Sunday, November 13, 2016

The pre-existence of the soul


Our visit to hell hasn’t ended.  (How could it?)  More on the subject of damnation in a forthcoming follow-up post.  But first, a brief look at another topic which, it seems to me, is illuminated by the considerations raised in that previous post.  Can the soul exist prior to the existence of the body of which it is the soul?  Plato thought so.  Aquinas thought otherwise.  In Summa Contra Gentiles II.83-84 he presents a battery of arguments to the effect that the soul begins to exist only when the body does.

The metaphysically crucial idea here, of course, is the Aristotelian thesis that the human soul is the substantial form of the living human body.  (See sections 9 and 10 of SCG Book II, Chapter 83, linked to above.)  More precisely, it is the substantial form of a substance which has both corporeal faculties (as other animals do) and incorporeal faculties (as angels do).  Because the corporeal faculties do not exhaust this substance, it can carry on in an incomplete state after the corporeal faculties are lost at death.  Because the corporeal faculties are possessed by the substance in its normal state, however, it would seem that the soul comes into being only when the entire substance in its normal state comes into being, which means when the body comes into being. 

The way Aquinas develops the point is to argue, first, that a perfect specimen of a thing is metaphysically prior to the imperfect specimen.  (Cf. section 11)  Hence the entire human substance – corporeal and incorporeal aspects together – is prior to the incomplete substance which would be the substance reduced to its incorporeal aspects alone, viz. the soul as it persists beyond death.  So, it would seem from that that the soul comes into being only with the body.  Aquinas also adds (in sections 34-36) that since matter is, on the Thomistic view, what individuates souls, a new soul must only come into being when its associated body does.

It is at least arguable that these considerations are not decisive.  In Real Essentialism, David Oderberg briefly and tentatively suggests that it might be the case that the soul’s existence and identity conditions might be met even if it pre-exists its body, as long as it will be at some future date associated with that body.  (See note 25 at p. 293.  He had earlier made the same point in his article “Hylemorphic Dualism,” at note 47.)

However one comes down on that issue, however, there is another Thomistic consideration which seems to show that whether or not it is possible for human souls to pre-exist their bodies, they do not in fact do so – a consideration deriving from the arguments surveyed in my recent post on damnation (linked to above).  According to those arguments, a completely incorporeal thing immediately and irreversibly chooses, as its ultimate end, either God or something less than God.  That is why an angel is either saved or damned immediately upon its creation, and a human soul is either saved or damned immediately upon death.  And in the case of the human soul, this choice cannot be altered even when it is rejoined to its body.

So, suppose a human soul pre-existed its body.  Then – being free of any corporeality -- it would, just like an angel, immediately choose either God or something less than God as its ultimate good, and this choice would be irreversible.  But in that case, that soul would be unable to reverse this choice one way or the other even once it is conjoined to its body for the first time.  So, if our souls pre-existed our bodies, we would be unable to make such a choice.  Everyone would already unalterably have chosen either God or something less than God, and thus already be either saved or damned.  But that is not the case.  We are still able to choose either God or something less than him, as is evident both from ordinary experience and from Christian doctrine, which calls on all human beings to repent while they still have time to do so.  Hence our souls must not pre-exist our bodies.

143 comments:

Steven Dillon said...

As for the possibility of prembodiment, it seems we could start as pure rationalities that are then "fused" with animality, from which point our souls just are the forms of our bodies. I.e. the idea isn't repugnant to reason.

As to the actual occurrence of prembodiment, it must be kept in mind that being precedes act. This principle presumably applies to our souls unless otherwise demonstrated because our souls resemble substances precisely in the respect in virtue of which the principle obviously applies to them: substantive existence. Prembodiment should thus be the default view, meaning that to initially restrict this principle from applying to the rationality component of our souls either question-beggingly assumes prembodiment doesn't occur, or treats our souls with special pleading.

What happens to your response, Feser, granting there are no good, independent objections to it, if we approach it from the view that it is presumably false? Maybe the two would neutralize each other, I don't know.

jps said...

There is considerable documentation of children who recall their previous lives. Sceptics Inc. have convinced themselves and many others that such research must be based on flawed techniques, but Ian Stephenson's documented cases amount to nearly 3,000, gathered over three decades. Of course re-incarnation is anathema to the Catholic church, but the data is out there.

John West said...

As for the possibility of prembodiment, it seems we could start as pure rationalities that are then "fused" with animality, from which point our souls just are the forms of our bodies. I.e. the idea isn't repugnant to reason.

Suppose Ed is right that substantial forms are universals. Then “we” and “pure rationalities” isn't quite right. (Since each universal is strictly identical in each of its instances, there would just be the one, uninstantiated humanity substantial form-universal/soul.)

Tom Simon said...

There is also considerable documentation of silly women who recall having been Queen Cleopatra in a previous life. They can’t all be right. I find ‘data’ far too strong a word for the collection of unverifiable, implausible, and often mutually contradictory anecdotes that have been amassed by believers in reincarnation.

From the A–T perspective, I would question whether reincarnation is even a meaningful concept. If the soul is the substantial form of the body, how can it be the same soul if you substitute a different body?

Ilíon said...

"So, suppose a human soul pre-existed its body. Then – being free of any corporeality -- it would, just like an angel, immediately choose either God or something less than God as its ultimate good, and this choice would be irreversible. But in that case, that soul would be unable to reverse this choice one way or the other even once it is conjoined to its body for the first time. So, if our souls pre-existed our bodies, we would be unable to make such a choice. Everyone would already unalterably have chosen either God or something less than God, and thus already be either saved or damned. But that is not the case."

What if *we* are the "fallen angels" who rejected their Creator? What if this embodied life is God's means -- his justice *and* mercy -- to give pre-existing souls to possibility of repenting their wrong choice?

Ilíon said...

.... alternately, what if this embodied life isn't God's judgment and mercy for pre-exitsting souls who had rebelled against his lordship as God, but is rather the test that such hypothetical souls must experience so that they can choose to love God freely. That is, what if we are not the demons, but rather that the demons are those angels who refused to submit themselves to the "ingignity" of embodiment?

Ilíon said...

Tom Simon: "I find ‘data’ far too strong a word for the collection of unverifiable, implausible, and often mutually contradictory anecdotes that have been amassed by believers in reincarnation."

Agreed.

Tom Simon: "From the A–T perspective, I would question whether reincarnation is even a meaningful concept. If the soul is the substantial form of the body, how can it be the same soul if you substitute a different body?"

Is your body the same body as when you were a single-celled organism? For that matter, is your body even the same body as it was yesterday?

In the Resurrection, will your (then) body be the same body as now? as of the time of your death? as of some other point in your temporal existence? OR, will it be a new body?

jps said...

The point about the research on 'children with past-life memories' is the mundane nature of them. No Cleopatras, or Mark Antony's, for that matter. Mechanics, children, mothers, villagers, small-town clerks. Their stories would then be checked against documentary and witness sources to ascertain whether the claimed memories tallied with an actual person. But this idea is taboo in Western culture. Recall the 'first anathema against Origen':
'If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema.'

It was that point that the Platonist conception of the pre-existence of the soul was declared heretical by the Roman church.

Red said...

Hi Feser..

So are you a Aquinastitionist? Santi Tafarella certainly thinks so.
whats that?
an Aquinastitionist is an intellectual Thomist who makes apologies for religious superstition.

so Professor Santi Tafarella has written a lot about you and Aquinas at his blog.and he has also commented on your exchanges with various new atheists (Coyne,Rosenhouse ) but the most interesting of his post (among many) is the one in which he comments on your essay “Religion and Superstition,” in The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy (2015).

you can check that post here

https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/aquinas-and-superstition-thomist-philosopher-edward-feser-is-an-aquinastitionist-what-is-that/

also his own take on thomism in general is this

https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/thomas-aquinas-for-beginners/

John Collinson said...

Platonic philosophy is very contemplative and leads to an intuitive understanding of the immateriality of the soul, which indicates it separability from matter. Once one has discovered the soul's separability from matter though, there is a danger of thinking that it is in fact already separate from matter, like an angel, which in the end can lead to a pantheist mysticism of identifying one's own mind with the infinite Divine Mind and seeing all of material reality as in some way existing in and through one's mind. However, an intermediate position between affirming the separability of the soul (which is Aristotelian and Scholastic) and the separateness of the soul, is to affirm that the soul is only accidentally united to the body, and can detach itself from one body and be just as easily united to another - it's this notion that can be found in Plato, Pythagoras before him, and in oriental mysticism, where the doctrine of reincarnation logically seems to follow.

Isn't modern Cartesian, Kantian, and Personalist philosophy also in some way affirming that the soul is only united to the body accidentally? They seem to have a quasi-angelic notion of the soul where it is not substantially united to the body but only interacts with it like a charioteer and a chariot. The problem with this is, like I said earlier, it can easily, very easily, lead to a navel-gazing, pantheistic mysticism where one sees one's own mind as being the first cause of the world, of confusing one's own mind with God's, of seeing the world as somehow existing in one's own mind. This is the "subjectivist" turn of modern philosophy which, following Descartes, has philosophy begin with an introspection of the mind, rather than an analysis of the first principles of being.

FM said...

"There is considerable documentation of children who recall their previous lives. Sceptics Inc. have convinced themselves and many others that such research must be based on flawed techniques, but Ian Stephenson's documented cases amount to nearly 3,000, gathered over three decades."


Only problem is that those 3000 "cases" are all anecdotal, often flawed and easily explainable without the need for reaincarnation to be put on the table.

There are also tens of thousands ghost and ufo pictures and videos, but all together they prove nothing for basically the same reasons.

Heretical or not is not even the point, it simply doesn't add up philosophically or rationally.

That's why reincarnation is bullocks.

John Collinson said...

Red, I think that professor you mention is abusing terms and not properly distinguishing between theological proposition, religious doctrine or belief, and superstition.

Theological exposition of religious doctrine or belief has nothing to do with superstition, neither is religious doctrine or belief inherently superstitious. The failure to distinguish religion from superstition is precisely the stupidity of contemporary, religiously-ignorant atheist that I believe Dr. Feser criticises. It is religious to worship and honour the one, universal Spirit that made the world and everything in it. It is superstitious to believe that you can force God to do what you want by performing some kind of ritual, unless you have good reason to believe that God has specifically stated that He would grant something if a certain kind of ritual were performed. Just as it is in a way religious or pious to honour the king, but superstitious to believe that you can control his mind through a magical potion or spell - however, if the king promised his subjects a certain reward if they performed a certain ritual in his honour, it would not be superstitious to perform it.

The belief in angels and saints is not superstitious. All you have to do is accept that the soul is immaterial and distinct from the body, and the belief in angels and saints becomes immediately intelligible. The problem is dogmatic materialists who think that all being can be reduced to a material principle such as an atom or subatomic particle, and deny all intelligible and immaterial realities, thinking that anyone who can understand or perceive the intelligible and immaterial are superstitious.

The problem with materialists is that they themselves have a somewhat superstitious belief in the power of matter to transform itself into the intelligible forms which we see in nature: stars, clouds, rocks, trees, animals. Their logic-defying principle that order can arise out of chaos, and that mind can arise out of matter, is the profoundest superstition prevalent today.

FM said...

Ian Stephenson was a fool who got conned by little kids (and their parents) because like Fox Mulder " he wanted to believe". In same cases more clear than others

John Collinson said...

Their logic-defying principle that order can arise out of chaos, and that mind can arise out of matter, is the profoundest superstition prevalent today.

Because it attributes to matter what can only be attributed to mind: the principle of organisation, of order, of intelligibility. We know by experience that the only cause of order in the world is Mind, and as we perceive that there is an order in the world prior to the interference of our own minds, we clearly perceive the existence of a supreme Mind which pre-exists the world and which is the cause of it and its organisation. This simple deduction is the one that has caused the majority of mankind from the beginning of the world to acknowledge God and offer Him worship, and it's this simple deduction that St. Paul accuses atheists of stubbornly refusing to make in his epistle to the Romans. One only needs to perceive this simple truth that Mind is the cause of order to perceive the existence of the eternal Mind which forms the world and all created minds in their own order. To say that chaos is the cause of mind, and that our minds are caused by the chaotic interaction of particles, is to totally destroy the principle of order, reason, knowledge, truth, and to plunge us into a state of radical agnosticism (this is the upshot of Hume's sophistical "philosophy").

John Collinson said...

If my mind were caused by the chaotic or chance interaction of particles then my words should have no intelligibility (please, no sarcastic remarks). If what comes out of my mouth can ultimately be put down to chance then my words are empty and void, as are the words of all men in every age. But the truth is that my mind is in some sense a reflection of or participation in the divine Mind, in which is it is grounded, and my words - especially when they are true - are in some sense of a reflection of or participation in the eternal Word (Logos), and it is because my mind is grounded in the eternal Mind, and my word in the eternal Word, that I can think and speak truly, because all truth is grounded in that first, self-subsisting, and eternal Truth. On the other hand, if all can be put down to random particle collisions, we must ask with Pilate, "what is truth?" Then what does it matter if you condemn an innocent man to be crucified if there is no such thing as truth? This is why materialists or atom-believers, the disciples of chance or chaos, are unwittingly the advocates of tyrants and the persecutors of the innocent, because once the world has been drained of all truth and hence all distinction between right and wrong, through being dissolved into a sea of atoms, well then the weak have nothing to defend themselves with against the strong, and "might makes right".

John Collinson said...

This is why materialists or atom-believers, the disciples of chance or chaos, are unwittingly the advocates of tyrants and the persecutors of the innocent, because once the world has been drained of all truth and hence all distinction between right and wrong, through being dissolved into a sea of atoms, well then the weak have nothing to defend themselves with against the strong, and "might makes right".

And this is why I agree fully with Plato that atheists should not be allowed to live in the state. They undermine the very principle of justice, thus of all lawful society, and expose themselves as being unfit for civil society, and therefore ought to be cast out to live among the beasts whom they resemble.

It's no mistake whatsoever that now that our ruling class has thrown off God, they now perceive themselves to be god-like Übermenschen who are above all Law. They won't listen obey God's law and they won't even obey nature's law - they see themselves as being the source of all law.

In a just society, accusing someone of atheism is the most serious accusation that you can make. It is worse than murder, rape, theft. At least murders, rapists, and thieves don't necessarily deny that there is a Law above them that shall condemn them. Atheists, on the other hand, perceive no law higher than themselves, and so they are criminals in the most perfect sense and unfit for society.

Paul said...

I have long wondered if the questions of the soul's pre-existence and its state after death, are fundamentally confused by the temporal nature of our discursive, image-enabled reasoning. On an Aristotelian-Thomistic understanding, the soul is the substantial form of a human body, but has aspects that are immaterial: the intellect and its powers. From our temporal perspective, the soul begins at conception, when the substance of which it is a form is generated. Again from our temporal perspective, after death, only the immaterial aspects of the soul endure. But do they "endure" in *time*? If they are immaterial, isn't it true that these persistent aspects of the human soul can neither move or be moved in time? If we could see from the perspective of eternity, would we not see the soul as something whole and complete, with material aspects enabling participation in a particular history "within" the temporal world, and immaterial aspects existing forever unchanged "outside" the temporal?

John Collinson said...

Paul, I think you are correct.

Here is what St. Thomas says:

It is also quite clear that time does not enter into the intellectual operation of separate substances. For just as things intelligible in act are without place, so, too, are they outside of time; following upon local movement, time measures only such things as exist somehow in place. Thus, the understanding exercised by a separate substance is above time; whereas time touches our intellectual operation, through the fact that we obtain knowledge from phantasms, which have a determinate temporal reference. Hence, in composition and division our intellect always links up with time, past or future, but not in understanding what a thing is. For it understands what a thing is by abstracting intelligibles from sensible conditions; so that in this operation it grasps the intelligible apart from time and all conditions to which sensible things are subject. On the other hand, the intellect composes or divides by applying previously abstracted intelligibles to things; and in this application time is necessarily involved.

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles2.htm#96

So yes, I suppose once separated from the body, the soul would perceive all things separate from time. I think this goes a long way in answering those who wonder how the saints can pray for so many people all at once. It is quite difficult to comprehend this, but I think your understanding is profound and correct. We would not perceive the existence of God, the world, the creation of Adam & Eve, the history of the world and of salvation, the times & places & death of the saints as martyrs, as occurring in time, rather, we would understand all of these things as they are in themselves and all at once. St. Thomas says that the reason we perceive things in time is because of how intellect abstracts forms from the phantasms (the data in the senses), which is what you were referring to: "the temporal nature of our discursive, image-enabled reasoning."

Ian Wardell said...

Tom Simon
"There is also considerable documentation of silly women who recall having been Queen Cleopatra in a previous life. They can’t all be right. I find ‘data’ far too strong a word for the collection of unverifiable, implausible, and often mutually contradictory anecdotes that have been amassed by believers in reincarnation".

Whether there are such "silly women" are not, such claims are to be ignored unless substantive evidence is found backign up their claim. I am disposed to think, though,that anyone who claims to have been a famous person in a former life will almost certainly be talking nonsense. However, it would be asinine in the extreme for someone to maintain that this constitutes evidence against reincarnation.

The evidence from young children could scarcely be labelled as unverifiable. They appear to remember former lives, many of the details check out, sometimes they have birthmarks corresponding to the injury that was responsible for their deaths in the alleged former life. Then there's announcing dreams, intermission memories from in between incarnations etc. Moreover, the children don't just remember, they seemingly have an emotional identification with the former incarnation. I'm struggling to find any remotely plausible alternative hypotheses to explain all the evidence.

And why suppose any of these alternative hypotheses pertain anyway? The simplest most straightforward hypothesis is that these alleged memories are real memories.

DNW said...

I asked my friend Vinnie in Brooklyn what he thought of all this. He said,

"So like yeah. Da story is dat we humanz is all da angels you never hear about which was given a second chance. Not the devil angels and not da good angels, but da tird of dem dat was tepid and couldn't make der minds up to be good and loyal or be bad.

So like da half-hearted collaborators dey was, dey gots caught in da middle before dey could scramble back, it was all over so lightenin' quick, and dey was you might say trapped wit no way out.

So beggin and pleading and crying for mercy and another chance and all, dey got it. Dey got da chance to be born and to pay back or work out which side to join once and fer all one side or da udder after a brief time - in time, you might say.

Dat's why things dat look so unfair, like youse just got a chance to dip your toe in life and no more before it's all over, really ain't. You don't know yer own baggage, and ya asked fer it dat way - or at least agreed to da deal.

And dats why when after yer second chance is up, either da devil comes for to claim back his own traitors, or da head angel Michael, pulls ya outta purgatory and takes ya to heaven where ya had a chance to be in da first place."


Now me, I don't believe it. And I don't think Vinnie really does either. But I cannot for the life of me understand how the idea came to him in the first place.

Vincent Torley said...

I'm no fan of reincarnation, but I have to say that I find Ed's argument against it less than demonstrative. The central assumption it makes is that the human soul, while separated from the body, is unable to reason discursively, but knows things in an "all at once" fashion. As Ed explains in his post, "How to Go to Hell":

"The way we come to know things is discursively. We gather evidence, weigh it, reason from premises to conclusion, and so on. All of this follows upon our corporeality – in particular, the way we rely upon sensory experience of particular things in order to begin the process of working up to general conclusions, the way we make use of mental imagery as an aid to thought, and so forth. Error creeps in because passion or habituation interferes with the proper functioning of these cognitive processes, or because we get the facts wrong somewhere in the premises we reason from, or the like. Further inquiry can correct the error...

"At death the soul is separated from the body, a separation which involves the intellect and will – which were never corporeal faculties in the first place – carrying on without the corporeal faculties that influenced their operation during life. In effect, the soul now operates, in all relevant respects, the way an angelic intellect does...

"Nor is there any new knowledge which might change its course, since, now lacking sensation and imagination and everything that goes with them, it does not know discursively but rather in an all-at-once way, as an angel does. There is no longer any cognitive process whose direction might be corrected."

End quote.

Reasoning is part-and-parcel of human nature: humans are preeminently rational animals. The notion that separated souls are unable to reason is nonsensical: if they lacked this ability, they wouldn't be human souls.

It may be objected that reasoning requires the use of mental images. However, there is nothing to prevent God supplying such images to separated souls, to aid them in their reasoning.

Aquinas suggests that the separated soul understands "by turning to simply intelligible objects," adding that it "understands the angels by means of divinely impressed ideas" (S.T. I, q. 89, arts. 1 & 2). I would reply that if God can impress ideas of simple objects on the separated soul, then there is surely nothing to prevent Him from impressing mental images as well, and from storing our memories of past events so as to enable the separated soul to remember the past.

Steven Dillon said...

“This theory of metempsychosis, provided it allows that the soul retains through its successive reincarnations the consciousness of its own personality, and that the series at some time will have an end, cannot be shown by reason alone, we think, either to be impossible or even to be false. All that can be said is that there is not a single positive argument in its favour, and that our present ignorance of any previous existences is a strong presumption against a plurality of existences in the future.” - Cardinal Mercier. A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy, Vol. 1, London, Ed. 8, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1916 P. 326

We tend toward disembodiment when we're alive, and toward embodiment when we're dead. The laws of human nature thus form a natural cycle, whereby we take on our bodies again and again -- which doesn't necessarily mean we "look" the same each time, as that comes down to a battery of contingent, secondary causes. Unless there is reason to think we only re-embody once, and permanently (i.e. resurrection) the presumption is that the cycle continues until eventually culminating in returning to our first cause and final end. Appeals to previous life memories can corroborate this philosophical argument, but they shouldn't be the primary reason for believing in reincarnation.

Mark said...

Ian Stephenson was a fool who got conned by little kids (and their parents) because like Fox Mulder " he wanted to believe". In same cases more clear than others

This is a rather ignorant comment. Most of his serious critics do not even go down this route, since it would put make them look like a 9/11 truther conspiracy nut. Dr. Eugene Brody who is a critic of Stevenson states that his work is "meticulous", and "it seems to me unlikely that the complex effort necessary to construct a fraudulent picture, or the rewards from doing so, have occurred with sufficient frequency to account for the bulk of the observations." He believes what we are dealing with is a more of a culturally conditioned fantasy, and he believes that his explanations are far-fetched and speculative, but that he advances them due to the problems that reincarnation have with modern science. Basically, he is offering a similar criticism that Paul Edwards has offered to reincarnation. Here is a quote from Paul Edwards.

"In a simplified form, the question before a rational person can be stated in the following words: Which is more likely - that there are astral bodies, that they invade the womb of prospective mothers, and that the children can remember events from a previous life although the brains of the previous persons have long been dead, or that Stevenson's children, their parents or some of the other witnesses and informants are, intentionally or unintentionally, not telling the truth: that they are lying, or that their very fallible memories and powers of observations have led them to make false statements and bogus identifications? (p. 256)"

Paul Edwards does not argue against the evidence of the stronger cases of Ian Stevenson, all he does is apply a Humean / Bayesian critique. He states that our background knowledge of materialism makes assertions like the mind is identical to our brain states, and that if reincarnation is true, it would force us to abandon our entire scientific worldview, therefore the evidence needed to overcome possibilities like fraud or unintentional coaching is so high that it can never be overcome. I think this line of reasoning begs the question of a materialist metaphysics, and if either idealism or dualism is true, then this problem does not even arise.

I do think reincarnation is the best candidate for affirming the soul on what Kant called the summum bonum, that we affirm the immortality of the soul in that we can achieve the highest degree of virtue. One life seems to reduce heaven and hell to moral luck, and seems quite disproportionate. If I happen to fall under a spell of "weakness" and have illicit sex with some woman, and then walk outside and get hit by a bus, and go to hell for all eternity, then it is more about how circumstance or fate might affect me than whether I am truly struggling to overcome my frailties, impurities, and ignorances.

Mark said...

I do want to say that I find this interesting, and the Catholic position seems much more reasonable than the Protestant penal substitution. The idea of a mad angry god who hates sin so much that he is so enraged that he wants "blood", whether it is the blood of his son, or he wants to pummel you in hell for all eternity to satisfy his rage is obscene.

Take for example a person who craves material possessions in thought, act, and deed. His whole existence is centered around craving (tanha), and clinging (upadana) to these objects. He is generating his karma, and when he dies he will attain an existence that is in sync with this karma. It will not by no means be a perfected existence, and the bliss associated with a perfected existence. It could be a quite unpleasant existence, but he will eventually get another chance through embodiment.

I am thinking in terms of what Kant's practical postulates of the soul being the summum bonum, and God as the synthetic a priori between virtue and happiness. If you think about it this is stating that one can achieve perfection, and there is proportionality. I think reincarnation is necessary for this, one life erodes these two concepts and your eternal fate has too much of an element of moral luck, as the example I gave in my earlier comment.

Anthony J West said...

I just read the above article regarding the pre-existence of the human soul and would like to comment specifically on the idea posted that a rational spirit makes an instantaneous choice upon creation either for God or for "something less than God".
1. The concept of the "transmigration of souls" or re-incarnation was rejected by Aristotle, the Romans, the Hebrews and Aquinas.
2. When discussing Hell and salvation we move into the realm of theology and must take into consideration the Roman Catholic position espoused by Aquinas.
3. According to the Scriptures and the Catholic Religion GOD is LOVE. In order to Love it is necessary to have a Lover and a Beloved. This is resolved in GOD because HE is a TRINITY. The Father loving the Son and the Son the Father infinitely which is the pouring forth of the Holy Ghost. All Three are One yet distinct. We call this distinction Persons. GOD therefore is a Community of infinite love having no beginning and no end.
4. Love is not the beginning but actually the final goal -the actualization of benevolence toward the beloved.
5. You cannot love someone you do not know and you will only love someone you know to the degree that you know that person. Because GOD is Infinite by nature and is Simple without parts each Person of the Blessed Trinity knows instantly and infinitely the Other without effort or process. GOD IS and therefore He is infinite ACT without potential, lack, or the need for growth. If there were any potential in GOD He would NOT be GOD!
Creatures (All created things) are in process and therefore after initial creation (Genesis) all creatures must grow to full potential and then to ACT.
6. The Angels were created as pure spirit. They are by nature Non-Corporeal Non-Material. Nevertheless, even though they had infused knowledge they still had to go through a process of self discovery and a growth in understanding of themselves and their relationship to everything that exists outside of themselves. This process of understanding especially applied to their relationship with GOD (their Creator). The process of GOD revealing Himself to each and every Angel was not instantaneous. It was necessary for each Angel to assimilate the revelation of the Trinity, His relationship to each angel no only as an object outside of themselves but as the Loving Giver of the Gift of existence.
7. GOD is by nature Infinitely HUMBLE. Because He is Love He seeks nothing for HIMSELF (He has everything and needs nothing) but He is infinitely other oriented. It is only rational creatures who have the audacity to be PROUD.
8. Therefore the choice is clear for all rational creatures, in the end they must chose to Love GOD and His Creation as He loves us (to humbly seek the benefit of the other without thought of self and to therefore serve) or to seek the false god of SELF and to pridefully reject the other in order to serve SELF). God will eternally ratify our final decision.
9. For human creatures, unlike the angels who are pure spirit we are the zenith and summit of all creation because we possess elements of all GOD's creation within us. We have Spirit and we have Body. The human spirit is essentially the same as that of an angel with the addition of a element of animation to the living body which we call the soul. Every living creature has a soul (life principle) it is either a material soul or a spiritual soul. Humans are the only creature that has a spiritual soul. Material souls animate a body (an amoeba, tree, alligator, elephant, dog or cat) this soul (with a few exceptions) will end at the death of the creature whose body it animates. A spiritual soul is by nature eternal and exists even when separated from the body.
10. The point is we are created human and to be human means to have body and spiritual soul united at the moment of conception. It is the spirit's use of the body where it begins to learn and know and will eventually be given the choice to know, love and serve GOD or to serve SELF. Sadly, most souls chose SELF.

Thursday said...

the Aristotelian thesis that the human soul is the substantial form of the living human body. (See sections 9 and 10 of SCG Book II, Chapter 83, linked to above.) More precisely, it is the substantial form of a substance which has both corporeal faculties (as other animals do) and incorporeal faculties (as angels do).

I'm taking a course on De Anima with Lloyd Gerson. The above is the Thomist view, but I'm not sure it is Aristotle's view. Aristotle seems to think the intellect is separate from the soul and that what we really are is the intellect.

Thursday said...

Reasoning is part-and-parcel of human nature: humans are preeminently rational animals. The notion that separated souls are unable to reason is nonsensical: if they lacked this ability, they wouldn't be human souls.

Reasoning is not the same as reasoning discursively in time. God reasons, so to speak, but not discursively. Likewise, our immaterial intellects always reason, even after separation from the body, but not necessarily discursively in time.

Troy Tice said...

FM's comments regarding the work of Ian Stevenson are laughingly ill-informed. He reminds me of one of Coyne's acolytes who once attacked Dr. Feser under the mistaken impression that he subscribed to Aristotelian physics.

jps said...

'Only problem is that those 3000 "cases" are all anecdotal, often flawed and easily explainable without the need for reaincarnation to be put on the table.'

That's really not true. Stephenson was a careful researcher and followed all the protocols that would be expected, were he studying medical epidemiology or some other subject matter. He rejected any cases where he suspected fraud or manipulation. So it's unfair to simply dismiss Stephenson as a gullible fool, and a lot of the motivation for that, is cultural hostility.

There's a recent scientific american column https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/ian-stevensone28099s-case-for-the-afterlife-are-we-e28098skepticse28099-really-just-cynics/


Callum said...

Another good post Ed. Im liking this little series.

I think this is an interesting argument against reincarnation in general and preexisting souls specifically, however, i think that the account of how we specifically think, reason and decide, though ingenious as Aquinas typically is, starts to get somewhat speculative.

However, the specific arguments for realism, some type of dualism and hylemorphism are very strong in my view. If hylemorphism is true it would so make the cases of children remembering past lives as useless evidence for reincarnation. Taken with scientific evidence of where memories are stored in the brain and the strong correlation of memory distortion with specific manipulation of specific parts of the brain, along with the philosophical arguments for hylemorphism and the corporeal dependency of memories, makes reincarnation memories biologically and metaphysically absurd.

Anthony J West said...

It is also possible that "reincarnation" is merely a demonic deception. The fallen angels who in fact chose SELF rather than GOD are filled with anger and hatred of humanity who have multiple opportunities to turn and repent.
They have several weapons to discourage and deceive humanity. To give the false hope of reincarnation would be a master stroke because what it says is that eventual union with GOD is assured and hell is only a temporary state of being.

John West said...

No relation. :-D

Ian Wardell said...

Callum,

I think that if the Aristotelian conception of the "soul" entails that it comes into being at birth (or shortly beforehand), this makes such a conception of the soul in my opinion to be extraordinarily implausible (and even more so if non-human animals are not souls, or don't have souls). I give my reasons why I reject the notion we spring into being at birth and then exist forevermore in a short blog entry (http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/life-before-birth.html)


About memories. Physical things/processes can't store memories. Memories as in information can be stored, yes, but that's not memory in the everyday sense where we recollect prior events in our lives eg 1001010101 is not literally the same thing as a memory of something I did yesterday, just as the word green is not literally the very same thing as my understanding of what it is like to experience greenness. It couldn’t be anyway since different words in different languages are used to convey greenness. And the knot I tie in my handkerchief, to remind me of something, is not literally the memory itself etc.

Suppose I try to remember something. I don’t have to hold it in my mind, I can write it down in a notebook. So my memory is stored there. Later on I look in my notebook in order to retrieve my memory. But wait! How do I understand what I’ve written down? I have to be able to remember the meanings of the words I’ve written down. So I would need to make a 2nd lot of notes in order to remember the meaning of the words composing the first lot of notes. But this process just goes on without end. That is to say we get an infinite regress. So saying our memories are stored is explanatorily vacuous.

I propose therefore that memories are a direct perception of one's past history. (direct need not entail that such memories are completely accurate just as direct visual perception need not entail that what you see can’t be blurred due to poor eyesight).

I also don't know why you imagine memories depend upon the brain. In the general case, if x affects y, would this always mean that y could not exist without x? And what about phenomena like terminal lucidity?

I have no idea why it is metaphysically absurd for memories to exist independently of the brain. Even if the influence of memories by brain processes made brain -independent memories impossible, this couldn't make such memories *metaphysically* absurd. Or even non-metaphysically absurd.

No, sorry, I find your post unconvincing. I am though genuinely interested in any arguments against reincarnation. Even if there were no evidence whatsoever for reincarnation, I think I would still subscribe to it. I mean what is special about *one* life compared to 2, or 50, or even 0 lives? Yes 0 lives. It is conceivable that some souls never incarnate on the earth but forevermore subsist in the beforelife/afterlife realm(s).

Ilíon said...

Anthony J West: "It is also possible that "reincarnation" is merely a demonic deception."

That's how I'd lean without strong reason to lean otherwise.

And, that scares me a bit --

When he was very small (pre-school age), my great-nephew claimed, on more than one occasion, to be his own grandfather, who had died 15 or 20 years before he was born. He said to his father one time (*), "Well, you know Vince, I am your father."

(*) The boy had been telling his father, Vince, about a dog he (Vince) had had when he was young, before his (Vince's) father had died. Vince had never mentioned this dog to his little boy, and had asked something like, "What? How'd you know about [the dog]?"

Mark said...

It is also possible that "reincarnation" is merely a demonic deception. The fallen angels who in fact chose SELF rather than GOD are filled with anger and hatred of humanity who have multiple opportunities to turn and repent.
They have several weapons to discourage and deceive humanity. To give the false hope of reincarnation would be a master stroke because what it says is that eventual union with GOD is assured and hell is only a temporary state of being.


I won't comment on what Callum said, since I think Ian did a good job of showing the problems with his position. I will comment on what Anthony J West has said. I think Anthony's line of reasoning is flawed, since it would require using extreme forms of skepticism selectively. No one is presupposing Hinduism or Buddhism in the defense of reincarnation, so why should you use Christian ideas to critique the doctrine? It is all about the phenomenology, Jim Tucker has stated that these children experience these ideas as memories. I experience what I did yesterday as memories, it is logically possible that some evil demon has created me 5 minutes ago, and has placed in my mind memories of what I have done with what I believe to be my life, but I don't introduce that extreme level of skepticism to account for these memories, so why should be introduce this skepticism for reincarnation based memories. If the phenomenology is that of a memory, you should accept it as a memory, unless you have very good reason not to.

I am right now engaging in recall of what I did yesterday, and the recall is phenomenologically experienced as something that I did. Just like there is a qualia, or something like it is to experience a color, there is also a phenomenology of a memory. So why the selective use of an extreme type of skepticism, when it comes to an idea that you don't like, but when it comes to other ideas, the skepticism becomes much more mitigated?

Ilíon said...

Mark: "Jim Tucker has stated that these children experience these ideas as memories."

As I understand it, my great-nephew's claim to be his own grandfather is based on experienced memories.

And yet, it's only a couple of random/disconnected memories. He's still a young boy. He still had to learn everything everyone else has to learn: how to sit up, how to walk, how to talk, how to use the toilet, how to name the colors and count and read and write. He plays with the toys and has the interests that boys his age generally have.

It seems to me that if I were reincarnated, I'd still be me. Sure, I might have to learn to control the new body I inhabit, and I expect I'd be clumsy until I was five or six. But, wouldn't I have adult interests -- and knowledge -- essentially the same as I now have?

Callum said...

Ian,

You didn't find my post convincing because i didnt even properly state why i believe Hylemorphic dualism to undermine reincarnation, let alone expand on it. It was simply a statement of my opinion on the matter. Just to make it clear, i think memories of a person passing from one to another is metaphysically absurd based on Hylemorphic dualism and realism. In short, due to philosophical considerations rather than scientific evidence. Im a critic of neurobabble as Ed would call it, i just think the close proximity between the mind and brain (and at least the appearance of dependency on the brain for certain capacities) are completely compatible with hylemorphism more than any other dualism. Dont get me wrong, Cartesian dualism is better than no dualism, but it doesnt have the explanatory power and simplicity of hylemorphism.

Its not just Hylemorphic dualism (which can be argued for based on other Aristotelian doctrines like Act/Potency and finality) but realism about universals specifically (which is another argument for hylemorphism) which makes reincarnation seem Incoherent. But then, most of this comes from Feser's book the Last Superstition.

Callum said...

Also Ian, i think you aren't too familiar with Hylemorphic dualism when you say "if non-human animals are not souls, or don't have souls". Not only do animals have "souls" but vegetation does too. Just not immaterial souls, or aspects of the soul tjat could in principle exist beyond death.

Thursday said...

Physical things/processes can't store memories.

The recall of sense perceptions is physical according to Aristotle.

Mark said...

llion

My point was that to introduce a demon placing memories in the child would be no different that stating that I just came into existence five minutes ago, and a demon placed memories into my mind. It seems like a selective application of extreme skepticism to reincarnation based memories that we do not apply to other types of memories. The most reasonable explanation should be based upon the phenomenology of the experience. I do realize this could be a problem considering the cases are small children, but if somehow I was to have memories of a previous life, I would believe them to be memories of a previous life in the same way that I believe my memories of what I did yesterday are my memories, and not an evil demon tricking me.

I don't have enough knowledge to comment on the situation with your great-nephew, the thing about the Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker case studies is that they are very detailed and they go through a rigorous methodology.

As far as what constitutes the person, and whether it is you that reincarnates, I would say that there has to be some core personality and a mindstream of subjectivity persists. For this, I would have to get to elements from a Hindu or Buddhist metaphysics, but here is an article by Ian Stevenson that might help.

https://med.virginia.edu/perceptual-studies/wp-content/uploads/sites/267/2015/11/STE55.pdf

Ian Wardell said...

llion
"It seems to me that if I were reincarnated, I'd still be me. Sure, I might have to learn to control the new body I inhabit, and I expect I'd be clumsy until I was five or six. But, wouldn't I have adult interests -- and knowledge -- essentially the same as I now have?"

That would also apply to just one's present life. As a child I could have considered that my adult self will no longer be interested in the things I am interested in now. No longer interested in reading Enid Blyton books, watching Scooby Doo or playing hide and seek etc. Would that mean my adult self is not me? If so, when do I cease to exist? Even my drunk self is quite *literally* a different person to my sober self. So no point to my sober self having a few pints of beer since *I* won't experience it.

I think one would be compelled to adopt a materialist conception of the "self", namely there is no enduring or persisting self as such, it's all an illusion. I find such a conception of the self to be implausible.

Instead we might abandon the idea of supposing one's interests, psychological dispositions actually *constitute* the self. Perhaps instead they are properties of the self. Think of a container and lots of objects filling that container. Compare the container to the self, and the objects within it to one's personality characteristics. Just as the objects themselves are not the container, so our experiences, intelligence, interests etc are not the very same thing as the self. Moreover, the objects are all different shapes and not any shape will fit into any container. Likewise not any personality characteristic will go with any self. The nature of one's self will limit the possible personality characteristics.

jps said...

Individuals are born with predelictions, attributes, characteristics, talents, or conversely, vices, bad tempers, and inherent tendency to violence, and so on. Where do these originate? Science only has one answer, which is genetics. I can understand how genes can transmit eye colour and height, but talent? I don't think we have an account for that. I think, in some ways, the cultural milieu is also a medium of transmission (an idea which can be rationalised somewhat against recent discoveries such as epigenetics). But the 'threads of personal identity' seem to originate somewhere before birth, whether actually or analogically. What happens afterwards certainly has an enormous influence, but we are not born tabula rasa.

Furthermore, what about at the other end of life? Fair enough to say 'repent and be saved', but are there degrees? Is it binary choice, set against the backdrop of 'all eternity'? What about all nearly-saved, or the backsliding-saved? Virtuous pagans, noble atheists? What happens to them? (I suppose 'limbo' is one answer, but I had the idea that limbo had been put into, well, limbo.)

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

I think the first thing here is to make clear what one means by soul. Traditionally one means all that we consider defines what we really are, including our moral character, our tastes, our beliefs and faith in them, our way of thinking, and so on. All of these do not exist by themselves but hang on a single, simple, immutable, subject – the “I”. All of these change with time (both in ourselves as in the people we know) but they change slowly and in a meaningful way around the “I”. All of these supervene on the physical state of our body – this much was suspected even in antiquity and is pretty well known today. Finally all of these appear to survive and even grow, while the body changes a lot and becomes old and frail (except some rare occasions of mental illness or deterioration when it seems that the soul is hidden away). So the thought arose that even though all of these are bound to the body they are of a deeper substance than the body and survive the body's demise at death.

All of these then was called “soul”, the kind of thing that does not follow the rules of matter and thus an immaterial substance. Indeed it was thought that the soul is what gives life to the body, but when the body has withered away at some point the soul leaves it.

Now all religions are built on the premise that the good is the foundational metaphysical principle, and thus also that justice always holds. Responding then to the problem of apparent lack of justice (which one may today recognize as a version of the problem from evil, namely that justice is usually not done in this life) naturally enough the idea arose that complete justice would be done to the soul after it left the body at death. In the Eastern religions it was held that the soul reincarnates (given a new body and new life) in a way that balances the scales of justice. So, a good soul that suffered unjustly in the previous life will find a good body and be reborn in happy circumstances, whereas an evil soul that had a pleasant previous life will find a bad body and be reborn in dire circumstances (indeed even as an animal). The Eastern idea of reincarnation does not hold that the complete soul reincarnates, so for example it is obviously not the case that the reincarnated soul keeps, say, all its beliefs from its previous incarnation. In the simplest understanding only the I of the soul reincarnates having shed all other attributes, and starts anew in its new body with a new soul. But I understand that according to Hinduism and Buddhism some of the deepest attributes of the I's soul reincarnate also. So the basic moral character, tastes, and so on, even perhaps some deep beliefs, reincarnate also either as such or as direction. In which case the body the soul reincarnates to is in some sense custom-made for that particular soul. This view allows not only for reincarnation but for advancement, until presumably after many reincarnations the soul meets perfection at so-called nirvana and thus escapes its cycling through bodies. A final observation. At least in principle the idea of reincarnation does not entail a linear sequence in time; so it may be that a soul reincarnates into some previous time in history, it may be that an I is reincarnated multiple times in the same age (so several people living today may be a reincarnation of Cleopatra), and it may even be that only one “I” exists.

To the degree I comprehend A-T metaphysics I don't see a fundamental problem with either interpretation of reincarnation above (the “I” alone reincarnates, or the I plus the deepest soul reincarnates). After all the traditional Christian belief is that the entire soul “reincarnates” albeit in its original body in some substantial sense. So, as far as I can see, the Eastern theory for solving the problem of justice comports pretty well with A-T metaphysics.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

Leaving the viability of the Eastern theory of reincarnation aside, what I do fail to see is how A-T metaphysics accounts for the “I”. The “I” appears to be metaphysically fundamental and is in this sense prior to any physical body (if, contra subjective idealism, such physical bodies are metaphysically distinct from the soul). If God wants to create a pure “I” without any more soul (and of course not a body for the soul to supervene on, or to be the form of), I don't see why that would be impossible. Conversely, if God wants to create an “I” with an immaterial soul very different from or far beyond the kind of souls we humans are given, then again I don't see the metaphysical impossibility. Now arguably all creaturely souls are necessarily made in God's image – and if so it follows that some fundamentals must be present in all souls – but on the other hand there may be souls quite different from ours, such as for example the angels one encounters in the stories in the Old and New Testament. Indeed for all we know a soul may grow in kind, and thus perhaps human souls in heaven will undergo such transformation. If so it makes no sense to try to imagine how it is for me to be in heaven, for even though the subject that is me will be there the soul that is me may be transformed. (As far as I understand it, this comports with the traditional Christian view of the raising of our bodies to be rejoined with our souls, since these bodies are not presumed to be exactly like the bodies we have now). Finally, the fact that the “I” is metaphysically simple does not imply that it is not destructible, nor that it is necessarily separate – so I don't see why two subjects cannot join into one. To make myself clear: Here I am only talking about metaphysical possibilities and am not suggesting anything whatsoever about what is true. Except for the obvious that we should simply feel safe trusting the Good Shepherd with our souls.

Gyan said...

Ilion,
"is your body even the same body as it was yesterday?"

Yes, of course. A body is an perduring entity. It may lose or gain some cells or atoms but the body remains. This is what a "body" means.

John Collinson said...

Dianelos Georgoudis,

If God wants to create a pure “I” without any more soul (and of course not a body for the soul to supervene on, or to be the form of), I don't see why that would be impossible.

These are what St. Thomas called separate substances (separate from matter), i.e. angels. Angels do not have the vegetative or animal part that the human soul has, they are purely intellectual substances.

Finally, the fact that the “I” is metaphysically simple does not imply that it is not destructible, nor that it is necessarily separate

The simplicity of the soul does not mean that it is indestructible, but it does mean that it is incorruptible, because the corruption of a substance implies the decomposition of its parts, and a simple substance has no parts. This means that the only way for the soul to be destroyed is if God annihilated it, because there is no natural power (physical or spiritual) than cause the destruction of the simple soul. And yes, the intellectual soul is not necessarily separate, as in the case of man it is united with the body, containing vegetative and animal parts as well as the simple, incorruptible intellectual part.

John Collinson said...

I don't think that reincarnation can be reconciled with A-T metaphysics because the latter sees the substantial form of man as including the body. So the intellectual soul of man belongs properly to a human body by nature. It is not some separate, spiritual substance than can wear any kind of animal body - it is a substantially human soul, that must inhabit a human body.

In the scriptures you do find demons entering pigs and controlling their bodies; but that does not mean that the intellectual spirit of the demon has been substantially united to the pig, and become a pig soul. It means that the demon is performing an external operation on the pig. On other hand, the human soul is united to the human body not merely by external operation, but by a union which includes internal operations. It is feasible to imagine that once separated from the body, the human spirit could go around and influence animals in the way that the demons influenced pigs, but the human soul could never become incarnate in a pig's body and become a pig soul.

John Collinson said...

The fundamental difference between A-T and metempsychosis/reincarnation, is that the latter sees the soul/body as forming one united substance, whereas the latter sees the soul and body as two separate substances which happen to be working together at one particular time, but the soul could just as easily be working with another body. In the A-T view, particular souls belong to particular bodies by nature and by substance. Your soul cannot depart this body and live in another body, human, animal, or plant. It will always belong to your body, the body which you have now.

Ian Wardell said...

@John Collinson
If you subscribe to reincarnation you wouldn't necessarily thereby believe that one's soul could "inhabit" *any* body. It is very possible that human souls can only "inhabit" human bodies, and perhaps only some human bodies at that. I would speculate that the "soul" naturally gravitates only towards certain appropriate bodies. And there's no good evidence suggesting people had former incarnations as animals in any case.

So the "soul" can "inhabit" other bodies, but we would still be very different, just as our adult selves are very different from when we were children.

@Dianelos Georgoudis

I'm not convinced it matters what Buddhism and Hinduism say (or indeed Christianity). Surely we should try and think things through for ourselves rather than blindly subscribing to some organised religion? So just because one subscribes to reincarnation doesn't mean one has to embrace karma. Reincarnation might simply be a blind "mechanistic" type of process. Also I'm not convinced it makes sense for many people to be the same soul, nor that we could reincarnate in the past. The past would then have to literal exist which I find problematic. In fact it introduces the same difficulties as backwards time travel! And there's zero evidence for it.

Ilíon said...

Ilíon: "Is your body the same body as when you were a single-celled organism? For that matter, is your body even the same body as it was yesterday?"

Gyan: "Yes, of course. A body is an perduring entity. It may lose or gain some cells or atoms but the body remains. This is what a "body" means."

To say that the human organism is a "perduring entity" really just begs the question I had asked.

If you smash a stone into powder, does the stone still exist (it is the same stone)? If you break a stone into tem pieces, does the stone still exist (it is the same stone)? If you break a stone into two equal pieces, does the stone still exist (it is the same stone)? If you break a chip off stone, does the stone still exist (it is the same stone)? If you break a microscopic chip off stone, does the stone still exist (it is the same stone)? If you remove a single atom from stone, does the stone still exist (it is the same stone)?

At what point does your 'No' become 'Yes'? and by what criteria?

And why do those criteria which allow the 'No' to change to 'Yes' apply to the stone, which is a body, but not to your organism, which is a body? Why is it that at some level of change the stone ceases to exist, but that same level of change to the human body can be shrugged off without a thought?

Ilíon said...

John Collinson: "... And yes, the intellectual soul is not necessarily separate, as in the case of man it is united with the body, containing vegetative and animal parts as well as the simple, incorruptible intellectual part."

So, human persons, being unions of these disparate parts, do not exist when the union does not exist?

Ilíon said...

John Collinson: "... Your soul cannot depart this body and live in another body, human, animal, or plant. It will always belong to your body, the body which you have now."

So, my soul will always belong to the body I *now* have; not to the body I had as it was when I was a single-celled organism, not to the body I had as it was when I was five years old, not to the body I had as it was before my legs were (hypothetically) amputated, not to the body I will have as it is at the time of my death? Or is this *now* a moving Now, such that my soul will always belong to the body I have at the time of my death ... in which case, the Resurrection is a worse that any curse-of-immortality found in Greco-Roman mythology.

John Collinson said...

So, human persons, being unions of these disparate parts, do not exist when the union does not exist?

Well, human personhood comes from the rational soul, so the person still exists even after the soul has departed the body. But the full human being or substance ceases to exist: what remains is an incomplete or mutilated human substance.

Here's a poor analogy: imagine if you chopped a tree down but left the roots in ground. It's not a tree anymore in the fullest sense, but it still subsists in a partial way and can potentially become a full tree again.

So, my soul will always belong to the body I *now* have; not to the body I had as it was when I was a single-celled organism, not to the body I had as it was when I was five years old, not to the body I had as it was before my legs were (hypothetically) amputated, not to the body I will have as it is at the time of my death? Or is this *now* a moving Now, such that my soul will always belong to the body I have at the time of my death ... in which case, the Resurrection is a worse that any curse-of-immortality found in Greco-Roman mythology.

The body that you have now is substantially the same body as when you were first conceived in the womb, and when you were 5 years old. Your body might have changed accidentally (in size, shape, etc.), but it is still the same substance.

John Collinson said...

Also, bodies at the resurrection will be in the mostly fully actualized form, i.e. mature adult without any defects of aging or physical injury or impairment. I don't think those with genetic defects in this world will have them in the next.

Robert Byers said...

Yes the bible seems to say the soul exists before the body.
our soul has no sexual identity. that only comes after getting a body at conception.
there is no male/female in heaven.
Angels must have souls also. yet no body.
The soul is seaprate from the body and made in gods image. The god image exists before ant body and could only be we are first created in that image and then thrown into nature.

Tony said...

And why do those criteria which allow the 'No' to change to 'Yes' apply to the stone, which is a body, but not to your organism, which is a body? Why is it that at some level of change the stone ceases to exist, but that same level of change to the human body can be shrugged off without a thought?

Ilion, in this case it is precisely the fact that the stone lacks something which the animal or plant has: a PRINCIPLE of integrity and unity, that makes the whole thing to be a whole this thing really, not accidentally: a soul. The stone is an entirely accidental conglomerate of smaller things, and there is no inherent principle which makes it to be a real unitary thing the way a tree is. Or a horse. If you had a stone and chopped off a tenth of it, it would still be just as "true" and "complete" as a stone as before, for there is nothing that losing a tenth of "itself" would imply about it failing to be a complete stone. But if your horse loses a leg or even something as small as an eye, you cannot say it is unharmed as a horse - it is a damaged horse, an incomplete one, one that is defective. That's because it is not simply an accretion of many bits and pieces, but is a thing made of parts that are integral to the whole, determined by the form "horse" which infuses all of the matter with its substantial unity. That form is the soul of the horse.

Tony said...

Yes the bible seems to say the soul exists before the body.

@ Robert Byers: Where? And, is that the ONLY reasonable reading of the passage?

Tony said...

So, my soul will always belong to the body I *now* have; not to the body I had as it was when I was a single-celled organism, not to the body I had as it was when I was five years old, not to the body I had as it was before my legs were (hypothetically) amputated, not to the body I will have as it is at the time of my death?

Ilion, one of the foundational points of the act - potency and the substance - accident concepts is to provide intelligibility to the notion that a one thing can persist while changes are going on with it. An apple changing from green to red does not cease to be the same* apple that it was, it remains the same in identity. An infant who grows from 10 lbs. to 20 lbs in 2 years doesn't change identity, it remains the same in individual being throughout the change. This is because some changes are changes of accidental form, not substantial form. A person changing from not knowing how to multiply numbers, to then knowing how to multiply numbers, CHANGES, but does not change in identity. He changes in something accidental, something less definitive than identity, something less critical than that: accidental form. A boy who learns how to throw a spiral football pass does not change his underlying identity, he REMAINS that same identity, and changes with respect to accidental form. The substantial form is that of "human", which persists throughout this, and is that in virtue of which he remains the same individual being before knowing how to throw, and after. Similarly, the human being changing from one-celled to many celled, and then to many-organed, does not undergo a change from human to some other substance, nor a change from one human being to a human being of a different identity, he remains the same one substantial being throughout.

Gyan said...

Ilion,
To say "your body" is to concede that the body perdures. Our minds do immediately grasp the wholes. It is the atoms we infer through chains of reasoning.

Gyan said...

Ilion,
To say "your body" is to concede that the body perdures. Our minds do immediately grasp the wholes. It is the atoms we infer through chains of reasoning.

Jeremy Taylor said...

JPS and Mark (and maybe others?) are correct. Stevenson and Tucker were/are careful and thorough researchers. Their reports are of spontaneous cases (ie., non-laboratory), but I don't see how that invalidates them. The evidence they provide is certainly not clear-cut evidence for reincarnation - but their research can't be dismissed out of hand as nonsense or fraud. There is something in it that deserves a closer look, at least.

Ilíon said...

Gyan: "To say "your body" is to concede that the body perdures. Our minds do immediately grasp the wholes. It is the atoms we infer through chains of reasoning."

No it isn't; it's to use the wording necessitated by our language. Our minds also make mistakes, not only in reasoning but also in intuition.

We don't have to think about the problem in terms of atoms. We don't even have to take into account the fact that we *know* that our bodies begin their lives as single-celled organisms. We can look at the difference between a new-born, a five year old, a teen, an adult-in-his-prime, an adult-in-his-dotage, a corpse, a wholly disintegrated corpse (i.e. nothing left of it that we can detect), the otherwise healthy body of a person who has lost one of more limbs or organs, and so on.

Anonymous said...

"and a human soul is either saved or damned immediately upon death."
what about purgatory then? if we are either damned or saved immediately doesn't that position deny the existence of purgatory? also if change of any sort is to be possible in purgatory, bodies will be required as w/o them we can not experience change.

could you please clarify how your position doesn't make purgatory impossible/unnecessary and therefore contradict catholic doctrine on purgatory?

Thx.

Mark said...

Anonymous Jeremy Taylor said... JPS and Mark (and maybe others?) are correct. Stevenson and Tucker were/are careful and thorough researchers. Their reports are of spontaneous cases (ie., non-laboratory), but I don't see how that invalidates them. The evidence they provide is certainly not clear-cut evidence for reincarnation - but their research can't be dismissed out of hand as nonsense or fraud. There is something in it that deserves a closer look, at least.

The methodology does not allow for controlled laboratory conditions, neither does that of meteorology or paleontology. The methods of these two disciplines like that of Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker are investigative, the only difference is that the meteorologist and the paleontologist are dealing with natural phenomena and not the testimony of people, so the possibility of a fraud or hoax, or a culturally conditioned fantasy is not as big of a problem. There is no such thing as a spurious hurricane, though someone could plant a fossil. This possibility in the method of reincarnation research is what the skeptics run wild with, making the logical possibility of something given the methodology into the most reasonable explanation even with the lack of any evidence of fraud or hoax, or even if a culturally conditioned fantasy is completely unreasonable.

This is done based upon a Humean / Bayesian approach. The prior probability of reincarnation is stated to be very low considering that it would go against materialistic science, therefore the possibility of fraud or hoax, or a culturally conditioned fantasy should be taken as the default, even if it is far-fetched and speculative.

I think this is the end result of the debate, it seems as if people who are in here and argue against reincarnation, do so on the impossibility of it based upon a certain metaphysics, in this sense Thomism, for the atheist it would be reductionistic materialism. Arguing the evidence alone, and setting reincarnation, fraud, or culturally conditioned fantasy as equally probable is a losing battle for the critic of Ian Stevenson, since he was very diligent in his process. You will need to set the prior probability of reincarnation as near infinitesimally low or impossible based upon a metaphysical background to attack his studies.

As far as reincarnation being the best explanation for the experiences if you accept the evidence, and don't have metaphysical objections, that is due to the most reasonable balance of credulity and skepticism. Here is the reason that I don't think it is demon possession. The child is claiming a phenomenology of a memory, just as I claim about what I did yesterday. I don't think an evil demon has tricked me into believing that what I believe are my memories are really just tricks of his, so why should we put that much higher degree of skepticism for reincarnation based memories, it seems utterly arbitrary.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I was agreeing with you. I do not take the fact that these are spontaneous cases to mean they can simply be dismissed. This is not just the case in the issue of reincarnation. Contrary to what FM said, there are other areas of psychical research where the evidence cannot just be dismissed, even if it reasonable people can still disagree about it.

The a priori materialist argument you refer to is more or less a variation of Hume's argument against miracles. I don't find this persuasive, though it is an argument that should be taken seriously.

My understanding is that even within the psychical research/parapsychology community, there has long been a raging controversy about whether such cases are indicative of survival or can be explained through something like super-psi. The question is what is the best explanation, and how probable is it. I think there could be all sorts of explanations for the children having the memories. I think it would take a lot to definitely say that the evidence shows reincarnation.

Ian Wardell said...

Excellent comment Mark. I'm in entire agreement with you.

Robert Byers said...

Tony. The bible constantly talks about the soul and the body its in. God created the soul and only puts it into a body where there has been sexual conception.
The soul was created before the body also because God wanting souls to be saved has to put those souls he has chosen into bodies that easily come within earshot of truth.
Otherwise God would be accused of favoring englishmen for the true faith.
our souls being predestined must therefore be created before the body.

Gyan said...

Ilion,
I am not sure what precisely you are contesting or denying.
The affirmation of perduring bodies is prior to any (sane) reasoning. And how the perduring bodies can undergo change is explained within the Thomistic framework. I am unaware of a superior framework that handles it better,.

Gyan said...

Robert Byers,
There is an equivocation in the term "soul". Philosophically, human soul is the form of a human being and is common to all humans. But a soul that is created at conception--a better wording would be that rational soul is infused at conception--that soul which survives our deaths and is separated from its proper body i.e. the individual soul with its individual blemishes and virtues is perhaps better called "spirit" of a particular person.

"our souls being predestined must therefore be created before the body."
It is not the soul that is predestined but the person.

jps said...

Also agree with @Mark's comments above. I was the one who originally raised the research into past-life memories. A couple of points - Stephenson never claimed to have proved that re-incarnation had occured; careful as he was, he always said these cases suggested it.

But it is a culturally sensitive subject in the context , because the 'pre-existence of souls' has been anathema in Catholic doctrine since the very early days of the church. So it wasn't my intention in raising it, to try and prove that it is the case, but it is of interest at least philosophically speaking.

The other point is that Buddhists, for whom belief in 'the eternal round of birth and death' is a given, don't actually believe in the concept of a self-existent, unitary soul that migrates from life to life. Their whole conception is much more like a 'stream of consciousness' (citta-santana). This is connected to the metaphysics of the 'storehouse consciousness' (Alaya-Vijñāna, somewhat similar to Jung's 'collective unconscious) which in turn is part of the lexicon of Buddhist idealism, Yogācāra , or 'mind-only Buddhism'. I think that these are much more like the kinds of ideas that filtered down to Plato via Orphism (and thence to Origen, who was a Christian Platonist) before being declared anathema by the Christian Churches around 400 AD (although belief in reincarnation persisted amongst gnostic sects such as the Cathars.)

Anyway, that is a bit of comparitive l analysis that others here might find interesting if only from an anthropological perspective.

Gyan said...

Tom Simon,
"If the soul is the substantial form of the body, how can it be the same soul if you substitute a different body?"

Does it mean that each individual human body /person has its substantial form an individual soul that corresponds to that particular body/person?

I don't think this is true. Rather the human beings are defined by having a particular substantial form. As the form "horse" is common to all horses (that's why they get to be called horses), the form "human" is common to all human beings.

Gyan said...

Mark,
You wrote previously
". One life seems to reduce heaven and hell to moral luck, and seems quite disproportionate"

One needs to trust in the divine justice. Even more, in the divine mercy.

Callum said...

Hume's argument against is miracles if false due to Bayesian probability. As long as the prior probability is a non zero value then the direct evidence for the phenomenon can in principle overcome the priors.

However, it will not do for the defender of reincarnation to simply allude to the fact Hume's argument doesnt work, because it is also true that if the prior probability is zero then no ammount of evidence can trump that. This is why Ed is laying the ground work for A-T metaphysics and arguing that what it entails is in principle incompatible with reincarnation. In affecr, arguing that the prior probability is zero! Far from rehashing Hume's argument, its taking into account Hume's failure. Appealing to Stevenson's work doesnt address the metaphysical arguments that need to be addressed before you can look at the evidence. Although, even when looking at the particular evidence of Stevenson, i dont think it is particularly strong. Even he acknowledged it only suggested it, but i think other hypothesis and critiques have hampered the reincarnation hypothesis in being the far better hypothesis.

Ian Wardell said...

Callum, I don't regard the prior probability for reincarnation as being zero -- on the contrary, I regard it as being very high (I can paste in my arguments for this if anyone desires). What would need to be done is to show that the A-T metaphysics is *necessarily* true -- in particular that "the human soul is the substantial form of the living human body" (and if this is the case then surely we simply wholly cease to exist when our bodies finally cease functioning?). If you could point to any such arguments anywhere that would be good.

Of course the evidence only *suggests* rather than proves reincarnation. My memory that I have previously commented on here only suggests rather than proves that I did so.

What other hypotheses do you regard as being more compelling than the reincarnation hypothesis? Would you regard these alternative hypotheses as more compelling even if you judged the prior probability of reincarnation to be 90%?

Callum said...

Ofcourse you dont believe reincarnation has a prior probability of zero, you're not an Aristotelian or Thomist! I think this is why metaphysics is necessary for any conversation on reincarnation.
I don't think that A-T is needed to be shown to be neccessarily true, but you raise a good point. Can metaphysics ever be demonstrated with deductive certainty? I think some ideas can be, that change is a real feature of the world for example. However, I think that the rest of the A-T apparatus is very strong and reinforcing, but is hylemorphism, for example, demonstrated neccessarily or with certainty? I think not. I just think that it has exemplary explanatory power etc. But I think we can show that reincarnation has a zero probability (or it wouldn't be up for discussion).
However, i dont think this is the end of the discussion. In the McGrew's article in the Blackwell Companion note how the Bayes factor, or the specific evidence, would at least shift the burden of proof onto critics to justify why the prior probability should be so low that it isnt overcome by the Bayes factor. Or, why the prior probability is so low for reincarnation that it isnt trumped by stevenson's work. The A-T would be glad to shoulder this burden of proof. If he is correct, afterall, the prior probability is zero, ive already noted that i think that, on A-T metaphysics, reincarnation is metaphysically absurd.
But you've raised an interesting point about whether something could be shown the have a prior probability of zero (aside from things like square circles) or whether we arguing that the more rational position is to think the PP is zero (which A-T entails). A question for brighter minds than me, however, i have no worries that a Thomist could shoulder his burden of proof and at least provide good arguments that the PP is ridiculously low if not zero.

Callum said...

As for pointing you to arguments for A-T metaphysics, hylemorphism and substantial forms as souls in particular, look no further than the author of this site! Aquinas is quite good but i think the arguments for realism in The Last Superstition a helpful too. Both books deal with the soul and arguments for it in the Thomistic sense. Scholastic metaphysics doesn't really go into the soul but as you can tell defends all of the foundations upon which it is built. I want to read Odeberg's Real Essentialism but havent yet so wont recommended it. Dr. Feser does though so make of that what you will.

Also, i would agree with Stevenson if he meant the evidence is merely suggestive. If you are arguing he meant the evidence was akin to your memory of writing on this blog, then i disagree.

I dont think any hypothesis is compelling! Im willing to accept that the reincarnation might have the upper hand but i dont think the evidence is far and away superior. For a few reasons, reincarnation was somewhat unfalsifiable in that cases which strengthened reincarnation were accepted and the ones which didn't were simply forgotten. The nature of the testimony is not as strong as it could be in that translators born in cultures approving of reincarnation were used, we cant be sure what leading questions were asked when questioning children, on more than a few occasions the child knew and had contact with the family of the deceased and there was often a significant time gap between the questioning and when the 'retrieval' of the memory occured. As such, the reincarnation hypothesis is going to be affected by data that is shaky. Its been a while since i looked into this, but i'll just grant that the so called matching brith marks have no issues. Im happy to accept that, looking only at the evidence, reincarnation does a better job than other hypothesis. However, i dont think it provides very strong evidence for it. In fact, i think that when we take the specific evidence, the posterior probability of reincarnation being true is going to depend on a somewhat favourable prior probability. Basically, i think Stevenson's work provides some evidence for reincarnation, but certainly not compelling evidence and I don't think it has much superiority over other hypothesis, which means it doesnt have much weight to overcome even a somewhat low prior probability. Though i think the prior probability is actually very low if not zero.

Ian Wardell said...

Callum said:

"reincarnation was somewhat unfalsifiable in that cases which strengthened reincarnation were accepted and the ones which didn't were simply forgotten".

Do you mean cases where children's alleged memories were not "verified"? Or are you talking about cases where such memories definitely did not correspond to what happened? If the latter could you name these cases? Or state where you've heard about them?

I've got Ed's "the last superstition". I thought it was really excellent. But that doesn't mean I agree with everything he said in it. But I can't remember now, or even if I read it in its entirety. It's been a few years since I've read it. Any specific chapters you would recommend I read/reread?

Anonymous said...

Could it just be possible that in reincarnation flash back memories is just a possession of another soul of the body and memories are "shared" between the two souls making it look like you were reincarnated?

E.Seigner said...

"Could it just be possible that in reincarnation flash back memories is just a possession of another soul of the body and memories are "shared" between the two souls making it look like you were reincarnated?"

The souls should be able to sort it out among themselves so that they have clarity. This is important insofar as it's important to have sure knowledge.

The case studies cited here deserve proper attention. There is a difference between trickery, wild imagination, and memory. Internally we all know the difference. Let's say a memory of past life presents itself to someone - and the person knows it's a memory, not a delusion. What is he/she to do? To henceforth to disbelieve his/her own memory or to review his background metaphysics to match the data? What would you do?

E.Seigner said...

"Could it just be possible that in reincarnation flash back memories is just a possession of another soul of the body and memories are "shared" between the two souls making it look like you were reincarnated?"

Whether it's another soul meddling or it's your own memory, you should be able to tell the difference. If not, then there is no sure knowledge.

Let's say a memory of a past life presents itself to you. And you know it's a memory, not a delusion (because we generally know the difference, don't we). Would you still dismiss it and henceforth mistrust your own memory (and sanity) or would you review your background metaphysics to accommodate the data?

Mark said...

A few points

I do agree with Callum that Hume's critique against miracles has some problems, and it needs to be dealt with. This will have relevance to the reincarnation debate. The main problem that I see the attacks against his miracle critique is to only focus on how good the testimony is, and hope that will overcome the low prior probability of a miracle. Even if the testimony is excellent, the persons involved will have a false testimony only one in ten thousand times, if someone states the prior probability of a miracle as one in a billion, a false positive will always be more probable than a true positive. There needs to be both background knowledge and context that makes the miracle "somewhat expected" outside of just the testimony itself. What is that context? William Lane Craig will state that he does not argue for miracles based upon naturalism, but based upon theism because he thinks that this provides an expectation for miracles. The deist could reply, God is not some sort of "stage magician" who reveals himself through "magic acts", but through our reason and moral sense. They will want to reduce acts of special revelation like miracles to arbitrary and unnecessary acts tantamount to God saying that "Criss Angel has nothing on me, look at what I can do", I just raised someone from the grave. I don't think a general theism or deism is enough, I think there needs to be a good reason for the resurrection that deals with some type of historical or metaphysical problem, which in the Christian tradition would be original sin. I think this is the reason for the hostility towards polygenism and evolution amongst some Christians, I don't think it would be fair to equate all of them to fussy literalists, but they see a certain logic. That logic is through one man sin and death entered the world, and through another there was redemption. For them, the cosmic catastrophe notion of original sin is that context that would make the expectation and demand for the death and resurrection of Jesus. I personally think a more Irenaean theodicy along with his theory of atonement fits much better than the Augustinian given what we know about reality. If you are interested, I could comment on that.

This same principle applies to reincarnation in that the metaphysics informs the background knowledge that makes reincarnation acceptable or not. Even Ian Stevenson thought that a major flaw was that he could find no physical process to explain reincarnation. This is what got Jim Tucker to argue for it on the basis of some form of Idealism based upon quantum mechanics. If for example, I am Transcendental Idealist then reincarnation would be expected, whereas if I am a reductionistic materialist, it would seem impossible. As far Aristotelian metaphysics, couldn't the intellective part of the soul reincarnate, I do realize that the nutritive and sensitive could not? This could create a problem for trans-species reincarnation, but I am not sure that it would if the process was just limited to human beings.

Mark said...

Whether it's another soul meddling or it's your own memory, you should be able to tell the difference. If not, then there is no sure knowledge.

Let's say a memory of a past life presents itself to you. And you know it's a memory, not a delusion (because we generally know the difference, don't we). Would you still dismiss it and henceforth mistrust your own memory (and sanity) or would you review your background metaphysics to accommodate the data?


E. Seigner has made an excellent point. Rather than arguing for this based upon a metaphysics, we need to take the experience of us having truthful experiences of our own reflective mental states as a transcendental condition for any type of knowledge. I believe that when I am thinking about the truth of some particular statement that I am able to separate from casual determinism, and think about reasons and reasons for truth. I have this experience. The determinist is telling me that I am deluded, and this is all an illusion. The determinist is telling me that my beliefs are just products of hidden causes or motivations that I do not have access to, and that my experience of reflection is just an illusion. If that is the case, can I really make knowledge claims about anything? How far does the delusion extend?

My response would be that this would be true if I am having these experiences, but since it is based upon the testimony of others, this would not apply since I do not have access to their consciousness. I think that someone would argue is that if reincarnation is metaphysically impossible given their reflective reasoning, then even though the evidence does not support their belief that this is the product of a fraud / hoax or culturally conditioned fantasy, they will believe that these are more reasonable options.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Stevenson was aware of problems in retrieving data. I think he overcame these to a large degree. He was very careful in his use of testimony and did thorough research. It must be pointed out that it is not just testimony but physical evidence he used, especially birthmarks. There were some remarkable instances of children claiming to have the memories of others, and exhibiting birthmarks resembling wounds that the deceased received. I don't think it matters, necessarily, that Stevenson sorted out the best documented cases and didn't proceed with weaker ones. Sceptics often try to explain easier cases and then imply this explains the harder ones, but it doesn't necessarily. The harder cases still need an explanation. Stevenson investigated the possibility of chance - for example, and believed it could be safely ruled out.

It is interesting, however, that the majority of cases (though far from all) of these childhood memories do come from cultures that believe in reincarnation, in one way or other. I don't think that an unbiased reader could read the work of Stevenson or Tucker and think they were just duped by tall tales, though he might not be entirely won over. There does seem to be something unusual going on here (as there does in some other areas of psychical research - Cf. Apparitions of the Living, by Gurney et al, for example or Rhine's experiments). But trying to show the evidence even suggests reincarnation is a stronger possibility than other, non-normal explanations is much harder. Why is are there so many more cases in particular cultures? Can it all be explained by openness to such phenomena?

Ian Wardell said...

Jeremy Taylor said:
"Why is are there so many more cases in particular cultures? Can it all be explained by openness to such phenomena?"

Children's claims in some cultures will be more likely to be taken seriously by their parents.

But, also, a very important question here is the process whereby people reincarnate. Is it a conscious choice by a person? Or some other entity decides that you should reincarnate? Or perhaps it's simply a blind "mechanistic" process? Or perhaps one's psyche somehow facilitates or impedes the reincarnation process?

I'm kinda feel the last one is very relevant. So a belief in reincarnation might have some role in making people reincarnate more quickly and indeed whether people reincarnate at all. Just because reincarnation occurs doesn't entail that we *all* reincarnate. Also a belief that one doesn't change sex in successive incarnations might have some role in ensuring one stays the same sex. And vice versa.

Ian Wardell said...

Just been put on youtube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3l7bcb3aoGc&feature=youtu.be

George LeSauvage said...

@Anonymous:
what about purgatory then? if we are either damned or saved immediately doesn't that position deny the existence of purgatory?

This assumes a false understanding of the Catholic doctrine of purgatory (granted, it's fairly common). The actual doctrine is that those in purgatory are already saved, but being purified. Sort of heaven's boot camp.

Your other question is probably best answered by admitting we don't really know exactly what post-resurrection bodies, and changes, will be like. We really haven't been told enough to go on.

George LeSauvage said...

#E. Seigner:

Let's say a memory of a past life presents itself to you. And you know it's a memory, not a delusion (because we generally know the difference, don't we).

While our memories are usually reliable, they are sometimes not. Remember the hype about "repressed memories" back in the 80s and 90s? A lot of it turned out to be, at best, questionable.

This is true on more ordinary levels. I recall one long argument with two other college friends, about a play in a basketball game we had watched together. It went full-Rashomon.

Tony said...

Whether it's another soul meddling or it's your own memory, you should be able to tell the difference. If not, then there is no sure knowledge.

While our memories are usually reliable, they are sometimes not. Remember the hype about "repressed memories" back in the 80s and 90s? A lot of it turned out to be, at best, questionable.

I second what George is saying: with our senses, which are mostly reliable, sometimes they are not. We KNOW that sometimes they are not. And yet we do, also, trust them largely - otherwise scientific experiments (in which we "observe" the results by our senses) would be pointless. Memory is a faculty much allied to the senses, and it should not be in the least surprising if it is subject to the same limitations, or at least very similar.

St. Augustine claimed that one of the reasons ancient peoples believed in pagan gods is because they had good evidence for them: demons did impersonations to con men into worshiping them. Baal and Moloch would seem to be fair candidates for that. I would have to have a better argument than I have seen so far to refuse to accredit supposed cases of reincarnation as being produced by demons.

One of the foundational problems of reincarnation - at least some versions of it, if not all - is that it cannot attest to there being any POINT to it. If in most cases (which seems to fit the evidence) you cannot remember "your prior lives", how in the world can you benefit from them? Somehow, reincarnation is supposed to represent that something more than the MERE fact of my identity carries over from one life to the next - something of my character or my knowledge, or both - but provides no principle upon which this can be said to occur.

A second problem is that of morality: a "human being" is by nature a rational animal. The moral structure of human behavior can be well accounted for in terms of that nature: things suited to rational animals are fruitful and beneficial, things contrary to rational animals' nature are unfruitful and harmful. We can describe a morality for rational animals. If, however, we are reincarnated over and over, the "I" properly does not have "animal" in its determination at all, only the "rational", i.e. "I" am a spirit. But: if what I am, properly, does not include "animal", then there CANNOT BE any specification of what is moral or immoral for me while I have a body, other than what suits "rational being" simply. That is, there cannot be any morality that pertains to bodily behavior, other than that lent to it by annexation from purely spiritual being: thinking. But we have NO IDEA what such a morality is. None. We cannot impose the morality of angels onto men, because angels do not have bodies. But we cannot ascribe anything else to men, because (on reincarnation standards) we are only spirits. We would be left with we know not what.

E.Seigner said...

George LeSauvage, While our memories are usually reliable, they are sometimes not. Remember the hype about "repressed memories" back in the 80s and 90s? A lot of it turned out to be, at best, questionable.

This is true on more ordinary levels. I recall one long argument with two other college friends, about a play in a basketball game we had watched together. It went full-Rashomon.


What if I grant you that your memory (yours personally) is unreliable? That would make your Rashomon story dubious, that's all.

More seriously, we are not talking about repressed memories. We are talking about a memory that presents itself, like you suddenly recall something, clearly and lucidly. And you know it's a recollection, because sane people know the difference between a recollection and a hallucination.

I am suggesting a choice between two options: Revising one's own background philosophy/world view on one hand and diagnosing oneself as insane on the other. But no worries, as long as you don't have such recollections (or hallucinations), no need to choose either.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Ian Wardell,

I almost did mention the fact that we only have evidence for a small fraction of children possessing these memories. This complicates matters further. If there is reincarnation, would it mean only some are reincarnated?

I do agree that here, as in other areas of psychical research (both of spontaneous cases and laboratory research) that, though there is scope for reasonable people to not ultimately believe something paranormal is occurring, these cases are significant and shouldn't be simply dismissed.

Still, I think it would be hard to make more than a tentative claim about where the evidence leads one, so far as survival and forms of survival is concerned, even before considering how it relates to one's metaphysics and broader philosophical views. There are just so many possible explanations and only the most tentative means for deciding between them.

Are you familiar with the work of Stephen Braude? He is a philosopher who has explored the import of psychical research for philosophy. He has written a book on what it means for questions of survival:

https://www.amazon.com/Immortal-Remains-Evidence-After-Death/dp/0742514722/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1479515683&sr=1-1&keywords=stephen+braude

He concentrates, in this work, more on mediumistic drop-ins as evidence for survival than reincarnation, but his conclusion is that, if are justified in ruing out normal explanations, like fraud (which he thinks we are in certain cases), we can only come to very tentative conclusions about other explanations.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Tony writes,

One of the foundational problems of reincarnation - at least some versions of it, if not all - is that it cannot attest to there being any POINT to it. If in most cases (which seems to fit the evidence) you cannot remember "your prior lives", how in the world can you benefit from them? Somehow, reincarnation is supposed to represent that something more than the MERE fact of my identity carries over from one life to the next - something of my character or my knowledge, or both - but provides no principle upon which this can be said to occur.

I lost my original reply to you, so this one will be very brief. I'm no expert, and I'm agnostic on reincarnation, but I wonder if something like the filter theory of the self as developed by F.W.H. Myers, William James, and others might be a possible solution to this for someone who believes in reincarnation:

https://med.virginia.edu/perceptual-studies/wp-content/uploads/sites/267/2015/11/KEL7The-SubliminalConsciousness-Meyers-Approach.pdf

Or, indeed, any perspective that saw the self as ultimately larger than our everyday consciousness (so perhaps like the positon of Jung and others, too), might be able to solve this problem from a reincarnation perspective. Myers believed that our everyday consciousness, what he called the super-liminal consciousness, was but only a part of our consciousness or self. There was much beyond it. Using evidence like multiple personalities (both spontaneous cases and hypnotically induced), automatism, and aspects of genius (especially the ability of many artists and scientists to create without conscious effort - where parts of their work just seem to come to them fully formed), he even argued that there are multiple, distinct centres of personality within our larger self. Perhaps it could be argued that reincarnation could fit into this perspective. The existence of multiple lives would have the same meaning as that of one, and they could all contribute to the existence of the larger self. In multiple personality cases, it has been observed that some personalities have access to the memories of others (whilst some do not), which suggests a parallel with some reincarnation cases.

Of course, this is all just speculation, and I don't endorse it. But it would suggest there is a possible answer to the problem you raise.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Sorry, I realise the above might not be clear enough. My point is that I take you to be saying there seems to be little point in reincarnation if we can't remember past lifes. We can't then build on our past experience. My point is that there are theories of mind or self where aspects of the self we (as in our ordinary don't normally, everyday consciousness) have access to contribute to a larger self. In some theories, like the filter theory of Myees and William James, some of these aspects include distnct personalities or loci of personality within the self as a whole. The traffic between the different centres of consciousness (such as memory) can be complicated and asymmetrical. I wonder if this might not be suggestive of a viable response for the proponent of reincarnation? I'm not sure.

Ian Wardell said...

@Jeremy Taylor

Yes I have some familiarity with Stephen Braude and actually have that immortal remains, although I've only read part of it. Yes, he concentrates mainly on mediumship.

I have to say that I find the evidence from spontaneous memories of previous lives far more compelling (hypnotic regression is poor evidence though). I mean you're actually talking directly to people who have allegedly died and been reborn. And sometimes they even talk about the time between lives. With mediumship the source could be anything. Maybe dead people, or maybe psi from the medium (I do think though, that at least in some cases, information is being acquired by anomalous means).

Johan said...

Exoteric reasoning in the absence of a complete metaphysics equals patent nonsense. If you have to choose between Platonism and Aristotelianism, choose Plato-Plotinus every time. Intellect trumps reason.

Johan said...

That is, reason cut-off from its intellective root in matters that surpass the resources of reason alone. Theology is not metaphysics as the Platonists conceived it--along with such Asian doctrines as Taoism and Vedantism. As a resul, exoteric cosmologies are necessarily incomplete and even in parts erroneous.

Grace and Rust said...

@ Steven Dillon, comment #1.
I only saw one response to your first paragraph, and while I was looking through I found nothing in return to your second.

As for the possibility of prembodiment, it seems we could start as pure rationalities that are then "fused" with animality, from which point our souls just are the forms of our bodies. I.e. the idea isn't repugnant to reason.
I think your proposal ultimately is repugnant to reason (although others might be plausible). Let's start with your use of scare-quotes around "fused." That decision suggests that you don't want to commit yourself to saying such a union between one's individual preexisting rationality and one's animal-nature is permanent. Perhaps you grasp that if it were so, this rationality would no longer be your hypothetical preexisting soul. (Additionally, this would break the reincarnation cycle your second comment hints at.) On the other hand, if this union is not permanent, then said rationality is not part of the substantial form of the body, and therefore not the soul of the person's body. This puts you into a bind, because either the preexisting soul is destroyed in creating an embodied human, or the mind is not strictly a human mind, but some kind of angelic one. The first option defeats the point of believing in the preexistence of souls, while the second commits you to something like Cartesian dualism.

As to the actual occurrence of prembodiment, it must be kept in mind that being precedes act. This principle presumably applies to our souls unless otherwise demonstrated because our souls resemble substances precisely in the respect in virtue of which the principle obviously applies to them: substantive existence. Prembodiment should thus be the default view, meaning that to initially restrict this principle from applying to the rationality component of our souls either question-beggingly assumes prembodiment doesn't occur, or treats our souls with special pleading.
It seems to me that you can only level this argument by completely distorting the meaning of "being precedes act." The principle means that the operations of something (such as a human or a squirrel) follow from that thing's being. I can only reason because I am a rational being, the same can be said for you. A squirrel can gather nuts because of what kind of thing it is.

Tony said...

It seems to me that you can only level this argument by completely distorting the meaning of "being precedes act." The principle means that the operations of something (such as a human or a squirrel) follow from that thing's being. I can only reason because I am a rational being,

Quite right. And to carry the point further, the distorted way of presenting that "being precedes act" completely contradicts the principles of metaphysics by which Aristotle and St. Thomas prove the existence of God: ultimately, Being IS Act, and that pure being precedes every other actuality, which is caused by God.

Anonymous said...

If you google the topic death and dying over 14,000,000 possible references come up which would obviously and very comprehensively take into account every possible cross-cultural perspective on this very important topic.
Important because ones understanding, or misunderstanding of death defines and limits every dimension of how one lives on a moment to moment basis. And also what happens to the living being during and especially after the death and dying process.

And yet somehow, most of the dudes who have posted comments on this essay by Edward (and Edward too) presume that the Catholic perspective, especially that based on their interpretation of what Aquinas had to say is the only correct one, all other being deluded, misguided, or plain old incorrect.

Brandon said...

And yet somehow, most of the dudes who have posted comments on this essay by Edward (and Edward too) presume that the Catholic perspective, especially that based on their interpretation of what Aquinas had to say is the only correct one, all other being deluded, misguided, or plain old incorrect.

I would imagine that's because it's a blog very explicitly devoted to the exploration of Thomistic ideas and of topics from a Thomistic point of view.

Johan said...

Very true, Brandon.

Tony said...

"being precedes act."

And to extend my comment above further: The precise way to say this is that for each created being, first actuality precedes second actuality. That is, the being of the thing precedes secondary operation of the faculties of that being.

For God, Being is Act, and his actuality is simultaneous with his operations of knowing and loving, since they are not distinct from his being. In God it is not true that being precedes operation.

Steven Dillon said...

@Grace and Rust: "It seems to me that you can only level this argument by completely distorting the meaning of "being precedes act." The principle means that the operations of something (such as a human or a squirrel) follow from that thing's being."

The principle has several usages throughout Scholastic literature, but the one relevant to what I said can be described as follows:

"Agere sequitur esse. Activity follows existence (97-102)...This serviceable principle occurs in five interrelated meanings and uses (98-102)...98 Priority of being: A thing must be before it can cause. VARIANTS A. A thing cannot act unless or until it is." Wuellner, Bernard J. Summary of Scholastic Principles. Chicago, IL: Loyola University Press, 1956. pp. 31-32

The idea here is that the soul must first exist in order to formally cause the body. But, in what way does the soul precede being the formal cause of the body? As I see it, the soul doesn't merely precede its formal act in a logical way, but in an ontological way too. That is, it enjoys a substantive existence independent of being the form of a body. Obviously, "rational animality" qua "rational animality" can't do this, since the composite form includes "animality" and this component cannot be unless it is the form of a body. But, "rational animality" can ontologically precede the body via its rationality component. This would involve the persistence and survival of the form "rationality" from an initial state of purity on through to its becoming the rationality of an animal. I called the mechanism by which this could occur "fusion" and put scare quotes around it because this usage of the term is not in established practice.

"either the preexisting soul is destroyed in creating an embodied human, or the mind is not strictly a human mind, but some kind of angelic one."

The third possibility is that the preexisting rationality becomes the rationality of an animal, so that the soul is neither destroyed, nor merely accidentally united to a body. Once the pure rationality becomes the rationality of an animal, it just is the form of a body, and could not take on a different body after death. But, as I outlined in another comment above, it presumably takes on its body again and again, until the two are united in a permanent way. The difference between reincarnation and resurrection, it seems to me, is merely in the amount of times our soul is united to its body before permanent union.

Callum said...

Ian,

Mary Roach is one source of the top of my head, which questions the bias within Stevenson's method and if he can research reincarnation rather than simply report whatever data he can find. What do you think happens to the cases that turn out to be false?

E.S,

The reality of false memories is well supported. Generally, our memories are reliable but specifically at the gist and salient details. Background information and things that seem trivial or unimportant can and are easily adapted, edited and even created. They can gappen due to a number of factors.

R.C. said...

On the topic of reincarnation,

Has anybody ever discovered an example of a really well-thought-out understanding of reincarnation? You know...a sort of systematic theology of it?

I ask because, quite apart, from questioning the reliability of individual claims of reincarnation, I don't think I've ever run across a reincarnationist view that didn't suffer from some overt logic questions.

For example, there is the issue of number and origin of souls: If at any point in the past there were fewer living humans than currently, where did the extra ones come from to populate the current surplus of living humans? If at some future time there are again fewer, leaving certain souls without available bodies (a cosmic game of musical chairs?) where do the extra souls go? If there were at one point no human souls, where'd they come from? How do they get generated prior to embodiment?

Can souls ever wind up in bodies of a different species than before? If not, then souls are necessarily species-specific which leads to the question of how souls for a specific species of body could possibly already "know" what species of body can "embody" them prior to the earliest evolutionary presence of bodies of that type. But if they are not species-specific then shouldn't most of the past-life experiences of reincarnated persons be experiences of being a frog, or a mountain, or a dinosaur, or a paramecium, or a small blue furry creature from Alpha Centauri with more than 50 arms?

This all presumes a shared time-continuum of course; no reason to assume that. Why aren't any of them having "past" life experiences of persons living in the year 2,264?

Shouldn't they also have, at some point, past "death" experiences? Past "afterlife" experiences?

There are lots of potential logical-consistency issues.

But perhaps some reincarnationist already has a good, systematic set of answers for these issues, and all the others I haven't raised.

If so, who would that be? I guess I'm asking: Who has the best of breed reincarnationism?

Callum said...

R.C,

In order to answer the objection about the increasing number of humans, the reply has usually been that they come from other planets/universe/dimensions.

Planets have a problem. We know that all planets in the universe began to exist, which means there was a first instance of life. The BGV theorem says that a multiverse, too, will have a beginning. The question simply gets pushed bacl a stage. Therr will be a universe which was the first in the multiverse ensemble, which means a first instance of life.

That leaves another 'dimension'. Trouble is, there seems to be no evidence for this option.

The reincarnation hypothesis seems to have a number of ad hoc additions tied to it.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Callum,

What do you mean turns out to be false? Do you mean cases where the memories are incorrect, or those in which there is simply no testable veridical content? Are you talking about the same sorts of circumstances that Stevenson investigated - as in cases children? Personally, I would keep these cases separate from claimed past-life regressions and that sort of thing.

I'm not sure false cases would compromise those that do seem to have veridical content, except so far as they increased the probability of coincidence or chance as an explanation. That is, if there were many false cases compared to ones with veridical content, then this content could be more easily ascribed to chance. However, I believe Stevenson did look into the possibility of coincidence or chance (as Gurney did for crisis apparitions a century before). Some of the cases, at least, seem to mitigate against the chance-theory. They include where the child has never come into contact with the deceased or their family, where they have a large amount of veridical knowledge of the deceased and his life, and even some cases where they have birth-marks resembling wounds or surgery-scars associated with the deceased. I think that he was correct in ascribing an extraordinarily low probability to certain cases being explained by chance, even when we include the total amount of those child with such memories, whether veridical, unverified, or even false. This doesn't prove reincarnation by any means, of course, though it makes it harder for some of these cases to be explained by what you might call normal means.

It isn't on the same topic, but in Apparitions of the Living, Edmund Gurney undertook just the sort of analysis of the chance-theory that would, it seems to me, make false cases of reincarnation memories possibly relevant. The chapter is worth reading for its highlighting of some of the issues that are relevant in this case also.

http://chestofbooks.com/new-age/paranormal/Telepathy/Chapter-XIII-The-Theory-Of-Chance-Coincidence.html






Ian Wardell said...

R.C. said
"[Regarding reincarnation] there are lots of potential logical-consistency issues".

It doesn't seem so to me.

The total number of souls that exist both on Earth (E) and in the afterlife/beforelife realm or realms (A) remains a constant (C). So E+A=C, but E and A can both vary so long as their sum remains C. This means that the world's population can continually increase so long as the totally number of souls dwelling in the afterlife/beforelife realm(s) decreases by the corresponding number.

I suppose souls might be able to wind up in bodies of different species, although perhaps it is rare. I would guess that souls generally cannot simply reincarnate into any body, but only bodies appropriate to that soul. So generally only human bodies, and perhaps only certain human bodies at that for a specific soul.

I don't think that one could remember a life in the future as the future hasn't happened yet and doesn't exist.

And yes, there are intermission memories. Memories of the previous incarnation having died etc.

Of course we know very little about reincarnation and how it all works, how many lives we live, whether these number vary for individuals, what is it that initiates the process of reincarnating etc. But this is just our lack of knowledge and I'm not seeing any issues of logical consistency.

Maybe you can get the population problem to be a genuine problem if you make certain assumptions eg no new souls come into being, souls occupying humans had no previous lives as animals, the time between lives remains around the same for everyone and at all points in history, everyone has roughly equal numbers of lives etc. If you make these assumptions I do agree the population problem might be a genuine problem. But I would not agree with all of these assumptions. Indeed I would agree with only one of them; namely that no new souls spring into being.

Ian Wardell said...

@Callum

There's no need to invoke other planets/universes/dimensions. What's wrong with the obvious answer that souls come from the afterlife/beforelife realm or realms? Indeed, why on earth do you imagine they would come from anywhere else?

Callum said...

Well I've always heard the multiverse/other dimension reply. Afterlife realms ive never heard before. If that's the case, then the reincarnation hypothesis seems to be stacking up a number of remarkable assumptions, or is at least becoming quite ad hoc.

That a specific question can be answered may provide little help, if the answer ends up multiplying entities in order to simply deal with the objection. Perhaps some kind of platonic heaven could help, but that would need additional or a prior argumentation.

Callum said...

Jeremy,

Yes the ones that were investigsted and found to be incorrect. Especially the ratio would be interesting, because it's going to hamper the strength of the reincarnation hypothesis if a large amount add no evidence to the cumulative case. But primarily, if reincarnation is true and a significant number of cases turn out to provide little weight, then the whole case is going to need to include that. We shouldn't cherry pick the best cases which support an explanation, but take into account all of the evidence when inferring the best explanation. The reincarnation hypothesis is going to need to try and address that, as well as the stronger cases, which is going to affect how much explanatory power, plausibility and ad hoc the explanation has compared to others and as such the strength it will have.

This is but one consideration among many.

Ian Wardell said...

@Callum

When they say another dimension they probably are referring to the afterlife realm?

Obviously, the afterlife realm is not made up simply to address where souls come from if one believes in reincarnation! Many people reject reincarnation but believe in an afterlife realm. Either people wholly cease to exist when they die, or they continue to exist. If they continue to exist, but not in a physical body, this is what is meant by the afterlife realm. It needn't be a place but rather a state of mind.

Anyway, intermission memories, NDEs, mystical experiences, mediumship, and indeed all the evidence for an afterlife provides evidence for the existence of such a state of mind or realm.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Callum,

Personally, I'm more interested in whether Stevenson's cases indicate that a paranormal solution likely, rather than whether they actually support reincarnation. I do think they suggest the former, but am agnostic about the later. I don't recall Stevenson's perspective - how interested he was in building a sustained case for reincarnation as opposed to just noting an interesting and possibly unexplained phenomena.

Whilst you can say that the more false cases that exist, compared to the veridical ones, the greater the likelihood of coincidence being involved, there is a distinction from the sort of incidents Gurney et al were investigating. In those cases it what was being investigated the proportion of all those who had experienced apparitions of friends and relatives who had this apparition within a day or so of their deaths of near-deaths. If the ratio or proportion was low, then the fact a few fell close to the death or near-death of the person in the apparition could be ascribed to chance. But if the ratio was high, then it becomes increasingly hard to say it is due to chance (Gurney ended up with estimates in the millions or billions or even trillions to one). But there only were two important variables concerned - whether an apparition was seen and whether it was close to the death or near-death of a person seen. In Stevenson's cases, however, we are talking about, generally, of complex memories that can include a plethora of veridical content. And in some cases there is physical evidence, like birth marks, in some cases. This can make a single case of Stevenson's extremely hard to ascribe to chance. I would think that, no matter how many false cases there are (if there are), that such cases (assuming we have ruled out fraud and the like) remain in need of an explanation, and on the face of it that explanation would seem to have be something beyond the normal, so to speak. Even one case, that is, can be so extraordinary that it defies a normal explanation, and the false cases don't change that. Indeed, it is a common sceptical mistake to think that if some cases are fraud or explained in some other normal way, we can write off all others, including the hard or most extraordinary ones.

That said, false memories, especially if they were had by those who also had a lot of veridical memories, would complicate matters for those were trying to build a case specifically for reincarnation. They'd have to explain how false memories got there along with the true ones. But what it wouldn't do (despite the fact that sceptical inquirers often make these kind of assumptions) is explain or allow us to dismiss the veridical memories.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- Sorry for the numerous typos in my post. I really need to proof-read better, especially when I switch around clauses and the like.

Callum said...

Jeremy,

So you would argue that Stevenson's case isnt fundamentally a cumulative one? That in principle, one strong case say, is enough?

If it's cumulative, i would think you could have a few extraordinary instances and, though weird, arent enough to support a specific conclusion. The original point of mentioning was that if the evidence collected was simply but a percentage of the overall data, i cant see how this doesnt affect the strength of the conclusion. The more hoops that are jumped through, the more complex and ad hoc an explanation becomes. If some parts seem strongly evidenced, it's still going to take a hit if the hypothesis is only so good, or even slight more strained, than other natural hypothesis if it is weak in explaining other parts. The resources available to appeal to a supernatural conclusion are going to be somewhat strained.

At the least, simply showing all tje strongest cases, though interesting and useful in their own right, need to be put back into context in the final valuation.

Callum said...

Ian,

I guess you're right. When people say 'another dimension' i guess it sounds to me just like the multiverse.

But when you say most people believe in an afterlife realm, arent you equivocating? To help reincarnation, it has to be a specific kind- where souls are eternal and have always been
. A great number of people think of it as a place where created souls go, which wouldnt be any help.

Mediumship sounds cool, have you got the best example you could give me?

E.Seigner said...

Callum, The reality of false memories is well supported.

How about the reality of true memories? Is it unsupported? Do you really remember your yesterday or don't you? But this is not the main point.

The main point is: Can you make a distinction when you engage in wishful thinking about your past that could have been or should have been as opposed to when you really recall your past? Yes, you can recall it imperfectly, but if this distinction between delusion and memory is significant, then you understand the point made when for example an early childhood memory hits you out of the blue, apparently unprompted.

The argument is that memory of a past life can hit people the same way. When the culture does not support it, grownups tend to be silent about it. Children may blab anything unrestricted, but their reliability is easy to verify too, that's why they are the best cases to study.

Ian Wardell, The total number of souls that exist both on Earth (E) and in the afterlife/beforelife realm or realms (A) remains a constant (C). So E+A=C, but E and A can both vary so long as their sum remains C. This means that the world's population can continually increase so long as the totally number of souls dwelling in the afterlife/beforelife realm(s) decreases by the corresponding number.

I suppose souls might be able to wind up in bodies of different species, although perhaps it is rare. I would guess that souls generally cannot simply reincarnate into any body, but only bodies appropriate to that soul. So generally only human bodies, and perhaps only certain human bodies at that for a specific soul.


On Buddhism and Hinduism, souls pass through all species unrestricted, according to the last thought at death (approx. the way Feser describes one goes to God or to less-than-God, look at that!). Now, we easily believe without much questioning that the universe may expand and contract and change shape while the sum total of all matter remains the same at all times. The recycling of souls is directly analogical to this, not too weird.

The weird part may be that there is also heaven and hell, unembodied pre- and after-life on Buddhism and Hinduism, which is a sort of psychic existence roughly like dreams at night. Generally when you dream, you are totally convinced this is the reality and there's no other reality for the time being. Heaven and hell with their pre- and afterlives are a distinct parallel world like this.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Callum,

Well, I don't recall what Stevenson's case was exactly - the degree to which he felt these cases supported reincarnation or were just interesting, possibly inexplicable phenomena (from a naturalist perspective).


If it's cumulative, i would think you could have a few extraordinary instances and, though weird, arent enough to support a specific conclusion.

I think it really depends what you are supporting or trying to rule out. Cumulative evidence seems more important, to me, to rule out explanations like fraud or other misunderstandings and misrepresentations of evidence. If there were only one or two strong cases, for example, of children with past-life memories, I don't think much could be rested on them, not at least unless we could go above and beyond even the normal precautions against fraud or mundane explanations (cryptomnesia and that kind of thing) that a careful researcher will establish. But I don't think that the accumulation of cases would have to be that large. Once you have dozens, collected through meticulous research, I think that is enough to begin building a case from them.

But, if fraud and the like can ruled out, then I don't think that false cases do undermine the good cases. That is, if we could be certain there was no fraud or problems in collecting the data, then I think one good child reincarnation case would be enough to suggest something paranormal had occurred, no matter how many false cases there are or even if this case involved a child who had false memories alongside veridical ones.

A good case would be one in which there was no prior contact or even knowledge of existence between the child and its family and the deceased and their family. It would be one in which the child had many memories that were veridical in many particulars. To be optimum it would also be the case the child had behavioural and/or physical inheritances, like a very unusual birth-mark strongly resembling a wound or scar (as in some cases Stevenson investigated) the diseased suffered. A single case like that, to me, would be highly suggestive of a something paranormal occurring. Assuming we have ruled out fraud and the like, I don't see how a normal explanation (I'm including explanations that, though perhaps not supernatural, would change our understanding of the physical as not normal) could be given.

Gurney, as he was simply comparing the amount of people having apparitions with the amount who had them within a day of the death or near-death of those in the apparition, needed a certain ratio of one case (we could call it false - though that isn't strictly accurate) to other to rule out chance. But in our example, each extra veridical piece of memory deceases the likelihood of chance exponentially, you might say. We aren't talking about lots of children only remembering they once had a different name in a past life and lived in a different town. If one of these turned out true and thousands didn't, then we could say it was chance. But we are talking of detail about detail, with physical and/or behavioural evidence added. I would say, then, that even a single case like this could be suggestive of something paranormal going on. However, I would admit, though, to not be quite comfortable to rest my conclusions about one or two of them (though I'm not sure why).

Jeremy Taylor said...

Of course, supporting reincarnation is quite different. It is much harder to show Stevenson's evidence proves this, as it just isn't in the evidence to do much but tentatively prove one theory or another. I don't think accumulation is that important here either, if we mean accumulation of the same phenomena (and not comparison with other types). What is more important is looking at certain qualities in the cases that favour one explanation or another. Some, for example, have argued that the phenomena of drop-in controls of mediums is particularly suggestive of survival, for example, as opposed to psi phenomena between the living. Accumulation may have a role though in terms of the particular proportion of qualities shown (so how many false memories accompany veridical ones, for example).

E.Seigner said...

Jeremy Tailor, Of course, supporting reincarnation is quite different. It is much harder to show Stevenson's evidence proves this, as it just isn't in the evidence to do much but tentatively prove one theory or another. I don't think accumulation is that important here either, if we mean accumulation of the same phenomena (and not comparison with other types).

Just like with Aristotelian-Thomist theory of souls, the physics of reincarnation is radically distinct from its metaphysics. It's common experience that we forget a lot. It would be humanly overwhelming to remember everything. Imagine, if you remembered every little sin you committed throughout your life and you couldn't help but brood over the details. It would be veritable hell on earth (provided that you have conscience, compunction). Life for people with good memories is not easy. But people with good memories exist and, insofar as truth matters, their experience matters more than that of the forgetful.

Why isn't remembrance of past lives more common? Because death and birth are the most traumatic experiences in existence. When you are hit unconscious with a hard object from behind your back, you will not be able to tell what hit you, no matter how well you recover from the blow. Death is worse than that. Memory continues beyond death and birth only given some extraordinary circumstances for extraordinary people.

Consequently, Ian Stevenson's data, no matter how plentiful, cannot prove reincarnation. Same as with A-T theory of souls, people believe in reincarnation given some metaphysical premises, such as immortality of the soul vis-a-vis the obvious mortality of body.

E.Seigner said...

Last sentence to my previous post: And this theory of reincarnation then serves as the best explanation for the data like Ian Stevenson's.

Ian Wardell said...

@E Seigner:

Haven't you heard of hyperthymesia?

http://hyperthymesia.net/hyperthymesia/

Yeah it wouldn't be good to remember everything! I disagree with the link where it says "It appears as if there is a recording device in the brain where everything has been amazingly stored" though. I don't think that brains store memories, or could do so (as I explain in a comment above). Rather brains *prohibit* memories.

Callum said...

E. Seigner,

Our memories are particularly reliable, but that will depend hugely on how specific we get. In certain circumstances and with certain facts are memories are remarkable. In others they are very very poor and are absolutely deluded in some cases. You can have a memory of something your friend did, thinking you did for example. You can, and do, have exquisitely clear yet intirely false memories that simply never happened. The devil is in the details.


Early childhood memories will be tainted, many of them will be, though they may get the gist right generally. When a child is recollecting memories, it is particularly vulnerable to be substantially changed. This is why you gave to be very very careful.

Ian Wardell said...

@Callum

Their memories have to be checked against what actually happened. So I'm not sure how the fact that memories can be distorted is relevant. It explains why the children don't get all the details correct and get some things wrong.

E.Seigner said...

Ian Wardell, http://hyperthymesia.net/hyperthymesia/

It gets dubious at this point,

In order to understand the concept of Hyperthymesia, we assume the difference between exceptional memory in which individuals employ usual tactics (such as mnemonics) to recall past events, and Hyperthymesia when individuals do not employ deliberate approaches. Hyperthymestic individuals believe to possess events that are attached to their personal life, that is not to say, it is derived through mnemonic tactics. In fact, hyperthymestic individuals automatically evoke incidents in the same way as the computer does. This is an absolute non-deliberate act.

In a very veiled way it's implied here that good memory since birth is a medical condition or disorder. This may be often so (because remembering stuff is hard and causes controversy in the world of generally forgetful people, just like being intelligent is hard and a cause of scandal among average joes), but not necessarily so. People with good memories and good intelligence may reactively develop various defense mechanisms to deal with problems that arise in the world due to their character, but some go about it more consciously, methodically, and constructively, never letting themselves be turned away from fact and truth.

Hypermemory doesn't need to go through the tedious steps of remembrance the way ordinary memory needs to, just like the intellect of born chessmasters does not go through tedious calculations the way ordinary people need to. It's intuitive, and intuition is a feature, not a bug in the system. Everybody is intuitive at something, and extraordinarily clumsy at other things. Quite many PhD's cannot hit a nail in the wall in real life, despite having no physical disabilities.

In modern psychology and psychiatry there's a tendency to overdiagnose and to keep inventing irrelevant diagnoses. ADHD, a common Weltschmertz or ennui that we all occasionally have, that really does not need special treatment, just a little bit of human understanding, has been made a medical condition, while homosexuality has been taken off the list. Go figure.

@Callum

You remember your childhood, right? If I say to you, "Memories can be unreliable. It's a scientifically proven fact!" does this undo your childhood? No, it doesn't. Similarly, it does nothing to touch the theory of reincarnation.

Callum said...

Jeremy,

If the reincarnation hypothesis is going to be primarily defended on how good the best few cases are, then it's going to have the best case scenario of being merely suggestive. I think we agree on that. I take your point that the data doesn't strongly point to one paranormal position over another, but with the added assumptions added onto reincarnation it's going to be quite difficult to substantiate it with just a few good cases.

Callum said...

Ian,

Because verified facts dont mean that the memory is an actual memory of the child. That false memories are so common and easy in the right situations (and especially so in young children) is a significant problem. Meticulous caution is admirable in a researcher, but when looking after the fact its incredibly difficult to rule out circumstances which would distort and edit a memory. Sure, some cases will have more confidence than others in ruling out contamination, but by the nature of having no control over the environment you're always going to have be tentative. I don't think this is a particularly damning problem, there will be instances where you can have high confidence that no resources were available, but it has implications.

E.Seigner said...

Callum, If the reincarnation hypothesis is going to be primarily defended on how good the best few cases are, then it's going to have the best case scenario of being merely suggestive. I think we agree on that. I take your point that the data doesn't strongly point to one paranormal position over another, but with the added assumptions added onto reincarnation it's going to be quite difficult to substantiate it with just a few good cases.

But it's the other way round. Nobody believes in reincarnation because of these modern empirical data. Rather, reincarnation, as a theory built on independent metaphysical grounds, is the closest explanation for the data like Ian Stevenson's.

This is precisely the same case as with A-T theory of souls. Nobody believes in A-T theory of souls because this or that empirical data. It's a metaphysical theory, not a physical one, and it may explain some empirical data or not. Even without explaining any empirical data, it has its value for Western psychology and theology.

(I wrote an earlier response too, and published it twice, and it appeared at least once briefly, but looks like Wordpress likes to eat my comments for no reason. I'm not going to publish the same text yet again, even though I have it saved.)

Ian Wardell said...

@Callum,

Let’s say I have an apparent memory of going shopping a week or so ago. Other people remember me being there and corroborate what I did that day. I have things in my house which I bought that day. Those things are unique in that they can only be purchased at the shops(stores) I seem to remember visiting.

Now of course all these facts can be said to only *suggest* that I was in those particular shops. But it surely would be highly unreasonable to suppose these are false memories!

Many people -- normally skeptics -- seem to vastly overrate the extent to which we can be fooled. We cannot trust our memories at all, we cannot trust our perceptions. But the vast majority of the time we can! I'm hard pressed to think of a time when I've incorrectly remembered something. To suppose I could falsely remember a complete life where the details check out when researched, seems to me to be highly implausible.

E.Seigner said...

@Callum

You remember your childhood, right? If I say to you, "Memories can be unreliable. It's a scientifically proven fact!" does this undo your childhood? No, it doesn't. Similarly, it does nothing to touch the theory of reincarnation.

(I wrote a comment in response to Wardell about hyperthymesia, and I think I made it an interesting one, but unfortunately it's in limbo. Let it appear whenever Blogspot wills it.)

Callum said...

E. Seigner,

I think we are making some progress then. I agree that the empirical evidence isnt enough by itself to conclude reincarnation is true. This reminds ne of the conversation Ed had with Lydia McGrew regarding whether you need metaphysics first before you could properly conclude that a miracle properly happened. I not 100% where i stand, but i certainly agree with Lydia's point that specific evidence for an event at least shifts the burden of proof onto the skeptic to argue why the prior probability is low enough that the specific evidence is strong enough

Summary: i think reincarnation needs a strong metaphysical argument in order to push through, the empirical evidence isnt enough.

So, the debate on reincarnation should be largely over the metaphysics.

Callum said...

Regarding memory.

Ian,

In the case you described the evidence is.more than just suggestive. We should believe the memory ia accurate. But that's not because of generally accepting memory as reliable, thats from knowing in what cases memory tends to be reliable or unreliable.

It wont do to accuse the critic of 'vastly overrate the extent' are memory is unreliable because i'm not being anyway near as vague as that. In certain circumstances are memory is incredible. In others it is laughably bad. Whether a memory is reliable depends on the type of details being recalled, its importance to you, whether it was background or salient in nature, how often you recall the memory, how long between the first recall and subsequent recalls etc. This is well documented and can only he ignored if we are sufficiently vague about memory. Its simply hyperbole to think im saying something like 'we can't trust our memories at all' or some such thing.

E. Seigner,

Again, this is only trivially true because it is sufficiently vague. I remember the salient details of my childhood and the memories i have recalled often and early etc (there are a bunch of criteria which affect accuracy). I cant remember before i was 4, i cant remember the clothes my parents tended to wear for the majority of my childhood, i can only remember my furniture because the dogs tore it up (interesting and noteworthy things make for stronger memory). Depending on what you ask me, will depend on how accurate my memory is, or how distorted it can be due to a number of factors.

Reincarnation is built on details.

E.Seigner said...

Callum, Reincarnation is built on details.

False. Just earlier you agreed that the debate should be largely over metaphysics. And that's true.

Earlier in a comment that luckily came through, I said this: Why isn't remembrance of past lives more common? Because death and birth are the most traumatic experiences in existence. When you are hit unconscious with a hard object from behind your back, you will not be able to tell what hit you, no matter how well you recover from the blow. Death is worse than that. Memory continues beyond death and birth only given some extraordinary circumstances for extraordinary people.

The theory of reincarnation relies in no way on details of memory. Remembrance of past lives is as uncommon in India as it is in the West, has always been.

E.Seigner said...

Callum,

However, the point of my childhood argument is this: When you remember your childhood, some third-person scientist is absolutely unable to erase your relationship to your childhood by stating something like, "Memory can be unreliable."

Another point of the argument is this: You most definitely had a childhood regardless what you remember of it, if anything, and also regardless what anybody can specifically prove or verify about your childhood. Everybody has a childhood.

Similarly, reincarnation theory is a background concept to provide a framework for pre- and after-life and what happens during them, and to give explanations to various odd life events. That never means that those life events (such as Ian Stevenson's data) should be so common as to be applicable to everybody. Also theism doesn't mean that everybody must be a believer.

E.Seigner said...

Callum, Reincarnation is built on details.

False. Just earlier you agreed that the debate should be over metaphysics. That's true.

Earlier in a comment that luckily came through, I said this: Why isn't remembrance of past lives more common? Because death and birth are the most traumatic experiences in existence. When you are hit unconscious with a hard object from behind your back, you will not be able to tell what hit you, no matter how well you recover from the blow. Death is worse than that. Memory continues beyond death and birth only given some extraordinary circumstances for extraordinary people.

So reincarnation relies in no ways on details of memory.

However, the point of my childhood argument is this: When you remember your childhood, some third person cannot undo it by saying something like, "Memory can be unreliable." Nobody can talk you out of your own perception. Similarly, when somebody has memory of past lives, lack of reliable evidence for reincarnation does nothing to deter such people. Just like lack of empirical evidence for God does nothing to discourage theists.

And another point is this: Whatever you remember of your childhood - or let's say you remember nothing about it - this does not change the fact that you had a childhood. Similarly, reincarnation is a background concept for metaphysical reference to accommodate pre-life and after-life and the events that supposedly happen during them, completely regardless if anybody remembers such events.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Callum writes,

If the reincarnation hypothesis is going to be primarily defended on how good the best few cases are, then it's going to have the best case scenario of being merely suggestive. I think we agree on that.

Not exactly, I think that the case for reincarnation, built from cases like those investigated by Stevenson, can only be tentative. This is not because the cases are few, so much as it is the nature of the evidence involved. If we can rule out fraud, cryptomnesia, and similar mundane explanations, then we are still left with numerous possible paranormal explanations (reincarnation of various varieties; demons; super-psi). It seems to me that we only come to a tentative conclusion about the best fit for the evidence available. The evidence is simply underdetermined - it can plausibly fit many interpretations. I don't think the amount of cases is especially important though. Nor do I see the direct relevance of the amount of false cases, except so far as these false memories come to those who also have veridical ones, which would complicate the reincarnation case (although not refute it).

I take your point that the data doesn't strongly point to one paranormal position over another, but with the added assumptions added onto reincarnation it's going to be quite difficult to substantiate it with just a few good cases.

I think it would be quite difficult to substantiate it with many cases, too. I suppose that if there were a lot of cases, - say one in five people experienced it - then it would be harder to believe it was demons, for example, though it this still wouldn't be ruled out. Usually the arguments are between survival (in this case reincarnation) and super-psi (Cf. Stephen Braude and Michael Sudduth).

Jonathan Lewis said...

apparently Origen believed in the pre-existence of the soul. He seemed to think that those souls who chose bodily life were rebelling against God. So maybe Sartre was right and Hell is other people.

Callum said...

E. Seigner,

You've misunderstood. The reincarnation hypothesis put forward to account for empirical research is built on details. I already agreed that the case for reincarnation does not stand or fall with the research but will depend on philosophical considerations.

I dont see any force in your point about childhood and memories. Everyone has a childhood regardless of whether they remember it or not, thats not true for the majority of memories. Acknowledging that memories can and are unreliable in specific circumstances is just something that has to be taken into account when researching past life memories. That's it. Im not saying memory is unreliable full stop. Im saying its incredibly unreliable in specific circumstances and incredibly accurate in others. Defenders of reincarnation just cant say memory is reliable and that's that. It's far too vague, in reality its more nuanced than that. Honestly, it's a very simple point about the strength and weaknesses of memory.

Now, lets focus on the crucial part we agree on, the philosophical arguments for and against reincarnation.

You say that the majority of people dont remember past lives because death and birth 'are the most traumatic experiences in existence'. Why think that? By many accounts, when people die they can be often calm and peaceful. Certainly nog traumatic. Also, why is it that people who remember past lives often remember traumatic deaths? If its the trauma which affects a person's memory, shouldnt we see hardly anyone remember more traumatic deaths? Even if these weren't true, what positive arguments are there for thinking that death and birth are traumatic?

Also, what philosophical theories of memory do you subscribe to which makes sense if it passing from one body to another? Surely it isnt physical and perhaps apart of a soul. But then if it's the soul that remembers, how would traumatic experience of death affect the soul remembering?

If you want to defend some type of unified consciousness, what would that look like?

Grace and Rust said...

@ Steve Dillon, November 20, 2016 at 3:42 PM
Part 1 of 2
I seriously doubt that you're helping your case. Indeed, looking over your first comment and this new one, you were far from clear. Let's start with where my biggest misunderstandings lie.
Obviously, "rational animality" qua "rational animality" includes "animality" and this component cannot be unless it is the form of a body. But, "rational animality" can ontologically precede the body via its rationality component. This would involve the persistence and survival of the form "rationality" from an initial state of purity on through to its becoming the rationality of an animal. I called the mechanism by which this could occur "fusion" and put scare quotes around it because this usage of the term is not in established practice.
1) You shouldn't use the word "pure" in these situations, since that is part of what lead to the confusion in the first place. Remember in your first post when you said, "it seems we could start as pure rationalities that are then "fused" with animality". The most natural reading suggests that your preexisting soul had no corporeal powers until it was "fused" to some animal nature, and therefore couldn't be the informative principle of a body without the "fusion" you describe, which leads to the dilemma you failed to rebut farther down.
2) More problematic for our discussion, your attempt to explain what you mean by "fusion" still does not clarify it in the slightest. I'm thinking you mean that the soul, when it is first created, has both corporeal and incorporeal powers, but is not the form of any particular body until the first time it is embodied. But then you end up with a contradiction in terms. You suggest that this pure rationality only becomes the substantial form of a body with its first embodiment, and is essentially united to the body. Unfortunately, the "preexisting rationality" cannot become the rationality of an animal because either:
a. it already is one, because it has corporeal powers, even if its body never existed, or:
b. the soul has no corporeal powers prior to being embodied, in which case acquiring such powers leads us back into my dichotomy.
Option (b) rules out your alternative explanation as unworkable. If you acknowledge that the preexisting soul isn't a "pure rationality" (option (a)), you contradict your terms. If you think I'm still mistaken, you'll just have to be plainer with me.

A soul cannot take on its body again, except by Divine Assistance, because formal causes do not have the power to bring their effects into being (else they would be efficient causes), so that when the body is destroyed, the soul does not have the power to bring it back. It must come back by some other means.

Grace and Rust said...

@ Steve Dillon, November 20, 2016 at 3:42 PM
Part 2 of 2
Let's go back to your application of the principle that action follows being.
"Agere sequitur esse. Activity follows existence (97-102)...This serviceable principle occurs in five interrelated meanings and uses (98-102)...98 Priority of being: A thing must be before it can cause. VARIANTS A. A thing cannot act unless or until it is." Wuellner, Bernard J. Summary of Scholastic Principles. Chicago, IL: Loyola University Press, 1956. pp. 31-32
The idea here is that the soul must first exist in order to formally cause the body. But, in what way does the soul precede being the formal cause of the body? As I see it, the soul doesn't merely precede its formal act in a logical way, but in an ontological way too. That is, it enjoys a substantive existence independent of being the form of a body.
Ontological priority is not the same as priority in time, which is the issue people usually have in mind when they discuss "preexistence of the soul." The principle does not suggest that a soul must exist temporally prior to its body in order to serve as its informative principle. Even if we accept that it is possible, your conclusion does not follow from your premises.

Steven Dillon said...

Grace and Rust: You said

"Unfortunately, the "preexisting rationality" cannot become the rationality of an animal because either:
a. it already is one, because it has corporeal powers, even if its body never existed, or:
b. the soul has no corporeal powers prior to being embodied, in which case acquiring such powers leads us back into my dichotomy."

My position is simply that we start out as "preexisting rationalities" without any corporeal powers prior to being embodied, but that we attain such powers upon being miraculously transformed into the informative principle of a body. In other words, I'm advocating your (b). (I think this is really the only way pre-embodiment could occur under A-T metaphysics) So, what is the dichotomy you take to defeat my position?

Well, I think it's this: "either the preexisting soul is destroyed in creating an embodied human, or the mind is not strictly a human mind, but some kind of angelic one." The first disjunct is what's going to have to impale my position because I subscribe to a pretty standard hylemorphic theory of mind. So, the question I have for you is why must the preexisting soul be destroyed? In more Thomist terminology, what is impossible about an angel becoming the 'rationality' component in the substantial form of a human being?

As for whether the soul precedes the body temporally, I think it must if it does in fact precede the body ontologically. Time is just a measure of change, and so the change from being a preexistent soul to the soul of a body would involve some temporal demarcation.

E.Seigner said...

Callum, You say that the majority of people dont remember past lives because death and birth 'are the most traumatic experiences in existence'. Why think that? By many accounts, when people die they can be often calm and peaceful. Certainly nog traumatic. Also, why is it that people who remember past lives often remember traumatic deaths? If its the trauma which affects a person's memory, shouldnt we see hardly anyone remember more traumatic deaths? Even if these weren't true, what positive arguments are there for thinking that death and birth are traumatic?

More often than not, forgetfulness is a mechanism to spare us from traumas, painful memories. Were it not for horrible and shameful events in life, flawless uninterrupted memory would be generally preferable.

That which affects memory is not the trauma, but the tendency of our consciousness to be drawn to pleasant things and to shun unpleasant things. If someone remembers a past life and the death in between, particularly a traumatic death, there the preserved memory is part of their fate. By the way, trauma does not mean something like "terrifying". It means a clinical injury. Some people may laugh over their broken arm, but the broken arm is still a trauma. Death is a fatal trauma.

Callum, Also, what philosophical theories of memory do you subscribe to which makes sense if it passing from one body to another? Surely it isnt physical and perhaps apart of a soul. But then if it's the soul that remembers, how would traumatic experience of death affect the soul remembering?

Memory is a small part of the bigger picture. That which passes on through rebirths is karma. Karma is fate, afflictions of the soul. The afflictions concretize as peculiar abilities and disabilities of the body and mind, including memory, and as events that occur to that person, including length of life. Karma is deposited around the soul in all these ways, body, mind, memory, events, etc. for a lifetime, and the virtuous or vicious reactions of the person to his surroundings and to his condition determines next life.

If you want to defend some type of unified consciousness, what would that look like?

Some other time maybe.

MichaelM said...

Reincarnation: New Flesh on Old Bones

http://www.studiesincomparativereligion.com/public/articles/Reincarnation_New_Flesh_on_Old_Bones-by_Whitall_Perry.aspx

Jacob said...

From the works I have read I think a plausible case can be made for reincarnation. But my problem with reincarnation is same as my problem with atheism. My life becomes completely irrelevant in both. The 'self' that i experience myself to be will cease to be at my death. Whatever continues is not 'me'. some part of me will be born as the next reincarnation who has no conscious continuity with me. For all practical purposes, that is a different person. Atleast in the usual way we use the term person. Calling that person a continuation of me is like calling someone who got a heart transplant from me at my death as the next me.
Similarly as far as karma/justice is concerened, it hardly makes any sense. I can do any sort of good/bad actions in my life but it is the next person who has no memory of the past who benefits/suffers. Also it means there is no point in trying to improve the human condition on earth. All that is irrelevant compared to what our true goal is.. which is to escape from this cycle of reincarnation. the only good that we should do is that which will contribute to our emancipation. I guess that is why the most spiritual of eastern monks spent their lives in meditation in remote locations.