I am now viewing a "documentary" called Enlightenment which is full of new age nonsense, but I am not able to make a good argument about some of the thoughts laid out there.

For example, one of the narrators state, that since the era of Pythagoras there is this notion of mind over body or idealism. And hence, it is a valid point to make that the mind is more in control of what's there than the physical reality is, mind rules the physical reality so to speak. There is that push of an idea that mind came before the matter, so that could imply that we could create our own reality.

Plato believes that there is this ideal plane where all the ideas exist and then reality is simply derivation of these ideas. If self-help people take this notion, then they can state that those ideas exist somewhere, it could be your mind, so if you create your own ideas then it's possible to see the derivatives of them in your life.

How would idealist respond to notion of magical thinking, why it can't be a thing? Or maybe he would ignore this topic completely?

  • Mind and matter are the same as the chicken and egg question of which came first. If you think mind controls matter, stop eating for 2 weeks and see what happens to your thoughts. They are both intertwined manifestations of something beyond both. I am not aware of any philosophers, East or West, that would correlate 'magic' and idealism. Commented Jan 23, 2021 at 6:44
  • What you are describing is the law of attraction, which is part of the new age mumbo jumbo and is indeed just fancy words for magical thinking, "wish strong enough and it will happen", a la Peter Pan. Idealism does not reduce to this and is in fact an umbrella term covering very different school of thoughts.
    – armand
    Commented Jan 23, 2021 at 23:00
  • Idealism does not mean that mind is simply unlimited. All forms of idealism include necessary limits to the ways in which we can coherently think, from logical contradiction to the "limits" presented by objects and the sensations by which minds comprehend them. While it is perfectly true that minds can alter matter, there are limits there as well. My mind can levitate a spoon, I just have to use my arm to do it. Commented Jan 23, 2021 at 23:16

2 Answers 2


You might like to consider Samuel Johnson's retort to Berkeley's subjective idealism: "I refute it thus!" * kicks stone *. This has been called the logical fallacy 'appeal to the stone'. But I think calling it a fallacy misses the point, which is that if there are regularities to the physical world which are unaffected by minds, they are functionally equivalent to a world independent of mind.

I would point out we can have no access to data not filtered through a mind, a subjectivity. This is important when we consider the nature of time, and whether it is something we use to organise experience, or fundamentally 'out there'. But, even that kind of radical scepticism about time and attendant causation, still leaves the regularities of nature as effectively unaffected by subjective experience. Conservation laws of energy & momentum are in some way neccessary preconditions for perceptions, so independent of them.

Yogacara philosophy, the stance of most Mahayana Buddhist schools is called the 'mind only' school takes this stance, that mental experience or subjectivity is fundamental - this is an important corrective to the idea there is a fundamentally objective reality, even though no one can experience it (the idea is a hang-over from monotheism). But the solipsist implication of this, is corrected by the 'chain of dependent origination', and functioning of karma which is of many types, like earthquakes aren't necessarily a judgement but are a necessary consequence of earth's magnetic field which allowed life to arise at all. Personal karma, is like the Stoic recognition, that we can't control events but we can control our response, and that in the long term that recognition can help us free ourselves from being conditioned by events.

An idealist like Plato or Berkeley, has to relate the patterns of external reality to internal patterns. For Plato experiences we have relate to the qualities we have in our soul or essential nature. For Berkeley, the external regularities are from God, and can be appealed to for exceptions. Tegmark & modern mathematical idealists take a subtler view, that there are larger realities of all possible events and laws, and regularities across extents of that domain. Tegmark's idea of universalising abstractions, doesn't leave space for magical thinking, because no consistent domain can allow it (any regularised & predictable 'magic' just becomes causation, ie the 'no miracles' argument of Hume).


Plato believes that there is this ideal plane where all the ideas exist and then reality is simply derivation of these ideas.

In contemporary English, we use the word "idea" as a synonym for "thought. However, in the Socratic period, the Greek word which we translate as "idea" did not have that meaning. Instead, it had the meaning of a "form" such as a saddle-maker might use to make saddles, or a shoe-maker to make shoes, or a brick-maker to make bricks. Thus, Plato's "idealism", is a different concept than the concept of "mind over matter".

According to our modern understanding of matter, on an atomic scale, and on a sub-atomic scale, there are certain entities, which we shall call particles, which belong to certain classes. For example, there are electrons, protons, etc. Particles of a given class, say electrons, are considered to be indistinguishable in a certain sense. We can distinguish particles by their history, that is, by the states they have been in. We can also distinguish particles by their current state. This electron is in a particular orbital of that particular atom. But, all electrons behave according to identical physical-mathematical laws. If I may speak for Plato, giving him a modern scientific understanding, the physical-mathematical laws that govern the behavior of sub-atomic particles are real. They exist objectively, and are not mere inventions of our mind. Our understanding of these laws may be incomplete, and our formulations of them faulty. However, the laws themselves, i.e. the rules which govern the behavior of atomic and sub-atomic particles are real. More than that, they are more fundamental to reality than any individual particle. Putting words in Plato's mouth, these laws are the "forms" to which individual particles of a given class con"form". They are "ideas", in the Platonic sense of the word. With that in mind,

reality is simply derivation of these ideas.

  • And, magical thinking..?
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jan 25, 2021 at 15:59

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