QR 1.2.1. Idealism vs. Physicalism

Western science traces back to Aristotle, a student of Plato who studied under Socrates, a Greek philosopher who lived when the word meant lover (philo) of wisdom (sophia). Plato argued that physical forms are generated by pre-existing ideal forms, a view later called idealism. Aristotle didn’t deny this, but noted that if ideal forms are abstractions, their causes could be found in physical things. Western science then focused on Aristotle’s physical causes, while western religion focused on Plato’s non-physical causes, but both saw the physical world as real.

Yet Plato’s premise was that the world reflects reality, like shadows on a wall [1]. In the West, the Gnostics concluded that the world was a lie created by a demiurge, ignorant of the original reality [2]. In the East, Chan Buddhism held that a universal essence of mind generates the observed world like bubbles on a sea, and Hinduism saw the physical world as Maya, an illusion created by God’s play (Lila). Yet at any time, only a few ever truly believed that the physical world wasn’t real in itself.
[1] In his analogy, people tied up in a dark cave with their backs to its exit see their shadows on the cave wall, created by sunlight from the outside, and take them to be reality.

2] In this story, the original “fullness” (Pistis Sophia) tries to make something new from herself but accidently creates a monstrous demiurge (lesser god). Ashamed she quarantines him. He being alone and thinking only he existed, creates our world in his own image, entrapping Sophia’s essence in a false physical world.