jeudi 19 mars 2015

Her Examples Analysed

1) Research of the Gaps, 2) Her Examples Analysed

Greta Christina thinks that an« overwhelming amount of evidence » supports the idea that consciousness is just a (by)product of biological processes. What she cites as such is mainly a phenomenon which to « dualists » (there is another meaning of the word than I will right now explain, a more proper ones) is known as parallelism – parallel behaviours of mind and of observable biological matter. In this context, I mean by « dualism » the position that mind and matter are two different kinds of substance rather than one and the same or one of them being an accident of the other. Most of the examples of parallelism were well known all of the centuries when « dualism » was it.

And that means basically for most of 2000 years, or even more. When Eusebius of Caesarea enumerates opinions of philosophers on diverse subjects, one of the points he makes about Epicurus or Democritus or both (will look up in Praeparatio Evangelica) is that he considered all matter as endowed with some kind of consciousness, even that of dead bodies.*

The bishop of Caesarea could of course, with a few centuries intervening and these being full of « dualists » especially the time closer to himself, have misunderstood what they were really saying. He could have misunderstood Epicure as much as Schoenborn misunderstands St. Thomas Aquinas, when the latter says that God governs the Cosmos by created causes or secondary causes and the former, the later writer, understands this as meaning:

  • corporeal / physical causes rather than spiritual substances;
  • apparently also an infinite number of them so that one could always point back to another and another of these like the scientists most often do, and for each even deduced one start searching for the most natural one behind that, until one gets to a « we don’t know », and excluding direct both divine and angelic action, while St. Thomas’ point about God being First** Cause (i. e. both First Mover and First Upholder) is that an infinity of intermediate steps is excluded and that lack of a first would make all of the relatively more prior only intermediate.

In « both » misunderstandings, if we shall dare to console Schoenborn by assuming Eusebius misunderstood Epicure as he misunderstood St. Thomas, we find a distinct possibility that if the later author of each pair had caught the earlier one in a position further away from his own than the one he grasped, he would have felt some extreme revulsion, so that the understanding taken for granted is really an act of piety against the older author of each pair. Subjectively, from the point of view of the younger, that is : since no author is as such pleased by being misunderstood. This possibility is of course a suspicion of mine, not an ascertained fact that I know. What is an ascertained fact is that Schoenborn does so misunderstand St. Thomas Aquinas and that it is a misunderstanding. I know both positions, and know they are not the same. But since I haven’t read Democritus or Epicure, I cannot so say that Eusebius is certainly misunderstanding him. I know Eusebius’ version and I know other versions more modern of what Epicure thought – but not Epicure’s own or Democritus’ own. So, at least for the centuries since Eusebius up to St. Thomas and well beyond, but ending some time before Schoenborn, Greta Christina, myself, every educated man in what was then the Roman and is now the Western Sphere of Culture was taking for granted « dualism » - that mind and will are another kind of thing than bodies and force interactions between these, and, at least at a created level, neither is totally dependent on the other.

The real position of St. Thomas Aquinas is such that Schoenborn would nearly certainly have considered it as being either naïve or superstitious or both, and certainly unworthy of the subtlety of St. Thomas – unless he excuses him by having lived in a prior century « with less accurate knowledge » - a pretty common meme these days. Did Schoenborn really ever come across the idea, which I think this « Thomist » considers unworthy of a Thomist, that only a finite number of definite steps in the causation chain lead in any given moment from First Mover and Upholder, from First Cause, to any given ultimate simultaneous effect, and that an angel or a demon might immediately be behind any observation at hand, especially if involving movements of material objects, except for day and night, since the turning of the Cosmos around Earth is dependent on God alone as First Mover?

All the while this « dualism » (on what mind is other than body) was believed by every educated man (and any normal non-educated person, since these live by scraps of the public lore of educated men), all the while this was the case, the phenomena enumerated by Greta Christina were mostly known. Towards the end of this state of « dualism » taken for granted, these came to be known as parallelism or interaction problem.*** She does enumerate an instance or two more of it than was known before recently, but adding an instance to a phenomenon does not make it a new phenomenon. But there is also another thing she enumerates, which is an interpretation rather than a fact.

When we make physical changes to the brain, it changes consciousness. Drugs, injury, surgery, sensory deprivation, electrical current, magnetic fields, medication, illness, exercise -- all these things change our consciousness. Sometimes drastically. Sometimes rendering an entire personality unrecognizable. Even very small changes to the brain can result in massive changes to consciousness... both temporary and permanent.

This works vice versa as well. Magnetic resonance imagery has shown that, when people think different thoughts, different parts of their brains light up with activity. Changes in thought show up as changes in the brain.... just as changes in the brain show up as changes in thought.

And, of course, we have the drastic change in consciousness created by the very drastic change in the physical brain known as "death."

The last item is of course the one I mean is an interpretation rather than an observed fact. Here is how she supports it:

All the available evidence points to the conclusion that, when the brain dies, consciousness disappears. (And by "when the brain dies," I don't mean, "when the brain is temporarily deprived of oxygen for a short time," a.k.a. "near death experiences." I mean when the brain dies, permanently.) The belief that consciousness survives death has probably been researched more than any other supernatural hypothesis -- nobody, not even scientists, wants death to be permanent -- and it has never, ever been substantiated. Reports of it abound... but when carefully examined, using good, rigorous scientific methodology, these reports fall apart like a house of cards.

The problem is that the research that was never substantiated has been tested the wrong way – as one would test claims about material things : by sight, hearing, smell, touch, by instruments, by repeated experiments. All of these fail except one repeated experiment known as introspection. We all know we mean things by words. And it is more and more abundantly clear no material contrivance will ever have any grasp of meaning.

This is alas hidden by observers of the latest Google gadget saying « we failed this time, but in a near future we will get it right ».

Behind this optimism, there is of course a philosophical pessimism about solving the question how the parallel phenomena interact, the so called interaction problem. But the Thomistic solution is that any created mind by its Creator has a limited but real domination over matter : soul over body as making it alive and using it for action and expression, angelic beings over objects, as moving them in place and appearance. This position was abandoned due to an inability to come up with a fool proof explanation of exactly what mechanism (I'd say wrong question, since not a question of mechanism), and as Greta Christina has admitted, the search for how consciouness arises from the purely material has equally failed.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
St Joseph the Most Chaste Spouse

Still referring, obviously, to same blogpost as yesterday:

Greta Christina's Blog : "You Can't Disprove Religion": Three Counter-Examples

* Could this be behind the vampire legends? I had better check evidence from Dom Augustin Calmet’s book before I attribute this to a misunderstanding or exaggeration of a materialistic philosopheme. It is certainly in some way behind The Swamp Thing, though there we know it is fiction.

** First as in most primary in each instant, not as in Earliest.

*** Parallelism is also used to mean, I believe, the solution of « pre-established harmony » between body and mind, doing away with any real interaction. This was one solution proposed in 17th C. but the more common one … well, I’ll come to that.

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