It recently struck me that the philosophical materialism that I most commonly run into is secretly an extremely anthropomorphic view. To assume that matter is “inert” or “unfree” assumes that it has intentions that are being thwarted; that it “wants” to go somewhere and is being impeded by something. This “something” is usually other materials or the “laws” that supposedly “govern” them all. As it happens though, water, rocks, and light are perfectly content to go wherever they happen to go; to just “be,” or to be jostled and moved by any other objects or forces. They don’t care. They have no intentions. If anything, one would think that they would prefer to bounce off other materials or forces, as this would allow them to do things that they otherwise couldn’t do under “their own steam,” so to speak. I’ll remind the reader that it is ironically the resistance of the water around you that allows you to swim. But, after all, non-living things in nature don’t care one way or the other.
I really don’t know how people can countenance this sort of materialism given modern physical theory, quantum mechanics, etc. Physics tells us that stable as something like a rock appears to be, it is nonetheless in constant motion at the atomic and smaller levels. The rock just “appears” to be inert, to be “in-animate,” while it is, in fact, constantly and freely “rock-ing.”
The view I’m attacking here commits another blunder in addition to anthromophizing materials and forces: it reifies physical “laws” as if they were physical objects, like rocks, that could limit or stop the motion of another object. This reification makes people assume that “Gravity” governs the Earth’s orbit, instead of realizing that the Earth, the Sun, etc actively and freely gravitate. That is, their mass is what accounts for the attraction, while this attraction hardly issues from some metaphysical plane outside the universe like a puppeteers hands. There is simply no reason to view the Earth as being “controlled” or “governed” by gravity; no reason to assume the Earth is “controlled” by the Sun rather than “liberated” into a regular and orderly orbit. That is, no reason unless you assume the Earth “wants” freedom from this orderly orbit!
You see, scientific laws do not ultimately “explain” reality, they describe reality. In fact, they usually only describe the limits of the freedom of a given phenomenon. Thus, the speed of light ‘c’ is only the limit on how fast light can travel, while it is perfectly free to be slowed down to all manner of speeds. If we create some grand unified theory and all the known forces of nature are described by a single, one-line equation, their still remain the questions of 1) why does that exact equation happen to describe everything (ie why is everything like this)?, 2) why is there so much of this “everything” for such an equation to describe?, and 3) what is this grand unified thing or force that this equation describes so precisely and efficiently (ie what is matter/energy)? The equation might describe how things move, but it cannot explain why they move, or why they do so at this rate, or why they always have, etc. Another remaining question would be, “why all the diversity; why does the universe, as explained by this unified theory, bifurcate and diverge into all manner of phenomena as it manifestly does?” The force or forces of nature remain, as Schopenhauer argued, qualitas occulta even after science has ultimately run its course. To quote a prior post of mine:
Nature is not governed by law. Nature is lawful, meaning full of law-like phenomenon. Forces are not distinct from matter-in-motion. Forces are matter-in-motion
Nature is full of law-like or orderly phenomenon, but there is nothing outside nature ordering it. This order is simply the limit of the free powers of nature. So if rocks, water, light and the Earth are free in this sense, where does this leave the Free Will debate? Could we be the most complex known combination of all of these active and free forces and thus deserve the moniker, as this prior post argues? Living things can be said to have purposes which can be hindered by objects and forces. But again, it is the resistance of water that allows movement while swimming, coupled with the energy and force inherent to the human body itself, of course. So if gravity has you down, remember you wouldn’t be free to run along the Earths surface without this being so.