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Know Thyself: The Insolvable Puzzle


Though agape [i.e. selfless love] comes from God, it resides in our free will as human beings. Its home is not the body or the feelings, or even the intellect, but the will. True, the intellect has to work with it. But it is not the intellect that loves, any more than it is the light in the operating room that performs the surgery.Agape may be aided by seeing, accompanied by feeling, and accomplished by doing, but it is essentially an act of choosing, an act of free will.

If God exists, and God is love, then God must be that which loves, the will. God is not just being or the Force or Cosmic Consciousness, but a willer with a will. This is the distinctively biblical concept of God, which is missing in most Oriental religions.

Three other words for will in Scripture are "heart" (the center or core of the person), "spirit," and "I" (as in "I AM WHO AM"). All three mean the self. The source of agapeis not any function of the self but the self itself, that mysterious and non-objectifiable personal center which is the root and source of all our functions. Who is it that thinks and feels? Whose body and soul is this? Who am I? "Know thyself."

sense, think, know, feel, desire, long-there is an "I" behind everything do, inner or outer, spiritual or physical. This is God's image in me. Like God, it is hidden (Is 45:15). For like God, it is the subject rather than the object, the thinker rather than the thought, the feeler rather than the felt, the doer rather than the deed. "Know thyself," then, is the insolvable puzzle—the mystery that cannot be reduced to a problem. The self or I is the thing we are but cannot know, the thing that is not a thing.

The closest thing to it is willing. I can distance myself from my thoughts, hold them captive as an object and criticize them. I can do the same with my feelings. But not with my willing—at least not my present willing—for the very act of holding something before my consciousness is an act of willing.

I am not wholly free or responsible for my thoughts and feelings, which partly come to me from my heredity and my environment. But I am completely free and responsible for my will's choices, which come from me. I am not what I think or feel but I am what I will. I can distance myself from my thought. I can even distance myself from my feeling, for I can feel angry and yet refuse to be identified with that feeling. But I cannot distance myself from my willing. I cannot will and refuse at the same time because refusal is willing.

That is why it is not important whether temptations come to me, but it is important whether I consent to them. "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man" (Mt 15:11). This is true not only of the mouth or the body, but also the soul. What comes into my soul is not necessarily what I will, but what comes out of my soul is precisely what I will.

The Greek philosophers did not clearly recognize this personal center. They were intellectualists; they thought the deepest thing in us was the mind. Thus Plato taught that whenever we really know the good, we do it. He thought that all evil is ultimately ignorance and curable by education. Aristotle too identified reason with the true self, that which distinguishes us from animals. He defined man as "a rational animal." But Scripture goes deeper. When asked how people could understand his teachings, Jesus replied, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his [the Father's] will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God" (Jn 7:16.17, emphasis added).

The will leads us to wisdom. The heart leads the head. Therefore Solomon says, "Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life" (Prov 4:23). In the natural sciences the head must lead. But in knowing persons—ourselves, others, or God—the heart must lead the head. "Deep calls to deep" (Ps 42:7), I to I. Thus Augustine declares that his Confessions cannot be understood by those who "do not have their ear to my heart, where I am what I am."

"Know thyself" was the first and greatest commandment for the Greeks. It was inscribed on every temple of Apollo. We can distinguish at least five levels of profundity in attempting to answer that fundamental question, What is the self? What am I? What is the human person? Only the key of love unlocks the deepest answer.

  • Answer #1: I am the social self. I am simply a social function, an ingredient in society. Society is the absolute. This old tribal view is coming back into modern consciousness. Many of my students use "Society" (always with a capital S, like "Science") exactly where theists would use "God" as the ultimate authority. De Tocqueville, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Ortega y Gasset, Huxley, Orwell, and Riesman all warned of this: xeroxed souls, standardized selves, mass conformity, "the lonely crowd."
  • Answer #2: I am the individual physical self. I am the thing that eats, diets, jogs, exercises, and dies. I am what I eat. This old pagan materialistic notion is also undergoing a great comeback in the modern yuppie world.
  • Answer #3: I am the feeling self. I am a mass of self-actualization, loneliness, positive and negative vibes, different strokes, complexes, libidinous urges, or other kinds of liberations of the psyche! This is another very popular view in the modern world. It is a little deeper and closer to the heights reached by classical paganism, which is the next deeper view.
  • Answer #4: I am the rational self. Unlike the animals, which include all the above answers, I can know truth. I stand in a light for which the animals have no receptor: the light of understanding, meaning, and intrinsic value. "Reason" meant this to the ancients: something immeasurably greater than what "reason" means to moderns. Namely, calculation, clever­ness, or logical correctness. To the ancients, it meant a divine attribute: wisdom.
  • Answer #5: I am the will, heart, soul, spirit, self, or I. I am that which chooses, commits, decides, and loves.

Why is the fifth answer the truest one? The will is central because love is central. Not the intellect—not quite. Plato is half right: evil does indeed come from ignorance, but not only from ignorance, for then it would be excusable. In fact, ignorance first comes from evil. We will, we choose, we create the moral ignorance in our souls the ignorance that Plato saw was a prerequisite to doing evil. We voluntarily turn off the light of truth.

For instance, we shut out the divine truth and justice of "thou shalt not steal" before we sin by stealing. The ignorance of the thief—by which he thinks that filling his pockets with stolen money will make him happier than filling his soul with proper virtue—is indeed, as Plato saw, a prerequisite for his act of theft. But that ignorance in turn has as its prerequisite the will's choice to turn the thief's attention away from the truth of the moral law. He wills to look instead at the pleasures he thinks will derive from his loot. His ignorance comes from his ignoring.
Excerpted from The God Who Loves You. Copyright 2004 by Ignatius Press, all rights reserved, used with permission. Text copied from PeterKreeft.com.
(image credit: Acqualokos)

Dr. Peter Kreeft

Written by

Dr. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and a noted Catholic apologist and philosopher. He is a convert to the Catholic Church from reformed Protestantism. He earned an A.B. degree from Calvin College, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Fordham University, followed by post-doctoral work at Yale University. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 60 books including Making Sense Out of Suffering (Servant, 1986); Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics (Ignatius, 1988); Catholic Christianity (Ignatius, 2001); The Unaborted Socrates: A Dramatic Debate on the Issues Surrounding Abortion (IVP, 2002); and The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005). Many of Peter's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Find dozens of audio talks, essays, and book excerpts at his website, PeterKreeft.com.

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  • Kevin Aldrich

    This OP needs a careful proofreading.

  • Loreen Lee

    Dear Strange Notions. I have not been commenting recently. I reached 300 comments, and thought that it was a good round number in which to become a follower rather than a 'contributer'. However, this article has given me the insight which determines or makes conscious why I felt the 'rational' motivation to seek out the Catholic teachings again.
    Please know however, that I still have many grievances. I will thus continue to think of myself as an a-theist Catholic as I feel that the church has much to do to assimilate and make know their objections to the modern world view, science particularly. Not all of these questions are a matter of the will, and I believe that it is indeed the 'rationality' including the legalism, that is a 'default issue' with the Church.

    Take confession. Although I felt that I would like to share with the priests my ventures into other religions and philosophies, it became apparent that they could not even imagine the possibility that I had some facility for discrimination and insight into the issues involved.

    The same kind of thing happened when I confessed the fact that because of a secular (read communist husband) marriage, and because I wanted to give the children the benefits of their French cultural heritage, and the perspective of science, I sent them to the public school. After serving my rather severe sentence, I concluded that the choice was not the denial of 'education' that I was chastised for. Indeed, I made the bible available to them, and although the priest did not even inquire about this, (was he not concerned for their salvation but only for their 'education and adherence to the legalese) I did 'baptize' the children one dark night, and only hope that I fulfilled the requirements, if not completely in ritual, at least in the spiritual sense of trusting in their becoming part of the body of Christ. As they have proved to have at least a morality I assume comparable to many other Catholics, I can only hope that all of us will be saved.
    The distinction between the Will and the Rationality has however been made more specifically clear to me in this article than ever before. In fact, it has been for me the incentive, because it solved my problem with respect to the novel I am continually rewriting which reflects the paradoxes of my position and questioning, and confusions with respect to the modern world and Catholicism. The main philosophers discussed in this book, and which are the challenges to the protagonist's sanity are Descartes and Kant. The book can be Googled on line: PortalsofParadox, (no spacing) as, since I was unable to accept an offer from their agent, Webook has published my on-going, work in progress on line.

    Will I ever solve my contradictions between Catholicism and the modern world. Perhaps, as I often think, I shall never finish the book. But this article has given me great insight, and although there are so many questions remaining, the courage, once again to 'forge ahead'. Thank you. (P.S. I at least understand now the meaning of the words given in mass before we say the Lord's Prayer,and that our approach to this prayer should be humbling in that we indeed need to reflect on our inadequacy to do the Will of God.)

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi Loreen,
      I appreciate your candor and your quest for the truth. I think i may be able to help you with some of your questions and concerns. if you have time just go to my website at 2fish.co then click on the "contact" button then click "ask a priest". I will look forward to hearing from you!

  • David Nickol

    I am not quite sure how to reconcile this post with tremendous amount of knowledge we have going all the way back to Jesus ("The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak") to St. Paul ("For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want") all the way up to Freud and then to current research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience. I have recently come across the intriguing idea of multiple selves, which makes a great deal of sense to me. Also, there are studies that show decisions are made unconsciously seconds before subjects are consciously aware they have made them. (There is a book on my shelf waiting to be read with the provocative title of The Illusion of Conscious Will.) There are also studies showing subjects tend to answer questions differently when they are in different states, for example, I read of a study that women who are sexually excited (they were shown an erotic film) have weaker reactions of disgust (for example, they are more willing to drink from a glass of water with a fake insect in it). Also, people who are sexually excited tend to respond to questionnaires as if they were more willing to be sexually "transgressive" than people who are not sexually excited.

    All the evidence, in my opinion, points to the conclusion that we do not have "fixed" intellects or wills. I wonder how many of us who have tried or are trying to lose weight, to take a simple and common example, eat something not on our diets and only afterwards are genuinely puzzled and ask ourselves, "Why in the world did I eat that?" For me, losing weight (19 pounds and counting) is not so much a battle to restrain myself when I am hungry and giving in to irresistible temptations. It's more a matter of doing what seems reasonable at the time and afterwards thinking, "Whatever made me think that was reasonable?"

    Regarding masturbation, the Catechism says, "To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability." This seems to be a straightforward recognition that in certain situations, at least, people are minimally accountable for their actions (even when they are perfectly sane). And to cite yet another example, the Catholic Church allows the burial in consecrated ground those who have committed suicide.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      All these are (almost all) examples of how the will is influenced or even overwhelmed by other factors like fear or desire.

      • David Nickol

        It is difficult for me to think of the human mind (or the human soul) made up of two "things"—intellect and will. I suppose one can imagine pure intellect on its own (maybe), but what would pure will be as an isolated faculty? How could will be influenced or overwhelmed? Its sole function, it would seem, is to make choices. Perhaps I am misreading Kreeft, but he seems to be implying that you are your will, and your will is you. If so, who is the you that exercises the will? Who is the you who says, "This has gone on long enough. I have to make a choice between A and B"? Who decides to make a choice? Is it the will? And if the will decides to make a choice, does it also decided to decide to make a choice? And decide to decide to decide to make a choice? And so on.

        If we are our wills, how can we make decisions based on unconscious motives? Is there some "top level" entity that oversees all mental activity?

        I am leaning toward the suspicion that there is nothing in the human mind or soul that can be identified, in isolation, as the will. It may be a helpful simplification to talk about human persons having two faculties—intellect and will. But t doesn't seem to be helpful to me in figuring out how human beings make choices or, in general, what makes people "tick."

        • Kevin Aldrich

          If we are our wills, how can we make decisions based on unconscious motives? Is there some "top level" entity that oversees all mental activity

          Interesting point. I understand intuition as a superfast, prerational form of reasoning. It says, "choose me" and we might choose it with little or no deliberation. Unconscious motives may be very similar. Don't they "appear" as a feeling without a thought?

        • Loreen Lee

          In attempting to relate to the concept of the Trinity, I have felt 'quite comfortable' that with respect to my own fallible self, that I can regard myself as a Trinity also: my intellect - Logos, my will, and third my judgment. I have adopted these categories primarily from Kant's three critiques which correspond I believe to The Truth, The Way, or Goodness, and the power of judgment, which includes the emotions, etc. as The Life, or Beauty. Thus, thank you for pointing out that even in regard to Freud, this article does seem to simplify what is meant by the Self. I do appreciate the distinction between Freud's ego, for instance, and the inner self which is spoken about by Guy Finley, etc. (Please Google) which is identified with the 'Higher Self'. Yes I can find 'some' helpful thoughts very often, even in an interpretation of a Christianity which includes elements of Buddhism. (I do not believe Mr. Finley is 'new age') But it is important to be discriminating. But thank you for your comments. They demonstrate that it is very difficult to 'know thyself' and that the self, even on the model of the trinity is not a neat package of will without the containment of 'other elements'. I especially like your reference to neuro-science, of which I am aware, (but interestingly put aside in my 'choice' to say what I did in my first response.) Indeed did not Christ say, it is through HIM (Logos) and through the power of the Holy Ghost (judgment including emotion) that one arrives at God - (the Will).

  • For Spinoza, love is that which takes us outside ourselves. We realize that we are connected to the world around us. We are part of the natural order, and everything in the natural order is connected. In one sense, everything is really just one thing.

    In this sense, I love God deeply. Whenever I listen to music, or think of a mathematical proof, or simply appreciate the stars above me, so long as I enter into the intellectual recognition that the same form shared by music and mathematics governs the shape and function of my body, and that its material components come from the stars themselves.

    This sort of love leads naturally to a deep love of the other, because the other and I are connected. We are in some sense two small parts of a great cosmic being: God.

    It is in this way that I choose to love God, and as I come more and more to reflect on the possibility that the Cosmic Nature is also the Divine Nature, this understanding of and love for God begins to make more sense to me. The possibility brings with it deep joy and peace.

    • Me too, I just see no reason to call this a god or a spiritual experience.

      • Fr.Sean

        Hi Brian,
        If there is a higher truth, or a truth that we sense or all attempt to adhere to, what do you think it's "source" would be?

        • No idea. Don't even know how you could apply a term like "higher" to "truth".

          • Loreen Lee

            Kant distinguished between pragmatic truths, and goals, and moral truths and goals for instance, the latter being a development from the ability of sapient thought and the order found in beauty. This is consistent with my attempt to interpret the 'meaning' of the Trinity.

          • Which do you think is more clear and reliable, if we are putting truths on a hierarchy?

          • Loreen Lee

            As the Will, (as in this article) is identified with Love, Agape and God the Father it would possibly be the highest in the hierarchy. However, even in Catholicism, there is a kind of acknowledgement of some sort of equity or rather 'equality' in the triune relationship, I believe. But Jesus also said that the only way to the Father, was through him, The Logos, or intellect. We also must remember the Holy Ghost, which I associate with the third of the trinity: Truth Goodness and Beauty, (or Kant's three critiques), or Truth, the Way and The life. Kant in his Critique of Judgment shows that the conception of beauty is related to the emotions, and many other aspects. I have given a summary of this in a past post. Have a good day.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Brian,
            I suppose when i say "higher truth" what i mean is that you and i may glean something may be right or wrong that goes beyond simply subjective feelings. For example, one of the mistakes President Roosevelt made during World War II was that an apparent ship carrying Jews left Germany and sought asylum in the United States. Roosevelt sent the ship back which ended up returning to Germany. All of those Jews could have been saved had Roosevelt chosen to allow them to stay. Now, you and i can discern that Roosevelt made a mistake, the "right" thing to do would have been to allow them to stay. The "right thing to do" goes beyond just subjective feelings. We may be discerning a right or wrong that goes beyond just you or me? what is the source of that "right" or "wrong"? Why does our conscience dictate that there is a "right" or "wrong" that we can both attest to?

      • The word "God" is not required, but it's helpful for me. God is the final answer. The self-explanatory explanation and reason that needs no further reason. At least in terms of efficient causes, scientifically, the universe may well be able to explain its own existence. It's a metaphysical leap to say that the universe is the Necessary Being (or necessary thing), but that metaphysical step is one I find more and more believable as I think about these questions, and as I continue to read and re-read Spinoza's Ethics. Never since reading Aquinas have I been impressed by such intelligence, wisdom and clarity of thought.

        Dawkins says pantheism is sexed-up atheism. That seems like an endorsement!

        • I think it expands the concept of deity so wide as to make it meaningless. Now, reveling in the ineffable beauty of the universe, I am with you there.

          • I'm glad we agree with the reveling!

            As for expanding the concept of ``deity''. I'm still thinking about what the idea of God is, and whether pantheism is too broad. But I think that, if God is understood simply to be the "necessary being", then there would be theists (who think the necessary being is separate from the universe), pantheists (who think the necessary being is the universe) and atheists (who think that there is no necessary being).

            Using this distinction, what separates atheists from pantheists would be the question of whether any fact is contingent. My intuition is more and more that nothing at all is contingent. Randomness is more a description of human ignorance than a description about the nature of reality.

            That said, I have no idea what to do with quantum mechanics, and so I am not yet a pantheist. Randomness seems to be an essential part of physical reality as I understand it so far. My intuition doesn't agree with empirical facts, and since I'm a scientist, I'll stick with the empirical facts.

        • Loreen Lee

          Thank you Paul. The philosophy of Spinoza is one of the reasons I ironically refer to myself as an a-theist. I appreciate his 'pantheism'. So did Einstein. Take care.

        • Loreen Lee

          Paul - I have often wondered why not or if possible - the pantheism of Spinoza cannot be related, according to Christianity with the 'immanence' of God. I have just in the last hour or so realized that it is because the Trinity is associated with Logos, The Will and Judgment, and thus reflects the 'possible' or potentiality of divinity within man's consciousness, something Christianity has always considered distinguishes us, not only from the 'material' aspects of nature, but of bird and beast. The Immanence of Jesus I thus now understand is limited in meaning to define the consciousness of the Divine Logos, potentially at least within all mankind through Christ, and not a 'general' immanence of rationality within nature.

          • I'm not sure I understand. If the Trinity was true and I was Jesus, then I'd be God. That's sort of a maximal immanence.

            If Spinoza's right, then:

            In this sense the voice of Christ, like the voice which Moses heard, may be called the voice of God, and it may be said that the wisdom of God (i.e. wisdom more than human) took upon itself in Christ human nature, and that Christ was the way of salvation." (Spinoza, Tractatus, 1:49)

            And, if Spinoza's right about us being as much God as Christ, then we also have maximal immanence. This seems to be a much closer relationship to God than what Catholicism offers? Although not the Eastern Orthodox, because of their doctrine of theosis, which does seem very similar to this idea (at least on the level of the language).

          • Loreen Lee

            Ah! These 'insolvable puzzles'. I only can attempt to gather as much 'help' in finding a solution, through going through the different religions and faiths looking for insights that I believe they all offer.. For there to be (at least the potential of divine immanence) within human nature, is I believe, what is said to distinguish humanity from other aspects of nature, animals to neurons. etc. So, this is but one definition of what is meant by 'immanence'. I have to admit that I can't make up my mind completely on this and many other issues, which makes me not only a pantheistic believer in Sprinoza's thought, (at least many aspects of it) but also an 'agnostic'. Yes, it's indeed difficult to 'Know Thyself', but I will not give up faith despite the dilemna of not being able to truly 'know who I am'. All the best, Paul.

    • Fr.Sean

      hi Paul,
      Excellent point, and it sounds rather similar to what our faith teaches us.

      • I think it may be. There may even be a way to merge Spinoza's pantheism with Aquinas's Catholicism. If that could be done, if God could be made one with the universe and Catholicism kept (or restored), I'd be very interested to see how!

        Baruch Spinoza uses much of the Scholastic language, but gives it new meaning. I wonder if the Catholic Church would be flexible enough to withstand that new meaning. Could the Catholic God have had a beginning? Could we be part of his physical body?

        • Loreen Lee

          This expresses so much how I too feel. Thank you Paul.

        • Fr.Sean

          HI Paul,
          That's an interesting point. I don't know enough about Spinoza's understanding of God to give an intelligent response. While i don't believe that God has a beginning i wonder if perhaps Spinoza's openness and reflection on the universe and theology didn't lead him to some conclusions that are true? Do you have a website you could recommend that perhaps summarizes his philosophy?

  • I understand him to be saying that, yes, no one thinks they desire the bad, but they may have used their will to be willfully blind to the truest consequence of sin in terms of their spiritual soul, their truest self. If he were not willfully ignoring this, the thief would chose spititual fulfillment rather than pocket fulfillment.

    However, he seems to just make a number of assertions that this soul exists, that free will exists, that the will is love is god etc. Since I don't think any of these things are anything more than concepts (and irrational concepts at that,) his argument doesn't work for me. But I find it very difficult to follow in any event.

    • ziad

      I understand why you do not believe in God and soul. What I do not understand is why you do not believe in free will. Could you explain your stance?

      • I think free will is an illusion. When I think I make a decision, one of two things happens. A) the answer just pops into my hear. EG, shall I wear red or blue today? Blue! Why did I pick blue? No idea, and I cannot say that I consciously applied my will to decide it.

        B) I could weight some factors according to a system of pros and cons. Eg. Should I have dessert? Its unhealthy but I have been working out a lot so it is not too unhealthy. But at that moment I did not chose the factors, they were facts. I did not chose the system, health, that is facts too. the same can be said for the decision to work out, the decision to prioritize health and so on.

        Too hard to explain well in comments Google "sam harris freewill" for a very great explanation. Or Dan Dennet, or read Douglas Hoffstadter's "I Am A Strange Loop."

        • ziad

          I agree that it is hard to explain your whole understanding in a com box. But I just wanted a feel ;)

          I will try to discuss part B with you if you do not mind. I understand that you rationalize your options, but would you agree that different people with very similar, or exact factors would still choose differently regardless of the result of their rationalization? so the factors or facts could (and should) play a role in our decisions and choices, but they do not necessarily do that all the time.

          taking your position B on free will to be true, would criminals necessarily be guilty of their crime?

          • No, I believe that if two brains had exactly the same physical state, they would behave exactly the same way. Of course this would be impossible to test.

            Yes criminals would be guilty of crimes but we might treat them with much more compassion. The idea of punishing disappears and is replaced by protecting the public and rehabilitating perpetrators, if possible. The criminal law can still act as a deterrent even if there is no free will. The consequences of criminal acts become factors that the individual's brain will hopefully apply to the systems of decision-making. I work in the law and this would have profound consequences. In fact, it already is. Of course, even punishment criminal penalties seem to be of very limited deterrence.

            WNYC's incredible radio show Radiolab just had a brilliant podcast on this called "Blame". http://tinyurl.com/qbp347c (I would highly recommend this for all theists and atheists) They also have a great one on decision-making, I think called "Choice".

        • Dave H

          'Google "sam harris freewill" for a very great explanation.'

          I've read a Sam Harris blog post about free will. It seemed lightweight and muddled, but then Sam has always struck me as more of a polished speaker than an intellectual. Nevertheless he sells a lot of books to his eager fans, so good for him. And maybe you had another article in mind.

          At least he (and you, Brian) are consistent with your Atheist beliefs. I've known an Atheist colleague who wanted so desperately to possess Free Will. Of course, he does possess it, but not for the reasons he believes. He would create absolutely fantastic "what if" scenarios, usually invoking (his homemade version of) Chaos Theory and other stabs in the dark. And when I congratulated him because at least he had Faith in *something*... look out. That was the real F-word. :)

        • Loreen Lee

          I too enjoyed "I am a Strange Loop", but found the idea of relating every concept to a particular neuron or something most simplistic. It denied the possibility of transformation and other forms of change. A 'too easy' supposition, or conjecture. But on the question of free will, the Kabbalah has a thorough study on this question and make interesting distinctions. They recognize the determinism within the universe for instance, and thus limit the concept of free will to a 'higher order' of thought, or sapience, that is primarily related to morality and transcendental 'issues'. We have to develop the ability to exercise free will is the gist of it. This I believe is consistent with the idea latent in Christianity that it is very difficult to 'do the will of God'. I will not elaborate on this idea here, but please know I am aware of the seeming paradox within this later statement.

          • I don't think anyone things any concepts can be reduced to a single neuron, more like billions firing in an incredibly complex way.

          • Loreen Lee

            It was just what I thought was a crazy idea that I truly did read in Hofstadter's I am a loop.

          • Dave H

            ...Not to mention the incredible complexity of molecules within and around each of those billions of neurons, and the incredible complexity of each of the atoms that make up those billions of molecules. Mixed together with a couple billion years of incredibly complex evolution...

            Seems like the only thing to disagree about is what to call whatever put all this in motion -- Catholics want to call it God, Atheists want to call it anything but God... So there's plenty of common ground! :)

      • Guest

        I thought I did, but I no longer see the comment.

        In a nutshell because I feel the decisions either pop into my mind, and I do not feel I have freely chosen them. E.g. "think of a city". Or, I use a system, which I did not decide, and apply facts, which I did not decide either. In the latter case it is the external factors and the system that "decides". Ultimately this thing we call decision-making seems to be an illusion. We do not seem to chose our thoughts. They just happen. And that IS what I think the "will" is, but I see no way it can be "free".

  • This article captures so much in so little time, which really is Dr. Kreeft's specialty. (If you enjoyed it, check out Walker Percy's fantastic self-help parody, "Lost in the Cosmos.") Unfortunately I think it's a common misunderstanding that a religious foundation leads you into a rigid and narrow kind of self-knowledge; that to become religious means a downgrade and devolution in our understanding of ourselves into a moralizing nitwit. But Catholicism deepens the mystery of the self, in all of its danger and beauty; and at the heart of it all is the heart, the will. Other grounds of identity - feeling, rationality, social life, neurobiology, etc. - offer the fragile peace of an orderly little sandcastle, but are always confronted by the raging ocean of Nietzsche's axiom: "We are unknown to ourselves, we knowers." Looming over us always is the koan of your own "know thyself." Catholicism doesn't presume to dissipate or shrink this mysterious reality into something easy or clear-cut - a spiritual soul made in the image of God is hardly either - but instead, to face it and understand it by grounding it in the higher mysteries: Creation, Incarnation, Resurrection.