Post Author: Bill Pratt
In part 1 of this post, we discussed Francis Parker’s argument that the process of knowing cannot be physical. A purely physical account of knowledge simply does not work. In part 2, we pick up where we left off.
Parker draws out more disturbing consequences of the materialistic account of knowing.
If, on the other hand, the particles that you actually see are really in the brain . . . , then another disturbing implication arises. Since everything which is known—the objects of all science and common sense would then be physically contained in human brains, the arduous and painful process of education would seem to be rather inefficient, to say the least, for we ought then to be able to learn everything that is known by the relatively simple process of brain surgery? We would be able to learn a given thing, presumably, simply by opening the appropriate skull, and the brain surgeon should therefore be the wisest of all men.
It hardly needs to be mentioned, however, that no brain surgeon will ever find a book in your brain (at least while you are thinking about a book), nor when what you know is the universe will he find the universe in your brain—for this would mean that the whole is contained in a rather small and insignificant one of its parts. Nor would it help for the “under-the-hat” theorist to object that this may be because our present knowledge of the brain is far from complete.
It is nonsensical to think that what we know physically resides in our brain, because we know things that are much larger than our brains! But it gets worse for the materialistic account, because it’s not even clear that we can know anything in our brain, whether it physically fits or not.
Finally, having seen that on this view you could never know anything outside your own brain, there is a serious question as to whether you could even know anything in your own brain. For here again the process of “knowing” would be a physical one, whose beginning and whose end are consequently different. If, for example, the object of your knowledge were a certain structure in one of the fissures of your frontal lobe, your knowing of it would consist in a physical series whose last member would be located somewhere else in your brain. If, for instance, your knowledge of that frontal fissure consisted in part in the formation of a visual image of it, that visual image would not occur until the process had terminated in the back of your head, in which case the object of your knowledge is not the frontal fissure at all, but rather something in your occipital lobe. And if you were to know this particle in the back of your head, what you would know would be another particle somewhere else. And so on indefinitely.
In short, when we ask the Materialist where the object of his knowledge is, he must, if he is consistent, answer that the object which he “really knows” is at best different from the object which he “thinks he knows” (the former being under his hat or projected out from under his hat) and at worst no object at all—since his knowing of anything means that he does not know it, but rather something different, ad infinitum. So the Materialistic account of the act of knowing is untenable . . . when we consider the location of its object of knowledge.
Parker, in his essay, goes on to provide even more reasons why the materialist account of knowledge fails, but I consider the case to be made at this point. If you are a person who does not believe in the existence of immaterial things, then what do you do? How do you counter Parker?