By what means would an immaterial being(assuming such a thing exists) create or do things in the material realm? Is this an impossible activity?

So philosophically, I'm asking how would one solve the interaction problem? And would an immaterial being have causal agency, or do only physical things have causal agency?

For example, how would an immaterial being like God, create the genetic code and assemble the amino acids and protein sequences in the right folding, chirality, and arrangement, necessary for life to arise?

  • Clarification would be helpful. Pardon me for bringing in ancient dilemmas. I mean to know your premises while you ask: 1) does DNA being instantiated, assembled and implemented in an other DNA implementation arriving at distinguishability from its host constitute "new" life? 2) you used the word "I" as part of "I'm asking" ... was that word in reference to matter which arose from an implementation of DNA, or did an immaterial reality affect a digital one, then affecting a phenomonalogical one, in essence answering your question by use of one word? 3) what does "God" mean? How does it apply? Feb 12, 2014 at 5:33
  • An interesting case is Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrianism, who is something like the imbuer of negentropy, and all created material things are decaying into chaos & entropy. Divine ordering can act against this.
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 24, 2018 at 16:10

6 Answers 6


There is one simple potential answer to this question: Conceptualize the material world as existing within the mind of the immaterial being.

This is classic Berkeleyan idealism, but in some ways it's easier to make sense of it in light of modern technology. For example, many people believe that our technology will someday progress to the point where we can simulate an entire universe on a computer (we can already simulate a tiny portion of one on currently available technology, i.e. in a video game). The universe in the computer is material, as far as the inhabitants know --it has all the interactions that we define as composing matter. However, it is truly just a simulation on a computer.

A computer is still a material object, but if you had an immaterial being with a sufficiently powerful mind, you wouldn't need a computer in order to create the simulation.

  • A video game only looks like a simulation if you take simulation to mean modelling everything. To simulate reality you'd also have to model the simulation modelling the simulation as that simulation is modelling reality. Its very unlikely that we will ever be in a position to simulate the universe. But we've always been able to simulate some part of it in many different ways. Feb 12, 2014 at 5:19
  • I don't usually argue with downvotes, but I'd like whomever issued it in this case to explain themselves. I think this is a perfectly reasonable answer to the question given. @MoziburUllah - I tend to agree with you, but your comment doesn't change the substance of my answer, since the computer simulation was just being used as guide to understand how a "material" existence could be created non-materially. In a sense, even a simple computer simulation of a bouncing ball is a simulated creation of matter. Feb 12, 2014 at 14:14
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    I agree. "Everything is in God" as a very simple and reasonable answer to the dualistic interaction problem. Compensated that downvote, though I do think that an explanation of what Berkeley sais about it, precisely, would be worth more than your analogy.
    – iphigenie
    Feb 12, 2014 at 14:19
  • @MoziburUllah: It would be impossible to perfectly simulate a non-infinite universe within itself, for the universe itself is the most efficient simulation. You might like these: The Computational Theory of the Laws of Nature and Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation.
    – labreuer
    Feb 12, 2014 at 18:03
  • Upvoted, but there are better models than Berkeley's that deserve a mention. It's all in the Baghavad Gita.
    – user20253
    Jul 25, 2018 at 14:30

I think that the "interaction problem" is not solved yet.

In the history of philosophy, you have a great deal of discussion about this issue; see for example in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy the entries on Descartes and the Pineal Gland and on Dualism.

The first problem is to define the "material real" : this concept is relative to our current scientific understanding; so it is not the same as the mechanicism of Descartes' times.

The second one is about "an immaterial being like God"; if you think to God in terms of western theological (medieval) tradition... why bother: He is omnipotent, and so on.

If you think to a modern software, then its immateriality does not implies those kind of "powers".


I suggest looking at the von Neumann–Wigner interpretation interpretation of quantum mechanics, also known as "consciousness causes collapse". A key section in that article is:

To many scientists this interpretation fails to compete with other interpretations of quantum mechanics because "consciousness causes collapse" relies upon an interactionist form of Dualism (philosophy of mind) that is inconsistent with the materialism presupposed by many physicists.[3] The measurement problem not withstanding, they point to a causal closure of physics, suggesting a problem with how consciousness and matter might interact, reminiscent of objections to Descartes' substance dualism.

So you can see that the objection to this interpretation is precisely that it posits "an interactionist form of Dualism", which is precisely the kind of dualism you're interested in. The following paragraph is also of interest:

The only form of interactionist dualism that has seemed even remotely tenable in the contemporary picture is one that exploits certain properties of quantum mechanics. There are two ways this might go. First, some [e.g., Eccles 1986] have appealed to the existence of quantum indeterminacy, and have suggested that a nonphysical consciousness might be responsible for filling the resultant causal gaps, determining which values some physical magnitudes might take within an apparently "probabilistic" distribution… This is an audacious and interesting suggestion, but it has a number of problems… A second way in which quantum mechanics bears on the issue of causal closure lies with the fact that in some interpretations of the quantum formalism, consciousness itself plays a vital causal role, being required to bring about the so-called "collapse of the wave-function." This collapse is supposed to occur upon any act of measurement; and in one interpretation, the only way to distinguish a measurement from a nonmeasurement is via the presence of consciousness. This theory is certainly not universally accepted (for a start, it presupposes that consciousness is not itself physical, surely contrary to the views of most physicists), and I do not accept it myself, but in any case it seems that the kind of causal work consciousness performs here is quite different from the kind required for consciousness to play a role in directing behavior… In any case, all versions of interactionist dualism have a conceptual problem that suggests that they are less successful in avoiding epiphenomenalism than they might seem; or at least they are no better off than [naturalistic dualism]. Even on these views, there is a sense in which the phenomenal is irrelevant. We can always subtract the phenomenal component from any explanatory account, yielding a purely causal component.[7]

— David Chalmers, "The Irreducibility of Consciousness" in The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory


In Spinoza's metaphysics God is the sole substance with an infinity of attributes, two of which are extension and thought. How these two attributes manifest themselves describes nature, ourselves included.

So our immaterial minds affect material matter though the substance of God. That is the motion of mind causes the motion of matter through God. This isn't a million miles away from al-Ghazali's Occasionalism. God, from this perspective, is nearer to us than our jugular vein.

Notably, Descartes who introduced the division between mind and matter also had to smuggle in God to keep his universe moving.

Epicurus denied that there was an immaterial world. He held that only the material world existed. What appears to be immaterial is of another substance, the name of which hasn't come down to us.


Duality of material and immaterial is itself a debate, so this question begs that question ( as has been noted ). But, whether there be 'duality' of material and immaterial or not, what would seem to be separated by 'duality' and unified otherwise, is essentially the one reality of energy vibrating. Thought and space, emotion and matter, also are energy at a frequency of vibration. This goes deeply into many focuses and controversies - but it is self-evident1 - and yet subtle, and abstract. It can be osbscured.

The way to access and interact with any world, phenomenological or otherwise, is the plane of energy and vibration which integrates and substantiates all else, whether that be perceivable or unmanifest.

There will be a crying out for proof because of my assertion, I know, in times and places where energy and vibration is not a known or common state of being. Strangely, there is frequent use of the word "I" in these same times and places, by the same individuals who cannot find proof of energy and vibration. How the word "I" can be used with such fervency as if the word was defined and proven, is odd. Similarly, it is odd to many who do know the nature of energy and how to hold frequencies, how that reality is questioned, like "I" ought to be questioned, or "God" ought to be, as words legitimately used. The "God" and "I" presuppositions are secondary to a wider presupposition I pinpoint in my footnote.

It is possible to hold a frequency of vibration in a medium - thought or similar, such as by encouraging and sustaining an emotion as actors do - and by that focusing an energy that is itself manifest. It is possible ( and common ) to manifest phenomenological realities and events without "being" material in nature. To manifest is one of many formats of energy of a certain frequency of vibration. Interestingly, only one of the many "channels" or functionary posts of energy vibrations is manifestation. Others include: transformation, unification of many parts into one whole, resolution of disunity among pieces, substantiation and completedness, initiation, choice, etc.

Using the metaphor of actors again, the sustained focus of an energy gives rise to scenes and characters and entire works of art which become known and distributed, with many individuals participating. Such is history and what we call life, events, reality, etc. Through energy vibrations one can absolutely then be perceived in what we call 'material'. Take directors for example, through the actors. The "I" we call "me" is essentially a director and actor, through the medium of a body. But the same director could work through other means, such as the direct way: holding a frequency of energy vibration. Right now, these words in this question are like a slide on a projector, focusing a thought in view of your consciousness, manifesting it there. Agreement with what I assert is secondary. The eyes and light and material plane are also secondary. At first, now as I write, my intent was given as words and those words convey my existence which is in part holding the vibration of energy which sustains my thought, and which my thought sustains in return, synergistically ( totally separate topic, because my assertion is congruent with reality, and therefore it does not take much intention to hold the frequency ).

The willful originator of a causal thought or emotion used as a means of holding a certain frequency of vibration is easily interactive and causal through objects of manifest appearance in matter, without the causal origin being material in form, just as those who additionally wield a body. The sole variable is the focused willfulness of what would also need to be a self-aware and self-conscious participant observer.

1. The self-evident nature of energy being the basis for all, is obscured by a single prevalent presupposition, not unproven. The conscious self is aware they are aware, and hence conscious. However if the awareness of a conscious self becomes preoccupied with another awareness, or their awareness becomes dissipated by an awareness which is not an awareness but a fixation on an error, that self is limited to the view of them self or the world that is allowed by the worse error, not the loudest truth. The truth can be used to remove the error, but the error, left intact, can also dismiss reality for that moment. Honesty is the courage to reverse the reversal of truth, usually, which involves deeply and widely questioning the otherwise obvious. But the fixation I will outline so wide-spread most individuals are not accustomed at all to being in any other frame of reference, or having any other state of being:

There is a wide spread conviction that individual life is primarily physical or entirely physical, and that format of physicality is reality, which is caused and sustained ( it is an energy in vibration, and held to an extreme ) through calendrics. Calendrics is a specific form of chronomics, which is a form of language and communication and a way of understanding others, based on timing rather than symbols or semantics. The medium is the message, and the medium is: object ( "Earth" ) orbits ( "moves through space in an oval shape" ) around object ( "Sun" ). This introduces and sustains two objects and one answer for the meaning of life. An oval shaped journey measured as 365.2524 days and called a year.

Currently there are only physically based calendrics in use in the established world ( in the most sustained and intently entrenched vibration of energy ). This produces physically focused adherents to a certain language of reality, and that language of reality is thus "truth." In other words, physical calendrics is "God" - that is the best definition of the word. Even "money" depends on calendrics. Also, calendrics is the entire underpinning of what is built upon that imposed group self-awareness / mythology, which is civilization / society ( note: not "community" which is not dependent on rule of law, which is dependent on calendrics - "to date" - as that is controlled by certain courts which exist at pre-decided times, in pre-decided places, chosen long ago and not questioned and replaced "to date" ).

With every single voice in an argument agreeing on one thing, there is no real debate on anything else, only squabbling among people fundamentally agreed. Even if there were disagreement enough to cause all to part company ( physically ), there would still not be enough to force them from out of the same core group unless they also severed all other bonds, such as language, financial concepts, law, etc - and calendrics. Even if those of us on this thread share different views, we all share the same need ( not desire ) to adhere to a certain calendric. So though we may all disagree, only some of us might be able to actually know any other reality than the area in dispute. So there is no real way unless someone has a way to provide one, such as what I am doing here, to provide a way for the topic to exit a deadlock and be discussed without one core and all permeating presumption, obscuring all almost entirely. Again, there is not absence of proof or absence of self-evidence of energy vibration, there is inability to see through an obscurity. There are few communities and individuals who have overcome this difficulty, but it has been done. It is unpopular though, because it involves a total reconsideration of everything, including who one is. Especially who one is. Sadly, most prefer not to do that.

  • This sentence does not make sense:"Regardless, whether there be duality or not, all is essentially energy and vibration. Thought and space also are energy at a frequency of vibration." Specifically, the conjunction of dualism and then reductinism.
    – virmaior
    Feb 11, 2014 at 23:50
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    I plus oned you because it was a good answer. It does assume a lot though. That thought and matter exist as varying vibrational frequencies is not an absolute truth.
    – dgo
    Feb 11, 2014 at 23:50
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    You seem not to be sure whether or not your propositions are obvious, subtle, controvertial, or self-evident; and your defense against proving your assertions are that others have undefined terms themselves. Furthermore, while you touch on several topics of ongoing interest in philosophy (the notion of the self, whether energy should be thought 'immaterial' per se, the ethics of honesty, and others), it is unclear what relation these digressions have to the OP. Could I convince you to revise your answer somewhat, postponing your digressions for questions for which they would be more topical? Feb 12, 2014 at 11:32
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    I did give a -1 vote, but only because I do not feel that your answer manages to communicate in the way that we seek to, on this site. If you feel that your answer would be ruined by omission of any detail, then we simply disagree on what represents a useful answer. However, negative votes can be provisional, and perhaps with time you might be able to recognise that some of the many details you provide are not so much essential as tangential --- forming part of a larger whole, but not playing an efficient role in answering this question. If you then hone your answer, my vote may be undone. Feb 12, 2014 at 11:54
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    Lol. I glanced at the revised answer and I instantly blacked out from the confront of reading the whole thing.
    – dgo
    Feb 13, 2014 at 20:47

An immaterial being interacting with a physical object (e.g. the entire universe) would need an interface mechanism. Just like we need a physical keyboard creating electrical signals to interface with software. Although granted this happens in the other direction: material to immaterial. But then, you also have software controlling physical machines, so the analogy holds.

There must exist an interface between the material and immaterial. I think String Theory got close to explaining how such an interface might work, although that doesn't mean it described the actual method.

One can definitely quibble about the exact definition of "immaterial", but that won't get us anywhere, if internet history has taught us anything.

  • I don't like this answer, because the "interface" described does not seem to do much in addressing the question other than to shift the mystery from one place to another.
    – firtydank
    Feb 12, 2014 at 9:35
  • I am sorry that you don't like it. Feb 12, 2014 at 12:07
  • That's OK, just giving feedback. Use it, don't use it.
    – firtydank
    Feb 12, 2014 at 12:24
  • String theory is property dualist, not substance dualist, so no interface required. Descarte proposed a special part of the human brain interfaces with the soul, and animals lack of this makes them beast machines. Aristotle saw souls as supervening, another mode of interface.
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 25, 2018 at 11:10

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