wages laws are not physical at all, they are instructions on human behavior tied to a penalty. Law is related to matters of fact only indirectly, in that it deals with the deeds and actions of men. The properties of logic and the number of words in a sentence are purely intellectual objects with no physical properties at all.

A fact is a fact. It is true regardless of the observer’s observation. An idea is the observer’s take on the facts.

Symbols are both material, when regarded from the point of view that ignores their immaterial properties, and immaterial, when regarded from the point of view that ignores their material properties. A symbol, such as a spoken word or a traffic sign, points to a thought but is not a thought. The words “I love you” are a sign of love but they themselves, by themselves, are not love itself. A red octagon with the letters STOP printed on it points to the imperative to halt your vehicle before proceeding through a crossroads, but it is not that imperative itself. It is a sign of the law, it is not the law. A vandal painting over the S would change the sign but not change the law.

The whole confusion of materialism is merely a confusion of words. They think the brain, which is an engine of signs, is the thoughts at which the brain points. They think the brain is a mind. Their philosophy is as stupid as if a madman were afraid to remember the sun out of fear he might go blind.

Let me try to answer the questions in order:

  1. Can one not argue that the general consciousness and ability to think we label as the mind is a byproduct of the various pieces of the brain?

Yes, certainly one can make that argument. It is the argument the materialists make. It is a remarkably bad argument, and no one, to my knowledge, has ever attempted to make a rigorous version of the argument.

In order for the argument to be true, immaterial properties, such as we see in the mind (ideas of truth, logic, goodness, beauty) must be a byproduct, that is, a derived property, of material properties, (mass, length, duration, temperature, current, candlepower, moles).

Now, at first this seems reasonable. Velocity is a derived from the units of duration and distance: meters per second. Acceleration is meters per second per second. Volume is cubic meters. Magnetic field strength is ampere per meter.

Surface tension is measured in terms of Newtons per meter and a Newton is the force needed to accelerate one kilogram of mass at the rate of one meter per second squared in direction of the applied force.

So far, so good. But in order for the mind to be a byproduct of the brain, then mental objects, such as truth, validity, virtue, beauty, must be in theory able to be derived from or measured in some combination of properties of the material properties, in the same way surface tension can be measured in terms of kilograms, meters, seconds.

Now, let us take some other concept, such as “checkmate” and reduce it to material unit measures.

Here is a description of the essentials of the oldest chessgame ever recorded:

Greco v Nn (Rome 1619)

1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 f5 4.exf5 Bxg2 5.Qh5+ g6 6.fxg6 Nf6 7.gxh7+ Nxh5 8.Bg6# 1–0

Please note that the entire chessgame, everything about it essential for the chessgame to be understood, can be expressed in chess notation.

Chess notation consists of eight small letters for ranks, eight numbers for files, five capital letters to represent the major chessmen, a cross, dagger and octothorp for capture, check, and checkmate, with additional signs for pawn promotion, castling, win, lose or draw.

For those of you who prefer the more obvious symbolism of the board, here is the same game, portrayed in a different way, a pantomime of figurines representing chessmen moving on a set of squares that represent the board.
It is difficult for some people to grasp, but this representation of the board is just as much an abstraction, a set of wooden figurines used as symbols, as the line of algebraic notion above it. Neither one is the real chessgame. Both point to the chessgame, represent the chessgame, symbolize the chessgame. Both are descriptions of the chessgame.

Indeed, the whole of the materialist argument can only take place because the English language invariably uses the same word to refer to a thing that represents another as is used to refer to the thing being represented by another. The word ‘knight’ in chess refers both to a physical horse-headed figurine one can hold in hand, and the real hence nonphysical knight that the figurine represents. (Indeed, I can think of no example, outside of technical expressions in disciplines like philosophy or semantics where the distinction between the symbol and the thing symbolized occurs in the word itself.)

Moderns use the word ‘real’ only to refer to non-real and impermanent things, that is, objects of the senses, matter, and never to real and eternal things, that is, objects of the mind, ideas. This is the source of the confusion.

Now, please notice the first thing about either description: the size, shape, volume, weight, surface tension of the board is not part of the description. The newtons of force used to move the chessmen is not listed. The number of seconds between moves is immaterial.

Now, how would we reduce this description of this checkmate to an abstract description of checkmates in general, using only the SI Units, that is, using only concepts of mass, length, duration, temperature, current, candlepower, and moles?

We can deduce a large number of other material properties, like Newtons of force or measures of surface tension from the SI Units, but obviously we cannot describe this chessgame, or any chess concept, without a reference to the aim of chess moves.

Chessmen are moved to win the game by placing the opponent’s king in check.

Hence, in order to describe checkmate, we must describe the king.

He is the chessman who begins the game facing the enemy king on the first rank on the square opposite his own color in one of the two center files, and can move only one square in any direction, except when castling, but never move into check.

Notice please that the king is chess is described in purely formal terms, not physical. The ‘king’ is no more and no less than a set of allowed moves, and a move is a matter of pure form without any material components at all:

One does not need a physical chessman on a physical board at all, not in a blindfold chess match, or a play-by-mail game. The physical chessman of wood or marble, plastic or metal, or the letter K on a page is not the king. These are merely signs of the king in the same way the traffic sign is a sign of the imperative to stop at crossroads.

Indeed, the same game of Greco v Nn (Rome 1619) can be played on any board of any materials at any rate of speed, and it is still the same game.

Checkmate cannot be described in terms of merely material units because merely material units were designed deliberately by the philosophy of science to exclude all mention of intent, final cause, efficiency, and form. On the other hand, the notation used above for describing the chessmatch of Greco v Nn (Rome 1619) is deliberately made to exclude all mention of material things. Neither the temperature of the room in Rome, nor of the color of the table, nor the color of the iris of the eye of Greco, or any other thing is recorded.

We have two systems of description. One, the physical description, deliberately excludes the essentials of the other, the chessgame description. Physics cannot describe the chessgame in terms of material SI units for the same reason the chessgame notation cannot describe the temperature of boiling water or the weight of a red brick or the duration of an eclipse. The descriptive system is designed not to do so.

And I deliberately selected the easiest possible mental activity to reduce to a physical activity, which is chessgames. There are countless mental activities, from poetry-making to transcendental meditation, from prayer to despair, from solving logic puzzles to making birdcalls, some of which have rules for describing their essential features, and some of which do not.

If one cannot even reduce a chessgame to the descriptive limits of physics, then one cannot reduce all of the mental activity of man to such a description.

Now, at this point in the argument, the material would have to argue that he, by some brilliant acrobatic contortion of the mind, he could outsmart of the limits of physics, and somehow smuggle in concept like truth and logic, beauty and goodness, fairness and efficiency, and so on, and portray them as physical things, or describe them in terms of mass, length, and duration.

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that everyone who told the truth was cooler in his blood than anyone who told a lie, so that the blood temperature, when spoken by a man who was attempting a deception, was 100 degrees, whereas the blood of a truthful man remained a calm 98.

Would this not do? Could I not say, “A truthful statement ‘Catwoman is sexy!’ is a 98 degree statement, whereas an untruthful one ‘Unicorns have two horns’ is a 100 degree statement!’

This of course does not do: my blood is likely to get hotter thinking about Catwoman, and, in any case, the statement is not a material thing, even if the blood temperature of the man who speaks it is a material thing. The connection between the mental properties of the statement, true or false, and the material properties of the blood, temperature, is the same relation that exists between the red octagonal traffic sign and the legal imperative to halt one’s motor vehicle at crossroads. The blood temperature points to the truth of the sentence, but it is not itself the truthfulness.

Many, many, many a modern or postmodern dunderhead would have us believe that the motions of brain atoms can do exactly the thing of which we speak, and give us a reduction of mental properties to material unit measurement. But this is no different from our hypothetical world where all lying provoked a rise in blood temperature. Even if we lived in such a world (and we do not) establishing a correlation between mental and physical phenomena does not allow a descriptive system like physics, which deliberately excludes mental properties, to describe mental properties.

No one imagines that everything under the sun can be described in terms of the six letters and eight numbers of chess notation. Chess notation only describe chess games. One cannot even describe a game of poker using chess notation.

So if someone wishes to claim that physics notation, which deliberately removes all non-material topics and intentions from consideration, can describe non-material phenomena, it is a sufficient answer to say that it was designed not to.

Now, if the description of physic notation cannot describe nonmaterial reality, then, no, there is no way, not even theoretically, that all mental intentions can be reduced to material phenomena.

  1. Does this not fit the best evidence we have available?

No. There is no fit at all. The idea is absurd on its surface. Even the act of asking the question proves that the being doing the asking is doing something that an inanimate material collection of atoms could not do.

  1. It seems to me that often times the ability of the “mind” is different from person to personas one “mind” is better able to perform a certain task than another. Does this not fit the evidence that the difference in pieces of the brain correspond to different abilities a person seems to be skilled at?

No, it does not fit the evidence at all. It is like saying that since one picture is better painted than the next, it must be heavier. Better is not the same as heavier. The mental ability to perform intellectual actions is described in terms like “stupid” or “illogical” or “evil” or “tedious” but not in terms of foot-pounds, inches, years, or amperes.

Physical damage to the brain, including drunkenness, sleep, or even anger, may indeed have physical properties in the same way a chessboard had a certain specific width and length, the squares are colored a certain specific color. But when we describe the actions of a drunk, a madman, or a lobotomy victim, or a dead man, it is never the material properties of his brain anyone mentions, but mental properties, such a drunk, deranged, damaged, or dead.

Certainly there is a relationship between the two. The chessgame includes both essential and nonessential elements. The astronomer’s observation of the eclipse contains essential and nonessential elements as well. If an eclipse happens to fall on the astronomer’s daughter’s birthday, he does not note this in his write up because it has no bearing on the duration of the eclipse.

All descriptions are partial descriptions of the complex unified enigma we call reality. Reality include both mind and body, both chess and astronomy, birthdays and raving drunks. A chessmaster can say he lost the game because he was drunk and did not foresee the result of using his knight in the seventh move to capture the queen. But his drunkenness is not noted in the chess notation because that is not what chess notation is for. Strong drink, a blow to the head, bad genes, or a mental disease can disorder the brain, or make one man better able to compose music or count numbers than another. But the mental description of the states of mind are qualitative, and the physical description of the brain states is quantitative. They are not used for the same purposes, and while correlations must be noted between one and the other, there is no way to explain the correlations, except as visible signs of invisible realities.

  1. I want to make it clear that I do in deed realize that the brain and the mind are obviously not the same thing as the brain is a collection of biological matter and the mind is certainly not a collection of biological matter although from what we can tell it appears to be the product of one.

With all due respect, the mind cannot appear to be a collection of biological matter because the mind is mental and matter is material. Mind and matter are as different from each other as chessgames and astronomy observations.

  1. That is the problem for me is the mind not merely the result of chemical reactions occurring in the brain thus making it contained within the brain?

Frodo Baggins, fine gentlehobbit with a cleft chin, is not himself physically contained within your copy of FELOWSHIP OF THE RINGS. The moved that lost the chessgame was not physically contained within the Queen who was sacrificed. The traffic law is not physically contained within the red octagon.

The physical ink marks that point to words that point to Frodo are inside the physical book. Frodo himself is imaginary. He has no location anywhere in time or space and hence cannot be inside or outside of anything.

The move that lost the chessgame was represented by the physical act of Greco’s opponent moving his hand to move the horse-shaped wooden figuring representing a chessman across the tiles representing chess squares one diagonally and one horizontally, and then picking up the crowned figurine and placing her back in the box, to represent a chessman being captured. The chessgame itself is purely formal, existing as a set of symbols in the mind. The foolish knight who lost the game has no location anywhere in time or space and hence cannot be inside or outside of anything.

The red octagon has white marks we use to represent letters. Those letters together represent a word, which represents a concept. More to the point that selfsame stopsign if placed in a student’s dorm room as a decoration no longer represents the terror and majesty of the law, because there is no longer an imperative sanctioned by the sovereign that all who see the sign obey its stern and curt command. But the command of the sovereign law is not “on” the stopsign. Only the marks representing the words are on the stopsign. The sovereign law has no location anywhere in time or space and hence cannot be inside or outside of anything.

  1. Perhaps I am misunderstanding a simple part of this argument and perhaps it makes no difference where what we label as the mind comes from but If you could clarify I would appreciate it greatly.

Well, I cannot tell what you misunderstand because I cannot tell whether I am being clear or not. To me, the matter seems simple enough, because I have read Aristotle, and he makes the distinction between efficient cause and final cause that I have been using throughout this discussion (albeit I did not use his terms, which are a bit technical). I have also read, A.E. van Vogt’s popularization of non-Aristotelian philosophy, which teaches that the map is not the territory and the word is not the thing it represents. I am also a Roman Catholic, so I have an innately sacramental view of life: I think that visible symbols can embody an invisible reality without any division between the two.

The typical modern student, on the other hand, by the time he is grown, has been exposed to Marxist, secular, materialist and anti-rational philosophical notions from kindergarten onward, and his brain was trained to avoid certain thoughts and to misunderstand others. The modern product of indoctrination been programmed and hypnotized. His thinking is a snarled mess. To unsnarl any tangle requires a lot of patience.

To sum up the argument a final time:

Physics is the abstraction of more complex things to measurements of their mechanical actions. By design, physics ignores anything that cannot be reduced to a unit measurement. Physics can tell you the mass, velocity, and vector of a bullet, for example, but not tell you, by any inspection of the physical properties of the bullet, whether it was shot from the rifle of a murderer, or a soldier, or a deerhunter.

In physics, all mechanical actions whatsoever can be described in terms of standard international units of measurement, that is, measured units of quantity. Hence, all mechanical actions of brain elements, which is the only aspect of the mind-brain reality physics addresses, can in theory be so described.

But in order for symbols, thoughts, ideas, word-meanings and other qualities to be so described, they too would have to be open to being described in terms of unit measurements. But not a single meaning can be reduced to such a description, for the simple reason that physics, by design, excludes all qualities.

If the mind were a byproduct of mechanical brain actions, it would be a mechanical brain action itself, and hence be open to be described in terms of measured units.

But a quality of meaning, such as truth, virtue, or beauty cannot be measured in inches, grams, or seconds. We do not speak of inches of truth, grams of virtue, or seconds of beauty not because these values exist and have not yet been discovered. We do not speak of them because we cannot: the words when placed together make no sense.

Panphysicalism, the metaphysical idea that all ideas can be reduced to physical components, is as self-contradictory concept, akin to speaking of a square containing no right angles. The concept panphysicalism is itself a concept that cannot be reduced to physical elements.

It is merely an insolent sophistry: a metaphysical postulate postulating that no metaphysical postulates exist; a man claiming to be a meat-robot.

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