Monday, May 28, 2018

Musical chairs brains minds


Comics, like science fiction, can be a great source for philosophical thought experiments.  Recently I’ve been re-reading one of the classic Marvel storylines from the 1970s, the “Headmen saga” from The Defenders, by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema.  Gerber, who was among the best writers ever to have worked in comics, famously specialized in absurdist satire, and this storyline is a prime example.  More to the present point, it contains an interesting twist on a scenario familiar from discussions of the philosophical problem of personal identity.

The Defenders, at this point in the series, include Dr. Strange, the Hulk, Valkyrie, Luke Cage – all of whom will be familiar to viewers of the Marvel movies and Netflix series – and Nighthawk (pictured at left above), a reformed criminal and heir to a fortune, who bankrolls the team.  Staying with them is their friend Jack Norriss, the husband of Valkyrie – or rather, of Barbara Norriss, the woman whose body Valkyrie is occupying.  (It’s complicated.)

Their nemeses the Headmen are basically a cabal of crackpot central planners who seek to remodel society so as to remove from it any element of arbitrariness or accident.  Their leader is Dr. Arthur Nagan (also pictured above), a transplant surgeon whose head has been grafted on to the body of a gorilla.  Assisting him is Dr. Jerry Morgan, a researcher in cell biology who accidentally shrunk the bones of his face so that the skin hangs droopily and grotesquely from it.  Then there is Harvey Schlemerman, who goes by the alias Chondu the Mystic – a third-rate Dr. Strange wannabe whose incomplete mastery of sorcery never got him much farther than the carnival circuit.  Rounding out the team is Ruby Thursday, a computer scientist who has replaced her head with a shape-shifting supercomputer that usually takes the form of a shiny red sphere, but is capable of taking on any other appearance or configuration she desires.  

Competing with the Headmen for world domination is Nebulon, an extremely powerful Adonis-like extraterrestrial whose own scheme for takeover of the Earth involves masquerading as a balding middle-aged self-help guru.  Teaming up with the Ludberdites, another extraterrestrial race – of reptilian scientist-philosophers who believe themselves obligated to bring inferior races to enlightenment – Nebulon founds the Celestial Mind Control human potential movement.  The cult-like movement (whose members wear Bozo the Clown masks to represent the mediocre selves they hope to move beyond) soon gains a mass following, especially in France.  There’s also a mysterious gun-toting elf who seems to have nothing to do with any of the parties to the conflict, but who randomly appears at various points in the story, shoots someone, then disappears.

Well, again, it’s complicated (and often pretty funny) – very “70s”-ish both in its weirdness and in the objects of its satire.  Anyway, the part of the tale that primarily concerns us is this.  In order to infiltrate the Defenders, the Headmen kidnap Nighthawk, remove his brain, and transplant Chondu’s brain into Nighthawk’s body.  Nighthawk’s brain is then placed in a bowl of life-preserving chemicals – where, cut off from all sensory stimulation, it proceeds to hallucinate for a big chunk of the story.  Eventually the Defenders figure out what is going on, and in order to trick the Headmen and retrieve Nighthawk’s brain, Dr. Strange casts a spell that transfers Jack Norriss’s mind into Chondu’s brain, which is still in Nighthawk’s body.  Chondu’s mind is in turn transferred into the body of a fawn which the Hulk calls “Bambi” and had brought into the Defenders’ headquarters as a pet.  Jack’s body, now mindless (but not lifeless), is left on a slab, awaiting the return of Jack’s mind once the scheme is completed.

Needless to say, there is a lot of fodder here for the philosopher interested in questions of identity.  Some of the story elements involve scenarios familiar from the philosophical literature on personal identity: the transfer of consciousness from one body to another, the transplant of a brain from one body to another, the replacement of a brain with a computer, and the “brain in a vat” scenario.  The idea of a human consciousness entering the body of an animal is also familiar from discussions of reincarnation.  But Gerber adds a novel twist with the case of Jack’s mind in Chondu’s brain in Nighthawk’s body.  Quite a mess!

Could a swap of bodily and non-bodily parts get any more complex than that?  It could, with a scenario entertained by John Locke, which perhaps Gerber would have been tempted to incorporate into his story if he’d thought of it.  In the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke argues that personal identity cannot reduce to sameness of body over time, because it is at least possible in principle, he argues, for a person’s consciousness to jump from one body to another (as in his famous prince and cobbler scenario).  But he argues that personal identity also cannot reduce to sameness of immaterial substance or soul over time, because (so Locke claims) a person’s consciousness could in principle jump from one immaterial substance to another just as it could jump from one body to another.  

So, imagine a case where Dr. Strange first somehow transfers Jack’s consciousness into (say) the Hulk’s immaterial substance or soul, and then transfers that soul into Chondu’s brain which is in Nighthawk’s body.  Then we’d have: Jack’s consciousness in the Hulk’s soul in Chondu’s brain in Nighthawk’s body.  An even bigger mess!  Who would the resulting person be?  Locke’s answer, of course, would be that it is Jack.  That is the point of his various thought experiments.  He thinks that continuity of consciousness, rather than continuity of either a physical or non-physical substance, is the key to personal identity.

Is any of this really possible even in principle, though?  That depends, of course, on the background metaphysics one brings to bear on the subject.  The proposed scenario Locke added to the discussion (the jump of consciousness from one soul to another) in fact doesn’t really make any sense given the main traditional philosophical conceptions of the soul.  Locke seems to think of a soul as a kind of vehicle or container with a separable content – namely various particular thoughts, memories, experiences, and the like.  He supposes that this container might be emptied of its contents and new contents (or perhaps no contents at all?) put in place of them.  

But that is not how Descartes (say) understands the soul.  For Descartes, the soul is a res cogitans or thing that thinks, and that is its entire nature.  That is to say, he doesn’t think of the soul as something that merely has thinking as an activity, but rather as something that just is thinking.  There is nothing more to it than that.  Hence there would, for him, be no sense to be made of somehow separating the thinking of (say) your soul from your soul itself, and putting some other thoughts into it.  There is no gap between the soul and its activity or content by which this would be possible.  Hence for Descartes, Locke’s scenario would be a non-starter.  

Nor is it clear, in any case, what it would mean for a consciousness to jump from one soul to another.  A thought, experience, memory, or the like is a kind of attribute of the person who has it.  In this respect, at least, it is like a person’s being fat or being tall.  Now, it makes no sense to think of your tallness or fatness jumping from you to another person.  Of course, another person could have the same height as you and thus be as tall as you are.  But that just means that your tallness and his tallness are similar, not that they are numerically identical.  Even if he started out short and grew, and at the same time you shrank, that would not be a matter of your tallness jumping from you to him (whatever that would mean).  It would just be a matter of your losing your tallness and his gaining his own tallness.  In the same way, what would it mean for your memory of high school, or your personality trait of being short-tempered, to jump from your soul to his?

Even to common sense, the idea that a consciousness could jump from one soul to another sounds very weird.  The commonsense notion of the soul – or at least, the notion familiar from modern pop culture (movies, etc.) – seems to identify it precisely with consciousness considered as a kind of substance in its own right.  Descartes’ conception could be regarded as a refinement of this common conception.  (There is another commonsense way of thinking about the soul, however – though perhaps more common in ancient times than in modern times – on which it is a kind of animating principle.  Aristotle’s idea of the soul as the form of the body would be a philosophical refinement of this notion.)

Given that this is the usual commonsense understanding, it probably didn’t even occur to Gerber (who obviously wanted to make his scenario as weird and complicated as possible) to add a further, Lockean “soul swap” element to his Jack/Chondu/Nighthawk mashup.  But what he does put into that mashup would certainly be possible from a Cartesian point of view.  Descartes would say that what Dr. Strange did was causally to correlate Jack’s res cogitans with a bit of res extensa that had once been in Chondu’s body (viz. Chondu’s brain) but which is now in turn causally correlated with the bulk of the res extensa that is Nighthawk’s body.  Chondu’s res cogitans, in turn, was causally correlated by Dr. Strange with the body of Bambi (the Hulk’s pet fawn).

(Just to make things more complicated, it might be worth noting that for Locke, it seems, the Chondu-to-Bambi switch would not be possible.  The reason is that though Locke is a kind of property dualist, he thinks that matter must be “fitly disposed” before thought can be “superadded” to it.  In other words, while a complex arrangement of matter is not a sufficient condition for a physical thing’s being able to think, it is in Locke’s view a necessary condition.  Since Bambi is not a rational animal, I imagine Locke might say that her matter is not fitly disposed to be associated with thought, so that Chondu’s intellect could not come to be associated with it.  See my book Locke for further discussion of Locke’s position.) 

From an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) point of view, much of what Gerber describes is not possible even in principle.  For Aristotle and Aquinas, your soul is the form of your body, so that anything that had your soul would of necessity be your body (or at least part of your body – more on that qualification in a moment).  Hence it would be impossible for Valkyrie’s soul to enter Barbara’s body (since Valkyrie’s soul is the form of Valkyrie’s body), or for Chondu’s soul to enter Bambi’s body (since Chondu’s soul, being the form of Chondu’s body, is the form of a human body), or for Jack’s soul to enter Chondu’s brain (since Jack’s soul, being the form of Jack’s body, could only ever be associated with Jack’s brain).  Nor would it be possible for Jack’s body to survive in the absence of Jack’s soul.  Given the A-T view of the soul, for the body to lose its soul is for it to lose the form of a living thing, and thus to cease being a living thing.

However, the Chondu-to-Nighthawk brain swap does not seem impossible in principle from an A-T point of view.  It would seem to be continuous with heart transplants, lung transplants, etc.  Chondu, in effect, would be getting a full-body transplant.  The scenario does, however, raise interesting questions about how to work out the details of the A-T position.  Nighthawk’s soul is the form of his body.  More precisely, it is a substantial form, that which makes the matter of Nighthawk’s body to be a substance of the kind it is.  Now, immediately after Nighthawk’s brain is removed from the body, it is clear enough that the same soul (Nighthawk’s) is still giving form to the matter that makes up his body, even though the matter has now been severed into two parts (the brain and the rest of the body).  This is like the case where a finger or the like is severed and then reattached surgically.  The circumstances are not the normal ones by which a soul gives form to the matter of the body, but the same principle applies even though the parts are separated.  Nor does the fact of there being two spatially separated bits of matter show that there are now two substances, because the severed finger is not a complete substance in the first place.  It is ordered to the rest of the body.  That is its natural home, as it were, and its identity conditions reflect that fact even when it is unnaturally separated from it.

But the Chondu brain swap complicates things.  Once Chondu’s brain is attached to Nighthawk’s body and starts to control it, whose soul is giving form to the matter of Nighthawk’s body?  Chondu’s or Nighthawk’s?  I am inclined to say that it depends on whether the body resists the transplant and on how long the brain stays in this new body.  Suppose the body resists the transplant and/or that the brain does not stay in the body long enough for the surgical wounds fully to heal or the integration to become complete and natural.  In that case I would argue, tentatively, that it is still Nighthawk’s soul that is giving form to the matter of the body, even though Nighthawk’s brain is in a bowl somewhere and the body has got someone else’s brain in it.  For it is at this point still essentially functioning like Nighthawk’s body rather than Chondu’s body (by resisting the transplanted brain and/or not integrating smoothly with it).

Suppose, however, that the transplant “takes,” the wounds heal, and the integration becomes smooth, “second nature” as it were.  Then I would say that Chondu’s brain would in that case essentially have assimilated Nighthawk’s body to itself, in something remotely analogous to the way the body integrates food into itself after a meal.  And in that case Chondu’s soul would effectively take over the job of giving form to the matter that had once been Nighthawk’s body.

Perhaps an even trickier case is Ruby Thursday.  Again, she has replaced her head (and thus her brain) with a malleable computer.  The rest of the original body remains, however.  (And Ruby is actually quite an attractive woman – well, apart, that is, from having a head like a red bowling ball.)  

Now, on the one hand, from an A-T point of view, computers cannot be said to think, in part because a thinking thing is a kind of natural substance, and a computer is not a natural substance, but a kind of artifact.  So, you might conclude from that that strictly speaking, Ruby post-transplant no longer really exists – that what is left is essentially a body artificially kept alive and controlled by an unconscious, unthinking mechanism.

However, the A-T position does not rule out the possibility of prosthetic organs being integrated into a body, as in the case of an artificial heart.  It’s hard to see why that would not include artificial neural parts, such as computer components integrated into a brain in order to restore lost functionality.  On the A-T view, after a heart transplant you would remain the same person – the same soul-body composite – after the transplant as you were before, and the A-T view would also imply that this situation would not change if what you received was a transplant of artificial neural structures rather than an artificial heart.

So far, so good.  But the Ruby Thursday example is harder to interpret.  On the one hand, you could argue that since most of her original body remains, what has happened is that the same organism (namely the human being or rational animal Ruby Thursday) survives the transplant, and that the artificial computer brain is analogous to an artificial heart.  Ruby, on this interpretation, would still be a conscious, rational creature, merely using a prosthetic organ to take in information about her body and the external environment, to generate perceptual experiences and phantasms that her intellect can abstract from, and so forth.

On the other hand, as my treatment of the Chondu-Nighthawk example indicates, the brain does seem to be more central to the organism than other body parts are, so that one could argue instead that with the original brain completely destroyed, Ruby’s spherical replacement is not properly thought of as a prosthetic, but just as an unliving mechanism.  The rest of Ruby’s body, on this interpretation, would be analogous to a kidney or heart that has been removed from a corpse and kept alive.  No one thinks that keeping a kidney or heart alive suffices to keep the person alive.  And on the interpretation of the Ruby Thursday example that I’m now entertaining, the part of Ruby’s body that survives the loss of her original brain and head is like the kidney or heart.  It isn’t really her anymore.

I’ll leave that interpretive issue unresolved for now.  And I haven’t even mentioned how much weirder the Chondu situation gets later in the story.  While his brain is in Nighthawk’s body, Nagan and the other Headmen decide radically to alter Chondu’s body, giving him a unicorn horn, a serpentine tongue, gigantic bird-like legs and bat-like wings, and a bundle of lampreys in place of each arm.  The motive, apparently, was to see how far Nagan could push his transplant techniques.  Naturally, Chondu was not thrilled about this upon awakening after the surgery that restored his brain to this modified body!

In case any readers are interested, the Defenders-Headmen saga has been collected in a one-volume hardcover edition, and is also available in a very cheap Kindle version.  

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42 comments:

  1. So, to apply this to a relevant contemporary issue, is it actually possible metaphysically to switch your biological sex? By, for example, taking out your brain and sticking it into the body of someone of the opposite sex. Or by grafting on actual reproductive organs of the opposite sex (not the simulated ones people add now).

    (I'd note that some people right now have bodies with one part that is XX and one part that is XY, usually, IIRC, if they absorb material from a sibling in the womb.)

    Of course, just because such a thing is metaphysically possible does not mean that it is morally acceptable.

    But as science advances, it may be possible to do more than simply mutilate your body, as transsexuals do today.

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    1. There’s more to biological sex than genitalia. The male and female brain are very different. Indeed, humans are very sexually dimorphic.

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    2. The sex characteristics of the brain would only be one way in which the substantial form is expressed bodily. In other words, sex is not merely a feature of the brain or any other physical feature or collection of physical features -- and as Ed wrote above, the brain is in no way "special" where identity is concerned, so it makes little sense to appeal to it -- but rather something inherently proper to the substantial form itself.

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    3. If a person can be impregnated, she is female, and if he can impregnate, he is male, no? That is the essential nature of the sexual difference (note that obviously, there are many ways to be infertile, so this does not imply remotely that people who can't or won't reproduce by that fact are somehow sexless). Other differences between the sexes are secondary features that tend to flow from the reproductive reality. If the reproductive roles did not exist, there would be no sexes and no concept of that kind of distinction among people.

      Many of the erroneous arguments from transgenderism rest on the fallacious idea that if you have, say, a male with enough feminine secondary sex characteristics, which includes observable activities in the brain in many cases, that somehow this overrides the fundamental basis of the sex differences. Nope. No matter how a person thinks or feels or looks, that doesn't decide which way that person's offspring could come into existence.

      Hermaphroditism and sequential hermaphroditism are real phenomena in some non-mammalian species, so it does seem like a genuine metaphysical possibility: if the biotechnology existed to turn a woman into a person who could beget children, then he really would become a hermaphrodite or transsexual, depending upon whether the ability to bear children remained. It's quite true that as a matter of empirical fact mammals have very specialized reproductive functions and don't ever seem to do this, but it's not metaphysically impossible because it already happens in other animals. I don't know of anything particular to rational animals that could preclude this on metaphysical grounds.

      As Thursday rightly notes for clarity, not all metaphysically possible things are morally acceptable!

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    4. Hmm. Correct me if I’m wrong, but on the A-T view, the brain is informed matter, so if you’re talking about the brain, you’re already talking about form.

      I’m not really sure what woukd be more substantial for a human qua human. After all, there’s a reason that when we die, A-T says we exist in a radically deficient state. We’re not angels.

      Then again, I could be missing/misunderstanding something.

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    5. Actually the biology is quite complex. You can have an XY woman with CAIS. Also if you know how men develop in the womb (fetology) etc. it is possible to have sexual organs 'between' both sexes or with characteristics of both (intersex). Importantly, none of these things are the same as someone 'self identifying' as a woman etc. as is the case with transsexuals.

      Additionally there is the case of mosaicism and so on.

      Biology only informs metaphysics, and indeed metaphysics is more fundamental.

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  2. One naive responce, but memories have been shown to be moved between mice which seems to undermine the idea that memories are attributes of a person.

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    1. Well your memories couldn't make you you or my memories make me me. After all, what makes them your memories is that you were the person who did the actions or were involved in the events you recall. That they are your memories presupposes you are you, and hence memories can't be the reason that you are you. Maybe they are attributes of a person, but not essential ones. More like height than being a rational being.

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    2. How would they even measure that? Memories are not merely signals, for the memory has to be there to recall in the first place. How sure are we that mice even have memories in the first place? This sounds very odd.

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  3. What would be the A-T interpretation of dead human bodies being revived back to life, with the formerly-dead-but-now-living human being also having intellect?

    Would this be the same seperated intellect now united again to it's formerly dead body, with God co-operating by putting the intellect back into the revived body as it were? Or is the rational soul that is now in the body a new one that God just created fresh from the printing press?



    If the latter, and since Christianity is true and there will be a general resurrection of the dead in the end, would it be possible for the 2 souls to enform differen bodies but with the same prime matter?

    Say I cut my finger off - but that finger is still composed of the same prime matter as my own body, which means 2 rational souls that were the forms of the same body would be able to have 2 distinct bodies of the same prime matter - all that would be required is for God to turn the cut off finger into a body for the other soul to enform.

    What do you think?

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    1. I think the bigger head-scratcher is the fact that the matter composing a human body isn't fixed (and recycles itself entirely over periods of time), and even contains matter previously belonging to other human bodies.

      If, for the sake of argument, JP II's body intermittently contained molecules previously belonging to Pius X, how are both going to be bodily resurrected at the same time?

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    2. What would be the A-T interpretation of dead human bodies being revived back to life, with the formerly-dead-but-now-living human being also having intellect?

      You mean like Lazarus in the Gospel? Or Jairus's daughter. Or Peter reviving the little girl (Tabitha)?

      Would this be the same seperated intellect now united again to it's formerly dead body, with God co-operating by putting the intellect back into the revived body as it were?

      Clearly yes, except that God does not "cooperate" with it, God is the one who DOES it. Arguably, God is the only one who can do such a thing - Thomas argues that each individual human soul is created directly by God because only God is capable of producing it, which he does not argue for forms of lesser beings.

      Or is the rational soul that is now in the body a new one that God just created fresh from the printing press?

      Clearly not. Therefore, we need not resolve the following question.

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    3. I think the bigger head-scratcher is the fact that the matter composing a human body isn't fixed (and recycles itself entirely over periods of time), and even contains matter previously belonging to other human bodies.

      If, for the sake of argument, JP II's body intermittently contained molecules previously belonging to Pius X, how are both going to be bodily resurrected at the same time?


      But no, Aristotle's notion of substantial forms was brought forth TO EXPLAIN the obvious reality that you can have matter that at one time is the matter of a rabbit and later is matter of a wolf. The explanation just is the change meant by saying the matter ceased to be the matter of "rabbit" and became the matter of "wolf".

      Obviously, though, numerical identity of a one substance does not depend on the complete identity of the prime matter, for this would make hash of the wolf undergoing the change of increase by taking on the matter that was the matter of the rabbit. The wolf does not become a new entity with a new numerically distinct identity now to be known as "wolf plus a bit of rabbit". (Which would be true if Democritus' atomistic ideas were true.)

      As for the resurrection of the dead, since we get glorified bodies, we cannot say for sure what God is doing anyway, but even if every single atom comprising a little baby (who then dies immediately) had already been the atom of some former person, it will still be true that the identity of the baby is distinct from the conglomerate aggregation of those atoms.

      I suspect that the answer includes this: that God will restore to us a body, but "body" is not univocal with "matter". "Body" implies matter organized by form. We never see prime matter sitting around, we only ever see matter that is organized already by some form or other.

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    4. @Tony,

      Quote: "You mean like Lazarus in the Gospel? Or Jairus's daughter. Or Peter reviving the little girl (Tabitha)?"

      But how does this square with the immortal soul making a final choice at the moment of death when it comes to accepting God?

      Lazarus, Jairus's daughter, and Tabitha are explained by some to be cases where the immortal souls ended up in Purgatory, because to bring a soul back from the dead after it has the Beatific Vision would be immoral, since God would be depriving a soul of the eternal happiness it has by bringing it back into it's body where it can in principle change it's choice to follow God. Bringing a saved or damned soul back to it's body also doesn't jive with the resurrection where after making a final choice the soul even when re-united to it''s body again stays in that final choice, so it seems the final choice the soul makes would also influence it's body if it were united to it again.

      Now, since we already have dead human bodies cryogenically frozen in hopes of bringing them back to life later with better technology, how would we explain it if the revived body had intellect? God can in principle bring the soul back to it's body, but the soul would have to be one who ende dup in Purgatory, otherwise we would have the saints and the damned coming back to life but either being purely good human souls or purely evil ones, which would be a very big difference. So if a soul were indeed amongst those that were brought back to life through technology (and the co-operation of God who alone can bring the rational soul back to enform it's body), it would have to be souls that ended up in Purgatory, which seems ad hoc and problematic.

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    5. to be cases where the immortal souls ended up in Purgatory,

      I don't think this works either, because you don't Purgatory until after being judged, and the judgment is supposed to be definitive.

      As far as I know, all of the comments that judgment takes place immediately after death are merely stating what God does, not what God must do. That is to say, there is no metaphysical principle that says God must judge a soul immediately upon death with no time in between. There is no special obligation or moral need, no special aspect of the universe's economy that demands it. Therefore, the dictum that God judges at death is more like a description of what generally happens, not what must happen in every single case. I.E., more like a description of things following natural law, but which therefore does not preclude the unusual or exceptional, or miracles which step outside of the natural order.

      There is nothing in revelation or theology that prevents God from making exceptions and not judging the few who die and will then be brought back to life.

      Now, since we already have dead human bodies cryogenically frozen in hopes of bringing them back to life later with better technology, how would we explain it if the revived body had intellect?

      While most of the frozen are clearly dead even before they are frozen, science fiction envisions advances in technology that enables us to freeze someone who is not yet dead, where the freezing itself does not cause death but merely suspends living.

      On the other hand: technology alone cannot be the cause of reviving a person to life, since the technology can only operate on the corpse, not on the soul. God cannot be forced into reviving the person by technological activity on the corpse, though He can revive a person if He chooses. Nor can activity on the corpse force God to delay judgment of the person. There is no problem with the revived person being intellectual - they have a human soul because God causes the soul to return to being the animating principle of the body. And there is no empirical evidence of the revived person having been in Purgatory - there are no stories of persons being in Purgatory for a short time and then returning, as there are of persons being dead for a short time and then returning. According to the visions of saints, Purgatory is a tremendously harrowing experience which could not fail to be foremost on a person's mind upon revival - but we have no such reports. I would say that to the extent we have any evidence at all, it is simply that the dead person before being revived does NOT undergo judgment.

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    6. @Tony,


      But metaphysically speaking, the soul would make a choice right after death, which would be permanent due to the soul no longer being in a corporeal body, and it is because of this final choice that the soul makes upon being seperated from it's body that God decides to judge it right after death.

      If God were to delay the judgement, it would only mean He Himself wouldn't proclaim anything about the soul's final state, but that wouldn't exactly remove the soul's own final choice with regards to God it naturally makes after death.

      And since it is metaphysically impossible for the soul to reverse a fundamental choice with regards to God after it has made it after death, it seems that if the soul were in fact brought back to enform the revived body, it would seem that it would then have to change it's behaviour as well, either being a permanent saint or permanent devil.

      And if not that, then we still have the problem of whether or not it would be moral for God to bring a soul that has of it's own nature already made a final choice for or against God back into it's body where it could in principle change it's decision again.

      This may be an injustice done to those who have positively chosen God since it would seperate them from their eternal state of blessedness (whether or not they have to go through Purgatory first to fully enjoy that), and something similar may be said for the damned.

      Another objection would be that God bringing a soul who has already made a permanent choice back into a state of non-permanence would be ad hoc and unfair, since God could do that for just about every soul that exists, and could just as well continue bringing souls back into their bodies until all souls have chosen to accept God - thus making a new argument for universalism and how God could accomplish such a thing as universal salvation fo all humanity.

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    7. But metaphysically speaking, the soul would make a choice right after death, which would be permanent due to the soul no longer being in a corporeal body,

      I would dispute this. I think that the language of the Church is far more consistent with holding that the soul does not make any new choice after death; that (in normal cases) it's state of soul (either in grace or in mortal sin) at the moment of death itself (i.e. during the last period before death) constitutes the definitive condition for the judgment. The soul may loosely be said to "choose" after death, because the soul will either adhere to God or repudiate him, but this is not on account of a NEW act of the soul in choice, but on account of its connatural state of either adhering or fleeing given whether it has grace or not. There is nothing that I am aware of in the Church's theological literature that actually points to a NEW choice made after death.

      The only reason to speak of finality about the soul's condition after death is that there is (while the soul is apart from the body) nothing of the accoutrements normally necessary to undergo a choosing. Hence there would be no choice. It's not like having once lost the body there is a metaphysical reason the person could not make any choices if re-united with the body.

      And anyway, using Purgatory doesn't do anything to solve your problem: a person who goes to Purgatory is, like the saints, (a) judged definitively, and (b) confirmed in the state of grace permanently - they WILL be in heaven, with certainty. So their being sent back to life in their body would still present issues with their ongoing choices and dying all over again (with ... another judgment on all their new choices)? Another element: a person who is judged and goes to Purgatory will indeed go to heaven, but they cannot earn any more merit. But a person who is revived can earn more merit. No, Purgatory solves nothing.

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    8. @Tony,


      This would then render void Catholic arguments for Purgatory to the effect that it would be unjust for God to take a soul that is enjoying a direct reward of Heaven back into it the sinful world.

      In other words, souls that are now enjoying the Beatific Vision can be brought back into their body without violating God's love and justice.

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    9. I am not sure where you are drawing your ideas of "Catholic" arguments for Purgatory having anything to do with the justice of God sending a person back to Earth from the Beatific Vision. Just not following. I'm sorry.

      I am not aware of any definite Catholic teaching on enjoying the Beatific Vision and then being revived, but I guess it is more or less assumed that a person who has been judged and entered into the BV will not have that reversed. However, St. Thomas taught that Jesus Christ had the BV his entire life (i.e. his human intellect was overshadowed by being in direct contact with the Divine presence, which is what happens in the BV), and he lived his whole life in that condition. So what does that say? Not sure. Of course, Jesus, being God, could not sin - does that change anything?

      All I am saying is that if God foreknows that He is going to revive Bill by sending his soul back to rejoin his body, He would not judge Bill's soul, and Bill will not experience either Heaven or Purgatory or Hell. I don't see how that "voids Catholic arguments" about anything at all, but it certainly doesn't imply anything about God sending a beatified soul back.

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  4. Prof. Feser,

    Have you done any posts on demonic possession and its relation to the soul and body from an A-T perspective?

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    1. I second this (at least, as long as it doesn't get in the way of a response to the substantial form/sufficient causality/evolution thing).

      Actually, given previous explorations of the A-T concept of angels, anything with regards to how an angel or demon could conceivably interact in any way with a human would be nice.

      The idea seems, thinking naïvely at least, to pose a sort of "interaction problem" of its own. If an angel/demon has no material aspect, how could it have senses, which would seem necessary to know what a human is up to (without reading your mind directly)? And if its choices are eternally fixed, how does it even react to observation, assuming it's even capable of observation?

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  5. Dr Feser,

    I am not sure that this is consistent with what you’ve said elsewhere and with what we know about death:


    “For Aristotle and Aquinas, your soul is the form of your body, so that anything that had your soul would of necessity be your body (or at least part of your body – more on that qualification in a moment).”

    For, as you’ve written on the blog here before, you reject the possibility that any substantial form could exist without informing the substance of which it is the form. But if the soul is the form of the body, then the soul cannot exist when it does not inform the body, and the soul does not inform the body after death. So, if the soul is the form of the body, and no substantial form can exist without informing the substance of which it is the form, then the soul cannot survive the destruction of the body. That can’t be right. Something has to give.

    Christopher

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    1. The 'soul' can exist as an incomplete substance in virtue of its immaterial potencies.

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    2. For, as you’ve written on the blog here before, you reject the possibility that any substantial form could exist without informing the substance of which it is the form. But if the soul is the form of the body, then the soul cannot exist when it does not inform the body, and the soul does not inform the body after death.

      Chris, Dr. Feser (and A-T) does not say that a substantial form cannot EXIST without it informing the matter of which it is the substantial form. It says that it cannot come into distinct existence as the numerically distinct substantial form of one distinct substance without informing the matter of which it is the substantial form. That is, it cannot BEGIN to exist without so informing the matter. But AFTER it exists already as a numerically distinct entity, the substantial form of a spiritual animal can persist without informing the matter with which first came to exist, due (as Anon says) to its immaterial potencies.

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  6. Where is the scientific proof that these comics actually existed back in the 1970s?????

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  7. Dear Dr. Feser,

    thank you for the interesting blog post.
    At some point you write:

    "[According to Hylomorphism] .. it would be impossible for Valkyrie’s soul to enter Barbara’s body (since Valkyrie’s soul is the form of Valkyrie’s body)"

    I'm going to go on a tangent here.

    How would this fit in the notion of demonic possession?

    Yes, there is a main difference between Valkyrie and a demon/angel, the latter being fully spiritual being, i.e. having form but not matter, but wouldn't Valkyrie being in Barbara Norris be something similar to possession in a way?

    Or is possession something only possible for beings which are immaterial?

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    1. Well, the mechanics of possession aren't exactly clear. Father ripperger an exorcist and psychologist speaks of demonic oppression and demonic possession. Demonic oppression, which is supposed to be more common, seems to involve a certain amount of influence over the the passions and the imagination, as well as some amount of ability to suggest things to the oppressed victim, but all of that doesn't seem to be very much different at the end of the day from the kind of communication that we do with each other. You have the ability to make somebody feel upset by yelling at them or whatever or to make them have certain thoughts by talking them in a certain way etc and so too demons, though by different means.

      Demonic possession has two types according to father Ripperger- fully voluntary and not fully voluntary (he has names for them but I do not recall them right now). The prior requires the Faustian style "deal with the Devil" where you invite The possession the other doesn't and is less total. In either case however the causal situation is not clear to me. Of course the Bible does it speak of Christ driving the demon out into the pigs for example, but does that mean that the soul of the demon literally resides in the pigs? I think it would also be perfectly consistent with the phenomena to hold that a demon simply has some sort of causal influence over the body, as a puppeteer, in which case you don't need to talk about the form of the demon in any sense being in the possessed victim any more than you need to talk about the form of the gardener being in a tree he's pruning.

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    2. Demonic possession (as I understand it) never has been taken to imply anything like the idea that the demon's spiritual nature becomes the animating PRINCIPLE of the matter. It never ceases to be the body of a human being. The demon's spirit may control the body, but not by making the body to be demon, but as an extrinsic principle (i.e. by very subtle but essentially extrinsic FORCE, or violence). The demon is an overwhelmingly effective puppet-master. Hence when the demon causes the human to do something evil, (like blaspheme), the human doesn't bear the guilt of blasphemy except mediately by way of consent to the demon's action through the human's own will, not immediately and without such consent.

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  8. Notwithstanding the rather deep philosophical questions and insights this particular comic motivated in Dr. Feser...from the synopsis, it sounds like Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema must have been dropping a whole bunch of acid during the creative process.

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  9. I don't think computers being artifacts would prohibit them from being conscious at least in theory, since AFAIK Aquinas considered ensoulment to be inherently miraculous. If you popped a complete human body into existence with a Star Trek replicator I feel like it'd be reasonable to expect ensoulment even though it's technically an artifact, and the same might be true for a sufficiently brainlike physical neural network.

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    1. I think you are misunderstanding what an artifact is?

      You are right about artificial intelligence being potentially possible, but it is because we can create substances and imbue forms that something may potentially end up with a particular teleology.

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  10. Can anyone help me find the answer to where in De Anima (or in St Thomas) there is a discussion of just how the "form of the body" manages to do double duty both as
    a. Form as universal, that which makes a substance the species of substance it is, and
    b. Form as individual soul (and therefore a particular rather than a universal.)

    Thanx.

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    1. George,
      I've thought on this same question many times. I think it helps if you consider the form in two ways: first, insofar as it informs primary matter (this is the form as universal); and second, insofar as it informs determinate matter, i.e., the body (this is the form as soul).

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    2. Well, OK, I guess. I just wish this were given more attention. If used in the 2nd sense, surely it would bring back the Third Man Argument, as we are two men (both Georges, at that), each with his own form in the sense of soul. But those two forms are NOT identical (assuming we are not Averroists). Therefore it would seem we need another form, common to both our souls, to make it work.

      Now, this differs from the original 3rd Man in that I don't see a regress necessarily following. But it does make "form of the body" problematic; in fact, it makes human souls (and hence forms) sound a lot like angelic ones. But that would lead to the absurd conclusion that we are, each of us, a unique species.

      This has always been the one place I've been uncomfortable with A-T.

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  11. To amplify what Anonymous wrote, Feser addresses this problem in his chapter in The Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism (thanks to Miguel for the reference). Feser says that the soul is the substantial form of the substance, the human, not only of the body. Since intellect and will do not operate via bodily organs, they are potencies that can continue to be actualized w/o the body. So the soul separated from its body subsists as an incomplete, truncated substance.

    I posted a thread about this over on the Classical Theism board. Perhaps you'd want to contribute. I think there remain thorny puzzles.

    http://classicaltheism.boardhost.com/viewtopic.php?id=1121

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    1. I should say, the soul persists as the substantial form of an incomplete, truncated substance, sc. the human w/ no body.

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  12. Identity. Well, let's take the BVM. She is still a woman in heaven and a Jewess in heaven. Yes, the brain is important, but also the body. Jesus wore his wounds.

    Without the brain, no identity, no soul. But our gender and our race makeup our identity and therefore remain a part of our soul. For me, soul is the life force, the persona of the whole individual. Descartes' idea damages this constricting it down to "cogitans". Our identity is our personality which includes our gender and racial proclivities.

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  13. What about jesus? he really did enter another beings body! Jesus/God when born did not bring his memory of When god with him at birth. the bible is clear Jesus GREW in wisdom as a kid. God never would as nothing to learn from earth. so it demands that jesus , being/soul, was controlled by a practical connection to a human memory/mind.
    so the memory is seaparate from the soul in biology. so if we translated into another human being WE WOULD not take our memory with us and WOULD absord the memory of the being we move into.
    so a man would absord a female memory and no longer have a male memory.

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    1. The incarnation is one complicated area of metaphysics. It has a lot to do with the unique nature of God's being.

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    2. Robert, Jesus didn't "enter another beings body". When he became incarnate, he took on human nature, the brand new humanity of a brand new being that did not exist before he took it on. Just as the human soul does not exist before it becomes the soul of a human being and the animating principle of the body, so the human nature of Christ did not exist before the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate and took on that human nature in an intimate union.

      the bible is clear Jesus GREW in wisdom as a kid.

      At least some of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church teach that this growth is in his human intellect only, and not with respect to his Divine intellect. In his human nature he would have had to learn to control his body in normal things like how to use the bathroom, how to move the tongue to talk, how to throw a ball - these are not merely intellectual knowledge but a matter of integrating the mind and the body so that they work together. He would also have been able to acquire experiential knowledge in his human intellect.

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  14. In this respect, at least, it is like a person’s being fat or being tall. Now, it makes no sense to think of your tallness or fatness jumping from you to another person. Of course, another person could have the same height as you and thus be as tall as you are. But that just means that your tallness and his tallness are similar, not that they are numerically identical. Even if he started out short and grew, and at the same time you shrank, that would not be a matter of your tallness jumping from you to him (whatever that would mean). It would just be a matter of your losing your tallness and his gaining his own tallness.

    I’m still going to claim correlation when I gain weight right as a family member losses weight...

    (BTW, if anyone has the Marvel Unlimited app, they just added a bunch off missing old issues of Defenders over the last month to flesh out the Gerber run — including the whole Headmen Saga)

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