Proving a Negative

Dear Dr. Borchardt:

When I read the mountain of literature assailing the validity of materialism, the one thing they all seem to have in common is the inability to posit any positive evidence for things "immaterial."
Though frequently used by their authors, the words "evidence,” "proof," and "truth" are the very things these arguments are lacking.
Rather than supplying us with something positive, the typical response is, "Prove that it isn't true." The challenge given to the materialist is usually to prove a negative.
In the techniques of propaganda, this is known as "drawing the line" (daring someone to cross over it).
But it always smacks of weakness in their argument when they dare you to prove that something doesn't exist, rather than expounding on things that do.
In TSW, you consistently base the Ten Assumptions of Science on positive information; connecting the dots (as it were) between the tangible things that we are progressively learning.
A friend of mine has fallen from such a view into solipsism, daring me to prove that all of this is not a dream-state, not unlike the Matrix.
Or prove that remote-viewing isn't real.
I find myself at a loss trying to argue such a position.
The Scientific Worldview is precisely what we need to stay grounded and focused on what is our best chance for understanding (and thus appreciating) the awesome universe in which we live.


Frederic Frees


Thanks for the question. As you have found out, it is nearly pointless to debate someone who’s views are founded on opposing fundamental assumptions. In an infinite universe, our assumptions never are completely provable—the debate continues forever. This is because there is a sucker (baby) born every minute. It is only by experiencing the external world that we start to use the mature assumption of MATERIALISM (The external world exists after the observer does not). The corollary is that the universe consists only of matter, with other hypothesized “things” also consisting of matter. Immaterialism, its indeterministic opposite, hypothesizes, in the extreme, that the external world disappears when the observer disappears. One could never “prove that all of this is not a dream-state,” just as one cannot travel to the “end” of the universe to prove that it is infinite. Berkeley’s logic is impeccable, but his beginning assumption is indeterministic. This may be fine for pursuing the logic/illogic of religious philosophy, but it is of no use in scientific philosophy. I chose this particular definition of MATERIALISM with a very specific purpose in mind: It clearly shows that there can be no final “test” or “proof” that would settle the question once and for all. This is akin to the primary assumption of determinism: there are causes for all effects. But, of course, until we have discovered the infinite number of causes for all effects, we cannot prove this assumption to be true. Because that will never happen, we are left with the only thing we can do with a fundamental assumption: assume it. One might then say that the choice of fundamental assumptions is simply a matter of personal preference. To some extent this is true. We judge assumptions by their logical consequences, the work that they do for us, whether it be the establishment of truth or of the prospects for salvation. As scientists, we are in the “truth” business.

Remote Viewing

According to Robert Carroll, “remote viewing is a fancy name for telepathy or clairvoyance, the alleged psychic ability to perceive places, persons, and actions that are not within the range of the senses.” His article provides more than enough scientific argument to put that particular puppy to bed. Those who assume immaterialism, such as your friend, will remain unconvinced. You can continue the “nearly” pointless argument with him if you wish, but I suspect you have better things to do. There always is progress in any debate, but it may not be worth your time. You might suggest he read “The Ten Assumptions of Science” (TTAOS) first. At least, then he will be a little older, having experienced a bit more of the external world.

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