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Beyond Physicalism

The assertion that there is no reality beyond the physical or what can be explained by known physical laws has been called “physicalism,” “scientism,” “reductionism,” or “materialism.” I prefer “physicalism,” because it expresses most directly the idea of a belief in a purely physical reality.

For the assertion of a purely physical reality to be held with such absolute certainty, it must have been proved scientifically beyond any doubt. But I don’t see that proof anywhere. Also, as scientists should know, “Nothing exists beyond the physical” is a logical proposition of the form, “There are no such things,” which can’t be proved without a complete knowledge of everything that exists. It should be clear, with the discovery that “dark matter” occupies an estimated 96% of the physical universe, and the more recent revelation that dark matter doesn’t really explain the observed phenomena, that we have nowhere near a complete knowledge of even the physical, much less the more subtle aspects of reality that may exist.

And conversely, to disprove the proposition “There are no such things,” it is necessary to find only one such thing. In 1958, I dreamed of my grandmother’s death an hour before I received the telegram. That’s all the evidence I ever needed to know there was a reality beyond what had been explained in my physics courses at Harvard. Billions of people worldwide have had experiences similar to mine.

Responsible researchers have been studying scientifically the psychic and the spiritual since the 1800s. The Society for Psychical Research in Great Britain was founded in 1882. J.B. Rhine in the United States began studying around 1930 what he called “extra-sensory perception” (ESP) with the most rigorous methods of physical science. I first heard about J.B. Rhine’s work when I was at Harvard in the 1950s, although not in any of my courses. Parapsychology has been accepted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science(AAAS) since 1969. The Alex Tanous Library at The Rhine Research Center has literally a “ton” of evidence for the existence of psychic and spiritual phenomena.

And yet there is still an extreme bias against the psychic and the spiritual by establishment scientists. They still assert, as first-principles of their belief system, that psychic abilities are impossible, that spirit entities do not exist, and that the mind is nothing but the physical brain.

Or perhaps I should use the scientific impersonal and say “It is assumed” within the scientific establishment that these things are so, and that these assumptions are considered basic criteria of rational thought. I don’t want to pin the blame on anybody in particular, except for those few individuals I can actually quote. All scientists are innocent until proven guilty. But at the same time, all scientists must be part of the consensus, in order to make psychic and spiritual subjects laughable and not even debatable at ranked American colleges and universities, if one wants to be considered rational.

In social psychology we learn that when the legitimate arguments fail, people switch to illegitimate arguments. And so it is with physicalism: Since no legitimate scientific argument can possibly be made to support it, unscientific arguments have been used to defend and enforce it (again switching to the scientific impersonal so as not to put the blame on anybody except those I actually quote).

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