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reductive physicalism

Sunday 13 November 2005

A doctrine stating that everything in the world can be reduced down to its fundamental physical, or material, basis. For this reason, the word "physicalism" is often used interchangeably with the word "materialism." Both terms hold that the real world consists only of matter and energy, and that all organic and inorganic processes can be explained by reference to the laws of nature. Physics, the main branch of science generally supporting this view, has been able to explain a large range of phenomena in terms of a few of these basic natural laws; such as gravity, electricity, composition of mass, etc.

Essentially, reductive physicalism proposes that the properties of larger objects or entities are determined by those of their physical parts. Thus, in the area of cognitive science and psychology, a person’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations are seen as issuing from certain physical (chemical and biological) components of a person’s physiological makeup. In other words, once all talk about minds and consciousness is reduced to its most basic level, then all we are left with is talk about about physical facts. Challenging this reductionism is the fact that physiologists are far from making exact correlations between neural states and even one mental state.