I feel: therefore I exist. I feel bodies which are not myself: there are other existencies then. I call them matter. I feel them changing place. This gives me motion. Where there is an absence of matter, I call it void, or nothing, or immaterial space. On the basis of sensation, of matter and motion, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need. ... When once we quit the basis of sensation, all is in the wind. To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart.
Thomas Jefferson (1820)

Men want narratives, not biochemical processes.
Arnon Grunberg

The fact is, all observation occurs within some system of concepts, and our observation judgments are only as good as the conceptual framework in which they are expressed.
Paul Churchland

It’s hard to make a man understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.
Upton Sinclair

The natural world must be primary because without the natural world we won’t have anything.
Derrick Jensen

Truth is a construction after the event.
Alain Badiou

Materialism demands that we understand nature in such a way that there would be no absurdity in affirming that it produced us.
Isabelle Stengers




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bringing the counterpart to bread: wine
and the blessings of life's flowing juices.
His blood, the blood of the grape,
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Materialism for pedestrians

Materialism is the conviction that everything consists of matter or is an effect of matter. That might not sound particularly exciting but it implies more than meets the eye: ghosts are figments of the imagination. Still nothing special but there is a less obvious and more seditious implication: all our thoughts and feelings are produced by our organs, and organs consist of molecules. Which are bits of matter. Without the organs that produce ideas there are no ideas. This sounds trivial but try saying it out loud; in many circles that would be most unhealthy, in countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia even lethal. If it is known that you hold such an idea, you cannot even become president of the United States. A Jefferson would now be unthinkable. Many have been executed and many are killed today because they had similar opinions. Apparently materialism is extremely upsetting and most people do not agree with it.

Materialism is not a belief that competes with other beliefs. That should reassure believers who fear it. That everything consists of matter is a provisional assumption, a hypothesis, and not a dogma or part of a religion. There is no mathematical proof for this assumption and it is not refuted. No holy book was ever written about materialism by a prophet or professor (but a poem was written about it). A strong argument for materialism is that we simply have to learn as much as possible about the world in which we live in order to function in it; the materialist point of view is an excellent help for this, much better than its denial as experience shows. Should it turn out that non-material things can exist that are not effects of matter, then that will have profound consequences for our life: science would have a lot of catching up to do. But in favour of known types of idealism, which all reject materialism, no arguments have been presented that are as well supported by facts as those for materialism. Most highly intelligent thinkers agree that atomism is naive to put it politely but taking account of the ethical and cognitive consequences of their viewpoints, idealism is considerably more naive than atomism.

Why should one bother about the nature of things? Is it not much more important just to understand what one can do with them? Does it make any difference if everything is thought to be matter or an illusion, or possessed by spirits, or all three at the same time? It obviously does and the reason is familiar: it is observing the composition of things and experiencing what the parts do, how they fit together, how they form novelty, and under which circumstances emergence and synergy occurs that makes us get the hang of things and know them well enough to use, change, or avoid them. Phenomena can be dealt with suitably only by knowing, not by believing or daydreaming.(duh). That is clearly shown by the history of technology, the medical arts, and the biological sciences. Understanding is bottom-up; knowing how parts make up the complex things in the world, keeps us alive and allows us to estimate what may happen. However, people choosing a non-reductive approach to the world are not very concerned with understanding the inner working of things. Their holism expresses a refusal to observe some relevant facts and that may lead to disastrous behaviour as history shows. Holists do not use tools on the contents of all those black boxes that make their world but only push metaphorical buttons on their outsides. Those who know how to use their tools and are able to manipulate their material are more like artists or engineers who create things. We grasp something if we can compose or modify it and vice versa.

Atomism is an example of a materialist ontology that is easy to understand and use; all existing things consist of atoms (the smallest material particles). By linking to other atoms they form larger things such as molecules, agglomerates, cells, tissues, plants, animals, societies, objects such as stones, microprocessors, bombs, ore deposits, mountains, rivers, clouds, hail storms, moons, stars, and quasars. We know that atoms do the craziest things because we have seen their action; however, we are far from finished with learning about them, much is still unknown about the infinity of possiblities. The assertion that life and consciousness are non-material, is refuted by now, but that is not widely known.

Atomism is also indispensable for those who study humans. Chemical, biological and neurophysiological facts make sense only if they are expressed in atomistic terms. Our behaviour is directly coupled to chemical processes in our organs. We are bodies made up of atoms and there is no indication that we are immortal, immaterial souls that sit in some body as long as it is still alive but may continue to exist body-less in some spiritual hereafter after leaving its mortal coil; which is still believed by 70% of USA's population.

By carefully studying what happens in the world materialists have drawn conclusions that have always been rejected because they contradict well-established idealistic prejudices. Some of their remarkable discoveries are that all over the world people are very similar, they differ physiologically little from other mammals, and their characteristics and behaviour were formed during evolution. Atomism also suggested how best to live with others. Ethical rules set up by materialists are based upon the body and those rules are therefore universally significant: evil is suffering, good is the absence of pain. Striving for what is good and opposing this type of evil is a moral advice that everyone is able to understand. Materialism started as a tentative frame to interpret the world but by now has turned into a lifestyle.

The opposite of materialism, is idealism. According to all versions of idealism the ‘Idea’ comes first (whatever else exists) in accordance with the slogan "In the beginning was the word". All religions, also atheistic ones, are ideologies, they are mindsets or worldviews based upon some Idea (or better, idol). Ideologies are cultural artefacts, but remarkably, they are almost always anti-body and conservative. For these reasons, materialists reject them. Because every religious or secular ideology is absolutely true according to its adherents, other ideologies are not; that's why convinced believers are at each others throat. The cultural conventions in ideologies formalize instincts and are extremely variable because instincts, which were developed during evolution, are mutually contradictory and above all because human fantasy is endless. Possession, impurity, honour, unity, sin, power, sacredness, and absolute truth, are fictions in idealism that cause much social misery. Such ideas are not taken seriously in materialism. It remains therefore puzzling why the most humanitarian vision that exists, makes true believers tremble and reach for their explosives.

Materialism is indispensable for technology but elsewhere it is firmly established in the experimental sciences and non-verbal arts only. For all its acceptance in fields of knowledge that are thought to be politically harmless, the effect of materialism on morals is modest: idealistic morals dominate everywhere. Even infidels who know better often behave like platonists. Certain habits and rituals that our ancestors have taken up and refined during a hundred centuries are now obsolete but are still being taught to children and difficult to adapt to a changed world because they are even fixed in language: the verb to be is casually replaced by to have in statements like "animals have no soul" and "she has a gorgeous body". Those sentences are supposed to have a meaning. Such linguistic habits perpetuate dualism. And for verbs and adjectives for processes and properties, we have made up nouns such as mind, action, sin, technology, beauty, and respect, which surreptitiously start their own virtual life as independent agents who tell us what to do and believe. Nounmaking is a habit guaranteed to save essentials and other spirits. There is still a lot to do if we want to profit from what the radical axials have discovered; they have shown us how to adorn our life with something better than ideological rubbish. Admittedly, there has been some progress since then, as shown in the part on materialist practices. Why materialism is less attractive than it merits to be, can be found here.