Is physicalism "really" true?: an empirical argument against the universal construal of physicalism

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Smith, Paul H., 1952-

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Physicalism as universally construed is the thesis that everything in the world is either physical or a consequence of physical facts. Certain consequences of physicalism for free will, religion, and so on make it unpalatable to some. Physicalism should not be dismissed merely on its unpalatability. Nonetheless, we should be very sure it is true before accepting it uncritically (as much of science and philosophy now do). Physicalism is a contingent thesis, taken as true on the basis of strong inductive evidence and an inference-to-the-best-explanation that specifies it as the best theory over any of its competitors to provide an ontological account of the universe. So long as there is no contrary evidence to the claims of physicalism, then it stands relatively uncontested.
I argue that there is a body of well-attested empirical evidence that falsifies universally-construed physicalism by violating an essential assumption of the theory – causal closure of the physical domain. I present a detailed account of this closure-violating evidence. So that those who are unfamiliar with the body of evidence on offer may judge its validity, I include brief summations of experimental designs, findings, and analyses, plus some controversies pertaining to the data and their resolutions. I then argue why this body of empirical evidence should count against universal physicalism, argue for the evidence’s scientific legitimacy, and discuss criticisms which have been lodged against it, then explain why these criticisms lack force.
I conclude that the evidence I present is sufficient to falsify the universal construal of physicalism as supported by today’s and by foreseeable future understandings of the physical world. I acknowledge, though, that nothing can be guaranteed against an indefinite “wait-and-see” argument for some implausible “fully-realized” physics that may be able to reconcile the evidence I propose with such a fully-completed formulation of physicalism. I suggest that if this is the best physicalists can come up with, then their position is weak and the inference-to-the-best-explanation that until now supported universal physicalism should be turned around to tell against the theory.




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