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Sympathy for the Borg

The idea of the mystical body of Christ has always been one of great interest to me, as there was always something about it at odds with the mentality in which I was raised: "Be yourself", etc. was (and remains) the mantra of the day, and the whole idea of being but a single part of something larger did not always sit well. I remember being a ten-year-old watching as the Borg stripped Captain Picard of his identity and "assimilated" him into their collective (his pronoun "I" replaced with "we").1 And of course the Borg were an enemy to be resisted.

Years later, I recall reading Ayn Rand's Anthem (1938) and slowly realizing that the "we" narrating the story was really a single individual, living in a dystopian future scrubbed of the concept of "I" and living under the control of an oppressive, collectivist society. Examples like these would color my view of Plato's Republic the first time I encountered it, as I began my career as a philosophy student, but I've since learned to enjoy Rand's book as an interesting science fiction tale. Not regarding it as quality philosophy, I have instead placed it on the shelf with other, similar works like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1931) and Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano (1952).

Plato's Republic shows us a society (Plato's idea of a perfect one, in fact) where the individual is not considered to be self-sufficient, but a vital part of her or his community, with a role to play as a tradesman, worker, or soldier/guardian. Plato imagines people not as individuals in their own right, but as components in something larger: In Book II of the Republic, Plato tells us that individual humans are the same kinds of things as cities. Human bodies are a collection of living parts (cells, organs, and systems) that work together to accomplish a goal (a successful, healthy life).2 Cities, meanwhile, are collections of living parts as well (individual people, families, and institutions). Cities are made of different organizations: schools, energy providers, waste disposal services, businesses providing food and clothing, etc. If you think about it, the human body has systems that perform similar tasks for itself ... and all these systems working together properly give rise to a healthy human being. Plato's argument, therefore, centers on the idea that society comes before the individual.

The individual too, in Plato's view, may be regarded as a kind of collective (a miniature city, according to his analogy), a composite soul made up of cooperating parts. These parts, like people, find themselves at odds and in pursuit, at times, of conflicting goals; Plato sees such internal disagreement as the explanation of temptation.3

Plato's words certainly resonated with me, especially when it was pointed out to me that this was actually quite similar to what St. Paul described when he said of the Church: "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many" (1 Cor 12:13-14).

This is the mystical body of the Church, which is the mystical body of Christ. The members of the Church act not on their own, but as parts of a larger organism, directed by Christ as their head, and each individual serving a specific role in the service of the whole. As St. Paul explains, "there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone" (1 Cor 12:4-6).

In this view, being a part of a collective and effectively losing one's self to relations with and service for others who also lose themselves is not necessarily an idea to be resisted. Either that, or the collective communities as individuals described by Plato and Paul are dressing the bland reality of Borg life in a more attractive package (something that sounds lovely, but is ultimately the same soul-killing system Ayn Rand imagined in Anthem).

The question, then, is whether we can find reason to accept the Platonic/Pauline ideas of individual life-as-community life as reasonable and accurate. If we could try to objectively consider what individual existence is, without any opinions or preferences regarding our statuses as individuals, what would we discover? A look will shed some interesting discoveries. And as I have the benefit of writing on Plato's city-soul analogy for my doctoral thesis, I have done quite a lot of reading on this question already.

One of the most interesting observations I had the pleasure of reading about comes from the Dutch trauma psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk (2014), who observes that our brains are built to help us function as members of a tribe. In fact, he says, “barely exist as individual organisms”.4 This is something we cannot escape, he says, even if we go off on our own and avoid contact with others (Van Der Kolk works with victims of trauma, including victims of childhood abuse who deliberately avoid contact with others in adulthood, as a form of self-protection). He explains: “We are part of that tribe even when we are by ourselves, whether listening to music (that other people created), watching a basketball game on television (our own muscles tensing as the players run and jump) ...”5 Most of our energy is devoted to either connecting with others, or in response to the work, actions, or behaviour of other human beings.

Tragically, those of us who do find ourselves withdrawing from the community of others face unfortunate consequences: "[A]lmost all mental suffering involves either trouble in creating workable and satisfying relationships or difficulties in regulating arousal.”6 In Van Der Kolk's view, the best way to deal with human suffering comes from dealing with how our problems "interfere with our functioning as members of our tribe."7

This unity of experience also has an aspect that ties this idea back to Plato’s Republic. The Dutch philosopher C.A. Van Peursen (1966) describes the “diffuse” existence of the individual (individual existence being secondary to the existence of the community). In and by himself, Van Peursen says, an individual cannot be “cut loose from the social pattern within which alone he comes to be himself.”8 In fact, Van Peursen also observes that the word “I” is not even employed in tribal societies; it is only used in relation to another person: “’I-father’, ‘I-uncle’, and so forth.”9 Individual identity arises from the group, family, or tribe, and one’s relationship with the others.

In conclusion, the idea of being a part of a collective is not necessarily something to be resisted, if properly understood. When St. Paul describes the Church as such, presenting us with a thing so very much at odds with the attitudes of our time, it may be a great stumbling block toward accepting the Kingdom of God. Also, in teaching Plato's Republic many times over the years, my explanation of the city described by Socrates is often greeted with looks of disbelief and silent head shakes. Yet both ideas might be seen as acceptable (even desirable) if we better understand the nature of the neural "machinery" actually working right now within each of our heads, and how our relationships form us into the people we become. By focusing lesson who we are than what we can do for others, we become less selfish and, somehow, both less and more ourselves. Our identity changes as our focus shifts, but our individual role in the service of others flourishes, breeding a new individual identity.

This idea is nicely summed up, in this story adapted from a famous Japanese folktale. 

"Contrary to popular belief
the tables of Hell are laden
with the most exquisite dishes of food.
Whatever you could possibly desire:
soups, salads, stews, sauces, curries
if you want, fruits, succulent meats
(grilled to order), pastries, ice cream.
The single unusual factor being that
one must eat with a fork three feet long.
Holding it close to the tines you could manage
to eat, but when you do so, a demon immediately
slaps you (or pokes you with his fork),
and says, "Hold it at the other end!"
So getting the food on the fork up to your mouth
is quite impossible, alas, though an abundance
of delicious food is readily available.
 
"In heaven the situation is exactly the same:
same long tables covered with tasty dishes,
same long forks.
The only difference in heaven
is that people feed the person sitting across the table from them."10

The lesson of this story is this: if we could become less concerned with our own happiness and more concerned with the happiness of our neighbors, it would be a happier world. Rethinking our place among our fellows is the key. One has only to be assimilated willfully; “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

Notes:

  1. Piller, M. (Writer), & Bole, C. (Director). (June 18, 1990). "The Best of Both Worlds." [Star Trek: The Next Generation]. G. Roddenberry (Producer). Los Angeles, CA: Paramount.
  2. The Republic, 369b–372c
  3. In the Republic, this is illustrated by the story of Leontius (439e–440b).
  4. Van Der Kolk, B. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2014. p. 80.
  5. Van Der Kolk, p. 80.
  6. Van Der Kolk, p. 81.
  7. Van Der Kolk, p. 81.
  8. Van Peursen, C.A. Body Soul Spirit: A Survey of the Body-Mind Problem (English translation with new material by the author). Hoskins, H.H., trans. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1966. p. 83. Van Peursen notes that the mourning at an individual’s death may be the result of the disrupted social structure as much as his or her personal loss.
  9. Van Peursen, p. 83.
  10. Narayan, Kirin. Storytellers, Saints, and Scoundrels. Philadelphia: Univ of Pennsylvania Press, 1989. p. 197.
Matthew Allen Newland

Written by

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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  • I really am unclear on the point being made here and I can see no relevance to the discourse between theists and atheists.

    My understanding is that the author is saying that what the self is, is an emergent effect of our aggregate biology, and similarly we can form part of a higher level collective, like the Borgs, which is like the church and the mystical body of Jesus?

    I don't think so, but maybe, in the way that possibly an ant colony migh have a consciousness. No idea.

    But I think there is a categorical difference between humans acting in society and community and the Borgs.

    The former is humans maintaining mental autonomy but relinquishing some social sovereignty. In other words we give up some individual freedoms for collective security and pleasure of company. But the cognitive faculties of individuals are unaffected. The latter is a physical interference with mental function, many brains literally become one mind. There is zero ability for individual thought, much less action. Whether this is even possible, I don't know.

    So whether to resist a collective depends on what the collective is. If it is a city or a union, or the United Nations, communism, a church, a marriage, people need to weight these according to their interests and values and practical concerns about human nature. We have both competitive and cooperative instincts and both have their place. Finding a good balance is the goal of governance. Too much freedom seems to result in inequality and oppression of the weak and minorities. for example failed states and I'd argue the United States ( e.g. Health Care) too much collectivity impairs innovation and is fertile ground for corruption, like North Korea, where individual sovereignty essentially doesn't exist and life is pretty dark for most people, but a privileged elite.

    I don't believe souls exists or the mystical body of Christ is anything real or even what these are supposed to be.

    • Sorry I didn't make the point clear, Brian; it was the presentation of a collective as a "bad" thing in our increasingly individualistic society, and how collectivist conceptions of humanity are actually fairly essential to understanding who and what we are.

      Daniel Dennett discusses the emergence of consciousness (and the soul as a "collection of mindless robots") in his very recent book, "From Bacteria to Bach and Back" (2017). The question of an ant colony having some kind of emergent consciousness might actually be relevant here, though the collective cooperation of thousands of ants pales in comparison to the billions of neurons in each of our skulls.

      Ned Block asked a similar question when he imagined a robot being controlled by the population of China (each citizen holding a radio controller capable of a single signal, "on" or "off"); would there be an overarching consciousness existing above and beyond the limits of each individual controller?

      • It would seem you really are advocating relinquishing actual cognitive autonomy, as in the Borgs? That to some extent we join minds with each other and lose some or all ability to have individual thoughts? (Irrespective of whether this is possible, and if so whether this can be achieved socially, materially, or by some other means).

        I would object to this in the basis that I think this would be the same as dying, and I don't believe in an afterlife. It's also why I'm not a transhumanist, and why I would not get in a Star Trek type beaming transporter. I can understand if you believe in a soul or something you might have different views.

        In terms of being more social and more cooperative, I'm generally ok with this, because even if somehow there is an emergent consciousness that arises, whenever this happens I do not lose any cognitive ability or independence of thought. I consent to limit my activity for other reasons.

        But as I noted this depends on the collective. Joining a Maoist or Jihadist organization is very collective, but I would suggest a bad move.

        So just being socially collective is neither good or bad. Nor do I agree that there is a trend away from collective governance or social institutions. The world is more connected than ever before. We have more layers of government than ever.

        • Perhaps that's the point toward which we are evolving, like Teilhard de Chardin's Omega Point: a single convergence of consciousness (which Teilhard identified as the Cosmic Christ; could this be a Messiah of the computer age?).

          And as I'm firmly a materialist (far more interested in investigating bodily resurrection than defending any form of dualism), I'd be in agreement with you re: the transporter.

          As for the trend of our time towards individualism, I don't know ... there's selfie culture, internet celebrity, and the increased emphasis on personal, individual rights, etc. Haven't we been on this trend, culturally speaking, since the days of the Baby Boomers?

          • Perhaps, I don't see any reason to accept that point.

            I think such a trend is difficult to pin down in any objective way. I mean there is Facebook and twitter. The internet allows all kinds of community. Look at Meetup.com I see more people connecting in more ways than ever in history. You could say kids are stuck playing video games. But look at Twitch with all its communities and chat and tournaments conferences. Look at podcast networks and conferences. There's a "con" for everything these days. Community gardens. Look at the massive political protests. I've never felt such community and good faith as with 500,000 others in New York at the women's march.

          • And as I'm firmly a materialist . . . .

            You're a materialist and a Christian? Both?

          • I think Christian physicalism is the way to go; check out Nancey Murphy's writings. I was really happy to discover them as I found someone who was totally on my page.

            I always found the ninth century theologian John Scottus Eriugena (and his Christian pantheism) more interesting than St. Thomas Aquinas anyway.

          • I think Christian physicalism is the way to go; check out Nancey Murphy's writings.

            Fascinating. Thank you for bringing Murphy to my attention.

          • What do you do with Murphy's stance on downward causation? It's not clear that very many physicalists (or materialists, for that matter) are friendly to downward causation.

          • Rob Abney

            I read a review of a Nancey Murphy book, she seems to hold that the form of the body as understood by Aristolean-Thomists has been disproved by modern physics, is that how you understand her position?
            What do you find intersting about Eriugena? The Catholic Encyclopedia describes him this way: In general, the system of thought just outlined is a combination of neo-Platonic mysticism, emanationism, and pantheism which Eriugena strove in vain to reconcile with Aristotelean empiricism, Christian creationism, and theism. The result is a body of doctrines loosely articulated, in which the mystic and idealistic elements predominate, and in which there is much that is irreconcilable with Catholic dogma.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            What do you find intersting about Eriugena?

            You answered your own question:

            there is much that is irreconcilable with Catholic dogma.

            How many truly influential thinkers in the last century were orthodox Catholics? I can't think of many.

          • Alexandra

            I can't think of many.

            OK. Which Catholics did you think of, that were influential?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The last pope. William F. was influential in American politics. But in terms of actual philosophical influence or interest, I can't thin of any. There isn't anyone on the level of a Satre, Kripke, Wittgenstein, Russell, Ayer, etc.

            The point is that if you are married to tired Catholic dogma, it is unlikely that you will say anything particularly interesting, influential, of enlightening. For instance, Descartes was a Catholic who left the reservation and became the father of modern philosophy. Would rather have Descartes than 1000 Thomists.

          • Rob Abney

            Descartes was not from the last century though.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You don't say. Did I include him in my list of last century philosophers? No. He was used as illustration of a point that I thought was rather clear.

          • Alexandra

            The point is that if you are married to tired Catholic dogma, it is unlikely that you will say anything particularly interesting, influential, of enlightening.

            Which Catholics are you referring to here?

            Also, are you saying being Catholic makes you uninteresting, uninfluential, and unenlightened? Or similarly?

            76 Nobel prize winners last century were Catholic.

            There isn't anyone on the level of a Satre [sic], Kripke, Wittgenstein, Russell, Ayer, etc.

            Elizabeth Anscombe (student and translator of Wittgenstein), Rene Girard, Bernard Lonergan, Edith Stein, Jacques Maritain, Dietrich von Hildebrand, to name a few.

            Furthermore, many Catholic theologians contribute to philosophy. Saint Pope John Paul II, and Hans von Balthazar, for example.

            Catholics and Catholicism have a very strong intellectual tradition in many fields. It has a strong artistic tradition as well. ( Bishop Barron's series "Pivotal Players" delves into both of these.)
            It also has a strong education and academic tradition.
            And of course, a strong tradition in care and education for the poor, the marginalized, and those in need. There have been many heroic Catholics. So many that I personally admire and am inspired by.

            However, even if none of this was true. If Catholicism still had only a few adherents, persecuted, and/or underground; as it originally was, or sadly still is in some places,- that doesn't change whether it is true or good.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I may have had a few drinks when I posted the above, but I thought I chose my words carefully. In particular the word married, the word tired, and the word dogma. Point being that if you are dead set on proving or justifying dogma at the expense of critical thinking and an open mind, it is unlikely that you will say and right things of particular interest.

            Russell said regarding Augustine (I'm paraphrasing) that Augustine would have been a great philosopher if he wasn't so worried about the need for infant baptism and the virtues of virginity. Augustine's religious obsessions kept him from focusing on pushing the philosophical ball forward, and thus his work suffered. Augustine is one of the greats, but would have likely been even greater if he wasn't overly concerned with religion. In his Confessions, there are echo's of Descartes' cogito.

            Another interesting example is Pascal. He actually quit doing mathematics for a time because he thought it was against God's will.

            My point, to reiterate, is that being tied to a particular point of view or dogma in uninteresting and anti-intellectual. I dislike ridged people be they Catholic or atheist.

            Which Catholics are you referring to here?

            Oh a whole bunch. Feser, Kreeft, the bishop, Hahn, Kelly, Pitre,... need I continue?

            Also, are you saying being Catholic makes you uninteresting, uninfluential, and unenlightened? Or similarly?

            No. I'm saying being tied down to dogma makes you all those things. The world is a place that can be viewed from many angles. Only taking in one is uninteresting.

            76 Nobel prize winners last century were Catholic.

            Awesome. Didn't say Catholics couldn't do smart things. I bet most of those Catholics marched to their own doctrinal drum. Many of the might have even been heretics. The point isn't that Catholicism bad. The point is that dogmatism is.

            Elizabeth Anscombe (student and translator of Wittgenstein), Rene Girard, Bernard Lonergan, Edith Stein, Jacques Maritain, Dietrich von Hildebrand, to name a few.

            None of these are on the level of who I listed. A few of them are vastly overrated, especially Hildebrand. The ones I admire, Girard and Lonergan both took their own approaches. I'm not particularly familiar with Anscombe, but it seems to me like she approaches things from outside the box.

            Furthermore, many Catholic theologians contribute to philosophy. Saint Pope John Paul II, and Hans von Balthazar, for example.

            JP2 is vastly overrated as a thinker.

            Catholics and Catholicism have a very strong intellectual tradition in many fields.

            It helps when you are the major religion of a civilization.

            It has a strong artistic tradition as well.

            Most great artists are free thinkers and able to view the human race from different angles. Rigid Catholicism doesn't aid in this. It was said of Vidal that what kept him from being a great author was his lack of empathy.

            ( Bishop Barron's series "Pivotal Players" delves into both of these.)

            Lets agree to talk about interesting people.

            It also has a strong education and academic tradition.

            The staff at SN would blush at the things taught at my Catholic Uni.

            And of course, a strong tradition in care and education for the poor, the marginalized, and those in need. There have been many heroic Catholics. So many that I personally admire and am inspired by.

            The picture is a little more complicated than you paint it. The Church also does a great disservice to the poor in many areas. The Church also has a tradition of things unseemly.

            However, even if none of this was true. If Catholicism still had only a few adherents, persecuted, and/or underground; as it originally was, or sadly still is in some places,- that doesn't change whether it is true or good.

            You are repeating the persecution myth. Is everything alright? You seem a little agitated.

          • Alexandra

            Agitated? No. not at all.
            I've been primarily joyful because it's almost Holy Week.

            You were drinking. I hope you are doing better now.

            Elizabeth Anscombe fits all your criteria- 20th century, influential, intellectual, academic philosopher at the level of Wittgenstein- and she was a devout Catholic.

            There is a good practice in science- one cannot dismiss evidence because it doesn't fit a narrative, (and be taken seriously). To assess and/or refute evidence, one needs counter-evidence--not opinions. (But you cannot remove data points!).

            Going into this discussion, I already new there were many (devout) Catholic intellectuals in the 20th century:
            George Lamaitre, Flannery O'Conner, Tolkien, Waugh, Alexander Fleming, Sigrid Undset, Bishop Sheen, Chesterton, Anscombe, Girard, Cardinal Ratzinger, to name a few. Even if we were to quibble over some, there are enough to make the point.

            Yet, you struggled to name them. So, for myself, I think it's a good reminder to share our stories of the intellectual and artistic life of a Catholic. I think work like Bishop Barron's "Pivotal Players" and Joseph Pierce's books on Catholic writers, is a good part of this.

            Every devout Catholic wrestles with meaning, our humanity, our responsibilities to ourselves and others, our reasoning, and meaningful actions, in some form, on a daily basis. It's a desire and call to conscientiousness. So for the Catholic, the intellect and faith go hand in hand.

          • Elizabeth Anscombe fits all your criteria- 20th century, influential, intellectual, academic philosopher at the level of Wittgenstein- and she was a devout Catholic.

            Anscombe is a major figure in 20th-century philosophy, but "at the level of Wittgenstein"? No.

          • Alexandra

            Anscombe is said to be one of the first to recognize Wittgenstein's greatness. So I didn't intend a point by point comparison to Wittgenstein. I was speaking generally. Please excuse the inarticulateness.

            By "level", I meant in intellectual ability, and in terms of being grouped with academic philosophers.
            I read that she is considered one of the greatest woman philosophers of modern times and was Wittgenstein's intellectual heir.

            ...the oft-repeated-repeated description of Anscombe as a "disciple" of Wittgenstein's. Wittgenstein himself was at the very least ambivalent about the idea of having disciples, and his whole way of doing philosophy, he thought, meant learning to think for yourself. That Anscombe was capable of thinking for herself was apparent from early on, and it is no doubt that capacity that endeared her to Wittgenstein intellectually -plus her sheer intelligence of course.

            -Teichmann The Philosophy of Elizabeth Anscombe

            Anscombe was a major figure. She, and the others I listed, refutes the claim under discussion, -that you can't be a devout Catholic and a good thinker.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            "Elizabeth Anscombe fits all your criteria- 20th century, influential, intellectual, academic philosopher at the level of Wittgenstein"

            Level of Wittgenstein - please.

            "Yet, you struggled to name them."

            We can name all sorts of interesting Catholics, but that wasn't what I asked for. I like Waugh and O'Conner, but I'm not sure where I would put them in the canon. I prefer early Waugh before his conversion. Neither is a counter example.

            Chesterton? Sheen? Both are rather disappointing. Chesterton has his moments, but he's not a great thinker.

            Anyway, you are completely missing the point.

          • Rob Abney

            If you can't think of any then try Google or Wikipedia. Here's the last paragraph discussing the Catholicty of artists Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol (both are pretty influential):

            Isamu Noguchi represented a main thrust of twentieth century art when, at a Yale lecture in 1949, he asserted, “Religion dies as dogma, it is reborn as a direct personal expression in the arts.” Dalí and Warhol both tell a different story: Art dies as dogma, it is reborn as a direct personal expression in religion.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Neither Dali or Warhol fit the bill as orthodox Catholics. Neither were philosophers. Try again.

          • Rob Abney

            Ok. Define your criteria. What is orthodox for Catholicism? Do you just want philosophers, not thinkers? And do you just want the last century, which would be the 20th?
            Do you reject Maritain?
            Or are you just looking for someone who defied Catholic dogma?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Believing in Catholic dogmas and orthodox interpretations of doctrines. If a philosopher is Catholic, but believes in an eternal universe than that philosopher is out.

            I don't care if it is a philosopher or a thinker, but philosophers are easier, because the field is less nebulous than that of thinker. The last century provides more focus.

            I'm not sure why you think this is a case of what I want. I simply made the observation that Eriugena is interesting, because he deviates from tired Catholic positions. Catholic positions leave much to be desired, so a thinker can often become more compelling by abandoning them.

            Is Maritain an influential thinker? Yes. Is he one of the great ones? Doubtfully.

            What I had in my mind when I asked the question was important thinkers (that should be read) of the last century, who were largely orthodox catholic. I can think of plenty of atheists, theists, Jews, protestants, and wayward Catholics.

          • Rob Abney

            Were you previously referring to Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI? They will both qualify as thinkers who should be read. Here's the ones I've read.
            Elizabeth Anscombe.
            Dietrich and Alice Von Hildebrande.
            Bernard Lonergan.
            Mortimer Adler (friend of Buckley).
            Frank Sheed.
            Fr. Stanley Jaki
            Brian Davies.
            Thomas Merton.
            Flannery O’Connor “the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil." And Chesterton.

            Did Descartes abandon Catholic dogma? I don't think so, he was never condemned or called a heretic was he?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Descartes was put on the index.

          • Rob Abney

            Thanks for that info.
            He considered himself a devout Catholic though.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            He did. My understanding is that he was frustrated that the Catholic Hierarchy didn't recognize the coming philosophical revolution.

          • How is this reconcilable? Is God physical?

          • What is the problem with getting into the transporter? If we're solely made of matter, and that gets reconstituted... so what? Really it seems like a form of material bodily resurrection-you are temporarily dispersed into your constituent matter and then put back together.

          • Michael Murray

            It's not clear from what I read online how the transporter works. It is suggested in Star Trek that it turns atoms into energy and transports that. So you are disassembled and reassembled. Not so bad. But some episodes involve splitting people so it seems that it might only transmit the information. In that case perhaps every time someone steps into a transporter they undergo a horrific and painful death ? But they don't "live to tell the tale" as it were.

            Reminds me of the end of the movie The Prestige:

            http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0482571/

          • It's probably contradictory due to different writers. So far as I know there is no evidence they ordinarily experience any pain however. Given that transporter accidents do happen, it's not completely weird to dislike them.

          • Michael Murray

            But under the second scenario the person entering the transporter wouldn't be able to tell us as they die. The person emerging from the transporter is a copy of them made just before the pain kicks in. I'm sure that is not the Star Trek writers intention just my random thought.

          • Well that's assuming there is pain. Most of the time we don't have any indication there is. Of course, this is pretty open to speculation given how vague they are.

          • Michael Murray

            Yes agreed. I am just hypothesising a scenario with the supporting argument "you can't prove it doesn't happen" :-)

          • Sure, but that's shifting the burden of proof.

          • Caravelle

            Well, in a materialist universe with a civilization that has a good enough understanding of the humanoid brain and mind (which we can presume Star Trek should have, even if what we see on screen doesn't always represent that but it can't help having been written in the 60s and 90s/early 00s instead of the 24th century), it should be provable whether or not disintegration in the transporter causes [a conscious experience of] horrific pain.

          • Michael Murray

            Good point.

    • The former is humans maintaining mental autonomy …

      Is it? Have we scientifically quantified how much "mental autonomy" actually exists in Western society these days? Or is the reader supposed to take your claim "on faith", as it were?

      • Yes it is. Humans have full mental autonomy. You don't have to take anything on faith. I would think it is kind of a mundane point that human minds are not being controlled or sharing cognitive functions with other minds. But if you're not convinced of that, well I don't know how to convince you it isn't happening.

        Maybe you're not familiar with the show, but don't you see the difference between joining a church and becoming assimilated into a single cybernetic consciousness whereby you lose all individual identity and desires?

        • Humans have full mental autonomy.

          I take it you have empirical evidence for this claim, with an explanation for how one can attempt to falsify your hypothesis?

          I would think it is kind of a mundane point that human minds are not being controlled or sharing cognitive functions with other minds.

          Apparently you've never encountered the extended mind thesis or ecological psychology, or read any sociology and understand how powerful plausibility structures are.

          As to "not being controlled", don't the laws of nature rigorously control every single thing which goes on in your mind? Or are you of the opinion that the laws of nature control the res extensa, while some other entity controls the res cogitans?

          Maybe you're not familiar with the show, but don't you see the difference between joining a church and becoming assimilated into a single cybernetic consciousness whereby you lose all individual identity and desires?

          I'm actually interested in how you go from a newborn to being 100% autonomous. How exactly does that work?

          • I mean I have no evidence of mental interference with human minds, is this in dispute? I mean do you have any reason to believe minds are being interfered with or controlled or shared?

            I know lots of people think there is mind control etc. I don't.

            Sure yes my guess on what the human mind is, is deterministic. But determined by the function of one human brain not several.

            I just think all organic brains are autonomous. A computer network or brains connected to a network is a very different kind of thing. Don't you agree.

          • I mean I have no evidence of mental interference with human minds, is this in dispute?

            You must have completely missed Freud. But because he said a bunch of wrong things too, I suggest a read through Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture. You'll see how ridiculously you are conditioned by your family and culture. Oh yes, that's mind control. Just because there aren't constant RF waves dictating your every movement doesn't mean it isn't mind control.

            I mean do you have any reason to believe minds are being interfered with or controlled or shared?

            Yes, plenty. Read Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes. Or really, any sociology whatsoever. Oh wait, sociology is nonsense? Well, if you believe that (I hope you don't), then I'll just point out that you don't are about a wealth of evidence.

            Sure yes my guess on what the human mind is, is deterministic. But determined by the function of one human brain not several.

            According to your belief system, the human brain has as much determining power as a billiard ball. That is, it is a conduit for causal chains, not an originator of a single causal chain.

            I just think all organic brains are autonomous.

            If you haven't attempted to ingeniously falsify this claim, it isn't a scientific claim.

          • No thanks not interested I Freud. Sure I accept I am sure influenced by culture, my social interactions and so on. I'm not sure I would call this conditioning, in a Pavlovian sense. But sure there is likely some of that going on.

            But do you not see a significant distinction between that, and literally taking over someone's brain so they lose all sense of identity and are just part of a larger organism? Maybe you don't.

            I just would not call propaganda and social influence mind the same kind of thing.

            I didn't say sociology is nonsense. I am saying there is a difference between the Borgs and a church in terms of the exercise of will.

            I do believe human brains are deterministic. Which is why mind control is plausible, though science fiction and fantasy.

            Of course this is not a scientific claim. Who said we were doing science here or requiring scientific standards. We are having a discussion about a piece written by a theologian (?). We are talking about our opinions.

            I mean I guess you are saying that being assimilated by the Borgs is the same kind of thing as joining a book club, I am saying there is a significant distinction deference in the kind of "collective" being joined here not just a difference of degree.

            Ok. You disagree.

          • Sure I accept I am sure influenced by culture, my social interactions and so on. I'm not sure I would call this conditioning, in a Pavlovian sense. But sure there is likely some of that going on.

            To the extent that you haven't consulted the empirical evidence, it seems that you should remain agnostic? But perhaps that is not how you roll.

            But do you not see a significant distinction between that, and literally taking over someone's brain so they lose all sense of identity and are just part of a larger organism? Maybe you don't.

            I know that there are many ways to control people. One way is to constantly send programming signals; another is to do a bunch of pre-programming and then let the system run. The first is represented by the Star Trek TNG episode The Battle while a midpoint between the two is represented by the episode The Mind's Eye. I forget if there's a good Star Trek example of the second.

            By the way, humans didn't start out having a strong sense of identity. Read the first few pages of Moral Topography, a chapter in Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self (11,000 'citations'). For a briefer version:

            The Dutch historian Jan Romein coined the phrase "the common human pattern" to denote some features of society and culture that can be found throughout history. The modern West deviates sharply from this common pattern, not least in the character and degree of individuation. This is the sound empirical foundation for the claim that Western individualism is an aberration; the common pattern has the individual tightly bonded within his community. (A Far Glory, 101)

            I suggest spending some time absorbing that. I've tried to get my hands on Jan Romein's paper, but it is proving difficult. However, this mirrors what you find in Sources of the Self as well as anthropology. You don't actually "lose all sense of identity"; you might "gain some sense of identity".

    • My understanding is that the author is saying that what the self is, is an emergent effect of our aggregate biology …

      Is the underlined a magical word, or do you have rigorous mathematical formalisms to back it up? For reference:

      LB: Does "emergence" here function as a magical term, or can you demonstrate rigorous mathematics which shows how every step is connected to every previous step? Recall that "God works in mysterious ways" is prohibited. So is the scientific version.

      e: There's an entire subfield of physics/chemistry called statistical mechanics that does that. You study it to learn how to calculate emergent collective properties such as room temperature, pressure, liquid viscosity, etc. from the properties of single molecules such as excitation energy etc.

      The equations aren't easy, but if you're implying nobody has or can show how that micro to macro connection, you're entirely wrong.

      LB: But I want rigor and so often I get mushiness when it comes to the word "emergence" and atheists online. Perhaps I have not had the right questions.

      e: Well then you'll have to go study it. I won't and honestly couldn't summarize statistical mechanics in a blog post. At a minimum, that is what Wikipedia entries are supposed to be for. As the name implies, there is a lot of statistics involved in figuring out what collective properties emerge out of groups of 10E20+ atoms or molecules. interacting with each other.

      LB: Can you suggest some starting places?

      I will note that the OP does not contain the word stem "emerg".

      • No, emergent is just a word, not magical or math, it means "arising out of".

        • There are two very different ways you can get "arising out of":

               (I) deterministic time-evolution
              (II) discontinuous time-evolution

          Linear laws of nature (cf. Nonlinear dynamics beneath quantum mechanics?), which you can read about at WP: Unitarity (physics), can only ever do (I). Period. On this construal, information is indestructable. Which means that (II) never happens.

          My question for you is whether you mean (I) only, or also (II), with the word "emergent"—or with your expansion to "arising out of". If you choose (II), then I would like to know whether the discontinuities are 100% random, or whether there is structure in them.

          • You've lost me. It means "arising out of".

          • You don't know what the words "deterministic" and "discontinuous" mean? Or what the term "time-evolution" means?

          • I don't know what deterministic time-evolution or discontinuous time-evolution are.

          • How many of the following do you understand:

                 (1) deterministic
                 (2) discontinuous
                 (3) time-evolution

            ?

          • 1 and 2 I guess.

          • Then I suggest a quick glance at WP: Time evolution. It's a pretty simple concept. Unless you deny that time exists?

          • Yeah, I looked at it. It didn't help. Does time exist? Now that is a huge topic. I don't really know.

          • Really, you're not willing to commit yourself to any line of discussion which assumes that time is real? Perhaps the symmetry-breaking of time with time crystals will help? Or will you dismiss that as mathematical woo woo and insist that we just don't have enough confidence to say that time is real to predicate a conversation on it?

          • On this level, I am just out of my league. I know enough about time to say I am ignorant of what it really is. Given relativity and a and b theories of time, I'm not sure I can defend one view or another. In fact I don't really understand the math or issues.

            I mean I can accept the real fact of time in a mundane lay person sense. But I know this sense is really not accurate and you seem to want to discuss it at the level of advanced physics. I just can't.

            You asked if time exists. I see it as a dimension. Does lenght exist? Well I identify the length of things. Those things exist with length as a property. But does length itself exist absent these items. I wouldn't say so. Given that my lay intuitive understanding of time really cannot account for this "space-time" as physicists understand it. I'm really not in a position to have this discussion with you.

          • Advanced physics?

          • More advanced than I studied in high school.

          • You didn't learn how to take a state at time t1 and use equations to tell you what the state would be at t2?

          • Sure but you are asking me about "space-time crystal is an open system in non-equilibrium with its environment that exhibits time translation symmetry breaking (TTSB). "

            And suchlike.

          • Yeah, that's because you started spouting off about "maybe time isn't real". It's like you're intentionally avoiding the following very simple matter:

            LB: There are two very different ways you can get "arising out of":

                 (I) deterministic time-evolution
                (II) discontinuous time-evolution

            Now, why would you do this? Perhaps because you, or folks you trust who use the word "emergent", want to mean (I) when they cannot do anything like fill in all the gaps to show (I). And so what do we have? "Emergence works in mysterious ways." And yet, to have to face the possibility that you've merely changed "God" → "emergence" is rather sobering. And so you blow smoke out of the very simple concept of "time-evolution". Even though anyone who has taken high school physics knows that x(t) = x0 + vt. Or x(t) = x0 + v0t + ½at². Yep, that's time-evolution.

            How about we be serious? If you want to pull crap like "maybe time isn't real", then I can get into the advanced physics which shows time symmetry being broken. Or you can be a normal person and allow that maybe time is real. But you don't seem to want to do that. Why?

          • My position is pretty clear, I am simply ignorant of what consciousness and the human mind is. However, all aspects of human minds appear to me to be in some way associated with human brains and it appears that no aspects of human minds have no associations with human brains. Therefore I infer that whatever a human mind is, it arises out of a human brain.

            Now I think that is a pretty straightforward position. If you want to say it is largely ignorant and unsatisfying, I agree with you.

            I am sorry you feel this discussion is frustrating. You are under no obligation to continue it.

          • My position is pretty clear, [1] I am simply ignorant of what consciousness and the human mind is. [2] However, all aspects of human minds appear to me to be in some way associated with human brains and it appears that no aspects of human minds have no associations with human brains.

            I don't see how [1] fails to utterly defeat the relevance of [2]. Perhaps you need to revisit Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial). The tl;dr is that if your non-perceptual neurons don't have any patterns which sufficiently well-match the pattern on your perceptual neurons, you may never become conscious of that pattern. Or you could heed the following:

            Specifically, Descartes speculated that the workings of res cogitans—second substance—may be beyond human understanding. So he thought, quoting him again, "We may not have intelligence enough to understanding the workings of mind." In particular, the normal use of language, one of his main concepts. He recognized that the normal use of language has what has come to be called a creative aspect; every human being but no beast or machine has this capacity to use language in ways that are appropriate to situations but not caused by them—this is a crucial difference. And to formulate and express thoughts that may be entirely new and do so without bound, may be incited or inclined to speak in certain ways by internal and external circumstances, but not compelled to do so. That's the way his followers put the matter—which was a mystery to Descartes and remains a mystery to us. That quite clearly is a fact. (Noam Chomsky - "The machine, the ghost, and the limits of understanding", 9:58)

            Colin McGinn makes a similar argument in The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World. So it seems that you use the word "emergent" to avoid having to deal with this extremely hard problems, while maintaining your worldview. It really is the following: "God Emergence works in mysterious ways."

          • Brian's position seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable one. It really doesn't matter how many sources you cite. Nobody understands consciousness. Nobody can "prove" it is the product of the physical brain alone, but that is (and has to be) the working assumption of scientists. You have clearly done an impressive amount of research, and you cite many, many sources, but it seems to me your messages are more overwhelming than persuasive.

          • Nobody understands consciousness.

            If that is the case, then it seems that we should not immediately presume that we have all of the relevant conceptual tools for understanding consciousness. Sometimes it seems like folks here do precisely that. Perhaps I am being misled, perhaps by my own incompetence.

            Nobody can "prove" it is the product of the physical brain alone, but that is (and has to be) the working assumption of scientists.

            There are easy non-"supernatural" objections to this, e.g. in the extended mind thesis and in ecological psychology. Furthermore, there is the possibility that culture can play a key causal role in producing mental illness, as Liah Greenfeld argues in her 2013 Mind, Modernity, Madness: The Impact of Culture on Human Experience. Well, if culture can do this, then culture can affect the mind in ways where it becomes problematic to view 'mind' atomistically—100% resident only in one brain.

            You have clearly done an impressive amount of research, and you cite many, many sources, but it seems to me your messages are more overwhelming than persuasive.

            It is possible that they are unnecessarily overwhelming, but when someone questions the reality of time in a discussion about such things, what am I to do?

            It is also a different question to talk about how science should proceed next, vs. what is probably true. These two can be worlds apart! Fail to properly distinguish them and you harm both science and life.

            But to the part of your criticism that survives the above rebuttals: I am sure I can learn to compress my points, offering just the tip of the iceberg. I am far from a perfect human being. And yet, if someone tells me they respect science, why is it wrong for me to take them seriously and press them on that point? The person is always permitted to say that his/her respect for science only goes so far, that after some point, [s]he has to trust one school of thought over against others, for no reason that [s]he can articulately defend. But then this starts looking like religion, doesn't it?

          • but when someone questions the reality of time in a discussion about such things, what am I to do?

            You could tell us what you think and why you think it. We all get it that, no matter what we think, somebody with an impressive c.v. thinks differently.

          • The title of this blog post is "Sympathy for the Borg". How is this the place to talk about the reality or non-reality of time? No, that functioned beautifully as an attempt to distract from the matter at hand. And you're contributing to the distraction.

          • How is this the place to talk about the reality or non-reality of time?

            I don't know, but I didn't raise the subject. Someone else brought it up, and I just decided to join that conversation.

          • You apparently deemed it wise to respond this way:

            DN: You have clearly done an impressive amount of research, and you cite many, many sources, but it seems to me your messages are more overwhelming than persuasive.

            LB: It is possible that they are unnecessarily overwhelming, but when someone questions the reality of time in a discussion about such things, what am I to do?

            DS: You could tell us what you think and why you think it.

            Given that you are unable to answer my question of how this is "the place to talk about the reality or non-reality of time", it seems that you may want to read more of the conversation and/or review it.

          • Your suggestion is noted.

          • You have clearly done an impressive amount of research, and you cite many, many sources, but it seems to me your messages are more overwhelming than persuasive.

            As long as he can link to a book that he's read and his interlocutors haven't read, he'll have the last word, and so he doesn't have to persuade.

          • Sounds like a pretty stupid social protocol.

          • I'm not trying to avoid anything. I've stated several times that I am ignorant of what consciousness is or how it arises.

            I think the problem of identifying what consciousness is and its origin is an extremely difficult problem. I've made no attempt to stake out a position on this other than stating the obvious that it seems very connected to human brains.

          • I'm not trying to avoid anything.

            Then perhaps you could explain why it was possibly relevant that you think time might not exist. That seemed like an utter red herring to me, to avoid having to discriminate between "(I) deterministic time-evolution / (II) discontinuous time-evolution".

            I think the problem of identifying what consciousness is and its origin is an extremely difficult problem. I've made no attempt to stake out a position on this other than stating the obvious that it seems very connected to human brains.

            "connected to" ⇏ "causally reducible to the current entities of physics†"

            † More at this comment, especially the † there.

          • It's only relevant because you asked me if I denied if time exists. That's actually not a simple question.

            I still don't know what you mean by those terms. Or in the comment above.

            I really don't know what point you are trying to advance here. Is there a point you want to make? Is there something I said you dispute?

          • You are right; I bear some fault:

            LB: Then I suggest a quick glance at WP: Time evolution. It's a pretty simple concept. Unless you deny that time exists?

            BGA: Yeah, I looked at it. It didn't help. Does time exist? Now that is a huge topic. I don't really know.

            But only some. Let's look at the Wikipedia article:

            Time evolution is the change of state brought about by the passage of time, applicable to systems with internal state (also called stateful systems). In this formulation, time is not required to be a continuous parameter, but may be discrete or even finite. In classical physics, time evolution of a collection of rigid bodies is governed by the principles of classical mechanics. In their most rudimentary form, these principles express the relationship between forces acting on the bodies and their acceleration given by Newton's laws of motion. (WP: Time evolution)

            What don't you understand about that which is relevant to our discussion? Are you unfamiliar with both of the following equations:

                 x(t) = x0 + vt
                 x(t) = x0 + v0t + ½at²

            ?

            As to what I'm trying to talk about, I thought I was clear:

            LB: There are two very different ways you can get "arising out of":

                 (I) deterministic time-evolution
                (II) discontinuous time-evolution

            I even quoted that once before. Here's how you can understand the difference:

            (I) The state of a [closed] system can be derived solely from (i) the state of the system at some previous time and (ii) the relevant equations.

            (II) The state of a [closed] system cannot be derived entirely from (i) and (ii). Alternatively, one could say that we do not have access to closed systems.

            If you only mean (I) by the word "emergent", that is a very different beast than if you mean (II). We can talk about stuff like the contents of Massimo Pigliucci's Essays on emergence, part I after you deal with (I) vs. (II).

          • I don't understand what the quote from Wikipedia is trying to say or how it relates to our discussion. It says change is brought about by the passage of time. That's not how I understand it. It seems to contradict relativity.

            I am unfamiliar with those equations. What is time-evolution do you mean time evolves? Or that things evolve in time? Are these a or b theories of time? How is deterministic different from discontinuous? Is time here actually space/time, in which case are these evolutions applicable to space as well?

            I just don't know what you are asking me.

            When I get to your two sisters b points this I understand. I am a deterministic. I believe the later state could be predicted from a previous state with perfect knowledge. (I)

            I don't mean either by emergent. I mean arising from. Coming out of. But yes I thing all activity of matter/energy is deterministic. Though not predictable due to the impossibility of having perfect knowledge of a closed system.

          • Sorry, I was assuming something like x(t) = x0 + vt would be sufficiently basic. Here's the equation in English:

                 The position of an object at time t, if no other forces are operating on it [aside from a normal force], is equal to the position it had at t = 0, plus its [constant] velocity times t.

            Does that make sense to you?

          • Sure. That makes sense in a given frame of reference. It isn't necessarily the case for an observer that is moving relative to the object in question, is it? Are you assuming some privileged reference frame?

          • I'm assuming an inertial frame of reference. Are you really going to take issue with that?

          • I think it get that. Ok so what is your point?

          • This is my point:

            LB: There are two very different ways you can get "arising out of":

                 (I) deterministic time-evolution
                (II) discontinuous time-evolution

            Do you yet understand what the difference is between 'deterministic' and 'discontinuous'? Here's a hint:

            LB: Here's [x(t) = x0 + vt] in English:

                 The position of an object at time t, if no other forces are operating on it [aside from a normal force], is equal to the position it had at t = 0, plus its [constant] velocity times t.

            The question, most fundamentally, is whether this is an open system or a closed system. Wikipedia has an article which gets at this: Causal closure. If you cannot properly distinguish these two things, then you don't know whether 'emergence' is something a system "spontaneously does", or whether it actually got "outside help". Perhaps you can see why, in talking to theists, you need to be able to make this discussion? Unless you happen to believe that our reality is not a closed system?

          • Sorry. I still don't understand what time-evolution means. I know what evolution mean. Yes I agree things evolve and change in time. And I believe this is deterministic.

            Is what a closed system? The human brain? Mind? I don't think any of these are a closed system.

            No I don't see why in talking to theists I need to be able to discuss in this fashion. You're the only person who insists on it. And I've been having these discussions for years.

            Oh is our reality a closed system? I can say that when I use the term "reality" I meant literally everything that is not fictional. I don't know if that makes it a closed system.

            Keep in mind, I've not made any claim about what consciousness is or that it emerges at all. And I do not claim that.

            I was asking the author if he took that position. He said he was a materialist and this allowed us to have a discussion then about social collectives vs cognitive collectives. The discussion was intersting.

            You just seem hell bent on showing that a materialist view of consciousness as being emergent only from the physical brain is woefully undefined and not even close to being demonstrated. I would agree with that.

          • Sorry. I still don't understand what time-evolution means. I know what evolution mean. Yes I agree things evolve and change in time. And I believe this is deterministic.

            It suffices for you to say "deterministic", and thus choose (I). On this reasoning, you, Brian Green Adams, were encoded in reality from at least the Big Bang. There's absolutely no mystery to how you arrived; the deterministic laws of nature just cranked away until you appeared on the scene. Laplace's demon knew you were coming, precisely what you'd be like, etc. Do you agree with all this?

            Is what a closed system? The human brain? Mind? I don't think any of these are a closed system.

            The most encompassing object of scientific understanding is generally taken to be a [causally] closed system. The [increasing?] dominance of the B-theory of time attests to this. Now, if in fact what even cosmologists are studying is a [causally] open system, I suggest that the very way we think ought to be altered. In particular, a closed system is one of law, while an open system permits grace.

            No I don't see why in talking to theists I need to be able to discuss in this fashion. You're the only person who insists on it. And I've been having these discussions for years.

            You have not come across any discussions of "unmerited grace"? You have not come across any discussions of God existing outside of any box we can draw, yet able to act within any box we can draw?

            Oh is our reality a closed system? I can say that when I use the term "reality" I meant literally everything that is not fictional.

            That all depends on whether you permit God to possibly be part of "our reality". I frequently find that the word 'reality' awfully tightly connected to the mechanical philosophy, in which case God would be very much excluded—as well as regular old human agency.

            I don't know if that makes it a closed system.

            That depends on whether humans make themselves gods. :-D After all, a god can stand 'outside' a system and thus talk about it comprehensively as if it were completely closed and ever-increasingly comprehensible (if not already completely comprehended).

            You just seem hell bent on showing that a materialist view of consciousness as being emergent only from the physical brain is woefully undefined and not even close to being demonstrated. I would agree with that.

            No, that is not all I intend to demonstrate. Indeed, I intended all along to distinguish between grace and law, and have that distinction be applicable to matters generally thought [by atheists] to be reserved strictly for scientific thought.

          • yes I see no alternative to determinism. It's not as strong position, I would say at best it is a best explanation.

            I have not come across the term unmerited grace or the box analogy. But I can guess at the concepts which are familiar, is unmerited grace like predestination? And a transcendent god?

            If a god exists I would consider it real and part of reality in whatever way it exists. Reality is like cosmos for me. The all encompassing scale. So if god is standing outside of something, I wound not call that something "reality" I would call it and god and whatever else exists "reality". But I could accept that the something is a "system" and if god is affecting it I would not call it closed.

            Sure go ahead and distinguish grace and law. I have some ideas of what is meant by laws. But to me you might as well be distinguishing between law and The Force. I can understand the distinction, but I think one is imagined and not real.

          • yes I see no alternative to determinism. It's not as strong position, I would say at best it is a best explanation.

            But what is 'determinism'? Must it exclude agents as causes?

            LB: You have not come across any discussions of "unmerited grace"? You have not come across any discussions of God existing outside of any box we can draw, yet able to act within any box we can draw?

            BGA: I have not come across the term unmerited grace or the box analogy.

            Unmerited grace is grace that was not deserved. Unmerited grace is a free lunch. It is a gift that is not dependent on how good you have been. As a foil, consider that Santa Claus gives gifts to good children and coal to bad children.

            As to box drawing, you can think of an epistemology as drawing a box. The epistemology determines what can possibly be known to exist. Well, if epistemologies are finite in complexity and God is infinite in complexity, then any ossified epistemology will be permanently unable to understand more than an infinitesimal fraction of who God is. It is night meaningless to include God in a category of "all that exists", as if now you admit that he exists. No, your epistemology determines what (and who) you can possibly admit as existing.

            So if god is standing outside of something, I wound not call that something "reality" I would call it and god and whatever else exists "reality".

            Fine; I will simply say that most atheists I've encountered tend to use "reality" exchangeably with "the observable universe". Why? Because then you can say things about "reality". If you include God in "reality", then you can't even necessarily have a univocal definition of 'exists'.

            Sure go ahead and distinguish grace and law. I have some ideas of what is meant by laws. But to me you might as well be distinguishing between law and The Force. I can understand the distinction, but I think one is imagined and not real.

            In that case, basic philosophy of science such as Ceteris Paribus Laws should also be woo woo to you.

          • Determinism is just the position that in a given set of circumstances the same result would happen if we had exactly the same set of circumstances again. I don't think it excludes agents or causes, depending what you mean by those terms.

            Again do you have some point you wish to discuss, or question about my initial comment?

            Basically my initial comment was that joining social clubs finding community is categorically different than hooking your brain into a network of brains like in the borgs

          • Determinism is just the position that in a given set of circumstances the same result would happen if we had exactly the same set of circumstances again.

            Curious. To some atheists, it means much more than that. Oh well, it's good to be kept on my toes.

            Again do you have some point you wish to discuss, or question about my initial comment?

            Yeah, this:

            BGA: My understanding is that the author is saying that what the self is, is an emergent effect of our aggregate biology …

            LB: Is the underlined a magical word, or do you have rigorous mathematical formalisms to back it up?

            BGA: No, emergent is just a word, not magical or math, it means "arising out of".

            LB: There are two very different ways you can get "arising out of":

                 (I) deterministic time-evolution
                (II) discontinuous time-evolution

            The difference between (I) and (II) is very large. One way to understand this is that not all causal chains need to be rooted in the beginning of time. Agent causes could be rooted at arbitrary time points, and God could also act at arbitrary time points (with no discernible antecedent cause). As far as I can tell, emergence provides a wonderful opportunity for both of these things. But they are crucially discontinuous. And yet, this possibility seems actively precluded by your original statement. Most precisely, mind–mind interaction (that is, interaction on the higher emergent levels) seems precluded. At the very least, a denial of such possible interaction between humans and God seems is very consistent with what you wrote. One merely needs to deny (II), and that denial can easily be implicit.

            Basically my initial comment was that joining social clubs finding community is categorically different than hooking your brain into a network of brains like in the borgs

            On (I) sans (II), I'm not sure you can rigorously support this. On (I) sans (II), "you" don't control your actions any more than a Borg drone controls its actions. You might be deluded into thinking this is the case, but people can be deluded about all sorts of things.

          • Oh goodness what makes you think I can support either, much less "rigorously" support.

            I favour determinism and do not subscribe to this idea of free will. This idea of the being like two me's one controlling l'autre, is not what I think is going on.

            But neither of us was advancing such a claim. It just isn't relevant to the article as far as I can tell.

          • LB: There are two very different ways you can get "arising out of":

                 (I) deterministic time-evolution
                (II) discontinuous time-evolution

            BGA: Basically my initial comment was that joining social clubs finding community is categorically different than hooking your brain into a network of brains like in the borgs

            LB: On (I) sans (II), I'm not sure you can rigorously support this. On (I) sans (II), "you" don't control your actions any more than a Borg drone controls its actions. You might be deluded into thinking this is the case, but people can be deluded about all sorts of things.

            BGA: Oh goodness what makes you think I can support either, much less "rigorously" support.

            You used the term "categorically different" and yet cannot support your claim in the face of criticism? Without (II), or at least without agent causation, the only real difference I see between the Borg and a social club is that the Borg is your dominant social club, it overrules all other social clubs. Without agent causation, no person is being suppressed by plugging into the Hive Mind. I mean, not more than the significant peer pressure which can be found all over.

            There's a new Matrix movie in the works that is supposed to take social media seriously (the internet was for nerds only when the first Matrix came out). Curiously, they have one or more actors/​actresses, but no plot. My suggestion is based off of the original premise, that humans are being used as neural computing units, not batteries. Well, with Facebook, Twitter, et al collecting so much data about people, perhaps humans now can be turned into neural computation units, without any plug required. Stargate Universe actually played on this idea, by producing a game where winning the game solves an incredibly hard mathematical problem. Take this thinking to its logical conclusion and you have one or more Borg Collectives.

            If there aren't any serious objections to my above plot, then there is very good reason for why you cannot support your stance in the face of my criticism: there is no clearly marked, solid boundary between our culture as it is, and Facebook et al using human beings as neural computation units. And yes, I know that the RCC has been described similarly to the Borg in some of the key dimensions I'm picking out.

          • Sure the difference is that if you join a club you maintain your identity as an individual. No matter how into the club you are you do not direct share thoughts, you can disagree with other members of the club. You can leave the club if you choose to.

            If you join the Borgs you lose all individual identity, you no longer have independent thought. You cannot disagree with other members. You cannot leave. It is not an aggregate of minds, but one mind.

            I'd say this is categorically different. The central difference being whether or not any individual identity is retained.

            Agency is retained in both. The difference is that a club is an aggregate of agents the borg is one agent. The difference is one of whether the connection of minds is direct imediate sharing of cognitive faculties, rather than sharing the product of individual minds. It's the difference between talking to someone and sharing their mind.

          • Sure the difference is that if you join a club you maintain your identity as an individual.

            Do you think individuality is anything other than an approximation? For some sociological/​historical background:

            The Dutch historian Jan Romein coined the phrase "the common human pattern" to denote some features of society and culture that can be found throughout history. The modern West deviates sharply from this common pattern, not least in the character and degree of individuation. This is the sound empirical foundation for the claim that Western individualism is an aberration; the common pattern has the individual tightly bonded within his community. (A Far Glory, 101)

            We could also consult the various studies of "social construction of individuality". IIRC there is also psychology on individuation and various pathologies thereof. There is also Anatta, the doctrine of "non-self".

            If you join the Borgs you lose all individual identity, you no longer have independent thought.

            How do you know that your current thought is independent? A computer which I programmed to do things, and then goes and does them for a year without further intervention by me, is not truly independent of me. True independence requires sundering of causal chains and the introduction of new causation nucleating at the individual. Otherwise you are merely a semi-stable point of confluence of various chains of causation. Logic matters here, unless you are happy with the illusion of freedom, the illusion of independence, the illusion of autonomy.

            You cannot disagree with other members. You cannot leave. It is not an aggregate of minds, but one mind.

            You might be shocked at how much of society this models quite well. Especially when you take into account the exceptions that Star Trek: Voyager introduces. For example, there are drones who get temporarily interrupted from the Hive Mind and go on to be individuals, or Unimatrix Zero, which might be the model for the TV series Humans.

            I'd say this is categorically different.

            That's an extremely strong claim. Can you robustly support it with logic, or only intuition? I realize, by the way, that the powers that be wish you to believe in exactly the way you are talking. The best way to control people is to control them while they subjectively feel that they are arbitrarily close to 100% free. This creates a prison with bars which cannot be tasted, touched, seen, smelled, or heard.

            Agency is retained in both.

            I'm sorry, but it's not clear to me that your metaphysic allows 'agency' to be anything but a rough approximation of the impersonal forces of nature doing their thing.

            The difference is one of whether the connection of minds is direct imediate sharing of cognitive faculties, rather than sharing the product of individual minds. It's the difference between talking to someone and sharing their mind.

            I suggest a look at the extended mind thesis, ecological psychology, and Wittgenstein's private language argument. For book-length stuff, you could see Michael Tomasello's A Natural History of Human Thinking, suggesting that language only arose via co-intentionality among persons. Humans share a lot more than you seem to believe. That's ok—the Enlightenment was quite deluded when it comes to cognition and emotion. But surely you wish to escape the antiquated dogmas of the past and found your beliefs on the empirical evidence?

          • Oh no I don't think my current thinking is independent. I just don't think it is being directly influenced by other minds. Like two rivers flowing down a slope. There is a clear distinction between two that join compared to two that never interact. Neither have pure independence but there is still a tremendous difference.

            It's not about what makes me happy. It's about what is reasonable to accept as true.

            Yes there are all kinds of hypothetical ways to mess with cognition. And different extents. I still say it is categorically different to join a club than to be assimilated into the Borgs. And I've experience explained the difference. Of course I don't have empirical evidence. This is sci fi. We are dealing with fantasy. I'm saying the Borgs are not just a really close knit society, they are advanced as something categorically different. That difference is the difference between social interaction e.g. A date, and cognitive neurology, e.g. A lobotomy.

            You are correct about my understanding of agency, on that level.

          • Oh no I don't think my current thinking is independent. I just don't think it is being directly influenced by other minds. Like two rivers flowing down a slope. There is a clear distinction between two that join compared to two that never interact. Neither have pure independence but there is still a tremendous difference.

            Ok, so then we just need to talk about Borg where the communication can take months or years to reach groups of drones, such that they need to maintain considerable internal state and appear autonomous. That doesn't seem to be a very big change.

            I still say it is categorically different to join a club than to be assimilated into the Borgs.

            You seem to be straying from:

            LB: Without (II), or at least without agent causation, the only real difference I see between the Borg and a social club is that the Borg is your dominant social club, it overrules all other social clubs.

            Perhaps it would be better to think about moving to a different country and adapting to its culture. That is probably a better way to think of membership in the RCC as they want you to think of it BTW.

          • I get it you see it as a spectrum I see a bright line of distinction. So what?

          • Oh, on my own metaphysic I suspect there is the brightest of lines. But I'm trying to operate on your metaphysic. And I see no way to robustly generate a bright line when I do so.

          • I don't either on any metaphysical view.

          • So you hold your position in a more inarticulate, intuitive way? People do hold a lot of positions that way, but my sense is that SN is a place to be increasingly articulate.

          • Depends on the context and the issue.

          • Umm, don't we have a context and an issue?

  • Craig Roberts

    Very interesting. What seems to be missing though is the necessity of leaders that stand above and influence the popular consensus. People gather into tribes for many reasons, security and power probably the most primal. One man can't fight an elephant, much less an army and so he is forced to join a team. All teams, tribes, and collectives have a leader. The leader must stand out from the crowd and so you have a tension between the would be leaders and possible followers. Without a leader there is no tribe. When two tribes meet they will inevitably fight to see which leader will survive.

    This is why the Borg are just a sci-fi fantasy version of zombies. Their collective has no leader. A headless society is like a headless man...dead.

    Christianity is probably as close as mankind can come to the Borg. Because the 'leader' is Jesus who sits on the throne in heaven quite removed from all of his followers.

    • Craig Roberts

      Christians also claim that Jesus lives within them. This makes every member of Christianity beholden to no one but themselves in a sense. If they owe their allegiance to Jesus, they can tell Caesar to stuff it.

      This is why totalitarian regimes often insist on either atheism or a state religion. Christians can't be cowed by any earthly political collective.

      So to be a Christian is not only an exercise in collective behavior, but simultaneously frees a man from being forced to belong to any other collective.

      • So is being a secular humanist. It is a balance between individual freedom and collective security.

    • Thanks, Craig. But that's the thing; termites, for example, build their nests without any designated leaders, while the neurons in our brain, taken as individuals, have no such leaders either (it's only as they combine to form larger brain structures that we see hierarchy, and even then they areas in control change; trauma puts the limbic system in charge, for example, overriding the frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex (as panic replaces rational thought in a crisis).

      • Craig Roberts

        The termites are working on raw instinct. And while the cells, nerves, and parts that comprise us can be thought of as a sort of collective (Saint Paul's body of Christ) it's really only the sum of the parts (including the soul) that give us our identity. And how do we identify ourselves? Jew, Greek, slave, free, Christian, atheist, secular humanist, etc. are all the groups that we identify with but ultimately we have an individual name that (as long as we're not traumatized or unconscious) we have to answer to.

        Jesus brilliantly emphasizes the two poles of the individual and the collective again and again. While the Jewish conception of salvation was a collective endeavor where the priests absolve the people of the entire nation by atoning for their sins, Jesus puts everybody on the spot individually.

        When he says "And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham." (Matt 3:9) he is essentially saying your national and religious identity will not save you.

        Instead he talks about the "sheep and the goats", the "wheat and the tares", "for us and against us" giving a new abstract and binary identity to every human being regardless of their race, social status, philosophy, or anything else that they can collectively identify with.

        The result is a stark personal confrontation with everybody that hears his words. Basically he says, "Who are you going to personally and individually identify with? Some group, or me?"

        Ironically, this micro-salvation that calls everybody personally all leads to just another huge collective identity, Christianity.

        Thanks for the response. It's been fun mulling over.

        • My pleasure, Craig. I replied, but my post seems to have vanished mysteriously. I had wanted to comment that this trend toward individualism really started a lot earlier than we usually assume (with the "Baby Boomers"), given that the ancient Israelites didn't have a concept of an afterlife till later on (and Jesus carried that idea forward with the idea of bodily resurrection). So that adds an important and interesting wrinkle to the question. Perhaps there's a lot more to be said,

          • Craig Roberts

            Thanks for getting back to me. The mystery seems as old as time itself. When you read Genesis when God is creating everything you get the distinct impression that he is not alone. He says things like, "Let us create..." So even the ultimate individual (God) appears as more than one.

            A lot of the "individualism" vs. "collectivism" in the Bible needs to be observed in between the lines. While Israel may seem like the ultimate hive-mind, God's chosen collective that is always referred to as a group (tribe, flock, remnant, "God's people"), the actual Bible goes into painstaking detail about the individuals that comprise the group. Instead of saying "And then So-and-so was born" they give an incredibly tedious genealogy sometimes naming everybody back to Adam and Eve just to be clear who exactly this person was and where they were coming from.

            I believe that this shows that, although they all considered themselves to be children of Abraham (or Adam) they were very clear that each member had a unique history (and by implication identity and destiny) that could not be taken for granted.

            While I think many atheists are suffering under the illusion that their autonomy is inviolate, you also have many Christians that dismiss virtues like originality, creativity, imagination, and the courage to "think outside the box". Basically, to leave the herd and explore new horizons of thought. In fact many Christians see this sort of behavior as heresy and a deviation from God's plan, that is to say 'sin'.

      • IIRC there used to be a theory that one neuron was in charge of the brain, or alternatively, contained consciousness. Not sure if "which neuron" could change over time.

    • Very interesting. What seems to be missing though is the necessity of leaders that stand above and influence the popular consensus.

      Why do you say "necessity", here? In the Kingdom of God, do you think there need to be any leaders other than Jesus who have this role? But perhaps you are talking about this fallen world, where we have to make compromises.

      • Craig Roberts

        You can't have a kingdom without a King. Outside of that "the first shall be last and the last shall be first" kind of turns the whole hierarchy thing upside down.

        The Church often comes off as conflicted on the whole matter. On the one hand it tells everybody that they should aspire to be great saints and respect the Church's hierarchy or go to hell. On the other hand they tell us that there will be no competition and everybody will be one big happy family.

        Jesus says you need to become like a little child to enter the Kingdom and Saint Paul says you've got to run the race and compete for the crown. So which is it?

        • You can't have a kingdom without a King. Outside of that "the first shall be last and the last shall be first" kind of turns the whole hierarchy thing upside down.

          Ahh, ok. But does "upside down" match what you wrote? In particular:

          CR: Very interesting. What seems to be missing though is the necessity of leaders that stand above and influence the popular consensus.

          When Jesus weeped for Jerusalem, that seems very different from any human "stand above" I've ever seen.

          Jesus says you need to become like a little child to enter the Kingdom and Saint Paul says you've got to run the race and compete for the crown. So which is it?

          Children can race with each other and yet not lord it over; we can contrast this to those adults who have won the race need everyone to be well aware of that if not worship them for it.

          • Craig Roberts

            You got me there. Jesus is definitely not like any earthly king.

          • I think the a key is that sometimes Jesus is right and everyone else is wrong/​cowardly/​powerless. This is not something that any secular system of thought I know of knows how to deal with. Then again, I have not explored all such systems.

          • Craig Roberts

            Good point. The gospels clearly show that everybody, even the apostles, are often way over their heads when trying to understand Jesus. Jesus himself seems to get exasperated with his own followers inability to grasp his cryptic teachings.

            I think this is why many people turn to Saint Paul to explain the gospels for them instead of trying to distill them straight from the source.

  • Sgt Carver

    I honestly don't know if this is like a mother shaking her keys at at toddler saying "c'mon you like The Matrix, Colbert and Star Trek.... please be quiet."

    Or another attempt to be Father Trendy.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttgBMtNdChs

    • Actually this arose out of my thesis research; I've been fascinated by Plato's city-soul analogy since first picking up the Republic in 2003. Doctoral studies have afforded me an opportunity to focus my attention on it for the past several years, now, so this has been on my mind a while.

      • Sgt Carver

        Sorry but you missed my point..

        Let me give you another hint:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR2WgD_Ignk

        • Ah of course

          • Sgt Carver

            Perhaps I'm being overly harsh because I grew in a culture where priests were desperate for attention as their influence waned. There were singing priests, dancing priests and trendy priests. It just seems undignified and cringeworthy to me. A bit like catching your 70 year old Grandmother trying to be "down with the kids" by calling everyone "dude".

            If you have something meaningful and important to say just say it. There is no need to latch on to some piece of modern culture and use it as a launch pad.

          • Rob Abney

            If you have something meaningful and important to say just say it. There is no need to latch on to some piece of modern culture and use it as a launch pad.

            I'm sure Ireland has often complained of the Church being too outdated for modern times and asked to get with the times.
            Reminds me of Chesterton's paradox of orthodoxy:
            "It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with."

          • Sgt Carver

            I always have found Chesterton to be a pretentious twat but, so be it, tastes differ.

            Much of the problem the Irish church faces is that it is treated like a sheepdog who bit it's owner. We can't quite figure out how to do without it but it has to stay in it's corner until we tell it, on occasions of our choosing, to do it's work. And we'll never, ever trust it again.

          • Rob Abney

            Why did the sheepdog bite the owner? Because most sheepdogs have only one goal in life, to herd the sheep, and occasionally the dog has to take a snip at the sheeps' heels to keep them on track.

          • Sgt Carver

            But what if the dog is untrustworthy and as has been showed is not safe to have around children?

          • Rob Abney

            Then he has demonstrated that he wasn't well trained. Insist on better training, he has an important job to do.

          • Sgt Carver

            In the real world we put the dog "to sleep" and train another as we can never trust the dog again.

          • Rob Abney

            So after you killed it, would you then say "he did a fine job protecting and herding the sheep, but he wasn't really a sheepdog or else he never would've bit the kid, so now instead of a sheepdog I'll get a cat to herd the sheep" ?

          • Sgt Carver

            Analogies do tend to be limited but how can it be stretched to that?

            You would get another sheepdog, one who does not bite. One that is obedient, safe and faithful.

            ETA: Although off topic have you seen this?

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-kANR1vJkM

            It shows what domesticated religion is really like.

          • Rob Abney

            Yes, I'm at my limit for dog analogies. I'll watch the video later, looks interesting.
            I'd be glad to hear more about Ireland and the church. I love St. Patrick, one of the first saints I ever studied. I've also read How the Irish Saved Civilization and also Trinity by Leon Uris. One of my favorite movies is Calvary. I like Guinness but now prefer craft Stouts. I just heard that every archbishop of NY has been Irish.
            Unfortunately, have never been there.

          • Sgt Carver

            In Bruges is probably Martin McDonagh's best movie, but I also like Calvary. I'm with you on the craft beers but I tend to go for ales. Wicklow Wolf is a current favourite and brewed in my local town. Not sure how widely it sold though.

          • Rob Abney

            I liked In Bruges also, I visited Bruges afterwards, it is a very Catholic place, with saints and virgin Mary everywhere. Interesting that an Irish director has two movies with priests getting killed, but both movies are about redemption.

          • Sgt Carver

            My main memory of Bruges, and Belgium in general, is that they take chocolate and beer very, very seriously. Which to me is not a bad thing! I was there before they made the movie. I found it easier to stay in Brussels and take the train for a day trip to Bruges.

            Did you do the boat tour? Where the tour guide gives the speech about how you have paid for the boat ride but not their knowledge so you have to tip him at the end of the tour?

          • Rob Abney

            I missed the boat ride!
            I did tour a brewery, The Half Moon but I was with a german and they like their beer better than Belgium beer so we didn't stay long.

          • Rob Abney

            I don't think the Nordic sheepdog could ever get any of the sheep to their destination. The sheep would be all over the place, some in the field, some in the barn, some in the house....

          • Sgt Carver

            But they are Nordic sheep so their destination is wherever the sheep chooses it to be.

            I think it was a good video though. The Pastor came out looking well. If they had wanted a fire breathing fundie they picked the wrong guy.

            ETA: I would like to see a follow up interview where Pastor Marty speaks in depth about his experience after he had some time to reflect upon it.

          • Rob Abney

            It was a well made video. I liked the pastor, and I liked his final synopsis that at some point lawlessness is probable without a foundation in natural law.
            An excellent scandinavian movie is The Hunt, also about redemption.

          • Michael Murray

            Then give the dog to another family with children and don't warn them.

          • More like this: it was through shows like Star Trek that ten-year-old me first became aware of such concepts (the Borg as a mindless members of a collective, Data's personhood ("The Measure of a Man" from season 2), etc. And those initial impressions remain in my head going on 30 years later ...

          • Sgt Carver

            I apologise. My complaint was about the editorial decision to publish three articles in a row which use popular culture as a starting point. My personal distaste for such articles does not address the quality of your writing. I did not mean it to be a criticism of the article itself.

            But I was given a reason to post Frank Kelly's "Countdown to Christmas" in the comments so I think this thread worked out well :)

          • Where's the Christian equivalent to Star Trek? [Edit: I love Star Trek. I'm just curious if Christians are producing the kind and quality of material one finds on Star Trek.]

      • Rob Abney

        I've read your OP several times but still can't understand how the city-state is analogous to the Mystical Body.
        The main reason is that the city state is essentially non-teological , it exists because individuals have gathered together for the benefit each individual can obtain from the collective for himself. But the collective has no common goal, it is not trying to achieve something greater.
        Whereas the Mystical Body of Christ is teological, it has a goal for every member and every member's goal affects everyone else's.
        The individual's goal is heaven, but the individual won't achieve it unless he helps others achieve it. And the individual has great powers to help others only if he has a strong relationship with the head of the body. And the head of the body can only help everyone if they all develop a relationship with Him. It's like a trinity relationship.

        • The individual's goal is heaven . . .

          Isn't this a child's way of understanding Christianity?

          • Rob Abney

            Yes, that's how children and adults understand the eschatology of Christianity.
            We don't believe in separating people by nationality though, for instance there is no Japanese hell, only hell.

          • Eschatology is a pretty fancy word for "go to heaven." I remember a prayer of St. Ignatius that goes as follows:

            Lord, teach me to be generous.
            Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
            to give and not to count the cost,
            to fight and not to heed the wounds,
            to toil and not to seek for rest,
            to labor and not to ask for reward,
            save that of knowing that I do your will.

            Note there's nothing in it about "going to heaven." As I have pointed out any number of times, all the great figures in the Old Testament obeyed God without any thought of going to heaven, Why? It seems to me a truly mature Christian would not think of life as a test, and think of passing the test as going to heaven. Doing the will of God would be an end in itself, as it was for, say, Abraham. The Catholic concept of "perfect contrition" is not about going to heaven. It is about being contrite purely out of love of God. If the goal of Christian life is merely to "go to heaven," then it would make good Christian sense to get there in the easiest way possible, being just good enough to squeak by, worrying only about committing mortal sins.

            Also, I recommend reading N. T. Wright's article Heaven Is Not Our Home in which he says the following:

            The traditional picture of people going to either heaven or hell as a one-stage, postmortem journey represents a serious distortion and diminution of the Christian hope. Bodily resurrection is not just one odd bit of that hope. It is the element that gives shape and meaning to the rest of the story of God's ultimate purposes. If we squeeze it to the margins, as many have done by implication, or indeed, if we leave it out altogether, as some have done quite explicitly, we don't just lose an extra feature, like buying a car that happens not to have electrically operated mirrors. We lose the central engine, which drives it and gives every other component its reason for working.

            Even though I think the resurrection of the body is underemphasized in Catholicism, it is nevertheless Catholic dogma that things don't end for those "souls" that make it to heaven. The general resurrection is still to come.

          • Rob Abney

            It seems to me a truly mature Christian would not think of life as a test, and think of passing the test as going to heaven. Doing the will of God would be an end in itself, as it was for, say, Abraham.

            My use of the phrase "go to heaven" is a widely accepted way to describe the beatific vision. The beatific vision which can only be obtained by becoming holy, the holiness that can only be obtained by accepting God's grace, the grace that is readily available through the sacraments and through loving acts of neighbor.
            I don't consider this life a test, I consider it an opportunity to use the sufficient grace that God provides to grow holy and help others grow holy despite the perils of the flesh, the world, and the devil.
            The Catholic view of justification is that grace changes us so that we can do those things that make us holy. But you reference a protestant (Anglican) bishop who's protestant understanding is that God's grace doesn't really change us, it just appears to change us, we continue as sinful persons but we are "saved". This view is easier to convert to a secular view, such that the good works we do our simply out of empathy not because grace has actually changed us.

            Would you entertain the possibility that you misunderstand Catholic teaching of justification because of the prolific amount of competing versions?

          • Would you entertain the possibility that you misunderstand Catholic teaching of justification because of the prolific amount of competing versions?

            As far as I can see, Catholic versus Protestant theories of justification have nothing whatsoever to do with what we were discussing, which was "going to heaven" and the general resurrection. Also, you seem to be assuming that because N. T. Wright is an Anglican, he has some kind of stereotypical Protestant view of justification. I am no expert on the thought of Wright, but I believe I can say with confidence that his views are anything but stereotypical. But, as I said, that is irrelevant, since we weren't discussing justification.

          • Rob Abney

            What do you interpret "justification " to mean if not "going to heaven "?

        • The individual's goal is heaven, but the individual won't achieve it unless he helps others achieve it.

          What of the resurrection body? Or do you really mean "heaven" → "the new heavens and earth, reunited with Jesus ruling"?

          • Rob Abney

            Yes, I like that definition.

          • Do you see yourself as Rob's Kellyanne Conway?

          • No. Didn't you see his more articulate comment? Here's a snippet:

            RA: My use of the phrase "go to heaven" is a widely accepted way to describe the beatific vision. The beatific vision which can only be obtained by becoming holy, the holiness that can only be obtained by accepting God's grace, the grace that is readily available through the sacraments and through loving acts of neighbor.

            Given that you replied, surely you did? Or did you ignore the section I've just excerpted?

          • We've now had "going to heaven" equated with "justification" and "the beatific vision," as if they all three meant the same thing. (For example, Rob said, "What do you interpret 'justification' to mean if not 'going to heaven'?") Does that really satisfy your exacting standards?

          • And by the way, you are a Protestant, so according to Rob, your understanding of justification would be mistaken.

          • We've now had "going to heaven" equated with "justification" and "the beatific vision," …

            Equated? Or related?

          • Rob Abney

            Do you think it would be useful to be exact with those terms at this site? I'm not sure other atheists and agnostics are very concerned with those issues since they are primarily known to us through revelation.

          • Do you think it would be useful to be exact with those terms at this site?

            Yes, absolutely.

          • Rob Abney

            I think it will be hard to be succinct. If you want to narrow the terms further, I'll be glad to work it out with you.

            CCC1724 The Decalogue, the Sermon on the Mount, and the apostolic catechesis describe for us the paths that lead to the Kingdom of heaven. Sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we tread them, step by step, by everyday acts. By the working of the Word of Christ, we slowly bear fruit in the Church to the glory of God.

            (continue through CCC1729 if you're interested)

            1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.46

      • Have you thought about how divine simplicity (I might say "divine nonseparability") might mix with imago Dei?

    • Ha! Thanks! I only knew him as Father Ted!

      • Sgt Carver

        He, Fr. Jack (Frank Kelly) and Mrs. Doyle (Pauline McLynn) were well known satirists in Ireland before making Father Ted.

        ETA: I am very fond of Father Ted. The "Careful Now, Down with This Sort of Thing" scene was shot at my local cinema. I still smile when I pass by the building.

        • Cool. We were in county Clare last year and made a weak attempt to find the house.

          • Sgt Carver

            Have your heard Frank Kelly's parody of "The Twelve Days of Christmas"?

            It is a classic piece of Irish comedy and used to sell well at Christmas even into the noughties.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQkF7fpw-wI

          • I have now. Can't resist countering with this, then we'll have to stop or Brandon will ban us for being irrelevant to the issue. ;) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DTwLqR071M&sns=em

          • Michael Murray

            Ah Doug and Dave the inventors of "beerhunter": Take one six-pack. Shake one can really hard, mix up with others. Take a can each and pull the ring pull with the can next to your head. If not wet drink. Repeat.

  • I have pointed out a few times before that in 1981, then-Cardinal Ratzinger made some interesting observations about human persons in an attempt to explain original sin—an attempt for which extreme right wing-Catholics accused him of heresy. He said, in part:

    Finding an answer to this requires nothing less than trying to understand the human person better. It must once again be stressed that no human being is closed in upon himself or herself and that no one can live of or for himself or herself alone. We receive our life not only at the moment of birth but every day from without—from others who are not ourselves but who nonetheless somehow pertain to us. Human beings have their selves not only in themselves but also outside of themselves: they live in those whom they love and in those who love them and to whom they are ‘present.’ Human beings are relational, and they possess their lives—themselves—only by way of relationship. I alone am not myself, but only in and with you am I myself. To be truly a human being means to be related in love, to be of and for. . . . [Emphasis added]

    It is not difficult to see why "conservative" Catholics have a problem with the position Cardinal Ratzinger laid out if you read the full excerpt I linked to, since it seems almost a "naturalistic" explanation that does away with Adam and Eve and a great deal of Catholic dogma. But setting aside the matter of original sin, I think the passage above says something quite true, and perhaps even quite profound, about human persons. And I think it is an idea one need not be a theist to appreciate.

    • And that's a passage I would agree with 100%. We *are* relational beings; we evolved in a social context (and, theists will argue, are capable of entering into relationships with the divine as well as our fellow mammals: people, dogs, etc.). I believe the first Creation account in Genesis suggests that our existence was in the plural from the very start: "So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female, 28 blessed them, and said, “Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control" (Gen 1:27-28).

      And indeed; if this is a biological, psychological, and anthropological fact about human nature, than I think it's something we can all agree on, regardless of our religious beliefs (or lack of them).

    • Can you really get individuality solely from relationships? Ratzinger seems to logically entail that and yet it makes no sense to me. You cannot have [distinguishable] individuals if you do not have relationships and you cannot have relationships (other than complete sameness) if you have no individuals. I'll add to that two things:

           (a) life requires (or generates?) local reduction in entropy
           (b) spontaneous reduction in entropy requires differentiation

      [Edit: But maybe Ratzinger didn't mean to imply what I thought?]

      And I think it is an idea one need not be a theist to appreciate.

      Would you expand on that?

  • Regarding the Mystical Body of Christ, it is something that has never made a great deal of sense to me, and there was an incident in my college years (decades ago!) that led to my further disillusionment with it. I managed to find an old account I wrote in another forum 10 years ago and slightly revised 7 years ago. Here's what happened:

    One of the Paulist priests at the Newman Center at Ohio State—as I recall, he was a visitor—gave a sermon that was filled with reference after reference to the Mystical Body of Christ. It made absolutely no sense to me, and I caught him afterward, spoke with him briefly, and then made an appointment to see him. When we met, I said I was baffled by the idea of the Mystical Body of Christ and what he had said in general and asked him to explain what the sermon had meant. I dont remember any of his explanations, but I still didnt understand what he was getting at. I think he became a little frustrated and he said something to the effect that there were catchphrases you had to use (I think he actually used the word catchphrases, although I wont swear to it), and then, to illustrate how limited our knowledge was, he said they had gone out on a call that afternoon to administer the last rights, and the man was already dead when they arrived, but they administered them anyway. He said, "We dont know whether we were administering a sacrament or putting oil on a slab of meat." I was shocked, not at the idea of uncertainty, but at the very blunt language being used by a priest who has only a few hours ago administered the last rights. That talk had a profound (and negative) effect on me and my attitude toward Catholicism.

    • I'm pretty much a materialist at this point, so I'm not terribly scandalized by the priest's comment. After all, we ARE meat machines, and all matter in the universe (me, you, rocks, trees, and stars) are all made of the same material components (the same subatomic particles). It's the arrangement of the particles that's key, first, and second, what we do. Our actions, rather than our composition, is what matters.

      • neil_pogi

        why good or evil action matters when the fact that everything is just a matter? that is according to atheism?

    • In the Star Trek DS9 episode In the Hands of the Prophets, an orthodox religious leader attempts to fracture the inter-species alliance which had been built between the Humans and Bajorans. To fight back against it, the Starfleet captain, Benjamin Sisko, utters a rousing speech about how Humans and Bajorans had built so much together. The sense was that they had both contributed to the same goal. Perhaps this is a building block for the mystical body of Christ? After all, there were still Humans and Bajorans—they had not merged.

      Now, a problem is that the West is built upon a political doctrine which says that Humans themselves have only so much in common. Your private good and mine have a lot of non-overlap. Therefore, while we can have an overlapping consensus, ultimately we're going to have to establish government structures which set my ambition against yours. As a result, what we can build together is limited. This might help explain why the West calls itself the developed world so often. We're not developing. No, that's the countries learning to be just like us, but with different food and such.

      To get to the mystical body of Christ, you have to reject the above political doctrine. You have to accept that you are your brother's keeper. And you have to accept that some people might be able to understand the mystical body of Christ less articulately than you yourself need to understand it. I've annoyed plenty a Christian with my need to understand things more articulately; ultimately most of that burden was placed on me, with mush assisting from reading folks like Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor.

      • My understanding of the concept of the Mystical Body of Christ is that it is limited to Christians. Some time ago, I was rather surprised to discover that Matthew 25:45 may be limited to Christians:

        ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

        According to the New American Bible

        A difficult and important question is the identification of these least brothers. Are they all people who have suffered hunger, thirst, etc. (Mt 25:35, 36) or a particular group of such sufferers? Scholars are divided in their response and arguments can be made for either side. But leaving aside the problem of what the traditional material that Matthew edited may have meant, it seems that a stronger case can be made for the view that in the evangelist’s sense the sufferers are Christians, probably Christian missionaries whose sufferings were brought upon them by their preaching of the gospel. The criterion of judgment for all the nations is their treatment of those who have borne to the world the message of Jesus, and this means ultimately their acceptance or rejection of Jesus himself; cf. Mt 10:40, “Whoever receives you, receives me.”

        So the Mystical Body of Christ is not something like the "brotherhood of man" (or I suppose we should say the brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind, to be politically correct).

        • My understanding of the concept of the Mystical Body of Christ is that it is limited to Christians.

          Sure. But that doesn't negate that there are analogies in the world. One could argue that Jesus only came when he did because the world was ready to understand what he was doing. We know that children aren't ready to understand just anything when they're two years old; the same can easily be true of human civilization in general.

          Some time ago, I was rather surprised to discover that Matthew 25:45 may be limited to Christians:

          Yep, that's an interesting one. The Bible definitely advocates extra-special treatment for fellow believers. Is that necessarily wrong? Christians are still asked to love their enemies. Let me tell you, I do not feel very loved by very many atheists online with whom I interact. So maybe that commandment would cause a sort of phase change in how humans interact, were it to be more widely practiced.

          So the Mystical Body of Christ is not something like the "brotherhood of man" (or I suppose we should say the brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind, to be politically correct).

          My apologies if I gave the sense that the mystical body of Christ is like the "brotherhood of man". I understand being a disciple of Jesus to have very high cost, a cost which quite a few people seem utterly unwilling to pay. Similarly, plenty of atheists don't seem willing to do the arduous work of rigorously defending what they believe with the empirical evidence. I'm married to a scientist; I understand that being a proper scientist is really, really hard. You don't do it for "play". Neither are you a disciple of Jesus for "play". If you don't want to suffer, don't apply to be a scientist or a disciple of Jesus.

          • As a young Catholic, I was educated to interpret "the least of my brethren" as even the most lowly or unsympathetic of fellow human beings. We were taught to attempt to see Christ in everyone. To find the suggestion that Jesus didn't actually mean that is one of those disillusionments that serious biblical scholarship provides all too frequently.

            I have no problems understanding the Mystical Body of Christ as metaphor or some other figurative language.

            My father was a chemist, his two brothers were a chemist and a metallurgist, and my brother is a chemist. As a kid I was a budding scientist, but somehow I got diverted to the liberal arts and then spent my whole post-college career in textbook publishing. I don't have a lot of lessons I learned from my father, but I do remember that he came home from work one day to find me cleaning up some kind of mess. He asked, "What was that?" I said, "It was an experiment that failed." He said, "Experiments don't fail." The other thing he taught me was that if you speak up publicly to the higher-ups to call attention to something that everyone is complaining about privately, don't expect anyone to step forward and back you up.

          • As a young Catholic, I was educated to interpret "the least of my brethren" as even the most lowly or unsympathetic of fellow human beings. We were taught to attempt to see Christ in everyone. To find the suggestion that Jesus didn't actually mean that is one of those disillusionments that serious biblical scholarship provides all too frequently.

            Hold on a second; let's recall this:

            Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? (James 2:5)

            See, the poor are walked on by power. Yeah, some are lazy, but plenty are walked on. Furthermore, there are plenty of rich who are lazy, but their riches save them from the consequences (at least for a few generations). Being walked on by power helps you realize just what power is. And then you start wondering if there is a better way. God offers that better way. This way:

            For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31)

            So, if we're talking statistically, quite a lot of poor folks will be well-described by Mt 25:34–40. On the other hand, it is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Therefore, I'm not sure there's as much of a contradiction as you indicate.

            He said, "Experiments don't fail." The other thing he taught me was that if you speak up publicly to the higher-ups to call attention to something that everyone is complaining about privately, don't expect anyone to step forward and back you up.

            Ahh, both excellent lessons. I will have to ponder what the Bible says about "fear of failure"; my wife and I have discussed it extensively, as it interests her. Have you seen any of Ken Robinson's talks on education? His TED talk "Do schools kill creativity?" is funny, but also sobering. How much of Western education teaches that "wrong answer" ⇒ "points subtracted"?

  • One of the most interesting observations I had the pleasure of reading about comes from the Dutch trauma psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk (2014), who observes that our brains are built to help us function as members of a tribe.

    There is a fascinating article in The New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert titled Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds dealing (in part) with the work of Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, who seek to explain such reasoning "flaws" as confirmation bias. I put "flaws" in quotes, since Mercier and Sperber conclude that (to put it in computer programming terms) what may seem like bugs in human reasoning are actually features. Colbert explains:

    Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

    “Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.

    Here is a link to a major paper by the authors (which I have only glanced at).

    Here, it seems to me, is a plausible evolutionary theory to explain some of what Christians chalk up to the effects of Original Sin. Human reason wasn't muddled because "first parents" committed a sin. It is muddled because "flaws" like confirmation bias were actually useful under the conditions in which human beings involved evolved.

    Edit: Typo corrected.

    • Craig Roberts

      I think you mean 'evolved'. That might go a long way towards explaining and understanding why some people say that truth is relative while others demand that it must be absolute.

      The absolutist sees philosophically that truth must be immutable to be absolute truth but is so blinded by the confirmation bias of the group (most likely the Church that demands this is true) that he starts talking about angels and devils because the group tells him that they are there even though he has no experience of them.

      Meanwhile, the relativist who sees the inconsistencies in the truth claims of different groups concludes that the truth is different for everybody. Which cuts him off from trying to evaluate what is really true. Now he just goes along with whatever truth the group he belongs to feeds to him. They might be as ridiculous as any truth the absolutist will swallow but he is defenseless because (in his belief system) the truth is changing to fit his circumstances anyway.

      So one day the relativist is swearing everlasting love to his girlfriend and the next he is sleeping around on her because everybody knows that 'everybody does it' so it must be true for him that it is ok. (Of course when his girlfriend finds out she might see it a little differently. But hey! That's ok, she's got her own truth.) While he might agree that lying is bad on a universal level, he will deny that he did wrong in his particular situation. What he doesn't realize is that his confirmation bias is set up to justify anything as long as he can see others in the group engaging in the same immoral activity.

      It's pretty mind-blowing to think that we are hardwired to agree with others in certain group situations even if it means throwing our objective reason out the window. But it also makes sense when you start to wonder how things all get so crazy when everybody (in a group) is trying their level best to figure out what's really true.

    • Here, it seems to me, is a plausible evolutionary theory to explain some of what Christians chalk up to the effects of Original Sin. Human reason wasn't muddled because "first parents" committed a sin. It is muddled because "flaws" like confirmation bias were actually useful under the conditions in which human beings involved evolved.

      I would like to know how to attempt to falsify this theory. The stakes couldn't be higher: were humans designed to operate such that they search for truth and have they Fallen to this argumentative style of reason, or did humans evolve to do this argumentative style of reason and need to somehow Rise to truth-seeking reason?

      By the way, that "somehow" needs explaining. I mean, are Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber immune to the effect they delineate? Surely they would have to have at least partial immunity for the work to be trustworthy! And yet, how did they get that [partial] immunity? And can they teach others? But … if facts don't change our minds, then is what they learned incommunicable? Paradoxes abound, here.

      • I would like to know how to attempt to falsify this theory.

        Well, the theory that needs to be evaluated is not my claim that Mercier and Speber's work is a better explanation than "the Fall" for human reasoning problems such as confirmation bias. It is Mercier and Speber's work itself—their hypothesis "that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade." Obviously, the doctrine of Original Sin is in no way scientific, so psychologists are not working on theories to debunk it. (Of course, I personally feel that if Original Sin is considered to be the result of an action by our "first parents," it has already been debunked, since there were no first parents of the human race.)

        The problem psychologists have been working on is not why human reasoning is so hopelessly muddled. It is why it is muddled in some contexts but not others. I have read about a number of psychology experiments in which a group is given something to evaluate, but all but one member of the group are in cahoots with the psychologists. The unsuspecting member will often go along with the the rest of the group even when the rest of the group is obviously wrong. Interviewed afterwards, some admit they just didn't want to be the odd man out, but some actually are influenced by the group to think the wrong answer is right.

        So it is not that reasoning can't ever be trusted. It is that in some contexts, flaws in reasoning are extremely common.

        • Are you defining "flaw" 100% within the domain of 'science'? That is, does 'science' get to determine what is, and what is not, a "flaw"?

  • Whatever you could possibly desire: soups, salads, stews, sauces, curries if you want, fruits, succulent meats (grilled to order), pastries, ice cream.

    Apparently there is no Japanese food in Japanese hell. I guess it's difficult to prepare sushi while you are engulfed in flames. And yet they have ice cream. Maybe it's Baked Alaska or Fried Ice Cream.

    • neil_pogi

      why mentioned hell? are atheists have no more negative arguments for theists? always hell? i know for sure that atheists just consider the Bible's just collections of fairy tales, but the hell is not! another chery-picking?

      • why mentioned hell?

        First, I was commenting on the mention of hell in the OP. Did you actually read the OP?

        Second, I was making a joke. I know English is not your first language, but if you had read the OP, I can't help but feel you would have at least realized it was a joke, whether you "got it" or not.

        Third, if you pay any attention to what I say here, you would know I am not an atheist.

        • neil_pogi

          i was only reacting why make some comments on hell if atheists or agnostics didn't recognize the Bible as the written word of God but only collections of myths. there are 3 views on hell, some christian churches believe it as a place where unrepentant sinners are thrown and suffer eternally, the second is that it is a place where unrepentant sinners are annihilated eternally and the 3rd is, it is just a metaphor. i didn't say that you are an atheist, i admit that i really didn't read the entire OP.

  • One of the most interesting observations I had the pleasure of reading about comes from the Dutch trauma psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk (2014), who observes that our brains are built to help us function as members of a tribe.

    Is it you or he who calls it an observation? I'm not sure anybody can observe how our brains are built. I would call it an inference rather than an observation, but then I'd want to know from what evidence you are making the inference.

    • I would call it an inference rather than an observation …

      Given Theory and Observation in Science, are those two so different? Do we observe electrons or do we infer them?

      • Given Theory and Observation in Science, are those two so different?

        I believe they are. The article you link to notes the some philosophers disagree. However, there is no proposition about which you cannot find some philosophers who disagree, and so the mere existence of philosophical disagreement tells us nothing about the credibility of any proposition.

        Do we observe electrons or do we infer them?

        We cannot observe them. Therefore, if we believe they are real, we must infer them.

        • I believe they are.

          I suspect they are as well, but I'm having trouble rigorously distinguishing between the two. What do you think the differences are between observing and inferring? For example, do you observe that the earth goes 'round the sun or infer it?

          LB: Do we observe electrons or do we infer them?

          DS: We cannot observe them. Therefore, if we believe they are real, we must infer them.

          Hmm, this gets interesting if one defines the most real things as the fundamental particles and forces of physics (plus perhaps how they get modified by future science). Or have I missed something?

          • What do you think the differences are between observing and inferring?

            They are the differences between perception and reasoning. I am not interested in an argument over whether those differences really exist. If you say they don't, we'll just have to leave it at that. It could be argued that perception and reasoning are inseparable, but that does not mean they are indistinguishable.

            this gets interesting if one defines the most real things as the fundamental particles and forces of physics

            That is not how I define "the most real things."

            In my lexicon, a thing is real if and only if it has consequences, which is to say that a universe in which it exists is, at least in principle, observably distinguishable from a universe in which it does not exist. And, I think reality in that sense is an all-or-nothing property. It is not clear to me that our understanding is enhanced by thinking of some things as more real than other things.

          • They are the differences between perception and reasoning.

            I don't mean to disagree that there is a difference, but I do mean to ask where it is. For example, our brain does a ridiculous amount of pre-processing on visual stimuli before we have any conscious access. Is that pre-processing a kind of inference?

            LB: Hmm, this gets interesting if one defines the most real things as the fundamental particles and forces of physics (plus perhaps how they get modified by future science).

            DS: That is not how I define "the most real things."

            Good to know! You differ from some very mainstream ideas; for example, from @jlowder:disqus (channeling Paul Draper):

            physical entity: an entity which is either (1) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists today; or (2) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists in the future, which has some sort of nomological or historical connection to the kinds of entities studied by physicists or chemists today. (Secular Outpost: The Nature of Naturalism)

            Do you identify with any of the results from phenomenology? I've only read bits and pieces, mediated through Charles Taylor and David Braine. Some big names are Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. I've just started reading Michel Henry's I Am the Truth: Toward a Philosophy of Christianity; Henry also criticizes the mainstream notion of truth represented by reduction to Paul Draper's 'physical entity'.

            It is not clear to me that our understanding is enhanced by thinking of some things as more real than other things.

            Isn't an imagined idea "less real" than when the imagined idea is turned into reality? And if the idea actually cannot be turned into reality, isn't that a kind of "not real"?

          • Do you identify with any of the results from phenomenology?

            After skimming the first paragraph of the IEP article, I still have no clear idea what phenomenology is. I assume I would have a much better idea if I took the time to read the entire article very carefully, but I don't have that time right now. In the meantime, I can note that I have rarely if ever found a school of thought that doesn't say anything at all with which I can agree.

          • Yeah, I was just curious if you'd seen it before. I find the overviews of phenomenology rather confusing myself, but the general sense seems to be a reaction against Descartes' sharp separation of mind and body, as if our bodies aren't the instruments we have to explore reality.

          • I don't mean to disagree that there is a difference, but I do mean to ask where it is. For example, our brain does a ridiculous amount of pre-processing on visual stimuli before we have any conscious access. Is that pre-processing a kind of inference?

            The difference between the words is in our usage of them. In normal usage, which was all that I intended, people mean something different by “observe” from what they mean by “infer.”
            In neither case is the directly intended reference to any neuronal activity. The reference instead is to what we experience as a result of that activity. My experience—that of which I am consciously aware—when I observe something is unambiguously different from what I experience when I infer something. Any overlap that might be occurring in my subconscious mind is beside the point I’m trying to make when I say, e.g., “I see a grapefruit tree in my backyard.”

            Isn't an imagined idea "less real" than when the imagined idea is turned into reality? And if the idea actually cannot be turned into reality, isn't that a kind of "not real"?

            Imagination and ideas are kinds of thought. Our thoughts are always real, but the things to which they refer are often unreal. Whatever is only imagined is not real at all. My thoughts (or imaginings, or ideas, or whatever) about unicorns are real, but there are no real unicorns, and nobody’s imagination can change that.

          • My experience—that of which I am consciously aware—when I observe something is unambiguously different from what I experience when I infer something.

            My experience is that this processing can be shifted around. Thus, whether something is called an 'inference' or an 'observation' seems somewhat (but not completely) subjective.

            Whatever is only imagined is not real at all.

            And when it starts coming into reality via action, does it make an instantaneous "jump" to being 100% real? Or can it be partly imagination, partly en-mattered? (The more recognizable term is 'en-fleshed'.)

          • My experience is that this processing can be shifted around.

            Then your experience differs from mine. I don't know what else to say about that.

            Whatever is only imagined is not real at all.

            And when it starts coming into reality via action, does it make an instantaneous "jump" to being 100% real?

            That would depend on what it is. In many cases we'd probably have to deal with a sorites paradox, but I don't think they're that big a deal, myself.

        • neil_pogi

          if someone has found a watch lying on the ground and says: ''the watch must have a creator, a watchmaker" but his friend said, ''no, certain elements and changing environment and forces must have created that''. so which is to be believed?

          • so which is to be believed?

            Neither of them.

          • neil_pogi

            so you no longer believe in unguided process/blind forces? that's a good decision.

          • neil_pogi

            im still waiting for you, doug to comment on this: 'so you no longer believe in unguided process/blind forces? that's a good decision.'

  • This is the problem of the one and the many, and the author seems to collapse the two. Contrast this with Jesus' words:

    For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:24)

    There is no permanent erasure of "self" here, nor is there denial that there ever was any unique "self". Although the time indices might be a bit screwy:

    He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’ (Revelation 2:17)

    So many people seem to want to do one of these two things:

         (A) erase the self in favor of the One
         (B) erase the One in favor of the self

    These reduce to the same thing: erasure. The problem is that these two terms are required to define each other; you can't start from one and get the other:

         (I) individuality
        (II) relationship

    For more, see:

         • The Call to Personhood:
                A Christian Theory of the Individual in Social Relationships

         • The One, the Three and the Many:
                God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity

    • I prefer to think of it like multi-cellular life forms (especially the first appearance of them billions of years ago). We see one cell engulfing another, but instead of eating it found itself more fit for survival (the power of two). This is the analogy I have in mind here; each cell is distinct, yet part of a greater whole.

      • My guess is that those in the so-called First World would be much more comfortable with your analogy than those in the so-called Third World. It might be worth meditating on this, as well as Mt 20:20–28. It is not uncommon for the whole to deform certain parts, e.g. because it is not as big or comprehensive as God desires.

  • 50AF

    Jumping in a bit late here, and maybe not in a way that is relevant to the long discussions that have already taken place. Anyway, I note that within this long thread there was some discussion of B16's statement (I paraphrase) that we are created as relational beings.

    That can be read blithely, I suppose -- though B16 is not someone to be read blithely.

    For me, as a believer, this was one of my "aha" moments. It ties together a number of Christian concepts and doctrines that always tended to wash over me without much impact or understanding, such as John's seemingly sentimental testimony that "God is Love" and the always difficult concept of the Trinity. The point being that love implies relationship, i.e., the lover and the beloved and the connection that exists between them. So when John tells us that God is Love, he is making a strongly Trinitarian statement. God is -- in short -- a community of persons, and the relationship of each to the other is ingredient to who and what God is. And from that we begin to understand that the God who is Love necessarily "creates" out of and for love, and thus it should not be surprising for us to think that we in turn are created for love, i.e., for relationship.

    I admit this was a striking thing for me to confront from the perspective of an American. Our American impulse and cultural credo -- at least historically -- places such a premium on individual responsibility, individual freedom and self-realization, and even our approaches to relationship are often viewed or evaluated within the perspective of our own self-realization and wish-fulfillment.

    The stunning reality is that we are created and wired for self-abandoning relationship -- relationship to our Creator, and relationship to each other. That is a radically different perspective, for believers and non-believers alike. It is not the Borg, because it is not annihilative -- the 3 persons of the Trinity retain their distinct "personhood" and dignity, and each soul retains their distinct personhood and dignity, because that is the nature of love, i.e., a relationship between distinct persons.

    Pax,
    50