MATERIALIST PHYSICALISM The success of secular Western culture and worldview over the revealed or faith-based worldview was facilitated by the emphasis on individuality, personality, and the power of the self. The conventional wisdom still prevails that: “It is the moment ofsecularity , freedom from religious/ecclesiastical tutelage, that separates the Modern Period, especially its science and philosophy, from the Middle Ages.”[^8] The preponderant sway of empirical science over modern thought results in neurobiology and psychophysiology studying intelligence at the level of neural chemistry, where mental and behavioral phenomena are understood merely as manifestations ofphysical processes. Contemporary discussions on consciousness and the philosophy of mind also reflect this conceptual drift toward a (monist) brain conception, where ‘mind’ substitutes for the ‘soul’ concept of the past. ‘Mind’ is frequently allied with brain functions and given a physical locus, or alternatively it is denied any spatial locale and simply reduced to “mental events ”.[^9]
However, this dominant biological-materialist or physicalistic paradigm is now increasingly being perceived as conceptually inadequate, with rational empirical methods proving to be unreliable and insufficient in providing a theoretically adequate conception of mind or intelligence. In reviewing the pitfalls of current thinking on the ‘mind-body problem’, Colin McGinn concludes: “But we have not explained how a physical organ of the body, namely the brain, could be the basis of consciousness—how a physical object can come to have an inner aspect.”[^10] Sergio Moravia observes, “They have spoken of ‘mind’ and ‘mental’—and the unsettling,real question was whether one may admit a human dimension which is autonomous and irreducible in relation to the bodily.” And he goes on to ask: “Can one posit something whichexists, and yet at the same time isnon-physical ? … Do the rejection of the ‘soul’ and the achievements attained by the bio- and neurosciences oblige us to hold that man isnothing but body ?” Thinkers are thus being forced into the fields of epistemology, ontology and psychoanthropology in search of answers to such questions. Recently there have appeared a number of creative but tentative attempts to re-conceptualize notions of ‘reason’ and ‘intelligence’ along anti-mentalistic or ‘personological’ lines,[^12] several drawing on the experience and practice of older non-Western traditions or even popular ‘folk’ conceptions.[^13]
Contemporary materialism is in essence a program of reduction, assimilation, and annexation, which is being applied to meet the felt need to construct aunitary image of the world (ie. ameta -physics)—and to construct it under the cover of ‘Science’. For the ‘human’ is the “last frontier” of a physicalistically constituted knowledge, being the last part of reality which must be shown to be reducible to empirical observations and verifiable explanations of a materialist nature, resulting in the ‘scientific theory’ of man—identified with the neurophysiological interpretation of the human being. Having banished the transcendent metaphysic of the spiritual and reduced it to the ‘irrational’, science finds itself searching for a substitute to plug the hole in its knowledge, finding it in a naturalist or physicalistic materialism. As Hilary Putnam points out: “the appeal of
materialism lies precisely in this, in its claim to benatural metaphysics, metaphysics within the bounds of science.” In this manner, materialism “has replaced positivism and pragmatism as the dominant contemporary form of scientism”, which he portrays as being “one of the most dangerous contemporary intellectual tendencies.”[^14]
Of course, a chief element of pre-modern scientific thinking was the lack of clear distinction between the sciences and philosophy, thus making the sciences dependent upon philosophy. This is true at least of the physical sciences, cosmology, and of psychology, which were treated under the category oft}abi>‘iyya>t ‘Physics’ in Islamic philosophy. Modern conceptions of scientific knowledge separate ‘science’ from any philosophical rationalist system, freeing the scientific method of empirical investigation and deduction from the worldview of a philosophic metaphysic. ‘Scientism’ attempts to fill this void by collapsing immaterial dimensions of human experience into the physical.