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Whatever Happened to the Soul?

Soul

Bad news, friends. You have no soul, according to a few professors at Fuller Theological Seminary. I say this after happening upon a copy of Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature, edited by Warren Brown, Nancey Murphy, and H. Newton Malony, all full-fledged Fullerian professors. They say the soul is now scientifically, and hence theologically passé.

What happened to the poor soul, that it should suddenly be shuffled away? According to Murphy, the theologian-philosopher of the group, it's been downsized by science, for "nearly all of the human capacities or faculties once attributed to the soul are now seen to be functions of the brain" (p.1). Therefore, we are invited to embrace what Murphy, Brown, and Malony have dubbed "non-reductive physicalism," a form of materialism that includes all the benefits of having a soul—"rationality, emotion, morality, free will, and, most importantly, the capacity to be in relationship with God" (p.2)—but just without the soul.

This, however, is an impossibly contradictory position. You cannot deny the existence of the soul, and then appropriate all of its capacities, as if nothing happened. All physicalism is reductive. "Non-reductive physicalism" will show itself to be an impossible compromise.

What accounts for their attempt to offer such a compromise? That will take some explaining, and hence some patience on the part of the reader.

I would like by proposing that human beings are rational animals, a fundamental unity of an immaterial, rational soul and material body. This is a view as old as Aristotle and as common as common sense.

It sits in the seat of sanity between two extreme views of human nature. One extreme holds that we are essentially spirit-rational but not animal. This extreme may be called "Gnosticism," and its devotees claim that human beings are purely intellectual creatures sitting incongruously in their bodies like ghostly drivers in alien machines.

The other extreme believes human beings are merely animals, and that the rational soul is a fiction. This extreme, commonly known as "materialism," insists that humans are purely material beings. Murphy, Brown, and Maloney are in the grip of this latter view, and it has caused them to heave the soul overboard. Yet, as we have seen, they are trying to avoid the inevitable reductionism.

"No, no! You misunderstand!" I can hear them shout. "We were forced to jettison the soul by science."

In my book, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists, I show how despite many of its founders' intentions, modern science came to be defined by materialism. According to this extreme, the belief in immateriality, especially the immateriality of the soul, was illusory. The goal of science, as defined by materialism, was to strip away such illusions by reducing everything to purely material causes. In regard to the soul, then, the entire research program was aimed at showing that all thinking, willing, and acting could be reduced to bodily causes. It aimed, in sum, to replace the soul with the brain or some other material thing.

"Why then," you might ask, "has modern science found so much evidence of the material nature of our thinking, and no evidence, so it seems, of our having a rational, immaterial soul?"

That is quite simple. It is difficult to find what you are not looking for. Modern science, defined materialistically, has made grand progress in examining the intricacy of our animal nature precisely because its goal was to reduce us to mere animality.

If, however, scientists suddenly decided to examine the ways in which our rationality cannot be reduced to our animality, they would also discover the forgotten half of our nature. If scientists began to search for proof that our reasoning capacities extend beyond the material instrument of the brain, and indeed control the brain's activities even while relying on them, then they would discover the immaterial soul. But insofar as they continue to hold to the materialist belief that only material things exist, they will only find what they are looking for.

Further, if we realize that we are rational animals, then the latest brain research poses no real problem. It is simply a half-truth distended illicitly into a whole truth. If we are indeed rational animals, we should expect to find that thinking depends on our animal nature, including our brain, in the same way that our rational volition, for its execution, depends on the use of our hands, legs, eyes, or ears. If our thinking didn't depend on the brain, then we truly would be angels trapped in animal suits.

So, I don't need to poke about in the brain to realize that a good cup of coffee makes thinking a whole lot easier after a bad night's sleep. Of that a good jolt of java helps me approach near angelic intellectual clarity (for a couple of hours, anyway). Then again, I also experience my control over my entire being. My acts of volition are real, and I use my body, not like an alien machine, but as part of my unified being. I am able to think new thoughts, muddling and musing my way to discovery and new insights, and I use my brain to do it. I am often lost in thought, and forget to eat on time, utterly abstracted from my body, but after a while, I find I am so hungry that I have become weak and I can't think until I eat.

In short, my everyday experience undermines both extremes, and sets me firmly back in the seat of sanity. I am neither a Gnostic angel with no need of a brain or body to think, nor am I a slightly elevated ape for whom thinking is merely an elaborate form of sensation. I am, to repeat, a rational animal, an essential unity of immaterial soul and material body. If we try to cling to either extreme, and neglect this golden mean, then we are forced into denying what we actually know and experience.

And so, speaking to Nancey Murphy in particular (since she is the lone philosopher-theologian of the three), I offer the following. Again, the position of non-reductive physicalism is contradictory. To begin with, as you yourself rather curiously assert, "no amount of evidence from the neurosciences can ever prove dualism of soul and body to be false, or physicalism true" (p. 127). This amounts to saying, it seems, that materialist science cannot prove either that the immaterial soul does not exist or that materialism is itself true. Given this strange assertion, it would seem less than reasonable to offer a new and improved soulless theology.

Finally, as Murphy admits, "The concept of the soul has played a major role in the history of Christian ethics for centuries, for example, as justification for prohibition of abortion and euthanasia, and for differential treatment of animals and humans" (p. 24). So true, so true, and it has become increasingly clear, as the exclusively materialist account of human beings has taken hold of society, that abortion has become commonplace, euthanasia will soon follow suit (along with infanticide), and any distinction between human beings and other animals is fast fading away. Knowing this danger, it causes me to wonder if there is some other reason Murphy is bending her theology to a particular view of science.

In summary, the latest scientific findings concerning the brain should not be startling. We are indeed animals and our thinking depends on our brain even while it transcends it. Such a "discovery" is parallel to the ancient argument that all human knowledge begins with sensation. But, in the same way that you destroy knowledge itself if you reduce knowledge to sensation, you will destroy the soul and all its capacities, if you simply replace "soul" with "brain."

And so, I am happy to report, the death of the soul has been greatly exaggerated.

Dr. Benjamin Wiker

Written by

Dr. Benjamin Wiker is, first of all, a husband and a father of seven children. He graduated from Furman University with a B.A. in Political Philosophy. He has an M.A. in Religion and a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics, both from Vanderbilt University. Dr. Wiker taught full time for thirteen years, first at Marquette University, then St. Mary's University (MN), Thomas Aquinas College (CA), and finally Franciscan University (OH). During these many years, he offered a wide variety of courses in philosophy, theology, history, the history and philosophy of science, the history of ethics, the Great Books, Latin, and even mathematics. He is now a full-time writer and speaker, with eleven books published including 10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn't Help (Regnery, 2008); The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (Regnery, 2009); and Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against God (Emmaus Road, 2008). Some of Benjamin's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Follow Dr. Wiker at BenjaminWiker.com.

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  • Mike

    aren't these folks missing the point that the soul is not the cartesian ghost in the machine idea but the principle of human life or plant life anything that is material and yet alive - and wouldn't the only thing that wouldn't be material would be some of the rational soul's "powers" ie intellect and volition? all the others i think YOS said are material powers of material souls so powers that plants and other animals have.

    is the church here presenting a falsifiable position: prove intellect and volition are 100% material and you disprove a major point on this christianity is built? Seems like a fair challenge!

  • David Nickol

    I have brought this up numerous times before, but it is very much on topic here. It would be a great deal easier to find some way to make sense of the Catholic concept of the soul if it were not for the beliefs that souls departed from bodies at death, spent time in purgatory, allegedly carried on activities in heaven similar to those from earthly life (hearing requests from the living and praying to God for those requests to be fulfilled. I still can't make sense of the idea that body and soul are inseparable, and yet Catholic teaching has no problem describing the existence and activities of disembodied souls.

    • Phil

      David,

      Remember, why we have good reason to believe in the immaterial intellective soul in the first place is because there are some of its functions that cannot purely rely on the functioning of the physical human body. These functions must be free to act in some way without interference by the physical brain and body.

      If this is truly the case, this means when the body ceases its material unity (i.e., death) it is possible for intellective soul to still have at least these functions that did not purely rely on the physical body for their functioning. Now I will completely agree with you that this existence will not be a human person in the full sense. Only at the resurrection of the bodies would a human person exist again in the full sense.

      • David Nickol

        These functions must be free to act in some way without interference by the physical brain and body.

        It would seem to me to be just the opposite. Here is what I can't help but regard as a contradiction in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

        365 The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.

        366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God—it is not "produced" by the parents—and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.

        The soul is the "form" of the body, but it flies away and "lives" on its own at death.

        One would think that it the unity of body and soul were so profound, the (living) body could not exist and function without the soul, and the soul could not exist and function without the body.

        • Phil

          You are exactly correct--the two form a single composite nature, but that does not mean that the material subsumes the spiritual, or vice-versa. That is why we can rationally hold both 365 and 366 together at the same time.

          The soul is the "form" of the body, but it flies away and "lives" on its own at death.

          I don't think saying that it "flies away" would be a good way of expressing what happens. Rather the spiritual soul of the person can continue to exist, but in a "diminished" state. Obviously it could not be a human person in the fullest sense, since a human person has some sort of body. But it would still be possible for it to carry out the things that it didn't rely purely on the material body for, e.g., conceiving being the big one. (Actually in some sense, one could argue that some of the powers of the immaterial mind would be more capable when not limited by this fallen material state of the body.)

          • William Davis

            (Actually in some sense, one could argue that some of the powers of the immaterial mind would be more capable when not limited by this fallen material state of the body.)

            That is what I'm afraid of (and many other people including Bill Gates). I agree with your last response on the artificial cortex, whatever we're building won't be human. I think it will be minded though. Human minds are truly unique, but there are many other minds, primarily mammals. We consider dolphins, whales, chimps and elephants to be very intelligent and minded, not to mention dogs and cats. I'm not saying we should consider AI a human, but I do think there should be ethical rules about how it is treated past a certain point.

            To your point, some think a mind disconnect the primitive parts of the brain will have greater functionality not to mention greater speed and no need to rest. Our intellect is constantly enfeeble by some physical issue or another, this AI won't have any of those problems. This idea is why Bill Gates doesn't understand why others aren't concerned. The danger won't be now, it will be 30-40 years from now.

          • Phil

            I definitely agree with you that we could design AI to act very very intelligently. Here are some of the reasons why I am not that worried:

            1) The big reason is: machines aren't a living being that can easily procreate on its own. Sure, a machine could be designed that could build copies of itself. But we will not be able to easily do this, especially anytime soon. We won't suddenly jump from our current AI to robots that can build more of themselves. It will be a slow process.

            2) We are not going to easily create an AI machine that can run out of control on its own. Say this is done for the first time; well if we begin to see that this AI machine is starting to cause trouble. We destroy it! Easy as that. They aren't a living being or a human person, we shoot it, demolish it, etc.

            3) The only way it could be catastrophic is is we designed them in a way that they could build or gain access to large scale weapons. 99% of scientists would not do this. The only one I could see doing this is a terrorist scientist.

            4) So maybe your biggest fear would be a "terrorist scientist". Sure, that's an issue. The issue of extreme terrorism is at our door and we will need heaven's help in the next ~5 years to avoid widescale destruction.

            5) But the main reason I don't worry is my trust in heaven's help. God doesn't want to see widespread destruction of the human race. Sure, to someone who doesn't believe in God or have trust in God this sounds ridiculous--but that doesn't make it false. Obviously I can't prove this through reason. It can only be known through entering in conversation with God through public (i.e., liturgy) and personal prayer.

          • William Davis

            I agree with a lot of what you just said, but the plot thickens. Jeff Hawkins accurately says replication is what we need to be concerned about, and he's right. It's what people will do with it (which is what will cause the replication). I'm not saying this is going to be a danger now, it's down the road (sorry if I didn't make that clear).

            It's people like Ray Kurzweil who give me the willies. The next step is to start connecting our minds directly to this technology. I considered him a quack until Google hired him as their chief engineer. There seems to be a strange religious movement that thinks we'll be better off living inside our technology. What scares me is that this is the direction everything seems to be headed, I'll let Ray tell you in his own words...he calls it "hybrid thinking". If we take that too far, we won't be human any more. That is one big thing you and I (Christians and Humanists) have in common...you actually need to be biological to be human:

            http://www.ted.com/talks/ray_kurzweil_get_ready_for_hybrid_thinking?language=en

            I don't know if you've ever seen Star Trek, but all I can think when watching this is "We are Borg".

          • William Davis

            Oh yeah I forgot
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superintelligence

            Combine the two and we have the human race voluntarily merging with our own creation, the next stage of evolution. To many people this sounds crazy, but that puts some really smart people in the nut house. I just keep hounding on it because so many people just presuppose it is impossible. Things we ignore are the things that tend to get us. We tend to adopt technology as fast as it comes out without much of a second thought, look at how many copies of the cell phone we have...
            Thanks for listening to my rants :)

          • David Nickol

            You say:

            Rather the spiritual soul of the person can continue to exist, but in a "diminished" state.

            But then you say:

            Actually in some sense, one could argue that some of the powers of the immaterial mind would be more capable when not limited by this fallen material state of the body.

            It makes no sense to me to assert, as the Catechism does, that "the unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the 'form' of the body," and then to turn around and say that not only can the soul lead a separate existence without the body, but "some of the powers of the immaterial mind would be more capable when not limited by this fallen material state of the body."

            Incidentally, from what I know about the nature of "glorified bodies," some of their aspects are inconsistent with the nature of matter. As I have argued before, how do we know that even ordinary matter cannot be formed into a brain in such a way that the brain is capable of abstract thought? What makes anybody think he or she understands the properties of matter so thoroughly that a definitive statement can be made that consciousness and abstract thought cannot arise from "mere" matter?

            For those who believe in God, it seems to me it is putting a limit on God to insist humans must have spiritual souls to account for some of their capabilities. Can a God who could create the material universe not create it in such a way that consciousness and abstract thought cannot arise from matter? Who is to say that?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Recall that time is "the measure of motion in corruptible being" and that therefore a non-material thing would not experience time. So it's not as if the intellect-and-will flew off "somewhere" where it "leads a separate existence." There can be no passage of time without matter.

          • David Nickol

            Recall that time is "the measure of motion in corruptible being" and that therefore a non-material thing would not experience time.

            No doubt the Summa and other works of Thomas Aquinas are great intellectual achievements, but it seems to me that when religion meets science, as in the case of whether the brain can do whatever it does without a spiritual soul, the discussion might reasonably begin with Aquinas, but for many Catholics, it seems to end with Aquinas.

            And what of the Catholic notion that the souls of the dead spend "time" in purgatory, which can be shortened by partial indulgences and abolished altogether by plenary indulgences? How do souls in purgatory become "purified" if there is no time? How is it possible to suffer without time? How is it possible to say some prayers for the soul of a dead person and release him or her from purgatory if there person is somehow outside of, or not subject to, time? How is it possible for saints to hear prayers and intercede with God for those prayers to be answered if the saints are outside of time?

          • Pofarmer

            This seems to be problematic. How would a soul, that is immaterial and outside of space and time and doesn't experience space and time, interact with a body that does experience time? Would it shift back and forth between the two? How would it accomplish this?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Ah, the old sphere-basketball problem. How can a sphere, which is a mathematical abstraction outside space and time and does not experience space and time, interact with a mass of rubber that does experience time?

          • Pofarmer

            Are you actually serious?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Then you can explain how sphere informs and "interacts" with rubber?

            (Or do you not know that in both cases one speaks of a form and a matter?)

          • Pofarmer

            How does having the immaterial "form" of a sphere interacting with basketball do anything to inform us of it's function? What does this interaction accomplish?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            a) Why should it have to "do" anything?
            b) I have been reliably informed that mathematical models have proven generally useful in all the hard sciences.

          • Pofarmer

            a) then what's it's point?

            What differentiates the "form" of a sphere interacting with a basketball and a cannon ball and a ping pong ball?

            b. mathematical models describe the thing, they are not claimed to interact with the thing.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            a.1) Why should there be a point?
            a.2) The sphere is informing different matter. Every intelligible thing is a combination of matter with some sort of form. In fact, the form of a basketball or a cannonball can be further distinguished by examining the form of iron molecules and rubber molecules.
            b.) Exactly: formal causes do not "interact" the way efficient causes do.

          • Pofarmer

            "The sphere is informing different matter"

            How?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Are you thinking of form as some sort of entity somehow separate from the matter it informs? Like some sort of Cartesian 'ghost in the machine'? In the basketball case the spherical form is inherent in the internal gas pressure which pushes equally in all directions. In the cannonball case, it is the result of either a casting process or a milling process (or both). It is the efficient cause that specifies the agency that results in the end.
            Being:
            Material cause: What is X made of?
            Formal cause: What makes it an X?
            Becoming:
            Efficient cause: How is X made?
            Final cause: What is X made for?

          • Pofarmer

            A,football also has gas pressure, but it is not a sphere. How can an immaterial form be a cause, efficient or otherwise.? Why not just say the basketball has the shape of a sphere?

          • William Davis

            After studying it a bit, YOS is using Plato's world of forms here, this is not Aristotle's metaphysics. Aristotle makes more sense, and the specific form of a basketball does not exist after the basketball is deflated, the form is intrinsic. Aristotle did not think that a human soul survived the body, but he wasn't sure about the intellect. That is one reason why YOS is confusing, he meanders between Plato and Aristotle's forms in the same conversation. Here is a good read on Aristotle's view of the soul which actually makes sense to me. For Aristotle, the soul was a place holder for what we now call biology, the complex structures that make life work.

            http://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/psyche.htm

          • Pofarmer

            What I was trying to do,,is get him to explain how any of this is relevant to what we understand today. It seems to me, quite clearly, that Occams razor cuts it away.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Depends on what you are trying to explain. Cutting away formal causes resulted in an inability to deal with the irreducible hierarchy and patterned structures actualizing natural things. Hence, "emergent properties" became a mystery. But as science progressed it became more an more clear that these dynamic structures were a real thing in the world. An electron bound in a valence shell in an atom behaves very differently from a free electron. It is governed by the superstructure of which it is a part. That is, it acts as a part of a whole. Growing interest in "holistic" explanations and in "emergent properties" is a signal of a re-emergence of formal causation.

          • Pofarmer

            "Growing interest in "holistic" explanations and in "emergent properties" is a signal of a re-emergence of formal causation."

            Uh huh. Are you sure this isn't a wee bit of wishful thinking?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Nope. There is a growing interest in holisitic explanations and in emergent properties.

          • Pofarmer

            Where?

          • Pofarmer

            "But as science progressed it became more an more clear that these dynamic structures were a real thing in the world."

            Obviously. That's why science never mentions them.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            No mention of the DNA double helix, for example? The Early Modern scientists discarded formal causes not because they were not there, but because they did not seem useful in the new paradigm of dominating the universe and making useful products. After a couple generations of not being taught such things, scientists forgot what they were, so when they began rediscovering them, they had to give them new names.

            Another reason why they rejected formal causes -- and you must remember that it was a methodological rejection and not a scientific conclusion -- was because they had no models on which they could base the concept. The ancients had modeled the universe as a living organism (much as the Late Modern "Gaea Hypothesis") because they saw living organisms all around them but no one saw examples of machines that could serve as models for a mechanistic universe. Once the mechanical clock was invented in the Middle Ages, they began to write about machina mundi (the machine of the World), and this came to fruition in the well-known Scientific Revolution of the 17th century.

            Now we have "software everywhere" to serve as models for what dynamic forms were supposed to be about, a century after Heisenberg undermined the mechanical paradigm and the objectivity of matter.

          • I'll let YOS explain his meaning.

            Most formal causes that I refer to are only "immaterial" in the sense of being non-energetic. But most such forms per se, best I can intuit, are morphodynamic structures that emerged from thermodynamic processes. Once their form-ation is complete (for example, by material, like leather & rubber, and energy, like sewing & stitching per designed shapes, e.g. spheres or ovals), with no further energy expenditure, they can continue to efficaciously in-form matter (for example, like basketballs and footballs). The same air can inflate the balls, such as per Tom Brady's preferences, but, with no extra energy expense beyond that, one piece of leather will be spherical, the other oval, due to the intrinsic nature previously in-forming them.

            These distinctions don't add much to our practical, quotidian experiences of reality, taken for granted as they can be. They can, if properly considered, however, provide useful conceptual placeholders such as in the emergences of cosmos, life and consciousness.

            I'm not insisting that all formal causes necessarily derive from antecedent thermodynamic and morphodynamic processes, but it's not wholly implausible to me that even consciousness thus emerged, as could've other teleodynamic, biosemiotic realities.

            As for any predicates that we abstract from various actualities, those abstractions are, always, only ever instantiated.

            Any intermediate states after death, for example, would be theological, relying on God's preservation and not on any intrinsic nature of some so-called disembodied soul, which, per some metaphysics, would be incoherent. Human souls, per my understanding of catholic theology, are each specially created, more like Scotus' conception of haecceity, or thisness, less like the notion of form as genus and species, or whatness.

          • Pofarmer

            "These distinctions don't add much to our practical, quotidian experiences of reality, taken for granted as they can be. They can, if properly considered, however, provide useful conceptual placeholders such as in the emergences of cosmos, life and consciousness."

            Are they likely to form or missinform?

          • No, even the best heuristics don't add new information. They don't gift explanatory adequacy or probabilistic descriptions.

          • William Davis

            I like to think of it in terms of information. A person is substance plus information, and there are large similarities between the information in every human, but the information is never exactly the same making each person unique. Of course, the information a person varies over time, my childhood self contains very different information compared to my current self.
            If God has access to the entire continuum of time, it would be no problem to copy this information and recreate it in any way he sees fit, so their is no conflict between materialism, the afterlife, or God, in my opinion. One problem with the afterlife, however, is exactly what information about a person is being used? Will it come from the person in their prime, or old age? If, like Jesus said, we will no longer be married or given in marriage, will we even be the same person? I can imagine my "self" that is not deeply attached to my wife and children. If this afterlife version is not like me in this sense, I would argue that it is NOT me, so what's the point of the afterlife?
            I definitely believe in free will now, personally I tie it to the impressive ability of the neocortex to organize itself and even reorganize around damage. I do think some people have more free will than others, and really believing in free will makes the will more free. What we believe has a direct effect on what we perceive and how we think and/or organize information. If in heaven, I'm not free to remarry my wife, am I not losing something? Perhaps I'm taking that passage from the gospels too seriously, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. One reason I don't believe in an afterlife is because I can't figure out how to make sense of it. Just because I don't believe in it, doesn't mean it won't happen, but it would be nice to believe in an afterlife :)

          • Information is the leit motif of biosemiotic science. And belief in free will is a nonnegotiable anthropological stipulation for people of faith. And your intuition of the self as dynamical not static, of identity as non-strict not strict, maps to my own conceptions.

            As to afterlife notions, I am reminded of Paul Valery's saying: We hope vaguely but dread precisely; our fears are infinitely more precise than our hopes.. That captures my own experience rather neatly. THAT all, may, can, will and shall be well is my fondest hope but HOW is nothing I've dwelt on beyond the affirmation that what no eye has seen nor ear heard nor the heart of wo/man has ever conceived, such are the things prepared for those who love the Lord." Many seem to resonate with the imaginative portraits of heaven as given by C.S. Lewis (he even addresses sex). More directly to your notion of information preservation, Hans Kung says something along the lines that every trace of human goodness will be eternalized, every beginning of a smile. Perhaps, then, beyond the notion of our physical prime we might expect that our intellectual, emotional, moral and social "primes" are somehow eternalized, that not worthy of love being washed white as snow with no divine re-member-ance.

            You might find something in Kung's book, Eternal Life. I wouldn't overinvest in given scripture passages, as you say. Even those we take seriously needn't be received literally but need historical-critical exegetical interpretation.

            I had an interesting and lengthy dialogue with a friend immersed in Eastern thought and below is an excerpt you may find interesting. Even in the East, where no-self conceptions abound, there's an affirmation of the continuity of a recognizable psychic self, even in the afterlife. The no-self conception has more to do with denying a static, essentialist self but needn't entail the denial of a fluid, dynamical self. You might find my articulation of my interlocutor's stance, below, interesting from a monist's perspective:

            Aurobindo refers to a divine fractured self which perdures eternally, which might suggest that, even while affirming an Immutable Self, he affirms individual streams of consciousness or karmic bundles, which even in the afterlife we would recognize as each other, as the individuals we knew, so to speak, on this side (notwithstanding reincarnations and so on).

            The Oneness of the Immutable Self could correspond to what we experience as a univocity of being (Scotus) and divine energies (Eastern Orthodox, hesychasm, with which I resonate). The love with which we all Love is, itself, the love and omnibenevolence of the divine, immutable self, Who is One.

             The divine fractured "S"elf expressed in our individual "s"elves are individual peepholes on reality, seen by individual streams of consciousness, experienced as distinct karmic bundles, complementing and supplementing the singular, all seeing Self as discrete psychic perspectives, enriching the Immutable One's experience of Self precisely via this fracture into mutable souls. Such wholeness and fracture both perduring eternally in dialogue, the mutable and Immutable mutually enriching.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            A person is substance plus information

            Technically, a substance is already the union of matter and form, but it is that which "stands under" all else. Thus, while the matter of a person changes constantly throughout his life, as do accidental forms like height and weight and so on, he remains the same person. So there is evidently a substantial form underlying the accidental forms. Hence, we might see essentially a ball roll down the street, but we do not see blue roll down the street save that the ball is blue.

          • William Davis

            One problem with a word like substance is that it can have so many different meanings. For Aristotle, best I understand it (still researching), an individual can be considered a primary substance, and humans in general can be considered a secondary substance.
            I'm using a view closer to Spinoza's, in which matter, energy, and even space are all different manifestations of substance. The information I consider separate, because the same substance that was once a person, usually ends up being dust. Even this dust can be converted to energy, though perhaps it can't be converted to space itself. Of course, we once thought matter and energy were not interchangeable, so maybe we will discover some connection to space itself, other than just the quantum foam.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Well, according to Einstein, space (and time) do not exist physically but are "metaphysical intrusions" that are consequent to the existence of mass-energy. So, who knows? We inch closer to a revived Aristotelian view, but one more informed by subsequent discoveries.

            Yes, on the primary and secondary substance. Substance was the most fundamental of the categories, and the only one that did not exist in another. Something like "red" can only exist in a red thing, like light, or an apple. Or size. There is no such thing as big without a big thing.

            As modes of real being the categories are not merely logical entities. They have a direct connection to reality in the sense that what they categorize is real. On the other hand, when something is so categorized it takes on a logical relation, and in this way takes on the character of a universal. There is nothing merely logical about an individual's being a substance, but to say of substance that it is a category is to say that we conceptualize it as a universal. On this basis philosophers distinguish between first substance and second substance. First substance is the individual being as it exists in itself; second substance is substance as it exists in the mind as a universal. The same idea could be applied to the remaining categories.

            Substance, then, is the first category, and substance is unique in that it exists in itself. The remaining nine categories share in common that they are predicamental accidentsand exist in another, that is, not by themselves but in a substance. Thus substance is what is most basic and independent in existence. It "stands under" (sub-stans) and sustains accidents in their being and itself is a source of activity.

            The first idea we gain of a substance is our very self. Each of us is a substance. I am aware that I now am, and have been, the same being over the entire course of my life. All of my accidents have changed, and yet I have remained the same.

            The problem with the Moderns hijacking these terms and redefining them is that the redefinitions are seldom as thoroughly interstructured as the originals, which were honed by Greek, Arabic, Jewish, and European thinkers over a couple thousand years.

            The information I consider separate, because the same substance that was once a person, usually ends up being dust. Even this dust can be converted...

            Indeed, this was the traditional argument why form could not be reduced to matter.

          • Pofarmer

            Uhm, where did Einstein describe space and time as "metaphysical intrusions"?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            He was a positivist and space and time have no material existence.

            [T]here are no objections of principle against the introduction of this hypothesis [general relativity], by which space and time are deprived of the last trace of objective reality.
            -- "Explanation of the Movement of Mercury's Perihelion on the Basis of the General Theory of Relativity," 1915

            He also wrote in what I take to have been a popular article:

            Formerly, people thought that if matter disappeared from the universe, space and time would remain. Relativity declares that space and time would disappear with matter.

            It was part of the death rattle of Newton's absolute space and time.

          • Pofarmer

            So you just made it up.

          • Loreen Lee

            Did you go through any Buddhist practice of meditation on the death experience, bardo, etc. etc. Acceptance of death is also predominant in Heidegger's philosophy, and I don't believe it includes an after death experience.At least that is my conclusion after considering all of the practice involved in not being concerned with either reward or punishment. (Talked about this earlier, but there is always 'more detail') I also think OT and NT has always conflated in some ways the concepts of death and sin. But that's another topic.

          • MR

            Genau.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            No, Plato believed forms were substances that existed on a different plane of reality. That is not the case.

            Aristotle's psyche was not a placeholder for biology. It was a principle by which biology had a subject matter in the first place. >i>Psyche or in Latin, anima, simply is what it means to be alive. It is what a living being possesses that its corpse does not. Now, just as physics merely accepts motion and tries to explain how motions are changed or transmitted, so too does biology accept life and tries to explain how living things change and reproduce. No science can demonstrate its own postulates.

          • William Davis

            It is what a living being possesses that its corpse does not

            Sure, and that is what biology is all about. Biology is a deep analysis of anima, in attempt to understand what makes it work. Of course there is no single thing that makes life work, but an entire host of things, so it is still useful to anima as all the various properties and structures as a whole. We understand anima way better than Aristotle ever did, but we have him to thank for pointing us in the right direction :)

          • stevegbrown

            Hello William, I know that this is an older post but I just came across (only coming here infrequently). I thought that this link would interest you:
            http://sulcus.berkeley.edu/wjf/CR%20FreemanAquinas.pdf

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Oh my goodness! A football is differently shaped!

            An immaterial form is not and cannot be an efficient cause, even when it is a form of something material, such as the double-helical arrangement of nucleotides in a DNA molecule, or the amorphous molecular structure of glass. It is a formal cause.

            Why not just say the basketball has the shape of a sphere?

            Indeed, in its most simple cases, shape is the form. I don't know why folks think it refutes the idea of formal causation to cite various examples of form.

          • William Davis

            Interesting concept, but a sphere is a generic form that applies to every basketball that ever existed. Every basketball shares the same sphere form, so would every human share the same soul form? In essence wouldn't every human have the exact same soul?
            There is also the problem of your soul existing outside of time, so it must exist before you were conceived.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Inanimate forms are not individuating, so yes, even though sphere exists regardless whether any particular basketball exists, the particular sphericity of this basketball does not persist. Nor is there any reason to suppose it does.

            There are some Eastern religions that hold that all humans share a single soul, and this was much discussed in the early days. But it confuses gender with specie, that is the generic with the specific. All human beings do hare the common form of a human, but like all living things, no two are alike, and these forms are individuating.

          • William Davis

            Inanimate forms are individuating. Think of all the different types of basketballs that can exist, yet they are all basketballs. Even of the exact same brand and model, every basketball is unique. If you zoom in, you'll find specific textures on the surface, and unique deformations. With sufficient information, we find that every instance of a form is unique, if only in minor details. I like the primary form (which is the individual object) and secondary form (which is the general class basically) of Aristotle, it is quite intuitive to me. We derive secondary forms from individual cases, which is basically the same thing as stereotyping.
            In neurology the ability to perceive and understand secondary forms is called invariance. This is the holy grail of artificial intelligence, and they have achieved some level of invariance in perception, but general invariance is probably a good way off still, we'll see.
            Thanks for bringing these concepts up, philosophy is way underrated these days :)

          • Garbanzo Bean

            But it confuses gender

            Gender confusion! You might want to edit that to "genus".

            human beings do hare the common form

            The origin of bugs bunny!

        • Why can't it be both: distinct and separable, yet profoundly united? What about a marriage, for example? The marital union of a man and woman is so profound that they become "one flesh." But what if one "flies away" from the other - through military service, dementia, or death? They can separate, of course, but the tragedy of it leaves both spouses feeling incomplete and incapacitated until they're reunited again.

          • David Nickol

            Why can't it be both: distinct and separable, yet profoundly united?

            Well, I don't see why anyone who believes in an omnipotent Creator attribute almost anything to him, outside of a logical contradiction (a square circle, for example). But my point is that Catechism paragraphs 365 and 366 do indeed seem like a logical contradiction. Certainly an omnipotent God could create a being that was part physical and part spirit, and he could create that being in such a way that both parts could function autonomously. Such a being could have out-of-body experiences, say during sleep. Surely an omnipotent God could make any arrangement he wanted. But as I understand the concept, once you say the soul is the "form" of the body, it doesn't make sense to claim that the soul leaves the body at death and carries on the existence of the person as a disembodied soul.

            Ye Olde Statistician has on numerous occasions given explanations and examples of "form" in Aristotelian thought—frequently it is a basketball—and not once has he claimed the "form" of a specific basketball has continued its existence after the physical basketball has been destroyed.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The forms of inanimate beings are not individuating forms. The basketball may be deflated, but "sphere" continues to exist. We cannot say this sphere or that sphere because there are no individual spheres.

        • Peter

          "it is not "produced" by the parents"

          Unlike the human body which is genetically bound to its parents, the human personality which emerges has no genetic link to the parents. This is the distinction that the Church makes here.

          It is a straightforward claim. The body can be studied to ascertain its genetic origins but the personality cannot be measured in this way. While there is sound evidence that our bodies are linked to our parents, there is no evidence that our personalities are linked.

          Take for example an adopted child with no genetic link to its adoptive parents. The personality of that child would not vary from those of its adoptive parents any more than the personality of a child who is not adopted would vary from those of its real parents. This means that genetic linkage is irrelevant where personality is concerned.

          • William Davis

            Unlike the human body which is genetically bound to its parents, the human personality which emerges has no genetic link to the parents. This is the distinction that the Church makes here.

            Your statement hear is completely false and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the science of the mind. The human mind is less influenced by genes than all other organism (due to the highly flexible nature of our neocortex) but genes clearly have an effect, this is scientific fact. For starters, check out:

            https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/under-the-influence/201307/do-genes-influence-personality

      •  In this thread, we discussed the intermediate state in several places:
        https://strangenotions.com/exorcising-epistemology/

        The "intermediate state" distinction (re: afterlife realities) belongs to eschatological doctrine (re: "last" things). It entails neither a particular philosophy of mind nor a particular theological anthropology. It's distinct from the soul, gifted by God's love and mercy and not reliant on a particular metaphysical conception of the soul or it's intrinsic nature.

         

         

      • Pofarmer

        "is because there are some of its functions that cannot purely rely on the functioning of the physical human body."

        Such as?

      • Pofarmer

        "he immaterial intellective soul in the first place is because there are some of its functions that cannot purely rely on the functioning of the physical human body. These functions must be free to act in some way without interference by the physical brain and body"

        Like what?

        • Phil

          Hey Pofarmer,

          The easiest example is the human person's ability to conceive immaterial entities and concepts.

          When you think about the word "procrastination", you are not thinking about the physical word--you are thinking about the immaterial concept of procrastination. When we say the word, right away you know, without any images whatsoever, what is being talked about. In other words, procrastination is not a physical thing.

          If the human person was simply a physical being, conceiving of immaterial concepts would not be possible.

          • Pofarmer

            When you say immaterial, you seem to mean abstract. I don't see how your last sentence follows. Humans are not the only species capable of abstract thought.

          • Phil

            That's correct, abstract concepts are immaterial in their nature.

            Yes, humans are the only animal, that we know have come across, that can understand immaterial abstract concepts. How do we know? Well, no animals have started to naturally use conceptual language like the human does.

            Any being capable of reasoning with abstract concepts will develop a human-like language. Animals only use what we call "proto-language". Proto-language signals certain events, but it does not contain any sort of immaterial concepts.

          • Pofarmer

            Think about an invisible dog fence, Phil.

          • Phil

            An invisible fence is not an "abstract concept". An animal can be trained that when they physical see or hear something, they will react in a certain way. (Think Pavlov's dogs.)

            So as a dog gets shocked at a certain point in the yard, they begin to regard that certain physical point in the yard as what they should stay away from. So when the flags are removed, the physical place of the fence is still there.

            If you teach a dog to understand something like "procrastination" or "the day after tomorrow" without using conditioning, then you might be getting somewhere :)

          • Pofarmer

            So you didn't have to be taught what procrastination meant?

          • Phil

            I don't think you are quite yet grasping what I'm proposing. A dog cannot learn and use the concepts of "procrastination" or "the day after tomorrow". They don't have an intellect that is capable of grasping and using immaterial concepts.

            You could train a dog to act in a certain way when he hears those words/phrases. For example, you could teach a dog to cower when he hears the word "procrastination" through reward/punishment. But a dog, and all non-human animals, are incapable of using and reasoning to/from these immaterial concepts.

            It takes no immaterial concepts to teach a dog to avoid the place on the lawn where they may get shocked.

          • Pofarmer

            Dogs are not people, true enough, but they can think in abstract ways. Once the flags are taken down, and the collar often taken off, then it is, indeed, the abstract idea if "this is where I'm supposed to be" that keeps the dog where it's supposed to be. There's much, much more, you know. Dogs dream, what is a dream if not a complete abstraction. If I have to, I'll whip out the links.

          • Phil

            "This is where I'm supposed to be"

            This issue is you are anthropomorphizing your dog. If a dog is truly thinking this, then it will be capable of telling you this in some type of human-like language. So, I'll believe it when your dog tells you this ;)

            Dreams are series of images, they are not concepts. Concepts are imageless, hence immaterial. You can think about the concept of "procrastination" apart from type of image in your mind.

          • Pofarmer

            "If a dog is truly thinking this, then it will be capable of telling you this in some type of human-like language. So, I'll believe it when your dog tells you this ;)b

            Why?

          • Phil

            Thinking conceptually and expressing the concepts in language are intrinsically tied together. So if an animal is not showing forth some type of conceptual language, then we have no reason to believe that they are actually thinking conceptually.

            That being said, some animals are great at picking up things perceptually. Dogs can pick up on physical body clues much better than we can. But a dogs action always goes back to some type of physical events.

          • Pofarmer

            I think you are artificially constructing a barrier here.

          • Phil

            Not at all, there is a big difference between perceiving and conceiving. So the way that an animal that perceives expressed itself will be very different from an animal that is also capable of conceiving. Hence, why we see such a big difference between the actions and language of humans and all other non-human animals.

            I'll just wrap up this discussion by suggesting a couple books that did a good job making this distinction that I'd recommend checking out:

            "In Defense of the Soul" -Ric Machuga
            "The Wonder of the World" -Varghese
            "Christian Faith and Human Understanding" -Sokolowski

          • There is a big difference between perceiving and conceiving.

            Agreed, Phil. And it's not just quantitative.

            From a semiotic perspective for those who'd like to dig further -
            Animals and humans share homologous instincts, which have an implicit abductive logic that's generative of behavioral plasticity or practical options via syntactical and semantical sign usage, but which otherwise remains unconscious, nonreflective.

            Human abductive inference analogously employs an explicit abductive logic
            that's also evaluative of behavioral options, both practically and speculatively
            via --- not only syntactical and semantical, but --- symbolic sign usage, combining unconscious, nonreflective, abductive instinct with conscious, reflective, hence robustly intentional, abductive inference.

            For concrete examples, Google the syntax: abductive instinct
            This hypothesis competes with other views, so, I don't represent it as the final word but only as my own sneaking suspicion, which suspects --- not just quantitative, but qualitative -- continuities and discontinuities between animal and human intelligence, whatever stance one otherwise takes in the philosophy of mind.

          • Pofarmer

            Thousands of years, yes, have you read any current research? You see, because YOU are conceiving of things in very anthropocentric terms.

          • Pofarmer

            And wouldn't a dream be immaterial?

          • Phil

            A dream is an image or perception. Non-human animals are great at perceiving; sometimes better than we are!

            So non-human animals can perceive, they simply can't conceive. To reaffirm, there is no image tied to the concept of "procrastination". We can describe it through an instance of procrastination, but the concept itself is immaterial.

          • Pofarmer

            The dream is an image created by the mind.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If the human person was simply a physical being, conceiving of immaterial concepts would not be possible.

            Why do you think this is the case?

            Edit: Clarity

          • Phil

            A material being can't become an immaterial concept. If we actually know immaterial concepts, the thing doing the knowning must be immaterial in its nature as well.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            A material being can't become an immaterial concept.

            Can a immaterial being become an immaterial concept?

            If we know immaterial concepts, the thing doing the knowning must be immaterial in its nature as well.

            This is just a restatement of what you said originally. Is there a reason for it or is it an axiom of Thomism?

          • Phil

            Can a immaterial being become an immaterial concept?

            Sure, like can become like. For example, when you think about the concept of "procrastination", your immaterial mind has actually become formed by that concept. Of course, since we are talking about something immaterial, "formed" doesn't reference something physical being changed.

            And we should also see brain activity when we are thinking, since the immaterial mind and brain are intimately united as a single entity (see Pat Schultz's article, part 1 of which was posted today).

            This is just a restatement of what you said originally. Is there a reason for it or is it an axiom of Thomism?

            It is a restatement. I just thought it might help make what I'm getting at clearer because it doesn't make sense that at material object has come to know an immaterial object. Material objects have no way to access immaterial things.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I still don't see why I should believe that material things cannot interact with immaterial things.

            A more general statement would be that if X interacts with Y then X and why belong to the same category. This is obviously false. For instance, solid potassium can react with liquid water, therefore we know that a solid can interact with a liquid. So you have to give an argument for why immaterial things only interact with other immaterial things - it cannot be assumed outright, because unlike things interact all of the time.

            Can immaterial things interact with material things?

            Why should I not believe that concepts are not the product of material things? Or that materiality is prior to immateriality?

            I could also deny the existence of universals. I feel like Thomistic claims are laden with unsupported and evidenced assumptions.

          • Phil

            We started with the question: how is it possible that the matter/energy of your brain becomes the immaterial concept of "procrastination" when you are thinking about it?

            If it can be reasoned that there is no way to account for this fact without also positing that the thing that is thinking about the immaterial concept of "procrastination" is also immaterial, then that is the rational conclusion to come to.

            Now, if a person wants to dispute this claim, they will have to explain how the material brain becomes the immaterial concept as you are thinking about it. A hylomorphic realist, like myself, would say that this is impossible and the closest one can get to this is by proposing some sort of magical interaction between the material and the immaterial, similar to Descartes (which in the end, magic really explains nothing).

            The trouble is people are so completely stuck in a materialistism vs. dualism type of view, and they completely miss that there is a middle option (which Pat Schultz has been presenting). This middle option solves most every major issue that arises from those two. Why people seem to hold that implicit assumption that this view of reality is false, I don't know. It truly is an amazing modern myth.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            how is it possible that the matter/energy of your brain becomes the
            immaterial concept of "procrastination" when you are thinking about it?

            I would deny that this is a valid question. The material brain does not become the immaterial concept of procastination by thinking about it.

            If it can be reasoned that there is no way to account for this fact without also positing that the thing
            that is thinking about the immaterial concept of "procrastination" is
            also immaterial, then that is the rational conclusion to come to.

            What is the reasoning?

    • Mike

      are you saying that souls in purgatory don't have "spiritual bodies" like they do in heaven and hell so there's a contradiction?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      These may help:
      Whether the human soul is incorruptible?
      http://dhspriory.org/thomas/summa/FP/FP075.html#FPQ75A6THEP1

      Whether all the powers remain in the soul when separated from the body?
      http://dhspriory.org/thomas/summa/FP/FP077.html#FPQ77A8THEP1

  • George

    "If scientists began to search for proof that our reasoning capacities extend beyond the material instrument of the brain, and indeed control the brain's activities even while relying on them, then they would discover the immaterial soul."

    And they'd also be right about it? You're talking an actual discovery and not a discovery you put in quotation marks? How do you know what will happen? Have you done this?

    What is stopping an immaterial scientific endeavor from doing the work on its own, and then showing that work to the world?

    "But insofar as they continue to hold to the materialist belief that only material things exist, they will only find what they are looking for."

    And when this happens, it's wrong to do? Their "finding" wouldn't actually be valid?

    "Then again, I also experience my control over my entire being. My acts of volition are real, and I use my body, not like an alien machine, but as part of my unified being."

    Is that really specific enough to be fairly compared to your reaction-to-coffee example?

    "So true, so true, and it has become increasingly clear, as the exclusively materialist account of human beings has taken hold of society, that abortion has become commonplace, euthanasia will soon follow suit (along with infanticide), and any distinction between human beings and other animals is fast fading away."

    Do these undesirable consequences have a place in the discussion? I'm not necessarily against it, both sides can think up appeals to consequences, but I want to know if this is to be strictly about what is true, what the facts are.

  • GCBill

    "If scientists began to search for proof that our reasoning capacities extend beyond the material instrument of the brain, and indeed control the brain's reasoning abilities even while relying on them,

    They'd be extended mind theorists?

    then they'd discover the immaterial soul."

    Oh...

    "If we are indeed rational animals, then we should expect to find that thinking depends on our animal nature, including our brain, in the same way that our rational volition, for its execution, depends on the use of our hands, legs, eyes, or ears."

    Right, but we should also make predictions about the way in which thinking depends on our "animal nature." For instance, we shouldn't expect that any impairments should be purely intellectual, since on this theory the intellect is immaterial. Rather, we should expect that any unnatural deficiency in intellectual operations is just the indirect result of some other corruption of the animal processes on which they depend. Since this prediction potentially can be falsified by research involving the brain, you should indeed "poke about" to be sure that it doesn't.

    • Phil

      Hey GCBill,

      If you think of the brain, and the senses as a whole, as the lens through which the person experiences the world and expresses herself, this can help to provide some clarity into the issue of material impairments affecting normal human functioning. We don't see with our brain, rather we see through our brain. When we use a lens, we don't see the lens, we see what is out there beyond the lens.

      This means we are not a ghost in a body scanning the screens inside our brain that show us the world. We experience the actual world through this "lens" and if it is "clear" and functioning as it should be, we will generally see the world as it actually is and we will express ourselves as we desire. But if this lens is warped and dirty, we will not see the world as it actually is or be able to express ourselves as we desire. Obviously all analogies are only effective to a point, but this is the best way of explaining this that I have heard. (Pat Schultz should have a good essay on this coming soon!)

      • David Nickol

        If the brain is indeed a "lens," what do we make of someone who has, say, early onset Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, or a traumatic brain injury? When we look through a lens, can't we determine if there is a distortion in it? Your view seems to imply that there is an "essence" of a person that is "above" the body and affected by it only by receiving distorted perceptions.

        • Phil

          When we look through a lens, can't we determine if there is a distortion in it?

          Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The easiest way to see if there is a distortion in a lens to compare what we ought to see with what we see with the lens. We put the lens in front of our eye and then take it away. Well, with the brain and senses, it can be hard to do this sometimes. If we have a benchmark to compare "good" hearing, seeing, etc., we can then create something, or change the physical structure of the eye/ear so as to make it a clear lens again.

          In regards to alzheimer's, schizophrenia, or other such things, it can be impossible for a person to have any sort of way that a person could, from the inside, compare their current experience to what they ought to be experiencing. If all they know is what they are experiencing, then that is what is really real to them.

          Your view seems to imply that there is an "essence" of a person that is
          "above" the body and affected by it only by receiving distorted
          perceptions.

          Can you expand upon this a little? I want to make sure I am understanding what you are proposing here correctly.

          • David Nickol

            Can you expand upon this a little? I want to make sure I am understanding what you are proposing here correctly.

            I guess the question is what the soul is capable of when it leaves the body. For example, if memories are stored in the brain, when a person dies and goes to purgatory or heaven, does that person have no memories?

            If a person is seriously psychotic, does that person have a "normal" soul? Will everything be clear to that person the moment he or she disconnects from the flawed brain at death?

            What about a child born with a profound mental disability who is capable of learning next to nothing? Is there a soul in there that has "normal" understanding? What will that person be able to understand when he or she dies? Will knowledge be infused so that things make sense?

            I read a very poignant comment once by a father of a Down Syndrome son. He said that as much as he wanted his son to be "normal," suppose there was a pill that would instantly "cure" Down Syndrome. Would he want his son to take it? Because without Down Syndrome, his son wouldn't really be his son any more. Or should we assume that inside even the most severely disabled Down Syndrome individual, there is a "normal" soul that is recognizably that person?

            It seems to me that a great deal of what and who we are depends on our brains (and, of course, what we experience and learn as we mature). I know you said that the "brain as lens" analogy was limited, as all analogies are. But speaking of the brain as a "lens" through which the soul looks makes the brain even more passive than the machine in the "ghost in the machine" analogy.

          • Michael Murray

            There are also, as you have often pointed out, the majority of immortal souls who have probably had no contact at all with anything like a brain because they miscarried quite soon after conception.

            It seems we have no evidence for the hypothesis of souls and they add complication to our understanding of the mind. I'd follow Friar William's advice.

      • George

        "We don't see with our brain, rather we see through our brain."

        How do you know that? Is your idea simpler or more complex? What do you think? What is this idea actually answering?

        • Phil

          This would be "seeing with our brain":

          When you say "I see the cat", there is not a little man in your brain that is scanning the screens of our brain, where the pictures that our sense create show up. (Think of our senses like the video camera, and our brain like the computer and screen showing us the images, sounds, etc.)

          This would be "seeing through our brain":

          The brain and senses, when functioning well, are like a perfectly transparent eyeglass lens. When we say "I see the cat", we actually see the cat out there. We don't see the eyeglass lens. The senses are like a perfectly transparent eyeglass lens. We see through the senses, not with

          Is your idea simpler or more complex? What is this idea actually answering?

          Definitely simpler, just look the above descriptions. In the latter, the 'I' doing the seeing, and the actual brain and senses through which ones sees are a unified being.

          This idea was to show how to think about the great unity of body and immaterial soul, and why damage to the body/brain would be expected to have an effect on our perception, and on our ability to express ourselves.

          • George

            I don't understand your first example. You are saying that one is the more complicated model, and is supposed to represent the materialist position on the mind?

            "there is NOT a little man in your brain that is scanning the screens of our brain, where the pictures that our sense create show up."

            did you mean to type that?

  • David Nickol

    I am currently reading Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience by Michael Gazzaniga, and one of the fascinating insights is that there is something called the (left brain) interpreter that functions to create out of whole cloth plausible but fictitious explanations for a person's behavior when the person himself doesn't know the reason. For example, when a split-brain individual is given a command only to the right (nonverbal) side of the brain such as, "Open the window," the split-brain individual will open the window. When asked why, instead of saying, "I don't know," the left brain interpreter will come up with a reason (e.g., "It was beginning to get stuffy in here") that he or she will utterly believe. (The exact same phenomenon can be seen when someone is given a posthypnotic suggestion.)

    One might assume that a soul would be aware of all knowledge, both to the left and right sides of the brain, and that human beings, even with split brains, would behave like single entities. However, split-brain research shows that it can be the case that the right hand literally does not know what the left hand is doing.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      How do you give a command to "open the window" to a non-verbal half-brain? And why could it not actually seem stuffy to the left brain? (I would have expected the verbal command to be intelligible to the logos-mongering left and the feeling of stuffiness to the right; but what the hey. Just because I have been "commanded" doesn't mean I don't feel stuffy.

      • David Nickol

        Actually, the following is the anecdote Gazzaniga relates as one example of the left brain interpreter:

        Experiments on split-brain patients reveal how readily the left brain interpreter can make up stories and beliefs. In one experiment, for example, when the word walk was presented only to the right side of a patient’s brain, he got up and started walking. When he was asked why he did this, the left brain (where language is stored and where the word walk was not presented) quickly created a reason for the action: “I wanted to go get a Coke.”

        I inadvertently substituted the story about the command to open a window, which was an example I had read that involved a posthypnotic suggestion, not a message to the right brain.

        In any case, the existence of something like the left brain interpreter is an empirically verifiable phenomena, unlike speculations about disembodied souls or glorified bodies. You can, of course, try to pick apart any single example I give. How do you know the man didn't actually want a Coke? But these kinds of phenomena have been verified in thousands of experiments.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          The experimenter believes that simply presenting a printed word to one half of a brain will compel that person to walk? And because he had walked he will invent a reason for doing so? It doesn't occur to him that perhaps his lab rat actually did want to get a Coke? Would it still work if he presented the half-brain with a sign reading ходить?

          If language is "stored" in the left brain, how did the right brain know what the sign meant? (Or even if it was spoken?)

          No fact is self-explanatory and is always interpreted in the light of an a priori theory. Or as Paul Simon said, "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

          • David Nickol

            No fact is self-explanatory and is always interpreted in the light of an a priori theory. Or as Paul Simon said, "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

            You are yourself giving us a fine example of what you are warning us against!

            You make the mistake (and of course you know better) of assuming that if an example is given of an experiment in which split-brain phenomena is present, that is the only case the researchers ever encountered, they made up a whole theory to fit that one case, and you can debunk the theory by thinking up an alternative explanation for the example!

            No scientific conclusion is based on one experiment. Even the most well founded theories get tested over and over again. Split-brain research, first in animals and then in humans, has been going on for over fifty years. You seem to know nothing about it, and yet you want to dismiss it out of hand. Or as Paul Simon said, "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            if an example is given of an experiment in which split-brain phenomena
            is present, ..., they
            made up a whole theory to fit that one case

            No, they understand the observation in the light of their prior theory.

            Split-brain research ... has been going on for over fifty years

            Indeed, I first read about it in a science article in Analog Science Fiction about that time.

            Of course, Ptolemaic theory about the heavens was "going on" far longer than that. Eventually, the Keplerians, showing that all the data could be interpreted in the light of a different theory, prevailed.

          • David Nickol

            No, they understand the observation in the light of their prior theory.

            And you know this how? You have reviewed the literature and concluded the findings of split-brain research don't hold up to scrutiny? Can you cite any references debunking the work of Roger Sperry (1981 Nobel Prize "for his discoveries concerning the functional specialization of the cerebral hemispheres") and Michael Gazzaniga?

            Your implication that the reigning theory in any given field may later be supplanted is of course true. But you have given no reason whatsoever to doubt the widely accepted findings of split-brain research. Taking your approach, any scientific findings can be waved aside without bothering to know the least thing about it.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Dagnabbit! I have forgotten why you thought this was important. Was it that damage to the brain impaired the behavior of the person?

            Besides, I have not said the research was bad. I only wondered if the facts were being construed correctly. The fact that 99% of scientists agreed about epicycles did not make them real. It was only that they had been trained from the start to think in those terms.

            I do notice that the findings of any branch of research are generally exaggerated by laymen. The actual researchers are often more tentative in their interpretations.

          • David Nickol

            If language is "stored" in the left brain, how did the right brain know what the sign meant? (Or even if it was spoken?)

            The right brain of many split brain subjects tested had very limited abilities to recognize printed words. So, for example, if a subject was given a simple object (spoon, knife, cube, ball, etc) to feel with his or her left hand (controlled by the right brain), the person could then point to a card with the name of the object on it. But since all this was taking place with the left brain unaware of it, the person would not be consciously aware of the object in the left hand or the card the left hand pointed to.

            Here's an interesting clip in which the subject cannot name the object he is shown in his left field of vision (going to the right brain), but he can draw the object with his left hand (controlled by the right brain).

          • Papalinton

            Religious-focussed philosophy can pontificate till the cows come home but will not advance the discussion of what happens in and outside the brain. No amount of equivocating or purported extra-cosmological 'alternative' explanations to how and why the brain functions as it does is going to bring us closer to the truth. Only science and scientifically-informed philosophy is going to do that. I say 'extra-cosmological' because that is ostensibly what the religious perspective wants to have us believe occurs; a non-corporeal, disembodied, omni-max live [putative] non-human agent that lives outside of time and space is THE explanation for the ensoulment of humans.

            That idea, of course, is ludicrously fanciful as a model with any explanatory merit. And as is becoming increasingly clear, more and more reasoned people are setting aside God-implanted ensoulment as little more than the religious antecedent of the homunculus theory of mind.

  • I don't understand what the problem is: The mind (or soul), which was once under the sole purview of philosophy (and theology), is now studied by disciplines with the methodology and instruments to begin studying it (I'm thinking specifically of neuroscience, which has its roots in psychiatry, neurology, other branches of medicine, and psychology). So far as I can tell, we have never discovered any mental processes that have no neural (physical) correlates, so there's no reason I see to rule out the possibility that there exists mental phenomena that cannot be accounted for by the physical. I don't know if the mental will ever be adequately reduced to the physical, but we're getting a pretty good idea of where many mental processes generally take place in the physical brain. It seems to me that philosophy and theology have contributed about as much as they can to this topic. Why are you so hesitant to hand the soul over for empirical investigation?

    • Mike

      Not hesitant at all in fact if all mental phenomena including the "i" that is luke and your ability to abstract were definitively found to be reduced in totality to your brain matter that would disprove a major contention of AT metaphysics and jeopardize the christian religion bc it would mean the 'rational soul' is entirely material like an animal's and therefore God does not directly 'infuse' a rational soul every time a new person is conceived.

      Other catholics, am i wrong about this possibility?

      • Could you define what you mean by "ability to abstract"? Please be clear.

        • Mike

          from what i've read about AT philosophy it the ability to get universals like dog from particulars like rover and then the ability to reason from that that if this thing is also a dog then it must also have 4 legs or whatever - so those 2 abilities plus a 3rd: free will based on indeterminacy: so bc humans know the general dog and the particular rover and can reason from those facts they do not have "perfect" knowledge of reality and therefore have free will because they don't know what to do instinctively like animals who can't 1. abstract 2. reason and therefore do have 'perfect' knowledge in reference to themselves (humans' potential knowledge is always greater than actual therefore indeterminacy and therefore free will whereas animals' potential is actual therefore no indeterminacy and no free will) and therefore 3 as i already said no free will.

          what AT says is that in principle matter can not, even if highly evolved do those 3 things which they call "powers" of the "rational soul" which is just a kind of soul so animals and plants have material souls which DID in principle evolve ie are the result of changing and optimizing ie "evolving" matter. so those 3 powers they argue could not have 'evolved' so if God didn't 'infuse' a rational soul the baby would look exactly like a real baby and have all the dna as a real baby and be able to walk and sit and eat etc. and would NOT be "mentally handicapped" in anyway but would not be human but an animal, it wouldn't be able to do those 3 things.

          this is i think why animals do not give each other names bc they don't have the 2 ideas the general and particular so they don't need to distinguish between the 2 like we do bc we know general human and "Luke" human but they only know "this" or "that" "luke" or "mike" but don't know there is a category called "just human/abstract human".

          or so i've read and tried to piece together.

          • That didn't clear up anything for me. Sorry. I think you're trying to talk about concepts you don't have a strong grasp of.

          • Mike

            ok sorry about that; Feser's posts are much more technical as well as lots of other AT posts online.

          • Mike

            You might find this series interesting reading just for general knowledge:

            http://tofspot.blogspot.ca/2014/07/in-psearch-of-psyche-some-groundwork.html

            btw one way to think of the material soul of the animals and plants is to consider who carbon which is inanimate (lifeless) can become animate (anima =soul). So imagine zooming into an animals ear or a plant stalk all the way down down smaller smaller until you got past the biology the chemistry and into the physics. There you'd find carbon atoms which we know are not "alive" and yet the plant and animals is: you folks call that "emergent property" we call that "soul=alive"/the substantial form of the body.

            When the first carbon based life form was created on earth it became "alive" ie it acquired a "material soul".

            the issues also is not "DNA" which still assumes life and doesn't go far down enough into the matter, but actual carbon and nitrogen etc. how those like frankenstein somehow become "alive".

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon-based_life

          • Raymond

            I'm sorry, but zooming down to the atomic level and seeing material components that are not alive is a validation of the "animalistic" nature of human beings. As you zoom back up from the atomic level, you see structures that become more and more complex, and those structures begin to interact in ways that more and more "resemble" cognitive functions. This is not to say that there is no such thing as cognitive functions, but this approach tends to assert that those functions are based on interactions of material components.

          • Mike

            "assert that those functions are based on interactions of material components."

            they ARE...at least for plants and none-rational animals they are material and even some of our 'powers' are material as well, all except the ability to abstract universal from particular, to then reason from one 'premise' to another or whatever that's called technically and to act on free will.

            that's my total layman's understanding of the claims in aristo-thomist philosophy.

          • Mike

            You might enjoy this 1 blog post: really interesting.

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2014/05/pre-christian-apologetics.html

          • Raymond

            I haven't read the article in detail yet, but I did find it interesting that he started from the christian/pagan assumption that God exists, masking it in the trappings of abstract logic. I never really bought into Augustine, Aquinas, More, etc because they start with unfounded assumptions and "prove" them via confirmation bias. They know where they want to go and use "logic" to get them there.

          • Mike

            what are "trappings of abstract logic"?

            anyway, take care.

          • Raymond

            It is pretending to use actual logic but basing the reasoning on unverifiable assertions.

          • Mike

            so like begging the question where the conclusion is baked into the premise and therefore you can't but get to the conclusion that is hidden in the premise?

          • Raymond

            well...yeah...excuse me for not being up on my logical fallacies

          • Mike

            It's a pretty common one; i fact i thin you're committing it yourself: you might want to look into just who it was who reasoned their way to an immaterial soul and a first cause and a being who is pure actuality in the first place: a clue: it wasn't the church or the ancient israelites or the early christians.

          • Raymond

            I'll bite...who? (whom?)

          • Mike

            aristotle and plato i think both believed in a bare bones God and in the soul (which just means alive) and the immaterial intellect. and they lived 500 years before.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Nice scare quotes around "logic." Better to take the Modern approach and eschew logic altogether.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Let us see what an actual logician has to say:

            I conclude that the Aristotelian doctrines with which we have been concerned in this chapter are wholly false, with the exception of the formal theory of the syllogism, which is unimportant. Any person in the present day who wishes to learn logic will be wasting his time if he reads Aristotle or any of his disciples. None the less, Aristotle’s logical writings show great ability, and would have been useful to mankind if they had appeared at a time when intellectual originality was still active. Unfortunately, they appeared at the very end of the creative period of Greek thought, and therefore came to be accepted as authoritative. - Bertrand Russell

          • Raymond

            Or logic based on sound premises.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Yes, "complex". Appeal to "magic."

          • Raymond

            As opposed to the unseeable unknowable entity that created everything and controls our lives.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Are you talking about memes or genes?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Ab-stract = to pull out (from within). It's a very gritty and "manual" word. And as Mike suggests it means the ability to sense particulars -- like Rover, Fido, Spot, which exist in matter -- and abstract from them a universal "dog," which does not exist in matter. Without this ability, neither language nor science would be possible.

          • I was unsure of precisely how the word abstract is used in A-T philosophy. I've learned not to proceed as if I understand how Catholics here use certain words. Is the ability to abstract in this way limited to humans from the A-T perspective?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It's more like any beings capable of abstraction are humans in the metaphysical sense, regardless whether they are members of the same biological species. At this point, we have no clear evidence of any other beings exercising abstract thought. All supposed examples turn out to be cases of imagination rather than intellect.

          • Recent studies showing abstract thought via analogies demonstrated in crows (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/crows-understand-analogies/ ), and chimps and gorillas (http://phys.org/news/2013-09-evidence-orangutans-gorillas-images-based.html ). Yes, this type of abstract thought it quite basic compared to the abilities of humans, but these are still examples of abstraction for me. I'm guessing you'll disagree.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Dropping pebbles into a water jar does not constitute abstraction. It is precisely the sort of concrete, imaginative cognition that is entirely animal. Granted, the secular humanists and scientific revolutionaries demoted animals to something like meat puppets, but this was never the case with Aristotelians or Thomists, who regarded instinct as a far more active thing than the scientists. The combination of imagination and memory can achieve great feats that from the outside seem like intellection. But there is no suggestion that the crow understands what a pebble is; only that dropping such things and not other things raises the water level. That hardly makes them nascent Archimedes.

            The statement "a young
            female gorilla and four orangutans of various ages were shown images of
            animals and asked to match them to an image from the same species or
            family" is ludicrous. They were asked? Really? In English or Spanish? More likely they were rewarded when they did match them and quickly learned which matches would gain them the rewards.

            The traditional term for this exercise of sensation, perception, and imagination/memory is "animal prudence." Any animals that failed to recognize different kinds of objects would quickly drop out of the gene pool.

            Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-09-evidence-orangutans-gorillas-images-based.html#jCp

          • You're quibbling over the term "asked"? If you define abstraction in a way that requires verbal language like humans have, of course humans will be the only creatures capable of abstracting.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The article said they were "asked." This gives the impression already that some intellective activity is already taking place and prepares the reader to accept the conclusion. How exactly was it made known to the gorilla and organ-utangs what task would gain them the goodies? This has a great deal to do with the meaning of the concrete actions that were observed. It's like when psychiatrists say they have measured the anger in a set of subjects when all they have really done is secured stated answers to specific questions -- and then interpreted certain answers as "anger." Or they see lighted areas on an MRI scan indicating blood flow to specific brain regions and then claim that they have identified a "moment of decision."

            They need to take a more materialistic approach. Give us the facts, and then construct* the facts into an interpretation.

            (* The Latin for a construction is fictio. rofl!)

          • You can read the full study here: https://peerj.com/articles/158/

            Here is what is meant by "asked":

            The subjects were presented with a delayed matching-to-sample (DMTS) task in order to examine their understanding of several categories simultaneously. ... Each trial involved presentation of a sample that was replaced by two comparison photos once the subject attended to the sample. The reinforced comparison was a different photo of the same or different member of the same species or family as the sample (Experiment 1), or a photo of a different species from the same class as the sample (Experiment 2). The non-reinforced comparison was a photo of a member of a different primate species (Experiment 1), or a member of a different class (Experiment 2). Experiment 1 tested for concrete level discriminations in that the categorizations could be made by matching perceptual features of the stimuli. In Experiment 2 an effort was made to select photographs of species belonging to the same taxonomic class that were nonetheless perceptually quite distinct from one another. For instance, a photo of a stingray shared few features with a photo of the head of a blenny fish, but both belonged to the fish category. Backgrounds varied both within and between categories. Because the comparison stimuli did not share many perceptual features with the sample stimulus, the subjects’ ability to correctly match the photos might indicate the capacity for forming concepts at the intermediate level of abstraction.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I am trying to imagine reaching a firm conclusion in the manufacture of aluminum cans based on sample sizes given. I am always wary of the application of 19th century statistical methods by amateurs, but I note that the authors do not reach your conclusion. They only claim that the primate learned to make the required matchings.

            As Aristotle noted, "The sheep perceives the wolf and esteems the wolf an enemy." This would be true even if the sheep had never before perceived a wolf. It is what we call "animal prudence" and is part of its "instinct." The idea that the sheep would not recognize other wolves as the same kind of critter or classify other canines similar to wolves as being in the same class-of-things-to-avoid/run-from defies evolutionary sense. That primates, being higher than sheep, would possess even greater powers of discrimination, is not exactly surprising. Yet the ability to match photographs, which are concrete objects, does not necessarily mean that the primate has abstracted a general concept from them.

          • Yet the ability to match photographs, which are concrete objects, does not necessarily mean that the primate has abstracted a general concept from them.

            Yes, it does. That the subjects were able to successfully match animals into classes is evidence of abstraction. It's obviously not the abstraction you think separates humans from animals, but it's abstraction nonetheless. This is why I asked for a precise definition of what you mean by abstraction initially.

          • I spoke in haste. You do have a point that they subjects may not have formed concepts as we generally think of them. The results of this study suggest, but do not offer conclusive evidence in that regard.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      we have never discovered any mental processes that have no neural (physical) correlates

      The Modern confuses correlation with causation. An Aristo-Thomist would expect that mental "processes" would have physical correlates because the human being is a synolon of matter and form. Of course, one will affect the other; esp. if there has been damage (e.g., split brain). Bouncing a basketball will affect its spherical form. But correlation is not causation, and the correlation between mental and physical does not equate to one being "accounted for" by the other. It would be as correct (if not more so) to speak of physical processes being accounted for by the mental.

      Why are you so hesitant to hand the soul over for empirical investigation?

      Probably for the same reason one would hesitate to hand over spherical geometry to a rubber chemist. Their tools and objectives would be quite different.

      As Heisenberg once wrote, what we see is not Nature, but Nature-as-revealed by our methodology. If your methodology is restricted to measurable qualities of material bodies, then all other aspects of Nature will be invisible to you.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Tell that to the OP:

        If, however, scientists suddenly decided to examine the ways in which our rationality cannot be reduced to our animality, they would also discover the forgotten half of our nature. If scientists began to search for proof that our reasoning capacities extend beyond the material instrument of the brain, and indeed control the brain's activities even while relying on them, then they would discover the immaterial soul. But insofar as they continue to hold to the materialist belief that only material things exist, they will only find what they are looking for.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Not to answer for YOS, but I think a scientist as scientist could only find that natural physical processes alone could not explain the phenomena. That would point out the need to take a step above the reasoning of the natural sciences.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Seemingly, rationality can be reduced to the material human person. I see no reason to add an immaterial component. In fact, many scientific findings, call into question the Catholic concept of a soul and the soul's properties.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > Seemingly, rationality can be reduced to the material human person.

            Doesn't that beg the question of what a human person is? You are assuming the human being is nothing but matter, no?

            How does rationality emerge from materiality?

            Which Catholic conceptions of the soul and its properties do you see science questioning? The ability to engage in abstraction? Freedom of choice between options? The ability to love?

            How would a scientific experiment measure something immaterial, like, for example, the relationship between two abstract ideas, for example, beauty and goodness?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Suppose we assume neither that man is solely material or partially immaterial. I do not see how science will gain evidence for an immaterial soul. Regardless of assumptions, science is limited to studying material things. Unfalsifiable immaterial souls cannot be tested for by science, unless the properties of the immaterial soul are found in the material realm. Meaning, if I thought that the immaterial soul pumped blood that is a possibility, until it is discovered that actually the heart pumps blood.

            However, if I believed that the soul pumped blood, I might try to rationalize this belief by saying that the soul uses the heart to pump blood. This is basically what Catholic Apologetics does. It is claimed that the soul uses the brain for rational thought. This is now arguably untestable, unprovable via philosophy, and simply question begging.

            How does rationality emerge from materiality?

            I do not know.

            Firstly, my problem with souls, is that if the seat of the human person is the soul, then why can brain damage affect personality? Personality can changed based on the brain. If the soul was preeminent, why doesn't personality remain fixed after brain trauma.

            Secondly, if the soul is the seat of rationality, why don't all humans possess it at all ages? Rationality is a function of brain development, genetics, and education. Why are pigs, dolphins, and chimpanzees arguably as smart as young humans, if rational thought is a property of the human soul.

            Which Catholic conceptions of the soul and its properties do you see science questioning? The ability to engage in abstraction? Freedom of choice between options? The ability to love?

            Personality and abstract thought. Love as well. Although this depends on what you mean by love.

            How would a scientific experiment measure something immaterial, like, for example, the relationship between two abstract ideas, for example, beauty and goodness?

            Not sure. I do not think that only immaterial things can comprehend immaterial ideas.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Your reply deserves my best thinking, which ain't that great, but I'll try. And this may take a couple of different replies.

            I agree that science cannot test for immaterial substances for methodological reasons.

            I think science cannot even test for the simplest idea. For example, no scientifc inquiry could ever stumble upon the idea of triangularity (an idea in mathematics), or the idea of goodness (in the area of ethics), or the idea of theism or atheism.

            Therefore, I agree with you when you say, "I do not see how science will gain evidence for an immaterial soul."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            This has been said before, but A-T anthropology does not begin with the idea that a rational soul has been tacked on the human animal. It just begins with the powers of living human beings. Human beings have reason and free-will. A-T anthropology reasons that these powers are in themselves not material (so they are immaterial, duh). If there is a human power not reducible to materiality then maybe or certainly some part of the human being survives the decomposition of the body.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > I do not think that only immaterial things can comprehend immaterial ideas.

            Doesn't this beg the question?

            If human beings are wholly material, then yes, some material things can comprehend immaterial ideas.

            We don't know of any other material things that comprehend ideas. Higher animals can feel emotions, have memories, understand human words and signals (plus understand each other in the ways they communicate with each other), and even form intentions, but I've never heard any evidence that they form concepts.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            As I understand, Aristotelians argue that material things can only act with other material things. I do not see a reason to believe this.

            They then argue that because ideas are immaterial they are comprehended by an immaterial soul. Unless am misunderstanding or misstating the reasoning.

            I guess my point is that I do not see why a purely material being could not understand immaterial concepts.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Firstly, my problem with souls, is that if the seat of the human person is the soul, then why can brain damage affect personality? Personality can changed based on the brain. If the soul was preeminent, why doesn't personality remain fixed after brain trauma.

            That rationality is the human being's highest power does not mean that it rules the human being. Everyday experience shows we often don't do what we know is best for us: case in point, all the Doritos I ate late last night. The passions and emotions make their demands, too, and I, the rational animal that I am, often choose them. Catholics call that concupiscence.

            Another consideration, I think, is that the mind can only use what is presented to it. It needs images and language. It needs memories, including the memory of ideas. It also needs habits. Without these, it cannot exercise its powers.

            Similarly, if only negative and destructive thoughts present themselves to one's consciousness and if there are no feelings of empathy or compassion or kinship--which can happen with brain damage or (I take it) with sociopathy, the person responds along those lines.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Secondly, if the soul is the seat of rationality, why don't all humans possess it at all ages? Rationality is a function of brain development, genetics, and education. Why are pigs, dolphins, and chimpanzees arguably as smart as young humans, if rational thought is a property of the human soul.

            The power of intellect to reach the truth and of the will to choose the good have to be developed. I don't think the word "function" is the best but I agree that the brain does need to develop, some people are smarter than others due to how well their brains store and process, and what is put in them (education) matters. I know I have the power to reason. I also know that for this power to be perfect in me I would need to be able to remember everything I have ever learned and be able to hold it all up at one time and see how everything is connected, including all the ideas. While my intellect, then, would be functioning perfectly, there would still be everything thing out there I have never heard of.

            A grown pig can seem as smart or smarter than a human toddler I suspect because the toddler is using her animal powers, which are less developed than the mature pig, not her specifically human powers, which the pigs has not at all.

          • MR

            Drugs and alcohol, obviously, also affect personality. A Parkinson's drug was even recently shown to affect a person's moral choices.

      • Is it your position, then, that the brain alone cannot give rise to our mental processes and felt sensations? That a soul is needed to explain our mental and felt phenomena?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think the A-T view is that the brain *does* give rise to our "felt sensations" and whatever other "mental processes" we share with animals. But forming abstractions, reasonings about them, comparing abstractions with abstractions, etc. cannot be done by the brain alone. This is not to say that while these rational activities are going on, different areas of the brain won't "light up." For example, if I was thinking about how dogs relate to mammals in general, at the very least I would have to access my memory of the terms dog and mammal.

          • Why can these things not be done by the brain alone? What's your evidence?

          • Kevin Aldrich
          • Is Ross a neuroscientist? What credentials does this person have to address this question with evidence?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            He is a philosopher who draws from many fields for evidence and examples.

          • His argument is based off of Aristotelian metaphysics, which I see no reason to take seriously.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Are you not committing the genetic fallacy? Anyway, isn't he "basing it off" analytic philosophers, and other fields?

            First, the underlying arguments themselves are among the jewels of analytic philosophy (underdetermination considerations); and, secondly, to deny that our judgments are of definite logical forms and pure functions conflicts with our own certainty and with what we tell our logic, mathematics, and linguistics students about validity, proof, and formal syntax, and leaves us unable to explain what we do when we do mathematics, logic, or any other formal thinking.

          • I'm not disputing logic or analytic philosophy; I'm disputing Aristotelian metaphysics.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Are you disputing it or dismissing it?

          • Dismissing is the better word.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          It is an organ. It no more "gives rise to" our "mental processes" (whatever those are) than our hands "give rise to" our piano playing processes. The human -- meaning the whole human uses its organs to accomplish various ends, whether deliberately or not. (The stomach digests only if it is a part of a whole being.) Sensations of course do occur in the brain. They are coordinated there into phantasms, which give rise to awareness of Others and hence "consciousness." Because all abstract thoughts are accompanied by the imagination -- e.g., you cannot conceive of "dog" without imagining a particular dog -- there will always be brain activity "associated with" thought.
          http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0010.GIF
          The schematic shows the sensitive plus rational powers of the human soul, but there are in addition the "vegetative" powers as well as inanimate powers.

          That a soul is needed to explain our mental and felt phenomena?

          A soul is needed to explain why a thing is alive, full stop, all the physical processes of a living body included. There is no "brain activity" in a corpse, even though the brain is still there. All the matter is present, at least for a while, but it's not in motion.

          • [The brain] no more "gives rise to" our "mental processes" (whatever those are) than our hands "give rise to" our piano playing processes.

            I think that this is a poor analogy. The hands and the brain are quite different in their abilities, correct? The hands do not have the ability to process anything. Their movements are coordinated by motor neurons. The brain and spinal cord seem to do the coordinating.

            A soul is needed to explain why a thing is alive, full stop, all the physical processes of a living body included.

            You sound like a vitalist here.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Vitalism was rejected a priori as a metaphysical choice, not because it was "disproven." No one back then had software to serve as a paradigm case for what it was supposed to account for. For the same reason, the ancients used organic models for the universe rather than mechanical models: they had no example of the sort of machine that would serve as a model.

            However, many people think of these things as something additional "added in" like a wacky ectoplasmic infusion. The Latin word for soul (in which language all these things were originally discussed and hammered out) simply meant "alive." So "Does X have a soul" translates as "Is X alive?" "What is the soul?" = "What is life?" If triangles were alive, "three-sided" would be their soul.

            This cannot be the matter as such, because a) the matter is in constant turnover during the lifetime; and b) the corpse has all the same matter as the previous life-form. The matter must be "in motion": heart pumping, neurons firing, lungs breathing, muscles contracting and relaxing, etc. Otherwise, you just have a bag of chemicals that is simply "there," not doing anything.

            But as Aristotle wrote: "If the eye were an animal, then vision would be its soul." (The eye of course is only a part, not a stand-alone; but this is one of those analogy thingies that crows and four-year olds are said to have mastered.)

            Discussed more fully here:
            https://thomism.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/the-humanelic/

          • And now you're simply redefining "soul" to mean "alive." This clarifies nothing for me.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Nah. Descartes and the others redefined it, in the process making a hash of psychology. That is simply what soul (anima, ψυχή) meant. You keep expecting soul to be some mystic and mysterious thing when it is not a thing but the form or motion of a thing.

            More formally (lol) the soul is "the substantial form of a living body" or "the first act of a natural body that is potentially alive." Since all perceived matter is some form of matter, the petunia, puppy, or person must have some form that makes it what is it. So that soul exists should be the least controversial thing about it. Whether is consists of patterns of neurons or some other immaterial stuff, what its powers are, and so on, are the really interesting topics.

          • How does any of this language regarding the soul translate into something testable or measurable outside of its interaction with the physical? I still don't understand why an immaterial soul is a necessary postulation in order to account for the ability to abstract.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            How does any of this language regarding the soul translate into something testable or measurable outside of its interaction with the physical?

            The modern revolution in the sciences restricted itself to those aspects of nature that are "testable or measurable." This was very fruitful for the Baconian-Cartesian project of increasing man's dominion over the universe and making really kool new products. But as Heisenberg commented, the scientist does not see Nature, but only Nature as revealed by his methodology. Hence, the conviction grew since the 17th century that the testable and measurable aspects of nature were not only those aspects visible to the new methodology, but were in fact the only aspects of Nature, full stop. Of course, this meant that quotidian things like "red" were no longer part of nature, and it had to be reinterpreted in testable-and-measurable (and controllable) imagery. This led to the equation of the Ding an sich with the formal shell, in the hard sciences typically the mathematical description.

            Lost in the shuffle: if the experience of "red" is outside the scope of the methodology, the concept of life (soul) or motion (kinesis) is as well. These are concepts that must simply be taken for granted by the methodology of the natural sciences. As the postulates of Euclidean geometry cannot be proven within the confines of Euclidean geometry, the postulates of the natural sciences cannot be established with the methods of natural science. At best, physicists and engineers can study how motion is transformed-- such as by invisible "forces", and biologists can agree on which things are "alive" and therefore a proper object of their study. Physics cannot even establish that an objective world exists using the methods of physics. (Empirical evidence requires that you already assume that the objective world exists, which is a logical fallacy.) It is a reasonable assumption, but we ought not forget that it is and assumption.

            This doesn't mean that the basic assumptions of any field should be unexamined, if only to prevent the trap of dogmatic adherence to a methodological choice that turns out eventually to have been limited. The examination of the assumptions of the physics (broadly construed as the science (knowledge) of anything physical, animate or inanimate) is called metaphysics. This examines motion as such, being as such, life as such, etc. Since the methods of physical science do not apply, one must rely on the tools of logic and reason based on experience. The former borrowed from mathematics, the latter from the physics.

            So, the answer to your question is: anima doesn't add anything to the physical sciences beyond better understanding of what it is to be animate. Otherwise, neither biology nor psychology would have a coherent subject matter.

            What it does do is confer human dignity, "both because of its nature and powers and because of its origin, even when its characteristic operations are impeded by physical abnormalities or ailments." This is perhaps why bien pensants have lately been attacking the idea of human dignity and indeed the idea of life itself.
            http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/media/The%20Stupidity%20of%20Dignity.htm
            http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/brainwaves/2013/12/02/why-life-does-not-really-exist/

            I still don't understand why an immaterial soul is a necessary postulation in order to account for the ability to abstract.

            Because the ability to abstract is not a material operation.

          • Regarding your first paragraphs, I'm aware of the assumptions modern science makes. If you can offer evidence that A-T philosophy is a better alternative, I'm all ears.

            Because the ability to abstract is not a material operation.

            How do you know? This is not an adequate answer, and I think you know that.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            If you can offer evidence that A-T philosophy is a better alternative [to modern science], I'm all ears.

            It's not an alternative at all. Is music an alternative to baking? Is football an alternative to the Corinthian column? Metaphysics explores the background assumptions on which science (any science) operates, but it doesn't do science. That's the job of the physics. Similarly, modern science does not offer an alternative to metaphysics largely because it must assume these things in the first place.

            "Because the ability to abstract is not a material operation."
            How do you know?

            Because the proper object of abstraction -- the universal: i.e., concepts, mathematicals, propositions, etc. -- is not material.

          • I'm familiar with the purpose of metaphysics. My question is, Why should I accept the metaphysics of Aristotle?

            I think we're going in circles now, but I'll ask anyway: Why can't a material brain conceive of immaterial concepts? What rules that out as a possibility?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Why should I accept the metaphysics of Aristotle?

            Because it is the most systemic, rational, and well-thought out. Plato is a bit too woo-woo for me.

            Why can't a material brain conceive of immaterial concepts?

            Because materially speaking, it is simply a lump of meat. It cannot do anything unless it is a part of a living being -- and to be alive means to be ensouled. It is the whole person who thinks. The brain is not a magic organ, somehow different from all other organs.

          • Because it is the most systemic, rational, and well-thought out.

            Maybe it was 2000+ years ago. I disagree that it's any of these things. What you wrote is completely unsubstantiated and therefore unconvincing.

            and to be alive means to be ensouled.

            You already defined soul as being alive, so this offers nothing new.

            It is the whole person who thinks.

            "Whole person" is pretty vague. I don't know what you mean by this.

            The brain is not a magic organ, somehow different from all other organs.

            You can't honestly think that the brain is no different from all other organs... Right? One can't swap the brain out for another organ and get consciousness.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Because [Aristotle's metaphysics] is the most systemic, rational, and well-thought out.
            Maybe it was 2000+ years ago. I disagree that it's any of these things. What you wrote is completely unsubstantiated and therefore unconvincing.

            It was honed and polished all during those 2000+ years. Probably the best place to begin is with The Categories, On Interpretation, The Prior Analytics, The Posterior Analytics, The Topics), then move on to The Physics and The Metaphysics before tackling On the Soul and other specialized works. However, you must be wary, because Aristotle coined a passle of new words and they have not always been translated aptly. (For example, what he means by "motion" is not what we mean.)

            and to be alive means to be ensouled.
            You already defined soul as being alive, so this offers nothing new.

            Of course not. Why should it? Call it a reminder.

            It is the whole person who thinks.
            "Whole person" is pretty vague. I don't know what you mean by this.

            It means that it is not only half the person who thinks. For example, not only Descarets' res cogitans. Members of the Cult of the Cerebral are often closet Platonists who regard people as souls (even if they avoid that word!) trapped in a body. But the human substance is a synolon: not a soul trapped in a body, nor a duality of a soul and a body, and certainly not simply a body that is not alive. The "I" that perceives the strange squiggles on the screen is the same "I" that understands their meaning. That may be why modern materialists so often end up denying that there is any "I" at all.

            The brain is not a magic organ, somehow different from all other organs.
            You can't honestly think that the brain is no different from all other organs... Right? One can't swap the brain out for another organ and get consciousness.

            The weird insistence is that the brain is the only organ that uses the organism rather than vice versa. If you swap the stomach our for a spleen, you will not get digestion. If you swap the eye out for a gall bladder, you will not get sight. Consciousness is a proper power of the brain, since it is in the brain that the disparate sense signals get unified into a single phantasm, and therefore makes a distinction between the perceiving subject (the self) and the perceived object (the world), and so is conscious of itself as self. All sensory creatures possess this. A cockroach is conscious.

            But the brain, removed from the whole person will not be conscious of anything.

            I bet if you replace the heart or the lungs with a stomach or a pancreas, consciousness will also vanish.

          • It was honed and polished all during those 2000+ years.

            Hone all you want, but I still see no reason to believe in the existence of forms / essences, for example, outside our conception of them.

            As far as I can tell, your middle paragraph is just going in circles by introducing new terms to replace old terms. I still don't see anything convincing that would make me take the unique aspects of Aristotle's metaphysics seriously.

            it is in the brain that the disparate sense signals get unified into a single phantasm

            Isn't this just another way of stating how materialists think of emergent properties?

            I bet if you replace the heart or the lungs with a stomach or a pancreas, consciousness will also vanish.

            I disagree, hence the whole brain in a vat dilemma. We haven't found ways to artificially keep the central nervous system functioning for any extended periods of time, but I bet that if one could remove the organs you mentioned simultaneously, one might remain conscious for second or two. Find ways to replace these other organs with synthetic ones, and I think consciousness would still exist.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I still see no reason to believe in the existence of forms / essences, for example, outside our conception of them.

            Outside our conception of them there are no objects for human reasoning. The acts of the intellect are conceptions.

            But every thing is some thing. That is, it has some form, including but not limited to the shape of the matter. Otherwise, how would a scientist know that this thing and that thing are the same kind of thing?

            Matter is given powers by the form it has. (Matter is just the substrate: the stuff the thing is made of.) For example, sodium and chlorine atoms are made of the same matter -- protons, electrons, and neutrons. What makes one a flammable metal and the other a poisonous gas is that they differ in the number and arrangement of these parts; that is, in their forms. Inanimate forms are the easiest to conceive, as they tend to the very simple and possess but four powers (gravity, electromagnetism, strong force, and weak force). They are usually called "forces," but they are actually not forced on matter, but are immanent to it.

            Animate forms are more complicated, since their powers include motions. That is, they are not simply formatio et terminatio materiae, but neurons are firing, hearts are beating, lungs breathing, etc. Even so, even orang-utangs can reliably distinguish between different forms of animals on a purely visual basis.

            Similarly, we can distinguish a novel about the Civil War from a history of the Civil War, even though the matter is the same subject because they are written in different literary forms. And science, of course, as Poincare remarked, is not simply a pile of facts any more than a pile of bricks is a house. It is the arrangement of those facts that make scientific hypotheses meaningful. Similarly, von Hayek, in his Nobel speech, addressed problems of organized complexity, pointing out that for such systems one needs not only to know the elements of which the system consists but also how those elements are connected to one another. IOW, it is only through the forms that matters become intelligible.

            it is in the brain that the disparate sense signals get unified into a single phantasm
            Isn't this just another way of stating how materialists think of emergent properties?

            As far as I can tell, you are just going in circles by introducing new terms to replace old terms. "Emergent properties" is a term introduced IIRC at the Santa Fe Institute for the powers exhibited by wholes but not by the parts (matter). But this is just a new way of saying "the powers of formal causes" and adds nothing but a sort of magical thinking. (The powers simply "emerge.")

            It seems a little odd if materialists have glommed onto the phrase as a way of saying "then a miracle happens." But it is always good to see a return to the perennial philosophy, even by those who do not realize they are doing so.

            A useful model for Aristotelian forms is "software" which informs so many artifacts these days.

            We haven't found ways to artificially keep the central nervous system functioning for any extended periods of time, but I bet that if one could remove the organs you mentioned simultaneously, one might remain conscio us for s econd or two. Find ways to replace these other organs with synthetic ones, and I think consciousness would still exist.

            At least the Christians decently refer to miracles that have supposedly already happened. Here you are appealing to miracles that your faith tells you may one day come to pass.

            The rationalists of the French Revolution did indeed speculate how long the heads of their class enemies remained conscious after the guillotine. They were quite the ghouls. My guess is that they remained conscious as long as blood flow kept the brain operating and processing sensations.

            According to Thomistic thinking, consciousness is a consequence of brain activity and depends on sensory inputs. I think you actually agree with this.
            cf. Brennan, Thomistic Psychology, pp. 14-15.
            http://tinyurl.com/l446rj5

          • Outside our conception of them there are no objects for human reasoning. The acts of the intellect are conceptions.

            I think we agree here, then. And we probably agree on other things, too, if you were to substitute the term forms with concepts. To me, forms has a lot of philosophical baggage that I don't think I always agree with.

            Regarding emergence, I agree that it is often used as a cover-up for things we can't explain. I wasn't attempting to say that emergence solves problems--just that your use of phantasm seems to be performing the same function for you as emergence does for materialists.

            I'm only pushing back on this because I interpret your words as knowledge claims, like you think you can adequately explain things like consciousness. I don't make the claim, so I'm trying to understand how you support your conclusions.

            Here you are appealing to miracles that your faith tells you may one day come to pass.

            I don't think it's faith. After all, artificial hearts are real. I'm just not setting limits on what's possible. And now I think you're agreeing with me that consciousness can persist for a very short period without the organs you claimed were necessary for consciousness to exist.

            Yes, I do agree with that Brennan quote. As a result, I'm still not sure why an immaterial soul is necessary.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            if you were to substitute the term forms with concepts.

            That substitution would not be correct. A scientific theory is also a concept. So is "dog" and "congruence." Concepts are products of the intellect.

            To me, forms has a lot of philosophical baggage that I don't think I always agree with.

            Well, it was the answer to the Parmedian philosophy that held all motion/change is an illusion. If you think Achilles cannot catch the tortoise, then the matter/form distinction is not needed. But if you think he can, you must explain the paradox. And you cannot appeal to mathematical forms.

            your use of phantasm seems to be performing
            the same function for you as emergence does for materialists.

            I am astonished that materialists have appealed to "emergent properties" at all, given that it is subversive to their thinking.

            like you think you can adequately explain things like consciousness.

            By means of common sense we can identify particular sensations as belonging to ourselves, as subjects. We not only see, hear, smell, taste, and touch objects, but we are aware of the fact of our so doing. In the very act of perceiving an objective world, we also perceive a subjective world. By common sense, therefore, we become object-conscious and subject-conscious, being made aware, in the perceptual process, of both the outer stimulus and the operation of the sense as it responds to the stimulus. Further, the external senses supply us with information about the qualities of corporeal substance; but it is not their office to discriminate between those qualities. Visual experience, for instance, reveals something white; and gustatory experience reveals something sweet. But the eye knows nothing about the sweetness of an object; and the tongue knows nothing about the whiteness of an object. To make such distinctions is the task of common sense. Thus, by holding up the mirror of animal consciousness all the various sorts of information that arise from peripheral stimulation, common sense enables us to perceive the differences between the reports of the several senses at the same time that we fuse such discrete information into a psychological whole. To some up: common sense is the principle of sensitive consciousness and of the analysis and synthesis that we make of our sensations within the field of animal consciousness.

            -- Thomistic Psychology, p. 15

            Here you are appealing to miracle s that y our faith tells you may one day come to pass.
            I don't think it's faith. After all, artificial hearts are real.

            But that which we now call the heart is a purely physical object: a blood pump; whereas sensation, perception, and especially intellection involve at least in part immaterial aspects.

            I think you're agreeing with me that consciousness can persist for a very short period without
            the organs you claimed were necessary for consciousness to exist.

            I thought this was a position with which you vehemently disagreed-- that there could be consciousness without an organ.

            I'm still not sure why an immaterial soul is necessary.

            You still seem to be considering the soul as a substance distinct from the whole animal (or plant). That's like believing in material triangles, but being still not sure why immaterial three-sidedness is necessary.

            But every intelligible object must be some form of object in virtue of which it is what it is and presents in intelligible form to our senses. The maxim is "Every thing is some thing." There are no objects that are not some form of objects. Even fog has the form of fog.

          • These replies are getting longer and longer. Sorry. I'll try to focus on what I think the important parts are. Feel free to let me know which parts you think are most important.

            Well, it was the answer to the Parmedian philosophy that held all motion/change is an illusion.

            I don't think all motion/change is an illusion, so I still don't see the need to invoke forms.

            Sorry--the "common sense" Thomistic Psychology quote is hardly an adequate explanation of consciousness.

            But that which we now call the heart is a purely physical object: a blood pump; whereas sensation, perception, and especially intellection involve at least in part immaterial aspects.

            And the brain isn't a purely physical object? How do you know that sensations, perceptions, and intellect involve immaterial aspects?

            You still seem to be considering the soul as a substance distinct from the whole animal (or plant).

            I get that you think the soul is integrated in some way from conception until death; but if it isn't at all distinct, how can it separate at death and exist without the brain in an afterlife? It seems to me that you're wanting to have it both ways, as both integrated and distinct. That doesn't make sense to me, but maybe I'm missing something.

            But every intelligible object must be some form of object in virtue of which it is what it is and presents in intelligible form to our senses.

            Why? What does adding "form" to the mix accomplish?

            The maxim is "Every thing is some thing." There are no objects that are not some form of objects. Even fog has the form of fog.

            Again, why are "forms" necessary to invoke? What do they contribute? I don't understand what the "form of fog" is.

            And to answer one other point: I think that the brain is necessary for consciousness. I thought you were saying that the brain is nothing special, and that consciousness also requires other bodily organs as well. I was disagreeing that consciousness required non-brain organs. Maybe I misunderstood.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I don't think all motion/change is an illusion, so I still don't see the need to invoke forms.

            Because matter-and-form was the solution to the Parmenidean paradoxes. If you throw out the solution, you get the problem back again. The difficulty arises for the Late Modern because matter and form are answers to problems he has forgotten were ever asked.

            https://thomism.wordpress.com/2008/08/10/the-mode-of-analysis-proper-to-the-discussion-of-the-soul/

            How do you know that sensations, perceptions, and intellect involve immaterial aspects?

            Because anything material has mass. But when you think about something, you do not get heavier.

            Nor does sensing a goat make you heavier. An object is known by grasping its form, not its matter. (In contrast to digestion, which destroys the form and absorbs the matter. Eating a goat will make you heavier.) When we know a goat, a tiny miniature goat does not grow in our brains. There are of course material aspects to thought, since any animal is a compound of form and matter. Chastek writes:

            The question [Does the brain think?] doesn’t strike me as much different than asking “is the hand the organ of grasping?” or “is the leg responsible for kicking?” or “are all digestive states stomach states?” The answer is certainly yes, and to resist entirely the force of the answer seems largely to argue for the sake of argument. It is equally evident that all of these actions and states are said in the mode of an instrument. The hand certainly grasps, and the leg certainly kicks, but not in such a way as we conclude that the human being does not grasp or kick anything. In fact, it is precisely because a human being kicks something or digests something that a leg or a stomach does something. The actions of the part are caused ultimately by a principle agent, even though they might be proximately caused by another part, like a hand is moved ultimately by a human being, even if it is proximately moved by the tendons, and remotely by the brain.

            Many of the discussions about the brain’s causality of thought seem to involve the idea that if one makes the brain responsible for thought, that somehow it becomes the principle agent of thought. This is as silly as thinking that if one makes the hand responsible for grasping, that somehow it is the principle agent of grasping, as opposed to an instrument used by a human being. I call this conception silly because it is sees the brain in exactly the same way as the arm is portrayed in Dr. Strangelove.
            -- https://thomism.wordpress.com/2008/01/28/does-the-brain-think/

            This encapsulates what I meant by regarding the brain as a "magic" organ: one that uses the organism rather than vice versa. That it is the brain that thinks rather than the human being that thinks using the brain.

            What does adding "form" to the mix accomplish?

            No one is "adding" the form. Intelligible matter simply exists in one form or another. Natural science studies the transformations of these bodies: a species of ape into a species of human, sodium and chlorine into salt, uranium into lead, a change in trajectory of a moving body, and so on. You cannot have a transformation unless there are forms to trans.

            I don't understand what the "form of fog" is.

            It's amorphous in shape, consisting of water droplets in suspension in the atmosphere. It is no more form-less than the molecular structure of glass, which is also amorphous (and is why glass shatters rather than breaks). More structured forms include things like the double-helix that is the form of the DNA molecule, the ellipses that are the form of planetary orbits in isolation. More complex is the formal cause of evolution: "the tendency of interbreeding population to reproduce itself in a stable manner and increase in numbers; i. e., the maintenance of type."

            Also of interest:
            https://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/note-on-consciousness/
            https://thomism.wordpress.com/2008/02/06/1561/

            "The Immateriality of Thought" by Ross is from a modern analytical philosophy pov, not a Thomist one:
            http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/43151/ross-immateriality.pdf

          • From the SEP entry on Parmenides I just looked at, I didn't see any interpretation that definitively "solves" it, not even if one invokes forms, so I don't see that as a good reason to buy into forms. But I'm not as interested in pursuing that, at least for now (I'm trying to keep these replies focused).

            I think the main area I'd like to focus on in this reply is when you say:

            Because anything material has mass. But when you think about something, you do not get heavier

            in response to why thought must be immaterial. To me, this is a non-issue. I don't even know what assumptions one would have to make about neurology for this to be a problem. Why would one expect to get heavier as a result of thinking about something? Brain activity is brain activity, and many of our neurons are constantly firing. It's things like the patterns (neural networks), frequencies, and locations of the firings that seem to matter.

            I honestly don't understand how this could be used as an argument against a materialistic perspective, but maybe I'm missing something. I don't mean this to come across as condescending, but how familiar are you with how neurons fire and transmit information? I'm no neuroscientist, but I have had coursework in cognition, perception, and biological psychology, so I think I'm more familiar than most. Here's a good and brief overview: http://www.human-memory.net/brain_neurons.html

            Regarding "The Immateriality of Thought," James Ross was a Catholic who references Aristotle and Aquinas in one of the opening sentences to back up his claim that thought has to be immaterial. I'm not using his Catholicism as an ad hominem, but as evidence that he's hardly a modern analytical philosopher (his dissertation and many of his pubs were on Aquinas, as per his Wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Francis_Ross ).

            I don't mean to ignore your other points; I will come back to them if we're able to settle the issues in this comment. I hope that's okay with you.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            don't see any interpretation that definitively "solves" [Parmenides] paradoxes.

            Parmenides stated that change was an illusion because "nothing can come from nothing" and so red cannot come from not-red. Aristotle answered with a third state of being: potency. Motion is the kinesis of potency to act. So red does not come from not-red, but from potentially red. There is the real and the really possible.

            Now potency and act must be grounded in something. The principle of potency is matter. A collection of lumber, nails, etc. is potentially a house. It is also potentially a gazebo, a fence, a kitchen cabinet, et al. Or it could potentially remain a pile of building materials. (It is not potentially an armadillo, or a 57 Chevy.) The matter (i.e., the lumber, etc.) is potentially many different things. Nothing necessitates that it become a house.

            The first act is the commencement of motion, in this case: of building. This collapses the multitude of potentials to a single one. The lumber has started to become a house. The second act is the completion of the house: it now has the form of a building. The principle (i.e. grounding) of act is form. (And note the two meanings of "building," the first in kinesis, the second in act; the first a verbal participle, the second a noun.)

            That is, matter and form are needed for potency and act, which are needed to refute Parmenides.

            A matter is what a thing is made of.
            A form is what makes it a [particular] thing.
            +++

            Why would one expect to get heavier as a result of thinking about something?

            1. Suppose, s.a. that thought is material
            2. Everything material possesses mass (and therefore in a gravitational field, weight)
            3. Therefore, thought must have weight.

            4. But your weight does not increase when you think of something.
            5. Therefore, thought as such cannot be material. Modus tollens.

            See below, further.
            +++

            Brain activity is brain activity

            Indeed, it is. But it is precisely this activity that wants explanation. Why is the brain in motion? The brain of a dead dog has no activity -- there are no patterns -- so the explanation does not lie in the matter.
            +++

            It's things like the patterns

            A pattern is not a material thing, but an example of form. QED. Of course, it is a pattern formed of material things, but "there is no such thing as white without a white thing." All forms are forms of something. Indeed, it is their very form that makes them some thing as opposed to another thing. For example, protons, electrons, and neutrons arranged in one pattern will form an atom of sodium; arranged in another pattern, an atom of chlorine. The respective powers of sodium (flammable metal) and chlorine (poisonous gas) derive from their forms: from the number and arrangement of their parts.

            (Or they could remain free electrons, alpha particles, etc.)
            +++

            Regarding "The Immateriality of Thought," James Ross was a Catholic who references Aristotle and Aquinas in one of the opening sentences to back up his claim that thought has to be immaterial. I'm not using his Catholicism as an ad hominem...

            Already, you know more about his personal background than I did! In his opening paragraph he states what he is going to prove and gives some background on the question. His proof of immateriality relies on Kripke and others who established the indeterminism of physical things. Keep reading. Analytical philosophers IMHO are more difficult to read than Aristotelians or Thomists, but keep slogging. And don't worry over his religious background, but over his argument.

          • Again, I'm going to focus on the area that I think is most pertinent to souls. Sorry to not reply to everything, but I'd like to keep the messages from snowballing into essays. Maybe we can get back to forms later if we have the motivation to do so :)

            2. Everything material possesses mass (and therefore in a gravitational field, weight)
            3. Therefore, thought must have weight.
            4. But your weight does not increase when you think of something.

            Point 3 is definitely where we diverge. The brain is material and has weight, for sure, but I don't understand why a thought needs to have weight. I think of it like how electrons have weight, but "electricity" does not. So even though the flow of electrons that produces electricity have mass (just as the brain has mass), the phenomenon of electricity itself does not have mass (just as I think the phenomena such as consciousness and thought do not, either).

            Here's a drastic oversimplification of the type of neural activity I think is necessary to produce thought: A neuron fires, which involves ions flowing in and out of the axon to produce an action potential. Then neurotransmitters are released into the synapse, some of which temporarily bind to receptors in the next neuron and may cause it to fire, too (and so on). Then, the neurotransmitters are reabsorbed back by the firing neurons (reuptake) or recycled / broken down by other chemicals. These electro-chemical processes use energy, so if anything, we might lose weight as a result of having a thought (just as a car loses weight via exhaust from using the energy supplied by combusting gasoline).

            I think another reasonable analogy is to a computer, in which case we get a question like, Does a hard drive get heavier as it's used? Does it get lighter when it gets reformatted? To me, the brain is like the material hardware of a computer and can host the running of all types of software, given the power to do so.

            Now what I have no idea about is how neurons firing gives rise to consciousness, and whether things like thoughts and sensations will ever be fully reduced to and explained by the physical. I'm not sure where my views on the philosophy of mind most closely align, but I think that one of the property dualism positions is a possibility. Or maybe eliminative materialism. I don't know, haha. But I do feel comfortable saying that thoughts need not have weight.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The brain is material and has weight
            For sure. But the brain is not the thought.
            I don't understand why a thought needs to have weight
            Only if it is made of matter. That it does not in fact have weight indicates that thought is immaterial. It is rather the exercise of a power of the form. In a similar fashion, three-sidedness does not add weight to a felt triangle used in kindergarten, and a sphere does not add weight to a basketball. In all three cases, we are speaking of form, not matter.
            +++
            A neuron fires, which involves...

            What makes the neuron fire? (And why does the same thought not involve the same neuron each time?)
            +++
            To me, the brain is like the material hardware of a computer and can host the running of all types of software

            Software is another example of dynamic form and can nowadays serve as the paradigm for essentialism/vitalism that was lacking 400 years ago.
            http://tinyurl.com/p8ry8gp

            Other thoughts here: https://thomism.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/machines/

          • That [a thought] does not in fact have weight indicates that thought is immaterial.

            Not necessarily. An eliminative materialist would say that thoughts don't even exist, so of course they're immaterial, just like every other imaginary thing. A reductionist would say that thought is just brain activity, so, again, it doesn't have to be immaterial. I'm not claiming that either one is necessarily true. I don't know the answer, but neither do I think that a soul is therefore required.

            In all three cases, we are speaking of form, not matter.

            Can you point me to a clear definition of what you mean by form? You're not saying that forms have some Platonic existence, right? I don't understand what you mean by form in this case. And what is "a power of the form"?

            What makes the neuron fire? (And why does the same thought not involve the same neuron each time?)

            I don't know. I do know that reading the phrase "Do not think about a pink elephant" will likely cause you to think about a pink elephant, but I can't explain things like creativity and improvisation. Can you? Does the same thought not involve the same neuron each time? I'm pleading ignorance. Is this the case? If there's data on this, could you point me to it? I haven't looked.

            I think I'll need a clearer idea of what you exactly you mean (and do not mean) when you refer to a form before I can answer something about a dynamic form.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            An eliminative materialist would say that thoughts don't even exist

            Eliminative materialists, who thereby claim that they do not themselves think, also claim that "you" do not exist. Your sense of identity is an illusion. (An illusion suffered by whom they never get around to saying.)

            A reductionist would say that thought is just brain activity, so, again, it doesn't have to be immaterial.

            Similarly, writing is just pen activity. The only thing we can say empirically is that thought is often associated with brain activity. But that doesn't mean the one just is the other. That just shifts the existence of thought to the existence of brain activity. Not just describe the activity -- neurons fire, etc. -- but what causes the activity in the first place.

            Can you point me to a clear definition of what you mean by form? You're not saying that forms have some Platonic existence, right?

            This may help: http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02002.htm#4

            [W]hat is "a power of the form"?

            The many operations performed by an entity to achieve its natural ends presupposes a variety of powers, or abilities to achieve those ends. Since each potency is ordered to its act, the nature of the power derives from the act. So we distinguish powers just as we distinguish acts, and acts are distinguished by their objects.

            So the generic inanimate form possesses in current thought four powers: gravitation, electromagnetism, and the nuclear and radiative forces (a/k/a "strong" and "weak"). We can think of the natural form as a sort of field, like the Higgs field or an electromagnetic field, which confers order on its material substrate.
            http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0013.GIF

            And don't forget there is no such thing as a computer!

          • I don't think I can proceed with this discussion, as you continue to strawman and caricature positions. I get the impression that you'd rather mock than engage, so I'm going to back out.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Did the information on forms help?

            Not sure of what was being caricatured. Were you not aware of the work of eliminativists like the Churchlands? Or of Whitehead's incisive criticism?

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/materialism-eliminative/
            And a critique here:
            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2015/01/post-intentional-depression.html

          • I recently read the SEP entry to eliminative materialism. I'm aware of its criticisms.

            No, the information on forms did not help. Sorry. The article excerpt used other terms such as "enduring substance" and "nature of a thing" that were just as vague and imprecise as forms to me. Maybe it's a personal shortcoming of mine, but I have a difficult time envisioning reality in such a way.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            What makes a dog a dog? Does it change as the dog matures? Does it change if it loses a leg in a tragedy? If not, then its substance (that which "stands under") the dog is "enduring." Maybe you need to go back to the earlier lectures in the series: http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02001.htm#1
            The author, Wallace, is a physicist, but his examples are pretty straightforward.

            If you have trouble envisioning things in the world as being made of matter in some definite form, it should be problematical to try to envision "things" in matter of no particular form. Most people criticize the approach as being too "common-sensible." But then the methods of Aristotelian thought is to start with what is most known to the senses and proceed backward to what is less well known but more intelligible.

          • To me, "dog" is a concept or prototype with fuzzy boundaries, which overlap with the fuzzy boundaries of other concepts or prototypes such as wolf, pet, mammal, etc. I don't view "dog" as having any type of substance. Maybe what I refer to as a prototype is similar to what you refer to as a form, but I get the impression that a form is more than conceptual to you. I don't think it's a problem of viewing the world as made of matter, but in how we categorize and label the material.

            The problem with "common sense" is that it's often misleading; otherwise, why did it take humans thousands of years to figure out that Earth is not flat and does not revolve around the sun? Eliminative materialism may seem absurd enough to reject it outright, but humans do have a history of creating causal agents where none seem to exist. I think it's interesting to think about, regardless.

            Edit: Added an accidentally omitted word.

          • MR

            This idea of 'dog' as a form I do not believe is Aristotelian; it is, rather, Platonic.

            Aristotle's bias toward observation and classification also led him to break completely with the concept of Plato's Forms. He did so not only because they seemed too abstract and logically unwieldy, but because they missed certain essential features of reality. The Cave and the Light, Ch. 4, Herman

            Aristotle's forms were based in matter, not concepts or ideals. His forms were in the structure of things. Something that I find matches nicely with what we know about the properties of elements in inanimate objects, and by extension, the properties of DNA in living things. A dog is a dog not because of some outside Platonic form of dogness that it mirrors, but because it carries the genes for dogs.

            Aristotle believed that the soul (anima) was material and that it was tied to the body, at least the part we might call life force. (De Anima, Aristotle, II.1) A notable exception was that part of the soul called mind or, intellect. That he believed to be immaterial, but, notably, one of his key reasons for believing so was because it had no organ associated with it.

            Thus that in the soul which is called mind (by mind I mean that whereby the soul thinks and judges) is, before it thinks, not actually any real thing. For this reason it cannot reasonably be regarded as blended with the body: if so, it would acquire some quality, e.g. warmth or cold, or even have an organ like the sensitive faculty: as it is, it has none. (De Anima, Aristotle, III.4)

            Aristotle believed the function of the brain was to cool the blood. Of course, we now know the true nature of the brain. Imagine if Aristotle had known this, he might very well have dismissed this theory of immateriality of the mind.

            [Edit: Wrong title! Had Augustine on the brain.]

          • Thanks for this, MR. I was familiar with most, but not all of what you shared. The problem I've been encountering with adherents of A-T philosophy is understanding not only how they use forms, but also hylomorphism. It just doesn't make sense to me.

          • MR

            Yes, for me it seems that Aristotle was on the right track. Even he believed that life, the life force, was based in matter. He couldn't "measure" thought, he couldn't find a seat for the intellect, so he imagined an immaterial mind, or nous. But thought does have measurable qualities, thought does have a seat, an organ, in the body--the brain. His reasons for immateriality vanish.

            (You need a minor edit on the link) :)

          • Thanks! Link fixed :)

            His reasons for immateriality vanish.

            Tell that to the A-T folks here, not me! Haha.

          • MR

            I'd have better luck convincing Aristotle himself. ;)

          • I've often thought that many formal causes might better be described as nonenergetic rather than as physically inert (Deacon's quasi-Aristotelian reference) or immaterial. When I refer to material embodiments and energetic communication conduits as integrally related to formal causes, I envision a complex web of physical constraints and boundaries, again, like a riverbed but with levees, dams, canals, locks, reservoirs and such. A great deal of energy and a whole lot of material went into the construction of this web of constraints, which efficaciously directs the flowing water long after initial construction but with no new energy expenditures, hence, non-energetic. Matter and energy integrally related as they are, nonenergetic causation might be more conceptually felicitous than immaterial causation but a good enough approximation. Even signs and in-formation require physicality for causal efficacy. Brains could be similarly conceived as a neuroendocrine analogue of the formally directed waterways, just hypercomplex and much more dynamical in being in ongoing construction. One reason that wholes can be causally greater than the sum of their parts' causes is because structural patterns constrain dynamical processes, presenting us with both predictable tendencies and unpredictable novelties (because the flowing waters re-form the very riverbeds to which they con-form). There's no reason to imagine formal causes apart from their actual physical instantiations. They certainly needn't be thought of as fixed, static, disembodied essences governed by necessities, especially since our reality is much more fluid, dynamical, embodied and logically fuzzy.

          • Luke C.

            That's fascinating, Johnboy. Thanks. How are forms and formal causes linked for you? After reading the article YOS recently linked me to (I think he's now moved on), I found that Aristotelian forms are both descriptive and causal. What do you think of that?

            Here's the article link in case it's helpful: http://alexanderpruss.com/papers/Forms.html

          • Well, for starters, you'll note that I was careful in suggesting that I was imagining many, hence, not all formal causes. Also, when I used the word needn't, that was a cryptic wink and nod that meant I didn't necessarily imply couldn't. And I continue to discuss formal causes, vaguely and phenomenologically, bracketing what apparently concerns you most, specifically and ontologically.

            In other words, I continue to insist, in various ways THAT formal causes are real and you keep pressing me, saying "OK but, dagnabbit, please tell me WHAT you think they are.

            I have capitulated, in part, in my previous post by suggesting, in so many words, that many formal causes are morphodynamic realities, patterns and configurations that present as dissipative structures in far from equilibrium, thermodynamic environments. When morphodynamic, dissipative structures interact, complex teleodynamic causal realities emerge.

            Now, at this juncture, we aren't just dealing with a question of either mere regularities or clear necessities (nomicity, law-like), we must also consider, once again, whether we are observing ephemeral and emergent, in other words, contingent realities, or necessary and eternal realities (at least, possibly atemporal, nonspatial and so on). Even then we haven't distinguished between
            primal and/or intial conditions and other boundary and limit conditions. This is exactly why, when philosophers and speculative cosmologists start to refer to putative primal realities, dutifully predicating their terms as univocal, equivocal or analogical, as apophatic (Richard Gale's strategy as well as desert mystics) or kataphatic, as contingent or necessary, and so on, let's just suggest, their projects converge, strongly.

            Now, personally, as I mentioned briefly to William D., I resonate with an interpretation of the formless void of Genesis as a co-eternal, primal deep, and with the Peircean conception of the reality of God as the Ens Necessarium, in a tehomic (the deep) panentheism. Accordingly, while I don't see the need to invoke physical (or perhaps even metaphysical) necessities, I make a theologic move in that direction. This has been called a creatio profundis as a distinct interpretation of what ex nihilo might refer to. It's an ongoing creatio continua, this latter conception not wholly foreign to some A-T approaches. Perhaps there's been an ocean of materio-energetic, emergences that's in relationship to an eternal, noncoercive but efficacious formal coaxing, in which case, I suppose my final answer (what's the prize?) is that any eternal form is not, after all, a WHAT but a WHO!

          • Luke C.

            Wow. That was a much bigger reply than I expected, haha. Sorry--I'm not meaning to challenge your POV, but rather to understand what you think of YOS's position on Aristotelian necessary forms as causal. Maybe this was your answer to the question I was trying to pose, but I'm thinking that you might have misunderstood my intention. Apologies if it was because I asked it poorly.

          • No, no problem at all! I was just trying to clarify the many questions that are in play. Again, pointing out that there are epistemic, ontic and causal distinctions and recognizing that I focus on the causal while you pursue the ontological. I was going for a bit of humor, not a taunt.

            But, yes, more than merely descriptive, merely regularities, some patterns are very much law-like, but are they contingencies or neccessities? We don't a priori know what we're looking at but must probe. The metaphysical bracketing of an ontological mode of probabilities doesn't leap to ontological conclusions but employs the modal logic where noncontradiction holds but excluded middle folds, which means we know it must be something, one thing excluding others, but haven't done our either-or determination yet.

            Interestingly, the tehomic panentheism suggests that ... well, it has implications for theodicy and the problem of evil, but those would take us astray.

          • Luke C.

            Haha. Gotcha. Thanks again for your input.

            "Tehomic panentheism"?! How about we start with the essential forms of dogs and apples? ;)

          • DNA? which ontogenetically can be conceived in mostly static, essentialist ways, as in the emergence of individuals but which phylogenetically often presents dynamically, as in the emergence of new species. Of course, individuals can experience DNA replication variations, as in the occurrence of various cancers. Is that what you're after? Ready for panentheism?

          • Luke C.

            Hahaha. You're too much. Fine: Canis lupus familiaris and Malus domestica. Better?

            Edit: Just kidding, of course :) No need to get into essential forms. I should first read the SEP entry on Aristotelian metaphysics that I've been putting off.

          • Or, how about Polizzly or Grolar Bear hybrids? Cool bears ;)

          • I suspect you saw this already:
            https://strangenotions.com/why-something-rather-nothing/#comment-1923602163

            but in this context of considering not only descriptions and causes, regularities and laws, there's a separate matter of abstraction .... as we strip predicates from objects, effects from causes, etc In my view, that ability to abstract may well have evolved from the phylogenetic emergence of a novel "ability" to make mistakes, specifically, from a phylogenetic departure from hard wired, closed-circuited, algorithmic to soft-wired, short-circuited, nonalgorithmic processing. These fast and frugal heuristics would function like the random number generators that are used to generate approximations or "good enough"
            answers, because it's too time consuming and energy expensive to run algorithmically to a more specific solution. Not sure I have successfully communicated my intuition here, but ... fwiw.

          • Luke C.

            I probably read that comment before, but not as closely as I did just now. Thanks.

            If I apply your abstraction idea to YOS's metaphysics, would I be safe to re-interpret forms as "good enough" heuristics that are conceptual placeholders for causal explanations? If that's all his forms were, I'd be more or less okay with them and understand their utility. But I get the impression that he thinks of forms as more than heuristics; not quite ontological, but not fully conceptual, either.

          • In response to your question, it seems safe to interpret them that way, no matter how anyone else might use them.

            Regarding what YOS might otherwise imagine, for example, regarding the immaterial, I haven't parsed yet. Because there are many competing interpretive stances, none falsifiable at this juncture, I don't a priori reject or accept them if they are otherwise externally congruent, logically consistent, internally coherent, abductively facile, interdisciplinarily consilient, hypothetically fecund and so on per my litany of epistemic virtues for interpretive heuristics. YOS intuitions may not fully map to my own but I see no point in arguing on the level of intuitions and plausibilities, counterintuitions and implausibilities. Let a thousand (epistemically virtuous) metaphysical blossoms bloom that we might perchance move ever closer to a falsifiable inference toward the next best explanation. All that said, YOS is one of the most erudite, articulate, accessible, convivial representatives of an interpretive stance I've ever come across, so, my suggestion: No one should expect to trip him up. ;)

          • Luke C.

            But going back to your previous comment about considering different metaphysical worldviews in light of their fecundity, do you think that the assumptions of A-T philosophy, specifically those involving immaterial souls and causal / explanatory forms, could have produced any scientific advances that a methodological naturalistic one could not have? I've said elsewhere that it's not surprising to me that I've only ever heard of A-T philosophers and theologians; A-T scientists seem to be an endangered species, and I don't think that's coincidental.

            I'll close by saying that my impression of him differs from yours on more than one point.

          • It doesn't compete with and is fully compatible with methodological naturalism.

          • Luke C.

            Perhaps. I'm not convinced that A-T and MN are fully compatible as regards the soul, at the very least; and the idea that forms both describe and explain / cause seems over-determined to me. But YOS never answered my last batch of questions, so maybe I'm still misunderstanding what he means by forms.

          • Apples to apples would compare A-T with philosophical, not methodological, naturalism. As for under- and over-determined realities, folks saying more than can be known and proving too much, there's a cure for that: metaphysical agnosticism. Hahaha :)

          • Perhaps it would be useful to look at the various heuristics, phenomenologies and metaphysics --- not as explanatory attempts in competition with descriptive, probabilistic science, but --- as interpretive meta-methodological reflections on what those scientists are doing, what must they be presupposing, what categories and distinctions would be useful as we discern what makes for good science or bad. Heuristics don't explain or describe reality but, instead, inquire after the assumptions about reality to which we all stipulate, provisionally, often implicitly, before we even attempt our descriptions and explanations. We do wonder, though, which of these stipulations are more than provisional and methodological and which might really refer to real metaphysical and ontological actualities. For example, is naturalism more than methodological, perhaps metaphysical? Does the principle of sufficient reason have necessary ontological implications or is it just a provisional stance? At any rate, don't confuse the aims of science with the reflections of the philosophy of science, because they're asking distinct even if not unrelated questions. Judge a metaphysic by whether or not it fosters good science on the frontiers of QM, cosmology, consciousness, emergence of life, etc, iow, by asking good questions of reality.

          • Luke C.

            Very well said. I hope I didn't imply that I think metaphysics should "do" anything other than what you have said here. As I've said previously, I think that our metaphysical assumptions are more similar than I once thought. It's YOS's metaphysical assumptions that I have a hard time understanding and accepting. I've been hoping that your input might help me understand his metaphysical assumptions, as you understand his metaphysical worldview and even embrace aspects of it. You're kind of like a translator for me, haha. You speak both of our languages :)

            Again, very well said.

          • No, you didn't imply that whatsoever. I just replied to you at EN, which might clarify my resonance with YOS. My phenomenology is vaguer than any given metaphysic and my conceptions of formal/final causation are minimalist. But there's a meaningful degree of conceptual overlap and hermeneutical consonance.

          • Luke C.

            Yep, it definitely clarified. Thanks. I see now that you're an equal-opportunity-employer of metaphysical ideas kind of guy :)

            Edit: Phrasing.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            why did it take humans thousands of years to figure out that Earth is not flat and that the sun does not revolve around it?

            Primarily because the empirical evidences were against the theories. The first one was rejected in Ancient Greece, but persisted in China until at least the 17th century. The latter persisted until the discovery of stellar aberration in the mid-18th century, although it had been accepted on faith before that.

            The problem with "common sense" is that it's often misleading

            All sorts of things are "often" misleading. But that does not mean that they always are. But if we don't start with sense impressions, we have to start with... what?

            I don't view "dog" as having any type of substance.

            Then, in virtue of what do you call Fido, Spot, and Rover "dogs" but not Fluffy.

            I get
            the impression that a form is more than conceptual to you. I don't think
            it's a problem of viewing the world as made of matter, but in how we
            categorize and label the material.

            How can you categorize material being unless they are of different forms? The matter qua matter is undifferentiated. Form is not restricted to shape, but shape is part of the form (allowing for changes in shape during maturation) and you surely must agree -- even though it is common sense -- that different kinds have different shapes.

          • Primarily because the empirical evidences were against the theories.

            As is the case with the eliminative materialist's position, which is one argument against eliminativists calling out folk psychology as fundamentally flawed.

            But if we don't start with sense impressions, we have to start with... what?

            I don't think I said I start with anything else. If I implied it, I didn't mean to. To me, the more ways one can observe one thing, the more data one has to work with.

            Then, in virtue of what do you call Fido, Spot, and Rover "dogs" but not Fluffy.

            There are physical, behavioral, and conceptual attributes that both unify and separate my personal prototypes for dogs and cats. Those can all be included as useful prototype data. Some or all of these attributes are what you might call forms; I'm still not sure exactly how the term is used by adherents of A-T philosophy, though I have tried to understand.

            How can you categorize material being unless they are of different forms?

            With prototypes. Yes, different things have different shapes, colors, textures, etc. For me, those attributes can all be incorporated into prototypes without invoking forms.

            Here's the Wiki page on prototype theory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prototype_theory

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            There are physical, behavioral, and conceptual attributes that both unify and separate my personal prototypes for dogs and cats.

            Some of these forms are essential, some are accidental. An apple may have the form of redness, but it was an apple even before it reddened. Bacon's big blue bouncy ball remains a ball even if all of the accidents change and it becomes Fred's little red dead ball.

            Yes, different things have different shapes, colors, textures, etc. For me, those attributes can all be incorporated into prototypes without invoking forms.

            IOW, you are comfortable invoking forms as long as you don't have to call them "forms"? You have done so several times now. But then too each individual existant has its own individual form. Fido is not exactly like Rover even though they both share in the form of dog. (Inanimate forms are not individuating in this sense: you seen one sodium atom, you seen 'em all.)

            As is the case with the eliminative materialist's position

            The primary objection as I understand it is that the position is logically incoherent.

          • Okay. This is helpful. I think I can learn more precisely what you mean by forms from these examples.

            Some of these forms are essential, some are accidental.

            In my language, I'd say some features are more prototypical than others. There are oftentimes no essential forms in my view, but essential functions (e.g., my prototype for chair includes anything that can be sat upon, though a recliner is more prototypical for me than a bean bag chair or large boulder with a sittable surface).

            IOW, you are comfortable invoking forms as long as you don't have to call them "forms"?

            I said previously that part it might be a language difference, but that forms have more philosophical baggage than I'm willing to take on. I don't see the need to invoke forms at all. Although some of the features in my prototype for dog seem to be forms to you (e.g., hairy / furry), other features in my prototype for dog seem not to be (e.g., loyal). Please correct me if I'm wrong.

            But then too each individual existant has its own individual form.

            So each dog has its own form, but they all belong to the same super-form as well? What is the essential form of a dog? Or an apple, for that matter? Is there more than one essential form of a dog?

            The primary objection as I understand it is that [eliminative materialism] is logically incoherent.

            Hm. I don't think it necessarily is, though I can understand why one would think so. It's definitely counter-intuitive. I can't buy into it myself, but lots of other people who know much more than I do about philosophy, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience do.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            forms have more philosophical baggage than I'm willing to take on

            Maybe you're thinking of Platonic forms.

            But if you start with the forms of artifacts, then the forms of inanimate things, it seems perfectly clear. The maxim runs that every thing is some thing. That is, nothing sensible is uninformed; it is always some form of thing: a triangle, a cactus, a baseball bat, etc. This is so rock-bottom, so intuitive, that even people who claim not to recognize forms constantly rely upon them. Indeed, natural science would be impossible without them. Here is another paper that addresses them:
            http://alexanderpruss.com/papers/Forms.html
            The analytical talk about truthmakers and lawmakers is a tough slog, but you need to work through it to get to the meat. This is not strictly an Aristotelian account, but it is close to one.

          • I'm going to read it now. In the meantime, could you reply with what the essential form(s) of a dog and apple is(are)? Also, are behaviors of dogs (like licking / slobbering) and concepts often attributable to dogs (like loyalty and friendliness) considered forms or are they somehow reducible to forms? To me, calling everything properties (or characteristics, features, etc.) seems much cleaner and consistent, at least for me.

          • Alexandra

            Look again. He's not mocking you.

          • Sorry--I meant that he was mocking the views of eliminative materialists and reductionists, which are often held by very intelligent people with good reason.

          • Michael Murray

            Because anything material has mass.

            Photons are massless.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Hence, Feynmann called them "screwy." They are of the same genus as electrons, so Feynmann said they were both screwy, but "screwy in the same way." They do have relativistic mass; otherwise they would have no momentum.

          • Again, why are "forms" necessary to invoke? What do they contribute?

            It's a helpful conceptual placeholder as we move from mere thermodynamics to emergent morphodynamics. It can refer to boundaries and constraints that, while formed by physical processes, exert their influences in a nonenergetic, physically inert way, like a riverbed, directing the flow of water.

            See: http://www.academia.edu/5671275/Incomplete_Nature_How_Mind_Emerged_from_Matter_by_Terrence_W._Deacon

            Formal causes, in and of themselves, aren't terribly controversial.

          • Thanks for your input, Johnboy. I always enjoy your perspective, especially when I can understand it with my limited philosophical vocabulary :)

            Do you think that YOS is using "form" in a similar way to how you're using it here? To me, form is one of those terms, like emergence, that gets thrown around like it's an acceptable explanation. (I'm guilty of doing it, too; I used to use emergence like that.) But maybe it's my lack of understanding of precisely what a form is and is not in the context(s) of how it's being used.

          • Well, you mention the word explanation and did so insightfully. You'll notice that I referred to formal cause as a conceptual placeholder, which means I use it as a heuristic device. A good heuristic or interpretive frame doesn't claim descriptive accuracy of a reality, only a successful reference to a reality, so doesn't yield explanatory adequacy.

            One practical upshot, in this case, would be that one could refer to causal realities in a vague phenomenological way apart from any given ontological commitments or epistemological views. When I read what another writes about this or that cause, because I am metaphysically agnostic --- which, in my case, means using a vague but realist modal ontology (possibilities, actualities, probabilities, necessities) but without a root metaphor (like substance, process or experience) --- I bracket their metaphysic and focus on the consistency and coherence of their causal references. More concretely, regarding philosophy of mind, as long as free will can be affirmed, I don't lose sleep over cartesian dualism vs nonreductive physicalism, for example.

            A metaphysical stance is not judged in descriptive, probabilistic ways in terms of empirical measurability, hypothetical falsifiability, logically sound demonstrability, evidential predictability or ontological decisiveness. Rather, otherwise fallible, it is measured in terms of logical consistency, internal coherence, hypothetical fecundity, external congruence, interdisciplinary consilience, abductive facility, existential actionability and other such epistemic virtues as would ask good questions of reality, tend to support good research programs, open the way to knowledge advances and foster human value-realizations (truth, beauty, goodness, unity, freedom, love).

            As with anything, some seem to have "proved" too much via metaphysics and tell untellable stories, saying way more than we can possibly know at this juncture in our human journey toward knowledge. That includes both some eliminative materialists and some naive supernaturalists. But the abuse of metaphysics is no argument against its proper use.

            Most directly to your question, I resonate with YOS's references to formal causes but, at the same time, I'm not married to a substance ontology per se.

            Finally, the reason I posed the distinction between emergent & ephemeral vs necessary & eternal forms is to precisely get at certain ontological commitments. Does one, for example, believe in physical necessities?

          • Gotcha. Thanks. I think we might approach metaphysics more similarly than I realized.

            One trouble I'm having in my discussion with YOS is that I think he'd deny the ontology of forms, but I interpret his words as implying that forms still do have some existence or efficacy; that they're more than a conceptual heuristic.

            In your earlier reply to me, you mentioned formal causes. I'm also not sure what formal causes are and what the are not. To me Aristotelian metaphysics require such a different perspective of reality than the one I've developed over time that I'm unsure if I'm even able to adequately understand the position.

          • forms still do have some existence or efficacy; that they're more than a conceptual heuristic

            When I refer to formal causes it is precisely because I believe that they both exist and have efficacies. When I refer to them as a heuristic, I am suggesting that we cannot always successfully describe them, that sometimes we observe effects but cannot fully describe the nature of their causes. A riverbed, as a formal cause, is easy enough to describe as it causes water to change direction, velocity, altitude. There are other formal causes that result from patterns or from mereological realities, part-whole relationships, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, causally. The properties of table salt, as a compound, sodium chloride, cannot be predicted from the properties of its constituent elements, sodium (watch a lump dance as a fireball in a swimming pool) and chlorine (don't dare inhale the gas in that tank which chlorinates the pool water. Certainly, physical boundary conditions and electrical charges impinging on the molecular interactions constrain the process. Formal causes aren't always as easy to discern as the geographic features of a riverbed because they can be rather inert, tacit dimensions, because, while utterly efficacious, they can be almost ineluctably unobtrusive. This would especially be true as we climb the phylogenetic ladder to witness increasingly complex biosemiotic realities, including human symbolic communications. While scientists may not explicitly refer to phenomena using the formal cause heuristic, implicitly they cannot avoid referring to them, especially when philosophically parsing the frontiers of this or that probe of reality, whether on cosmic on quantum scales or somewhere in between, such as the emergence of life and consciousness.

          • Gotcha. Again, thanks. I think I agree with all of what you said. Here's the kicker: Do you think that there's such a thing as an immaterial formal cause? Is that coherent to you? Because it's not really coherent to me.

          • Do you think that there's such a thing as an immaterial formal cause?

            Ideas and information are immaterial formal causes, physically instantiated, which is to say, materially embodied and energetically communicated.

            Some of the initial, boundary and/or limit conditions of our cosmos could conceivably be immaterial formal causes, cosmic riverbeds.

          • Hm... Okay. If I'm interpreting your words correctly, I agree with your first sentence because you're grounding (for lack of a better word) the immaterial formal causes on a material foundation (again, for lack of a better word). Would it be accurate to think of these immaterial formal causes as emerging from or attributable to something material? Not sure about the second sentence; never thought about that before :)

            Bringing this back to the discussion of a soul, I'm still having trouble accepting that something like an immaterial soul can serve as a foundation for or interact with anything material. I think YOS is saying that invoking an immaterial soul as a formal cause is necessary to explain thought; that the material brain alone is insufficient. But to me, it's just the opposite: An immaterial soul that has no material foundation has no traction (again, for lack of a better word, haha).

            I'm definitely a methodological naturalist and I haven't yet felt the need to invoke the supernatural as a formal cause or explanation, though I hope that I'd be willing to consider it should some occurrence warrant it.

          • Put another way, in my vague modal ontology of possibilities, actualities, probabilities/necessities, semiotic realities, are irreducibly triadic. A formal cause would belong to the third category. Although I refer to the formal cause as real, as causally efficacious, I don't describe it, ontologically, which is to say that I don't specify that it must necessarily supervene on the physical or not because I just don't know. Competing accounts, presently, seem equally im/plausible to me. Even if we discovered that consciousness was not thus supervenient, it could still be considered a natural phenomenon. Under any circumstances, though, without material embodiments and energetic communication conduits, talk of causal efficacies or physical interactivites would seem rather incoherent.

            As far as cosmic initial, boundary and/or limit conditions, there are all sorts of approaches but let's consider two. Maybe there's a T=0 singularity, as many suppose, or maybe, with Hawking, taking the square root of -1 (imaginary numbers), the universe could be finite but unbounded and time could be both asymmetric (directional, as we experience) and symmetric (the universe would start at a certain space-time point but not at a singularity). In either scenario, formal causes would be invoked, some merely emergent & ephemeral, but some, apparently, law-like & necessary. In our experience of thirdness or tendencies, we just don't a priori know whether we are encountering mere regularities or true formalities. In our experience of formalities or formal causes, we just don't a priori know whether we are encountering emergent contingencies or (meta)physical necessities. Probabilistic science, ordinarily, has no need of the concept necessities, but highly speculative, theoretic cosmology cannot seem to operate without that sense intuition. Whatever their specific nature, ontologically, it seems coherent enough to me to vaguely refer to them as formal causes and it also seems meaningful enough to inquire why these forms and not rather others?. Brute reality or might there be answers for questions that will always beg? Who's to say?

            http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html

          • Although I refer to the formal cause as real, as causally efficacious, I don't describe it, ontologically, which is to say that I don't specify that it must necessarily supervene on the physical or not because I just don't know.

            Hm. You always make me think. I'm not sure if I could attribute the property of causally efficacious to anything without feeling the need to invoke it as ontologically existent. Maybe I need a new worldview :) Or at least more education in philosophy and cosmology, haha.

          • Not denying THAT it is, only saying I have no idea WHAT it is. There's an ontological reference but no description. We observe effects and predicates, drawing inferences about and referring to their putative causes and actualities (and might even describe them one day!).

          • Gotcha. Thanks :) In that case, I think I agree.

          • Michael Murray

            Aren't there very unpleasant records of people moving their lips after having their heads cut off ?

          • Oy... I regret that Google search, haha. Apparently so, but I'm not sure of the reliability of the claims. I encountered the estimation on more than one site that, physiologically speaking, the brain would have the resources to function for around four seconds after decapitation.

            Okay, I'd like to move on to other topics now :)

          • Marc Riehm

            Who is suggesting that the brain "uses" the organism? Obviously it is a part of the whole, and it has its roles to play in the overall viability of the organism. It is not only the seat conscious thought, but also the source of unconscious control over functions such as breathing.

            And of course conscious thought is one of its main contributions to the overall viability of the organism. The success of Homo Sapiens is due to our brainpower. Without it, we do not eat, talk, reproduce, hunt game, build shelter, build tools, or strategize towards our survival.

            The brain is an organ. It supports other organs. Other organs support it.

            Your analogies about swapping organ A for organ B are "not even wrong".

          • Marc Riehm

            No neuroscientist worth his or her electrodes would agree with this. And of course there are mountains of evidence that tell us that the brain is the seat of thought. Tweak it here, and phantom sights are triggered. Touch it over there, and emotions are changed. Damage it a little, and thought is altered. Damage it a lot, and thought ceases.

            There is no scientifice evidence for the "soul". All of the evidence points to a material brain. And all of the metaphysics in the world hasn't amounted to a hill of beans in terms of our understanding of our world.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            No neuroscientist worth his or her electrodes would agree with this.

            With what? That a brain can "think" without being a part of an organism? Let them demonstrate such a brain, and we can talk about it. Meanwhile, it seems more empirically reasonable to suppose that it is Marc Riehm than thinks and not an organ he happens to carry around.

            I would imagine no phrenologist worth his skull chart would have agreed either.

            there are mountains of evidence that tell us that the brain is the seat of thought.

            Tweak it here, and phantom sights are triggered. Touch it over there, and emotions are changed.

            Neither sensation nor emotion is "thought." If you tap just under the knee cap, your leg will jerk. But that doesn't mean you took a walk because your legs suddenly started moving.

            Damage it a little, and thought is altered. Damage it a lot, and thought ceases.

            Damage the matter and the form is affected? Who would ever have thought such a thing? Oh, wait. Aristotle and Aquinas. You think they never saw how getting drunk impaired thinking? The exercise of a power can be impaired in a variety of ways, including genetically.

            There is no scientifice evidence for the "soul".

            Soul (or "anima") is whatever a body has while alive that it lacks when it is dead. All the same matter is present (for a while) including the famous brain, but it is no longer in motion. That's why "anima" and "alive" are the same thing. There is probably scientific evidence that a plant or animal is alive; although there has been some agitation for claiming that "life" is just a human concept imposed on nature. (The things people will throw under the bus just to dodge the bleeding obvious.)

            All of the evidence points to a material brain.

            There is indeed a brain. And the synolon indeed uses it. It receives and collates the senses, signals the sensory appetites (emotions), and triggers the physical motions. The brain is definitely the seat of the common sense that integrates the disparate sensory inputs, and of the memory and imagination. But one cannot say that the brain "does" these things any more than you can say that the hammer drives the nail. (This would be crystal clear in Latin, but English declensions lack an instrumental case.)

            And all of the metaphysics in the world hasn't
            amounted to a hill of beans in terms of our understanding of our world.

            Neither has music. But why do you suppose that all human activity must be geared toward understanding of the physical world? That's mere scientism.

          • MR

            Physics cannot even establish that an objective world exists using the methods of physics.

            Can't we also say that metaphysics cannot establish that an objective world exists using the methods of metaphysics?

            What is the difference between a metaphysical objective world and a physical objective world?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Can't we also say that metaphysics cannot establish that an objective world exists using the methods of metaphysics?

            Kant certainly failed. So did Hume. Metaphysics explores being, as such. I am not a metaphysician, but I believe that Aristotle began with the general reliability of sense impressions. (That's general reliability. They may on occasion be deceived.) There is a sense (the common sense) that takes the patch of red, the semi-spherical shape, the smooth touch, etc. -- all sensations which arrive in the brain at separate instants -- and assembles them into a red, sweet apple. This separates the World into the perceiving subject and the perceived object. There is something that impinges on the senses. Some folks claim it is a cascade of meaningless particles of various sorts: photons, compression waves, molecules, etc. But if it is only that, it remains meaningless. Others claim that there is nothing and it is all an illusion. (An illusion suffered by what?)

            In fact, our current notions of objective and subjective derive from Aristotle's metaphysics, although we have long forgotten the details and consequences. Objective knowledge is knowledge of the forms (essences) of things.
            We can know individual things objectively, but not perfectly. We can
            know individuals only while we perceive them -- and all perception is a mixture of the object and the subject -- but
            we can know forms perfectly, or timelessly.

          • MR

            If I'm not mistaken, our notions of objective forms came from Plato, and Aristotle dismissed those notions. He placed 'form' firmly in individual things, as you state, i.e., in matter. Of course, our understanding of that now is matter and energy. Aristotle, unless I am mistaken, did not hold to objective forms, which is considered a major split between teacher and student. A concept of 'form' like 'redness' is simply an interpretation by the brain of light waves. We can show that it does not actually exist. A 'form' like 'dogness' can be shown at the individual level to be a result of DNA. Matter. Matter building on itself over time. What we are tempted to call 'dogness' once did not exist—i.e., was not expressed through a genome—and will at some point cease to exist. We don't need a 'Platonic form' to explain these things.

      • Mike

        YES!

        Why are you so hesitant to hand the soul over for empirical investigation?

        Probably for the same reason one would hesitate to hand over spherical geometry to a rubber chemist. Their tools and objectives would be quite different.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    IMHO, this is an entirely inadequate OP. Here's why. Wilker says, rightly,

    If, however, scientists suddenly decided to examine the ways in which our rationality cannot be reduced to our animality, they would also discover the forgotten half of our nature. If scientists began to search for proof that our reasoning capacities extend beyond the material instrument of the brain, and indeed control the brain's activities even while relying on them, then they would discover the immaterial soul.

    Okay, then, DO THE WORK! Demonstrate at least one way that our reasoning capacities extend beyond the material instrument of the brain and controls the brain's activities.

    • David Nickol

      Bravo!

    • Ignatius Reilly

      He seems to think it is demonstrable via science. I'm curious how he would go about that.

    • Galorgan

      I'm glad this came from you.

    • I agree. I found myself nodding in agreement with so much, especially the need to overcome the angel v. animal dichotomy, but "it's common sense" only goes so far as an argument. That the sun zipped around the earth was "common sense" too.

      • Michael Murray

        I think common sense is particularly unreliable when it comes to our common sense about ourselves. For example we think our eyes look out and see a coherent rich field of vision. In reality it's not like that

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

        • Raymond

          Yup. Depending on Aristotle and "common sense" to assert the mind/body relationship doesn't get us anywhere.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It's as intractable as the sphere/basketball relationship.

    • Michael Murray

      Nice post Kevin. Such a demonstration would be really exciting.

    • Mike

      Hint of ID there: let science find material causes and leave the rest of the other disciplines.

      • joey_in_NC

        I agree.

  • Again, just plain assertion that materialism is false and zero evidence for anything immaterial existing. No attempt to describe what a soul is and what it explains.

    It is asserted again, that we cannot simply be physical matter, because it is counter intuitive. It just seems to the author that because he is a conscious agent that there is another ontological category of existence. But seeming to be the case doesn't make it so.

    I disagree that our experience undermines materialism. All of my experience has been with physical matter. I have no experience with anything immaterial.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Every abstract concept you just used is immaterial.

      (BTW, "abstract concept" is redundant.)

      • I disagree. I think the concepts are material events. I think there are concepts that refer to things, such as a particular pair if shoes, and abstractions such as "shoe-ness".

        I don't see how labelling thoughts as immaterial means there is another distinct ontological reality.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          What is the material event that is the abstraction "shoe-ness"?

          • Brain activity, is the event that is the abstract concept of shoe-ness.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        In what sense do such abstract concepts exist?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I'm not enough of a philosopher to say for sure, but it would seem to me that ideas correspond to real things but only a being with a rational mind can mentally "see" those ideas.

          • Raymond

            But that doesn't mean that the appreciation of a concept is a function of a supernatural element of our nature. Unless you are invoking "common sense".

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know what you mean by common sense in this context. In Scholastic thought, "common sense" means the mental faculty that can combine together into one entity, say, an actual dog, in which the eyes see him, the ears hear him bark, the nose smells his breath, the hands feel his fur.

          • Raymond

            I don't think the author meant common sense in that ...err... sense. I think common sense in this context is a synonym for confirmation bias. There are no sensory inputs that can result in detection of the soul. You just posit the existence of the soul and present "evidence" that proves that existence.

    • joey_in_NC

      All of my experience has been with physical matter. I have no experience with anything immaterial.

      These are also assertions in which you can provide zero evidence for. You cannot possibly know with certainty that your experiences somehow do not involve the immaterial.

      But seeming to be the case doesn't make it so.

      Exactly.

      • Who ever said we were talking about certainty? I am not certain of materialism. I am not certain of almost anything. I believe things if I I observe them or if I think others have observed them.

        I can give literally millions of examples of observation and personal experience of matter. All I have heard with respect to the immaterial is that it is a way of thinking about abstract concepts or mental activity as immaterial. It is unconvincing and unnecessary, unless you are trying to justify theism.

        • joey_in_NC

          Who ever said we were talking about certainty?

          You certainly implied certainty by the way you worded those comments. Otherwise, what's the point saying that you "have no experience with anything immaterial" if you are not certain of it? The best you can say is that you don't think or you don't belief you have any experience with anything immaterial. If that's what you mean, then you be should be more precise and word it that way. I would object similarly if you asserted "There is no God".

          • I'm sorry you interpreted it that way. But I really don't think saying "I have no experience wit A" implies "I am certain A doesn't exist."

            The burden here is for those who believe in the immaterial to set out what it is and why it is reasonable to believe in it. Neither you nor the author has done that.

          • joey_in_NC

            But I really don't think saying "I have no experience wit A" implies "I am certain A doesn't exist."

            I agree that the former doesn't imply the latter, but it's precisely the wording of the former that is troublesome. Considering A pertains to an immaterial soul, you do not know if you have any experience with A or not. (It would be different if A pertains to something supposedly material, like unicorns, in which case you know that you don't have experience with unicorns.)

            For the sake of argument, simply assume the immaterial soul exists and it, together with the material brain, is the reason why we are conscious and self-aware. Take away the soul, then we become no different than worms (in terms of consciousness/self-awareness).

            Given the above premise, then you would experience A. In fact, experience itself is dependent on A. So saying "I have no experience with A" would be entirely false.

            The burden here is for those who believe in the immaterial to set out what it is and why it is reasonable to believe in it.

            The author gives a type of "God of the gaps" argument, with which I'm not particularly thrilled. But I think it's still a fairly "reasonable" argument, though probably not very convincing to materialists.

          • Taking your assumption for the sake of argument I disagree that we are no different than worms etc. We would still be enormously different from worms for example. We would still possess all kinds if elements of the material brain many of which are directly associated with consciousness and self-awareness. This is, I think, exactly what the Brown et al are coming to grips with. All of the elements of conscious awareness that were historically attributable to some. Immaterial soul have been accounted for by the activity of the material brain.

          • joey_in_NC

            Taking your assumption for the sake of argument...

            We would still possess all kinds if elements of the material brain many of which are directly associated with consciousness and self-awareness.

            Then you didn't take my assumption for the sake of argument, because the assumption itself is that the immaterial soul is necessary for self-awareness.

            All of the elements of conscious awareness that were historically attributable to some. Immaterial soul have been accounted for by the activity of the material brain.

            That only suggests that the material brain is necessary for conscious awareness (in this life), but in no way proves that the immaterial soul doesn't exist or is not also necessary. That's my entire point. The best you can say is that you don't think or believe an immaterial soul is exists or is necessary.

          • Well, that the immaterial soul is necessary for self awareness is your conclusion, obviously I'm not going to accept that for the sake of argument. Would you accept for the sake of argument that the immaterial is incoherent and doesn't exist?

            Of course, all we can do is infer conclusions from observation. I believe in immaterialism because of what the evidence suggests.

          • joey_in_NC

            Well, that the immaterial soul is necessary for self awareness is your conclusion, obviously I'm not going to accept that for the sake of argument.

            My argument was simply pointing out the logical possibility that you are wrong about your assertion that you experience nothing immaterial.

            Would you accept for the sake of argument that the immaterial is incoherent and doesn't exist?

            Sure. But it depends on what argument you're trying to make by me accepting that premise. Hence, the saying "for the sake of argument".

            Of course, all we can do is infer conclusions from observation. I believe in immaterialism because of what the evidence suggests.

            But that doesn't mean the belief in the immaterial can not also be a reasonable conclusion based on observation. No matter how much empirical science can dig up, the nagging question that science can never solve is the question of why? Why is fundamentally a question of purpose, whereas how (for which science can provide answers) is a question of mechanics.

            Science isn't in the business of answering questions of purpose. But if you have a belief that certain things actually do have fundamental purpose (such as your actions stemming from your own "free will"), then the existence of the immaterial becomes very reasonable. Otherwise, purpose is all illusory.

          • I don't deny that the immaterial is logically possible. I don't believe it. It could be a reasonable conclusions from observation, but it is not. Immaterialism also is not logically impossible. But possibility is different than probability. Something being not logically impossible does not mean it is actually possible, much less likely the case.

            Now you are moving into another area of fundamental purpose. I think what you mean might be better described as "ultimate" purpose. No, I do no belief in anything like an ultimate purpose. I also don't believe my actions stem from free will. I do believe that what this notion of free will is illusory.

            That said nether do I think that immaterialism or theism presents a satisfactory response to questions of purpose or simply asking "why" about everything. Positing an immaterial soul and/or god and speculating that this accounts for things is not an answer to questions of ultimate purpose, it is a place-holder for such answers. In other words, there is no answer to any question to which "why" cannot be asked.

            My position on such issues is that purpose is not an objective fact about the universe or objects in it. It is a subjective view of things though the minds of conscious agents.

          • joey_in_NC

            No, I do no belief in anything like an ultimate purpose. I also don't believe my actions stem from free will. I do believe that what this notion of free will is illusory.

            Thanks for the clarification of your views. I think it's very consistent for materialists to also believe free will is illusory. Yet there are many materialists who still want to have it both ways.

    • Alexandra

      "I have no experience with anything immaterial."

      No experience with: energy, gravity, light (debatable), color, magnetism, transparency in objects, time, zero, language, electricity, love, etc?

      • Michael Murray

        In a world where everything is quantum fields what material means is a little weird I guess. But surely it should include gravity, magnetism and electricity assuming you mean the physical things not our thoughts about them?

        http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/blogs/physics/2013/08/the-good-vibrations-of-quantum-field-theories/

        • Alexandra

          "In a world where everything is quantum fields what material means is a little weird I guess. But surely it should include gravity, magnetism and electricity assuming you mean the physical things not our thoughts about them?"

          Ah yes, the weird and wonderful world of quantum physics. Thank you for the link. (There's a good documentary on the discovery of the Higgs boson called "Particle Fever".)

          I do mean it as "physical things". For example, matter (that has mass) is the source of gravity but gravity itself is not matter. (It does require matter to exist though.)

          To refute Brian's point I just need to find one thing that is immaterial that exists. (I think the strongest case is for "time").
          I disagree there is "zero evidence" of the immaterial when many things in physics and chemistry point otherwise. It may not be conclusive evidence, but it's a start.

      • I would say these things are mostly material. Though photons have no mass, they are thought to be material. In the materialsim vs immaterialism discourse, material is defined as all matter and energy.

        Things like zero, languages, love, I do believe exist, they are abstract concepts which I believe exist as brain activity, but have not existence outside of human brains. I understand the position that these types of concepts and mental activity are what is meant by immaterial. I just see no point in using those labels.

        I also do not think that these are the kinds of things that is meant by "soul". But that term and this immaterial realm is pretty vague.

        • Alexandra

          Brian, my list included two main categories of "immaterial" things, those studied in science and those involving the human brain (thoughts, concepts, abstractions). I'll start with the scientific ones first.
          I can list more "immaterial" things in science - van der waal forces, covalent bonds, darkness, "cold", nuclear energy, possibly "space", possibly potential energy, possibly some radiation, possibly entropy, possibly what makes material "animate", etc. Are you sure there is "zero evidence" for the immaterial in science?

          "Though photons have no mass, they are thought to be material."

          No, photons have not been defined as matter - only observed behaving like matter. See "wave-particle duality".
          "In the materialsim vs immaterialism discourse, material is defined as all matter and energy."

          How is energy "material"?

          • Generally the immaterial is defined as that which is not matter or energy in these philiosophical discussions. So all of the things which you describe as immaterial with the exception of "cold" would be considered material as opposed to immaterial in this context.

            But I certainly agree these exist and are real and exist independently of our concepts of them. But none of these, I think would be acceptable as the kind of things theists mean in describing an immaterial would. If they were, we would have no dispute. The soul could be detectable by way of science.

            But I don't think that is what is meant by immaterial soul or by God, they mean something that is other than these things. Or kinds of things.

          • Alexandra

            Brian, do you really believe that energy and gravity and time are material things?

          • I would say they are part of the material universe. In the sense that they are not what people mean when they are talking about the immaterial or souls. If you label them immaterial, you can, I don't dispute that they are real. I would object to saying they are god or they are what souls are.

          • Alexandra

            I didn't asked you if they were a part of the material universe. I asked you if you believe they are material things. It's a yes or no question.

          • Yes.

          • Michael Murray

            No, photons have not been defined as matter - only observed behaving like matter. See "wave-particle duality".

            There is no real wave-particle duality. Everything is quantum fields. Wave's won as Sean Carroll likes to say. If you are not happy with defining photons to be material then nothing is material. To quote from that link I posted before

            Physicists now use a class of theories called quantum field theories, or QFTs, which were first postulated in the late 1920s and developed over the following decades. QFTs are intriguing, but they take some getting used to. To start, let’s think only about electrons. Everywhere in the universe there is a field called the electron field. A physical electron isn’t the field, but rather a localized vibration in the field. In fact, every electron in the universe is a similar localized vibration of that single field.

            You also asked

            How is energy "material"?

            E = mc^2

          • Alexandra

            E = mc^2

            This shows for there is proportion between mass and energy which under specific conditions one can be transformed into the other. (As we know, usually involving the destruction of matter.)
            Thus, here is a relationship or equivalency between mass and energy, not necessarily that energy is mass, and therefore material.

            If light is all waves, then it is immaterial.

            "Physicalism". Thanks. Had never heard of it before.

          • Michael Murray

            If light is all waves, then it is immaterial.

            What do you mean by waves ? Fields ? Everything is quantum waves. There are no particles they are just excitations in quantum waves.

            See the link I keep posting :-)

            http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/b...

          • Alexandra

            No, everything is not quantum waves. Gravity and quantum mechanics have not as of yet been reconciled.

          • Michael Murray

            Yes sure. You haven't told me what you mean by waves being immaterial though.

          • Alexandra

            Waves are a propagation of energy.

          • Michael Murray

            Quantum waves are more than a propagation of energy.

            Maybe you could just define what you mean by material and immaterial. That would probably help both Brian and I.

          • Alexandra

            Yes. There are different categories of waves.

            Something material is that which is made of matter. It commonly exists in one of four states- solid, liquid, gas, or plasma.

            What is your definition?

          • Michael Murray

            I'm not sure I have one. My problem is that if you want to talk about physics in a sort of macroscopic picture then things like "solid, liquid, gas, plasma" make sense. But we know that is only an approximation to what appears to be really going on. Take apart that matter and you get atoms, take apart that atom and you get electrons and nucleons, take apart the nucleons you get quarks. Try to understand these particles which often don't behave like any particle we've seen before and you discover they are best modelled with abstract mathematical objects called quantum fields. Where did the matter go ? Are quantum fields worth calling matter ?

            Of course we might one day unify gravity and the standard model and find that the best model of reality does not use quantum fields. That would not surprise me. What would surprise me would be if the final theory (if we get there) is not even more abstract and non-intuitive than quantum field theory.

            So I just don't think the concept of matter is a fundamental one. Useful for all kinds of everyday things. But not if you are trying to discuss philosophical or scientific issues about reality.

          • Alexandra

            No, everything is not quantum waves. Gravity and quantum mechanics have not yet been reconciled.

  • Marc Riehm

    If scientists began to search for proof that our reasoning capacities extend beyond the material instrument of the brain, and indeed control the brain's activities even while relying on them, then they would discover the immaterial soul.

    Well, there is nothing stopping the RCC from funding science - serious, peer-reviewed science - to this end. I'm sure there are plenty of religious scientists who would love to take up that challenge and prove the existence of the soul. I'm also sure there are plenty who have tried!

    This statement is a shameless and laughable attempt to co-opt science to demonstrate something which is most manifestly non-scientific.

    • Raymond

      Yup. An immaterial soul is by definition outside the purview of science. You can feel free to believe in the existence of a soul (or mind as an immaterial component of the brain), but science doesn't deal with those things. I am reminded of the scientist who weighed a person just before death and just after death and concluded that the soul weighed four ounces.

      • Marc Riehm

        I wonder what that means - immaterial, and yet weighing four ounces, to boot!

    • Doug Shaver

      I'm sure there are plenty of religious scientists who would love to take up that challenge and prove the existence of the soul. I'm also sure there are plenty who have tried!

      I'm sure of it, too. The notion that no scientist has ever tried to prove the existence of the soul is laughable. As the church itself never tires of reminding us, the scientific woods are well populated with believers.

  • Galorgan

    "Then again, I also experience my control over my entire being. My acts of volition are real, and I use my body, not like an alien machine, but as part of my unified being. I am able to think new thoughts, muddling and musing my way to discovery and new insights, and I use my brain to do it."

    This is the only defense against the materialism "extreme" in the article and he ends it by saying he uses his brain (the thing that is material) to do these things.

  • Peter

    For me as a Catholic it is faith which tells me I have an immortal soul, despite the absence of evidence that our behaviour has a non-material source. This is because I trust the doctrine of the Church which has never been proved wrong.

    This is not blind trust. It is trust based upon the scientific vindication of centuries-old Church doctrine, such as space-time having a beginning (and most likely and end) and beginning from nothing (i.e. an absence of space-time).

    It is trust based upon the ancient recognition by the Church of a rational Author of creation responsible for unchanging and universal laws, laws which science has discovered and keeps discovering.

    It is trust based upon the Church's long-held claim that the Creator can be recognised through his works, while science steadily reveals a universe which appears to be designed from the outset.

    The vindication of Church doctrine is not diminishing because of science but increasing because of science. Against this background where Church doctrine is becoming increasingly justified, for me to believe in an immortal soul is not a leap of faith but the rational thing to do.

  • William Davis

    Here is a quote from a bright neurologist who has taught me a lot about critical thinking. The more one understands about the brain and neurology, the less useful the soul hypothesis is. People once thought the brain was a useless organ, but as we learned more about the brain, the soul retracted into the gaps. Now there are no gaps left, sorry.

    "So dualism has progressed from being simply wrong, back in the day when neuroscience was not advanced enough to demonstrate neuro-anatomical correlates for everything we think of as the mind, to now being not even wrong – to being completely vacuous and irrelevant."

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-mind-brain-problem-a-creationist-rebuttal/

    The only reason people still believe in souls is because of previous theological commitments. As time passes the soul hypothesis will die, not because it is wrong, but because it isn't even wrong, it's just a word that describes nothing. Let's forget about useless concepts and reconstruct theology around what we now know to be true.

    For the sake of completeness I've tried to understand souls, but I can't understand something that doesn't make sense. I can't even try to believe something I can't understand.

    The basis of souls is essence, it is a sort of magical thinking common in people. Notice small children will not except a copy of a favorite toy, they only want the original. This is because they have imbued the favorite toy with essence very much like a soul. Even an exact copy doesn't have the same essence. Think of the soul as a heuristic, some heuristics don't resonate with some people, the soul can't resonate with me.

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2007/mar/09/psychology.uknews

    • Raymond

      I think it is wrong to say that there are no gaps left. It is the same fallacy of Christians accepting the existence of the soul on faith. Not all areas of human consciousness have been fully uncovered as brain function. Enough of them have been discovered to provide a high degree of certainty, but not 100%.

      • William Davis

        I'll bite. What areas of human consciousness have not be uncovered as brain function? When I say gap, I mean a gap big enough for anything like the soul to fit in (it seems it has always been tied to vague concepts like intellect and will).
        It is never necessary to have 100% knowledge to be certain. 100% knowledge is impossible.

  • William Davis

    I took a few minutes to try to understand the soul one more time from Edward Feser, since he comes so highly recommended by Catholics.

    The argument seems to revolve around intellect and will being something above and in addition to our animal natures.

    And now we come to human beings. A human being is by nature a rational animal. That is to say, a human being is something which by its nature exercises both the animal powers of nutrition, growth, reproduction, sensation, appetite, and locomotion, and the intellectual and volitional powers possessed by angels. Hence it exercises powers of both a material and an immaterial sort. For that reason it is to a large extent capable of damage and malformation, as an animal is; but not completely so. In particular, a human being can be damaged to such an extent that it completely loses the organs of its animal and vegetative powers, and thus cannot exercise them at all -- to such an extent that only its intellectual and volitional powers remain. But those intellectual and volitional aspects of human nature, precisely because they are immaterial and thus do not depend on any corruptible material organ, cannot themselves perish, any more than they can in the case of an angel -- though they would be impaired given that the human intellect’s normal source of data is the sense organs, which are material, and given that its activity is normally carried out in conjunction with imagination, which is also material.

    Ok, but I've seen intellect and will out of animals, it just isn't as complex as ours (they have less neocortex than us, and in many cases their's inherently less complex, but similar). I then researched exactly what he was talking about with intellect and will.
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/03/what-is-soul.html

    "Again, the conception of the divine intellect that the doctrine of divine simplicity entails does not imply that what we call “intellect” in God is inferior to our intellects (as dogs, plants, and stones are each inferior to us cognitively speaking) but rather that it is superior. What exists in a metaphysically simple or non-composite way in God is not sub-intellectual; on the contrary, it is “Intelligence Itself,” in which our puny intellects merely participate.
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-divine-intellect.html

    Right here he says animals clearly have an intellect. What gives? The concept of the soul makes no sense, and even the great Feser can't help but contradict himself when trying to discuss it. This is why every conversations I've had about the soul results in meaningless double-talk. Common guys, let this one go, there is no soul, there never was. Aquinas an aristotle were GREAT philosophers and we owe them a great debt. The idea that they are infallible and can't be wrong makes absolutely no sense to me.

    That said, behaviorism and linear cartesian causation to not apply to the neocortex because it is self organizing and recursive. Just because Feser accurately points out flaws in the philosophy of mind in others, does not mean he has it right either.

    Understanding the way the neocortex solves problems makes it clear that there is no perfect philosophy, but some philosophies are better than others. Philosophies provide a critical hierarchy that our brains use to organize all information. Philosophies are critical, but will always be incomplete. No matter what philosophical lens I use, however, I can see no use for the soul hypothesis. Too bad we can't resurrect Aquinas and get him to agree, lol. He never intended for people to take his work as infallible:

    "On 6 December 1273 at the Dominican convent of Naples in the Chapel of Saint Nicholas after Matins Thomas lingered and was seen by the sacristan Domenic of Caserta to be levitating in prayer with tears before an icon of the crucified Christ. Christ said to Thomas, "You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labor?" Thomas responded, "Nothing but you, Lord." [49][50] After this exchange something happened, but Thomas never spoke of it or wrote it down. Because of what he saw, he abandoned his routine and refused to dictate to his socius Reginald of Piperno. When Reginald begged him to get back to work, Thomas replied: "Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me"[51] (mihi videtur ut palea).[52] What exactly triggered Thomas's change in behavior is believed by Catholics to have been some kind of supernatural experience of God.[53] After taking to his bed, he did recover some strength.[54]"

    Aquinas wrote his works 400 years before anyone realized the brain had any use. Aquinas did not believe the intellect was attached to any organ, he just didn't know.
    Aquinas died calling all his work straw. This by no means says it is not valuable, but why don't we let Aquinas put himself into perspective. His humility was directly linked to his great intellect.

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

  • as defined by materialism ... reducing everything to purely material causes

    versus

    ghostly drivers in alien machines

    versus

    essential unity of immaterial soul and material body

    Happy birthday to Descartes, who was born this very day in 1596! This article, by the way, well summarizes the major stances regarding philosophy of mind as that discipline stood in the early 17th century. (Much has happened since then?)

    If scientists began to search for proof that ...

    They would be searching for a very long time.

    Reductionism has different forms, such as epistemological, ontological and causal. Only if one ignores those distinctions could nonreductive physicalism be conflated with materialism. Dr. Murphy emphatically rejects causal reductionism or reducing everything to purely material causes. No too few philosophical naturalists reject that view also. This strawman's pants are on fire.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Reductionism has different forms, such as epistemological, ontological and causal. Only if one ignores those distinctions could nonreductive physicalism be conflated with materialism. Dr. Murphy emphatically rejects causal reductionism or reducing everything to purely material causes. No too few philosophical naturalists reject that view also. This strawman's pants are on fire.

      Sadly this is the second article this week focused on burning that straw man.

    • William Davis

      I think N.T. Wright makes a lot more sense on the topic of the soul than the Thomists(nothing against the Thomists). I think the soul became something it was never intended to be originally. When I've read Paul it seems he looks at the physical body as a seed which will lead to a glorified body after the resurrection. It wasn't something that "floated away" when you died. Something like that is possible in a future time, who knows what the future holds (it actually fits into Kurzweil's crazy singularity, not saying that is what Paul was talking about of course). We wouldn't know the difference while we are dead (asleep as Paul puts it) anyway. Dualism has us arguing over the big problem the Church has with admitting it is wrong, in my opinion. This doesn't necessarily imply it has been wrong about everything, but I can see why it's a hard pill for some to swallow.

      • While there's no credible way the church could deny changing certain of its moral interpretations, properly understood, neither Christianity, in general, nor Roman Catholicism, in particular, has ever had an official philosophy, much less metaphysics, much much less philosophy of mind. Any gifting of eternal life is grounded theologically in God's love and not metaphysically in the nature of the soul. So, in the case at hand, while popular piety has often inhabited a rather dualistic folk interpretation, the only essential anthropological stipulation would be that of free will, which is a non-negotiatiable philosophical preamble of the faith (and of common sense, if you ask me). I like N.T. Wright's thinking as well as many Thomist approaches. Murphy's approach could be right or wrong, metaphysically, but it's certainly not a problem theologically. I prefer a metaphysically agnostic emergentist stance, which is to say without specifying supervenience, which seems too strong a position to defend (as well as question begging).

  • Doug Shaver

    Therefore, we are invited to embrace what Murphy, Brown, and Malony have dubbed "non-reductive physicalism," a form of materialism that includes all the benefits of having a soul—"rationality, emotion, morality, free will, and, most importantly, the capacity to be in relationship with God" (p.2)—but just without the soul.

    This, however, is an impossibly contradictory position. You cannot deny the existence of the soul, and then appropriate all of its capacities, as if nothing happened. All physicalism is reductive.

    I'm not convinced that physicalism entails reductionism, but I'm perfectly content to accept both. I am a physicalist and a reductionist. However, I also believe in rationality, emotion and morality, and I see no contradiction between any of those things and physicalism or reductionism.

    This extreme, commonly known as "materialism," insists that humans are purely material beings. Murphy, Brown, and Maloney are in the grip of this latter view

    So, it's an extreme view? I could just as easily (and just as irrelevantly) stick a derogatory label on supernaturalism and say that Christians are in grip of that [insert label] view. Anyway, this is not argumentation. It is preaching, pure and simple.

    In my book, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists, I show how despite many of its founders' intentions, modern science came to be defined by materialism.

    Any writer can say, "My book shows X." That doesn't give me a good reason to believe X.

    If, however, scientists suddenly decided to examine the ways in which our rationality cannot be reduced to our animality, they would also discover the forgotten half of our nature.

    So, no scientist ever has made that decision? That is not a credible claim. Is it suggested that no Christian has ever been a scientist? I know good and well that that isn't so. And if some scientists have been Christians, then surely a few of them have attempted to find scientific confirmation of some tenets of their faith.

    But insofar as they continue to hold to the materialist belief that only material things exist, they will only find what they are looking for.

    Well, they don't always find what they're looking for. Michelson and Morley tried their darnedest to find the ether, and they couldn't. And scientists have in fact found lots of things that they definitely were not looking for--the muon, for just one example among countless others.

    But let's just suppose that atheist scientists really can't find the soul for no other reason than that they're not looking for it. There are still lots of theist scientists working in the same laboratories. They should have no problem looking for the soul. Why don't they? And if they have been looking, why haven't they found it?

    I am neither a Gnostic angel with no need of a brain or body to think, nor am I a slightly elevated ape for whom thinking is merely an elaborate form of sensation.

    OK. In that case, whatever your soul does after your body is dead, it won't be thinking.

    This amounts to saying, it seems, that materialist science cannot prove either that the immaterial soul does not exist or that materialism is itself true.

    That depends on how narrowly you define "prove." There is a sense, and it's a common one, in which science, materialist or otherwise, has never proved anything at all. It has, however, justified quite a few of its assertions beyond what most of us consider reasonable doubt.

    • joey_in_NC

      I'm not convinced that physicalism entails reductionism, but I'm perfectly content to accept both.

      I personally can't imagine physicalism that does not entail reductionism, but then again I have not done much reading in the area of "non-reductive physicalism" so I'm open to being convinced. But I agree with Dr. Wiker that it seems paradoxical. A grand Theory of Everything, the holy grail for theoretical physicists, would inherently be reductionist.

      So, it's an extreme view? I could just as easily (and just as irrelevantly) stick a derogatory label on supernaturalism and say that Christians are in grip of that [insert label] view.

      To be fair, an honest reading of the OP would reveal that the use of the word "extreme" wasn't meant to be derogatory at all. Considering the entire spectrum of views concerning our makeup of rational soul and material body, Dr. Wiker simply explains the two "extremes" of this spectrum: materialism (the immaterial doesn't exist) and what he labels as "Gnosticism". Considering this spectrum of views, can there be anything more extreme than materialism on that end?

      • David Nickol

        Is there a limit on God's creative power? Could God not create a universe in which nonreductive physicalism was true? Couldn't God give matter any properties he desired?

        • joey_in_NC

          I'm Catholic, BTW, so I certainly don't question the limit on God's power. But I'm scratching my head as to exactly how can one be a theist (who believes in the existence of a soul) and a physicalist at the same time (ala Dr. Murphy).

          • David Nickol

            It does seem to be contradictory to claim to believe in God and also to believe in physicalism. But I don't see a problem with both believing in God and believing human beings don't have and don't need a "spiritual soul." It's my understanding that Mormons believe God himself is a physical being, so I guess one could believe in a physicalism in which everything "in heaven" (including God and angels) and in the physical universe is physical.

      • Michael Murray

        I don't see why we couldn't have a universe in which interactions between some physical objects couldn't be reduced to interactions between their constituent parts. That's not what we observe of course and it is not what people have got used to looking for but I don't see any reason why it is ruled out by physicalism. The universe is what it is.

      • Doug Shaver

        To be fair, an honest reading of the OP would reveal that the use of the word "extreme" wasn't meant to be derogatory at all.

        So, in some contexts, if someone called you an extremist, you might take it as compliment?

        • joey_in_NC

          What does taking anything as a compliment have anything to do with anything? What matters is if there is any objective truth to the "extreme" label, given the context.

          Let me ask the question again, considering the spectrum of views involving our mind's makeup as a combination of immaterial soul and material matter, would you not consider materialism to be at an extreme end of that spectrum?

          • Doug Shaver

            considering the spectrum of views involving our mind's makeup as a combination of immaterial soul and material matter, would you not consider materialism to be at an extreme end of that spectrum?

            I don't consider the relevant views to form a spectrum. The mind, in order to exist, either does or does not require something immaterial. If it does, then materialism is false. Not almost true. Not just a little bit false. False period.

          • joey_in_NC

            I don't consider the relevant views to form a spectrum.

            If you disagree that there is a spectrum of views, then so be it. The point is the term wasn't meant to be derogatory.

  • Mike

    Great overview read on how to approach this topic generally:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2014/05/pre-christian-apologetics.html

  • Michael Murray

    Quote from philosopher Daniel Dennett

    I was once interviewed in Italy and the headline of the interview the next day was wonderful. I saved this for my collection it was... "YES we have a soul but it's made of lots of tiny robots" and I thought that's exactly right. Yes we have a soul, but it's mechanical. But it's still a soul, it still does the work that the soul was supposed to do. It is the seat of reason. It is the seat of moral responsibility. It's why we are appropriate objects of punishment when we do evil things, why we deserve the praise when we do good things. It's just not a mysterious lump of wonder stuff... that will out live us.

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Daniel_Dennett

    • joey_in_NC

      Talk about having your cake and eating it too. Why should "robots" have moral responsibility? A computer is also a bunch of tiny robots (transistors) that are mechanical in nature. Yet, it would be absurd to punish it if the results of my circuit simulation didn't turn out the way I expected.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Free will.

        • joey_in_NC

          What about it? Dennet believes in compatibilism, which is not the metaphysical libertarianism that we associate with the typical notion of free will. Under Dennet's compatibilism, what prevents someone from arguing that a computer (or any other physical mechanism) also has "free will"?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Free will gives moral responsibility. If a computer has free will, then it has moral responsibility.

            You are equivocating. Nobody argues that a computer has free will. What we do argue is that our free will and intelligence is the result of physical phenomena.

          • joey_in_NC

            What we do argue is that our free will and intelligence is the result of physical phenomena.

            Color is also an emergent property of physical processes. But color has no bearing on the physical stuff from which it emerges. In other words, the color is completely slave to physical stuff.

            Aren't free will and intelligence also completely slave to physical stuff? If it's nonsensical to say color "gives moral responsibility", wouldn't it similarly nonsensical to say free will gives moral responsibility since both color and free will are slave to physical stuff?

            But maybe you think free will and/or intelligence have downward causal powers on the physical processes from which they emerge? In other words, once free will emerges from physical processes, it becomes an entity in itself that can actually control physical stuff. Is this what you mean?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Color is also an emergent property of physical processes. But color has no bearing on the physical stuff from which it emerges. In other words, color is completely slave to physical stuff.

            Are you saying that color does not change the physical? I'm not sure what you mean by slavery. That seems like a rather emotional word, but with ambiguous meaning.

            Color has to do with our perception of physical objects as much as the physical objects themselves. Color is not a property of physical objects.

            Aren't free will and intelligence also completely slave to physical stuff? If it's nonsensical to say color "gives moral responsibility", wouldn't it similarly nonsensical to say free will gives moral responsibility since both color and free will are slave to physical stuff?

            I'm not sure what you mean by slavery to physical stuff.

            Would you agree with the statement that

            No moral responsibility implies no free will?

            But maybe you think free will and/or intelligence have downward causal powers on the physical processes from which they emerge? In other words, once free will emerges from physical processes, it becomes an entity in itself that can actually control physical stuff. Is this what you mean?

            No, the physical stuff has the property of free will and intelligence. Free will and intelligence aren't outside of the system. They are part of the system. They are the result of the configuration of the system.

            I can't perceive color without an eye and a brain.

          • joey_in_NC

            Color is not a property of physical objects.

            I would consider the spectrum of light leaving an object's surface to be a property of that object. Different brains/eyes might perceive the color differently, but the frequencies of the light waves that get emitted/reflected by the object remain the same.

            I'm not sure what you mean by slavery to physical stuff.

            If A is completely dependent on B, then A is "slave" to B. That's all I mean.

            Would you agree with the statement that

            No moral responsibility implies no free will?

            I think it's makes more sense to put it the other way around...that no free will implies no moral responsibility.

            No, the physical stuff has the property of free will and intelligence. Free will and intelligence aren't outside of the system. They are part of the system.

            Do you not agree with the many materialists who believe that free will is illusory? Why is your opinion different from materialists such as Hawking, Dawkins, and Harris?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If A is completely dependent on B, then A is "slave" to B. That's all I mean.

            Fair enough.

            I think it's makes more sense to put it the other way around...that no free will implies no moral responsibility.

            I would agree with that. Some free will is necessary for moral responsibility. It is probably also sufficient for some moral responsibility, as long as we are able to have an understanding of consequences.

            This is why I say that beings with free will and the ability to understand the consequences of their actions have some moral responsibility. I don't need to toss in a soul to have moral responsibility.

            Do you not agree with the many materialists who believe that free will is illusory?

            No. I cannot prove that we have free will, but it is logically consistent with materialism. I think we are influenced by our culture and environment more than we like to admit, but we still have choice.

            Why is your opinion different from materialists such as Hawking, Dawkins, and Harris?

            I'm not sure why I should march lock step with these materialists. They are not my favorite thinkers. There are materialists that believe in free will such as Sartre.

          • Michael Murray

            You think you are free to choose which materialists to agree with?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It would be analogous to me quoting Donohue and asking my interlocutor why they don't agree with fellow catholic, Bill Donohue.

          • joey_in_NC

            No. I cannot prove that we have free will, but it is logically consistent with materialism.

            Please elaborate on this. Can you give a coherent definition of free will using strictly material terms? For example, similar to how a magnetic field influences the movement of charge within its field, so too free will can be thought of as involving a "brain field" that can dictate the movement of particles with its field. Is this what you mean?

            If you cannot ground a description of free will in the material, then the notion becomes purely philosophical and becomes meaningless within the material realm. It would be no different than saying other purely philosophical notions such as "goodness" or "liberty" or "evil" are "consistent with materialism".

    • Peter

      Even if the above were true, if what is recognised as the soul existed from a purely materialist perspective, this would in no way precludes the existence of a Creator. Nor would it even remove the necessity of a Creator. Why? Because the material emergence of a soul could not be accidental. It would be the inevitable consequence of a relentless process begun at the inception of the universe which pushes matter to greater and greater complexity.

      If we accept that a mechanical soul exists, we must also accept that the universe has no choice but to create it. A universe which is pre-destined to create souls, to create reason and moral responsibility, not through some random interaction but as the culmination of an irreversible process of complexification, is a universe which is designed.

      All that atheists are doing by beating the drum of mechanical ensoulment is shifting the venue. A Creator is still present in the background.

      • Michael Murray

        I'm not sure how you get from an atheist responding to a post about the soul on a Catholic website whose purpose is to engage in dialogue with atheists to "beating the drum".

        But I agree that, although bound together in the particular case of theism represented by Catholic theology, the soul seems to be independent of the notion of a creator and the creator could have used a mechanical soul had He existed as David Nickel suggested here

        https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/whatever_happened_to_the_soul/#comment-1937305377

        Or the soul could be some sort of Buddhist construct passed down by reincarnation and independent of any kind of creator. That would seem to also fit your idea of a universe evolving to intelligence. Except that you seem keen on their being a creator.

        • Peter

          The question is: would mechanical ensoulment mean that a Creator is possible but not necessary or that a Creator is still necessary? My contention is that a Creator would still be necessary simply because there are no better alternatives.
          An intelligent Creator would tick all the boxes while other explanations would leave boxes unticked.

          For a start, it would answer the question of why a soul to start with, albeit mechanically generated, with the ability to reason and make moral choices. Only an intelligent Creator who is capable of the same could conceive the notion of a soul. Nothing else could explain why the notion of a soul exists instead of not existing at all.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Here is a philosophical essay on the immateriality of thought that shows why materialism can never explain cognition:

    http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/43151/ross-immateriality.pdf

    If you can follow the argument (I can't!) the conclusion is that human thought is not material: we can do something that transcends anything any material entity can do.

    That is a step toward the idea of the rational soul.

    • Mike

      thx for the article i will try to follow it!

    • Doug Shaver

      Here is a philosophical essay on the immateriality of thought that shows why materialism can never explain cognition:

      http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/c...

      If you can follow the argument (I can't!) the conclusion is that human thought is not material: we can do something that transcends anything any material entity can do.

      I've just skimmed the first few pages. I think I can follow it, but it might take me a few days to analyze it in enough detail to offer a critique.

  • David Nickol

    It is my understanding that a spiritual "thing"—and that would include a soul—cannot have a physical location. So how can it leave the body at death? Or go to purgatory? Or be in heaven?

  • David Nickol

    Why does God create souls for "test tube babies"? In vitro fertilization is forbidden by the Catholic Church. Quite possibly it would have been a powerful proof of God's existence if all attempts at in vitro fertilization inexplicably failed because God disapproved of it and refused to cooperate.

    • Mike

      i think that if that happened you wouldn't assume God had anything to do with it so you wouldn't see it correctly as evidence of God but just that there's some material problem with doing iVF - you already presume God and then knowing he exists you think that would be evidence for him - feser had a post in just this issue.

      God doesn't not love ppl just bc their parents decided to create them without human love.

      The RCC does not believe in 'occasioinalism' in which God is the efficient cause. God would have to do a 'miracle' every time that was about to happen but that's the question of why god doesn't turn bullets into butter everytime they are about to kill someone.

      There is a logic to his miracles: they are not to prove to unbelievers he exists but to show preference to his 'ppl' and to get Certain goals achieved...but there's alot written about this.

  • I didn't see any evidence that our mind isn't just the brain in this article. The passage about how a material substance affects the brain does not to my mind lend anything toward an immaterial soul, in fact just the opposite. Damage to the brain sometimes results in radical changes of personality. It can make a person extremely different from who they were, including altering religious beliefs. Assuming these beliefs have eternal consequences, how does the change affect the person's fate? If the soul is immaterial and responsible at least in part for mental functions, why does physical damage affect them? Far better it would seem to have an immaterial soul blissfully above this. Yet that begs the question: why even have a body? I confess I'm not even clear on what a soul does according to the dualist view here, nor even what being "immaterial" means.

  • Loreen Lee

    Just found this on Just Thomism: https://thomism.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/the-humanelic
    Also about the 2nd century A.D. Platonism introduced a trinity in which the One was situated beyond the planets, the Nous (i.e. understanding rather than logos?) was situated with respect to the planets in our vicinity, and Soul encompassed the space from the moon to the earth. Thus Soul included not only humans, but plants and animals. The point I am attempting to make, like JohnBoy, is that this definition of soul as that which is representative in some way only of intellect and will, was I believe a product of the difficulties introduced by the Cartesian dualism. The difference between a mechanized 'body' and the intellect of clear and distinct ideas required some explanation of how they could interact. The pineal gland didn't seem to work. Malebranche, and within the dissertations discussed in a previous post came up with the idea of Occasionalism, the intervention of God, as ongoing Creator, in moment to moment integration of body and soul.

  • Michael Murray

    It is difficult to find what you are not looking for.

    Actually my experience over the years has been the exact opposite. If something is truly lost then it's difficult to find it by looking for it as you almost always look in places it ought to be and that's not where it is. When I'm looking for something I usually find the previous thing I was looking for. This happens often enough that it worries me sometimes.

    More seriously isn't this what science does ? They were excited when the LHC confirmed what they expected to find but they would have been a lot more excited if it had found something unexpected. That way lies progress.

  • Peter

    Daniei Dennet's idea of a mechanical soul does not contradict the Church's teaching that the soul is not produced by the parents. While our bodies are genetically linked to our parents, the Church teaches that the soul is not.

    If the matter of our brains is genetically linked to our parents, why is the product of that matter, the soul - represented by our ability to reason, to make moral choices and be answerable for those choices - not genetically linked? The answer is that, although it emerges from matter, the soul itself is immaterial and therefore impossible to link genetically to anything.

    Therefore, even in the case of Dennet's mechanical soul, the Church would not be wrong in claiming that the soul is not produced by the parents, i.e not genetically linked to them. That is why humans are special, a union of body and soul, partly but not wholly generated by our parents, and therefore partly and not wholly linked to the material world.

    • This reminds me of Scotus' notion of haecceity, which refers -- not to quiddity or what we are, not to esse or existence or that we are, but -- to our thisness or particularity or unique individuality. In quasi-Aristotelian terms, each human person would be like a species unto oneself. Since it's Easter, I'll add, each person is absolutely precious, eternally irreplaceable.

  • Loreen Lee

    Just found this on 'Just Thomism'. The article ends by saying that the definition of substance is something that STA does not want to talk about. This is consistent with what I have found to be Aristotle's position. He makes a distinct6ion between that (accidental) that can be 'known', and that which is 'merely' talked about. How similar, I find, is Aristotle's appreciation of the 'accidental', which I understand to correlate to the Modern position in the distinction between phenomena and noumena. And even philosophers from Hegel to Husserl, speak of 'phenomena' of mind, although I believe there is, and perhaps continues to be the hypothesis that the will is somehow related to the 'essence', or preferably 'substance' in Aristotelean terms. Anyway, here is the article: https://thomism.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/knowing-substance/