Quidism: the belief that things matter

The belief that nothing has objective or inherent meaning – commonly called nihilism – is quite popular these days. In some ways I’m sympathetic: if you come to reject or at least harbor serious skepticism of the existence of a non-material, spiritual realm, and that’s where you put ultimate meaning, then brute material reality seemingly leaves you with nothing.

But nihilism in that bare “nothing matters” sense is almost never what people embrace. The fact they get up in the morning, or breath in any given moment, seems to continuously contradict such an assertion. Usually people prepend some modifier to “nihilism” that makes it no longer really nihilist: “optimistic nihilism”, “hopeful nihilism” or whatever. Now it’s admitting that something does matter – else why even believe things can be better (as the optimist) or dare hope that they could be? Thus the adjective that clarifies that the philosophy’s not so bleak as all that. Not so nihilist.

I got my monism largely from Mormonism:

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;

We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.

Doctrine and Covenants 131:7

I don’t consider Joseph Smith a prophet in any spiritual sense. But he dabbled in interesting philosophies and ideas, and some of those have merit, and I’m grateful to that extent that his creativity let those ideas spread. (He also advocated and practiced some truly terrible ideas….)

The argument for monism is basically Occam’s Razor: it’s a simpler model of reality for there to be one type of thing rather than two.

The difficulty is that we don’t know how that could possibly be true.

Pascal wrestled with this in the 17th century:

But the parts of the world are all so related and linked to one another, that I believe it impossible to know one without the other and without the whole….

And what completes our incapability of knowing things, is the fact that they are simple, and that we are composed of two opposite natures, different in kind, soul and body. For it is impossible that our rational part should be other than spiritual; and if any one maintain that we are simply corporeal, this would far more exclude us from the knowledge of things, there being nothing so inconceivable as to say that matter knows itself. It is impossible to imagine how it should know itself….

Who would not think, seeing us compose all things of mind and body, but that this mixture would be quite intelligible to us? Yet it is the very thing we least understand. Man is to himself the most wonderful object in nature; for he cannot conceive what the body is, still less what the mind is, and least of all how a body should be united to a mind. This is the consummation of his difficulties, and yet it is his very being. Modus quo corporibus adhærent spiritus comprehendi ab hominibus non potest, et hoc tamen homo est. [The manner in which spirits adhere to bodies cannot be understood by men, and yet this is man.]

Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 72

To the philosopher’s assertion that “it is impossible” I say: never say never.

It is certainly more conceivable in 2024 than it was in 1670 that matter might “know itself”, with neural network language models writing eloquently enough that some are persuaded they’re conscious.

Of course that doesn’t come close to resolving the old mind/body split, but it brings the two putative worlds that much closer together.

That is only one aspect of the mind-body problem. The more difficult nut to crack may be the nature of subjective experience itself.

That problem may be formulated in various ways, but I prefer the question, “How are material reality and subjective experience actually the same phenomenon?”

It’s not so different from so-called wave-particle duality. And the partial resolution is to accept a hybrid phenomenon, the wave-particle, which behaves as both, but is one thing.

So the body-mind (please forgive the woo connotations) is both the thing that contains (or generates?) subjective experience, and the brain and neural structures that correlate thereto.

Strong evidence being the change in mental abilities caused by stroke or other brain injuries.

This tells us that, but certainly not how.

And what does this have to do with nihilism, or quidism for that matter?

Human beings, by having such large mental capacity relative to other animals, can get lost in their mental constructs. And in that far-removed space of thought, many philosophers, pretending to be disembodied, have thought themselves into believing that nothing matters, because their thought-forms of meaning all prove malleable, impermanent, subject to critique.

Forgetting that their material embodiment, the substrate on which thought rests and prerequisite for their seeming deconstruction of all meaning, itself lends meaning to their existence, by way of pleasure and suffering.

Forgetting as Pascal believed that “the parts of the world are all so related and linked to one another” that the pleasure and suffering of one individual is inextricably linked to all the world around them, nature, human society, the technological world – everything.

The only way to be truly nihilist is to ignore one’s own existence in the present moment. Is it not “ultimate” meaning? What’s not ultimate about being the only state of existence to exist – even if it will always eventually change?

What is not ultimate about the life that an individual lives – which is the sum totality of all that they could possibly ever experience? That it ends? If it did not end, would we not be saying that its infinity makes it non-ultimate, because it never experiences its own end?

Not ultimate, because supposedly the universe will arrive at heat death?

As if we even know what matter and conscious experience are, and can interpret the significance of that putative, far-far-distant event, assuming it will even happen, and that the concept stays coherent in light of what we in the future discover about reality.

Quidism is the belief that things matter.

Nearly everybody believes that, as revealed by their actions.

The opposite belief seems quite fashionable these days, but seems unjustified by the nature of reality as we understand it, and quite dumb as a life philosophy.

The belief that things matter deserves a name, so I coined the word quidism, and wrote this article.

Spread the word.

It’s an idea that matters.






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