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.
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