Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
You Do Not Come Disassembled
A Thought About the Self
Friday, January 27, 2017 3:19 pm
The person who bristles at being labeled is being childish. You are not a special snowflake; you are always a member of some category. The only matter with a label is its accuracy.

Call me a Thomist and you would be right. More to the point, presume that my metaphysical ruminations hardly originate with me. I'm not trying to break ground, here; I'm sharing an understanding that I have acquired. 

So I am David. David is not a soul inhabiting a body. My body is not a vessel. There is no ghost in the machine. While my soul, having immaterial aspects due to its rational nature, can exist apart from its material aspects, a human soul without a body is incomplete. Truncated; crippled. My soul is the form of David and that form properly entails the material.

I am reducible to neither my body nor my soul.

There is a tendency these days to think of the mind as a computer plugged into a body. It seems a useful analogy, sometimes. The problem is that one starts to think of separated processes in the mind because that is how computers work. Most especially, one thinks that the "mind" is the conscious bit of oneself, the you, and the unconscious bits are just the "brain," all but independent of the true self.

However, much as you must stop thinking of the soul and body as independent, you must stop thinking of the mind and brain as independent. When you drive to work and are thinking the whole time about something else and yet you are stopping at traffic lights and making those familiar turns, it is not a drive-to-work brain-bound subroutine that is getting you there, but you.

There is only one actor. And that assertion is not semantic; it is metaphysical.

Now, I'm not going to give a thoroughgoing defense of this idea. A good Thomist can do so (visit Edward Feser whenever you can). Rather, in this little blog post, I want only to prompt a shift in your thinking.

Do you recall that experiment that "proved" free will was an illusion? I recall that, eventually, the empirical facts were shown to be wrong; but accept that the experiment was empirically accurate in its results.

The "proof" was that when a subject picked up a cup, the brain fired off the muscle signals to pick up the cup before the subject consciously acted to pick up the cup. In other words, the decision to pick up the cup followed the movement to do so.

As you can see, the problem in this "proof" is the presumption that the conscious part of you is all of you; more subtly, that free will is implicated only in consciousness.

Or consider this. The free will in this case doesn't consist in the "decision" to pick up the cup; the free will was prior to that, when the subject decided to do what was asked of him. Picking up a cup does not require will as such. The subject knows how to pick up a cup. He is primed to act already. His muscles are in play even before he is consciously aware of what he is doing.

If the subject were instead told to stab someone, an if-then morality check — i.e., his conscience — kicks in. The muscle process is blocked. The consciousness is made aware, affirms the delay, and no stabbing occurs. And a well-formed conscience — that perennial check on "mindless" action — is the result of prior learning and training; of prior free will. Even the reflexive refusal to stab a man is ultimately the consequence of free will, whatever the milliseconds timing of this or that neuronal impulse.

Or consider this. Ultimately the mind is immaterial. The decision to act is made in an immaterial space. That a material detection of a "decision" should follow the material detection of a "movement" does not tell you what happened prior to both in the immaterial aspect of the mind.

Think about it.

Amid the Forests, Among the Stars
A Little Animism Might Help
Sunday, October 5, 2008 7:52 pm
When considering what has occupied thinkers until the modern age, it strikes me how unabashedly they ruminated on the non-material. For ancient and medieval thinkers, material things were not ultimate things, and truly ultimate things can and should be understood.

Modern materialists simply lack imagination. Maybe it is better to say that their imaginations cannot escape their machines and mathematics. Whatever strength of imagination they do have — to imagine, say, a warp in spacetime — they reject any concepts not reducible to the material.

Thus they are terribly hampered when it comes to thinking about the supernatural, let alone believing in God. Indeed, unlike the rest of us, they have no sense of the Divine. Perhaps they truly lack this sense. Rather than having plucked out their eyes, they were simply born blind. Either way, is it not amusing how they think themselves superior for being handicapped? It never occurs to them that they are in a minority not because they, as an elite, have transcended mankind, but because they are simply damaged. 

In any event, it seems that much of the difficulty in accepting God is rooted in an abandonment of philosophy. Natural science has progressively estranged itself from its parent. The modern materialist, at heart a scientist, no longer wonders about causes formal, efficient, and final. He simply doesn't wonder. They don't matter to him. He has, indeed, lost the very language to discuss them. All the terms and theories and modes and categories have been cast aside. And why? Because all of them were devised at first to explain the mundane: Why do things grow? Why do things fall? Why do things live? Why do things burn? Yet having explained the mundane with all his equations and having presumed there is an equation for everything, the materialist has no more need for philosophy.

Never mind Aristotle and Aquinas and their ilk. Consider animism. How is that things move? How is that some of them clearly move deliberately? Is there something that facilitates this animation of things? There is clearly a distinction between living and dead. Something enlivens. And is "living" restricted to beasts? Isn't the wind alive? Shouldn't it, too, have an animating spirit, as much as a mouse? Indeed, are any objects free of spirit? Is it not possible that all objects contain a spirit?

This is not an idiotic line of inquiry. It is reasonable. Just because we have since concluded that the wind has no spirit doesn't mean the evidence isn't there. What is unfortunate is that, having concluded via science that the wind is just an effect of the variously accelerated molecules in the atmosphere, the intuition at the core of animism has been lost. Did you know that the ancients even supposed that abstract emotions had spirits? Love was not only something experienced but something existent, an entity in possession of its own animating spirit. This is downright alien to modern thinking. It may be a refined animism far from the fields and forests, but it is still an animism.

Now, when we Christians say that God is Love, what are we saying, after all? We are saying that Love is an entity animated by a Spirit. Yet the materialist has so thoroughly discarded animistic thinking, he can't even suppose that Love might be more that just an affect of creatures. He can't imagine Love as Being. Sadly for him, so much of God is like that; and since he can't manage the tiniest bit of animistic thinking, he imagines God as only a kind of Spaghetti Monster. The materialist simply hasn't the philosophical disposition — the necessary cognitive tools — to transcend his inadequate notions of God.

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