So recently I’ve been hearing (it’s very possible that this isn’t actually recent, but I’m just hearing about it now) how materialism has been “disproven”. Now, I’m not in the position to, or familiar enough with more than just the very veru veeery basics of quantum mechanics, so trying to chew my way through some papers and journals on this subject would probably make me bleed from my ears trying to make sense of it. So, if this is really a thing, and one (or more) of you are knowledgable about this and equipped to explain it to me, I’d appreciate it.
Can you provide links to such a claim? What type of materialism are they talking about?
I have just heard it brought up in some interpersonal settings, but stuff like this… https://www.namb.net/apologetics-blog/why-quantum-theory-does-not-support-materialism/
@PdotdQ, what do you make of this?
I would say this is an argument for philosophy, not physics.
Physicalism very roughly says that everything in the world supervenes on the entities given by the theories of our best fundamental physics. ‘Materialism’ is a separate term which many take as meaning the same thing, but which everyday usage and historically may mean something like the author’s definition, ie that materialism assumes both locality and definite properties like mass or position. The author is quite right that QM eliminates that idea as best we can tell.
But of course one issue is that we really are not sure what QM is telling us about reality: there are competing interpretations that have different implications for locality and properties. For example, many-worlds does not meet the assumptions used in the derivation of Bell’s inequality, so Aspect’s tests of it are not directly relevant, and non-locality either does not exist or exists in a different way under that interpretation. On the other hand, under the Bohmian interpretation, particles do have definite position (although we cannot know it in general).
Physicalism does have many problems, such unpacking the term ‘supervenes’ or dealing with what exactly is mean by “our best physics”. But those issues are not the ones in the article.
So it is wrong to say physicalism is refuted by our best physics like QM as the author does, since physicalism by definition depends on our best physics.
If materialism is taken to mean something different, then, yes, it has been refuted (modulo one’s interpretation of QM)
I always have trouble understanding the idea that materialism is proved or disproved or true or false.
It seems to me that materialism could only be something like an attitude or a stance, rather than a description or proposition. And you cannot prove or disprove stances.
Materialism has indeed been refuted - and for its more naive versions, I don’t think you even need quantum mechanics to do this. If you allow me to be presumptuous, I would wager that @Kwjibo has in mind something more akin to physicalism than materialism.
Unless you have a conception of “physical” that is not the same as what I have (which includes things like the wavefunction of the Copenhagen interpretation or the many worlds of the Many-Worlds interpretation), I do not think that QM refutes physicalism. But this is more a question for philosophers than for physicists.
It depends on part (as you can already see in this thread) on how you define materialism. If you simply mean “everything that exists is physical”, quantum mechanics doesn’t really touch that proposition at all.
I know of at least one Christian apologist - and this irks me greatly - who tries to use quantum mechanics to say that God must exist, because QM requires some kind of consciousness to collapse the wavefunction. He’s utterly wrong on that count, since there are multiple interpretations of QM which are observer independent and under which such an inference completely fails. (Many-worlds and Bohmian mechanics, to give 2 examples.)
A respectable philosophical position. Good for you, Neil!
From this section of the SEP article on physicalism