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Exorcizing the Ghost from the Machine?

Ghost2

Not too long ago Patrick Schultz wrote a most interesting article for StrangeNotions.com on the nature of the “self” (or rather, the lack of one) if we attempt to describe human beings in material terms. Specifically, he says, when materialists try to explain the human person, “something quite puzzling (and frightening) occurs—human subjectivity disappears; that which makes humans human is explained away. The personal pronoun ‘I’ is swallowed up.”

Shultz then illustrates this idea through the words of one of my favourite popular science writers, Carl Sagan. A materialist himself (he famously imagined human beings as “stardust”), Sagan once described himself as “a collection of water, calcium, and organic molecules called Carl Sagan. You are a collection of almost identical molecules with a different collective label.”1 When talking about himself, Sagan does not describe a single entity, but a collection of many diverse particles, piled five feet and eleven inches high (or so Google told me when I asked it how tall he was). I might refer to Sagan, were he alive and standing near me today (along with myself), as a particular assortment of chemical compounds, the sum total of all those little “parts”.

But this is of course contrary to my intuitive experience, and I’m sure the same is true for you as well. As a matter of fact, I happen to be standing in front of my computer right now typing these words, just as (a bit later from my point of view) you now happen to be reading them. In either case, “I” and “you” are singular pronouns, and I certainly experience this moment as a single united experience: there are my thoughts as I write, the movement of my hands across the keyboard, the David Bowie album I happen to be listening to (1976’s Station to Station), my simultaneous Facebook chat with a good friend (Hello Paulina!) and the sight of these very words as they appear on the screen. All these things, occurring simultaneously in this present moment, are part of a single noisy, busy, (yet somehow) unified experience, which I am now living.

But how can that be? How can I be, if I am really nothing but an assemblage of collected chemical compounds, or (perhaps better), a mobile bag of (mostly) water? Where am I located, in the midst of all these collected bits and diverse streams of experience? It seems strange that I should be only “one”, experiencing the world as a single thing (my “self”), for the many particles composing my body are not one, and water molecules are not conscious (otherwise, since the brain is about 75% water, we might hope to increase our intelligence by drinking more of it). Schultz ends his article with the illustration of the Iron Man’s empty suit (sans Tony Stark), and asks us to imagine that materialists are essentially saying that this is all human beings really are (though I prefer the more timeless idea of an empty suit of knight’s armor. But I digress). So has Schultz pointed out the Achilles’ heel of materialism? After all, how could something so absurd be true?

Even though Schultz and I certainly play for the same team, theologically speaking, I would have to disagree with him. Because the reality, I think, is so much more complicated. The self does indeed exist (it would be silly to deny such a thing, for one must have a “self” if one is to deny it, accept it, or try to imagine it). And so the question is this: Where does the “self” come from? Put differently, how can I understand my “self” in relation to the particles composing my body? What I would like to do with the remainder of is article, then, is to consider these questions.

Mind and matter and matter and mind

One fact that we must take into account, if we are going to explain the existence of the mind, is its apparent dependence upon the “stuff” of the brain. Neurons, the pathways between them, and the activity in which they engage, all seem instrumental and necessary if we hope to think, act, or interact with the world. Drop a brick on my head, damage or destroy a part of the brain, and my abilities will become impaired.

The correspondence between damage to the brain and cognitive ability was noted famously over 150 years ago by the French physician Pierre Paul Broca, and the discovery he made while doing the autopsy of a man known as “Tan”. Tan had been hospitalized for many years, and had almost completely lost the ability to speak; the only word he could say, in fact, was “Tan”, and he repeated it over and over as he attempted to communicate. Following Tan’s death, when Broca removed and studied his brain, Broca found extensive damage to the frontal lobe of its left hemisphere, to an area known today as “Broca’s area”. Later studies confirmed that this particular brain region was responsible for producing spoken language. Damage it, and you would destroy anyone’s ability to speak.2

This, and many other cases (such as the famous example of Phineas Gage, whom I would recommend you read all about) suggests a definite correspondence between my subjective experience and abilities, and the particles composing my body (and more specifically, my brain).

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Another idea I would like to consider, as we contemplate the nature of the mind (and of the self) is the idea of “emergence”. This is basically the idea that things can in fact be more than the sum of their parts. In other words, I can be made of all the things Carl Sagan listed (water, calcium, and organic molecules), and yet still be more than that, as a unique, living, thinking being.

Consider water, for example. Not only does the stuff comprise most of our bodies, but it is itself comprised of two distinct components (hydrogen and oxygen). Hydrogen and oxygen are two completely different things, each with its own chemical and physical properties. And yet when they combine together, as two hydrogen atoms bond with an oxygen atom, they produce something new (water!), with chemical and physical properties all its own. And so the many combine into one, and the one is different from those components out of which it is comprised. Water behaves in a way in which hydrogen or oxygen alone never would. Other chemical compounds behave differently with one another, then, than they otherwise would. And this may be something important to keep in mind (no pun intended).

Sagan may have described himself as a collection of chemical compounds, but it’s important to realize that these compounds may behave in distinct and unexpected ways when in “close quarters” (or held together by the same skin and skeletal structure). Perhaps self-awareness and intelligence are very unusual (even miraculous) sorts of chemical reactions arising from compounds composing the human body?

A simple illustration. I cannot build a snowman out of one hydrogen atom, or even a the contents of a tank filled with hydrogen, but bond a hydrogen atom to an oxygen atom (many times), accumulate a large amount of water, freeze it under the right conditions, and make the proper deliberate actions (rolling the snow into balls and stacking them) and I can! I can hardly accurately describe my snowman as a collection of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. After all, the temperature, the structure and properties of snowflakes, and my wish to build a snowman have all combined to create something which is more than just the sum of its parts.

The point is, a suit of armor (or Tony Stark’s suit) is indeed inert and “nothing-buttery”; it is only a fancy hunk of metal, so long as there’s no one inside it. But the human body is very different from a suit of armor; it is active and alive, containing a plethora of varied chemical compounds that act and interact with one another. My “self”, then, could be such an emergent property, arising from the structure, properties, and interactions occurring between my own component parts.

I am Large; I Contain Multitudes

Let’s put all this together now, with one other interesting fact about the brain, as I think it will shed some new (and surprising) light on the nature of the mind. We’ve been searching for the one “self” amongst the bits and pieces and particles composing the body (and especially the brain). But what if the truth were more complicated? 160 years ago the poet Walt Whitman wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes.”3 And though he could not have known it then, Whitman may have been literally right. While treating patients suffering from epilepsy, neurobiologist Roger Sperry cut the nerves connecting the left and right hemispheres of the brain. This experimental surgery was done to prevent seizures from spreading from one side of the brain to the other. But then something incredible happened: each half of the brain, severed from the other, appeared to take on a life of its own. Each hemisphere became the source of a separate mind, each one of equal intelligence but differing in abilities.4 Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, who worked under Dr. Sperry at that time, describes what happened:

In later experiments with other patients, we put assorted objects within reach of the left hand but blocked form view. A picture of one of the objects was flashed to the right hemisphere, and the left hand felt among the objects and was able to select the one that had been pictured. When asked, “Did you see anything?” or “What is in your left hand?” the patient denied seeing the picture and could not describe what was in his left hand. In another scenario we flashed the picture of a bicycle to the right hemisphere and asked the patient if he had seen anything. Once again he replied in the negative, but his left hand drew a picture of a bike.5

But Gazzaniga does not suggest that every human being is in fact a pair, or two minds sharing one body (recall Aristophanes’ story from Plato’s Symposium). Rather, Gazzaniga goes much further than that, suggesting that each hemisphere is composed of many smaller “minds”, and that these little minds (or sites of particular mental process) connect together to form larger and more complex structures capable of doing and understanding more and more. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, growing larger and larger as it accumulates more and more snow. Smaller brain structures connect together to form the two hemispheres, which in turn connect together to form a whole brain and a single “self”. [vi] Out of many, one.

Though a strange idea, it isn’t really all that new. Long before Walt Whitman, Plato suggested the same thing in The Republic. There we can read Socrates’ comparison of the human being to a city, and his suggestion that the former is just a smaller version of the latter. After all, our bodies are composed of cells which perform specific tasks, and so too are cities composed of people who go to do their jobs every day. Human bodies are “cities” built up out of cells, their tissues which are made of cells, their organs (made of tissues), and systems (made of organs), thus making the body a complete whole of cooperating interdependent parts. Plato thought our cities were built the same way: our countries are formed of similar units: people instead of cells, families and associations composed of individual people, institutions made of families and associations, and society as a whole. As above, so below.

Conclusion

So we might be able to understand the “self” as a real thing that nonetheless depends on a very specific combination of chemical compounds, chemical reactions, structure, and environment (since human bodies would not survive on the surface of the sun, for example). Naturally, though, plenty of mysteries remain, as the complexity of this structure and the nature of all the chemical reactions taking place within our bodies continue to lie beyond our present understanding. We can remain open to the mystery of how such a remarkable thing as the “self” could have ever arisen in nature (if we are naturalists, that is. Theists, of course, already know the answer to that mystery). And we can marvel at the nature of the “self” that emerges from such a remarkable set of circumstances and is capable of doing so much (music, art, novels, pyramids, rocket ships, roller-coasters, and everything else we can create).

One last thing deserves a mention. I would like to remind readers that the idea of the “self” as a result of environment, structure, and chemical reactions does not invalidate the idea of the soul. Not at all. Already, I have noted the similarity of Gazzaniga’s idea of the mind as a collection of smaller minds to the idea of the human being described in Plato’s Republic. And any student of Aristotle knows that the soul is best understood as the form (or the “living structure”) of the body. According to Aristotle’s understanding, the soul is the power a human being has to grow, move, or think. Even if the “self” is indeed the result of a collection of chemical compounds or an assemblage of particles, I don’t think Schultz has any reason to worry.

I am still here.
 
 
(Image credit: New Statesman)

Notes:

  1. Sagan, C. 1980/2013. Cosmos. New York: Ballantine. pg. 134.
  2. Seung, S. 2012. Connectome: How the brain's wiring makes us who we are. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pg. 11-12.
  3. Whitman, W. 2010. Song of myself and other poems. R. Hass & P. Ebencamp (Eds). Berkeley: Counterpoint Books. pg. 131.
  4. Gazzaniga, M.S. 2011.Who’s in charge? Free will and the science of the brain. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. pg. 31.
  5. Ibid., pg. 57.
Matthew Allen Newland

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Matthew Allen Newland, PhD (c) studies at the Dominican University College of Ottawa, Ontario. He lives in Montreal, Quebec with his lovely wife, Olesia, and their two young children. He recently published his first book, Waiting in Joyful Hope: Reflections on Humanity’s Desire for Immortality and Its Possibility, which considers the possibility of bodily resurrection in greater detail.

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  • Nick Cotta

    This is a very good post and the reason is that it does a very good job of dismantling the "narrative of reductionism" that is so often the grand narrative of scientism, the idea that forms are an illusion, an illusion based solely on what little things that comprise them are doing. This is the essential narrative of most modern scientists and atheists - the fact that sums of parts have different properties doesn't really strike them as true, actually true, substantively and practically true. The analogy of the water molecules illustrates this case in a visceral way.
    When you begin to think of humans as the sums of their parts, the idea that the world was created to produce them makes much more sense, and instead of viewing humanity as some tiny bits of the universe that is just a random collection of molecules that has coalesced itself in to a certain self awareness, it is more believable that the entire sum of creation could be a reflection of God, with intelligent beings as the apex of that creation. The following link I think goes really well the article here:

    http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2014/06/vulgar-adolescent-bigness-fetishizers/

    • Matthew Newland

      Thank you, Nick. And this question of how such emergence could occur from the fundamental unites composing the universe is a whole nother mystery to solve. One philosopher who tried was the Australian, Samuel Alexander. He imagined the whole cosmos to be composed of "fundamental points of Space-Time" and that a force he called "The Nisus" inspires those points to assemble into larger and more complex structures.

      What's interesting about Alexander's take on the Cosmos is that GOD is not the source of the universe or it's maker; rather, GOD is the end result (the Nisus gives rise to greater and greater structures (chemical reactions, life, thought, and eventually divinity). So GOD is something the whole cosmos is evolving toward.

      A tangent, I realize, but an interesting one!

    • Damon

      the fact that sums of parts have different properties doesn't really strike them as true, actually true, substantively and practically true.

      I'm not sure this statement is accurate. The concept of emergent properties is pretty crucial to our contemporary understanding of Biology, I'd be surprised to find a reductionist that denies emergent properties exist.

      When you begin to think of humans as the sums of their parts, the idea that the world was created to produce them makes much more sense

      Even through this lens I still find the idea that the world was created to produce human beings a difficult concept to accept. For a world with the ability to support life, the Earth is awfully good at killing it.

      • Matthew Newland

        Though we're a rather successful species, I must say (and the environment would ... often ... unfortunately agree, as we have spread from the Arctic Circle to New Zealand (no more moas, which I certainly regret).

        And perhaps I was being dismissive of biology, which of course is nested above physics and chemistry as the study of emergent properties. I guess I had Schultz's article (and Carl Sagan's quote) on my mind more than anything else.

      • Nick Cotta

        Yes, I am not denying that scientific atheists disbelieve in emergent properties, but more that they believe them in in the context of reductionist determinism. I would label reductionist determinism as any sort of narrative in the style of Sam Harris - that everything is hopelessly the result of everything that came before it in a dominoes sort of way.

        Yes, but temporal life and death is not exactly akin to Christian life and death so we would not really have a common point of reference here in discussing the "Earth killing life". Life and death is not a euclidean thing; it is a God-not God thing to us.

        • William Davis

          I'm technically and atheist (I accept the Spinozan proof of God), and I think you've gotten to the crux of the issue. I hold out the possibility that there may be a creator deity that we know absolutely nothing about. The problem is that if this deity is omniscient, it would have absolutely no need to interfere with his creation. Being of full knowledge, he would have made it exactly right from the beginning, to interfere with his creation would be to admit a mistake (like me when I have to debug a program I wrote). I was raised in Christianity, but found it to be impossibly contradictory by the time I was 12, I find it odd that many people do not see it this way. I am posses by an intellectual "love of God" and find the beautiful laws of physics to be much closer to "divine truth" than any man made stories and parables. I don't think my path is for everyone, but perhaps we are observing the same thing with very different perceptions, perhaps God is so big, there is no "one way" to describe him.

          • Nick Cotta

            The problem with this is that the idea that it throws out the possibility that a perfect being would create imperfect beings.

            Your "logical" version of God would just create complex robots, not persons. Lesser beings than the perfect God would naturally be imperfect, and this would not mean that God shouldn't create them nor would we want to be created.

          • William Davis

            What is a perfect being? The idea that humans are "imperfect" is incredibly vague. Many of our "imperfections" double as strength (such as pattern recognition). The gene for sicle cell anemia grants immunity to malaria, so with one lens something that appears imperfect, appears adaptive and "perfect" when looked at through another lens. No matter what people achieve, we are never satisfied, nothing is ever good enough. I can go to the example of a "perfect" island. It can never really be perfect, because you could always add more to it to make it more "perfect". Perhaps, by definition, God is the only perfect being possible, and perhaps we still don't know what perfect means, lol.

          • Max Driffill

            We are biological machines.

        • Damon

          Your point in the last paragraph escapes me. As I understand you, you believe that the world was created to produce human life, but the fact that Earth is also fine-tuned to kill human life (all life, really) is not evidence against this belief because temporal life and Christian life are not the same? I don't understand how this makes sense.

    • Doug Shaver

      it is more believable that the entire sum of creation could be a reflection of God, with intelligent beings as the apex of that creation.

      I don't find it more believable. But I do see how much more gratifying it is to the human ego to think that way.

  • Patrick Schultz

    Matthew, brilliant piece! I appreciate you furthering the argument and discussion concerning subjectivity, the self, and the mind-body question. I have no comments, critiques, or follow-up questions (for now ; ), only just to say job well done!

    • Matthew Newland

      Wow ... you are too kind, Patrick. If it helps, I enjoyed your article enough to want to respond, so ... thank you. :) But please do let me know if you have anything more to say; I think we could have a really interesting conversation.

      In the end, you and I both agree on *what* we human beings are ... for us, it's simply a question of *how* we are what we are.

  • Damon

    Excellent rebuttal to Schultz's earlier article. I'm glad that both naturalists and theists can agree that consciousness, or "the self”, is an emergent phenomenon resulting from a very specific combination of chemical compounds, chemical reactions, structure, and environment. The only question still lingering in my mind is this:

    As mentioned in the final paragraph, the facts discussed in this article do not invalid the concept of the soul. However, don't they make the idea of a soul rather redundant? The author tries preempt this objection at the end by defining the soul as "the power a human being has to grow, move, or think" but this point is not made very clear. How is the idea of a soul not redundant?

    • Matthew Newland

      Hi Damon. I hope I understood you correctly; I'd answer by saying that I don't think the soul is redundant because it's something new and original arising from its component parts. All the cells out of which my body is made are interdependent living things (with souls of their own, if I want to put it that way). But my soul is the sum total of all those little souls. My soul can do things (and think things) that those little units could never do by themselves. This means that while my soul exists on another level of reality (as an emergent property from the sum of my parts), it still has causal power and thus exists as a unique phenomenon.

      Does that make sense?

      • Damon

        So are you saying that the soul is the emergent property itself? E.g. the cell emerges from the molecules that make it up so it has a "soul", and you emerge when your living cells coalesce into the human being that you are, and this emergent property, "you", is your soul?

        I think this concept makes sense, but I do not see why we would then expect this emergent property to persist after death.

        • Matthew Newland

          Yes, that's what I would say: the soul is indeed the emergent property itself.

          And as for life after death ... did you see my other SN article? It's entirely speculation and utterly unprovable ... but of course the idea of life after death goes beyond our present experience anyway.

          • Damon

            Yes, just read through it. It's an imaginative speculation on how particles might remain unified at the subatomic level regardless of distance, but I don't see how quantum entanglement would lead one to expect that the emergent self continues to exist after physical death, while these subatomic particles go on to form new natural objects with entirely different emergent properties. It seems more like a thought experiment where you said "OK, assuming the Church is right about bodily resurrection, how could it happen?" A fun thought experiment for sure, but it also seems a bit like starting from your conclusion and working backwards.

            That said, you clearly have a lot of cool ideas, I hope to see more of your posts here in the future.

          • Matthew Newland

            That is what it is, Damon; a fun thought experiment. Since all this goes beyond my experience, at any rate, I wanted to try to imagine such an event as possibility. I would never suggest that I've proven anything, only imagined how such a thing might happen.

            I'm glad you enjoyed reading this; it was fun to write.

        • Phil

          Hey Damon,

          The reason why one can rationally claim that the human soul can persist after death is because of the powers that a human soul has. The key unique power of the human soul is immaterial conception. The human intellect is not tied to the specifically physical and if capable of conceiving and reasoning about immaterial realities.

          That is why there have been those that propose that because these functions cannot purely rely on the physical human body, they must have some sort of existence in and of themself--in a word it "subsists". If this part of the human person is subsistent, then we have reason to believe it continues to exist after the body has died.

          • Damon

            Sorry Phil, I don't follow. Are you saying that the processes in the brain that allow human beings the ability to conceive and reason about immaterial realities have an existence in and of themselves?

          • Phil

            Are you saying that the processes in the brain that allow human beings the ability to conceive and reason about immaterial realities have an existence in and of themselves?

            The human intellect subsists. So one could say they have an existence that does not rely purely on the material brain (because of the ability to contemplate immaterial abstract realities). If the human intellect did not subsist, we would be like the lower animals.

          • Damon

            Why does the human intellect have to be immaterial and abstract in order to conceive of the immaterial and abstract?

          • Phil

            In simple terms--like can only act upon like.

            I don't know how one would even begin to propose that a purely physical entity can contemplate and in a sense become immaterial.

            Some propose that when a person thinks about a concept, a person represents this by some complex patterns of neurons firing and the overall state of the nervous system. These physical states are somehow "symbols" of a concepts. But these complex patterns and overall physical state of the human person are meaningless unless something comes along and interprets them. Well, if the physical state is all that exists, we can't account for concepts.

            Take for example the concept "procrastination", any perfect geometrical figure, or any number (numbers are easy because they are infinite which means they can't exist physically is reality). Those things are ultimately immaterial in nature, they don't exist actually in reality.

            But when we think about "procrastination", our physical brain doesn't become procrastination, or a circle, or the number 4. Our physical brain is necessary to think about it in the normal fashion, but it can't completely account for it.

          • Damon

            It seems clear to me that concepts (such as any particular word, geometric shape, or number) do not have a tangible existence in our world, rather, they exist in our collective consciousness. My understanding of your view is that if these intangible concepts exist in our consciousness then certainly our consciousness is intangible. If so, I agree with you. But I do not agree that our consciousness is infinite since our minds cannot conceive of anything that is infinite.

          • Phil

            But I do not agree that our consciousness is infinite since our minds cannot conceive of anything that is infinite.

            You are correct, our intellect--our mind--is not infinite. (I apologize if I made it seem that that is the case.)

          • Damon

            But you do think that the human intellect, consciousness, "the soul", etc. is immortal, correct? Why?

          • Phil

            If the human "soul" is subsistent, then yes, we could rationally conclude that it could outlive bodily death.

          • Damon

            Ah, so this is the difficulty. My understanding is that a subsistent entity exists necessarily as opposed to having a contingent in space and time. I don't see how you get from consciousness as an intangible emergent property to something that is subsistent. Seems to me consciousness is contingent upon the properties it emerged from.

          • Phil

            Consciousness is not a clue for subsistence--our clues for subsistence were mentioned above, the mind/intellect's ability to conceive and reason with immaterial entities.

            (In regards the consciousness, the big distinction comes at self-consciousness. A being cannot reason or conceive if it is not self-conscious, that is being "aware that it is aware". Hence the big difference between conscious lower animals and self-conscious humans.)

          • Damon

            The mind/intellect's ability to conceive and reason with intangible/immaterial entities is evidence that it is itself an intangible/immaterial entity. I get that. What I don't get is how this is also evidence of subsistence.

          • Phil

            The intellect's ability to reason with these immaterial realities cannot be tied the materiality in a way that would limit it. That is why we must say that in some way the immaterial intellect is actually subsistent (i.e., it relies on only itself for these functions) because if it relied on the material brain/body for its specific functioning, that would limit/destroy its ability to reason with immaterial entities.

            Because of this we can hold that it is subsistent and could outlive bodily death.

            (I apologize if I'm not explaining this well.)

          • Damon

            But clearly our ability to reason with immaterial realities does rely on the material brain for its specific functioning, as evidenced by the fact that damage to the brain can impair or prohibit our ability to conceive and reason.

          • Phil

            I would say yes and no. When our brain/body is damaged, I would say it can have visible and felt effects, but it cannot directly destroy or affect our "immaterial" ability to think/reason. But it definitely can affect our ability to express it through the body and it can have indirect effects--like when we are physically tired it can affect our ability to think and reason. Take for example the many people who have appeared completely brain dead (or like the boy who was not responding for 12 years and suddenly "woke up" and said he was completely conscious the whole time), though some of these people can still reason and think, they can't express it.

            Now of course, it can be the case that a person loses consciousness because of some physical damage, then of course they may not be consciously reasoning and thinking.

            But I would definitely hold that the pure reasoning and conceiving abilities of the human intellect cannot purely rely on the brain in any manner, lest it loses its ability to conceive and reason with immaterial realities. This also is not to say that when we are conceiving that there are non-conceiving things going on as well that are shown forth purely by activity in the brain. In other words, we couldn't in principle reduce concieving to some activity in the brain/body.

          • Damon

            Sometimes the brain is damaged in ways that prohibit the outward expression of rational thought while leaving the cognitive thought processes intact. Why this is I won't pretend to know, but I'm hopeful that future breakthroughs in the study of neuroscience will shed light on these cases. Without further evidence, however, I don't see reason to believe that the intangible human consciousness subsists independent from the material cognitive processes that give rise to it.

            I am curious though, based on your belief that the human intellect subsists, what phenomena would you anticipate occurring that someone like me, who does not share this belief, would not anticipate occurring? In other words, how can we test this?

          • Phil

            In regards to the first paragraph, and a few more words on subsistence--the reason why one would rationally posit that it must subsist in some way is because it can't rely on the material brain for its specific functioning in regards to immaterial entities and such..

            And if that is the case then the brain can't account specifically for the mind's existence, which means that it must exist somehow under its "own" power. Maybe that helps a little to elucidate the immortality claim.
            ----

            I am curious though, based on your belief that the human intellect subsists, what phenomena would you anticipate occurring that someone like me, who does not share this belief, would not anticipate occurring? In other words, how can we test this?

            A couple thoughts.

            1) I think you are referencing things within this life but first; obviously you will not cease to exist after bodily death (duh!), in fact we will never cease to exist for all eternity. It is crazy to think about that! Obviously there is no way to scientifically test this claim, as it is a faith claim that is supra-rational (it can be known through prayer though).

            In regards to what we would see in this life:

            1) The first clue is the mind's ability to contemplate immaterial entities and "the infinite". Which points towards the mind's power to exist somehow on its own.

            2) We would expect a mind that is oriented towards the infinite, because it is not tied to finite stuff. And that is the case with the human mind, we ultimately desire infinite truth, goodness, beauty, and love.

            3) We would also be able to see cases where the brain is completely dead but the person continues to experience thoughts and such. (This is becoming more commonplace as medical advances are made.)

            One of the most prominent I've read about was Dr. Eben Alexander, a neuroscientist who was brain dead for almost a week. Yet during that week he was very much experiencing things that he described as more real than even real life. (As also compared to the "haziness" of dreams, and hallucinations.) I find this fascinating because this is exactly what I have found profound experiences of our Lord in prayer to be. Afterwards you know that this is what is truly real--yes this world is real, but what is to come is "more real". It's like coming out of the haze of this world. This is also what the saints speak of in their writings.

            It is interesting too because Dr. Alexander was able to look at all his records and brain scans after the fact, and knew exactly what was, or rather what was not, going on in his brain/body while he was personally having these experiences. So he was able to medically try and explain what should or should not have been going on because of the state of his brain. But what he said should have been going was not what he actually experienced.

          • Damon

            the reason why one would rationally posit that it must subsist in some
            way is because it can't rely on the material brain for its specific
            functioning in regards to immaterial entities and such.

            You seem to be suggesting that it is logically impossible for human consciousness to exist as an intangible emergent property of the material brain alone, because if this were so, the human consciousness would be unable to conceive of immaterial entities. I do not understand how this conclusion follows logically from its premises.

            we will never cease to exist for all eternity...Obviously there is no way to scientifically test this claim, as it is a
            faith claim that is supra-rational (it can be known through prayer
            though).

            C.S. Lewis once defined faith as "the art of holding on to things your reason has accepted." Clearly your reason has accepted the belief that our consciousness will never cease to exist as logically necessary, but as I said above, I don't understand how you've deduced this.

            we ultimately desire infinite truth, goodness, beauty, and love. If the
            mind is not able to exist in some "infinite" manner, then these infinite
            desires are absurd desires.

            I don't think it is absurd for human beings to desire the experience of knowing truth, goodness, beauty, and love. Clearly these are experiences we have all had and (hopefully) will continue to have. Expecting to one day have this kind of experience last forever, however, does seem absurd. Part of the beauty of these experiences is that they are fleeting.

            We would also be able to see cases where the brain is completely dead
            but the person continues to experience thoughts and such. (This is
            becoming more commonplace as medical advances are made.)

            True, and if these experiences are the result of a subsistent soul, we would anticipate never finding a natural explanation for these phenomena. If, on the other hand, these experiences are the result of natural processes in the brain that we have yet to fully understand (as I suspect they are), we would anticipate one day discovering the cause of these phenomena through further advances in neuroscience.

            One of the most prominent I've read about was Dr. Eben Alexander, a neuroscientist who was brain dead for almost a week.

            Dr. Alexander may not be the best example. Aside from the extraordinary nature of his claims, there are other reasons to treat his story with a healthy dose of skepticism:

            http://www.esquire.com/entertainment/interviews/a23248/the-prophet/

          • Phil

            You seem to be suggesting that it is logically impossible for human consciousness to exist as an intangible emergent property of the material brain alone, because if this were so, the human consciousness would be unable to conceive of immaterial entities. I do not understand how this conclusion follows logically from its premises.

            Remember, it is not simply consciousness we are talking about. We are talking about self-consciousness and powers of immaterial conceiving. Those two things are very different from basic consciousness and perceiving.

            And yes, if the human intellect relied purely on the material brain for its functioning and existence, that would undermine its ability to conceive of immaterial entities. Material entities cannot somehow become immaterial entities. When we are contemplating "procrastination" or the concept of "circle", in some way we are holding in existence an immaterial reality in our mind.

            Self-consciousness is fascinating because it is the consciousness "folding back on itself". And this can happen an infinite amount of times. We are aware that we are aware, that we are aware, etc...

            ------

            Expecting to one day have this kind of experience last forever, however, does seem absurd. Part of the beauty of these experiences is that they are fleeting.

            The key is we have the insatiable (i.e., infinite) desire for joy, peace, goodness, beauty, etc. We only have limited experiences of them all, as you mention. So that desire would be one that is unfulfillable if infinite joy, peace, goodness, beauty, etc do not actually exist.

            Dr. Alexander may not be the best example. Aside from the extraordinary nature of his claims, there are other reasons to treat his story with a healthy dose of skepticism

            I'm right there with you--we need to find the middle ground between credulity and incredulity. I will tell you from my personal experience, and my studies, that there is much more in his story that lends to it actually being credible. He has little to no history of religiosity, but to write down this experience that is in harmony with with 2000 years of intellectual development and faith experience of saints--that's incredible.

            (I'd personally give his story a 95% passing rating, which is very generous even for myself.)

      • William Davis

        But my soul is the sum total of all those little souls.

        So is every cell a "soul", or just functional brain regions? I'm a naturalist too, I just think talk of souls makes things more confusing, but I'm open minded and find your point of view interesting. I'm highly analytical so I like to break things down as close to "brute facts" as possible.

        • Matthew Newland

          William, I would call the soul a "living principle". It's that process (not a thing, but a process) that allows for activity and growth. So in a sense all living things have "souls", including individual cells.

          What I'm suggesting is that those souls can combine their efforts to form larger, more complex souls (the the waters of two rivers converging). So I can still refer to myself in the singular.

          • William Davis

            So your "complex" soul is consciousness perhaps?

          • Matthew Newland

            This is what I would say, William. Yes. Other souls can have intelligence (half a brain will still give rise to an intelligent mind), but the simpler the organism, the less capacity for intelligence exists.

          • William Davis

            The idea of multiple souls does have some explanatory power when it comes to mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is something I swear by, it has made my life so much better, and I've only been doing it for around a year. It's pursuit of a sort of "pure" consciousness (simple being i the present) perhaps unifies the "souls" in a unique way, increase the strength of awareness itself. This also plays into cognitive dissonance, where the "souls" are pulling in different directions, arguably the opposite of mindfulness. I'm a believer that unity in the various regions of the brain is one of the keys to happiness (real happiness, not pleasure).

          • Matthew Newland

            THIS is interesting. Thank you, William.

          • William Davis

            Thank you for the article. While I'm technically an atheist, I think dismissing the world's religions is an incredible mistake. There is a wealth of wisdom in the two I'm familiar with, Buddhism and Christianity, and I really enjoy reading ancient mythology. I find it fascinating how much they already knew that we have rediscovered scientifically. Scientific method and critical thinking empower us with tools to separate what is more likely to be fact, giving us a huge advantage now. There needs to be a group for ecuminical (including all religions) atheists, lol.
            The more I've learned about science, the stranger "material" seems, beginning to verge on the mystical. I accept Spinoza's proof of God, that God is the single substance of existence with infinite properties (even space and time seem to be substances according to relativity). In this way, the material is spiritual.

    • If the brain produces the self and consciousness, then it follows there can be no self dwelling in an afterlife realm. Since this is essentially what people mean by "soul" then of course it invalidates the notion of a soul. However the author's whole argument fails since weak emergence cannot possible result in consciousness (least of all a self!).

  • Phil

    Hey Matthew--Great article and I have just one question off the bat.

    In regards to emergence, would you say it would be proper to frame it this way: Emergence, in regards to living beings, is simply the outward appearance of the soul, the "form of the living being".

    In other words, the form of a living being is always present in some way from the moment that living being exists, but in what way that form/nature is made manifest is dependent upon the continued material development. Because when many people hear "emergence", they are drawn to think that we have this material entity, and then at some point "life" emerges from the right combination of matter/energy.

    So I like that you point out that the proper way to understand the human person is in a hylomorphic manner, both physical body and formal cause (which is not a physical thing in its nature) as a single unity. But I was just looking for a clarification on how you were using "emergence". Peace!

    • Matthew Newland

      Thank you, Phil. I would say that the soul exists the moment the process begins. So the soul of a particular living thing (human or otherwise) exists from the moment the first moment two "component parts" (can I put it that way) come together to form a new single whole.

      • William Davis

        What exactly is the soul? If it does not contain memory, if it does not affect thought, what does it do? And if it does nothing, I fall to the adage "A difference that makes no difference is no difference at all."

        • Mike
          • William Davis

            Will do, just short on time right now, thanks :)

        • Phil

          Hey William,

          I think this proposing of the soul as "the form of the living body" will make much more sense when placed within the whole of an Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics which includes the form/matter distinction.

          Because of that, while I would recommend reading the original Aristotelian texts, I will start by recommending W. Norris Clarke's "The One and the Many". It will give a good overview of a hylomorphic metaphysics which avoids the pitfalls of both dualism and materialism.

          As a preview, all living beings have what we call "soul", but there are different powers that a soul can show forth. The human person shows forth the powers of immaterial conceiving, which are intimately tied to rationality, self-awareness, and free will. This is the power that sets humans apart from every other living being.

          • William Davis

            I'll probably go with Aristotle first. I've read a number of Plato's works (I did a large book report on The Republic in high school, I remember my friends thought I was crazy for picking that one) but never Aristotle. Might as well start with the original :) I would contend that the concept of the "soul" originated with vedic hinduism (by far the oldest religion) but I don't think they understood it in the same way as the Greek philosophers.

          • Phil

            Awesome, here is a list of Aristotle I would recommend:

            Metaphysics: Book VII--Chapter 3
            De Anima: Book II--Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4

            The best way may be a tag team of Aristotle along with a commentary type book. This is because what is written down of Aristotle is very terse with only short explanations. Those such as Norris Clarke or Ed Feser (see Feser's Scholastic Metaphysics) will draw out exactly what Aristotle is proposing.

        • Papalinton

          Yes. I too, would be interested to know what this 'soul' is, where is came from and where it resides?

          If, as Catholicism says, people are ensouled at conception, do twins have separate souls or do they share half a soul each? I ask this because it is a known fact that twinning occurs in the fertilized egg some 4 to 14 days after conception. SEE HERE. Indeed the site I refer to shows the various formations of twins depending on how long after conception the one fertilized egg began to replicate.

          • William Davis

            In general, I've found talk of souls to be someone distracting and not useful in describing what is really going on. It made perfect sense in the day of Aristotle, and I still don't mind using it as a metaphor, but it's typically too vague to be useful. The devil is in the details. Perhaps Christians are right, in that sense we rationalists/naturalists spend our time pursuing this devil (the detail of how reality works) as opposed to pursuing God. I pursue Spinoza's God, but love of this "God" involves the use of reason to understand causality. The "intellectual love of God" is a worthy pursuit. Metaphors are fun aren't they?

          • Matthew Newland

            Oops, I missed this line of discussion. Elsewhere I've been talking about this ... it's basically the Aristotelian understanding of "soul" as "living structure". Anything that lives has a kind of soul. The structure that allows for the activity of life.

            So in a sense, the soul is more an activity than a "thing".

            You said this was fine in Aristotle's time ... but what changed?

          • William Davis

            When we talk of "living structure" we enter the world of biology. In biology we have the basic unit of life as the cell. Inside we have all the parts of the cell, the nucleus (which can be further broken down into dna, ect), organelles, cytoplasm, you get the idea. On a larger scale we have tissues, organs, and finally the organism itself.
            While I'm fine with talk of souls as a metaphor, exactly which of these concepts is it? Perhaps talk of souls would be more useful if we new silicon based lifeforms existed. If the soul corresponds to one of these known biological structures, wouldn't it be easier to just use the biological name of the structure? Obviously Aristotle knew next to nothing of biology. His "soul" seems to be a place holder for a gap we have filled much more detail, making the place holder have little current relevance.
            Do you have an exact definition for "soul" in the sense you are trying to use it. I'm naturally a reductionist, and always tend to break things into the smallest possible pieces.

          • William Davis

            Perhaps talk of souls is more useful for someone with little to no knowledge of biology? I'm pretty good a putting on different "caps" i.e. thinking about the same thing through different schools of knowledge. Without a biology "cap" to put on, the soul is pretty useful, and can probably be used more loosely than terms like cell, dna or tissue. I have a hard time not gravitating to my biology "cap" when talking about living structure though. (We're a tough crowd with all kinds of different views, lol)

            Sometimes my use of different "caps" may make me seem a bit inconsistent, but I find it very useful for learning. I need to put a disclaimer on my comments, that while I am may appear crazy, I'm just playing games with different ways to "imagine" reality. There really is no ONE way that is completely satisfactory for all purposes I've found.

          • Matthew Newland

            I would say that since Aristotle is remembered as the founder of biology, and since Aristotle spoke of souls in the context of this new area of study, it's okay to consider the soul from the biological perspective (even if biology has come a long way since Aristotle lived).

            And I quite agree that no absolute explanation or understanding is possible; we are only able to speculate based on the observations that we make.

          • Matthew, excellent article. A few thoughts.

            The emergentist account has great heuristic value as a vague phenomenology, it seems.
            It doesn't require a particular root metaphor, like process or substance or experience, so, it's a BYOM (bring your own metaphysics) affair.

            The semiotic scientists, who employ the emergentist stance, have found that classical Aristotelian notions of formal-final causation are useful heuristic concepts when referring to the download causations that are in play (e.g. Baldwinian evolution). These teleodynamics needn't necessarily be imagined as violating physical causal closure in any way, so don't perfectly map, conceptually, over the more robust, classical notions of telos.

            The soul, then, as I've conceived it, would refer to that confluence of formal-final causations as will have generated each novel, emergent individual. Think of Scotus' notion of haecceity, even, and this soul formulation takes one beyond, even, the notion of species to the core identity of each person.

            From a more process-oriented conception, Hartshorne would refer to this as a nonstrict identity, due to the asymmetric temporal relations of our physical realities. He would also insist that any given identity inheres in states and not vice versa, which has implications for the timing of ensoulment, embryologically.

            What its other attributes might be, that, in my view, begins to prove too much. I'm with Kung on leaving the problem of the resurrection safety in God's hands without fretting over any putative im/mortal nature of this soul, as conceived from a nonreductive, physicalist stance (cf. Nancey Murphy). On the other hand, a friend of mine who's a physics professor at Tulane, said that Frank Tipler's speculative work on Omega Point thought has been taken quite seriously.

            Good luck with your research.

          • Matthew Newland

            Thank you, Good Sir. I realize I sound pretty Aristotelian in this particular essay (and in many of my responses here) but the truth is I'm much more Whiteheadian. That means I would prefer a bottom-up model over a top-down model. Again using Plato's soul-city analogy, we see the City growing up organically from the structuring of its component parts ... and I would see the body the same way. Cities usually grow organically near rivers or nickel mines or whatever (though I know a few were planned ahead of time ... for example, Mussolini had the city of Asmara built in Eritrea for the purpose of establishing a "new Roman Empire").

            Incidentally, I have read several pieces by Nancey Murphey and enjoyed her ideas quite a lot. I would definitely say that her writing influenced me, along with Aristotle and Whitehead (and Plato's Republic, though not most of Plato's other books. The Republic stands apart in its understanding of what human beings are).

            Last of all, it's purely speculative (but I enjoy speculation). Did you see my other SN article on bodily resurrection?

          • Truly, no need to necessarily view directionality as either-or, up or down, bottom or up or to view formal-final as anything but integral aspects, each presupposing the other, as we move from one metaphysical approach to the next. What I like about the emergentist stance is that it's more vague, hence fosters conceptual bridges between metaphysics. Hence, there are Thomists, who speak of deep and dynamic formal fields, and process thinkers, who speak of a divine matrix. Good work, all around. One approach must remain vigilant against essentialism, the next, nominalism.

            I will certainly check out your resurrection article.

          • I took a look at the quantum physics - resurrection article. It's still way too early to experimentally adjudicate between all the competing QM interpretations, which are fascinating. Their respective modal ontologies remain a moving
            target, as they deal with putative possibilities, actualities, probabilities and, in some versions, necessities, each mode having its own semantic logic, where excluded middle and/or noncontradiction may apply or not, for example. Is this reality deterministic or indeterministic?
            Is this wave function epistemic or objectively real? Is this space temporal or atemporal, local or nonlocal? If temporal, is it asymmetric or symmetric? Are these regularities causal?

            Without taking a specific interpretive stance, it's difficult to discern whether a given quantum measurement has practical implications for our level of experience, or for this or that metaphysic.

            I applaud all the good thinking and speculation, scientifically, metaphysically and theologically!
            It helps me understand how meaningful our questions are. I think the primary value of such work is heuristic, opening the way for future inquiry. It all remains scientifically uninformative and philosophically indemonstrable, though, so I don't invest in one stance or another, metaphysically.
            It's just not where I look to bolster my faith in the resurrection.

          • Matthew Newland

            Thank you, Johnboy. I've had to say many times to many people who thought that my quantum mechanics piece was what I actually really believed ... it isn't. It's just my imagination coming up with a possible explanation for resurrection via physical processes (specifically the idea that particles can remain united in a relationship even after physical dispersal or disintegration). Utterly unprovable ... but I had a marvelous time coming up with the idea and pitting it against all the reasonable objections to bodily resurrection.

            Of course the best one was Voltaire's story about the French soldier who went to Canada and was forced to eat an Iroquois (or starve) while lost in the wilderness in the wintertime. But it turned out that the Iroquois had been eating Jesuit missionaries in the months before ... so once digestion was complete you would have had a French soldier whose body was partly composed of Iroquois whose body was largely composed of French Jesuit.

            I wrote on this elsewhere ... perhaps it would make for another interesting SN article in the future?

          • I do think it's immensely helpful for competing metaphysical views and philosophies of mind, for example, to get aired out. It demonstrates that Christianity remains in search of a metaphysic!

            I think people very much enjoy such puzzles and paradoxes and learn something about how intuition, common sense, formal logic and ontologies interact, often, very counterintuitively.

            Logical validity often gets short shrift vis a vis such as quantum and metaphysical interpretations, for example. But, it's an indispensable prerequisite to experimental design. So, while we wait for methodological enhancements, in terms of empirical measurability, probabilistic falsification and hypothetical predictions, in order to test our
            interpretations evidentially, consistent thinking is important, such as when one maps Whitehead over Bohm, etc On the other hand, that a given interpretation might be im/plausible or counter/intuitive, evidentially, often gets overemphasized, as if that could ever settle a competing interpretation evidentially (e.g. theodicies).

          • Loreen Lee

            Just to let you know William, that once again I share your perspective very often. And also to assure you, that as I read somewhere once, in relation to my own life, that madness can indeed be considered a blessing! I do admire your work, William. Keep up the 'good news'!.

          • William Davis

            Thanks! You too :)

      • Phil

        Thank you for that clarification. I would infer that you would also say that the "component parts" are necessary but not sufficient for soul to be present in a living being?

        (You seem to be a traditional Aristotelian-Thomist, but I figured it was better to check than assume.)

        • Matthew Newland

          Actually, Phil ... I would say I'm more Whiteheadian than anything else. But there are aspects of Aristotelian thought that jive with Whitehead's understanding.

          My hope is to find a way to incorporate Whiteheadian metaphysics into Catholic theology (I will probably fail but I want to make a noble attempt)

          • Phil

            That's what I just started to see what the last comment. I'll have to check out Whitehead more in-depth. Thanks!

  • You haven't convinced me. I judge that anything mechanically assembled such as a snowman, bird's nest or airplane is the sum of its parts. The only way humans can affect the material world is to move things around.

    • Matthew Newland

      But our parts alone cannot do that. It's the interactions between the parts that give rise to new levels of complexity and causal power.

    • William Davis

      Robots, self-driving cars...you'll see :)

    • Phil

      Hey Bob,

      Drawing the distinction between something that is "mechanical" and something that is "living" is very important. Some would like to conceive of the human person, and living beings as a whole, as simply very complex biological machines. While there are some "machine-like" qualities to living beings, there is something radically different about them as compared to machines.

      One big difference is the principle of change that comes from within a living being. While any machine, with the proper parts and fuel/energy, can be "brought back to life", a living being has an aspect of it where once this principle of change ends, the principle of change coming from within is not present anymore. This can be seen in the fact that we can't breath life back into a truly dead being.

      For example, even though the physical matter that makes up Fido is still the same he exact moment after his death, the principle of change is no longer present within Fido. This principle of change is what we call soul and is not reducible to pure matter (though matter is necessary for physical living beings).

      • Michael Murray

        But Fido doesn't have a "moment after his death" because there isn't a moment at which he dies. This is true of all living things. Our various processes, including our mental ones just progressively stop working. The only problem in starting them again is lack of technology. We can do a lot better than we used to a century ago.

        • Phil

          Hey Michael,

          I don't think that makes sense. If Fido was actually alive and if Fido is actually dead now, then there is some point where before it he is alive and after it he is dead. (This doesn't mean that we could epistemologically figure out when that point was, but we can metaphysically say that there is objectively a point as such.)

          • Michael Murray

            That argument only applies if you know that at all times t Fido is either dead or alive (and once dead is never alive again.). Imagine a colour spectrum from white to black with grey in the middle. At what point does the white paint become black ?

            In this case I would imagine there are lots of points at which Fido is neither dead nor alive. That's what the suff about "brain dead" for transplant donors is about.

          • Phil

            At what point does the white paint become black ?

            Good example to work from--if you can say that at some point it is objectively white and at another point it is objectively black, then at the point it is objectively black it is no longer objectively white. Which means there was some point when it actually became objectively black.

            It doesn't matter if epistemologically one could never know for sure when that point is, metaphysically it is necessary and happened.

            The same is for Fido. If at some point he is objectively alive and another point objectively dead, then the point when Fido is objectively dead he is no longer objectively alive. And the point right before he is objectively dead would be the point I am metaphysically referencing. Does that make some sense?

          • Michael Murray

            There are a whole lot of points where it is grey. I'm not dividing the line into black and not black. I'm dividing it into black and grey and white. I think Fido's unfortunate demise divides into "definitely alive" "not sure" "definitely dead". I believe this because I think alive and dead are human concepts and they cannot always be applied cleanly.

          • Phil

            But if at some point it is objectively black, then it is objectively not grey and objectively not white at that point. So metaphysically, there was a point where it became objectively black.

          • Michael Murray

            That might work for white, grey and black because you and I can agree on a definition of which colour is which although it's arbitrary so I'm not sure what "objectively black" means. But for alive and not alive and dead and not dead it will be a lot tougher to get some definition that works for all possible objects in the real world. Life and death don't exist in the real world they are concepts that humans have decided to apply to objects in the real world.

          • Phil

            Life and death don't exist in the real world they are concepts that humans have decided to apply to objects in the real world.

            My mother just informed me last week that my great-grandmother, who was 107, just died. Are you saying that she actually didn't die? Are you saying that something real did not happen when we say "she died"?

            Are you also saying that there is no actual difference between you and a rock? You are not actually alive?

            To add on, I think it is very hard to deny that there is a pretty objective way to say that some things are actually living, and some things are actually not living.

          • Michael Murray

            Are you also saying that there is no actual difference between you and a rock? You are not actually alive?

            No of course not. Why would I say that ? A bunch of atoms that is alive is different to a bunch of atoms that is not alive. They have different properties. But the decision to bundle up a list of properties and call if alive and bundle up another list of properties and call it not alive is one made by humans. As we explore the world we discover things for which applying this label is ambiguous. What for example are viroids

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viroid

          • Phil

            Right here you are saying there is an objective difference between something alive and something not alive:

            No of course not. Why would I say that ? A bunch of atoms that is alive is different to a bunch of atoms that is not alive. They have different properties.

            So when the atoms no longer have the properties that we call "alive" they/it is then dead.

          • Damon

            Just as an outside observer, it seems a source of confusion here is that Phil, you are thinking of life and death as nouns, and Michael, you are thinking of the state of being alive or dead as adjectives. Michael's point is that in the world there is no question that there exists collections of atoms that we would describe as being alive, but that life doesn't exist any more than red exists. There exists red things in the world, yes, just as there exists living things, but the ideas of life or death exist only as linguistic constructs.

            That's just my take.

          • Michael Murray

            Nicely put. Yes to me they are definitely descriptive words!

          • Phil

            Michael--Maybe I am wrongly assuming we would both hold this:

            Life=living being/living cell
            Death=dead non-living being/non-living cell

            I think that's pretty straightforward?

          • Michael Murray

            Sorry I won't get back to this for a few days. Travelling!

          • Phil

            No worries, have a good one! Blessings and safe travels!

            (I do think that connection I listed above might have been the assumption that I thought we would both naturally be working from, which may have been my mistake.)

          • Phil

            Hey Damon,

            Yes, and the words actually are describing the way things exist in reality. I don't know how to get Michael "unstuck" from the linguistic/epistemological question. What we call a cell that is "alive" doesn't matter. But we can say a living cell is objectively different from dead matter.

            We could call a living cell "X" and dead matter "Y" if Michael really wants to.

          • Michael Murray

            Well I thought we had agreed there was grey so its not art transition from alive to dead.

            But even then there is no sharp transition because it is a list of things. Think about a human dying. Typically we think of the last breath. But there is the pulse and a bunch of brain functions. Medical people and lawyers have no end of arguments about when death occurs.

          • Phil

            Well I thought we had agreed there was grey so its not art transition from alive to dead.

            When something is actually objectively dead, it is no longer "grey". There can absolutely be a transition from alive to dead, but when it no longer has any property of "life" we can say it is objectively dead (sure something could regain a property of life). If we can't make this type of distinction, our ability to reason and do science goes down the drain.

            (Just as when something is objectively black, it is no longer grey.)

            The issue is you keep focusing on the epistemological issue (knowledge when specifically something is dead); we are interested in the metaphysical issue (if something is actually dead, then it not objectively not alive). It wouldn't matter if we could never have knowledge of the exact moment when a being was dead. All we know is if the being was alive, and it is now dead, there was a moment right before it was completely objectively dead.

          • David Nickol

            I would say there is an objective difference between a motor that is running and a motor that is not running. But that doesn't mean that "running" is some kind of otherworldly property that can't be accounted for without appealing to a spirit realm.

          • Phil

            Hey David,

            But that doesn't mean that "running" is some kind of otherworldly property that can't be accounted for without appealing to a spirit realm.

            Running is objectively different from not running. Just as living cells are objectively different from nonliving matter. That's the distinction I was making that Michael seemed to be denying. (I don't know where your comment on "spirit" or "otherworldly" property is in reference to, as that has nothing to do with this distinction.)

            In my original post in this thread, I did point out the objective differences between a machine and a living being.

          • Doug Shaver

            Good example to work from--if you can say that at some point it is objectively white and at another point it is objectively black, then at the point it is objectively black it is no longer objectively white. Which means there was some point when it actually became objectively black.

            It doesn't matter if epistemologically one could never know for sure when that point is, metaphysically it is necessary and happened.

            I see no need to accept a metaphysics that forces that conclusion.

      • Damon

        This can be seen in the fact that we can't breath life back into a truly dead being.

        We can't "breath" life back into a dead being, but sometimes we can "shock" life back into a dead being with a defibrillator. I'm confident that with further medical advances we will find more ways to restart life in the future.

        • Phil

          Interesting; I would hold that there is an onjective "point of no return". But we will see!

      • I was objecting to Mathew's claim that a snowman is more than the sum of its parts because of the human intentionality, which conceived it. I say no, because human intentionality can be materially expressed solely by moving things around. Notice that assimilation and sexual reproduction, which are characteristic of living things, are not invented by or under the direct control of human intentionality. We should be aware that with respect to material reality, human mental 'creativity' is limited to cut and paste and expressed by moving things around.

        • Phil

          I think the truth may actually be right in the middle of yours and Matthew's position. When the human person uses creativity, there is the possibility to bring something "into being" that goes beyond the mere physical.

          The easiest examples are symbols. Humans are able to create symbols using physical things (words, pictures, etc) that are more than the sum of their parts. The concept that is "informed" within the word procrastination is more than the sum of the physical occurrence of the word. In this way, humans are capable of creatively bringing about something that is more than the sum of its parts. This can only happen because all physical things already have the potentiality built into them to become symbols--to become something that is more than the sum of its parts.

          But I also think you are exactly correct in stating that the human person cannot move around a bunch of inert matter and somehow breathe life into it. Inert matter does not have the potentiality already present within it to bring about life and we don't have the power to bring about this potentiality.

          The two italicized statements are the key differences in the human person's creative powers.

  • David Nickol

    Given this conception of the soul, does it make sense to say the soul leaves the body at death, suffers some kind of punishment in Purgatory, eventually gets to heaven, and from its position in heaven, intercedes with God on behalf of people still alive on earth?

    • Matthew Newland

      That's a whole 'nother question, David. And as a matter of fact ... I do have some ideas on how to address that. But it's rather complicated and involves the topic of my SN article from last summer (the one on bodily resurrection).

      If you haven't already check it out and then come back ... there's plenty to talk about.

      • William Davis

        Can you link the article? It is obvious that Jesus and Paul believed in a physical resurrection, the more I have learned the more it seems that this is the only plausible why an "afterlife" could exist. Of course I still question whether a "glorified" body that is no long married (as Jesus indicated when arguing with the Sadducees) is really you, and not something else. We have to ask the question, what is the self? Close enough doesn't really cut it, since identical twins are clearly two different "selves". In fact my "self" as a 9 year old is radically different from my 30 year old self, we aren't even made of the same matter (gets replaced around every 7 years). The metaphysics of the self are interesting, but since I've found buddhism, I think the self really is a delusion needed for survival. Isn't a deep form of selfishness to even want an afterlife? Why isn't it fine that all that I am passes with my death, making room for a new instance "me" my children. Letting go of the "self" as much as possible seems to be the most direct path to "good" or altruism, and I am much happier the more I can let go of "self" and just be....pure consciousness. Mindfulness is a wonderful thing, and deep in meditation, the self does seem to be just a bubble of thought, nothing real.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          [M]y "self" as a 9 year old is radically different from my 30 year old self.

          My own experience, being twice as old as you, is that my self today is radically the same as my earliest recollections of myself at four. I look different, my character has solidified along certain lines, but the me inside myself is the same guy.

          • William Davis

            Interesting, my experience is the exact opposite. I think differently, react differently, everything is different. I think it depends on how you define "self", and perhaps some people change more than others. I've met some old friends from my childhood, and at this point we have absolutely nothing in common.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I would define self as the "I" or subject looking out at the world and responding to it. It is the subject affected by but not the same as the passions and emotions that wash over my body.

          • William Davis

            So the "I" is consciousness itself? Interesting because that is one of the goals of mindfulness, to perceive pure consciousness that is deeper than the waves of passions and emotions that wash over the mind.
            It is my view (though impossible at this point to prove, this is of course the Buddhist view) that pure consciousness is the same in all humans, perhaps similar to what is in all conscious animals. Strip away thoughts and passions, however, and we are no longer unique, pure consciousness may be identical in all humans. This is sort of what I'm getting at, not that there isn't a self exactly, but that self is not unique. You are me, just in a different "meat suite" Our differences seem big to us, but in the grand scheme of things, they are just details. This view has a powerful effect of bringing compassion on fellow human beings, because when it comes down to it, they are me (human consciousness) with a different set of circumstances (genes and memories, neurological structure). Perhaps this is the reductionist path to the "good" and Christianity brings the constructionist and highly imaginative path to the "good". Consciousness may well encapsulate what we really mean by the soul.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Well, if I had the ability to choose between annihilation and being part of a universal consciousness, I'd definitely choose the latter. However, my first choice (in my limited understanding) would be to keep being myself though saved and sanctified and in a communion with God and every other person, really with all reality.

          • William Davis

            Perhaps this state of pure consciousness is the same thing as communion with God, it definitely has the power to bring real happiness, something that is completely apart from all the circumstances of life. Perhaps the universal consciousness is better if we don't all carry our personal baggage into it (this is consistent with the idea that "God" or "universal consciousness" cannot be united with sin, so the soul must be purged of sin first. Christians want to carry their "good" baggage with them, and that is understandable, but I still think good and bad have no meaning to the universal consciousness, these are human constructs i.e. thoughts, not consciousness. If God is the universal consciousness, I believe in that. I'm only an atheist depending on how you define the world. The primary problem I have with "God" is interventionism (i.e. God meddling with his creation). For the life of me, I can't help this is nothing but wishful thinking, but I'm sure you disagree here.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So, do you actually wish there is a God and that he intervenes in his creation?

          • William Davis

            As long as he is a just God yes. There is a part of me that enjoys the mystery of it all, however. I think we are just now really becoming fully conscious (civilization has been around what 10000 years top, just a moment in the grand scheme of things) and he have no idea what is really going on in the universe. I kind of like the chance for continued discovery for an unknown period of time. I've always been curios and driven to learn, so I'm a little biased here. I'm sure you've seen my many objections to the Christian God (some haven't been very kind, so I apologize for that, but the unjust god of the Hebrew Bible is unsettling to me, I'm sure he doesn't exist, he would have killed me by now :P) so I have been very diligent in determining I'm correct. I trust critical thinking methods for finding truth in objective reality. Subjective reality is something very different, and harder to put your finger on (I took a college class on critical thinking and neurology, best thing I've ever done)
            If you're ever interested here's a ttc course that covers similar material. Sometimes these go on sale, and copies can often be found in the "underworld" of the internet.
            http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/your-deceptive-mind-a-scientific-guide-to-critical-thinking-skills.html

          • Michael Murray

            On this I have to agree. It's scary how much I feel like a young man in an old man's body.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            To me the scary thing is not feeling young. It's looking in the mirror wondering what the hell happened!

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Maybe you are touching on a fundamental difference between Christianity and Buddhism. We see the antidote to selfishness in self-giving. Is it correct to say that you see it as self-annihilation?

          • William Davis

            More like seeing the self as an illusion, just a collection of thoughts. Fighting the self can actually strengthen it, in my experience. Believing it doesn't exist make it get weaker and weaker. Surely Christians appreciate the power of belief, it is more real than most people realize. Is my "self" gone? By no means, but the weaker it gets, the happier I am. Obviously some selfishness is needed to keep from letting people run over you, but modern individualism is overdoing it, and I think there is a strong link between that and mental health problems in the Western World. I'm allied with Christianity in many ways, and overcoming selfishness is in the interest of everyone. I think there is also fundamental differences in people, and the Buddhist path may not work for some, while Christianity will. Many people I talk to seem think the way I perceive the world to be strange, maybe there is some underlying neurological difference :)

        • Matthew Newland

          William, I see the continuity of process as being more important than the matter itself. So even though 9-year-old you had a different body than you do now, you are still a part of the same "event".

          My earlier SN article may be found by clicking on my name at the top of this page, or by going here ...

          http://strangenotions.com/quantum-physics-and-bodily-resurrection-2/

          • Krakerjak

            I see the continuity of process as being more important than the matter itself.

      • Damon

        That's a whole 'nother question, David. And as a matter of fact ... I do have some ideas on how to address that.

        I'd like to hear some of these ideas. Perhaps a follow up post?

        • Matthew Newland

          Basically I am interested in the idea that the particles composing a human body could maintain some sort of relationship (across time and distance) following death, and that this might be enough to preserve one's identity across the ages.

          It's a wild speculation, but it could work ...

  • Adam Lucas

    Matthew, thanks for the piece. It was very insightful. Perhaps you could help clarify some points at the end; are you arguing the self arises merely from the material, because if so I have difficulty seeing how that is compatible with the Catholic understanding of the soul. The soul, and along with it the self, persists after death. The Saints in heaven, though united to God, still maintain their individuality. If the consciousness or self awareness arises solely from the material, how can this subsist after death when the chemicals and neurons that the self emerges from deteriorate and lose their unity? My understanding of Catholic dogma is that the soul is a spiritual phenomenon, though clearly physical damage to the brain can inhibit the manifestation of this spiritual phenomenon.

    • Matthew Newland

      Thanks, Adam. I would indeed say that the human soul is necessarily united with the body, yes. But this is totally in line with the Judeo-Christian understanding of what the human being is: a living, embodied being capable of existing in Imago Dei. Did you check out my piece on bodily resurrection? I wrote it for SN last summer. That might offer a part of the solution to the problem of immortality and the body ...

      • Adam Lucas

        I did read it and thought it was very interesting. I totally agree that the soul is unite with the body (we are composite beings after all), but I still fail to see how the self can persist after death in your theory. From your article on bodily resurrection, it seems that you are suggesting the self could persist after death by entanglement between the chemicals or "little souls" of our brains. Assuming your interpretation of entanglement on the macro level is correct (or even possible), entanglement would not work in cases of emergence; this is because emergence relies on spacial configuration. Splitting a water atom in two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom annihilates the properties of water. If there was entanglement between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms, there would be no emergence of "waterness" when they were combined, but this "waterness" would exist at all times (since entanglement in your theory doesn't depend on distance). If, as you suggest, the soul is just the result of a particular configuration of chemicals, then when we die those chemicals cease their configuration, and the emergent quality of the "self" ceases with them. Any entanglement that would allow the "self" to continue after death would also entail the possibility of the "self" existing before birth (and without a body), which seems a tricky thing to admit.

  • Great piece and well written.

    • Matthew Newland

      Thank you Brian.

  • Rhonda Mbuthia

    Your depiction of the "self" is easy to follow and makes great sense. I see Plato's book in a new light. Socrates analogy of the body and the function of his imaginary city are parallel. See you in class, we have a lot to talk about!

    • Matthew Newland

      Thank you, Rhonda! I've always been taken with the idea that the city could be a giant human being and the human body could be a miniature city. It was exciting to learn that Plato appears to have stumbled onto a fairly accurate description some 2400 years before Dr. Sperry's experiments.

      • Rhonda Mbuthia

        That is interesting, and now that you have pointed it out to me, I also will be in deep thought about it. Thank you

  • Phil

    Matthew--after some reflection a question I still have is, if one assembles all the right parts to create a living being, would a living being--a soul--"emerge"?

    • Damon

      I think the answer to this is yes. Case in point: In vitro fertilisation

      • Phil

        But with IVF you are taking entities already living and bringing them together (i.e., the egg and the sperm).

        I'm proposing taking the raw non-living matter and breathing life, breathing "soul" into it.

        • Damon

          I think we've already done this on the cellular level
          http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703559004575256470152341984

          • Phil

            In the article they say, "I don't think it represents the creation of an artificial life form," said biomedical engineer James Collins at Boston University. "I view this as an organism with a synthetic genome, not as a synthetic organism."

            That's the key. They have not created an entire artificial living being, even just a single cell. They have introduced synthetic genome into a living being.

            Scientists years ago tried and tried to create a living being from completely non-living matter to no avail. I would propose that it is not possible, because matter is necessary, but not sufficient, for life.

          • Matthew Newland

            Do keep in mind that life probably took millions of years to evolve. So this could be the early stage of something new ... though true "life" might still be eons away.

            Perhaps we ourselves (or our ancestor's ancestors) went through a similar stage in the primordial past?

          • William Davis

            Do keep in mind that life probably took millions of years to evolve. So this could be the early stage of something new ... though true "life" might still be eons away.

            My sentiments exactly. Every generation of humans has been under the impression that they were the pinnacle of existence, only to be outdone later. What makes us any different. I think we are at the beginning of a new era of "mind" combining artificial (I'm suspicious that our current technology may not be capable of human like ai, but what we are already doing is "intelligent" in it's own way, sort of a projection of human intelligence) and biological intelligence. I'm probably biased because I'm a software engineer (we all tend to exaggerate the importance of our own career) but one can dream. I've always been fascinated by self-improvement, and this is one of the fundamental goals of religion. Perhaps we are obsessed with God because, on some primal level, we want to BE God. Perhaps that is what being "one" with God is all about.

          • Adam Lucas

            Interestingly, original sin is often viewed as wanting to BE God (think of the serpent's words, 'you will be like God, knowing good and evil...). It was a prideful usurping of the All-powerful. The great irony of sin is that after the fall, those who reject the serpent's message and humble themselves in Christ do become like God.

          • William Davis

            Christians are much more like slaves to God. I defer to Paul, 1 Corinthians 7

            21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever.[c]22 For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. 24 In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters,[d] there remain with God.

            Romans 6
            22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

            Nietzsche talked about it, and master morality was clearly more about open-mindedness, I don't think his insights here were off the mark. His point about "God is Dead" is that we have to figure morality out on our own, as a master of our own fate. Social contracts and other democratic and secular ideas are what govern us now, not God. WE have the knowledge of good and evil (we ate the fruit after all), it's up to us.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master%E2%80%93slave_morality

            I'm all for being like Christ, but in a way consistent more with master morality (i.e. we can use science to figure it out ourselves better). I think causality in the mind is a worthy pursuit, like Siddhartha Gautama said (the beginning of the dhammapada) “Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.”

          • Adam Lucas

            William, I'd say im a sense you're right: as created by God, we belong to God. It's important to note that God gives us the freedom to choose Him or not, however. As to Nietzsche, Chesterton has a very good dismantling of his ideas. Its a bit long, but does an excellent job. http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/orthodoxy/ch3.html

          • William Davis

            I like the article you linked but I didn't see where it dealt with master/slave morality specifically. I'm philosophically a Buddhist which is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Nietzche when it comes to motivations (understanding is one of the only worthy, long-term pursuits). Rather than some kind of fundamental law like gravity, morality seems to be a construct. We can now recognize that we are building super-organism through our social structures (individual humans are the "cells) and there is clearly more than one right way to build a super-organism. The idea of "perfect" morality is as flawed as saying a bear is a more "perfect" mammal than a wolf. There are clearly moral structures that don't work, a wolf is clearly more perfect than the same weight of water, carbon, ect with no structure. To me it's no surprise that morality has evolved since the bronze age Jews, and will continue to evolve. I think we are in the process of leaving slave morality in the dust, however.
            I like the section on humility, and think you can be so humble you don't even try. I think the idea that we have some kind of direct contact with God is not only false, but quite arrogant. Why would we assume that God is anything like us? Because we are naturally arrogant and think we are the pinnacle of existence. I think God is well outside of our comprehension, but may eventually (with a lot more evolution of ideas and mind) be within our grasp. I don't suspect to see it anytime soon though, but it is still worth working toward :)

          • Doug Shaver

            those who reject the serpent's message and humble themselves in Christ do become like God.

            I have never known a believer who was any more like God than I am.

          • Adam Lucas

            Doug, this becoming like God most radically occurs after the resurrection of the body. However, even in this life believers become more like God through the power of the sacraments, though the extent this can be seen is severely limited by believers' shortcomings in responding to this grace. To truly see man becoming like God in this life one has to look to the Saints.

          • Doug Shaver

            I have never known a believer who was any more like God than I am.

            Doug, this becoming like God most radically occurs after the resurrection of the body.

            I have never known that to happen, either.

            even in this life believers become more like God through the power of the sacraments

            You say God exists, and you say that the sacraments have power to make people more like God. But you give me as little reason to believe the one thing as you give me to believe the other.

            To truly see man becoming like God in this life one has to look to the Saints.

            Of nearly all the saints, I can know nothing except what the church says about them.

          • Adam Lucas

            I wasn't trying to "prove" God's existence nor the power of the Sacraments. I was simply demonstrating that your objection that you have never known a believer who was any more like God than you are doesn't mean anything. Becoming "like God" is a gradual process, most fully realized in heaven after death, and a process that most believers do not go through quickly or obviously.
            The Saints of course, while still on Earth, were the farthest along on this process. You say you can know nothing of these saints except what the Church tells you. There have been many modern Saints, even some in our lifetime, which are easily accessed by history. Those older Saints, even if "neutral" historical sources can't be found, the very thorough, unbiased investigations by the Church should still be good enough. The process of canonizing a Saint is very extensive, and the investigations done skeptically.

          • Doug Shaver

            I wasn't trying to "prove" God's existence nor the power of the Sacraments. I was simply demonstrating that your objection that you have never known a believer who was any more like God than you are doesn't mean anything.

            So, like God himself, a believer's similarity to God is something I'm not supposed to be able to actually see?

          • Phil

            As a more practical philosophical question then--we have good reason (in fact I would say beyond a reasonable doubt) to hold that the human intellect is capable of reasoning with, and conceiving of, immaterial entities.

            In that case, we would have to say that the intellect that arises out of the biological material of the human person has some sort of immaterial aspect of it. How would one propose this happens without falling into a sort of mysterious or magical type conception of the intellect, like Descartes' dualism?

          • Damon

            Thanks for the correction. It seems that human beings have yet to create cellular life in the laboratory from scratch. However, many of the important building blocks of life have been created synthetically, such as amino acids, self-replicating RNA, artificial cell membranes, and artificial DNA bases just to name a few. So although the technology does not exist to manipulate molecules with the proper precision required to create all the inner workings of a living cell from scratch, I will not be surprised when human beings eventually succeed in creating fully-synthetic cellular life.

          • George

            how do you know it is not sufficient?

          • Phil

            Hey George,

            Life is something over and beyond inert matter. It is a "principle of change" that comes from within a living being. So it is possible to have all the right matter, but without the principle of change, life, "soul".

          • George

            I don't know what you mean.

          • Phil

            Just because you have all the right matter present doesn't automatically mean that something must then be alive.

        • Doug Shaver

          I'm proposing taking the raw non-living matter and breathing life, breathing "soul" into it.

          Maybe the only way to do that is the way nature did it. That doesn't mean anything besides nature was required.

          • Phil

            Would you say that inert matter in nature can then do something itself that the human person could not, in principle, do? If so, why would you say this?

            (Though, to say that nature does something is a bit of a misnomer. Also, these are questions directed towards a type of naturalist position.)

          • Doug Shaver

            We are as much a part of the natural world as anything else. Whatever we do, nature does. And whatever nature does that we don't already do, we could in principle do. In practice, I'm sure that many things will remain forever beyond our capabilities.

          • Phil

            I think that's a fair naturalist position you propose. Obviously, you know I would go a step further and say that we cannot, in principle, "breathe life" into inert matter. The reason for this being that inert matter does not have the natural potentiality for life. (So something that doesn't have the potentiality can't be made actual.)

            Something at the metaphysical level in matter must change so that it has the potentiality for life. Of course this potentiality can only arise through the hands of the one who constantly sustains all matter in existence--our Creator.

          • Doug Shaver

            Obviously, you know I would go a step further and say that we cannot, in principle, "breathe life" into inert matter. The reason for this being that inert matter does not have the natural potentiality for life.

            I might take that step, too, if I were an Aristotelian. But I'm not an Aristotelian.

          • Phil

            I am curious, what would you say your overall philosophical view, and specifically your metaphysics, be?

            (No need to compare it to any specific philosopher either. Just a general overview would work as well.)

          • Matthew Newland

            I'm not either, but some of his ideas seem to be of good use. And jive with Whitehead (I'm more Whiteheadian than anything else).

            It's the difference between a top-down approach or bottom-up approach. Aristotle had the former, Whitehead the latter. And I'm with Whitehead on this.

            Both see the human body as a living structure, however.

          • Doug Shaver

            The best label I've come across for my philosophy is scientific rationalism. It's a version of logical positivism, modified to correct some of the mistakes made by the Vienna Circle.

          • Phil

            How would you explain and describe your scientific rationalism?

            (For example, what are some of your first principles you are working from? What kind of metaphysics and epistemology are you working from, etc.)

          • Doug Shaver

            A decent answer won't fit in a forum post. The general idea is that the historical debate between rationalism and empiricism is silly. To know anything, we must trust both our reason and our senses, without putting priority on either. We should never believe anything contrary reason, but reasoning without assumptions gets us nowhere. And one of the things we should assume is that our senses are generally reliable, emphasis on "generally," and that we can identify the exceptional situations and take proper account of them.

          • Doug Shaver

            Obviously, you know I would go a step further and say that we cannot, in principle, "breathe life" into inert matter.

            Yes, I know you would say that.

    • Matthew Newland

      I would say it sounds possible to me. You mean like Victor Frankenstein? IF somehow you could get the combination of parts right, then I wouldn't say "no".

      • Phil

        Yeah, I'm proposing taking non-living matter and breathing life, breathing soul into it.

        • Matthew Newland

          I would totally agree with that, Phil. So you are wondering if Commander Data will ever exist. I'm certainly open to the possibility!

          But we wouldn't be activating a sentient robot (or Frankenstein's monster) by adding or breathing in some magical substance ... rather, the "soul" would arise from the activity of those particles as they act and interact.

          • Phil

            Gotcha, my position would be the usual Aristotelian-Thomistic one; that this will never be possible simply because inert matter does not have the potentiality to become alive, and we don't have the power to give it that potential. (The Catholic position would be that God is the only one that can infuse the potential for life into matter.)

            But I'll always be interested in people that are trying to breathe life into matter!

          • Matthew Newland

            Well, are we not made in His image? :) Perhaps that power will one day be within our grasp. Though I do hope we use it wisely if and when that comes to pass.

          • Doug Shaver

            My position is that neither Aristotle nor Aquinas had the last word on these matters. I think we've learned a thing or two since their time.

          • Phil

            Absolutely, philosophy, and knowledge as a whole, is never complete, is never fulfilled--until we encounter the face of God, of course.

            But there has been nothing that any modern science has discovered that has undermined their basic metaphysics. In fact, some are beginning to argue that the only way that science can rationally do science is by holding a type of Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics. This includes a type of act/potency and formal, material, efficient, and final causality.

          • Doug Shaver

            My position is that neither Aristotle nor Aquinas had the last word on these matters. I think we've learned a thing or two since their time.

            philosophy, and knowledge as a whole, is never complete, is never fulfilled

            I'll certainly agree that it's never complete. I have no idea what you mean, in this context, by "fulfilled."

            But there has been nothing that any modern science has discovered that has undermined their basic metaphysics.

            Most of their metaphysics has been shown to be unnecessary. Occam's razor undermines it.

          • Phil

            Most of their metaphysics has been shown to be unnecessary. Occam's razor undermines it.

            That is sadly a modern myth that parts of the "academic community" continue to perpetuate. As I mentioned, science itself cannot function without these metaphysical principles and assumptions. So if science denies they exist, they are cutting off the branch which they are sitting on. Which means goodbye to the justifications for doing rational science.

            Many proclaim we have gotten rid of all myth, but as it has been proclaimed, this materialism could be termed a type of "last superstition" or "last myth".

            [It would definitely be true to say that parts of Aristotle and Aquinas can be shown to be false--but it is a fallacy to say that therefore most, or all, of it is then false.]

          • Marc Riehm

            No, I'm sorry but this is absolutely false. Science does not "rest on metaphysical principles".

            It is true that science owes much to the ancient Greek philosophers. Their writings are some of our earliest forms of rational enquiry. (They postulated the atom, which I still find to be extraordinary!)

            However, science does not require metaphysics. Science is simple: we believe what we can measure. We make sure it is repeatable - we can measure it again, and others can measure it. We invite the criticism of our community, as we participate in that criticism ourselves. We collect our knowledge, thus acquired, and build it up in layers.

            We do not believe what we cannot measure. And with very good reason: all manner of ideas are postulated that cannot be measured. The lack of measurement leaves them bound forever in opinion - in the subjective.

            Now, you can apply meta-thinking to science. "What does it mean to think? What does it mean to measure? What does it mean to be?" All very lofty thoughts, no doubt. But we are here. We can observe, and we exist. We don't yet have all the reasons why - and we may never have them. The best we can do is muddle on with what works. With what has transformed our lives for the better, and that is science.

            Our world is built on scientific enquiry. Who would go back to the days of blind belief, and give up modern science and medicine? Only the foolish and the fanatical.

          • Phil

            Hey Marc,

            Let's look at some of the metaphysical assumptions that science rests upon (this is not an exhaustive list):

            1) Science assumes that nature/the physical cosmos is itself intelligible.

            2) Science assumes that the human person is capable of coming to truth in general.

            3) Science assumes that the human person can come to know truth about the nature of physical objects specifically.

            4) Science assumes that physical objects act in a way that can be modeled and expressed with consistent "laws" of some sort. (It could be the case that they actually can't, which means that science reduces to a type of intellectual "emotivism".)

            4) Science assumes that some type of external physical world actually exists.

            5) Science assumes we can actually get in contact with this physical objective world in a coherent way.

            -----

            All of these above cannot be shown to be true by science. They have to be shown that they are actually true through philosophy, and more specifically, metaphysics. If any of these are actually false, then science is ultimately irrational.

            The issue is that common sense tells us that science actually "works", which means we need to have a metaphysics that actually supports what science does. If you have a metaphysics that doesn't support what science does, you have a problem either with science or with your metaphysics.

            Modern day metaphysics wants to get rid of formal and final causality (using the words of Aristotle/Aquinas). But if you do that, science becomes irrational, and a person is then holding a metaphysics that can't support their scientific claims.

            -----

            we believe what we can measure. We make sure it is repeatable - we can measure it again, and others can measure it. We invite the criticism of our community, as we participate in that criticism ourselves. We collect our knowledge, thus acquired, and build it up in layers.

            How do you know that you are actually measuring something? How do you know that even if you measure/view a rock 1 billion times with the same result, and absolutely nothing changes in the whole world, that on the 1 billion and first measurement that rock won't turn into a rabbit? These are metaphysical questions. Science only assumes that this won't happen, and seemingly hasn't happened in the past, it can't tell you that it won't actually happen.

            If you get rid of a proper metaphysics, science can't tell you if that rock will or will not turn into a rabbit. Most of us would say, "that is absurd", which is a philosophical statement, and I agree. So we then must answer the question of why is this absurd. That is a question that only a proper metaphysics can answer.

            Science is great, but we must remember that it stands or falls ultimately upon the metaphysical assumptions underlying it. Science doesn't undermine metaphysics/philosophy, rather science is an area of study that builds off of it. (Like the branch of a tree growing of the "roots and trunk" of philosophy. If the roots/trunk are thrown out/die, then the branch is destroyed as well.)

          • Marc Riehm

            I fully admit to being a metaphysical luddite. And no, I'm not saying I'm proud of that fact, but I see little value in spending my time digging in that direction.

            This iPad on which I am typing is an incredible machine. The vast number of intricate microscopic parts which must work correctly, billions of times each second, astounds. And that is just my client device. There's my Wifi modem, my ISP, the Internet backbone, another ISP, and a StrangeNotions server sitting somewhere. And Disqus servers. All of these things operate together, in harmony, countless times, flawlessly. Truly phenomenal (rivaling, dare I say it, the majesty of the greatest cathedrals).

            In the time it's taken me to type this, we have, with this technology, vastly exceeded your count of one billion repeatable things happening. I can _trust_ it to keep working. Our observations tell us that the world is a very predictable place (at least, outside of the realm of humanity;). It is repeatable. Science would still work the same, with or without metaphysicists discussing why that is so. And - and I do not mean to be flip or arrogant saying this, I just state a fact - very few of us would be bothered by the lack of metaphysical "proof". We know it works, so spending effort to prove it might tickle some pedants' fancies, but it doesn't affect us in any material way.

            And I find it very odd on this website that I find such a combination of metaphysical "logic" and science, but then all of this rational thinking is coupled with the irrational, with the absurd: angels and demons and the devil and the soul and prayer and heaven and hell and the fall and redemption and god and all of the rest of it.

            If you believe in that stuff, you abandon what we see, what we experience, and what we can achieve by channeling our scientific experience into technology like my iPad. If we are underpinned by all of this unpredictability, what would the point of science and technology be? If demons and leprechauns and angels are true, would they not interfere with the functioning of these devices, or of our scientific apparati? If they are real, would they not negate the metaphysical foundations? Would they not negate your six assumptions, above?

          • Phil

            I think many have a misunderstanding of what "metaphysics" is. Most seem to see it as some "irrational", magical, and superstitious type thinking. The fact of the matter is that metaphysics starts with the world that we can sense, just like science does! It simply looks at the external world and asks the question, "What is necessary to completely explain this reality we experience?""

            The difference between the physical sciences and metaphysics is that the physical sciences limit themselves to only accepting physical material descriptions. Science itself cannot say whether the physical world is the only thing that exists, because science itself can only study the physical world!

            To look to science and say that it has proved that only the physical world exists is like looking at a device designed to detect X-rays and then concluding that infrared light does not exist. Well, this doesn't make sense because the X-ray detector is specifically designed not to detect infrared. So it is with science--it is only designed to detect the physical. So science can only study the physical, but that doesn't mean then that the physical doesn't exist. That would be an irrational and illogical conclusion.

            So metaphysics starts with the external world, as experienced through the senses, but then uses reason and logic to discover the underlying structure that must be present if the world is to exist as it does at this very moment. Because metaphysics uses reason and logic, and not the physical testing of the scientific method, it is not limited to purely material answers.

            If you believe in that stuff, you abandon what we see, what we experience, and what we can achieve by channeling our scientific experience into technology like my iPad.

            Not at all--The philosophy and theology that underlies Catholicism has always been one of "both/and" not "either/or". I accept both science, iPads, and the like, and the fact that there is more to reality than what we can normally experience through our senses.

            Catholicism accepts that that physical and nonphysical world exists. In fact, Catholicism accepts this fact because of reason and logic, not as a revealed tenet of our Catholic beliefs. The very world we live in is made up of physical and non-physical entities--the most prominent of that being the human person. The human person is not reducible to pure matter, and this is a belief that can be shown through reason and logic, not of faith.
            ---

          • Doug Shaver

            As I mentioned, science itself cannot function without these metaphysical principles and assumptions.

            You can mention it all you want. It isn't so just because you say so.

          • Phil

            A visual way to think about it is in the branches and trunk of a tree: philosophy--and metaphysics more specifically--are the trunk and roots while the physical sciences, and all other studies in general, are the branches. If the roots/trunk are thrown out or
            die, then the branches are destroyed as well.

            Many may continue to do science while "pretending" to have thrown out the roots and trunk of philosophy, but that could never actually be the case. They will always have philosophical assumptions they are working from. It can also be the case that a person holds a certain metaphysics that doesn't support the science that they are doing--which is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on and means there is no real rational justification for the work on is doing.

          • Matthew Newland

            A lovely analogy, Phil. I've said it elsewhere; though I come across as an Aristotelian and defend some of his ideas (like his understanding of the soul), I'm not really an Aristotelian at all; I'm a Whiteheadian. But what's important here is that some ideas are shared in common by both of them.

            If I don't sound too presumptuous (and I know I do), I would say that Aristotle got some things right, and those are the things that jive with Whitehead's understanding of reality.

          • Phil

            Is there a good article(s), commentary(s), or specific overview of Whitehead you would recommend for me? I am curious to see what he was proposing, but unfortunately I probably don't have time right now to do an in-depth study of Whitehead.

            Even with placing myself in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, that doesn't mean I agree with all that Aristotle or Aquinas said. But in regards specifically to philosophy, I'd say I would agree with a good 70-80% attributed to them. (Obviously many of their specifically scientific claims as off, since they don't have the benefit of modern science and technology.) In all, I'd probably place myself closest to Dr. Feser in regards to philosophy.

          • Doug Shaver

            I agree that we all need some assumptions in our epistemological foundations, but my scientific epistemology works just fine without Aristotle's assumptions.

          • Phil

            If you use the word "laws" in regards to the physical sciences, you are actually implicitly acknowledging that Aristotle's metaphysics actually exists, and that they are correct to a high degree.

            The only way to have a coherent natural science is to say that, at some level, matter acts in consistent way that can be modeled and explained through what we call "laws". So matter doesn't just act in completely random ways. If it did, science wouldn't actually be able to do anything, and any "truth" it appeared to have discovered would be purely illusory. The fact that we have successfully applied the discoveries of science through the technology we have today is a good reason to believe that the truths of science are not illusory. This means our only option is to actually say that matter behaves according complex consistent and coherent "laws".

            And these laws show that matter, and certain collections of matter (i.e., objects) have a "nature" that is directed towards certain outcomes and not others (e.g., the nature of "moonness" is oriented towards circling the earth in its moonlike orbit. And it would continue to act as such until something about reality would change.) The moon is not directed towards swinging out to Neptune, turning into a cat, and then returning.

            The only reason we can rationally say that the moon will not do this latter is that it has a specific "nature" (i.e., formal cause) and is oriented towards certain outcomes and not towards others (i.e., final cause).

            If you throw out Aristotle's formal and final causes, you cannot rationally say that the moon will not swing out to Neptune today and turn into a cat. In other words, any truth that science has supposedly "discovered" is destroyed in one fell swoop.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you use the word "laws" in regards to the physical sciences, you are actually implicitly acknowledging that Aristotle's metaphysics actually exist, and that they are correct to a relatively high degree.

            Not just because you say so, and your argument is just so much wordplay.

            The only way to have a coherent natural science is to say that, at some level, matter acts in consistent ways

            We can say that because that is what we observe.

            that can be modeled and explained through what we call "laws".

            We observe certain regularities and then make certain assumptions about them. When we think we're justified in assuming that those regularities are constant with respect to time and spatial location, we call them laws. That might have been a linguistic mistake because it probably is not the best label we could have chosen, but we're stuck with it now.

            So matter doesn't just act in completely random ways.

            We assume it doesn't. So far in our history, the assumption seems justified.

            And these laws show that matter, and certain collections of matter (i.e., objects), have a nature that is directed towards certain outcomes and not others (e.g., the nature of "moonness" is oriented towards circling the earth in its moonlike orbit.

            The laws don't show us anything. They are a way to describe what we observe, a way that is convenient and useful. To infer anything beyond that requires additional assumptions. I don't think we need them, and Occam says I can do without them.

          • Phil

            We observe certain regularities and then make certain assumptions about them. When we think we're justified in assuming that those regularities are constant with respect to time and spatial location, we call them laws.

            If matter/energy actually does act in incoherent and random ways, then it doesn't matter how many times we measure something. For example, you could heat up rubber 1,000,000 times, and every time it melts. But if matter/energy actually acts in random ways, you would never be justified in saying that there is something about the heat and rubber together that causes the melted rubber.

            Just because it has melted the previous 1,000,000 times doesn't mean that even if absolutely nothing changes, that when you heat up that rubber for the 1,000,001 time, it won't turn into a rabbit. For you to deny Aristotle's formal causes, you have to hold that there is nothing specifically about the rubber itself that says it won't randomly turn into a rabbit, like stated above.

            This is a problem for science, because if the above is true it doesn't matter how many times you test something or how well you predict something, you still have no reason to hold you have discovered a truth about reality. Science itself is demolished.

            For science to be rational, it must assume that matter/energy acts in coherent and non-random ways. The question then becomes, what is the reason that matter/energy acts in coherent and non-random ways? This is the question that Aristotle's metaphysics answers.

          • Doug Shaver

            For science to be rational, it must assume that matter/energy acts in coherent and non-random ways.

            Yes. That's what I said. We have to make a few assumptions. But we have to do that in any case. Aristotle didn't get his metaphysics without making a few assumptions of his own, and I see no reason to think his assumptions are the best ones to make.

          • Phil

            Really the only assumption, or "First Principle", that Aristotle needs for his ontology (i.e., metaphysics) is that the external world exists. That's it.

            And as I was pointing to above, science's underlying assumptions are that Aristotle's metaphysics is mostly correct. In other words, ontology (metaphysics) always precedes every other science and realm of study, in the order of knowledge.

          • Doug Shaver

            Really the only assumption, or "First Principle", that Aristotle needs for his ontology (i.e., metaphysics) is that the cosmos exists.

            I don't think so. How about a demonstration? Show us how someone could, without assuming anything else, deduce another proposition from "The cosmos exists."

          • Phil

            Obviously going through an entire philosophical system would be a book; but here would be a basic flow (I don't have Aristotle in front of me to put how he did it, but this is how I would personally lay it out)

            1) First Principle: "Being", i.e, the material world exists, which we are a part of.
            2) As part of this world we experience internal and seemingly external experiences.
            3) Use reason to show that these external experiences are real and how the senses are reliable.
            4) Observe external world that we have reason now to believe actually exists.
            5) We can now observe these material objects and how they act.
            6) We use deductive and inductive reasoning to show that for objects to exist as we observe that they do, material, efficient, formal, and final causality must all be at work.

            That would be a very general outline!

          • Doug Shaver

            1) First Principle: "Being", i.e, the material world exists, which we are a part of.

            Your original statement was: the only assumption, or "First Principle", that Aristotle needs for his ontology (i.e., metaphysics) is that the cosmos exists. I suggest we leave it at that. I don't object to equating the cosmos with the material world, nor with the stipulation that we part of it. But to identify this proposition with some concept of being is to sneak an additional premise into the argument, it seems to me.

            2) As part of this world we experience internal and seemingly external experiences.

            I'm not entirely sure that this can be deduced from the First Principle, but I'll stipulate it for the sake of discussion.

            3) Use reason to show how the senses are reliable and we are able to be "in contact" with this external material world.

            I don't think the First Premise by itself can get you there.

            4) We observe these material objects and how they act.

            That looks to me like an instantiation of premise 2 with respect to material objects.

            5) We use deductive and inductive reasoning to show that for objects to exist as we observe them to actually exist, material, efficient, formal, and final causality must all be at work.

            Here you are just restating your claim that we can infer Aristotle's metaphysics from the single premise asserting the existence of the cosmos. You are not demonstrating how this might actually be accomplished or even that it can be accomplished. You are simply asserting, "It can be done."

            I get it that a complete reproduction of the argument might be too long to fit in a single forum post. But in that case, to even get started, you have to do something like the following:

            Let U be the proposition "The universe (or cosmos, or material world, whatever) exists" and M be the proposition conjoining all the assertions of Aristotle's metaphysics.
            In that case:
            Assume U.
            If U then A.
            If U then B.
            If A and B, then C.
            Therefore, C.
            If U then D or E.
            If D then F.
            If E then F.
            Therefore, F.
            If C and F, then . . . .
            [until we get to]
            . . .
            Therefore, M.

            And at no point in all of this do we assume anything other than U, except for auxiliary assumptions that are discharged before the conclusion is deduced. For particular example, "If U then A" cannot be an assumption. It must be proved by a demonstration that the conjunction "U and ~A" constitutes or entails a contradiction.

            You say you would include inductive reasoning. I'm OK with that, but it just means you get to use propositions of the form "If P, then probably Q," which means you have to demonstrate the improbability of "P and ~Q" being true.

          • Phil

            But to identify this proposition with some concept of being is to sneak an additional premise into the argument, it seems to me.

            To say that the "world exists" is simply to say that "being is". That's all that I am assuming. We start with being/existence.

            -----

            Remember, I'm not proposing an argument above. This is just an basic outline of what would need to be argued about. The main point I was simply pointing out is that, after point (1), we could use reason to show the others to be true or false. We don't need to assume that they are true. The only one we need to assume to be true is that "the world is".

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not proposing an argument above.

            You're supposed to be showing that it is possible to argue from your First Principle to Aristotle's metaphysics without assuming anything except the First Principle. One assumption, no more.

            To say that the "world exists" is simply to say that "being is". That's all that I am assuming.

            And so you now have two assumptions.

          • Phil

            As I mentioned in a previous comment, going through all this would be to argue for an entire metaphysics, which would be the subject of a book. Unfortunately, because I must respect other commitments I have, I couldn't go through the entire arguments.

            And so you now have two assumptions.

            Think about it--If you assume that the physical cosmos exists, then you can't rationally hold that "existence/being isn't true". That makes no sense. "The physical cosmos exists" and "thinks don't exist" are contradictory.

            So we are not assuming that existence/being is, it follows rationally from our first principle, our assumption.

          • Doug Shaver

            I couldn't go through the entire arguments.

            I understand that. I was hoping you could at least get one started, though, if it's actually possible to do what you say can be done.

            it follows rationally from our first principle, our assumption.

            You yourself called it an assumption. It is not an assumption if you can deduce it from the First Principle.

            Think about it

            Why me? You're the one trying to prove something. And the argument "It's obvious" doesn't count as a proof of anything.

          • Doug Shaver

            1) First Principle: "Being", i.e, the material world exists, which we are a part of.

            Your original statement was: the only assumption, or "First Principle", that Aristotle needs for his ontology (i.e., metaphysics) is that the cosmos exists. I suggest we leave it at that. I don't object to equating the cosmos with the material world, nor with the stipulation that we part of it. But to identify this proposition with some concept of being is to sneak an additional premise into the argument, it seems to me.

            2) As part of this world we experience internal and seemingly external experiences.

            I'm not entirely sure that this can be deduced from the First Principle, but I'll stipulate it for the sake of discussion.

            3) Use reason to show how the senses are reliable and we are able to be "in contact" with this external material world.

            I don't think the First Premise by itself can get you there.

            4) We observe these material objects and how they act.

            That looks to me like an instantiation of premise 2 with respect to material objects.

            5) We use deductive and inductive reasoning to show that for objects to exist as we observe them to actually exist, material, efficient, formal, and final causality must all be at work.

            Here you are just restating your claim that we can infer Aristotle's metaphysics from the single premise asserting the existence of the cosmos. You are not demonstrating how this might actually be accomplished or even that it can be accomplished. You are simply asserting, "It can be done."

            I get it that a complete reproduction of the argument might be too long to fit in a single forum post. But in that case, to even get started, you have to do something like the following:

            Let U be the proposition "The universe (or cosmos, or material world, whatever) exists" and M be the proposition conjoining all the assertions of Aristotle's metaphysics.
            In that case:
            Assume U.
            If U then A.
            If U then B.
            If A and B, then C.
            Therefore, C.
            If U then D or E.
            If D then F.
            If E then F.
            Therefore, F.
            If C and F, then . . . .
            [until we get to]
            . . .
            Therefore, M.

            And at no point in all of this do we assume anything other than U, except for auxiliary assumptions that are discharged before the conclusion is deduced. For particular example, "If U then A" cannot be an assumption. It must be proved by a demonstration that the conjunction "U and ~A" constitutes or entails a contradiction.

            You say you would include inductive reasoning. I'm OK with that, but it just means you get to use propositions of the form "If P, then probably Q," which means you have to demonstrate the improbability of "P and ~Q" being true.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      If you take a working watch apart and then put it back together properly you end up with a working watch. If you take a bunny apart and put it back together properly you end up with a dead wabbit.

      • Damon

        If you end up with a dead wabbit, clearly you did not put the bunny back together properly.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          A machine is just the sum of its parts but a living thing is its parts plus life, which was destroyed by taking it apart.

          • Damon

            I think Matthew made a strong case in the post above that a living thing is the sum of its parts with the emergent property of life. Presently we do not have the technology or the know-how to rebuild a dead bunny "properly" so that the property of life reemerges, but supposing we did, I would expect a properly rebuilt bunny to no longer be dead.

          • William Davis

            It's fascinating that cells kill themselves as part of the "design" of life. Organs can be kept alive though, with a proper supply of nutrients and oxygen. Tissues like pig skin are also kept alive for testing.
            On the other hand, programmed cell death, apoptosis, happens all the time, a lack of apoptosis seems to be related to cancer. Even necrosis, cell death from external damage seems to be regulated. This constant cycle of death and rebirth is everywhere in biology. Life is very strange, and different from any machine we have built thus far, biotechnology is getting pretty interesting though.

          • A machine is its parts. These issues of being the sum of or being more are our impressions and observations.

          • Marc Riehm

            In one sense, what you say is true. But you might argue that we resurrect the dead on a frequent basis, when a heart is restarted after failing. Doctors will try to recussitate the patient for a few minutes

      • Michael Murray

        If you take a working watch apart and then put it back together properly you end up with a working watch. If you take a bunny apart and put it back together properly you end up with a dead wabbit.

        We don't have the technology currently to do this experiment. It would be very interesting if we did and you were right but it's beyond us.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          To actually take it apart you would have to go down to the molecular level. While an old-fashioned watch has maybe a hundred parts, a rabbit would have trillions . . . trillions of trillions?

          • Michael Murray

            Indeed but it's more the putting back together "properly" that I think we lack the power to do. We'd have to put it all together and then start all the processes going again. At least that would be my definition of properly.

          • Marc Riehm

            This is theoretically impossible, due to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

      • Phil

        Exactly, that internal "principle of change", the life, the "soul" is what we don't have the power to create.

        • Damon

          So, if at some point in the future, human beings successfully create synthetic life, that would falsify the idea of the soul?

          • Phil

            If life could be breathed into inert matter, i.e., "create synthetic life", I think it would lead to one main conclusion (we are talking about non-human life here as well):

            1) All matter, or some matter that appears to be dead, actually is alive in some way. So in that sense, it wouldn't get rid of "soul", we would just have to apply it to more stuff than we were.

            ----
            Now, if human life could be breathed into inert matter, i.e., "create real synthetic human
            life", I think it would lead to several possible conclusions:

            A) Somehow pure matter can actively create an immaterial entities.

            B) All matter, or some matter that appears to not have an intellect, actually does have an intellect.

            ---
            This is actually an interesting question I haven't thought about in-depth, so these are off the top of my head. But I'm gonna reflect on this some more!

    • Marc Riehm

      As a materialist, I would maintain that if we could assemble the right elementary particles into the right positions and states, we could create a living organism from scratch (*). But not only is that extraordinarily far from our current technical capabilities, it is also theoretically impossible: the Heisenberg uncertainty principle would interfere.

      (*) Anyone want to take up the irony of the use of the word "scratch"? :)

      • Phil

        Hey Marc,

        Would you hold that even creating a single living cell from purely dead matter would be theoretically impossible as well?

        • Marc Riehm

          No expert, I!

          I do think that we might be able to resynthesize life in the laboratory, and yes, starting from "inert" materials. But it won't come about by constructing a cell, atom by atom. And the experiment might be a rather long-running one. ;)

          I don't believe there are any theoretical barriers to syntheszing life, but there certainly are theoretical barriers towards "assembling" it in the manner discussed in this thread.

          • Phil

            I gotcha; and I do think that is a belief of many now-a-days.

            Obviously, you can probably tell I would hold that it is, in principle, impossible for us to "breathe life" into inert matter. Because the internal principle of change of a living thing--i.e., what we call "soul"--cannot be reduced purely to the material processes going on in a living being, it can be held that inert matter does not, in and of itself, have the potentiality for life.

            If that can truly be shown to be the case, and we can recognize that we don't have the ability to bring about this potentiality, then we can know that we could never breathe life into inert matter.

            I think most would argue with the first claim, that inert matter does actually have the potentiality for life already. But it just seems hard to rationally accept that giving pure inert matter even an infinite amount of time, that suddenly it would come to life. Life is not something that is more complex than inert matter, it is rather something of a completely different form. (e.g., The difference between a upward "slope" of complexity, and a set of stairs going upward. The difference between life and non-life is a stair step, not a smooth slide.)

  • teomatteo

    i have often wondered if my self is never stable. because our bodies are in constant flux and change over. we are never the same materials (kinda like you can never wade into the same river twice). the only materials that dont change is the minerals in our teeth and my dentist is always trying to replace that!

    • Matthew Newland

      Ha! I had to lay off the Pepsi for that very reason, Teomatteo.

      And this is why I would hesitate to identify myself with the particles composing my body (for the long-term, at any rate), but rather the process of which those particles play a part.

      Just as the waters of the river flow on and on, hour by hour. Rivers change waters and riverbeds (rivers can change course). Yet the river remains, for all of that.

      It's not so much a thing but an event.

  • Krakerjak

    Even if the “self” is indeed the result of a collection of chemical
    compounds or an assemblage of particles, I don’t think Schultz has any
    reason to worry.

    • Matthew Newland

      "I am large; I contain multitudes."

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Much appreciation to Matthew Newland not just for writing something for SN but for also hanging out in the com boxes!

    • Matthew Newland

      Ah, my pleasure. Half the fun is learning what other people think. :)

  • Krakerjak

    When the gods are shaken from the sky,there's a scientific reason why.

    http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.ca/

    • Matthew Newland

      Actually I already visited your site and posted on your page for my article. I'm happy to discuss things there with you as well. :D

  • Doug Shaver

    So we might be able to understand the “self” as a real thing that nonetheless depends on a very specific combination of chemical compounds, chemical reactions, structure, and environment (since human bodies would not survive on the surface of the sun, for example). Naturally, though, plenty of mysteries remain, as the complexity of this structure and the nature of all the chemical reactions taking place within our bodies continue to lie beyond our present understanding. We can remain open to the mystery of how such a remarkable thing as the “self” could have ever arisen in nature (if we are naturalists, that is. Theists, of course, already know the answer to that mystery).

    Soul of the gaps?

    • Matthew Newland

      No, I don't think so, Doug. The soul is life itself. The ability to think and act. It can be observed and is capable of producing causal effects (like my fingers typing on the keyboard right now).

      Perhaps it's better to think of the soul as an activity rather than an object (as Descartes tried to do).

      • Doug Shaver

        The soul is life itself.

        What is the point of using both words? Everybody agrees that life exists, but when you talk about souls, all you do is start arguments.

        The ability to think and act.

        Is that really your definition of life? If it is, then you're saying plants are not alive, or else you have some very strange ideas about what it is to think.

        • Matthew Newland

          Because Aristotle said it already, Doug: the soul is the "form" of the body. In De Anima.

          There are plenty of other synonyms out there for other words ... why can't we have this one for "life"?

          And if you are familiar with Aristotle's De Anima, you'd be familiar with his ideas of the "vegetative soul" (the kind of life of which plants are capable), as well as his "animal" and "rational" souls. Human beings possess all three.

          I'm not sure I'd draw the nice, neat distinctions Aristotle does, but I think that he more or less had the right idea. Different structures give rise to different forms of life. (That is, different "souls").

          • Doug Shaver

            Because Aristotle said it already, Doug

            So? What makes Aristotle's opinions so special?

          • Matthew Newland

            Because he did what I have just done before. Thus giving the idea of "soul" and "life" as synonyms "street cred".

          • Doug Shaver

            You may judge an idea by its acceptance on the streets. I don't. I judge an idea by the quality of the arguments offered in its defense.

          • Matthew Newland

            But surely you'd agree that Aristotle's description of the three "souls" more or less correspond with all the vital functions of living organisms? And that there is a difference between living and non-living things?

          • Doug Shaver

            But surely you'd agree that Aristotle's description of the three "souls" more or less correspond with all the vital functions of living organisms?

            I must plead ignorance here. My study of Aristotle was limited to a few weeks of one class I took in college. I do not recall that the course material included his enumeration of three souls.

            And that there is a difference between living and non-living things?

            We can define that difference as we wish. There are things that we say are definitely alive and things that we say are definitely not alive. A few things are not definitely one or the other. Viruses are the paradigmatic example.

          • Matthew Newland

            Yes, I had thought of viruses too. And I would say that things like viruses show that the three souls imagined by Aristotle (vegetative, animal, and rational) are insufficient. We need a larger, more complex schema.

            Of course, Aristotle lived 2300 years ago ... it's our job to build on the foundation he laid.

          • Doug Shaver

            it's our job to build on the foundation he laid.

            It is not our job to just assume he laid a good foundation. If you say we should build on it, it's your job prove its soundness.

          • Matthew Newland

            My plan, Doug, is to build on top of Aristotle's foundation.

            If it doesn't collapse, I'll assume he did a good job.

          • Doug Shaver

            Scriptural inerrantists seem to think that works for the Bible. I guess it could work as well for Aristotle.

          • Matthew Newland

            My plan is to build on top of it. If it doesn't collapse, I'll assume he did a good job.

          • Marc Riehm

            Well, "soul" is not a synonym for "life", as dictionaries will tell you. It is disingenuous to use it that way.

          • Matthew Newland

            Again, I think Aristotle's use of the term makes this acceptable. And ... allow me to ask which dictionary you are using?

          • Marc Riehm

            The old, "Because Aristotle said so" ploy is used very frequently here on SN! ;)

            I checked the online versions of both Oxford and Merriam-Webster before posting.

          • Matthew Newland

            Marc, I think that it's okay to use a term the way an earlier philosopher used a term, because readers of that philosopher will understand what I mean.

            It's like using Heidegger's term for human existence ("Dasein"). His use of the word was unique, but anyone familiar with Heidegger will understand what I mean if I use the word.

            I'm not appealing to Aristotle as some infallible authority so much as I've been following in his footsteps and hope to one day step beyond his original path.

          • Marc Riehm

            Matthew, that is very disingenuous. "Soul" has huge implications beyond "life". The two are simply not synonymous at all. The theists on this site take refuge in fluid, imprecise definitions. You could do better than that!

          • Matthew Newland

            Marc, I don't know who has the higher authority, but the Oxford English Thesaurus indeed lists "soul" as a synonym for "life". To quote:

            "moving spirit, moving force, animating spirit, vital spirit, spirit, vital spark, life force, lifeblood, essence, core, heart, soul."

            But I don't want to discuss dictionaries, but OUR understandings of these things. What would you say a soul is?

          • Marc Riehm

            "Life" was not in the list. It is not a synonym of "soul".

            "Souls" in the theistic sense of the word do not exist.

          • Matthew Newland

            Ohhhhh, my friend. So what is the word "soul" meant to describe then?

            I have the funny feeling we agree, but you don't seem to want to admit it.

          • Marc Riehm

            We have a "self", an "I". This is seated in our brain. The self grows into existence as our brains develop. It ceases to exist when our brains stop functioning.

            The word "soul" is overloaded with ramifications of afterlife existence, and is best avoided unless that is explicitly what you are discussing.

          • Matthew Newland

            So if I use the word "soul" to describe the "self", we'll agree? Aristotle didn't believe in an afterlife either.

          • Marc Riehm

            I will agree with you with one extra condition: that the self is purely the product of the brain.

      • Doug Shaver

        Perhaps it's better to think of the soul as an activity rather than an object (as Descartes tried to do).

        For everything about us that I think is real, there is already a word in common usage that comes with no religious baggage. I am a materialist, but I think it is silly to infer from any sensible materialism the nonexistence of the self, or of consciousness, or of anything else that it might please some religious folks to call "the soul."

  • Krakerjak

    :-)

    • Matthew Newland

      Yes, clearly I've struck a nerve.

      • David Nickol

        Yes, clearly I've struck a nerve.

        What I find mystifying is that there is so little objection from the "orthodox" theists to a piece that, as far as I can tell, doesn't really seem to be incompatible with a materialist/physicalist approach to consciousness.

        For Aristotle, the soul could not exist without the body. The Catechism of the Catholic Church may claim that the soul is the "form" of the body, but the Catechism also claims the soul departs from the body and carries on an independent existence until the end of time (the resurrection of the dead). This is simply not compatible with the Aristotelian notion of the soul.

        There has been nary a peep from theists even though the OP was written in disagreement with Patrick Schultz's previous "orthodox" post about the soul. So far, we have heard nothing but praise even from Patrick Shultz himself!

        Apparently you irk the atheists and placate the theists by using the word soul, no matter what you actually mean by it!

        • Matthew Newland

          David, I'm well aware that the Aristotelian idea of the soul does not allow for personal immortality ... unless we can find a way to get around that. Did you see my other article for StrangeNotions on bodily resurrection?

          If you commented already and I missed it, I apologize.

    • Krakerjak

      I meant for this cartoon to appear only once...and when I tried to delete this one, it still showed up as "guest"....sorry....the vagaries of Disqus is my excuse:-)

      • Matthew Newland

        No harm done.

  • Krakerjak

    Only a recommendation :-)

    • Loreen Lee

      "The soil is life itself": rephrasing from a comment from Matthew Newland.

      • Matthew Newland

        Calvin speaks correctly, I see. :/

      • Krakerjak

        Am familiar with the exchange....but could not help trying to inject a bit of levity into it, you know me eh?

        • Loreen Lee

          I've spent the last ten minutes or so looking up puns on sole, soul, etc. trying to be a help. Found a few from Shakespeare. Been giving you thumbs up all the way for your attempts to bring some humor into these posts.

  • Dawn Hedges

    As an atheist I think that soul and self are the same thing with different names. Self and who we are as an individual is just a collection of electrical impulses, memories, and brain connections, and some chemical soup. I am certain that Dr. Macdougall would say that the soul is real and weighs 21 grams. I am not convinced.

    • Matthew Newland

      And as a theist I would in fact agree with you, Dawn. And so, as a matter of fact, would Aristotle (a philosopher who believed in GOD but understood the soul of a plant or animal) as the active processes of a living structure. Interfere with the structure and its functions and death results.

      Of course, Aristotle didn't believe in personal immortality; the souls of human beings died when their bodies died, for only GOD lives forever. Theists like myself must find a way to get around this problem.

  • Jeff Manning

    I'm not clear on whether the ideas here suggest at a dualism of the human soul. The Church teaches that body and spirit constitute one soul, but that the principle of the spirit is not produced or emerged (see CCC 362-368).

    • Matthew Newland

      Though that "vital principle" could be the active energy at the heart of matter. The energy of atoms. Could this be "Spirit"? In that case, the soul could be the combined result of body and activity.

  • The author is talking about weak emergence. I'm afraid that consciousness cannot *in principle* emerge from the material or physical -- at least not via weak emergence; strong emergence it might be able to, although would be essentially magical. I explain this in the following essay I wrote:

    http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/science-afterlife-and-intelligentsia.html

  • Max Driffill

    In reply to Nick Cotta: "When you begin to think of humans as the sums of their parts, the idea that the world was created to produce them makes much more sense."

    Why?

    When you begin to see that a beetle is the sum of its parts, the idea that the world was created to produce them makes more sense. This makes no less sense than the quoted passage. Assertion without justification is all that is.