Monday, August 20, 2018

The Immateriality of the Mind


At the Society of Catholic Scientists meeting at Catholic University of America last June, I gave the keynote address on the topic “Arguments for the Immateriality of the Mind.”  You can now watch the lecture via YouTube.  (For anyone who is wondering, Prof. Karin Öberg, one of the conference organizers, is the one you’ll see introducing me.)  Some of the other conference talks can also be seen at the SCS page at YouTube.

Links to other recent talks of mine can be found at my main website.

27 comments:

  1. It seems many good points were made to demonstrate a immaterial ganet at work alongside the mechanics.
    yet in all these matters I see the memory as the great machine. In fact i don't think the mind, in the bible, means anything more then the memory. this connecting a immaterial soul to a body.
    For is the "mind" is immaterial it couldn't possibly break down in operation. it could not be affected by decay or alcohol.
    Yet the mind is. so the mind must be material.
    So it must be the memory of a human. its the soul that can not be affected by decay etc.
    All senses are observed by the soul observing the memory. the memory is the middleman.
    i see the memory as always not included but still regarded as secondary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Memory alone does not explain forming concepts as universals, when memory can only supply individual instances. There has to be a faculty over and above memory by which the universal is apprehended.

      Delete
    2. often people say that the mind must be material because it is affected by drugs or injuries, but this doesn't prove a material mind. All dualists have always always said the mind can affect the body and the body can affect the mind. Think of what would happen if you opened your TV while it was on and started pulling apart some of the components in there. The image on screen would get all distorted, but this doesn't mean that the people on screen are being damaged or destroyed. Those people are still alive but the means through which they are transmitted to you have been damaged. The brain is the means by which the mind can interact with the body. Damage to the brain interferes with the transmissions of the mind to the material world.

      Delete
  2. David Bentley Hart is currently preparing a couple of books, one on philosophy of mind and one on universal salvation. Hart has mentioned before that he doesn't really buy hylomorphism, and I think I am starting to understand the line he is going to take. In a recent article, he talks about spiritual beings as having spiritual bodies, which are contrasted with fleshly bodies.
    http://churchlife.nd.edu/2018/07/26/the-spiritual-was-more-substantial-than-the-fleshly-for-the-ancients/
    The reason I think he is going this way is that the metaphysics of change throw a real monkey wrench into his idea of universal salvation. He really needs for souls after death to be able to change.

    Aquinas argues that the soul’s orientation is fixed on separation from the body (and also that being reunited with the body cannot resume change, though this is less important to what I’m going to argue).
    It seems to me that Hart's own particular argument for universal salvation doesn't survive this kind of analysis.
    1. If intelligent beings cannot exist as purely immaterial minds apart from changable material bodies, that would defeat arguments for the survival of the soul after bodily death.
    2. If immaterial minds cannot but choose God, they don't meaningfully have will (or maybe even intellect).
    3. If they can choose other than God, then they must do so permanently, as purely immaterial beings are pure form (plus existence) and to "change" form isn't really to change but to obliterate one being and replace it with another.
    And if immaterial intelligences can choose other than God and their choice is permanent, then Hart's idea that all rational beings simply _must_ ultimately choose God is defeated.
    Note that it doesn’t matter if God voluntarily refrains from creating purely immaterial beings for fear that they would choose other than himself. The point is metaphysical: according to Hart, all rational beings _must_ be open to eventually choosing God.

    -----

    I invite comments, from Dr. Feser, if he has time, but also from other commenters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't really think that it's necessary for hylomorphism to have souls be so permanent and changeless that, if they were reunited to their body, they would still be locked into the choice that they have made.

      Consider the numerous examples of people being raised from the dead in the Bible, and certainly being neither permanent saints nor permanent devils. Also consider the fact that people are already today working on trying to revive dead, cryogenically frozen human bodies back to life, and if they were to succeed in this, with the reanimated human having rationality, it would obviously have to be the rational soul coming back to the body to inform it again, and it would be extremely awkward if the soul's permanent choice were to continue if it were brought back to the body.

      Delete
    2. Let aside the biblical raisings from the dead - they were obviously divine interventions. The question of reviving cryogenically preserved bodies raises many medical issues, but philosophicaly we should consider that there might be no forced return of the soul: the revived beings might simply be zombies.

      Delete
    3. Or the much more likely prospect that there simply is no revival possible through purely medical means. They can "work on it" forever and not succeed - as much as they try, they never get the body to act as an integrated whole again, it continues to deteriorate qua "one body" into a meaningless mass of gel.

      Delete
    4. I am guessing that by introducing "spiritual" bodies, Hart is going to have his cake and eat it too. He gets all the "change" he needs out of it by its being "bodily", but he escapes the degeneration and changing he doesn't want by its being spiritual instead of fleshly.

      It's a nice trick if you can manage it. Of course, any good A-T student is going to insist on asking questions like "if it is 'bodily' to the extent of being subject to change, in what way is it different from a fleshly body as we know it?" And the even more interesting question of whether he envisions humans as having BOTH a spiritual body AND a fleshly body, and whether this obtains both during this life on Earth, and after death, and also during our resurrected phase after the second coming? Because if so, then how is it that the spiritual body is doing anything that the physical body is not?

      As for universal salvation: the ambiguous scriptural references that would seem to be available to support universal salvation are far easier to "re"-interpret as compatible with people being in hell permanently, than the many passages declaring hell being "re"-interpreted as compatible with universal salvation.

      In any case, the Second Council of Constantinople declared "If anyone says or holds that the punishment of the demons and of impious men is temporary, and that it will have an end at some time, that is to say, there will be a complete restoration of the demons or of impious men, let him be anathema." It is a dogma of the Church, held by both Catholic and Orthodox Christians, and the contrary is an old heresy being regurgitated under modern pathologies of interpreting the Bible and dogma. We are not allowed to re-interpret the meaning of a dogmatic teaching so that the meaning gets reversed 180 degrees from the meaning held by the ancient Church.

      Delete
    5. @Tony,

      Yeah, about that.

      Recent proposals are to have dead bodies that have been cryogenically frozen have their brains be stimulated with lasers to fix the decayed parts, and have stem cells be inserted into the brain and body to replace all dead tissue with fresh, living one, thereby managing a clear and obvious way to bring a dead body into a state where it is almost freshly alive.

      Keep in mind that stem cells are proven to have this restoration effect on bodies.

      Furthermore, experiments have been done on animals as far back as the 40's and 50's. More specifically, the Soviets tried reviving a seperated dog head to life using pumps to bring the blood back into the head again, and the experiment was a success, and you can even watch a YouTube video about that called "Experiments in the Revival of Organisms", linked to here:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDqh-r8TQgs


      In the above video, one can see dead dog heads being brought back to animation and even reacting to external stimuli.

      If dead animals can be brought back to life, and thus be informed with a sensitive soul again, then so can humans, at least in theory, at the very least at the level of the sensitive soul, the rational soul being brought back by God Himself of course.

      Delete
    6. I would take issue with assuming something is dead if we can "revive" it while plausibly maintaining that the revived individual is the same as the one that "died" previously. Different activities we use as signs of life were generally reliable back then, because if those activities stopped, the body would begin to break down until it was completely gone. Today, these signs are less reliable because we can prevent this break down, and there are still stages where we can reverse it enough for the body to continue functioning in key respects.
      I would contend that modern methods, if they prove successful, would only remind us that our definitions of death are largely defined by what our technology can do. I doubt this would tell us anything radically different about what death actually is, if only because the point when we must agree that someone is dead remains: their body has degraded to such a point that natural means cannot be used to restore it while maintaining that the "fixed" body is numerically identical to the original.

      Delete
    7. An aspect of the universal salvation topic that's often overlooked in the discussion:

      I submit that mass confusion on the topic is itself evidence for universal salvation. If incredibly intelligent philosophers and theologians can wind up on both sides of the isle, what hope is there for the average guy? Does it make sense for God to impose the risk of infinite loss on an inherently limited, ignorant world, flailing around in a mire of uncertainty? If Hell is eternal, and if God loved humanity, he would ensure that there be no ambiguity over a doctrine dealing with infinite loss. He would not want a world where intelligent, credible people like David Hart, Eric Reitan, Tom Talbott, etc. were running around promulgating universalism.

      Delete
    8. That doesn't seem like a very good argument to me. It appears to overlook that salvation is more than just "belief" in the modern, "just assent with one's mind," sense of the word. It also takes supernatural assistance in the form of infused virtues, and as is often emphasized by others, it is when God gives people these gifts that people can be saved. And once we grant that we need infused virtues, perhaps we have a decent answer as to what hope average people have: the Church, which is the pillar and bulwark of truth, which has traditionally taught that there is such a thing as eternal Hell. The smart money, even if we claim that she isn't infallible, is to take her perennial teachings against the innovators.
      It should not faze someone to find out that intelligent people are on the other side on something like this; history and contemporary experience have some very surprising examples of very well-learned people making obvious blunders and even attacking the foundations of knowledge to defend beliefs they held because of bad motives.

      Delete
    9. I fully agree that there are richer conceptions of "belief," ones that adds layers on top of mere "assent." I subscribe to a (very) non-modern conception myself: I think a person genuinely believes something only when he starts acting as if it's true, as then there's evidence that he has actually integrated the belief into the core of his being. However, I would still suggest that "assent" is the necessary initial feature that all the other features flock around.

      Also, the notion of supernatural assistance...does your understanding of it necessitate something akin to predestination/election, assuming we're not ultimately in control of whether we receive that assistance?

      Delete
    10. Yes, even with added features defining belief, assent will remain central to a coherent notion, but I don't see this as adding anything in defense of the original argument. It seems to make things worse: embracing a richer conception of belief creates a tension between universal salvation on the one hand, and such things as the Great Commission and the formula that "outside of the Church there is no salvation" (even in looser but reasonable interpretations) neither of which a Christian should be willing to reject. Otherwise, the salvation narrative falls apart, which is basically to falsify the Christian religion.

      As for supernatural help, I would say that it involve a certain element of predestination. It's up to God whether we receive that grace, but we remain free actors in the economy of salvation (contrary to what Calvn apparently believed). It would be helpful at this point to appeal to the distinction between actualizing free will on the one hand, and forcing human decisions on the other, if you're familiar with it.

      Delete
  3. It also seems that any sort of changing bodies must be material in some sense, since they must have potential and only material things can have potential (aside from the potential of forms that have not currently been given existence, to exist).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Quantum physics and its intersection with biology demonstrate the immateriality of mind:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBsI_ay8K70&list=PL1mr9ZTZb3TX_4LthrdGqACsqIWKd2gs-

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great video -- but don't think your sentence describes it correctly. Also the question of how mind and brain interact is proposed as idealism by InspiringPhilosophy. That general topic was outside of EF's talk, but I believe he comments on idealism in response to the last Q in his CUA talk.

      Delete
  5. I have to say, Ed, that was a first-class speech you gave. Sorry I can't say any more, as I'm kind of busy at the moment. Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Aquinas brings the idea that the mind has form and substance and rejects it.
    Thomas Reid also mentions this.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you for the fascinating lecture, Dr. Feser. I very much appreciated the software running on hardware analogy. It strikes me that a valuable contribution to this analogy would be to extend presented use case of the hardware being programmed to do a specific thing by the developer my means software, e.g. addition, to include dealing with AI generally and neural networks specifically . Do you know of any papers or lectures that deal with this?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm not sure I follow Feser's main argument. He says that there's no way for the materialist to know whether in the past I was adding rather than "quadding", as there's nothing I can appeal to in the physical facts themselves about my behavior or brain-states that would give me this information.

    But couldn't I simply appeal to my memory of when I performed the calculation, and make the common-sense conclusion according to what I remember that my intention was indeed to add rather than to "quadd"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's nothing inherent in your memory of performing the calculation that makes it adding rather than quadding. You might say the operation you performed was "addition," but calling it addition doesn't mean that it is addition, any more than one could make multiplication division by calling it such.

      Delete
    2. The quaddition/addition example is simply meant to illustrate that you can't get determinate semantic content from physical facts. Of course we know we're adding and not quadding. But that's because we have a determinate idea of addition which is not gathered by empirical facts alone, but by insight. There's nothing in the operations of a machine that tells us we are adding instead of quadding, as there isn't anything in the soundwaves or ink blots of the word "wheel" that gives us the determinate meaning of the concept "wheel" instead of any other concept.

      Delete
    3. But there was something inherent in my memory of performing the calculation that made it addition--namely, the intention for adding as opposed to quadding that I had at that moment in time and which I remember having.

      Delete
  9. Is there a transcript of the talk?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Very nice talk. I simply don't see why you can't make a similar transition by redefining "materialism" for rationality as was done for intentionality and consciousness (qualia). Unless you are a Platonist, that is, in which case immateriality of mind needs no further argument (the mind itself is an essential form). Let's take a painted red triangle. Why should the perception of red be any different than the perception of a triangle? If we can say that the figure has reddishness (in itself, as opposed to merely reflecting light at a particular wavelength), and the perception of red doesn't refute materialism, then why can't we say the figure has triangleishness (in itself), and therefore likewise for our perception of triangle. If the answer is that we abstract to an abstract triangle, then don't we do the same by abstracting to an abstract red?

    ReplyDelete