SCIENCE     versus     MATERIALISM

by     Reginald O. Kapp

SECTION III - THE MATERIAL UNIVERSE

Chapter XXVII - NON-MATERIAL REALITY


WHY do men struggle so desperately to deny non-material reality? Why do so many shrink from no theory, however far-fetched, which attributes Life, Mind and sometimes even the Deity to the unaided action of Matter on Matter? Why do they strain after absurd, logic-chopping arguments designed to prove that Matter unaided is capable of everything we observe or experience? Why this prevalent notion that belief in non-material reality is unscientific?

We believe that three reasons, all purely intellectual, can be distinguished. The first has been mentioned several times in these pages. It is the common misapprehension that the laws governing the Material Universe embody a Principle of Complete Determinateness.

The other two reasons are more profound. They arise from the very nature and limitations of our intelligence. We will deal with one of them in this and with the other in the next chapter.

With profound insight, Bergson has pointed out that intelligence is a limited and highly specialized instrument. Man is in the habit of adapting the substances around him to his needs. His comparative weakness has made it necessary for his survival that he should do so more effectively than any other animal, and his success is entirely due to his intelligence. With the help of this powerful instrument he can appreciate and control material substance.

The best instrument serves a single purpose. A corkscrew so designed that it can also be used as a screwdriver will not be a very good corkscrew. And an intelligence designed to appreciate every aspect of reality would not be a very serviceable intelligence. The survival value of our mental equipment is partly due to its one-sidedness. In man's struggle for existence appreciation of material reality has been a desperate necessity to which some power of appreciating non-material reality has had to be sacrificed.

But the sacrifice has not been complete. We do possess an instrument which enables us to appreciate non-material reality to some extent; and Bergson has called this instrument "intuition." In our mental processes intelligence and intuition intermingle so that it becomes difficult to separate them out. And it is usually unnecessary to do so. In these pages we certainly need not make the attempt. All we want the reader to realize is that the nature of our minds makes it difficult, but not impossible, for every one of us to escape from materialism.

Being due to something inherent in human nature, this difficulty has been apparent at all periods of history. Philosophers in ancient Greece may have thought of Dryads as purely spiritual beings lacking any of the attributes of material objects. But the Greek shepherd certainly thought of them as maidens such as he might meet at any moment walking on the wooded slopes of his native mountains. The medieval schoolmen knew full well that spiritual concepts cannot be measured by a foot-rule. They expressed this knowledge picturesquely by saying that an infinite number of angels could dance on the point of a needle. But for the benefit of those with less capacity for logical reasoning the medieval artist portrayed angels in human form.

However, the medieval artist did find means of conveying symbolically the idea held by the schoolmen when he represented his angels as standing on clouds. As he could not paint a picture in which angels were devoid of physical dimensions he robbed them of another common attribute of tangible substance, namely weight. The artist of to-day who has to illustrate a ghost story follows a similar method when he shows the background visible through the ghost. By representing the ghost as transparent he suggests that another familiar property of tangible substance is lacking, namely the property of intercepting light. The artist's method is always to portray something which we can recognize as a material object and to subtract from it one or more of the properties which we would expect to observe.

The artist's procedure is sometimes poetical and always naive. But what else can he do? He can convey by subtle means the notion that a non-material reality is weightless, dimensionless, invisible, intangible. But if he is to represent his idea pictorially at all he must impose on it at least some of the perceptible attributes of material objects. Good art is often naive.

So long as the idea is represented in a painting one attribute can never be eliminated. This is location. The spirit, or angel, or ghost must be shown somewhere in the picture. And those who try to convey the idea of a non-material reality in more abstract terms than those of pictorial art often use means which still preserve the notion that the thing under discussion has location. The schoolmen who denied that the angels' height from toe to crown could span even the tiniest fraction of an inch still spoke of them as dancing on the point of a needle. The position in space of the angels could thus have been defined in feet and inches from, shall we say, the walls and floor of the room to the needle on which they were said to be dancing. Though the medieval schoolmen declared that it would be idle to use footrules in order to measure how large the angels were, they still implied that footrules might be used in order to define where they were. The schoolmen seem to have believed that if angels are they must be somewhere . But we have not studied the schoolmen very extensively. Perhaps they had a better insight into the nature of non-material reality than we are allowing them.

Similarly a preacher of to-day who denies that God and the Devil are material yet assigns them location when he points first upwards and says "God is there" and then downwards to indicate the dwelling place of the Devil. Of course he means the gesture to be interpreted metaphorically and not literally. He knows that a colleague in the Antipodes points in the reverse directions. But if asked where the true dwelling place of the Divinity is he dare not answer: "Nowhere." He is sure that such an answer would be misunderstood. So the preacher compromises with logic by answering: "Everywhere." It is the best he can do, even though it may lead to a most un-Christian form of pantheism. Good religious teaching, too, may have to be naive.

But what is a virtue in art and religious teaching is a vice in philosophy. And it seems to us almost incredible that any philosopher can seriously believe that the sole criterion of non-material reality is lack of some or all the attributes of Matter. Yet we have met this belief together with the even more remarkable one that things can be more or less material. We have been told, for instance, that modern physics has proved Matter to be less material than was thought at one time. Sometimes this astonishing statement is made baldly, sometimes with a show of profundity as by A. E. Heath who said in a symposium at the Aristotelian Society: "The philosophical outcome of modern thought is not then a direct materialism. This has been replaced by various forms of structuralism."

We must abandon the effort of trying to understand what distinction is made in the Philosophy of Unreason between a direct and an indirect materialism or what it can mean to say that Matter is more or less material. We must be content only to guess at the new discoveries which are supposed to have results so gratifying to the bishops.

Perhaps it is the discovery that the atom is a very empty affair. This may have led some of our philosophers to the view that the Material Universe contains less tangible substance than they had previously thought; and it may be taught in the Colleges of Unreason that a Material Universe which contains only a little tangible substance is less material than one which contains a lot.

Or perhaps it is the discovery that electrons are not hard lumps of substance but only packets of waves, or that forces can now be expressed in the abstract terms of the geometry of space-time. This may have led the Colleges of Unreason to teach that the world contains no hard lumps such as one might be able to kick and no forces with which to kick them, a doctrine of which the famous Dr. Johnson demonstrated the absurdity even though he failed in his intention of refuting Berkeley's philosophy.

It is, of course, nonsense to say that things which seem like hard lumps are not really hard lumps. When we say "a hard lump" we mean a thing which seems like a hard lump to our sense of touch. We cannot mean anything else. It is equally nonsense to say that Matter can ever lack any of the attributes of Matter or that some things can be more and others less material. One can arrange material things in classes according to the senses by which we become aware of them. Some, like iron, are heavy and hard and visible; others, like glass, are heavy and hard but not so visible; others again, like air are not very heavy, and not hard, and scarcely visible. But this does not mean that air is less material than glass, and glass less material than iron, even though a work of art which is both sublime and naive may suggest that it is so. The metaphysics taught at the Colleges of Unreason is not sublime, but it is just as naive when it suggests that an empty atom is less material than a full one or a wave packet than a hard lump.

Yet it is arguments such as these which have led via the idealization of Matter to various attempts to account for Life in terms of modern physics. It is first asserted that quantum mechanics and other recent advances prove that the Material Universe is not a machine, a fact which was, of course, equally obvious in the old days of classical mechanics. But our up-to-date philosophers do not mean that the Material Universe is not a machine because it lacks co-ordination. They mean that it is not a machine because much in it is now no longer discussed in terms of hard substances and pushes and pulls. It is discussed in terms of geometry, radiation, quantum jumps.

Hence, it is argued, the reason why the laws of mechanics do not suffice to account for the behaviour of living substance is simply that they do not suffice to account for the behaviour of lifeless substance. What the laws of mechanics cannot do, we are expected to believe, may possibly be achieved by the laws governing radiation or quantum mechanics.

Of course, such speculations are quite fruitless. We have found that mechanism, is untenable because the unco-ordinated pushes and pulls exerted by Matter on Matter cannot produce the co-ordinated effects observable in the organic world. The behaviour of radiation and the behaviour of quantum jumps is just as unco-ordinated as that of hard lumps. Every argument against materialism which we have based on the science of mechanics could, with equal force, be based on any other branch of physics. If mechanism must be rejected, theories which might go by such names as radiationism or quantum jumpism must be rejected too. It is idle to attempt to develop a new philosophy out of the mistaken notion that physicists now portray Matter much in the same way as a book illustrator portrays ghosts.

Such teaching has only become plausible because we all tend to make the wrong sort of effort when we try to conceive non-material reality. We begin by imagining some material reality and then we try to think: away, one by one, all the attributes attached to it. We probably eliminate first weight, visibility, colour, sound and all the properties which we could recognize by our sense of touch. The strain on our imagination increases as we go on. Length, breadth and height may be subtracted next, and then we are ready to imagine the angels which dance on the point of a needle. It is difficult, but we may persuade ourselves that we are getting along quite nicely.

Then we realize that the point of the needle must go too. We are left with the hopeless task of imagining angels which have no perceptible properties and are infinitely small and are dancing nowhere. We are left trying to imagine something which is nothing. Failing to do so we reach the conclusion that there is no such thing as non-material reality, and that we are not interested in philosophy.

But it was a mistake to use our imagination. This always represents sense perceptions. While we can imagine that we see something, or hear something, or feel something, we cannot imagine what we could not perceive. Imagination can never deal with anything but material reality. If we are to appreciate the meaning of non-material reality we can only do so by the use of another instrument. If that which Bergson has called "intuition" will not serve we must use abstract logic.

We try to master by imagination that which imagination can never master because we have been misled by words. The expression "non-material reality" is purely negative. This is why we tend to assume that we can only reach an understanding of the concept by a process of subtraction. A good deal of confusion would be avoided if we had a word which, instead of suggesting what the concept is not would suggest what it is or does. Philosophers do not seem to have provided such a word. So it becomes our task once again to create a new technical term.

In choosing our term we must proceed with a proper sense Of responsibility and with regard to the guiding principles discussed in a previous chapter. We require a word which suggests that non-material reality possesses attributes lacking in Matter. The word must not convey too much. It must not suggest attributes which cannot be proved. It must also suggest only such attributes as we may reasonably assume to be possessed by any and every non-material influence. This last requirement rules out such words as Spirit, Life or Mind. We need a more general word, one which allows for the possibility that neither Spirit, Life nor Mind is necessarily the only active non-material reality existing

This leads us to consider what is the most general attribute which distinguishes any and every active non-material reality from Matter. Surely it is the capacity for exercising that which we have somewhat loosely described as selection, guidance, control, the capacity for discrimination, for disposing objects in accordance with a pre-existent plan, for ensuring that the structure and behaviour of things shall occur in a specified way. This is the attribute which is common to Life, Mind, God, to every active non-material reality which we can conceive. Hence this is the attribute which must be conveyed by the new word.

Professor Smiley, of University College, London has pointed out to us that the ancient Greek language possesses exactly the word which we require. This is diathetic.. It means "capable of disposing to a specification." It occurs in Zenophon in the following passage:



The translation is: "[But] I shall not deceive you with introductory remarks about pleasure, but I shall recount truthfully the things that are, in the way that the gods have disposed them."

The word is derived from dia which means "at intervals" And tithenai which means "to place." An advantage is that this word is extremely rare in Greek literature. It is, therefore, free from misleading associations. It is true that it has found its way into the technical language of medicine. But its use there is so specialized that no confusion can arise with the use which we are now advocating in philosophy.

We propose, therefore, whenever we need a positive means of distinguishing Life from. Matter to say that Life is a diathetic reality.

Diathetic is an active adjective and it is evident that further derivatives from the roots dia and tithenai will be equally useful. We, therefore, recommend diathesis as either an active or a passive noun. It will mean either the act of disposing to a specification or the being so disposed. We do not think that the dual use can lead to confusion. The building of a cathedral or a motor-car is a diathesis. In the organic world the process which constitutes the growth and development of a plant or an animal is a diathesis.

diatheme is the word we shall give to the result of a diathesis. A cathedral or a motor-car is a diatheme. The body of every living organism is a diatheme. If we had concluded in a previous chapter that the structure of the Material Universe met any specified requirements we should have had to say that this was a diatheme. But we reached the conclusion that it is not one. Those, again, who attribute a crystal to an "element of drill" imply that a crystal is a diatheme. But we have shown that this view is untenable.

Lastly, we need a single word for the influence which exercises a diathetic activity. We propose diathete. We shall describe the life which controls the structure and behaviour of any living organism as a diathete. A man's mind is a diathete. God must be so described. The angels of the schoolmen who danced on the point of a needle were diathetes, or they would have been if they had danced nowhere.

We must be careful to restrict the use of the word diathete in such a way that it can never be confused with a diatheme. A sorting machine is, for instance, a diatheme. Since it serves the purpose of selection it might be suggested that we ought also to call it a diathete. But we do not propose to use the word in this sense. The diathetic activity is not exercised by the machine but only by the man who works it. The machine is only the instrument of a diathesis.

We propose further to restrict the use of the word diathete so that it does not apply to the body of the man who works the machine either. Though we say loosely that our hands select, guide, control, they do not really do so. Our bodies are only the instruments by means of which a diathesis is effected. Our bodies, being material, can themselves discriminate no more than machines can, or any other lumps of substance. For the capacity to discriminate is not an attribute of Matter and can never become an attribute of Matter. Our bodies are not diathetes, they are diathemes. All diathetes together make up the counterpart of Matter.

This shows that the distinction we are now making between diathetes and Matter is the same as is made by philosophers between Mind and Matter and by religious teachers between Spirit and Matter and it may be thought that we should have done better to retain one of the older words instead of introducing a new one. However, we believe that both "Mind" and "Spirit" have certain disadvantages from. which "dia- thetes" is free.

A minor disadvantage is the uncertainty as to whether the words "Mind" and "Spirit" represent a single unit or are collective nouns like "cattle". We do not often hear of "Minds and Matter" or of "Spirits and Matter". Is this because the singular is meant in each case or because the words "Mind" and "Spirit" are meant each to designate a varied multitude? We are not sure, but we think that a multitude ought to be designated. There is only one Material Universe and this contains Matter everywhere. So the singular is quite correct for Matter. But allowance must be made for a varied multitude of non-material realities. A metaphysician would probably say that there are an indefinitely large number of Non-material Universes. To indicate this a combination of a plural and a singular is desirable as is provided by the expression "diathetes and Matter."

A more important objection to the antithesis "Mind and Matter" is the suggestion contained therein that everything which is not Matter must necessarily be very much like a human mind. There is no reason at all to suppose this and philosophers who speak of "Mind and Matter" probably do not believe it. But others who read the philosophers may be led into an unduly anthropomorphic view of reality. A word is, therefore, preferable which indicates that any and every non-material reality need have only one attribute in common with the human mind, namely a capacity to dispose things to a specification.

The word "Spirit" is also liable to convey a wrong impression. It either suggests human qualities as the word "Mind" does or else something evenly distributed and wholly undifferentiated and inactive. When told "God is Spirit and everywhere" many will, we fear, form the notion that God is a tenuous gas filling all space. "God is a diathete and nowhere" would, at least, avoid this misapprehension. The word "Spirit" fails, in fact, to convey the one all-important attribute by which any non-material reality is distinguished from Matter, namely, powers of discrimination. We are now, at last, able to provide simple and concise definitions of Matter and diathetes. Anything is Matter which has location in space. Anything is a diathete which discriminates.

Discrimination must be understood widely enough to cover any and every selecting, guiding, controlling activity, be it conscious or unconscious. Each of these concise definitions includes everything which should be included and excludes everything which should be excluded. For anything which has location cannot discriminate and anything which discriminates cannot have location.

Things which have location include tangible substance and waves and fields of force and energy and electric charges; they include everything with which the physical sciences are concerned, everything which conforms to the laws of these sciences, everything which can be either observed or measured, everything which can be put on record, which can be written down in some conventional symbols and communicated to another person. None of these things can discriminate; they can only be the subject matter of a discrimination. No physicist would ever attribute discriminating powers to any object great or small which he could locate and bring under observation. Yet we have seen that, in the organic world discrimination is achieved, a diathesis of the particles forming a living organism is effected. As this diathesis cannot be attributed to Matter of any kind, to anything having location, we must attribute it to non-material influences having no location. Our argument against materialism is summarized in the above few sentences.

It might be suggested that our argument depends on an arbitrary definition of Matter. But we do not believe that any definition would spell sense which included as parts of Matter things which have no location. In the commonly used meaning of the word and in the meaning employed by materialists, Matter is always somewhere. And by defining Matter as anything and everything which is somewhere we have provided the widest of all possible definitions. A thing which could never be found, though one looked East, West, North, South for it can never be observed; it can never come under physical investigation; it cannot conform to the laws of the physical sciences; none of the statements which belong to the domain of physics can have any meaning when applied to a thing which is nowhere.

Yet such a thing is a diathete. It is unobservable. But it is not undiscoverable. For its existence is proved by its effect on Matter. Not by what it is but by what it does do we know it.

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