Is there life beyond materialist science? @metamorgan says F*ck it.

Interesting post from Morgan Giddings, with a Facebook response from Sabine Hossenfelder:


I have mostly maintained a façade of being that “rational, materialist scientist” most of the time …

… it was always unsettling to think that consciousness is just some byproduct of what is a random universe made up of a bunch of bouncy-balls. I had read Roger Penrose’s books such as The Empror’s New Mind more than a decade before, and that had provided some powerful arguments against this view. But I had put that aside to pursue my “practical” ego-led science career.

I found God, by another name … I found that deep power within me ” and within everything.


I think I went down the same rabbit hole but came out in a slightly different place. See, as a theoretical physicist there’s no way to deny we are fundamentally “just” elementary particles and of course there isn’t any such thing as free will. Interestingly, this isn’t entirely incompatible with what you write. In any case, I have been avoiding the topic in my writing. I’ve written about the non-existence of free will several times, and I get a lot of responses from people who are seriously bothered. (And never read far enough to get to the point where I explain it doesnt matter.) In any case, thanks for this interesting blogpost.


Sabine – “as a theoretical physicist there’s no way to deny that we are “just” elementary particles” – of course there are theoretical physicists that have different viewpoints. Read about David Bohm’s work, among MANY other alternative views.

You state with confidence that free will doesn’t exist. When you can actually show me those “particles” you think are so deterministic as to be predictable in the way you think – yes, those same ones like quarks that nobody can actually measure in a deterministic fashion – then you may have some evidence that there’s no freewill.

However, smashing particles together in a collider and then seeing various random blips, and somehow concluding from that that there is no freewill is bogus. There’s still more that we don’t know than we do about those things.

The Seth books are better than any physics book is on this subject. Especially see the Unknown Reality, Volumes I and II by Jane Roberts.

And, yes, it IS incompatible with what I write. I won’t go into why, here. But the absence of free will misses the whole point, entirely.


Morgan: This isn’t the point. To begin with quantum mechanics isn’t deterministic, but that doesn’t mean there is free will. (Atoms decay unpredictably, but if you’d make your decisions in that random fashion you wouldn’t call that free will either.) The relevant point is that we do not know of any example in which a macroscopic (“emergent”) theory comes about in a way that is not fully derivable from the constituents’ theory.

Now note that I carefully said “we don’t know any way in which”. This doesn’t mean there is none. (We can discuss this.) But the point is that according to our best present knowledge of the laws of nature there isn’t any such thing as free will. And unless you demonstrate to me exactly in which way you think you can avoid what is a consequence of effective field theory I’m not going to buy anything to the contrary.

Sure, I know there are some physicists who deny this too. It’s kind of interesting in a sense. Also, entirely unnecessary.

PS: I wrote a paper about this at some point here:

I’m actually writing another paper about this…

I pick up on the same point of Sabine’s as does Morgan

“there’s no way to deny
we are fundamentally “just” elementary particles and
of course there isn’t any such thing as free will”.

The breathtaking arrogance of the materialist scientist – “we are just …” – “of course there isn’t …” That’s the ego driven error – that given no alternative explanation of the standard model, it’s the world that’s wrong, not the model. And it’s ego-driven because it makes the mistake of seeing “me” and the particles as distinct objects.

Even though Sabine clearly includes the force-exchange particles in that “just elementary particles” claim, it’s the “just” that’s the problem. The world is far more than particles. It’s arrangements and flows of such particles. But since we objectify only the particles, we see the arrangements and flows – dynamic patterns – as “just” properties of the particles. ie it’s “just” the particles we treat as objects of reality. In fact it’s the other way around. The flows, dynamic patterns, are reality, and the particles are the pragmatic objects of our (current) model.

It doesn’t require any “woo” or “super-natural-entities” to see alternative entirely naturalistic ways of looking at reality.

Having denied all but particles and their determinism via laws, even statistically random laws, the materialist physicist is unable to explain subjective consciousness and free-will and therefor must deny the existence of the most basic empirical evidence we have available to us. We and our will.

God by any other name? The pantheistic view is a common solution, since Spinoza, and metaphorically it’s as good as any to explain the “vital” ingredient missing from the dead model, a model without evolving will or purpose, but where these are illusory epiphenomena. This doesn’t mean that the vital agency exists as a separate god-like entity beyond the standard model, it simply confirms the standard model is more fundamentally in error.

The rabbit-hole is the standard model itself.

(I’ll come back with more when I’ve read Sabine’s referenced papers, and with better reference sources – Dennett & Baggini from mainstream philosophy; Pirsig & Rayner scientists who saw the error of their earlier ways; Nagel, Unger, Smolin, Goldstein … and many more.)

[Post Note – looking at Sabine’s paper:

The Free Will Function – Free will from the perspective of a particle physicist. It is argued that it is possible to give operational meaning to free will and the process of making a choice without employing metaphysics.

Of course these examples are arbitrarily constructed and are certainly not meant to describe actual reality. Their purpose is merely to show that it is possible to have a mathematical description of reality that does allow for free will to exist and give operational sense to the act of making a decision in a world that is determined but not deterministic.

Two immediate observations:

“Without employing metaphysics” – possibly just a classical scientist’s aversion to philosophy that is not considered to be scientific. In practice, this says, “without fundamental revision to my existing physics.”

The “arbitrary construction” says it is not really an explanation in terms of existing physics, it is speculative, and doesn’t suggest a testable physical hypothesis (yet). It also places strong reliance on the physical possibility according to mathematics, as if maths were some fundamental test of reality – see Unger & Smolin.

It confirms why I have time for Sabine. She is honestly addressing – attempting to address – the issue, even if she adopts the throwaway denials of received wisdom in her professional field. That’s a tough job. Appreciated.]

4 thoughts on “Is there life beyond materialist science? @metamorgan says F*ck it.”

  1. Thank you for your followup to my post and the discussion with Sabine that ensued.

    While I agree with most of what you state above, I come at this whole issue from a very different viewpoint.

    I spent many of my years (in my 20’s and 30’s, and even low 40’s) debating and discussing this kind of thing with anyone who would listen. I have “been around the block” so to speak when it comes to discussions about what lies at the core of our reality, and whose model is “correct.”

    However, the change or “conversion” I described was altogether different. It was no longer a rational/egoistic thing of “proving myself right” – it was a very FUNCTIONAL change that led to a profoundly deeper sense of connectedness in my life, more joy, and even a lot better financial results 🙂 That’s not to say there’s no ego involved; there still can be. But it is far less than ever before, because this is about personal happiness, satisfaction, and accomplishment.

    Hence, my goal in sharing the post that I did, and the inevitable followups to come, is a purely functional one. My goal was and is to connect with those who may be where I was back in 2007-2009, wondering whether what they’ve been taught is “correct” or applies to them, thinking that there may be a better and happier way to live life, but not sure how to go about connecting with it.

    I applaud your willingness to dive deeply into the philosophical debates here. Meanwhile, I’ve got work to do helping real people who are struggling escape those struggles 🙂 (It’s my “calling” so to speak….)

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Hi Morgan, thanks for responding – I too have been round the block a few times and recognised a fellow traveller 😉

    This point “It was no longer a rational/egoistic thing of “proving myself right” – it was a very FUNCTIONAL change that led to a profoundly deeper sense of connectedness in my life, … ”

    Absolutely. To be clear the reference to the rational “ego” problem was not to accuse you, but to recognise that shift away from the ego you were making.

    And you’re right – I am researching the underlying “philosophies” to understand this change of emphasis, but I do like to think that is not at the expense of actually making the functional change. The “aha” moment is pretty common to the change process many people go through.


  3. You assume there’s such a thing as materialism in the first place. It’s just a straw man invented by religious nuts to vilify scientists. When someone like Sabine so perfectly embodies the stereotype of materialism, they can’t be taken at their word. The denial of free will is based on physical determinism, which did not come from science at all.

    Determinism follows from the “Conservation of Information”, proposed by William Dembski, who is not a physicist, but a Creationist provocateur.

    Real physicists know that physics is fundamentally random at its smallest scale. Furthermore, real physicists know that some questions, like whether free will exists, are compleatly beyond science, and never offer more than an explicitly personal opinion on them.

    People like Sabine are speaking neither from egotism nor from a scientific outlook. They’re speaking from the indoctrination of a Creationist think tank.

  4. One – nothing said against Sabine here. She’s one of the more open-minded, but pretty representative of the scientific enterprise. No idea how you associate Sabine with a creationist ideology – complete non-sequitur for me.

    Two – No I’m not assuming materialism. I’m actually recognising a “physicalism” of the type you suggest in “all physicists know …”.

    What you say against determinism and your point point “Furthermore, real physicists” is encouraging, but I’m not sure many public physicists or supporters of scientific rationalism are that honest.

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