Sorry Pete I meant materialist in the sense of adopting the philosophical position that everything that exists is composed of material and has a material cause. I meant no judgement on your empathy or compassion.
Once again I find it really interesting how a materialist finds it very difficult to use language that is not self-contradictory.
Calling it an illusion simply means that the processes involved are invisible to us and so we assume, perhaps out of necessity, that the narrative we 'hear' in our heads is something separate, an essence beyond the chemistry. It's sort of like how we somewhat naturally project upon inanimate things as possessing mind. The sea was angry, the car was a good friend, except in a more intimate way.
Who is the “we” who hears something in our heads? The statement assumes the very thing it seeks to deny: that there is a fundamental conscioness to begin with. And clearly it is not the same as attributing agency to the sea or to a car. A proper analogy would be if the sea or a car attributed agency to itself! If somehow the sea or a car deluded itself into thinking it had consciousness. Which they cannot do, of course, because they are not conscious. Back to square one. Daniel Dennet has tried extremely hard to find a form of language that reduces consciousness to the physical events in the brain without contradicting himself in this way. Even such a prominent proponent of reductionism cannot manage to do so.
The inconvenient situation for materilists is that the mental world exists and is not the same as the material world. It is very true that mental phenomena correlate to chemical and material processes in the brain and body, but this does not mean they are identical to those material things. A thought exists just as much as the chemicals exist in the brain that coincide with the thought, and one cannot be reduced to the other, no more than, to use the music analogy, the notes on a page are identical to the musical sound produced by an orchestra. There is certainly a close like between the two. Yet it would be odd to deny that musical notes on a page and music from an orchestra are two different things and that both are “real” and not simply misunderstanding one for another.
Similarly thoughts are real and chemicals in the brain are real. They are both real. Materialists say only the chemicals really exist and idealists say that only thoughts really exist. Both are wrong. Of course the reason why materialists are so resistant to the idea that things can exist that are not made of material, is that if you allow that thoughts and consciouness are real, but not material, then where do you draw the line? Can things have non material causes? Can beings exist without material bodies? It’s more difficult to rule these things out if you don’t hold to reductionist materialism. Which is why some atheists such as Dennett tie themselves in knots defending materialism even beyond logic or common sense experience.
Good discussion about emergence and reductionism: