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What Is the Soul?

"For the world is broken, sundered, busted down the middle, self ripped from self and man pasted back together as mythical monster, half angel, half beast, but no man..."
Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins

Last year, I found myself unexpectedly marveling at an album by Tom “It's Not Unusual” Jones, which featured covers of songs by Tom Waits, Paul Simon, and The Low Anthem. One track, "Soul of a Man," revived a bluesy 1930 song by Blind Willie Johnson that asks one my favorite philosophical questions: what is the soul?

Generally, people fall into one of the following three “camps” on the question of the soul. (Note: By soul, I mean the immaterial aspect of the human being which thinks, feels, and wills. By consciousness, I will mean something more rudimentary, but also apparently immaterial: rich subjective experience, or what philosophers call the “what it is like." This is an important distinction since people often use these words interchangeably. I’ll discuss both.)

1) Materialistic Monists (MMs) – A person is their body; the soul is reducible to the material or simply doesn’t exist.
2) Descartesian Dualists (DDs) – A person is their soul; the soul is a separable, non-material substance that inhabits the body.
3) Aristotelian Animalists (AAs) – A person is their body and their soul; the soul is the non-material form of the body, unified with the body.

Brain InjuryMMs have been gaining ground in recent years, especially with advances in neuroscience and the rising prominence of the New Atheists. There are different sub-groups in this camp, but in general, they all doubt that there is anything spiritual or immaterial about man. They're convinced that poetic discourse about your or my “soul” is a form of “folk psychology.”

This view is not new, but in recent years, philosophers like Daniel Dennett have spun a far more sophisticated case with it. His 1991 book Consciousness Explained purports to show through a “multiple drafts” theory that there is no “center” of conscious experience (“I see a blue sky”), but rather a spreading of awareness “drafts” over subsystems in the brain that, through evolutionary and cultural conditioning, have resulted in an illusory unity of subjective experience.

Dennett's work suggests a question: are we gradually explaining with evolution and neuroscience what was almost always thought to be the work of divine providence? Is the soul just one more mystery-mongering domain of theologians to dispel under the hot white light of empirical science? According to Richard Dawkins, the answer is yes. “Science,” Dawkins says, “has either killed the soul or is in the process of doing so." Cognitive scientist Stephen Pinker agrees: “Cognitive neuroscience has pretty much killed [the soul]...Many kinds of evidence show that the mind is an entity in the physical world, part of a causal chain of physical events. If you send an electric current through the brain, you cause the person to have a vivid experience. If a part of the brain dies because of a blood clot or a burst artery or a bullet wound, a part of the person is gone."

But philosophers have been more or less aware of this correlation between brain states and mental states since the ancient world. (You don’t need to be Socrates to see that the mind weakens as the brain decays, or malfunctions when the head is injured.) Yet, most have gone on believing in souls, because correlation does not imply causation. To use a computer analogy, the brain might be like the hardware of your iPhone which transmits the software of Words with Friends. When you smash your phone to pieces (say, because you keep getting all vowels), Words malfunctions and vanishes with it—but your game can continue on your iPad. Similarly, after brain death, the “software” of the soul may not die with it, because it was not caused by it—only transmitted. Pinker’s evidence seems to be a textbook case of the post hoc fallacy.

Neuroplasticity research further complicates the MM's position. There is growing evidence that—in patients with OCD, for example—the brain reshapes under the tutelage of new attitudes and behaviors. But if the soul is to the brain as digestion is to the stomach, why should mental effort execute any top-down causation? In response, materialists are forced to relegate the soul—with its rationality and will—to a sort of illusory, ineffectual middle man in the brain’s modification of itself.

But the biggest problem for the MMs are qualia, or distinctive conscious experiences of things (e.g., the “what it is like” to see yellow, feel hotness, etc.). Even Sam Harris, who like Dennett is one of the leading New Atheists, has emphasized this point. In his essay “The Mystery of Consciousness,” Harris (sounding very Cartesian) says: “[T]he only thing in this universe that attests to the existence of consciousness is consciousness itself.” He concludes that “an analysis of purely physical processes will never yield a picture of consciousness.” Harris indirectly cites the work of two philosophers leading this charge against the MMs: Thomas Nagel ("What Is It Like to Be a Bat?") and David Chalmers (the “hard problem” of consciousness), who are also both atheists. The work of these three eminent, non-religious thinkers yields an inconvenient truth: that the richness of subjective consciousness will not be subdued by materialism, not because the empirical tools of science have yet to advance on it, but because it is inescapably “stuff” of a different order. As Nagel puts it in his latest book Mind and Cosmos, “The existence of consciousness seems to imply that...the natural order is far less austere than it would be if physics and chemistry accounted for everything.”

The irreducibility of consciousness to physics and chemistry seems to push us toward dualism and the DDs: perhaps consciousness is the bulwark of something like the soul, demanding that we acknowledge it?

DescartesThe notion of dualism stretches back to Plato's Phaedo (360 B.C.) and beyond; but French philosopher and mathematician Descartes, at the birth of modern science, incorporated Platonic dualism into a systematic division of the world between the res extensa (extended thing) and res cogitans (thinking thing). For him, the only thing one could prove existed beyond the shadow of a doubt was the thinking subject. As he famously put it: “I am only a thing that thinks” (which sounds a lot like Johnson’s line, “a man ain't nothing but his mind”).

Many Christian movements (e.g., Gnosticism, and later Puritanism) have been made up of committed DDs. In fact, De Tocqueville once remarked that Protestant America is “where the precepts of Descartes are best applied.” Religious DDs tend to speak of the soul and “the flesh” as one speaks of a prisoner and a jail, and to conceive of everlasting life with God in wholly spiritual terms.

But the trouble for all DDs, religious or not, are legion. The first and greatest is the snare of skepticism. In the DDs framework, where the person is reducible to his or her immaterial self, it seem inescapable that we’re doomed to doubt everything – the existence of other minds (philosophical zombies), the external world (world-as-computer simulation), even our own bodies (brain in a vat). Only philosophers like Chalmers are crazy enough to think about these things—common sense flies in the face of all three—but the problems remain.

Another problem is the relationship between soul and body. How does the immaterial soul or self “operate” the material body? When I decide to raise my arm, and I do it, where is the link between my immaterial thought and my material action? (Descartes’ guess was the pineal gland, which scientists have since deemed an endocrine organ.) DDs are stuck with the Cartesian catastrophe of the “ghost in the machine,” an incoherency that effects oscillation between the two extremes to this day (what novelist Walker Percy, inspired by Jacques Maritain, termed “angelism-beastilism”).

(In an effort to avoid these and other problems presented by dualism, philosophers like Nagel are increasingly considering a sort of Emersonian view called panpsychism, the belief that consciousness pervades all of reality, that it’s “awareness all the way down.” This view may have some explanatory power, but there are glaring difficulties: how could a mini-consciousness, which is simple and indivisible, inhere in the elementary particles which constitute the physical world? And how do the mental aspects of these infinite particles, which constitute even our brain, combine into our one consciousness?)

A third position, which avoids the pitfalls of both materialism and dualism, is that of the Aristotelian Animalists (AAs).

AristotleAristotle wrote in De Anima that the soul is: “(a) the source or origin of movement, it is (b) the end, it is (c) the essence of the whole living body.” For Aristotle, there are different kinds of souls (plant, animal, and human) with varying degrees of biological and cognitive activity. The human soul is the animating form of the matter of the human animal, the actuating “breath” of what a body is and does. Aristotle thus distinguishes the soul from the material body, but not as a ghost from a machine. Unlike Plato, Aristotle concluded that the soul is “inseparable from its body,” although the highest faculty of the soul—the mind—is “immortal and eternal.”

Aristotle's earthy notion of the soul was picked up by scholastic philosophers, most notably Thomas Aquinas. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas agreed with Aristotle that “it belongs to the notion of a soul to be the form of a body,” and that although a human soul’s rationality points to its subsistence after death, the disembodied soul is a form without matter, and therefore incomplete. Death does not result in the final liberation and fulfillment of the soul, but a dislodging of the body’s essence, our being “not wholly at rest.”

Thomism, informed by this Aristotelian view of the person, has held to this unity of body and soul and fought fiercely against the two alternatives. As one Notre Dame philosopher puts it, the Thomistic view is that “dualism is just as wrongheaded and, in the end, just as pernicious as physicalism.” Why pernicious?

Because dualism “has the dire moral consequence of leaving the body bereft of more than merely external or instrumental moral significance.” Materialism, on the other hand, leaves the apparent “limitlessness and lucidity” of our freedom and rationality bereft of much significance at all. AAs, in contrast, account for the whole person—thought, freedom, will, as well as qualia—a philosophical account which has informed and paralleled Catholic theology (e.g., the sacraments, the resurrection of the dead, and the theology of the body). As the Catechism states it: “spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”

The position of the AAs seems to be the most coherent and plausible of these three camps, since it leaves us with the fewest problems and has the most explanatory power. Still, asking about the soul and answering it in philosophical terms is one thing. Hearing the question sung from the pit of a soul is another. I have to answer, after everything, “a mystery.”

Based on article originally posted at By Way of Beauty. Used with permission.

Matthew Becklo

Written by

Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.

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  • Michael Murray

    I don't see why. There are at least two directions of progress currently ongoing. One is the increasing ability to see what is happening in the brain without actually chopping it open. The other is our increasing ability to simulate intelligence in computers.

    • GreatSilence

      My speculation is based on my assessment that we may not have the tools to be able to find all the answers. I would be quite happy to be wrong. This is fascinating stuff, the last frontier (for now).

      • Michael Murray

        Agreed. I think consciousness and "are we alone" are the big ones at the moment. I'm hoping you are proved wrong as well!

      • Mark Hunter

        Don't sell science short. Neuroscience has made incredible progress in the last few decades.

        • mally el

          But it still cannot tell us what is this entity of the human soul that we call the human mind.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            It is fairly clear that the human mind is what is produced by the operation of the human brain. You have not established that there is any such thing as "the human soul."

          • Tim Dacey

            Q. Quine. You seem to be speaking of physicalism and I think Richard Swinburne has an excellent reply.

            "I just don't think that physicalists have seriously faced up to what are the data which need explaining. I suppose that they are thinking rather loosely that since physical science has been very successful in explaining physical events, all events must be physical events!"

            Even if mental events can be explained in correlation with physical ones, it is still not at all clear that mental events can be reduced to physical ones. Perhaps some kind of "emergent complexity" might provide answers but it still begs the question as to what actually causes mental events. Putting any sympathies to naturalism aside, it certainly seems reasonable that the 'soul' might provide some causal explanatory power for mental events.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            I have place a reply here where is will be show on people's screens.

    • tedseeber

      The first has no bearing on AA, but may have some bearing on MM and almost entirely disproves DD.

      The second is at such a primitive stage that even though I've studied in and make my living in this area, I will be long dead, buried, and turned to dust before it gives us any insight whatsoever into the subject. Even Siri is just a trick.

  • Michael Murray

    What is the non-material form of the body ? Is that like the astral body ? In my late teens I had a rather embarrassing dalliance with mysticism after stopping believing in god. I never did get the hang of astral travel. I blame the RCC (of course :-) ) for setting me up for it.

    • tedseeber

      I used to be quite good at it before returning to the Church, but it may just have been the early stages of my sleep apnea I'd be diagnosed with 25 years later.

    • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

      Michael - I'll confess I had to Google "astral body." Everything I'm seeing connects the theory to Neoplatonism and Gnosticism - essentially the view of the DDs. I could only explicate so much in the article without it running too long, but to fully appreciate the notion of soul posited by the AAs, I would recommend a steady diet of Aristotle, Aquinas, and the Neo-Thomists (e.g., Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson, John Haldane, etc.). Peace!

      • Michael Murray

        As a teenager I had a fondness for this these books

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

        They claimed to be written by a Tibetan Lama. Lots of stuff about Tibet and mysticism. It was all pretty exotic before the internet made the whole world seem next door. But some time later the author was exposed as a plumber living in Devon. In one of the all time great manoeuvres he explained that yes his body had been born a plumber but that the plumber had wanted to leave this life and had allowed his body to be taken over by the Tibeta Lama who had work to do on the earthly plane. He continued with this story for the rest of his life dying at age 70.

        There are some more scientific discussions of these things on Susan Blackmore's website

        http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/index.htm

        • tedseeber

          In that case, I suppose they also introduced you to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Bardo Thodol?

          • Michael Murray

            No I was never that much of a hippie!

          • tedseeber

            Funny, I see the Bardo Thodol as being extremely conservative, and rather fact based. It is, after all, a distillation of a study of near death experiences.

          • Michael Murray

            Sorry I was being facetious because in the 70s it was a popular thing for hippies to read. I haven't read it.

    • Erick Chastain

      The non-material form of the body is nothing like the astral body. Non-material is less spooky than it sounds! For example, the laws of motion are the same in all inertial frames (Galilean invariance). This isn't a property of any moving object, it is a mathematical property of dynamics. A mathematical property is non-material. So just imagine that we write down the dynamics of the body, and work out some invariance properties of the dynamics. These are mathematical properties and thus non-material.

      • Michael Murray

        But then it's just an idea. Idea's live in brains. Idea's don't create universes, idea's don't live for ever. If god and souls and angels are just ideas then I think atheist and theists are in agreement.

        • Erick Chastain

          two separate issues. First one: galilean invariance is a formal property of moving bodies (invariant of their dynamics), regardless of whether anyone is around to think about it. So it's not just an idea in someone's head, it actually exists in reality as a property of moving things. This is true for other formal properties too.

          Second one: you are completely correct that formal properties don't exist apart from the body they are properties of. There's something special about formal properties of human bodies, in that human bodies have the ability to reason. This fact alone leads us to a formal property (reason) of a body which is rooted in a spirit. Why is reason spiritual in nature? This isn't a complete argument, but consider that ideas are non-bodily, and to know something you must incorporate it into your nature, so the power of reason must have something in its nature that isn't bodily in order to understand ideas.

          You don't need to buy the existence of God to believe these arguments, as the greek natural philosophers believed them and were mostly agnostic or atheistic.

  • Mark Hunter

    A couple of points :

    You forget the forth solution to the mind/body problem - Idealism - that reality is fundamentally mental. Perhaps it's most noted proponent is Bishop Berkely but also has echos in Platonic Idealism and even Descartes' Cogito is fundamentally a statement of thought.

    "There is growing evidence that—in patients with OCD, for example—the brain reshapes under the tutelage of new attitudes and behaviors." Why should the brain be any different from the rest of the body? If I have a new attitude and behavior towards eating and exercising my body reshapes.

    If the Aristotelian Animalists is the most explicatory solution, then what does it explain? Can it be used to make diagnoses or predictions about brain functions. Can you list any predictive or explanations gains through thjis approach that a materialist approach cannot do? If a person suffers a stroke and blood to a specific part of the brain is cut off should one seek a metaphysican schooled in the ways of Aristotelian concepts to determine how the soul, intrinsic to the brain, should be treated in order to facilitate healing, or go to a neurologist who will treat you materially. Christian Scientists (the denomination) have the courage of their convictions and choose the former approach, most Christians, despite their belief in a controlling soul,choose the materialist approach when their health is on the line.

    • tedseeber

      Are you counting song therapy as materially?

    • geriaticnurse

      Actually we are finding some plasticity in the brain and thus a patient is best off in Rehab. Literally by trying to use the affected body part some motion comes back. We also see this in head injury cases and keep in mind that cognitive replacement therapy used for depression is literally monitoring ones thoughts and changing them so the emotions evoked in those thoughts changes.

    • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

      Hey Mark
      - Berkeley's idealism is ontologically monistic like the MMs, but (as you note)
      the key is that they share with the DDs that Platonic and Cartesian
      identification of the person with the immaterial. But no matter. (Pun
      intended.)

      If a person suffers a stroke and blood to a specific part of
      the brain is cut off should one seek a metaphysican schooled in the ways of
      Aristotelian concepts to determine how the soul, intrinsic to the brain, should
      be treated

      Of course not; and you've really just reiterated the false dilemma between the MMs and DDs. Given that I would consult a neurologist instead of a medium after a brain injury, am I a) a lagging MM who acts like the soul is
      identical to the brain but won't believe it, or b) a tepid DD who believes the
      soul is a operative ghost "intrinsic to the brain" but won't act like it? Your binary, antagonistic framing of the problem (which can only conceive of these two approaches) reveals the entrenched Cartesian perspective we all share, and that we'd do well to re-examine.

    • Erick Chastain

      Just a quick note. There are real scientific implications for an AA versus a materialist. A soul is basically just properties of a body that allow it to perceive, experience, think, etc. We know that we can perceive, experience, think. An MM says there are no such properties, and that we only think we have them. But how would such a strange self-deceiving creature evolve? Wouldn't they go extinct compared to a smarter, more realistic creature? In fact an MM is forced to conclude something incompatible with evolutionary theory and empirical observations in "folk psychology" beliefs by humans.

      PS: I understand adaptive stories aren't all of evolutionary theory, and there are things like drift too. But a self-deceiving creature with respect to nearly every property of itself isn't even a local maximum on the fitness landscape.

      • Andrew G.

        Make sure you never get too close to Plantinga, your opposing misinterpretations of evolution would cause a mutual annihilation :-)

        But to pick out the main points, what makes you think it's not a local optimum? Evolution doesn't select for accuracy of beliefs as such (this is the point that Plantinga takes too far; he argues that evolution can't select for accuracy at all, neglecting the fact that reasonably reliable spatial orientation, senses, and threat appreciation have obvious survival value); there are obvious reasons why some false beliefs would have survival value.

        The other point is, what makes you think that MM implies that there are no such things as thoughts or experiences or perceptions? The fact that all these things are physical processes in the brain doesn't make them less real, in fact arguably it makes them more real. Your argument on this point is completely circular (you assumed your conclusion right at the point where you introduced your definition of a soul).

        • Erick Chastain

          Evolution stuff:

          To my knowledge the fisher-wright model of evolution is pretty standard and that is all I'm using and thus not a misinterpretation! We can argue about the fitness landscape though. I have no doubt that false beliefs have some value (for example there's a lot of work on deception in self-signaling in evolutionary anthropology by Lee Cronk), but for us to be wrong about all of our capabilities contradicts directly the insight from this neuroscience paper (first paragraph) about why our beliefs should be accurate in sensory decision-making: http://www.saminverso.com/brg/archive/Ma-WJ_2006_NatNeuro.pdf

          if our higher-order beliefs about our own sensory experiences etc are all false then I think it would be impossible to do any foraging. A very small modification would suffice to make our estimates of uncertainty as to the identity of the object we are seeing more refined than a completely uniform distribution (which is what you would have in the absence of sensory experience). So we could be wrong about our identity, memories etc, but it seems that for things like sensory experience where foraging depends directly on them accuracy would have evolved. Even optimality! See this recent paper on accuracy of beliefs in evolution of sensory systems: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/357/1420/419.abstract

          Experience and MM:

          First off, let's clear the ground. If a sensory experience of a red patch is just a "summary of neural events in our visual cortex" then our "folk psychology" belief that the sensory experience of a red patch actually happened as we experienced it (that is, no neural facts are in there, just things about the color of the patch) would be mistaken. And the latter is what I was talking about when I said "We know that we can perceive, experience, think. An MM says there are no such properties, and that we only think we have them."

          If you see any circularity in the above argument (before the quotes), let me know where it is because I honestly can't see any there and have tried to avoid any misinterpretations that would lead one to conclude a different meaning than that I have in mind.

          • Andrew G.

            We know that we can perceive, experience, think. An MM says there are no such properties, and that we only think we have them."

            The only justification for the claim "MM says there are no such properties" is the fact that you assign those properties to the soul and thereby exclude them from MM. This is circular; you need a definition of terms like "experience" that doesn't imply non-physicalism in order to use them to argue against physicalism.

            Our brains appear to construct and maintain a model of our immediate environment that is accurate enough to guide what we do but which omits, or even actively hides, details about how our perception works. We think we see a complete visual field even when in fact we see only a small spot at a time (hold a CD out at arm's length; the maximum resolution of the fovea covers an area about the size of the hub, and by the outer edge the resolution has dropped by half); our visual blind spot is actively filled in by extrapolation so that we don't see it; we believe our memories are consistent records of experiences when in fact they're mostly reconstructed; and so on. This model doesn't contain any representation of how the brain really works because it doesn't need it (and that would make it less useful), just as a computer model of some physical system doesn't attempt to include a model of the computer. But it does include representations of how we think that we think, and how we think that other people think, because other people are a major part of our environment (possibly even the most important part in evolutionary terms).

            So our "folk psychology" beliefs are beliefs about the model, not about brains themselves. A belief like "I saw an apple tree over that way" is many layers of abstraction removed from the actual sensory data. In evolutionary terms, though, what matters is not how well the model reflects the sensory data or the neural activity, but how well it works for navigating the real world.

            An interesting result of this is the "typical mind fallacy", the belief that other people's mental experiences are similar to ours (they aren't).

          • Erick Chastain

            Re: first paragraph. I wasn't reiterating the statement you just attacked again, I gave a clarification of what I meant which you ignored. Here it is again: I experience a red patch. This experience is of a red-colored patch, and not of the neural events that lead me to believe I see the red patch. The red-colored patchiness which is reported when I am asked what I saw describes no neural events. But according to MM only the neural events that lead me to believe I see the red patch exist. So my narrative report was wrong according to the MM. An aristotelian would say that I was correct. Note that I have said nothing here about what is real, just a statement about narrative reports and how different philosophers would comment on them.

            I know that we have cognitive and sensory illusions.

            An evolutionary story from dawkins is that sensory experience is some kind of user interface. I have so far seen no evidence for this in systems neuroscience. The best models we have from systems neuroscience show that we (and monkeys) are able to identify the stimulus accurately and adjust our uncertainty optimally (according to Bayes' rule). That was the paper I linked to, and this is currently our best shot at a unified theory of brain functioning. All else being equal, if you have two organisms, one with complex adaptive self-deception and another who knows what they see precisely, and you put them in a foraging setting, the latter will do better. Why? accuracy of sensory beliefs is necessary for foraging. The former will have to add layers of abstraction to be a user interface, and by the data processing inequality this can only lead to a loss of information and thus accuracy. Because fitness in foraging is increased by accuracy (in fact, some starlings exhibit optimal behavior in a bandit foraging task for this reason), the more accurate population will invade the user interface population and will be the only type at fixation.

            Now I could actually write a paper on this because the math is solid. I haven't proven it here due to lack of space, but it is easy to see that it follows from the data processing inequality.

          • Andrew G.

            Here it is again: I experience a red patch. This experience is of a red-colored patch, and not of the neural events that lead me to believe I see the red patch. The red-colored patchiness which is reported when I am asked what I saw describes no neural events. But according to MM only the neural events that lead me to believe I see the red patch exist. So my narrative report was wrong according to the MM.

            I'm not sure where you're getting the idea that your narrative report was wrong; it simply refers to a different level of abstraction than a report about neural events would.

          • Erick Chastain

            The narrative report I gave was "I saw the red patch." But what actually happened according to MM was that neural firings led me to believe that I saw a red patch. I never saw the red patch in the MM account, I just was convinced by my neurons that I saw a red patch. And if seeing the red patch is defined by you to be identical to being convinced by my neurons that I saw the red patch, then that argument is assuming the conclusion in the premises.

          • Andrew G.

            If I say "I see the wheel turning", am I wrong because I don't mention the spokes?

            The concept of abstraction seems to be giving you problems.

            What do you think a statement like "I was convinced by my neurons that..." would even mean, without a dualistic conception of "I"? To me, the "I" that is being convinced is the system that includes the neurons in question, it is not separable from it.

            Described at one level of abstraction, red light entered my eyes from a specific direction, leading my visual cortex to react in a specific way, producing cascading reactions from other brain areas to do with memory, object recognition, spatial orientation and modelling, producing some long-term changes that I can later reconstruct into a memory of the event.

            At a higher level of abstraction, the statement (with the ordinary English meanings of terms) "I saw a red thing there" is a correct description of the event, because none of the details of the process matter in the slightest at this level of description.

          • Erick Chastain

            I think I understand abstraction, at least after studying computer scientist for a decade I hope I do! Hey brother you know, the sensory experience as user interface idea (eg abstraction), if you assume it is a good model, certainly gives you a way of being MM while keeping consistent with our folk psychology beliefs. I disagree that it is a good model though, and in neuroscience the state of the art is more direct perception models involving neural populations that code for different motion directions, faces etc. Perhaps for steven pinker and dawkins and tom metzinger (all non-neuroscientists) the UI model is more convincing, but the systems neuroscience data on perception disagrees with them. I assume that the standard model of perception in neuroscience is correct, and that we have population codes for environmental properties that are accurate. If you use the standard model of perception, then what I am saying about MM is accurate.

          • Andrew G.

            It has nothing to do with "user interfaces". (And not only because there is no "user".)

            Nor does it have anything to do with neuroscience models of low level perception - that it still too low a level of abstraction to be relevant.

          • Erick Chastain

            If it is too low a level of abstraction to be relevant, then how can it be that attentional effects are reported at the level of individual neural populations that code for the presence of horizontal and vertical bars in V1? And that these attentional effects are just a sharpening of the sensitivity of one subpopulation to the stimulus? And that the circuit is completely worked out? Where is your higher-level modeling in these population models? I think the lower-level models explain sensory experience completely and this kind of model is simpler than yours. I think only quantum mystics like roger penrose would disagree that these simple neural circuits explain it. We are closer to explaining sensory experience than you and the other mysterians give us credit for!

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Thomas Metzinger studies the mind/body problem, and near the end of this lecture (about 49 min in) he gave at Berkeley a few years ago, he asked the question, which is Natural Selection going to favor: "there is a wolf or a bear there!" v. "there is an active wolf representation in my brain now!"

            It is the transparency of our representational neural modules that hides their operation from us and leads you to simply say, "I saw the red patch."

          • Erick Chastain

            I am familiar with metzinger's work on modules, and other similar representational ideas in the philosophy of mind. I am more of a reductionist perhaps than him. I consider that properties of the neural dynamics underlying sensory perception are identical with the contents of consciousness, and that properties of neural dynamics completely explain it. He and other HoT / representationalism proponents support a different model which is in no way mechanistic and thus unscientific in my mind. It's a nice story though. But stories involving magical modules that may or may not exist are not useful for a science of consciousness.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            In repeatable lab conditions, Alex the Parrot could tell you the color of presented objects. He could tell you the color of the larger or smaller of two presented objects. Once when a reporter presented Alex with a white card (Alex had never been taught the color white) and asked to name the color, after a pause Alex replied, "none."

            We have no problem explaining the reports given by Alex in naturalistic terms. No one who has worked with animals of this level of capability doubts that they are conscious. The nature of the conscious experiences of these animals are different from the typical human, although some may be closer to the conscious experiences of some autistic humans.

            Your personal consciousness may always remain a mystery to you, but that does not mean the general consciousness of humans need remain a mystery to science any more than that of other animals we study. If a discontinuity happened in the line of our ancestors from our common ancestor with the other apes, we don't see it. Also, when a human and a chimp each develop from their respective single cells, at no point do we see any discontinuity in one v. the other. The brains of chimps are actually more capable than humans in early infancy, but then are surpassed in early childhood by human neurological development. No magic.

          • Erick Chastain

            as far as consciousness goes, there is no magic. From my perspective, it is no mystery, and with more theory work in neuroscience we will understand it completely. Alex the parrot is as conscious as I am of colors, though maybe I can tell better stories about them than he does because humans can reason. His sensory experience of color is the same as mine, and there is nothing in Alex that will persist after his death.

            Yet I can also with confidence say that materialist theory actually impedes progress in neuroscience by encouraging a kind of neo-phrenology, eg motivation being explained by the VTA "lighting up."

  • Octavo

    "The position of the AAs seems to be the most coherent and plausible of these three camps, since it leaves us with the fewest problems and has the most explanatory power."

    AAs don't think that matter can accomplish what the mind does? Must be a magical soul doing all the stuff we don't fully understand yet. No evidence of a soul seems to be required to come to this conclusion.

    It seems like the main goal of Catholic philosophy is to pick the belief system that explains the most and is internally consistent while completely disregarding how much evidence there is for the belief system's correspondence to observational evidence. This approach seems flawed.

    ~Jesse Webster

    • Mark Hunter

      But it doesn't explain anything practical, just theological. How can a person be found not guilty of a crime because of insanity if human souls (as opposed to animal souls) are moral agents? Can souls be insane?

      • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

        From my understanding, the soul acts upon the body, but the body can affect the soul (think Dorian Grey) in the AA perspective. It's not a one-way street, it's not dualism, it's a back and forth.

        Someone in intense physical pain reacts instinctively rather than through reasoned and determined process. Someone can be psychologically abused to the point that their "soul" qua moral agent is damaged.

        Even discounting Catholicism, the idea that there is interplay between body and consciousness is by far the most appealing to me.

        • Mark Hunter

          Dorian Grey was fiction. According to you a stroke affects the soul, so does a tumour, or a disease. All things that affect the mind change the soul. Whereas the largest change that Catholics believe affects the soul, Baptism, leaves no affect on the physical body/mind. And if you say it does, why does one need conditional baptism in situations where one is unsure if a person has been baptized or baptized with the Trinitarian formula? The reason is that there's no effect on the physical person that is in any way detectable.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            Dorian Grey was fiction? But... I thought...

            Anyway, I said things that affect the body *can* affect the soul, not that they do all the time.

        • Max Driffill

          "Even discounting Catholicism, the idea that there is interplay between body and consciousness is by far the most appealing to me."
          This language seems to miss everything about what modern neuroscience, neurology and the history of brain trauma tell us about consciousness (a word, like soul, i've come to distrust when whenever I hear people begin to use them).

          Consciousness, the sense of self and "I' is the brain at work. It is the CNS in action. Damage to the brain affects consciousness., perception, personality in profound and sadly illustrative ways. We can explain, at least in a general way where our sense of self/consciousness arises, and demonstrate that it seems to be all rooted in material processes. Positing souls adds and explains nothing to what we already know, and also is unjustified by any observation or experimental data.

          The mechanics of souls and the imagined ways they are thought to interact with bodies are simply theological "just-so stories."

          So of course there is "interplay between the body and consciousness.' Consciousness is (a portion) of the body at work.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            When I say soul, I mean little more than a consciousness that is immortal. I don't know if that clears anything up, but I agree that the terms are used far too loosely (and I'm as much as culprit as anybody).

            So, positing souls merely adds immortality to the equation. I think it's an important part of the question, but immortality cannot be addressed by science, because for something to be immortal, it would have to have existence independent of the forces of the universe (like entropy).

            If I sound like I'm speaking with authority, I'm not. This is my own way of coming to problem, and I'm always looking to read more.

          • Max Driffill

            Before one starts adding variables into any model, on probably ought to justify them. Why should one add immortality to the equation?
            Why add souls?
            Leave aside whatever theological traditions you have and consider nature by itself for a moment. Do you see any thing in nature that even hints at something like immortal souls? Or is that notion, complex and tricky, the product of lots of theology that was able to operate with out any empirical checks and balances for millennia?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Personally I think altruism is something that is inadequately explained by science, and would indicate to me an alignment of the soul with something grand.

            Non-familial love is another example. I can see the point of view that says these are by-products of evolution/social convention, but I don't find them as compelling.

          • Max Driffill

            I think you should read Richard Dawkins "The Selfish Gene" as an introduction to this topic. Then follow the papers in the back around. Then find your way to Bob Trivers. Altruism isn't a by-product of selection for other traits, it is a trait that has been positively selected for in some groups.

          • Max Driffill

            Do you think evolution can account for parental care? If so, you think it can account for at least one form of altruism.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Right, unless that isn't what I mean when I say altruism (while it is altruism, I should have clarified that I'm referring to the act of saving a stranger or something where the relationship between the savior and the saved is non-existent or negligible.

          • Max Driffill

            I actually think that is quite well explained in evolutionary terms. Perfect strangers, of the sort our hunter gather ancestors would have been deeply alarmed by are kind of a novelty.The people we help tend to be at least not that kind of stranger, that is to say truly unknown. Even the kids we send money to from far away tend to have faces attached to them and stories attached. They are not completely "other.' I think that is the real key to broad minded human altruism. The circle of our moral concern has simply expanded with new information. ANd with more people included in that sphere of moral concern (the more people we think of as us) the more our ancient systems of altruism (originally evolved when everyone we knew was fairly close kin, or certainly someone with whom we would have to deal again) will fire for people with whom we share no genes, nor who we are likely to see again.

            Its also useful to note that beggars try to make use of this ancient psychology by using familial by using terms like like brother or sister. It is also useful to note that we actually kind of enjoy helping people (and indeed other animals too). This makes evolutionary sense because that act of helping someone (for most of human history almost certainly immediate family or close kin) can increase one's reproductive success.

            Anyway there is a pretty vast literature on this. I would urge you to examine Trivers on reciprocal altruism.

          • Andrew G.

            Information is entropy. Processing it (and therefore consciousness) can never be independent of the physical world.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Can you explain information is entropy? As I said, in no way am I an authority on it, and my idea of entropy is, generally speaking, everything breaks down/degrades.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Daniel, here is a short form of Sean Carroll's talk on the subject of entropy and the early Universe. The longer form of his talk is also found on YouTube.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Thanks! I'll watch this tonight.

          • Andrew G.

            Suppose I'm sitting looking at a gadget with a cylinder and a couple of pistons and a few gas molecules bouncing around inside (which of course I can't observe without changing their state). It's in equilibrium with its surroundings and therefore can't be used as an energy source.

            Then the disembodied spirit of Laplace appears to me and gives me a list of the current positions and velocities of the molecules (ignore quantum stuff for now; I don't need the precise values, so uncertainty doesn't matter). "Hey", I reply, "thanks! I can now extract nTkB ln(2) joules of mechanical work from this device!" (This is called a Szilárd engine).

            Therefore, a nonphysical source of information can be used to create a perpetual motion machine.

            For similar reasons, any information processing system that isn't completely reversible must dissipate TkB ln(2) joules of heat for every bit of information lost. (You might think you could avoid this by doing only reversible computations, but for a "nonphysical" system this would imply no preferred direction of time, so you would have no way to distinguish past and future, which seems to rule out consciousness.)

            This argument isn't watertight. It's possible to propose two physical universes (call ours "Earth" and the other one "Heaven") in which information in the form of brain-states is transferred in one direction only. This would be undetectable from the "Earth" side, but very obvious from the "Heaven" side. However, this has the consequence that the existence and nature of "Heaven" are completely unknowable from "Earth" by any means whatsoever, including "revelation"; any information flow in the other direction has physically observable consequences that violate the laws of our universe. Accordingly, this option violates Occam's Razor.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Ok, I only partially followed (I got lost somewhere between information processing system and reversible computations).

            But this is interesting. If I understand your two universe theory correctly, why couldn't something be transmitted and subsequently reversed, or transmitted back?

            If this question is non-sensical, it's because I am not a physicist. I apologize, but teach me!

          • Andrew G.

            In the two-universe scenario, "Heaven" can detect the existence and nature of "Earth" - in fact its basic physics would have to include terms describing the incoming information flow and possibly all of Earthian physics too. The only way to make the scenario compatible with the known Earthian physics, though, is to require that no information flows the other way. Any information flow would require inserting all of Heavenly physics into ours - and all the evidence is that this is not the case. You can't have both the information flow and have it be inaccessible to science.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            I guess then what I'm not understanding is why information-flow needs to be detectable by science? No scientist could detect Laplace telling you what the position and velocity of the molecules, especially if he remained invisible and only spoke in your head (as, I hear, disembodied spirits are wont to do).

            People would just say you were insane. Brilliant, perhaps, for the Szilárd engine, but insane nonetheless, and say it was a totally subconscious but natural stimulus that prompted you to get it going, and not the result of a disembodied Laplace.

          • Andrew G.

            The scientist couldn't detect Laplace talking to me, but they could detect that I just extracted work from an engine at equilibrium, which is otherwise impossible and which violates several conservation laws.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            But if Laplace came down and told you "Dude, there's an afterlife, and Hell sucks and Heaven's the best"?

          • Andrew G.

            Then Laplace has still inserted a number of bits of information into the universe, and thereby altered physical quantities which are described by our physical laws as being conserved.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            How does one measure that sort of information?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Ghostbusters meets Maxwell's demon.

          • stanz2reason

            I don't think there's confusion about what you mean by a soul ("little more than a consciousness that is immortal")

            By positing immortality you're also positing where consciousness comes from. Were consciousness to be wholly a product of a physical brain, then it's very existence is wholly dependent on that brain.

            I'm not suggesting that the notion of an immortal consciousness isn't pleasing, but ultimately there isn't a shred of evidence to support this view, and a heck of a lot of evidence against this view. You need only consider the impact of brain injuries, neurological disorders and diseases & the effects of drugs and other chemicals on a persons consciousness to understand what I'm referring to.

            You might be well to be honest and ask yourself if your views are the result of wishful thinking.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Thanks stanz!

            I really don't think they are. I don't see the impact of the thigns listed as impinging upon my view of a mortal soul. I've said elsewhere that the body informs the soul as the soul informs the body.

            I believe once the soul is "loosed" from the body, that relationship is severed, and would be restored again after the Resurrection of the Body.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Daniel, which of your ancestors, going back in time, was the first to have a "soul"? And, how does that property get passed on from generation to generation?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            As a Catholic, I hold that "Adam & Eve" were the first people to be infused with a soul, which substantially (in an Aristotelian sense) altered their species, and from then on, every human being is infused with a soul.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Daniel, how do you resolve that with the scientific evidence that humans evolved from earlier species of apes, and that the DNA shows that our ancestors were never down to a single breeding pair (A&E)?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Q.

            To be honest, I'd never heard that before (that we hadn't been down to a single breeding pair) and it's fascinating that we could figure that out. Could I see whatever paper/ point me towards what book I should read?

            Like I said, I don't have a problem with having evolved from apes, with the contingency that somewhere along the line I believe our capacity to reason/abstract/do all the intellect things we do came in at some point.

            I think I'd know better how to think about the problem you present if I had some more information, rather than launching into a fly by the seat of my pants pseudo-philosophical tirade. I'm sure you understand.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Here Daniel, you can start with this paper. That population bottleneck seems to have been down in the few thousand individuals a million and a half to two million years ago. After that, anthropological evidence indicates our ancestors were more numerous.

            For me, this makes the entire A&E story, including The Fall, pure mythology like the story of Persephone's abduction into the Underworld. Also, we don't see evidence of any kind of supernatural intervention in the evolution of humans v. any other species of life on this planet. We have more brain organization for language and abstraction, but seem to have come by that little by little over tens of thousands of generations. No justification for "new physics" or "soul" or other supernatural component.

          • Max Driffill

            The evidence does seem to indicate that all those faculties were produced gradually, and did not spring up at once. There is something called the great leap forward around 50,000 years ago, but like all things in deep time, the progress isn't really that fast and seems fast only relative to stability that preceded it.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            every human being is infused with a soul

            What do you think "infused" means in this context?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            It was put into us from outside, rather than spontaneously or gradually arising from within.

      • geriaticnurse

        Let me ask you this. Can a profoundly mentally disabled adult be morally responsible for any act? I'm thinking of mental age of under two years old. A Catholic would say that the person has a soul but is never responsible for his/her action because they cannot comprehend morality. Did a person with advanced dementia lose their soul? You see insanity is a biological defect and so your question makes no sense. If I cut off your arm, are you still human? Are you human if you are suffering from severe depression? What makes you human? Catholics would say a soul.

        • Vuyo

          What makes you human? Catholics would say a soul.

          I believe they would say a body and a soul if I understand this post correctly.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            Yes, but I think she meant "what makes you human as opposed to any other thing", in which case the answer would be "a human soul", but the human modifier is kind of assumed, given the conversation.

          • Vuyo

            "a human soul" still excludes the "body". Is a body without the soul, human; or do you have to have both to be considered human. I believe this post says you have to have both.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            Well... honestly, I'm not familiar enough with the theology of Heaven (shame on me), but I would not say that we weren't "human" in heaven. I would say we are incomplete, in transition, awaiting our final state.

            Can I say to be "fully human" we need a body and a soul? That just sounds a little weak when phrased like that. Our consciousness is present in the soul, for a Catholic, but a soul without a body is not the "perfect" state, in the sense that it is not only incomplete but non-permanent.

    • Erick Chastain

      Consider this: The dynamics of the brain are mathematical. Properties of those dynamics are mathematical properties (for example, weber's law). Mathematical properties aren't properties of neurons. Specific types of dynamical properties are what Aristotle calls the soul. Weber's law cannot be explained using descriptions like "the retinal ganglion cell fired more". We need mathematical theory to describe it, hence something mathematical and thus non-material.

      No God of the gaps here, just sober theoretical neuroscience.

      • Octavo

        I agree that the interactions of matter are described by math. I think that does not imply that there is consciousness after cell death, which is the Catholic understanding of the soul.

        ~Jesse Webster

        • Erick Chastain

          cool. So the catholic understanding of the soul is that it isn't necessarily immortal, and animals can have it. What does this have to do with consciousness existing after all the neurons have died? The soul for a Catholic is just the mathematical (non-material) properties of neural dynamics, which for animals of course die with the death of their brain.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            ...No, that's not right. Octavo was saying Catholics believe that there is consciousness after death, which is not what he believes, because he is not Catholic.

          • Octavo

            @erickchastain:disqus
            It sounds like we have a confusion of terminology. Perhaps the following question will clarify it. The question assumes you are Catholic, so please let me know if I am incorrect.

            If, according to Catholics, the soul is mathematical (non-material) properties of neural dynamics, where did Jesus' memories come from when he was resurrected following three days of neural decay?

            @epicusmontaigne:disqus
            Thank you for clarifying. I am not Catholic and I do not think that a person's consciousness continues following brain death.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Erick Chastain

            Hi Octavo. Yes I am Catholic. So what I am stating is the AA position, but in a more nuanced presentation. For animals the soul dies with the body, as there are no more body parts to be described by dynamics (and thus no dynamical properties). For humans the properties of the dynamics can somehow implement reason (rational thought). Because rational thought isn't reducible to sense perception and is by its nature abstract, we must say that it can consider things that aren't bodily/material in any way (such as partial differential equations). One can only know something if it wasn't in one's nature before, and knowing something is incorporating it into one's nature (see Aquinas' Summa Question 75). So we have that the object of reason includes non-bodily things, and that we can know them if reason operates well. Therefore reason has in its nature non-bodily things, and thus in its nature is not bodily. Reason is in our soul, so the rational part of our soul can exist apart from our bodies.

          • Octavo

            I have a few questions and comments below:

            "For animals the soul dies with the body, as there are no more body parts to be described by dynamics (and thus no dynamical properties)."

            Is decomposition unable to be described by mathematical models?

            "For humans the properties of the dynamics can somehow implement reason (rational thought)."

            The idea that humans are not animals is false. We know a lot about a lot about which other animals we have close common ancestry with relative to others. Other animals, specifically other primates, also have the capacity for rational thought. The difference in homo sapience is merely one of degree.

            "Because rational thought isn't reducible to sense perception and is by its nature abstract."

            Yes, but it operates through the biomechanics of our brain, much of it via the frontal lobe, though it might be able to be modeled by mathematics, as any thing made of matter can be.

            "Reason is in our soul, so the rational part of our soul can exist apart from our bodies."

            This has yet to be demonstrated at all.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Erick Chastain

            thanks for reading in detail and for your responses. There are a few clarifications I should make that will make what I wrote more easily understood. Something that will help in reading the above is to equate soul with "properties of neural dynamics." I won't use the word soul in any of my answers below, to help with this. I will address your comments point by point. Just as a friendly note, I believe that accurate science provides us with the only true way of understanding the material world. I find it idiotic when others use religion to shut down science, and this isn't what I'm doing.

            Decomposition:

            Decomposition can be described by mathematical models. But a mathematical model for a decomposed brain won't have many properties in common with a math model of a functioning brain. The properties of the decomposed brain will be so different that they don't correspond to properties we human label as "living."

            Animals, Humans and Reason:

            Humans are animals, as Aquinas states. We even have evolutionary conservation of many properties of neural dynamics from our ancestors to humans. Reason is altogether different. I don't know of any evidence showing that primates are even capable of universal grammar, which is a precondition for reason. The difference between universal grammar and more primitive forms of language is not merely of degree, but instead of kind. In particular it has been shown by Chomsky to be the difference between a universal computer and a vending machine. Different computing machines, turing machine versus finite state machine. In fact, there is great work by martin nowak and john maynard smith on the evolution of language which follows up on this, with maynard-smith's comment that universal grammar is a unique evolutionary innovation in humans. I could describe more, but this is pretty representative of mainstream evolutionary theory (as opposed to evolutionary psychology).

            Abstractness of reason and neural dynamics:

            You accepted that reason is abstract. Your objection was that reason is implemented biomechanically by neural dynamics. I agree with you that reason has neural correlates and it is a property of neural dynamics. But if you implement those neural dynamics on a computer, as they do in machine learning, one discovers that the resulting systems are provably irrational (in that they sometimes misunderstand the task and produce wrong answers) in circumstances where humans perform rationally (such as in advanced mathematics). So there is an empirical phenomenon that is more consistent with the brain using something other than itself and its input alone to compute the result of rational deliberations. This is a frontier for new science, not just an apologetic trick (see http://blog.computationalcomplexity.org/2011/04/complexity-of-soul.html ). PS following discussions in the community I found out Lance Fortnow is serious in the above, don't let the april fool's day posting fool you! We in math use april fools as the day each year when we post novel or unorthodox ideas.

            Last point:
            "Reason is in our soul, so the rational part of our soul can exist apart from our bodies."

            to which you said "This has yet to be demonstrated at all"

            Let's apply my (Aristotle's) definition of soul, and copy/paste:

            "Reason is in the properties of neural dynamics"

            Surely this is something you believe, since above you stated it (in objection to abstractness of reason). So you must mean the second part, "the rational part of properties of neural dynamics can exist apart from our bodies." Note that I don't say that it has ever been documented using measurements of material things that this is true. You can't measure these rational properties (because they are purely mathematical). But you can't measure potential energy either (since it is purely mathematical). You can measure the effects of potential energy and other abstract properties on matter and dynamics though. Rational properties of dynamics, like potential energy, have measurable effects on neural dynamics. Can we measure it apart from the material things it effects? No. But based on computational limitations of neural circuits (see above) it should be irreducible to brain circuitry. So there is evidence for irreducibility of reason to brain circuitry (as seen above), and thus evidence neural dynamics NEED something apart from the body to implement reason. That something is some thing, and exists in a way independent of body by its irreducibility. It existing apart from the body when it is alive makes it plausible that it could exist apart from the body. So in this way what we have measured in neuroscience makes plausible the persistence of rational properties after the death of the body.

          • Octavo

            Thank you for the lengthy clarification.

            "But if you implement those neural dynamics on a computer, as they do in machine learning, one discovers that the resulting systems are provably irrational (in that they sometimes misunderstand the task and produce wrong answers) in circumstances where humans perform rationally (such as in advanced mathematics)."

            Do you have a link to a paper or at least a news entry regarding this demonstration of brain emulation?

            Was the same experiment performed using non-human animal neural circuitry to see if their allegedly reasonless and simpler cognition were more easily reducible to neural circuitry?

            As it stands, it sounds like that you're saying that because we are unable to model cognition on a computer, we are justified in thinking that a non-material soul is doing some of the processing, and thus, life may exist apart from the brain.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Andrew G.

            We're still something like four orders of magnitude short of being able to simulate a brain.

          • Erick Chastain

            simulating a brain won't give us any insight into using the simulation to do any computation. Look up David Marr's levels of analysis for modeling neural computation. We can simulate what the brain does without making an artificial brain, using mathematical theories of neural computation. Similarly, we can simulate what the universe does without making an artificial universe, using mathematical theories like General Relativity.

          • Erick Chastain

            The above is a synthesis of a number of things and not one paper: The first element of the synthesis is that neural dynamics seem to implement very simple machine learning algorithms, such as temporal difference learning (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.133.6176&rep=rep1&type=pdf) and bayesian inference (http://www.saminverso.com/brg/archive/Ma-WJ_2006_NatNeuro.pdf). For the papers in which these models were proposed, they ran simulations. They have tried to use these algorithms (TD and bayesian inference) to solve very complex problems involving abstract reasoning in jeopardy, but ended up only getting 25% accuracy (data from a talk that isn't online), and switched primarily to human reasoning hard-coded into a searchable database instead, after which the accuracy in jeopardy almost tripled (and ultimately won jeopardy: http://ibmresearchnews.blogspot.com/2010/12/how-watson-sees-hears-and-speaks-to.html). The algorithms were still useful in the simulation, but not as good as human know-how.

            "As it stands, it sounds like that you're saying that because we are unable to model cognition on a computer, we are justified in thinking that a non-material soul is doing some of the processing, and thus, life may exist apart from the brain."

            We can certainly model cognition on a computer, but it won't end up being the best model. The reason is that a computer can only take perceptual input and apply transformations to them to arrive at an answer. Cognition and reason need some kind of insight that isn't in the perceptual data! There is something about that model that will never be completely accurate for very hard tasks that humans carry out (like proving Fermat's Last Theorem). The kinds of experiments my wife does are about "cognition," but I would just call them simple sensory decision-making tasks. Computational models are good for that kind of thing. This isn't a gaps argument because it is a comparison of two models: one which posits that cognitive behavior is neural circuitry simulating a Turing Machine, and the other which models cognitive behavior as an oracle turing machine, which receives extra information about the problem as additional input and applies neural circuitry on that data. Two models, both entirely mechanistic, but involving different inputs. One model fits the data better than the other, and I think its the second (again because of the machine learning / neuroscience considerations above).

            So summary: moved by the data I have proposed that the neural circuits receive additional input that is body-independent and relevant to the problem. This information is some kind of "insight" into the problem provided by reason. And these "insights" are independent of the body, so it is plausible to think that whatever produces them exists independent of the body.

          • Andrew G.

            So what you're saying is that they took models of cognition that don't have anything to do with how the brain works, found that they weren't able to implement them adequately, and as a result you're concluding that this result somehow applies to real brains?

          • Erick Chastain

            No. Not sure how you read it that way. The models of cognition they made do have much to do with how the brain implements cognition (the papers model sensory decisions quite well). They are the current state of the art in theoretical cognitive neuroscience.

            They implemented them quite well, using supercomputers, but found that the algorithms themselves were suboptimal for advanced reasoning on a real game show. Algorithms, even when implemented on super computers, could perform poorly if they are bad ones!

            The observation is that our best neural model of how cognition works seems to be algorithmically useless in actual complex cognitive tasks like playing jeopardy.

          • Andrew G.

            All that tells us is that our models are defective. You don't think that in having to simplify an extremely complex system by four orders of magnitude or so that some functionality might have been lost?

            We can model the universe with reasonable success in some applications because the underlying laws are simple enough. But even then there are problems; a good example is from weather forecasting, where you can model short-term changes in air pressure and wind and so on by just applying the gas laws to a lattice representation of the troposphere, but there is an irreducible minimum level of computing power required - if you don't have enough, the model doesn't merely become inaccurate but just dissolves into chaos.

          • Longshanks

            Creating a model which for any given transformation arrives at the same conclusion that a biological system would does not make it a good model for how the biological system implements the transformation.

            I've worked on computational models which to a high degree of accuracy give the same input-chemical to output-chemical data as the biological bacteria they are designed to abstract.

            The fact that we managed to write code which maps onto the biological subsystems of metabolism does not mean that our code was "implementing" the same combinatorial/decision making processes that a living cell would, merely that we could black-box important sub-routines to a degree of granularity which might give additional rapid-prototyping insights into gene/protein changes and their effects.

            Bioinformatic computational models, even on supercomputers, nowhere approach the complexity of neuronal matrices, nor do they exhibit, to the best of my knowledge, what I want to describe as the peer-level simultaneous processing of the various regions/specialities of brains.

          • Erick Chastain

            Well, let's just say that at this point you are taking seriously the position that we must simulate the brain completely to simulate its computational functioning. This is a neuroscience statement. And my friends in computational neuroscience disagree. Certainly I understand the intuition you have, but it is nonetheless wrong. To show you why, consider that we don't have to simulate an electrical circuit that implements the majority function to simulate the input/output behavior of the circuit (which is just the majority function). The input/output behavior is all I care about for the neural circuits in the discussion above. These kinds of arguments as stated in your comment can be very opinion-based or subjective without at least a graduate degree in both computer science and neuroscience though.

          • Octavo

            Thanks, but all three links you sent me are broken.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Erick Chastain
          • Octavo

            Thank you.

          • Michael Murray

            Decomposition: I don't see your issue here. The mathematical model of boiling water is not useful when applied to water that has been thrown onto the back lawn. That's because it's a model for a restricted situation and deals with emergent phenomena like temperature. The water remains, in both cases, a collection of molecules with forces acting on them. Same with the brain. It's a bunch of molecules with forces acting on them. If models you apply in one situation don't work in another that's because they are models.

          • Erick Chastain

            The kind of properties I am talking about are akin to properties of mathematical models of boiling water (like for example scale invariance/fractal properties of the motions of macromolecules), not emergent physical properties of boiling water such as molecules moving very rapidly (what you call temperature). The mathematical models of boiling water and of the dispersed water are different are they not? Sure one can say that the models are arbitrary and that dynamics don't actually exist apart from molecules bumping into each other but then why does nature seem so law-abiding and regular? As scientists, we can't just "shut up and calculate," we must be more rational than that, like Einstein or Newton believing that there is a true model out there some where waiting to be found rather than a post-modernist like Feynman.

          • Michael Murray

            The difference between Einstein and Newton and Feynman is that Feynman was post-quantum not post-modernist. I guess Einstein was also post quantum as well although he never really accepted it. A lot of physicists are in the "shut up and calculate" camp or probably what are called "instrumentalists" I think.

          • Erick Chastain

            well I always call instrumentalists relativists anyhow. This is why I call them post-modernists.

            The more recent physicists in america are actually bigger fans of the quantum information and computation interpretation of quantum theory, as far from shut up and calculate as possible! In short, they think that the universe is a computer and its main currency is information.

            So shut up and calculate, or the copenhagen interpretation, is less compelling. And no wonder, because it's kind of a useless perspective for contemporary quantum engineering, in contrast to quantum information/computation theory.

          • Max Driffill

            So where would your ideas leave, the rest of the Hominidae?

          • Erick Chastain

            they are almost identical to us, in that they have conscious experience, emotions, drives, decision-making using habits and drives, tool use, planning capabilities etc. Basically we are very similar, but the Hominidae don't have reason (as seen in that they don't have universal grammar). Because they don't have reason, they don't have a rational part of their soul. And in the AA position the rational part of the human soul is the only part that survives death. So there is no part of the hominidae that survives death. But most of our self doesn't survive death according to AA. Our personality, habits, emotions, etc all die with the body. Just our reasoning mind is left. We essentially are like spock or data at that point. So except for that small part we share the same fate as Hominidae after death.

          • Max Driffill

            Minor point, we are in the Homindae.

            Also this simply won't do. Neanderthals could probably reason as well as young uneducated humans today. They probably had a rudimentary universal grammar. They certainly seem to have some religious sensibility. Neanderthals seem to be their first of the genus Homo to observe some spiritual behavior. This is reasoned thinking however rudimentary. Can you say they didn't have a soul?
            We find the rudiments of our reason in cousins like Chimps can you say they don't have a soul? Maybe a really dumb Spock in the afterlife? I have interacted with grown humans who are clearly dumber than any Neanderthal and most chimps. Does that human, whose universal grammar is compromised possess a soul? Does a fetus?

          • Erick Chastain

            Hi thanks, sorry for not saying the set Hominidae - Homo sapiens, you are correct that this was what I meant. All living organisms have a soul. There is no such thing as rudiments of a universal grammar. It is all or nothing. Either a grammar is universal or it has a finite number of sentences it can produce. The difference in computational power is that between a laptop (that can run all programs) and a soda vending machine.

            Now even though every living thing has a soul, so far there is no evidence that universal grammar has evolved in other organisms besides humans. And the evolution of universal grammar is evidence that rational thought has emerged in that species. If there is evidence that universal grammar specifically evolved in the other Hominidae, that would be exciting! If you know of such a paper (which it sounds that you might), I'd love to see it.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Erick, I will ask you the same question I asked Daniel, going back in time, when was the first of your ancestors to have this "non-bodily thing"? How is it passed down from generation to generation?

          • Erick Chastain

            Quine the younger, human evolution proceeded mechanistically via evolutionary processes in a purely naturalistic way from the common ancestor of hominidae. At some point a variant arose in the population that could "host" a rational soul, because neural development was computationally powerful enough (when given the proper input S) to form a brain that had rational thought as a set of properties of its neural dynamics. The input S would be some kind of spiritual substance (henceforth substance S). How exactly substance S arises and becomes involved in neural development for our species is a mystery. Catholics have some ideas, but more interesting is just leaving it an open problem. The rational part of the soul isn't inherited, but the complexity of neural development is. To the best of our knowledge in evolutionary theory, the first variant that became homo sapiens is the only one with enough developmental complexity to create a brain that can support things like universal grammar (which is basically rational thought). So they were the first to have this "non-bodily-thing" according to the theory given above involving substance S as an input in development.

          • Michael Murray

            So is substance S something new, beyond the standard model in physics, or something emergent but reducible to known particles and fields?

          • Erick Chastain

            Honestly I don't know if substance S can be modeled using some wave function in quantum theory that affects position or time measurements of particles in some way by addition to the wave functions of the particles pre-measurement. There is a possibility at least mathematically. But I'm not sure it's identical to a particle's wave function that I know of. The essential thing with substance S is that it should be able to exist pre-measurement, eg outside of position and time measurements/observables. And it seems as though S can be modeled via a wave function for this reason. It could resolve the measurement problem though if we understand substance S. Of course I think it's a bit premature to pursue such research, though abner shimony has done some experiments along these lines.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Erick, in your view, was there a first generation with universal grammar capability that their parents did not have? Did those parents have your "substance S" but not the grammar?

          • Erick Chastain

            Well, let's be careful. At some point a variant arose with universal grammar that their parents didn't have. A major transition in evolution. Those parents in AA theory neither interacted with the substance S nor the universal grammar. Universal grammar I believe arose through mutation+drift+natural selection alone and the developmental machinery powerful enough to produce it also by AA theory would enable input from substance S. In AA theory it is hypothesized that substance S interacted with the same developmental machinery that created the universal grammar and reason emerged as a result.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Got evidence?

          • Erick Chastain

            Yes, we have the power of reason, which requires dealing with inputs (such as real numbers) that are non-material. To know the nature of these inputs well enough to reason with them, our reason by its nature must be non-material. No computer can encode these things exactly, for example (and exactness is needed for perfect knowledge of something). The AA theory is consistent with this data (us having the power of reason), and moreover predicts that it develops with age (as I discussed in another response to you). Both of these observations are corroborated by AA theory. And one can make some interesting predictions too but I will spare you. Because I know what you're thinking! This is a theory that is overly complex, involving needless substances that aren't even directly measurable. Of course I can say the same for Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics, as they involve energy, which isn't directly measurable. If there is another theory that can produce the power of reason as I have described it and is consistent also with development, but is simpler and materialistic, this would frankly be exciting for me! I hope that this mystery gets resolved with some experimental science, though I'm afraid it's still viewed as a no-mans land for experimenters in neuroscience due to technological and logistical complications.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Yes, we have the power of reason,

            As yet, undefined.

            ... which requires dealing with inputs (such as real numbers) that are non-material.

            Those are not inputs (how would you measure them?) but rather, they are abstractions.

            ... To know the nature of these inputs well enough to reason with them, our reason by its nature must be non-material.

            Are the arrangements of material in space and energy non-material, such as the arrangements in space and energy of the molecules of air and water that make up a tornado?

            ... No computer can encode these things exactly, for example (and exactness is needed for perfect knowledge of something). The AA theory is consistent with this data (us having the power of reason), and moreover predicts that it develops with age (as I discussed in another response to you). Both of these observations are corroborated by AA theory.

            I have yet to hear a definition of "AA" that makes a difference that makes a difference. Can you give me that? Moreover, I can't see that it makes any predictions, at all.

            ... And one can make some interesting predictions too but I will spare you. Because I know what you're thinking!

            Don't bet any significant sum on that.

            ... This is a theory that is overly complex, involving needless substances that aren't even directly measurable. Of course I can say the same for Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics, as they involve energy, which isn't directly measurable. If there is another theory that can produce the power of reason as I have described it and is consistent also with development, but is simpler and materialistic, this would frankly be exciting for me!

            Again, what predictions? What power?

            ... I hope that this mystery gets resolved with some experimental science, though I'm afraid it's still viewed as a no-mans land for experimenters in neuroscience due to technological and logistical complications.

            No. It is view a something we are chipping away at, one repeatable experimental result after another.

          • Erick Chastain

            I think your responses are motivated by a more limited definition of reason. "reasoning" such as the use of heuristics to solve problems is explained entirely by present-day neuroscience. Advanced problem solving, such as reasoning with real numbers, isn't as of yet because it doesn't use heuristics. Some kind of intuition is required, according to mathematicians Poincare and Goedel. Intuition requires something non-material.

          • Max Driffill

            Mere. Assertion.

          • Erick Chastain

            You say chimps and ravens have intuition. When they have
            been shown to do something as advanced as proving Goedel's incompleteness theorem, let me know. Then I will agree with you. Animals can do arithmetic, which Aristotle himself (author of AA theory) commented on. This doesn't mean they have mathematical intuition.

            Being cruel to developmentally disabled children is pretty cruel (using that word retard). How do you know that these individuals can't do calculus even in principle, with proper teaching? Maybe we just aren't patient enough to give them a chance. There are autistic individuals that are absolutely brilliant savants, who are called "retard" by others.

          • Max Driffill

            Having worked with the mentally challenged (in a variety of contexts and situations) I know many who are lucky if they can tie their shoes. Its very sad to see people who will, in some way, have to be taken care of for the rest of their lives by some institution.
            There is no calculus, or even basic algebra in the futures of some of the kids I've worked with, nor even fine literature, nor even, beyond the pictures, fine comic books in their futures. Not even in principle. Life, by way of genes and terrible environment has left some of our fellow humans with none of this reason you seem to think sets us so far apart from our animal cousins. I've worked with clients who would have trouble even grasping the rudiments of Goedel's laundry list.

            But quite simply you cannot have it both ways. Either mathematical reason/intution implies the possession of a soul, or it does not. If it does then the opposite must old as well (as you have stated repeatedly). Those lacking this quality don't have souls. Hence, two thirds of the clients that I have worked with have lacked souls, and when I substitute taught in college, I would suspect maybe 95% of the high schoolers also lacked souls. That last bit was a joke.

            Also this infatuation with intuition seems tremendously wrong headed. Intuition is not a magical quality. Calling the autistic savant's ability brilliant or intuitive may not be right. It may just be a product of the way their brains are wired. This ability typically comes at great cost as many other cognitive functions are negatively affected.

            The first thing you notice about intuition though, is that it is at its strongest in areas where the user of intuition spends most of their time and energy. I have great intuition on the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu mat. But that wasn't always the case. It took a great while to develop the ability to read an opponent, and intuit, in advance, what they would be vulnerable to and how I might capitalize on that movement.

            Intuition is not a mystery, and it hardly impresses as a place to hang the concept of the soul. Some people for whatever reason have great intuition in a subject to start with. But it can always be improved upon with work, time and effort (this doesn't seem to be the case with savants). Nor is intuition something that animals other than ourselves lack. They may not have it an abundance, or possess intuitions in wide range of areas but we certainly see it in other species.

            Fetishizing intuition, as you seem to be doing, is fairly wrong-headed. There is no hard and fast divide in this quality between us and our cousins (this continuity would probably seem more profound in a great many ways if our close relatives in the genus Homo had survived with us).

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Some kind of intuition is required, according to mathematicians Poincare and Goedel. Intuition requires something non-material.

            What does "some kind of intuition" mean? Does "running" require something non-material? If so, how does that non-material thing interact with the atoms and ions and forces in your legs?

          • Erick Chastain

            Advanced reasoning, for example proving a theorem in mathematical logic, requires intuition. Running is not advanced reasoning. So running doesn't require a rational faculty.

          • Max Driffill

            I don't believe that is at all what Catholics mean when they use the concept soul. That almost everything can be described in some mathematical way doesn't really justify any religious metaphysics you wish to support. You are missing the steps it would take to justify those claims and merely asserting.

          • Erick Chastain

            The catholic understanding of soul, if they follow thomas aquinas rather than descartes, is exactly that. In fact it is the AA position above, but focusing on the soul in general (plant, animal, human) rather than just the human soul which has special properties above and beyond those found in animal souls. It is whatever properties of the body lead to learning, emotion etc. They wouldn't phrase it in terms of properties of dynamical systems, because not all catholics are mathematicians.

            As to mathematics and metaphysics. Properly understood, I am making no metaphysical statements at all when I say that something like galilean invariance is a property of the laws of motion for moving things. This is just a mathematical statement, a theorem. Are the laws of motion themselves material? What mass do the laws of motion have? As for religion. This statement about laws of physics or other dynamical systems says nothing about Catholic religion. In fact philosophers in Greece that were pagans, deists, or atheists came up with what I am talking about (formal causes).

          • Max Driffill

            We are animals, so I guess they die with us too right?

          • Erick Chastain

            We are rational animals. So as mentioned previously, the implementation of reason requires something that can have as its nature non-material things, and thus something non-material (which at least conceivably would persist).

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            So as mentioned previously, the implementation of reason requires something that can have as its nature non-material things, and thus something non-material (which at least conceivably would persist).

            I'm sorry to say it this way, but that is just so wrong. Mathematical relationships are abstractions. They don't do anything. We use them as tools to model what we find in the world. Dynamic systems do what they do from the material and physics involved, and make no use of abstractions. Abstractions do not "persist" because they have no physical existence. They cannot last beyond the minds that think about them. You are mistaking the map for the territory.

          • Erick Chastain

            In your opinion, but not that of Goedel or Poincare. Opinions are not really substansive as an argument.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            In your opinion, but not that of Goedel or Poincare. Opinions are not really substansive as an argument.

            Hold on there, don't just appeal to authority. Are you saying that if something is intuitive, it does not come from the action of material? Did they say that? If you want to use their opinions you need to state what those opinions really mean, and what evidence supports them. You have shown no means in which what you are calling "non-material" can interact with our material world. Remember, holding an abstract concept in your mind, and thinking it through, needs material to interact with material.

            I'll give you an example. I once visited the telescopes on Mauna Kea. The researchers told me that they do their intellectual work and planning down at lower altitude before they come up the mountain to 14k ft. elevation, where they complain that their higher mathematical thinking ability goes away from lower oxygen partial pressure. That ability is provided by material interacting with material, and availability of the material oxygen atoms is critical to processing complex abstractions.

          • Max Driffill

            Such as ideas we leave behind? Why can't non-rational animals leave behind some of the fruits of their reasoning (how do you define rational-animals certainly make a great many rational decisions, or at least have rational behaviors in a given environment; we humans make a number of irrational decisions). How rational do you have to be to get to leave behind something non-material.

            One can mathematically describe any bit of reasoning, or behavior (in principle) so why does our unique evolutionary trick (big brains capable of higher order thinking) get special treatment?

          • Erick Chastain

            It's true you can describe as mathematical properties many things about animal perception, learning, experience, and decision-making. This is why non-material descriptions as in AA theory are useful. Reason as it has been understood before the 20th century in the West has a very high standard, nothing less than sophisticated conceptual insight. The expression of reason behaviorally is different from the potential as a species to behave rationally. Humans have a potential to behave rationally, and show conceptual insight. That potential is enough to justify saying that all humans have the power of reason, if not its use in daily life.

      • Max Driffill

        But that doesnt justify positing a soul.

        • Erick Chastain

          it does justify stating that non-material things (properties of dynamical systems, which are mathematical and thus not made of matter) are necessary as a theoretical construct to describe the learning/perception functioning of the brain. This is all I mean by soul.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            That something is useful in a "description" of some part of reality does not necessarily give that thing its own existence. I may describe you as "running around the track" but that does not give "running" its own existence. Also, when you stop, the "running" does not keep running.

          • Erick Chastain

            I'm not claiming that the dynamics exist apart from the things that implement them. Just that it is useful theoretically to include the dynamical properties of objects in addition to what they are made of as a part of any description of those objects.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Erick, that is good. You have to understand that when someone starts throwing around the term "non-material" they are usually trying to generate a "gap" in which to insert the supernatural. I am glad to hear that you are not going in that direction, and that you are willing to say so. Thanks.

    • tedseeber

      "It seems like the main goal of Catholic philosophy is to pick the belief system that explains the most and is internally consistent while completely disregarding how much evidence there is for the belief system's correspondence to observational evidence. This approach seems flawed."

      You are close. The difference being that we accept far more observational evidence than the average atheist. I think you meant *repeatable* evidence instead of observational.

      Observational evidence would include single time happenings such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the dancing of the sun at Fatima, the levitational ecstasy of certain Saints or the bilocation of Padre Pio. All of these were observed, NONE of them are repeatable.

      • Octavo

        "Observational evidence would include single time happenings such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the dancing of the sun at Fatima, the levitational ecstasy of certain Saints or the bilocation of Padre Pio. All of these were observed, NONE of them are repeatable."

        It's true. We need to find some way to distinguish between useful observations and non-useful ones. Did the sun dance? Some people at Fatima said they saw it. Many more people all over the same hemisphere saw it hanging in it's same position. Did the dancing of the sun cause any noted gravitational effects? These are the kinds of questions we have to ask to get useful information out of contradictory data.

        ~Jesse Webster

        • tedseeber

          All observations are useful, even when not repeatable, would be the Catholic position.

          I don't believe in contradictory data; just hypothesis that don't fit all the observations. Human beings are bound to be mostly wrong in such situations, no matter what we do.

          BTW, one very interesting suggestion for what happened at Fatima, was a cloud of methane gas floating in from the Bahamas, changing the local refraction of the air.

          I don't find it any less of a miracle even though I accept the same explanation for Bermuda Triangle incidents (melting methane hydrates bubbling up not only can reduce the surface tension of the water, but also change air pressure in such a way as to make airplane instrumentation practically useless, as well as affecting aerodynamics and vision).

          But of course, you can't find such explanations if your gut reaction to the observational data is always "that's impossible, it couldn't have happened".

          • Octavo

            We all have our biases. I try to investigate miracle claims with an open mind, even though I'd be lying if I said I haven't gotten somewhat jaded by them.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • tedseeber

            I did too, at one stage in my life. Then I noticed that being jaded was interfering in fairly analyzing the claims.

            Part of this is I'm having *exactly* the same discussion right now on my own blog with a 4th Degree Knight of Columbus who claims to be a Closet Atheist- and who denies the existence of the supernatural entirely. Very frustrating indeed, when even the littlest observation, if not repeatable inside a laboratory, is assumed to not exist.

          • Octavo

            This quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is relevant:

            "The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you don’t actually know."

            That's why things like repeatability and testability are important.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • tedseeber

            Which is why I was talking more theology than science. There are some things in Nature that the scientific method is inadequate to explain. That doesn't mean those things don't exist; it merely means that the repeatable data is inadequate to measure properly.

          • articulett

            When scientists cannot explain something, that doesn''t mean your guru, priest, or holy book can either.

            You might not be able to explain where Joseph Smith got The Book of Mormon or why there are supposed witnesses to the magical gold plates-- but that doesn't mean the Mormon explanation involving gods and angels is correct in any way shape or form.

            And you might not be able to explain Tom Cruise's stellar success-- but that doesn't mean Scientology is true or responsible.

            You may not know where missing children are, but that doesn't mean that aliens are eating them... nor that your god "called them home."

            And the same goes for your religious/supernatural explanations--they would not suffice for those who are interested in the truth-- they would only suffice for those looking to convince themselves their faith IS the truth.

          • tedseeber

            "When scientists cannot explain something, that doesn''t mean your guru, priest, or holy book can either."

            Correct. But it does NOT mean we get to just ignore it.

            The supernatural is just the superset of the natural.

          • Michael Murray

            Nope. Anything that interacts in anyway with the natural world can be examined and studied. Therefore it is natural.

          • tedseeber

            Do you understand what a superset is?

            The natural are all those phenomena we understand and know about.

            The supernatural are all those phenomena we do not understand and know about.

            The only line is internal to humanity's knowledge.

            To claim that the supernatural doesn't exist merely because you don't want it to, is to claim that we already know everything.

            Since we don't, the supernatural still exists.

          • Michael Murray

            LOL. If I don't know what a superset is they had better take my DPhil back.

            OK so we disagree on the definitions. Here is how they are usually used around here and how I was using them.

            natural world = world that science can study.

            supernatural world = world science can't study where god is hiding.

            That is the split I am rejecting. You however want

            natural world = things we know about reality

            supernatural world = reality

            Is that right ? I've no problem with that.

          • tedseeber

            It is closer to the Catholic definition, yes.

            The only reason science can't study the supernatural world, at the moment, is a lack of repeatable data. That does not say repeatable data may not come along one day, and it certainly doesn't take in the prejudice that things that are not easily repeatable don't exist.

            A miracle doesn't stop being miraculous just because you can explain it; the miracle is in the effects, not the cause.

          • articulett

            That's because real things tend to accumulate evidence over time-- the kind of evidence that leads to more understanding and more evidence... see DNA or Atoms or mental illness.

            But when you are on the wrong path, there is no test that works-- it's just stories and anecdotes and gaps in knowledge (science can't explain it, therefore *insert superntural explanation of preference*).

            If someone with a conflicting supernatural belief can use your argument to support their supernatural belief, then your argument fails in regard to getting at the truth.

            This isn't being jaded-- it's being rational.this sort of rationality on every conflicting religion/superstition/myth-- you just don't use it on your own.

          • tedseeber

            So what if no test works?

            Does reality depend entirely on your ability to test it?

            There is a rationality within the supernatural in and of itself, which is what convinces me that everything supernatural, is in fact natural.

            But I suppose you already know everything, and thus, have no need to research the supernatural.

          • Michael Murray

            everything supernatural, is in fact natural.

            yes !

          • tedseeber

            So why deny that the supernatural exists? If in fact, all scientists are working in the supernatural (or at least, should be if we are going to advance)?

  • David Egan

    Sean Carroll gives a pretty convincing argument why the soul can't possibly exist -

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/05/23/physics-and-the-immortality-of-the-soul/

    • Mark Hunter
      • Randy Gritter

        Specifically, if the human mind is the product of a “ghost in the
        machine” and not the result of electrochemical interactions among
        neurons, then the mind should not be dependent on the configuration of the brain that houses it. In short, there should be aspects of the mind that owe nothing to the physical functioning of the brain.

        I don't see this. If playing the piano involves the fingers and the brain then there should be aspects of playing the piano that owe nothing to the physical functioning of the fingers?

        • Mark Hunter

          Sure. There's using the pedals with the feet.

          • Randy Gritter

            You are missing the point. The involvement of something in 100% of the cases does not mean nothing else is involved. The argument is framed in a fallacious way from the beginning.

        • CoastRanger

          We are looking for aspects of human experience which cannot EVER be explained by material causes.

          The performance of a piano masterwork is utterly astonishing, but I think it can be explained as the result of electrochemical interactions, in fact by a physical process that happens faster than consciousness, since the performer isn't consciously willing and carrying out every action he performs.

          The way that performance is shaped by the performer's idea of beauty, however, seems to point to something beyond the merely physical. The ability to create a beautiful piano work does even more.

          • hiernonymous

            I'm not convinced that it does. In purely physical terms, the idea of harmonics suggests that one physical object will respond to some stimuli in a different manner than others. That is, a crystal is indifferent to one tone, but moves to another; the Tacoma Narrows Bridge stands unmoved by one wind, but "dances" to another. While our brains are far more complex than a crystal or a bridge, it's not so astonishing that we might respond to certain stimuli as beautiful and others as less so.

            That's not by way of arguing that we are simply automata; I'm simply pointing out that possessing or responding to a concept of beauty doesn't necessarily imply non-physical explanations for the same.

          • CoastRanger

            I agree. But what is going on is that the composer is tapping into something out there in material reality, let's call it the nature of harmony based on the structure of aural reality, and crafting something according to it that ends up being beautiful. He "abstracts" beauty from aural reality and then creates something physical is in harmony with it.

            The human mind of 'consciousness of consciousness' and the power to abstract forms of all kinds behind concrete reality--can these be explained by material causes alone?

          • hiernonymous

            I won't be able to answer that until they've been explained! :)

            I suppose that I'd just say that I don't see any reason to conclusively state that they can't be caused by material causes alone.

            And, of course, when one posits non-material beings, one runs into the problem of how such a being could perceive and influence the material world. If my ability to abstract is NOT a consequence of my physical brain, how is my physical brain being harnessed by my noncorporeal side? That point of interface should be subject to physical examination - at some point, my brain would exhibit a physical manifestation of its interface with my immaterial self. A few more generations of science ought to refine our understanding well enough to search for such things, assuming that we don't revert to barbarism meanwhile. Or, perusing these threads, one might better say "assuming we manage to keep the barbarians in check meanwhile."

          • CoastRanger

            Amen.

            One place the mind/brain connection could be studied, I think, is at the moment of command. A choice is placed before one--Charlie Brown could go talk to the Little Red Haired Girl--but he decides not to.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I have seen research on similar matters. For example, a subject whose brain is being monitored is told to press a button at random times of his or her choosing. The monitoring of brain activity shows the brain preparing to move the finger to press the button up to 7 seconds in advance of the subject's conscious decision to act.

            Some might claim the soul is making the decision, passing it along to the brain, and the brain takes its time in implementing the decision. But the startling fact is that the decision is being made unconsciously, before the subject thinks he or she has made it.

          • CoastRanger

            Thanks. I heard about this on NPR. Glad to read more about it.

            I don't think it destroys the notion of free will. Our minds or brains can know lots of things intuitively (which is maybe just lightening fast reasoning) long before we rationally figure them out.

          • hiernonymous

            Sure, and that raises the same sort of free-will questions that theological explanations do. If we were created by a God, everything we are and do was created by Him, so how could free will actually exist? If we are purely physical manifestations, then choice is an illusion - seeing that Red-Headed Girl intiates a series of chemical reactions that can only result in one effect, regardless of how much it feels like we're making a decision. Or, perhaps, quantam mechanics allow for truly random events, in which case what feels like a choice is, in fact, actually chance.

            I'm not up to wrestling all that to the ground. Fortunately, I don't think I need to. I think it's silly to express certainty until one is certain, and I'm satisfied to be part of a very, very gradual process that might allow our distant descendants to express certainty with good reason. Whether that means they'll be able to reach out and shake hands with God, or whether they'll in effect become God, who can say?

          • CoastRanger

            "If we were created by a God, everything we are and do was created by Him, so how could free will actually exist?"

            I don't follow you. If God has created us with free will, then we have free will, right?

          • hiernonymous

            But what is free will except weighing and making a decision? "Free will" isn't something that is created, it is simply the result of conflicting desires. And if everything we are - everything that contributes to that decision, was created, then free will is an illusion. If the part of me that wants to eat the apple is stronger than the part of me that wants to leave it alone, it is because God created that part stronger. There is no room for accident, error, or ambiguity if the universe was created by an omnipotent, omniscient being.

          • CoastRanger

            How would what you are saying be different if God did not exist?

            Our desires are not simply given. They are shaped by our experiences and molded by habit.

          • hiernonymous

            Functionally, it wouldn't be different. That was my point in a previous post - free will is a problem, whether you believe in God or not.

          • CoastRanger

            Our desires are not simply given. They are shaped by our experiences and molded by habit.

          • hiernonymous

            Sure, but everything we experience was also created by God. Once you posit an omniscient and omnipotent God, everything you encounter was created by Him, and all the elements within you, conflicting or not, that respond to those stimuli were also created by Him. If everything was created by Him in accordance with laws he established, then nothing can occur in contradiction to His will.

          • CoastRanger

            Why can't one of the laws be free will? Why can't God will that persons have the power to do what they will rather than what he wills?

          • hiernonymous

            In my understanding? Because "will," whatever that is, must be created by God. To conceive of God creating something beyond his ability to foresee or influence seems dangerously close to the old "can God create a stone so heavy he can't lift it" sort of sophistry.

          • CoastRanger

            Giving creatures freedom does not limit God's omniscience or omnipotence. Just because God "can" do anything possible does not mean he "will" or "must" do anything possible. I'd say God creates human freedom and certainly influences human freedom with his grace but he will not overpower us because love is not possible without freedom. You know John Donne's sonnet, "Batter my heart, Three Person'd God"? God's unspoken answer is, "no way."

          • hiernonymous

            You could be right. I'm not trying to make an argument here, so much as express how the problem strikes me. I struggle with the idea of "giving freedom" in this context, when all the inputs and the environment are fully under the designer's control, but I cheerfully acknowledge that my inability to conceive of something doesn't mean it doesn't or can't exist.

            As I've mentioned on more than one occasion, our dog is much closer to us in terms of understanding and intelligence than we would be in comparison to an omniscient, omnipotent God. When my dog sees me reading a newspaper, nothing in her doggie brain could equip her to conceive what I'm doing, so it's probably fruitless to argue too vehemently about what a God would or could do.

            Then again, my understanding of subatomic physics probably isn't much better than my understanding of God, and my impression of the free will problem on that level may also be silly.

          • CoastRanger

            Fair enough.

            Your dog probably has a more devoted love than most of us as well.

          • hiernonymous

            As long as I feed her! :D

          • Randy Gritter

            You are missing my point. Sorry. I was trying to say that everything the piano player does involves the fingers. That does not imply the brain is not involved. Same with the mind and the soul. Even if everything the mind does has a physical component that does not mean there is no spiritual component.

          • David Egan

            But, what does a "spiritual component" mean? Either it exists and can be observed and measured or it doesn't exist at all.

          • CoastRanger

            If it IS spiritual, that is, non-material, then it could never be directly observed or measured by natural science.

            However, it's effects could be observed and measured.

            I think this would be a philosophical endeavor, using scientific findings as evidence to explain an otherwise materially unexplainable cause.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            You've just hardcore circular reasoned. You've assumed as your premise what you're trying to prove, by saying "Only things which can be measured exist", when the whole Atheist/Theist debate boils down to "Can something inobservable exist".

          • Michael Murray

            Wouldn't it be better phrased as "if something is inobservable what does it's existence mean" ? If things can be observed they have no interaction with the real world. So what is the point of worrying about their existence or even discussing it ?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            I think that's a part of the debate, but I see that as stemming from the proposition I made, because part of the debate is "if something exists and is physically inobservable, can it effect change at all?" To which I'd say yes. If God is physically inobservable, and our soul is as well, then God could affect our soul, existing as they do on the same metaphysical plane.

    • VelikaBuna

      How is that convincing argument? Soul does not have properties that can be measured by physical sciences?

      • Andrew G.

        If the "soul" has any effect at all, then it has some kind of effect on the physical bits of your brain. For that to be the case, the physical laws that control the behaviour of those bits of brain must contain a term describing how the soul acts on them.

        If you want to claim something as being beyond the reach of physical sciences, then you have no choice but to concede that it cannot have any effect on the material universe, because any such effect can be measured or at least detected.

        • Dcn Harbey Santiago

          Andrew,

          There are many things that exists beyond the reach of physical sciences. Take for example justice: One can feel its effects in the physical world(e.g. ten years in the slammer) one can experience the results of its absence (e.g. homeless hungry children ) but justice itself can not be measured.

          "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
          Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Andrew G.

            Justice is an abstraction; claiming it "exists" is missing the point.

            If one gets 10 years in clink it's the result, not of "justice", but of the actions of humans - a prosecutor, a judge, a jury, prison guards - who each follow whatever idea of "law" and "justice" exists in their own minds as a consequence of what they have been taught by their society.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            "whatever idea of "law" and "justice" exists"
            So you DO agree with me that Justice exists. Great! I think we are done here. :-)

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Andrew G.

            "exists in their own minds" - a physical representation, formed partly by culture, education, experience, etc. and partly hardwired - of that person's opinions. This is a physical thing that exists, not an abstraction, and can be measured at least in principle.

            Edited to add - I'm reporting your comment as inappropriate, since it's a deliberate misrepresentation of my position done purely for snark.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            "exists in their own minds" - a physical representation, formed partly
            by culture, education, experience, etc. and partly hardwired - of that
            person's opinions.."

            So let me get this straight (I wouldn't want to misquote you) You are saying that justice "in principle" could be measured by physical means? In a sense one can provide empirical proof of the existence of Justice? How is this much different than the deists that try to provide empirical proof of the existence of God?

            "I'm reporting your comment as inappropriate, since it's a deliberate misrepresentation of my position done purely for snark."

            But I placed a smiley face at the end of my note! Doesn't that count for something??? :-)

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon harbey Santiago

          • Andrew G.

            No, I'm saying that one person's subjective concept of justice can be measured in principle. That has little to do with the abstract term "justice". But what acts in the real world is not the abstract "justice" but the very real people.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            "No, I'm saying that one person's subjective concept of justice can be measured in principle. That has little to do with the abstract term "justice". But what acts in the real world is not the abstract "justice" but the very real people."

            This is what I think you are missing in your argument: By stating that a person has a subjective concept of Justice, you are implying there is an objective reality called justice from which all other subjective ideas of "Justice" derive from.

            You try to separate the subjective from the objective, by dismissing the objective, but the language fails you. You can not make the claim that you see the effects of a non-objective, subjective idea, for how do you know that there is a subjective idea, if you do not have an objective idea to compare it to?

            In your OP you said:

            "If you want to claim something as being beyond the reach of physical sciences, then you have no choice but to concede that it cannot have any effect on the material universe, because any such effect can be
            measured or at least detected."

            And then turn around and say:

            "exists in their own minds" - a physical representation, formed partly by culture, education, experience, etc. and partly hardwired - of that person's opinions".

            The "partly by culture, edu..." provides the subjective reality, the "partly hardwired" is what gets you. You and I agree that a sense of justice is innate in every human being, it is a universal reality. Even if it is derived by evolution, it is an abstract beyond what we can "learn". It is in a sense based in an idea outside of reality.

            Objective realities such as justice are not part of physical reality and yet as you have stated their effects in reality are visible.

            Thanks for ignoring my feeble attempts at humor, and continuing the conversation. I could write more but I have to go, maybe tonight.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"

            Deacon Harbey Santiago
            detected.

          • Mark Hunter

            Can you give an example of justice that is independent of the physical world?

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Mark,

            The concept of ultimate justice (i.e. we all want, but but know we will never receive in our life time) is independent of the physical world.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Andrew G.

            By stating that a person has a subjective concept of Justice, you are implying there is an objective reality called justice from which all other subjective ideas of "Justice" derive from.

            Not at all (that would make me some kind of Platonist). The abstraction "justice" is a description we apply to certain kinds of situations. Many of those are generalized from behaviours we share with other primates; chimps (I think it was chimps) get annoyed and stop cooperating if you give different sizes of rewards to different individuals for the same task. So we inherit some emotional responses associated with the concepts we label with terms like "justice" and "fairness", but we layer a lot of cultural and learned stuff on top of that. (e.g. is it just to impose a penalty of 5 years in prison for stealing a car? 20 years? 20 lashes? amputation of one hand? What objective standard of justice is in play here?)

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            "Not at all (that would make me some kind of Platonist). The abstraction
            "justice" is a description we apply to certain kinds of situations." So when you "apply" this decision to different situations, what is your standard? If you say, fairness, how do you know what is fair and what is not? If you say morality, how do you know what is moral and what is not? Looking at chimps will not help since human morality can not be applied to them. You see there is no way of pinning down with that which is subjective that which comes from an objective idea.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            This is something that has always puzzled me. Is justice an objective reality? In debates over same-sex marriage, is there an objective "thing" called marriage that we can somehow observe and describe? In what sense does something like justice or marriage or Texas Hold'em exist?

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            "This is something that has always puzzled me. Is justice an objective reality?" Yes. The thing is, it is very difficult to show you "Justice". (There is a good reason for this but it is beyond the conversation). We can witness the effects of justice. We can feel the need for it, but we can not pin it down. We all know when we have been subjected to an injustice. Some get mad, some get depressed, some take action. Regardless of what was done to us or how we reacted, we all know we want justice. The desire for justice is "hardwired" (to use Andrew's words) in us, that is the one thing we can be certain about it.

            In the Christian tradition we believe that the source of ultimate justice (the representation OF justice, is you may) is God. You could say the same from other objective realities like beauty.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Deacon Santiago,

            Thanks for responding, but it seems to me the question has no easy answer, even from a theistic point of view. Are things just because God says so, or does God judge things to be just because they are just? Could God decree that taking from the poor and giving to the rich is just? It seems to me that God doesn't determine what is just, just as he doesn't determine by fiat what is right and what is wrong. Things aren't right because God says they are. God says they are right because they are right.

            I recently saw the author of a new book arguing that the desire for revenge is hardwired. It seems to me revenge and justice are often two different things. I have known many instance of people feeling they had been subjected to injustices when I thought they were not. And I suppose if beauty is an objective reality, then if you and I disagree about whether something is beautiful, at least one of us has to be wrong, and only God may know which one!

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Hi David,

            "Thanks for responding, but it seems to me the question has no easy answer, even from a theistic point of view." In this we agree. If you think about it there are many things our brains are not configured to "understand" or express. I call these "spiritual realities". There is a long list, Justice is just one, (I'm not sure if revenge applies in this case, I have to think about it, although one thing I could say is that revenge could be viewed as a misguided desire for justice).

            "Are things just because God says so, or does God judge things to be just because they are just?" An interesting question. (Here I'm moving away from my theological area of expertize but) I would say that: At the end of the day Justice is based on fairness (social harmony?) and morality. God is the source of moral law and of the order of nature (Harmony in general?), one is "written" within us for our own good the other belongs to the order God placed in nature for our benefit. Therefore Justice comes from God, for our benefit and the benefit of his creation. I think this is the most I would dare to say without, risking a philosophical dead end.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Michael Murray

            If you remove all the humans then justice disappears. Is that how souls work ?

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Justice is independent of humans. What is right is right, Truth is truth, many concepts are independent of human existence.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Michael Murray

            Justice is not independent of humans. It is shared with a few other primates who also evolved in small groupings. It derives from primitive notions of fairness and sharing. Take humans away and it won't exist.

          • ZenDruid

            http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/magazine/09babies-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 and similar studies suggest that even preverbal infants possess a sense of fair play. Justice, as we're accustomed to think about it, is emergent from that rudimentary sense, imo. There's no need to assign supernatural provenance.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Hi Zen. *waves*

          • ZenDruid

            :-)>

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Hmmm Don't you find these two statements contradictory?
            "Justice is not independent of humans"

            "It is shared with a few other primates who also evolved in small groupings"

            Perhaps you meant "dependent"?
            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Michael Murray

            Yes thanks. Dependent on humans would be much better.

            What I am saying is that without humans or other primates or perhaps extra-terrestrials there would be no idea of justice. It isn't out there waiting to be discovered. It's an idea, like all ideas it lives in human imagination. Ultimately it's a bunch of patterns amongst material things. It's a rationalisation of instincts that have their origins amongst our primate ancestors.

            If you want to agree that god and souls all live in our imagination as well then theists and athiests can probably all live happily ever after :-)

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            "What I am saying is that without humans or other primates or perhaps extra-terrestrials there would be no idea of justice." I wouldn't be so certain. Justice is part of the order of creation, and manifests in many different and unexpected ways. Here is an example (I'm working on a post for my blog about this, but here is a short digest).

            In a bee hive older bees are expected to forage for food for the hive until they die. In human society the idea of working our elderly until they die goes against the idea we have of Justice. We could agree that the most just treatment for our elderly is to treat them with dignity and make them feel useful. What will happen if we apply this idea of Justice to a bee hive? You can read the results here:

            http://io9.com/5923749/giving-an-old-bee-a-youngsters-job-causes-brain-rejuvenation

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Michael Murray

            Interesting thanks. I wouldn't rely too much on the natural world though. There are some pretty unfair things out there. Nematodes that live in human eyes, wasps that paralyse spiders and lay their babies in them so they can eat them alive ...

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Got evidence?

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Q.

            Since we are not talking about material things, the only evidence I can give is my own personal experience, which is of great value to me, but of little interest to you. The best I could say is: look at your own experiences and see what you find.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

  • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

    It seems to me that Catholicism, when discussing what the soul is, speaks in Aristotelian terms, hence the following from the Catechism:

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

    Yet in almost all other cases, the approach is that of Descartes. What happens when you die? The soul leaves the body. Where do people go when they die? To heaven (hopefully). Where is St. Thomas Aquinas? He's in heaven. But Aquinas himself said that the soul was not the person. Abraham's soul was not Abraham. So according to Aquinas's philosophy, Aquinas himself is not in heaven. His soul may be in heaven, but exactly what is a soul without a body? Aquinas said that the soul was not the person but only part of the person. But if it is the part that goes to heaven, enjoys the beatific vision, hears prayers from those left behind, intercedes with God on behalf of the living to secure miraculous cures, and so on, in what sense is the soul not the person?

    • Mark Hunter

      But Catholics believe that the soul is reunited with the body after death. It's the reason Catholics disdained cremation for so long as it was viewed as a way to refute that teaching.

      • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

        Yes, there is a reunification with the soul post-Eschaton, in the "New Heaven" and "New Earth". We are only temporarily divested of our bodies.

        • Mark Hunter

          Now is there any chance I can get one post-Eschaton that has the full head of hair I had when I was younger? :->

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            As a matter of fact, yes! It will be your body, but perfected.

            Interestingly enough, though we're not all entirely sure what "perfected" means specifically, we assume it means that if you had injuries or defects, they will be restored.

            However, I've heard from deaf people and their friends that they reject the idea that they will be able to hear in Heaven, because they feel like it is saying that being deaf is a defect. That always confused me, since I always understood being deaf as being deprived of hearing.

            But I'm not deaf, so what do I know?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Yes, everyone will have perfect bodies after the Resurrection of the Dead. Everyone will appear about 33 years old (considered the optimum age), all the men will be as handsome as young Brad Pitts, all the women will be as beautiful as young Angelina Jolies . . . and there will be no sex!

          • Mark Hunter

            Gosh darn. I was fat at 33. I smartened up later and exercised and lost weight. If only I had known that was the critical year.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            Maybe being fat is God's idea of perfection, and we've just got it all messed up down here.

            In that case, you would've been fat in heaven regardless of how fit you were at 33.

            ...I feel like I've taken this way off topic now.

          • Michael Murray

            So do we get foreskins back ?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            Actually, that's a really good question.

            It has a ton of theological implications. If circumcision was originally meant to indicate that one was of the chosen people, do we need that indicator in Heaven since we'll all have been chosen?

            Or if circumcision is only for cleanliness/hygenic purposes, obviously dirtiness and disease will be non-issues in Heaven, so we won't need it?

            I would think that, yes, we do. That was a fun thought experiment.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            This is a question that has vexed some of the greatest minds in the Church.

            If male bodily perfection requires an intact foreskin, why did God require Abraham and his descendants to be circumcised (Genesis 17:10ff)? On the other hand, if male bodily perfection requires circumcision, why was it decided at the Council of Jerusalem by the Apostles and the Holy Spirit that Gentile converts could remain uncircumcised (Acts 15:28-29)? The wisest counsel is not to obsess about such matters in this life but to wait for the resurrection of the dead to occur and then check.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            I like it.

          • Andre Boillot

            I mean, who doesn't? Foreskin is the best!

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            I wouldn't know

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            I don't think the new religion would have caught on without that critical decision against circumcision.

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          To say "we are only temporarily divested of our bodies" is to say that bodies are something that we have and can do without. If I can be divested of my body and be given it back, then I am a soul that sometimes has a body and sometimes does not. But that is wrong, according to Aquinas and according to "Aristotelean Animalists."

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            The language was imprecise, as is the nature of internet discourse I think. It's more like we are deprived of our bodies, and are subsequently restored post-Eschaton.

            However, when you get into establishing a timeline in Eternity, things will, quite quickly, get messy.

            It is saying, however, that we will have consciousness, but will not be whole until the Resurrection of the Body.

        • Michael Murray

          You assert this with complete confidence. How do you know this ?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            Funny you ask that question. I'm working on a post (that hopefully Brandon will let me put up here) about the epistemology of faith, and how assent to non-scientific propositions is not irrational.

            So... I'll have an answer for you shortly!

      • tedseeber

        I hold out the hope DD is more true than AA in this case, I don't want this malfunctioning body back.

    • CoastRanger

      Personhood is grounded in intellect and freedom which are immaterial. God, angels, and human beings are all persons. We humans are persons with a nature which is both material and immaterial. Death is the separation of body (which decomposes) and the soul which is immortal. Our personhood (intellect and will) continues after death in heaven, hell, or purgatory. Our natures, however, are incomplete without bodies. We are promised resurrected, glorified bodies at some point. So, the soul is the person but it is a soul "meant" to be ensouled in a body.

  • Andrew G.

    But if the soul is to the brain as digestion is to the stomach, why should mental effort execute any top-down causation

    There is absolutely nothing mysterious about this at all (like all attempts to invoke "top-down causation" it's a confusion, not a mystery - imagine looking at a wheel and asking "is the wheel turning the spokes").

    "Mental effort" is just physical effort in the brain, and the brain responds to its own activity (that's a large part of how it develops). Physical effects and physical causes, no magic.

    • Mark Hunter

      Especially in childhood when the brain is developing so much. It's why early exposure to stimuli (good and bad) in childhood can radically affect the development of one's brain.

    • Fr.Sean

      Andrew, (and i suppose Michael and Mark,)
      Just to get your takes on something with respect to the soul. i have spoken to three different people who claimed to have "out of body" experiences. two of them were on their way up through the tunnel etc. one of them simply had an out of body experience when his heart stopped but didn't leave the room. he told me he was able to witness from above the doctor's and nurses operating on him to save his life. after the operation he told the doctor of his experience, but then surprised the doctor when he described in detail what the other nurses like who operated on him, who were no longer in the room.

      now, i had thought perhaps that would be a pretty good proof for the existence of the soul so i read up on it a little and found that some people believe because the brain is under duress from a lack of oxygen etc. that it releases various chemicals and can do amazing things at a near death experience. this is where i felt the explanation falls short. if life is just the material world (and i suppose dark matter), than what kind of mechanism of that man who was able to witness things from above his body? in other words, we can see because light bounces of various objects around us, hit's our retina, then is sent as electrical impulses to the back of our brain to transmit the image. what kind of a mechanism, would allow his brain to receive images of things going on around the room? the only reason we see when our eyes are open is that our retina picks up the image, sends the electrical signal. thus to see an image something else would have to pick it up to somehow connect it to the nerves and thus let the brain to translate the image. what was that mechanism? secondly, if i am standing at a particular part of a room i see things from that vantage point. the man i spoke of earlier saw things from another vantage point in the room that was apart from his body? thus something of him had to be there, at that part of the room, that further enabled him to describe people who were not in the room when he came too yet the doctor acknowledged their descriptions when the man described them? Wouldn't it certainly seem more plausible if it was indeed the man's soul as evidenced by the fact that his heart had stopped?

      • Mark Hunter

        Fr. Sean - Whereas the heart used to be viewed as the seat of intellect and emotions, we now know that those functions are encompassed by the brain. A heart can stop and the brain still function (for a while at least). Indeed many operations stop the heart and employ artificial hearts for extended periods and the brain is unaffected.

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi Mark and Andrew,

          Here is a documentary on people who did have out of body experiences. you don't have to watch the whole thing just watch the third one and perhaps the second one, and it is a little overly fundamentalistic but it makes a couple of important points. 1. these men were atheists and assumed they were going to see nothing. 2. what turned them around? 3. did what they observe simply seem like brain activity as evidenced by the fact of what effect it had on their lives?

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQ8TEGMj-jc

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Don't the descriptions of out-of-body experiences imply that the soul has a physical location? Are we to imagine that a patient in an operating room remembers looking down on himself and everything else in the room because his soul has drifted up to the ceiling? If I understand it correctly, purely spiritual entities (like souls and angels) cannot be said to have a location in physical space. If I am correct (and I very well may not be!), the soul is not located inside the body. Consequently, it can't be located 12 feet above the body and watch what is going on. Theoretically, a disembodied soul (if it even makes sense to talk of such things), if it can "see," should be able to see anywhere and everywhere. The idea that it hovers somewhere around the body seems to me that it is a "ghost" that is reluctant to stray too far away from its "machine."

          • Fr.Sean

            David,
            You make a good point, but i believe the Christian notion of the soul is similar to the greek notion but differs in the sense that the soul and the body are one when the person is alive. some Jewish thought was that the soul hovered around the body a couple of days after death. two other accounts i had heard from parishioners were that their soul had left their body when they were on the operating table and had gone through that "tunnel" that i'm sure you've heard about. they both said the same thing independently. they heard beautiful music, saw extraordinary colors and one made it up to heaven where she saw her brother who had passed on years earlier and she saw Jesus. both of them also said something independently from each other. that fear was no longer a part of their lives. not just fear of dying, but fear of anything because they knew what was waiting for them. the only place fear existed was in their memories before they had their experience. i thought it was interesting that they both talked about fear in such a way even though they never met each other.

          • Andrew G.

            People can't be expected to know what their brain will do when subjected to unusual conditions.

            Then, when they process the experience afterwards, it's with the brain state that they were left with after the event. The fact that this may represent a permanent difference from their previous state does not imply any nonphysical cause, since we observe the same effect from some drugs.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Andrew,

            You make a good point, indeed the brain can in a sense reconstruct memories to make things appear to be real. i'm sure we've all had the sense of having a dream that seemed totally real. but a few moments after waking up we realize it was just a dream. these men were convinced it wasn't anything like that. remember, the man was standing next to his wife, observing her and observing his body. i'm sure you've heard of Occam's razor. consider for a moment that their could be a God, then all of these explanations of not only the soul but also of our universe, the natural law, the laws of nature, all fall into place?

          • Andrew G.

            You're still falling into the fallacy of assuming that the brain can accurately evaluate its own state under conditions outside normal experience. (A similar fallacy is committed by people who imagine that eyewitness reports are usually "about" right, that they might get some details wrong but the overall picture is reliable - this turns out to be nothing like how it works.)

            The ontologically simplest explanation is still physical brains that malfunction under stress in ways that aren't always predictable in advance.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Andrew,
            you make a good point, there is a possibility that these men and other people who believe they have had out of body experiences could have just had unusual brain activity. thus there are two possibilities. 1. these people and others just had unusual experiences brought on by chemical reactions in the brain that made them think they had experiences of heaven or hell, only to be resuscitated a short while after having heart or brain failure. but these were noting more than illusions brought on by the chemicals in their brain. 2. these people had authentic experiences of their soul leaving their body and experiences either heaven or hell, depending on the status on their souls. those who had faith and were active in their faith had experiences of heaven and an individual named Jesus as well as seeing loved ones who had died earlier. the second type were either atheists or people who didn't practice their faith. they had a "hell " experience that they had not anticipated having. they felt the experience was so real that they radically changed their life after the experience. 2 questions; 1. if this was just chemical reactions in the brain and nothing more, why did all of the atheists have hell experiences, why didn't any of them have other experiences such as heaven? why did all of the atheists/ agnostic's have almost the exact same experience? same odors, same visual sites and similar reversal of direction at some figure named Jesus? those are kind of odd coincidences for numerous people who expected to see nothing when they died?

          • Michael Murray

            There are many problems with anecdotal accounts of NDEs and OBEs. They are often collected by people with a big personal investment in them being what they appear to be. They are interpreted by people as having occurred over a period of time whereas they are more likely to have been built by the brain in the period it wakes up to make sense of the preceding gap. Most people misunderstand how hard the brain works to create the illusion that we are sitting in our heads with signals coming in from the senses. That is not what happens. Our brain is interfering with the incoming signals and constructing both an illusion of a coherent reality and an illusion of self. Interfere with this in some dramatic way and the brain flounders around trying to make sense of the resulting changes in inputs. If there is something really leaving the body then we would need verifiable evidence. This is being sought by the likes of Sam Parnia although results are a long time coming in. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Parnia

            As for atheists and theists that's a strange result. When I first read about this stuff as a kid much was made of it being culturally independent as an argument for it being real rather than imagined. It seems the proponents have now dropped that argument.

            On the question of the Catholic God being a good explanation for this there are equally good explanations from other religions such as Tibetan Buddhists. They will tell you about astral projection and higher planes of existence. Maybe they are right. If you where born in Tibet and raised in a monastery as Lama Sean last century I am sure you could argue the case persuasively.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Mike,

            (if you mind me calling you mike no prob it's just my bro's name) i read about that study you mentioned, it seems rather interesting. in my mind for the atheistic point of view it would have to be the mind creating an illusion, it simply couldn't be the brain figuring a way to see without a physical eye bc then you run into something other than materialism, thus if the brain can collect visual info without a physical eye it would almost have to be a soul.

            you raise an interesting point about being in other societies, thus would experience what ever their ideas about God were which would certainly seem to suggest that it is just an illusion created by the brain. years ago i remember reading about something called "revelational theology" which basically entailed an observation that when the Christian missionaries went out east to evangelize to the people they naturally came across many of the eastern philosophies. buddhism had so much in common with Christianity it was rather puzzeling. overcoming the self, not allowing one to be guided solely by fleshly, earthly desires, selflessness etc. it was almost a bit of a preconstruct that Just needed a "capstone" if you will that would bring everything together. so the missionaries gleaned that many of the people in the east had some revelation from the Holy Spirit that just needed the Gospel to fulfill their understanding of what this spirit was. that's why the incarnation and pascal mystery make so much sense to me. aka. "this spirit, leading you towards selflessness, overcoming the self ...the spirit took on human flesh, he himself was completely selfless, he gave up his life for you, and this will be the result... eternal life." One of my scripture scholars used to say Jesus came to teach the power of unselfish love. anyway, had some of those people in the east had a vision of a man named Jesus during an obe, they would have had no context to understand who or what Jesus was, rather than confuse or misunderstand Jesus nature. moreover on the positive side, or those who experienced something good we may glean that those people had faith, believed and we may hypothasize that they only experienced what they expected to see. but that doesn't address people on the other side of the coin. they didn't simpy experience darkness or nothing at all? they experienced the SAME things same environment etc. that is perhaps too coincidental. moreover if it was just activity in the brain don't you think at least a couple would eventually come to the conclusion that what they experienced was nothing more than a bad dream like experience? yet they all hold to their confession about their experience as being more "real" than this world. it's certainly worth pondering?

          • Michael Murray

            if it was just activity in the brain don't you think at least a couple would eventually come to the conclusion that what they experienced was nothing more than a bad dream like experience? yet they all hold to their confession about their experience as being more "real" than this world. it's certainly worth pondering?

            I think it's worth reading about the brain and consciousness a bit. It's a lot weirder than most people think. The point I think in this case is why does real seem real ? The obvious answer is "because it's real" but I think that's wrong. I think you experience something as real because your brain tells you it's real. If your brain tells you something is real when it isn't then you are going to think it is real. A related thing is Cotard's syndrome which had some coverage in the press recently

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

            Also people who think their close friends and relatives are not real

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

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Michael,

            i suppose that could be a possibility, it could just be chemical reactions convicting them that it was real. when i was in a former parish i had counseled a woman who had lost her son in an accident, he was only 17 and she was completely grief stricken. the young man used to play the guitar on the contemporary choir. the woman refused to change anything in his room because it was just too difficult to think about. one day after a year another woman who was in the adult choir came wanted to speak to the mother after Mass. she told her that the night before she had a dream where her son, we'll call him bill for the sake of argument, appeared in the dream and told the woman that he had written a note to his girlfriend after they had broken up but never had the opportunity to give it to her. the note was in a silver box in the top right hand drawer. Naturally the woman went home from church to check the drawer. just as the woman had said, in the top right hand drawer was a silver box, inside was a note bill had written to his girlfriend but was unable to give it to her before his accident. that event gave his mother a perhaps tangible sense of her son's presence and really helped her to deal with her loss.

          • Michael Murray

            But that's the point. Even if I see a ghost and it's a real ghost what happens in the brain is chemicals. So if for some reason the brain just induces those chemicals anyway it will seem just the same as if it was a real ghost.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Michael,
            Well what happens if that ghost gives evidence of something material before he died? Or in other words something of the spirit gives proof in a material way, shouldn't that be considered?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            ... their experience as being more "real" than this world.

            Yes, I wrote about that earlier in the thread, and 'more "real"' is a giveaway. A part of your brain is responsible for giving you a feeling about how "real" what you think you are experiencing actually is. You need this to keep your imagination on one side and your actions in reality on the other. As Michael points out, above, it is in the cases where it goes wrong that we find out it exists.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Michael,
            I read your potential hypothesis websites as to why people may think they are having an out of body experience when really they are just deluded. 4 questions. 1. do the people who suffer from these two various mental delusions continue to maintain that their delusions were real or they able to see after the fact that they were just hallucinations. 2. has anyone who claimed to have an out of body experience reverted back later to acknowledge that their experience was just a delusion? if none have gone back on their word wouldn't that suggest there experience was more than a delusion? 3. the people who had the out of body experiences were the ones who had the experience first hand, we are only postulating? if we can convince someone with one of those two mental disorders that they were nothing more than mental disorders than why can't we do the same with those who have had out of body experiences? 4. i can understand why one would hypothesize that people of faith had "heavenly" experiences because that was what they were expecting. but what about the atheists/agnostics, they weren't expecting anything but they all had the same experiences that they felt were so real it completely changed their lives around?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            i'm sure we've all had the sense of having a dream that seemed totally real. but a few moments after waking up we realize it was just a dream.

            And what happens if that realization function fails?

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Quine,
            Thanks for the article, it was informative. it's always interesting to see how the brain works and the effect it has on us. Two things i noticed from the article. 1. he wasn't observing it from an objective point of view, and thus is mind was already made up before he began his study? I'm not sure that's a realistic way to to discern truth? the article was filled with his subjective opinion of analyzing the simple physiological reactions in the body. Well when someone figures out a way to analyze spiritual realities/aspects through physical means i think there will no longer be a need for this website. People keep doing things until they "hear" something. what if we turned that around; if one keep praying they will begin to encounter something divine? i'm once again left with the difficult aspect of simply being aware that had he experienced some of the things i have (not because i'm better than anyone, i'm not) he would look back on his article and see how limited it was. furthermore, that article still does not address why so many atheist/agnostic's experienced the same things, same sights, same odors, same visual encounters? why didn't they just encounter simply darkness, or bleakness or something else? they all encountered the same things independently? is that not a strange coincidence for people who didn't think they would encounter anything?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            We are spending a great deal of scientific resources trying to find out what our brains do when they are working properly, and how to help people when they are not. I always start by recommending that people read Oliver Sacks' book "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" from back in 1985 so that they can get a view of what can go wrong. In our daily lives we are usually interacting with others who are working on an internal representation of reality that matches (more or less) our own. When the brain is failing, that assumption goes out the window, and the reports of memories put down in such a state need not represent any real events.

            Are these reports consistent, or are only the ones we hear about consistent? We don't know. We don't ask. If the experiences are too strange, they need not leave memories that are consistent enough to describe (I have had plenty of dreams like that). When parts of your brain shut down, you can end up with activity in other parts that are normally inhibited. It is possible that some very old (from evolution) areas of our brains that we don't normally use could become active in these circumstances and cause memories to be created of similar nature.

            Always keep in mind that NDE reports are from memories. They are not descriptions as events are happening. When people come "back to life" they don't know when their memories were formed, and as such cannot establish that experiences actually happened while they were "dead." There is simply no objectively testable evidence that anyone can "think" or "experience" anything outside of the operation of their electrochemical neural systems. There is vast evidence that chemicals and electricity acting on your brain can change how you think and experience things. Have a few drinks and think that over, then sleep on it.

          • Longshanks

            That book is great.

            Every time he's on NPR's Radiolab it's a joy. He has such a benevolent-sounding voice.

            Hearing him talk about his childhood periodic elements set was pretty well describable as endearing.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Endearing indeed. For people who don't read books, I try to get them to watch the movie "Awakenings" where Robin Williams plays, through a fictionalized character, a young Oliver Sacks when he was exploring how a chemical could revive consciousness lost in catatonic patients.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I think this is very well known, but in case it isn't, Oliver Sacks has described himself as an aggressive atheist. He is not, however, happy with "evangelical atheists" like Richard Dawkins. In forming my own opinion about theism versus atheism, in general it makes very little difference to me what well known or highly educated person is an atheist and which one is not. But for me, Oliver Sacks's opinion carries weight.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Oliver Sacks' opinion carries special weight re this issue of "soul" because he has personally investigated the counter-examples in clinical settings (I recommend all his books). On the Atheism issue, I try to remind people that not all atheists are pro Atheism.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Quine,

            That does sound interesting. i had worked with an individual who had a pretty bad addiction to porn, and thus i ended up reading a great deal of the effects of porn on the brain (naturally i would know it was a spiritual problem but i wanted to be able to show him it was also a psychological problem, there usually connected). the study showed that pron releases four chemicals that the addict gets addicted to, which basically puts him into a cycle of having a brief rush when he looks at it followed by anger and depression. furthermore he almost becomes a bit of a sociopath in the sense that he's so focused on self gratification that he can become oblivious to anything going on around him, or in other words, only becomes overwhelmed with a compulsion simply to please himself. it's extremely difficult for them to break free of, in fact the only thing i found that works is prayer. anywo, do you have any guesses on why people of faith had a "heavenly" experience and why atheists/agnostics have a "hell" experience? if you want another reference, this one's pretty interesting as well. she grew up catholic, lost her faith, had her experience and made a miraculous recovery; http://www.javaemerald.com/religion/gloria_polo_testimony.html it is a fascinating story i'm sure you will enjoy it.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Glad to hear you have looked into the connection between behavior, brain chemicals and neuroplasticity, all of which point to a natural basis for our experiences and the physical impact of meditation and prayer.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Quine,

            speaking of prayer i was thinking of our earlier discussion with the religious who either left or had problems. to recap, we concluded that many people thought that God was calling them to some form of ministry, only to become disenchanted later. the catholic theologians had gone to rehabilitation, when they arrived they were asked a simple question; "when did you stop praying", all of which without fail acknowledged that they did stop praying. the other ministers from the clergy project were gravitated to science and reason and thus had most likely stopped praying. thus we have a connection between continuing to pray and continuing to be enlivened in ministry and one who stops praying and grows cold in their ministry, and perhaps concludes that God does not exist. You were going to attempt to find a connection between evolution and the benefits of prayer but concluded that not all of the human experiences and phenomenons can be explained through evolutionary means. as a side note i did do a little research and found that when atheists attempted to pray they did not record any possible benefit from prayer but when Christians pray they do, which would naturally lead to the conclusion that either God exists and faith needs to be a prerequisite to receive benefits from prayer, that can be recorded in a physical way. or God does not exist but somehow being misled into thinking he does exist somehow benefits the chemical processes of the brain. Thus with our earlier discussion there are two possibilities;

            1. we'll use the word agent, it appears more neutral. the agent does not exist, yet some people begin thinking he does exist. they further are misled into thinking the agent has an important job for them to do so they enter into a leadership position in ministry. everything goes well because they are praying and are getting the psychological benefits from prayer, but do not realize that it has nothing to do with the agent that does not exist. at some point they either become too busy to pray or perhaps get led into the benefits of science and reason and don't see the necessity of praying. thus they lose those benefits, become discourage, and some of them leave, some go to a rehab where they are asked "when did they stop praying", to which they acknowledge that they did stop praying. those who leave ministry have a coincidental effect that they come to the truth that they realize the agent does not exist, but unfortunately they never realized how prayer was a benefit to their well being even though the agent did not exist.

            2. the agent does exist, calls them into ministry and at first everything goes well because they are praying, except for a few who had misunderstood God's call and ended up leaving. everything's going well because they are praying and the agent is giving them the love and assistance they need. eventually they become too busy or lose the appreciation for prayer and become discouraged. they never make the connection between energy from the agent until some of them go to rehab where they realize the importance of prayer and returned rejuvenated to return to their call.

            Now, with all things being equal because you don't believe in the agent and i do, so we'll just neutralize the other variables. if we were to apply Occam's razor to these two possibilities, which one would be more likely?

          • Andrew G.

            do you have any guesses on why people of faith had a "heavenly" experience and why atheists/agnostics have a "hell" experience?

            Because those are the one you (and here I mean you personally) hear about.

            An analogy: plenty of miracle stories of people recovering from cancer get bandied around in those Christian circles where such stories are popular. In fact, atheists are just as likely to recover under the same conditions, but why would anyone tell stories about them?

      • Andrew G.

        There's a persistent problem in medicine of people being more conscious during surgery than anesthetists expect. Sometimes this can be traumatic.

        As for vantage points, you probably don't appreciate exactly how much work the brain has to do to construct (and make no mistake, it is constructed) the impression that "you" exist at that point behind your eyes and between your ears and that you receive a unified stream of sensory experiences. Furthermore, you probably also don't appreciate (though there are some really cool visual illusions that help with this) the extent to which your brain fills in details that it can't actually see by extrapolation from ones it can. (If you look at a printed pattern that has a gap in it, and arrange it so that the gap falls into your visual blind spot, your brain actually fills it in so it looks like there's no gap.)

        "Looking down from above" seems to be the most common failure mode of the brain structures responsible for spatial orientation. Some people get this experience sometimes even without significant trauma (e.g. just walking down the street). I believe that this has also been the subject of experiments using transcranial magnetic induction to disrupt parts of the brain selectively.

        Brain function also does not stop instantly under conditions of reduced oxygen supply; a stopped heart does not imply lack of brain function.

        And the final piece of the puzzle: memories are usually constructed retroactively, they are not really a "recording" of events as they happen.

      • Fr.Sean

        Hi Mark and Andrew,
        So how was he able to describe in detail what the nurses looked like. it's one thing to think the brain heard voices and developed images, but it's something more to describe what they did, what their role was in the surgery, and how they looked in detail? Mark by the way, i know some people believe out of body experiences occur when part of the brain shuts down, others think it occurs when the heart stops. i think that topic is sill largely open for debate.

        • Mark Hunter

          Fr. Sean - It can be explained the same way and to the same accuracy as astral projection or remote viewing.

          • VelikaBuna

            Anything can be explained, that does not mean it is true.

          • Michael Murray

            Actually there are lots of things that are hard to explain. Feel free to dive in. Science needs you.

        • 42Oolon

          Yeah, it is still open for debate. But actual proof would be helpful instead of third hand accounts. Forgive me for being skeptical. But I would ask how much detail did he know about the nurses? And how do you know all of this occurred? He could be exaggerating, misremembering or outright lying. Apparently 15 million Americans claim to have OBE's, it is very common in centrifuge training for astronauts. With all this experience it should be testable, and some are trying. I am still waiting for a result in this test: http://consciouslifenews.com/researchers-test-out-of-body-experiences-at-hospitals/112630/

          See also Michael Shermer's "The Believing Brain" for a great discussion of "near death experiences".

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi 42Oolon,
            you make a good point, he could be fabricating the story. but i'm not sure why he would do that? i'm also not sure why others would do that? i think to some extent one needs to recognize that although human testimony can be flawed, we have to remember people go to jail because of human testimony?

          • 42Oolon

            Yes! people go to jail all the time wrongfully based on eye witness accounts. Eye witnesses who genuinely believe they are being honest, in my view. I do not know he would lie, he may be exaggerating a bit. He may have a post fabricated memory based on information he got after he awoke. He may have been slightly conscious. Again, what was the detail he knew of the nurse's behaviour? This is simply something we can are testing.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi 42Oolon,
            i would agree that eye witnesses accounts aren't very reliable, but they do have some weight to them and that's why we generally use them to help a jury decide a case. i would suppose that would mean there are two possibilities when it comes to this phenomenon. 1. people who claimed to have out of body experiences are either all mistaken, or are fabricating what they experienced. 2. the people who claimed to have them are telling the truth, they really did have out of body experiences. to support number 1, one may observe that often times people have mental disabilities or other problems that lead to hallucinations, furthermore perhaps some of the people fabricating the occurrence are doing it for some ulterior motive. 2. however, people who do have hallucinations can be counseled and take medication to the point that they understand and believe that their experience was nothing more than a hallucinations. if these were hallucinations at least a couple would have retraced their experience or perhaps say they weren't entirely sure. that hasn't been the case, in fact people always claim they were just as real as this world. Moreover, people that fabricate things for attention quite often come clean about their lie. None of these people have. finally, if we do recognize that personal testimony has some validity to it, enough to send people to jail, and we look at this phenomenon and recognize that none to my understanding have retraced their statements than it becomes much more certain, as if you had thousands of people who witnessed the same event. if none of them retracted their earlier accounts it would become an almost certainty that the event occurred. watch the third guy in the documentary above, see if you think he may have hallucinated or was fabricating the event by the way he recounts it.

          • 42Oolon

            Some 15 million people in the US claim to have had out-of-body experiences. I have no doubt that they genuinely believe they did. A small number may be committing fraud. However, from these millions, there should be mountains of information they could have garnered which they otherwise would not have known. I have asked you twice what information this person knew about the nurse's movement that he could not have otherwise known, but I do not think you have replied. Yes eye-witness testimony SUBJECT TO CROSS-EXAMINATION which convinces a finder of fact is taken as good evidence, and even in these cases has been objectively proven as completely wrong. What you have proposed is now to me double-hearsay which would not be admissible in court at all. It just does not sound credible to me at all.

            I desperately wish the soul was real as you describe, but I see no reason to believe it.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi 42olon,

            I apologize, i need to me more detailed in my responses. the guy was not from my parish, he said he wasn't religious in the past but something happen to him that changed his life. he was injured by a stray bullet from a drive by shooting. the bullet went right near his heart but did not puncture it, but i think he said it grazed and artery or something to that effect. when the man came to he was floating out of his body, then looked down to see his father crying over him and saying goodbye just in case he didn't make it. his father left and the doctors and nurses began to work on him. he noticed a big male nurse with a red beard assisted in the surgery. after a while he was pulled back into his body. when he was able to speak with the doctor he recounted the story to the doctor who looked rather puzzled until he described in detail some of the things he witnessed. i do not have contact with the guy so i can't give you more details but i can say that the doctor believed the man when he described in detail what the male nurse with the red beard looked like (who was no longer in the room). other than that i can't give you more details about what he may have learned from the experience as i am just recounting it from what he told me. the experience changes his life because he never questioned the existence of the soul after his experience. if you want a more detailed description of someone receiving info. this story (that i typed from above) occurred from a former parish that revealed info from someone who had passed; thus someone from the other side of life gave someone in a dream details about something they did before they died that was confirmed in a material way.

            when i was in a former parish i had counseled a woman who had lost her son in an accident, he was only 17 and she was completely grief stricken. the young man used to play the guitar on the contemporary choir. the woman refused to change anything in his room because it was
            just too difficult to think about. one day after a year another woman who was in the adult choir came wanted to speak to the mother after Mass. she told her that the night before she had a dream where her son, we'll call him bill for the sake of argument, appeared in the dream and
            told the woman that he had written a note to his girlfriend after they had broken up but never had the opportunity to give it to her. the note was in a silver box in the top right hand drawer. Naturally the woman went home from church to check the drawer. just as the woman had said,
            in the top right hand drawer was a silver box, inside was a note bill had written to his girlfriend but was unable to give it to her before his accident. that event gave his mother a perhaps tangible sense of her son's presence and really helped her to deal with her loss.

          • 42Oolon

            Thanks. I do not mean to belittle the significance of these events at all. It sounds like difficult times and it also sounds like you are a caring person.

            But lets look at what we know. A man is shot and comes extremely close to losing his life. Risky and likely long surgery occurs with his father sitting by and crying.

            At some point he awakens. He is still feeling the effects of the anesthetic and likely some pretty powerful opiate-based pain killers. He would be very susceptible to implantation of memories from others, possibly his father, the rest of the medical staff.

            Now lets say there is some biological mechanism by which people in certain kinds of physical duress have an experience in which they feel disconnected from their bodies. As I said above this has been seen in astronauts and test pilots, I believe when there is a loss of blood to the brain. Lets just say as well that when people regain consciousness they now have memories of being outside their body. This is indeed a theory of why so many people report this, including the tunnel with the light at the end. Some people freely acknowledge these memories to be a weird result of the trauma, and do not suspect that it actually happened.

            Now memory appears to be a very strange thing, it seems we actually create memories as we remember rather than recall stored information. This seems to be why memory is so susceptible to confirmation bias. You may have had the experience of recalling being ay some long ago event often recalled in a story you and friends or family tell. One day as you are telling the story, a friend or family member tells you that you weren't there and couldn't have been, and then you realize you weren't and you realize you had genuinely implanted yourself into a story that you had heard told many times. This is well known to happen.

            So I would suggest that this man, feeling so lucky to be alive, was very susceptible to the suggestion that a miracle occurred. In his drug-addled state he may have glimpsed the nurse while semi-conscious or been told of him by his father or a doctor. He then, having this experience of remembering being out of his body could create memories that he saw his father and a red-bearded nurse. Who knows, over the years, as his faith grows the memory gets exaggerated as he retells the story. No idea if this was the case, but it is plausible, surely.

            Now the alternative is that there is some undetectable "self" that can exit the body and see things and then re-enter. From what we know about hearing and seeing, there needs to be some physical thing to receive the photons and sound waves and send these to a brain to be interpreted. But in your account, this occurs without any physically detectable thing being present.

            The first story is easier for me to believe, or some variation on it. It relies on things we have already physically observed happening or similar. The second relies on some kind of unknown mechanism which is physically impossible. Forgive me, but it requires something like magic. The second story becomes even less plausible if we think of the soul and its departure as being the work of a deity. Why did the soul depart when the man was not going to die? Did the magic get it wrong? If the magic was doing this to prove a god or soul exists, why does it happen so often in mundane circumstances, like with test pilots in centrifuges who are in no danger of dying? And would not such proof take away our free will? If not, why does God prove his existence in such indirect ways? Why not flick Hitler's head off at Nuremberg and say I am Jesus, I exists as a flaming column?

            I am sorry, but if I were to lower my standards of credulity to the level you suggest by these stories, I would have to accept not only Jesus, but also that Mohammed is the one and only prophet of God, Hinduism as well as the Loch Ness Monster and the thousands of eye-witnesses to alien abduction.

            All of these are possible, but I need more that this kind of triple hearsay and vague claims of "details" he could not have otherwise known.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi 42Oolon,

            you make some interesting points, i certainly cannot guarantee that was what happened. you know what, if you don't mind me digressing a little i think it might shed light on this as well as other topics. actually, if you don't mind me just making a confession of sorts. i have learned a great deal since i began dialoguing with atheists and reading various books about proving God's existence etc. first, i've naturally learned a great deal more about physics, astronomy etc. but i've also learned more about faith and about truth in general. i also always used to think one can prove God's existence beyond doubt but i realize there is strong evidence, but not quite empirical evidence. Thus you cannot prove or disprove God's existence in an empirical way. for the sake of argument, so i don't have to repeat it, this first part is my perspective so bear with me.

            1. one question i've never really understood about my faith is; if salvation comes from faith, and faith is a gift, than how could God hold anyone accountable who didn't receive the gift? that seemed to go against the notion of God's justice. now, first i believe that God judges us according to our experiences etc. so every person may be held to a different scale (in other words if someone was treated really bad by people of faith God would take that into consideration etc.) anyway, it isn't that God didn't want to give them the gift it's possible that they didn't want to accept it (i know that sounds judgmental, but bear with me)

            2. i had always thought most atheists beliefs were rooted in either a bad experience by people of faith or because they were angry at God. i realize that most atheists simply don't believe in God because it doesn't make sense to them.

            3 i had in a sense always prejudged atheists as people who either didn't want to deal with the whole God question and the responsibilities of faith or had a pride that they were intellectuals and their pride kept them from a humble search for God. i realized that that isn't true, except for a couple of atheists who may be motivated by those motives I came to see atheists are actually really good people honestly trying to seek the truth, they are truth seekers, kind of like Thomas in the Gospels.

            4. When i first came on to this website and dialogued with atheists it appeared to me that they were trying to look intellectually superior and delighted in trying to make faith people look foolish, but i realize once again i was wrong, what i really think is that you want to believe in God, you want to believe as we do but only if it's true. thus, perhaps an imaginary dialogue make help to shed light on this A (for atheist) "I want to believe in God can you prove to me that he exists". B (Believer) "Here is evidence that God exists." A. "I need something more empirical or definitive, can you give that to me". B. "no, i can't give you definitive proof, but if you make a choice to believe and see it from our perspective and pray and research it you will then know and won't need definitive proof". A."I don't want to take that root, please give me something definitive so i can believe as you do. B. "I"m sorry i can't do that you have to make the leap of faith, but i promise you will know if you do."
            Thus, one may say, why? Why if God exists doesn't he give definitive proof? well, i think the answer is that he doesn't want robots, he wants people to choose to believe in him who choose to love him and not simply do it because they have to.

            almost every discussion i have had has revolved around this scenario, something pretty clear that points to a creator and naturally reveals a creator, left to a choice on behalf of the observer, but then question after question arises, kind of like the Socratic method, "how do you know, how do you know, how do you know?, almost as if i'm trying a case where my client is clearly innocent, but little distractions of doubt that cannot be proven continue to be introduced." the natural law or moral law perhaps is a good example. Dawkins hyopthesis boils down to a you scratch my back, i'll scratch yours. but if i attempt to remember what darwin believed, that evolution is guided by survival of the fittest and natural selection, being overly concerned about someone i have no relation to contradicts Darwin's observations of wanting to propagate my DNA and rising above my competitors. . it runs into a discussion of chemical reactions in the brain which do happen, but those chemical reactions don't mean there isn't a higher law, or a truth i'm striving for? they are just a material measure of what is happening with my conscience? ironically they seem to dissipate, or those chemical reactions seem to become less imperative when i think there noting more than chemical reactions? in other words, when i conclude that "truth" is just chemical reactions in the brain i have a temptation to dismiss adhering to a higher truth because i think truth is nothing more than chemical reactions in my brain, therefore those chemical reactions become less powerful?

            thus discussion after discussion appears to be going in a general direction of a conclusion that God exists but his continuously hampered by, "how do you know, how do you know". behind all that what i hear is a good person wanting to know the truth, wanting to seek the truth, "i want to believe like you do, can you prove it to me so i can?" ..."Yes i can, just make a leap of faith, be open as to the possibility and see things from our perspective, ask and pray in a humble way and you'll receive it as a gift and then you'll know".

            Now, to answer your former question, my response to the possibilities your presented. it is possible that he just reacted to the sedatives, that he imagined it or had other chemical reactions in his brain that made him think it was true. the reason i feel this explanation does not hold up is by how they recount this and similar stories. everyone i've read had people saying something to the effect that it was just as real, or more real than this world. furthermore, other people who have had delusions usually can be counseled, or after further reflection realize their delusions were false. as far as i know, people who have had out of body experiences speak of the event in a way that they are convicted of it. if it was just an illusion i would imagine some of them would acknowledge that it could have been an illusion, but none of them do. furthermore it always has a drastic effect on their lives, thus if it was just an illusion i don't think almost every one would make such a drastic change on something they weren't really sure of. moreover, the story i spoke of in the last post, about the silver box and the boy who died. if that wasn't his soul than that woman had one heck of a coincidental dream that is almost impossible. furthemore, if there was some other "way" that info was revealed to her than we've once again stepped out of the material realm and have stepped into the spiritual realm which would also point to God's existence.

            Finally, as to your question about "which faith" i would start with this. Jews believed in a messiah. Muslims believed Jesus was a profit of God, but there knowledge of him came from one man writing a book and not from historical events witnessed by various people. I would read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, thus if Jesus was who he says he was, what does that mean for your life? Sorry i was so long winded, and thank you for your patience in reading this.

          • David Egan

            "thus discussion after discussion appears to be going in a general direction of a conclusion that God exists but his continuously hampered by, "how do you know, how do you know"

            I guess we all just see what we want to see but, from my perspective, every single conversation about the existence of god points to the screamingly obvious conclusion that it does not exist. Frankly, it exhausting just reading the stuff that you and your fellow riders come up with in the attempt (futile) to explain and justify this clearly missing god. I kind of admire your persistence but also feel bad that you haven't come around yet.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi David,
            I responded down below to Michael's

          • Michael Murray

            I would read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, thus if Jesus was who he says he was, what does that mean for your life?

            One thing it would mean is that one should cast aside one's family and all one's world goods and follow Him. I recall as a teenager being amused that none of my well off middle class Catholic family and friends ever did this.

            I wouldn't call myself a seeker of truth. That makes it sound like too much of an active thing I might do every day or that I walk around worrying about not having found the truth. I don't have time for any of that as I have one and only one life to lead. There are things I would like to know but I think I have enough truth to get through tomorrow. That's all humans can do anyway. I base that truth on my past experiences and what science tells us about the world. Do I see any gods ? No because the evidence is nearly zero for the existence of capital G personal, caring God and not much better for a Deity. Deity's are kind of pointless anyway. I'm not Thomas as I think Thomas wanted to believe.

          • Michael Murray

            "i want to believe like you do, can you prove it to me so i can?"

            No that's not what I am thinking. At the risk of being blunt what I am thinking is: "how sad that apparently intelligent human beings can waste their lives deluding themselves like this"

          • Fr.Sean

            Michael David and Quine,

            Hi i figured it would be easier to respond one time instead of responding to each one of you individually so i don't have to retype. First of all, thanks for your responses and insights. i think it's first important to recognize that all of us are here for a couple of the same reasons as well as a few different ones. one reason we're all here is we like discussing and debating various issues, as well as we enjoy learning (if i'm speaking for myself please don't feel the need to qualify the statement). a novice guess on my part may also be that you feel that there is no such thing as God and you feel humanity would benefit if we realized religion and the notion of god, would be better if we learned to drop the notion of religion. we may benefit because religion restricts people's freedom in some ways, creates cultural problems in other ways and in some cases more extreme religions create people who think they need to kill themselves and other people because "god" told them to. (i know this probably isn't exactly it, so please don't feel the need to qualify, just pointing out you have at least one good motive for being here.)

            now the second part is my opinion from my perspective so please don't pick it apart in the sense of picking a part my "claims" as they are subjective but i feel their based on truth.

            I know much of religion to atheists stems from an idea that evolution somehow formed people to attempt a cause for things they cannot explain and thus it has been left over, now that we have explanations we no longer need it. Naturally i would disagree with this theory. I believe there is a God and he's put the question into our hearts so that we will search him out and discover him, and thus the purpose for our lives.

            Now, i need to establish a couple of presuppositions so you'll understand where i'm coming from.

            1. there is a God, he has given evidence of his existence but it isn't empirical evidence, he does not want robots he wants rational creatures who love him and want a relationship with him. thus he gives evidence of his existence but does not reveal himself to his creatures until they humbly and honestly search for him.

            2. one of the things that cause us to do this is something augustine noticed. he said something to the effect that when one sees a beautiful scene in nature, perhaps the sun rising over the ocean, setting over the mountains, flowers in a valley, or perhaps the stars on a clear night that it causes a bit of an awe haa moment. that causes one to ponder how something could be so beautiful, there must have been a designer. thus the observer honestly searches out the question and after a while and answer is revealed. Now, that awe haa moment takes place in other ways. i've read various stories of biologists (i don't have them before me) who studied the finer observations of cells etc and came to the conclusion there had to be a designer, that was there awe haa moment that caused them to ponder the question. i believe some of the physics of the fine tuning of the universe as well as the observations of our planet and how intricate they are can also cause an awe haa moment. aquinas 5 proofs (connected with some of the former i mentioned) also can cause an awe ha moment. now, to ponder these observations that point to a possible creator the rebuttal never appears to be that "they're wrong because of such and such a reason" they are only address with things that may bring a possible doubt, of well, how do you know such and such a thing, you can't be entirely sure?" which often times is true, but with so many it begins to seem like one can continuously look for the possible scnario and doubt the whole theory just to adhere to a lack of an acknowledgement that their might be a creator?

            Perhaps if we look at the uncaused cause, or unmoved mover for example might shed light on it. one can see the universe and see causality and energy moving in one direction (not going to go over the details because i know you already know them). thus the idea that things always come from something else, which at some point things had to come from an uncaused cause. to negate this observation we have the idea that a vacuum can spontaneously create matter, thus something can come from nothing. but we all know, nothing in a vacuum is not nothing, it's in a sense dark matter that can become matter. if we scale back to the big bang, as far as i have read there's no evidence to suggest there was dark matter in the universe prior to the big bang. thus we're left with the original question, there has to be a first cause. furthermore entropy (as far as i can understand it, thank you Quine) indicates that energy really only goes in one direction. that at times entropy may go down, it's usually in a closed system so that the general direction of entropy is increasing. at some point it will run it's course, such that to begin the whole train reaction over again you would need a very powerful mechanism which raises the question what was the mechanism in the beginning?

            Now, when one is looking at all of these observations, if there is a God they may be meant to lead someone who is more intellectual to their awe haa moment that may make them ponder the possibility of a creator, or designer. but time after time a possible source of doubt is introduced to get one's mind of the truth. "if such and such a theory is right, such and such a proof may be wrong, therefore the proof is wrong". the whole thing can be like the casy anthony case. the jury believed she did it, but could not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt so they had to say not guilty even though they felt she did it. now, before you say, "ya she was found not guilty" we don't make decisions based on 100% certainty, my point is to draw the connection between secondary evidence, and apparent likelyhood of what happened. it was evident that she did it, but through a series of continual doubts the decision couldn't be handed down as guilty. had they had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was innocent, she certainly would have lost. the decisions we make in life are looking at the evidence and make a choice without have certain proof. if we look at the story of eve in the garden (again my opinion) Eve knew what the truth was, she knew not to bite from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. but the serpent got her confused, got her thinking, got her looking at the fruit. "Did God really tell you not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? ...surely you will not die for the moment you eat of it you become like gods knowing good or evil." Eve was confused, the serpent just confused the whole issue such that she was willing to believe anything so she took the bait.

            if that story reveals divine truths, does not this whole scnario of what if what if what if not appear to do the same thing, to keep you from a potential awe ha moment?

            Now, when we were talking about faith and such it dawned on me that when i was young i was reading something about padre pio and a woman's encounter with him. he told her something that he could have had no way of knowing, that and a few other events gave me an awe haa moment in the sense that "there's no way he could have known that stuff if he did not have some divine help." now after coming to that point, my faith would waver from time to time a little, it became more solid when i discovered the value of prayer, but that event helped me to see the whole faith issue in a different light, to see the scriptures in a different light, and to see my life in a different light.

            lately i've realized that most atheists convert due directly or indirectly to the natural law. Chesterton, Lewis and Librisco all converted because they could not come up with a rational explanation for the natural law, it points to a "truth" beyond the human being, or beyond the mind. when i read richard morgan's covnersion i noticed that it was basically the natural law that led him to his awe ha moment as well. i assume you've read about his conversion. Morgan was on dawkins website, (David robertson had already written the dawkins letters). some Russian lunatic convinced people to go up into the mountains to hide from the end of the world. the day came and went and the Russian lunatic tried to commit suicide. some of the posters were mocking him and then some said they regretted he failed in his suicide attempt. Now, at this point Morgan was horrified, "how could any civilized human being wish someone would die?" he appealed to some form of humanity (the higher truth, natural law, his conscience was alarming him something was wrong) subsequently he realized there was "something" to robertson's replys on dawkins site. "again morgan is searching, some higher truth, thought there was something to Robertson even though he thought he was deluded. he e-mailed robertson who asked Morgan, "what would it take you to believe in God"? to which morgan remembered the words, "we love because he first loved us". now, if we stop right here we'll notice, the natural law, or source of love, stung morgan's conscience with the story of the Russian prophet, further he recognized there was something of higher truth or love in robertson's replies, he seemed to care, something to the guy. so what are the words that came to his head? "we LOVE (aka, this feeling of love, of conscience, of openness to the higher truth is coming from...) because HE first LOVED us. the last piece of the puzzle. this feeling of conscience, of a moral right, of an appeal from humanity isn't an abstract idea or a chemical reaction caused by you scratch my back i scratch yours, this source has an exterior source, ...you (morgan) are able to love because you were first loved. morgan then said there was a "kind of perceptual change in his mind" he knew God existed without having any rational explanation for it. Morgan had his awe haa moment, he pursued it in a humble manner and received the gift of faith.

            I spoke of what your potential motives for being here may be? did you ever wander what ours are? if i am right, at some point you will know beyond doubt that there is a God. instead of thinking of hell as a place of torment, think of it as an eternal separation from something you were made for, to which you are partly connected now. don't think of faith as, "can't do this, can't do that, have to do this have to do that. rules of the faith are like a guardrail post. if you were driving through the mountains near Sidney would you stare at the guardrail post the whole time, no, you would look at the mountains around you, but that does not mean the guard rail post doesn't have a purpose? sin has the tendency of promising freedom, but in reality it delivers bondage. faith has the tendency of promising bondage but in reality delivers freedom. if you look at Luke Ch.8 the parable of the sower, it is meant to reveal what happens when someone "hears" the word, but is also meant for the ones helping to spread the seed. i would imagine most Catholics on this site know that most of you will never discover the beauty of the faith, but some of you will. if i can do at least something to open the possibility that i can lead at least one of you to the truth, as deluded as i may be, i'll make the effort to do it. Before you proceed in cutting my post apart, know that i do have at least one good motive, i do hope and pray that something i may say or do may lead to a possibility of your conversion down the road. i know that you all use logic, reason, and the scientific method to discern truth. well, you got a theory that might need examined. some people claim that an honest, humble search for God reveals a divine truth. you can apply logic and reason to that theory, or you can continue to just look at it and say, no, i'll judge the ideal from the outside.

          • Michael Murray

            OK so sometimes I look at reality and I think "wow". But I also look at reality and I see much suffering which is completely intrinsic to how things work, nematodes that live in eyes, lions that eat antelopes, .... nature red in tooth and claw. It's everywhere. Then I look at the detail and the design at so many levels is rubbish. Lower backs are rubbish, the location of the prostate is rubbish, one opening for both air and food is dangerous, the size of the birth canal is wrong ... .

            The creator made apparently

            10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

            stars that we can see. What was the point of that ?

            Of course you can answer that god moves in mysterious ways etc, etc and I'm not really suggesting these as evidence of gods non-existence but just as a counterpoint to the wonder argument. For every time I go "wow!" there are more times I go "what the ?"

            Quine can clarify this but my understanding of entropy is it doesn't make sense to go back to the big bang with it. But more to the point it doesn't make sense to go beyond the Plank Epoch anyway. The best we can currently say is "the universe was very small and very dense this many years ago."

            Michael

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Michael,

            that is an excellent point and one that i've struggled with as well. One might possibly hypothesize why lions or other predators are the way they are. a herd of cape buffalo might have some sick or feeble animals in it so the lions do them a favor. but what about a baby gazelle, recently born and hiding in the brush that gets discovered by a hyena? Nature raises the question of, "if there's a God can he really be just, when things like this happen?". i mean did he really create that baby gazelle just as a meal for the hyena? or is God simply that callous towards his creation?

            off of the top of my head i can think of two responses to that awareness; 1. in the beginning (remember i'm using the bible as a reveler of faith, not necessarily science or history verbatim) in the garden of Eden there were animals and plants, and there was no suffering. After the fall, creation became flawed, suffering became a part of reality, and thus it needs to be redeemed. In Romans 8 Paul says, "all creation groans for the revelation of the children of God, for creation was made subject to futility, not of it's own accord, but by the one who subjected it. in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
            I had spoken to two different woman who died momentarily on the operating table. the one just went up through the tunnel but was given a choice to return. The other made it up all the way into heaven for a short time. these two woman independently of each other revealed to me that after their experience they weren't afraid of dying. moreover they weren't afraid of anything. the only place fear existed in their lives was in their memories, simply because they knew what was waiting for them. the second woman saw her brother and Jesus himself who told her he was going to send her back. however, while she was there she had seen plants, animals, and even lakes which supports the idea that creation shares in redemption.

          • Susan

            >in the garden of Eden there were animals and plants, and there was no suffering. After the fall, creation became flawed, suffering became a part of reality, and thus it needs to be redeemed

            But this didn't happen, Sean. That's the problem. Is it a metaphor? If so, then a metaphor for what and how does it support literal truth claims about Yahweh and blood sacrifices?

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Susan,
            good to hear from you! to actually pin point it it's myth which does not mean it didn't happen, it's just described in a way to help us understand it. the bible teaches faith, or reveals divine truths (obviously from a believers perspective) so it helps us to understand why things are the way they are. Animal sacrifices i believe are intended to reveal to people the effects or harmfulness of sin, but in reality i think they help to establish an understanding of Jesus as the lamb of God. aka. he did this for you.

          • Susan

            Hi Sean,

            Good to hear from you too.
            >to actually pin point it it's myth which does not mean it didn't happen, it's just described in a way to help us understand it.

            I'm afraid that makes no sense to me. Can you elaborate a little?

            >Animal sacrifices i believe are intended to reveal to people the effects or harmfulness of sin,

            In what way?

            >i think they help to establish an understanding of Jesus as the lamb of God.
            That's a gruesome way to establish an understanding.
            >aka. he did this for you.

            Sort of like Prometheus? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prometheus

          • Susan

            Hi Sean. I replied to your comment but I can't seem to find it. Things are getting pretty skinny here on Disqus.
            I don't want to repost as I hate duplicating. Could you just let me know if you got my response?
            Thanks.
            Good to hear from you too.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Susan,

            Sorry i didn't get back to you sooner. I had a day off but i do remember the crux of your question. i looked for the word myth in terms of scripture but i'm not sure what i did with my bible dictionary so i'll have to take a shot if you don't mind;

            1) Myth, I'd say, is what you might call a language for the heart. Sort-of like music, or poetry. It helps to translate
            abstract/transcendent concepts (love, courage, etc.) into an easy-to-grasp package, using episodes/stories to which most people can relate, and in which people recognize a sense of truth/understanding which may elude them, otherwise. Being able to relate to something, personally, helps make things more easily learned/appreciated. Our human nature is relational in so many ways: not only socially, but intellectually, as well. Myths help convey a reality into our understanding, in the most efficient way possible: through stories with which we can naturally feel connected. Sometimes we just want/need to understand things in a more visceral way... in a way that makes sense tous, deep down. I remember the philosopher, Blaise Pascal (of "Pascal's Wager" fame), once explained this by writing: "The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing." I like that.

            2) Why would God want blood sacrifices? Why would He ask us to kill to honor Him? Seems silly. If you look at the Bible as a family history, with God slowly guiding us toward a deeper/loving relationship with Him, then it starts to make sense. In the Old Testament culture in which animal sacrifice occurred among the Israelites, it was also happening in other cultures, too. It happened a lot, in fact. It would happen much later on, too, in a totally differentculture & continent, among the Aztecs & Mayans, with not only jewelry, grains, and animals, but humans as well. I guess as humans, we have this innate need to give back to God what He's given to us. He gave us life, we tried to return that with offering life, through sacrificial death (animals, etc.). It's a simple way of thinking, but we were *just starting* on this journey to what we're really called to give back to God: love. He gave/gives us love, and we return it by the way we live. He didn't *want* suffering as part of the gift, but that was how we interpreted it, until He could lead us closer to what He was really hoping for us. I think, too, that God didn't *want* His Son to be tortured & killed. But He was willing to let it happen, to provide the ultimate lesson: His life & love are united. If we needed it (which we did), He would allow Jesus to die & rise, to convince us that *His* love is absolute & eternal... and that we have the privilege, not only to receive it, but to share it, and even return it to Him, in our own unique ways.

            I hope this helps with your understanding of the biblical understanding of Myth and Sacrifice. By the way, i too have had problems at times with Disqus.

          • severalspeciesof

            Hi Sean... I'm barging in because, well, because I can, so no need to respond directly. It is also off topic to this thread, but this statement really popped out:

            "he [God] does not want robots he wants rational creatures who love him and
            want a relationship with him. thus he gives evidence of his existence
            but does not reveal himself to his creatures until they humbly and
            honestly search for him."

            I have a son. I love him dearly and wholly, but it never, ever occurred to me that because I didn't hide my whole presence to him from the moment of his birth, that somehow I would be wanting a robot or raising a robot...

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Severspeciesof,

            You make a good point, you love your son and he loves you and one may make the claim that your mutual love can be explained by evolutionary means. so why is it, if God exists that we have to "discover" God in order to have this give and take relationship? why wouldn't God just reveal himself so we can love him and vice versa? I don't know if you've ever worked out, or ever spent any time running as exercise, but if you have you would know that there's a little phenomenon that happens with the body. your tear at cells when you exert them, they in turn repair but do so in a way that their more resistant, they're stronger. through repeated stressing of the muscle cells they continue to become stronger. there's also something that happens like that intellectually. if when you were in college I'm sure you read many a book that you struggled with. Perhaps it would be a book that didn't particularly enjoy was was overly technical, but pondering, reflecting helped to reveal truths and gave you a deeper knowledge of the subject. you might say the same things happens spiritually. we struggle, at least at the beginning a little more, to understand things, or to grow in our faith. (Hebrews ch.12) but through the struggle we reach deeper divine truths or an awareness of his presence.

            If God appeared on the scene and said, Hello Severalspecies of, I'm God, i want a relationship with you and i'll bring you to heaven at the end of your journey here? you would naturally say, "well, okay, what other choice do i have? i'm mean there he is, not loving him would mean eternal separation for the purpose i was made for so no choice i'll love him".

            now, there would be no choice in that action, you would be doing what you had to do simply for the reward.

            now, when people begin a faith journey, it often begins as what they may think is a negative understanding of faith. "i have to go to church on Sunday, obey the ten commandments, avoid doing fun things and do things i don't want to do. a lot of people of faith lose their faith at this stage, because it simply seems like work etc. but what eventually happens is one stumbles upon the awareness, that they are loved, unconditionally. that Jesus wants to be a part of their life, that he has a plan for their life. when you realize how much your are loved unconditionally this creates a counter reaction of loving the lover. you've chosen to try to follow God's ways, stumble upon the awareness you are loved (not because of what your doing but because you are his son) than that creates a counter response where you want to love him more and learn more about him. Thus, you've CHOSEN to love him instead of thinking your are forced to. inevitably you realize that your decision to believe and to follow, brings about a realization that you are loved which creates a counter response of loving the lover.

            In other words, just as doing the work of exercise gave you growth, or the "work" of intellectual pursuits gave you knowledge, the "work" of the spirit gave you a spiritual understanding that you would not have received in any other way. (furthermore, as a side note, Catholics and almost all Christians believe Jesus was fully human and fully divine. the best way for you to understand what God is like is to study the life of Jesus for he is God translated into terms that we can understand. aka, in a sense, God did give you a concrete example of what he is like in a human form so you can understand him, but you still need the "language" of faith to truly understand what he is like.)

          • Andre Boillot

            Fr Sean,

            "If God appeared on the scene and said, Hello Severalspecies of, I'm God, i want a relationship with you and i'll bring you to heaven at the end of your journey here? you would naturally say, "well, okay, what other choice do i have? i'm mean there he is, not loving him would mean eternal separation for the purpose i was made for so no choice i'll love him".

            now, there would be no choice in that action, you would be doing what you had to do simply for the reward."

            And yet, scripture is filled with people who've apparently had their choice taken from them - as God revealed himself to them. What of all those claiming to have miraculous visions of God/Jesus/Mary/etc...? Has their choice been taken from them too?

            Others have touched on this too, but if God is so concerned with free-will, why have the notions of heaven and hell there to muddy the waters. Is this not also coercion?

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Andre,
            That's a good question and i would certainly concede that perhaps he has chosen some people which would seem not exactly to be fair. but i also think he chose people who are genuinely seeking him out or are trying to do the right thing. take St.Paul for example. he was trying to serve God, he was trying to do what the right thing was, but in a sense he was "blind", thus his Damascus experience was almost symbolic. after he recieved his physical sight he had also received his spiritual sight as well. Moreover, you are also right in the sense that it still does seem to be coercision. that's why i tried to point out how one's spiritual journey grows. at the beginning it's largely fueled by self preservation, which not everyone makes it through. doing things for God out of fear, or praying so that God will give you what you want. but that leads to an awareness of how much your are loved unconditionally which leads one to be motivated by love, and sharing that love.

          • Andre Boillot

            Fr. Sean,

            Thanks for the response.

            "Moreover, you are also right in the sense that it still does seem to be coercision. that's why i tried to point out how one's spiritual journey grows. at the beginning it's largely fueled by self preservation, which not everyone makes it through. doin g things for God out of fear, or praying so that God will give you what you want. but that leads to an awareness of how much your are loved unconditionally which leads one to be motivated by love, and sharing that love."

            As a former Catholic, I understand what you're saying here, and get the whole 'imperfect vs. perfect love' thing you're presenting. While I don't wish to trivialize anyone's personal experiences, I see a good deal of what you're presenting when I read about 'Stockholm syndrome'. The emotional burden that many of these concepts place on the minds of believers can and does take it's toll. As you say, some people make the transition through into this notion of unconditional love...on the other hand, some of us get "hung up" on what we see as some rather conditional aspects to this love, and the "God is love" tautology starts to chip away.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Andre,

            i agree with your assesment. i do think scrupulosity is something Catholic are more apt to fall into. when i first entered the seminary i was about three quarters of the way through "imitation of Christ" by Kempis. i had thought it was a good book, and i think it has it's positive side, but when i was talking about it with a preist friend of mine he felt it really can lead to an unlealthy understanding of what God is like (aka, "your so bad, God so good, why can't you be better.") i immediately noticed the tone the next time i picked it up. we are supposed to grow in our faith, but not out of guilt and fear, that will never truly motivate you. I remember reading a book that talked about the parable of the vine and the branches in John's Gospel. "i am the vine, you are the branches, who who abides in me will bear much fruit, for without me you can do nothing". i pondered that reading as well as a few others and found it to be a liberating understanding of theology. if i think i'm going to get there by an act of the will, simply making up my mind i'm going to overcome sin i will only become frustrated and develop a very negative view of God. Moreover if i feel i may make any progress i may fall into pride. but if i realize my role to stay connected to the vine, than i find it's his strength that enables me to be the man he wants me to be, and thus it certainly is more liberating (not to mention more compassionate and understanding)

          • David Egan

            "If God appeared on the scene and said, Hello Severalspecies of, I'm God, i want a relationship with you and i'll bring you to heaven at the end of your journey here? you would naturally say, "well, okay, what other choice do i have? i'm mean there he is, not loving him would mean eternal separation for the purpose i was made for so no choice i'll love him".

            Why do you assume we would want to spend eternity with this god? The Christian god is the same one responsible for countless atrocities in the bible and seemingly endless pain and suffering here in the real world. If this god made itself clearly known to me, I'd have to admit I was wrong about its nonexistence but I'd have no interest in worshiping it or spending any time with it after I'm gone. The god you believe in is a horrible figure and deserving only of scorn. I disdain the idea of this god now and I'm pretty sure I'd hate it even worse if I knew it was real and was actually responsible for all the terrible things that has happened on its watch and at its command.

          • severalspeciesof

            Hi Sean,

            I'll address your first paragraph for now (time is of the essence). I find your analogies lacking, for they don't address any kind of 'relationship'. Both examples, the 'exercise' and 'reading a difficult book' aren't 'relationships'. A relationship is a two way street. It's why an abusive relationship is a broken relationship, it's almost always one way, for the benefit of the abuser. But the abuser gets away with it because many times the victim thinks she/he is getting a benefit, that of the (errant) knowledge that if 'I stay with this person, I won't be alone, that this other person really does love me because he/she has proven it with both their willingness to punish and promises of showers of 'love' and that they say if I leave him/her they'll be crushed...

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Severalspeciesof,

            One thing i often feel hampered by is that i'm not a very good writer and find it's a struggle the convey my thoughts in a way that makes it palatable for the reader. thank you for your patience with me. One of my favorite books was called, "he leadeth me" by Fr.Walter Ciszek. Fr.Water was ordained a Priest in the early part of the twentieth century and had always wanted to go to Russia to Evangelize to a people he felt desperately needed hope. Thus, after his ordination he went, but then WWII broke out and Fr.Walter was accused of being a Vatican spy and sent to a concentration camp. he lived in a cell without anything besides his clothes and a bed. once a day he was allowed out of the cell and once a week he was taken in to be interrogated. they would accuse him of being a spy or having some other motive but he would always defend his true intentions. after 5 years he was taken into an interrogation room where there was a stack of papers. the interrogator told him those where a summary of all of his interrogations over the past 5 years, he was to read each one and sign it. Water started going through the pages but he wasn't signing them because they had been falsified, or misrepresented what he was saying steering the discussion towards an idea that he was indeed a spy. The interrogator asked him why he wasn't signing the papers, walter said he couldn't, for they weren't true. the interrogator became livid threatened walter and told him if he didn't start signing the papers he was going to be taken out and executed. in walter's desperation he went through each page, without even reading them and signed each paper. he then went back to his room demoralized and humiliated. he thought he had failed the Lord, and wondered why? he thought about the early Church, how Jesus promised the disciples they would have the spirit to help them and why he (walter) didn't seem to have any divine assistance, why he failed in courage? Walter realized he went in to the room with a whole lot of pride, he wasn't going to sign the papers no matter what, and thus he failed. He thought about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane the night of the passion and how Jesus in his fear and apprehension of what awaited him said, "Father, take this cup from me, but not my will, yours be done". Walter realized that even though his father did not intentionally will people to do evil things he realized that in a way the "cup" was ultimately coming from his father. he realized that the cup would be taken from him but only by going through it, not avoiding it.

            This was a profound realization for Walter. He learned to see everything as somehow coming from the hand of the father and learned to trust that just as the Father was with Jesus, the Father was also with him.

            The next day Walter was taken back into the interrogation room where they made him an offer. he was going to be released on one condition. he would go back to the Vatican and report back when he had learned. they even promised to reward him. Walter responded by saying, "No, i'm sorry i can't do that." Again the interrogator became livid, threatened to take him outside and have him executed. but again, with a sense of peace walter said, "No, I will not do that." subsequently Walter was sent to a labor camp in Siberia where he lived and worked for 15 years with other prisoners. yet while he was there he was able to celebrate Mass in the woods. he was able to minister and give hope to people who saw little reason to have hope. he even was able to give the guards a sense of hope. Later, when he was released he was able to minister to thousands of people who had no priest to celebrate the sacraments with them and to share his faith. in an odd way, Walter felt that his original call was to go to Russia to evangelize to the people, and he did, it just wasn't the way he thought it would be.

            John Kavanaugh who is a professor in ethics came to a similar realization via a slightly different route. when he was a young man he went to Calcutta India to voulenteer to assist with the destitute and the poor for a couple of weeks. But the primary reason he went was because he had a question about faith that he couldn't seem to get an answer to. he felt perhaps Mother Theresa if anybody would have the answer. While he was there he finally saw Mother Theresa and was anxious simply to speak with her for a while, but it didn't take more than a few moments. she asked him, after their introduction; "John, what may i help you with (J), "Mother would you pray for me?" (M); "Sure John, and what would you like me to pray for." (J); "Pray that i have clarity". (M); "No, i will not do that, clarity is the last thing you are holding on to and need to let go of". (J); "But Mother, you always seem to have clarity"? (M) "I have never had clarity, what i have always had is trust, so i will pray that you trust God". With that realization John's life changed.

            In my own life i have realized that often times the struggle seems to convey an idea that God is absent, or uninvolved. but over the course of time you realize that the struggle is often rooted in a desire to know everything, or to control everything. The struggle forces you to see that behind the veil God is present, he removes obstacles, or if he doesn't he helps you to pass through them. through answered prayers, that often take a while to have answered one begins to see that God doesn't want to just give you an answer to your prayer and have you move on, but he wants the good that comes from prayer so he leads you and gives you more than what you were asking for. but Like Mother said you still need to have confidence or trust when it appears you haven't gotten your answer yet. This whole phenomenon opens you up to a realization that God has been there the whole time, it fills you with gratitude, and confidence in his abiding presence. through prayer and through life want begins to become aware of Just how much God loves each one of us not because of what we do or how good we are but simply because we are his children. This also gives you a sense of humility because you know that just as God loves you he also loves your neighbor, that Just as God is there for you he's also there for your neighbor, that just as he has a plan for your life he also has a plan for your neighbor, and thus he enables you to see your neighbor in a different light as well. The growth in this relationship fills one not only with an awareness of his presence, but also a deep and abiding hope in the future, which continues to build a deeper love and trust of God.

            Now, i suppose if when i was young, God could have given me empirical evidence of his existence, given me the blueprints for my life, told me he loved me and desired that i love him, that i could have come to those same conclusions but if given the option of how i would come to those realizations i can say with confidence that i would have chosen the former.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            i have learned a great deal since i began dialoguing with atheists and reading various books about proving God's existence etc. ...

            It's that twin polishing stone thing.

            ... first, i've naturally learned a great deal more about physics, astronomy etc. but i've also learned more about faith and about truth in general.

            Glad to hear that. I believe more knowledge is good.

            Thus you cannot prove or disprove God's existence in an empirical way.

            Yes, I agree with the first part, however, when you assign attributes to a deity, you run the risk of creating an idea that is not logically self-consistent. If a deity lacks logical self-consistency, the idea of its existence falls into the category of things that can be dismissed without evidence (Hitchen's razor).

            ... I came to see atheists are actually really good people honestly trying to seek the truth, they are truth seekers, kind of like Thomas in the Gospels.

            Thank you, that is a big step.

            ... in other words, when i conclude that "truth" is just chemical reactions in the brain i have a temptation to dismiss adhering to a higher truth because i think truth is nothing more than chemical reactions in my brain, therefore those chemical reactions become less powerful?

            No, if you consider a tornado to be "just" the movement of air and water molecules, you will miss its awesome power because you are evaluating on the wrong (too low) level of emergence.

            moreover, the story i spoke of in the last post, about the silver box and the boy who died. if that wasn't his soul than that woman had one heck of a coincidental dream that is almost impossible. furthemore, if there was some other "way" that info was revealed to her than we've once again stepped out of the material realm and have stepped into the spiritual realm which would also point to God's existence.

            Billions of dreams are experienced by billions of people, every day. Think of what the odds would have to be that none would accidentally be interpenetrated as reflecting a revealed reality. You have been given a story, but not documented facts. There is a twin problem of the combination of the unreliability of human memory and the pressure of pareidolia, that tends to generate what we see as "urban legends" at a continuing rate. Trying to get reliable evidence out of anecdotal stories is very difficult, and may be the reason we have ended up with so many different religions.

            I would read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, thus if Jesus was who he says he was, what does that mean for your life?

            What make you think we know what Jesus said (even given he did live and had a ministry)? I suggest you read "Misquoting Jesus."

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Quine,
            Just three things. the box story wasn't one of 10,000 dreams that night, but rather was a dream that a woman at Church had that she felt compelled to share with the mother that she believed came from bill. Furthemore, all the details of her dream were proved by what the Mother discovered.

            2. when i said prove God's existence, i did mean empirical.
            3. i replied to you Michael and David up above, i figured it would be easier to type it once. Thanks again!

          • 42Oolon

            If Jesus was who the authors of the Bible say he said he was then it would have profound implications for me. But not as bad as if Mohommed really was the one prophet. He wrote the Q'ran himself and is more recent and more credible. Sorry, I have a higher standard of proof before I can be convinced.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi 42Oolon,
            I appreciate your honesty and integrity. the Last thing you should do is convert to a specific faith just because someone else thinks you should. I would try to look at it like this. Start from the perspective that their may be a God. Pray to the God you aren't sure exists and ask him to show you which faith perspective originated from him? it would seem reasonable that if there is a God then one most accurately conveys what he wanted to reveal to his people? If he answers prayers and most faith attest that he does than it would seem reasonable he would answer that one? I would also do a little research to see which one seems most accurate. Just for the heck of it i googled "atheists who converted to Islam as well as Christianity." Islam had 5. Christianity had 69. you are in my prayers 42

  • primenumbers

    "because correlation does not imply causation. To use a computer analogy, the brain might be like the hardware of your iPhone which transmits the software of Words with Friends." - indeed correlation doesn't imply causation, but "could-be doesn't imply is" either. There's an almost infinite array of "could-be's" which we could indulge ourselves in if we so desired.

    • Mark Hunter

      Hello Prime. I'm Rationalist1 from NP. Great spot to discuss here.

      • VelikaBuna

        How did you find this?

        • Mark Hunter

          From Fr. Longenecker's site. Now get Fr. Tim and Graftedin and the whole gang is here.

          • primenumbers

            Oh my, they won't know what hit them, especially if Scott turns up too.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Which Scott?

          • primenumbers

            The "Evolution is a Hoax" Scott.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Link?

          • primenumbers

            Yeah, the geocentricism is hilarious.

            http://life.nationalpost.com/category/holy-post/ and look for comments by "Evolution is a Hoax"

          • VelikaBuna

            Why is geocentrism hilarious when the direct observations on the large scale point to it?

          • primenumbers

            Because observations don't point to geocentricism.

          • VelikaBuna
          • primenumbers

            None of those papers conclude the earth is the centre of the universe, and those papers don't point to geocentricism.

          • VelikaBuna

            Yes they do. They show the universe on the large scale is aligned with the earth.

          • primenumbers

            No, they do not. Go read them again.

          • VelikaBuna
          • VelikaBuna
          • Michael Murray

            This doesn't show what you want. We know you can do mechanics pretending that any point is at rest.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            In essence, the whole universe revolves around me. That's all that matters.

          • Michael Murray

            Who are you? It revolves around me.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            I really feel like geocentrism is just autocentrism dressed up like science.

          • VelikaBuna

            You state that inspite of the observations?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            The observations, could we fine tune them enough, could also point to the fact that *I* am the center and that everything goes around me.

            In fact, it doesn't. It just seems that way relatively.

          • VelikaBuna

            Have you looked at CMB and its alignments? How is that relative?

          • Longshanks

            Rick, is that you again?

            The nature of oddities in the CMB is interesting and unfolding. I'm sure this'll be a subject of intense research in the years to come.

            Oddities in the CMB, however, mean that there are...

            oddities in the CMB.

            If you want to take that observational datum and use it to found a philosophy of non-relativity, good luck getting the maths to work.

            Let me know when you're finished, I want to bring an umbrella to work on the day the geosynchronous satellites start falling.

          • VelikaBuna

            No it does not, I am sure it revolves around me.

          • VelikaBuna

            You are correct, however along with CMB, and Preferred axis of galaxy spin rotation handedness.

            Polarization of quasar photons.

            Preferred direction of so-called "dark flow"

            Preferred direction of anisotropic cosmic expansion as interpreted by Type 1a Supernovae observations.

            Is not something one would expect.

          • Longshanks

            "Is not something one would expect."

            What are you trying to say? Who would expect, using what hypothesis?

            If the universe were perfectly uniform, we wouldn't be here. We already knew that it wasn't, and that non-uniformity is something that physicists have been studying for decades.

            Did some people expect perfect isotropy in the CMB, maybe. So what, scientists are wrong all the time, every day. There's a scientist wrong RIGHT NOW somewhere.

            But they change their hypotheses, consensus moves along, and we get electric cars eventually.

            You're not advancing any scientific reasoning, you're just pointing to shiny lights and saying "oooh, it's all for us."

            Your argument is of a style I will try to emulate below:

            Why is there more matter than anti-matter in our corner of the universe? We don't know. Therefore the earth weighs as much as everything else.

          • VelikaBuna

            Or he could have stuck the Sun in the middle o wait we did that already.

          • primenumbers

            Again, nothing you've presented shows anything to do with geocentricism at all.

          • VelikaBuna

            Okay.

          • Longshanks

            Since physicist dave left, and I don't know of any other physicists on this site, let's put down a link to what other physicists have to say on this subject.

            Skip past my intro, there's nothing of use there, go to the comments where you get to see 1) a geocentrist making a scene and 2) scientists trying to calmly talk him down.

            http://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/1atafd/does_new_evidence_point_to_geocentrism/

          • primenumbers

            Geocentricism is the idea that everything revolves around the earth. That is not true.

            The papers you are looking at are to do with copernicanism which says the earth doesn't have a favoured position in the universe. The papers show some possible alignment, but others have "although several later studies have shown systematic errors in the collection of that data and the way it is processed.[12][13][14] Various studies of the CMB anisotropy data either confirm the Copernican principle,[15] model the alignments in a non-homogeneous universe still consistent with the principle,[16] or attempt to explain them as local phenomena.[17] " http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copernican_principle - and mere alignment says nothing of absolute position, which says nothing about geocentricism either in relation to the solar system or the universe.

          • VelikaBuna

            This is what Krauss states about the CMB observations in 2006, before the observations were reconfirmed by Planck probe.

            "

            That
            is, we live in one universe, so we're a sample of one. With
            a sample of one, you have what is called a large sample variance.
            And maybe this just means we're lucky, that we just happen
            to live in a universe where the number's smaller than you'd
            predict. But when you look at CMB map, you also see that
            the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way,
            correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun. Is
            this Copernicus coming back to haunt us? That's crazy. We're
            looking out at the whole universe. There's no way there should
            be a correlation of structure with our motion of the earth
            around the sun — the plane of the earth around the
            sun — the ecliptic. That would say we are truly the
            center of the universe.

            The
            new results are either telling us that all of science is
            wrong and we're the center of the universe, or maybe the
            data is imply incorrect, or maybe it's telling us there's
            something weird about the microwave background results and
            that maybe, maybe there's something wrong with our theories
            on the larger scales. And of course as a theorist I'm certainly
            hoping it's the latter, because I want theory to be wrong,
            not right, because if it's wrong there's still work left
            for the rest of us."

          • Longshanks

            Is this a duplicate post, or are you re-quoting him at length for a reason that escapes me?

          • VelikaBuna

            CMB is thoroughly anti-Copernican.

            Again this is what Krauss said about CMB.

            That is, we live in one universe, so we're a sample of one. With a sample of one, you have what is called a large sample variance. And maybe this just means we're lucky, that we just happen to live in a universe where the number's smaller than you'd predict. But when you look at CMB map, you also see that the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way, correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun. Is this Copernicus coming back to haunt us? That's crazy. We're looking out at the whole universe. There's no way there should be a correlation of structure with our motion of the earth around the sun — the plane of the earth around the sun — the ecliptic. That would say we are truly the center of the universe.

            The new results are either telling us that all of science is wrong and we're the center of the universe, or maybe the data is imply incorrect, or maybe it's telling us there's something weird about the microwave background results and that maybe, maybe there's something wrong with our theories on the larger scales. And of course as a theorist I'm certainly hoping it's the latter, because I want theory to be wrong, not right, because if it's wrong there's still work left for the rest of us.

          • Longshanks

            "And of course as a theorist I'm certainly hoping it's the latter, because I want theory to be wrong, not right, because if it's wrong there's still work left for the rest of us."

            Krauss is hoping for an inconsistency so that he can work on new ideas.

            You want one because it makes you feel like some of the old catholic ideas are valid (although it wouldn't).

            A lack of isotropy doesn't tell us anything further about the universe than that it contains a lack of isotropy.

            You have a lot of work ahead of you, besides relying on the musings of one combative and speculating physicist. (Albeit a pretty cool character in his own right.)

          • Longshanks

            No they don't.

            (That which can be asserted without evidence can so be dismissed. I just made that up, if you're curious)

          • Longshanks

            I must have missed something, how did we get "back" to geocentrism?

            (We can never leave, the Earth's gravity is strong enough to cause the rotation of it's attendant universe, arrrrrgh)

          • Longshanks

            Geocentrism is not hilarious, it is true on certain levels and within the confines of certain criteria.

            The thing you're advocating, though, maybe call it special-Earth geocentrism, or Aristotelian geocentrism, is.

            Why is it hilarious? Why is anything funny? Because it seems preposterous than anyone would advocate something so thoroughly disproven? Because we've been to the Moon and Mars? Because we have space telescopes? Because JPII recently apologized for Galileo's treatment? Because people who advocate it sound like moon-landing hoaxers, 9/11 truthers, and JFK nuts?

            Comedy is a hard thing to pin down.

    • Andrew G.

      Quoth XKCD, "Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'."

      • primenumbers

        Yes indeed. Correlations are great hypothesis makers. Then you do the experiment to look for cause. I suggest in the case of the mind/soul issue that alcohol is used. And if by the end, you still think it's a mystery at least you'll have had a good time finding out.

  • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

    Sensory deprivation is used as a method of torture. Wouldn't it be the ultimate technique of sensory deprivation to separate the soul from the body?

  • Andrew G.

    The fact that Chalmers and Nagel hold non-physicalist positions doesn't mean that those positions are true; they are not even common amongst philosophers of mind, where physicalism is the majority position (over 61% in the PhilPapers survey).

  • stanz2reason

    Even though we've explained much of the workings of the brain in the last 150 or so years, because we don't currently have a complete compelling explanation for consciousness we'll just attribute it to a soul.

    God of the Gaps... meet Soul of the Gaps

    • Octavo

      Despite Brandon Vogt's insistence that Catholics don't rely on gap logic, here it is.

      • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

        Octavo, as Randy explains above--and as Matt goes at length to explain in his article--we are not arguing "from the gaps."

        • Mark Hunter

          Then is there are no gaps then there is nothing that a materialist approach cannot explain.

          • tedseeber

            If a materialist approach can explain a soul, why does that mean the soul does not exist?

          • Octavo

            One way of putting it is that neuroscience has demonstrated the existence of the soul, but it's made up of lots of tiny robots that are in turn made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. That turns out to be unsatisfying to many since atomic souls (commonly known as brains) are mortal.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • tedseeber

            Mortality, like eternity, is subjective. I've recently taken the time to study recent NDE literature, and I've come up with a hypothesis that marries the theology to the science.

            Purgatory, aka the Tibetan Bardo (to also reference the other religion that takes official notice of the effect and tried to discuss the spirituality rationally rather than irrationally) is the physiological response of the brain shutting down. It includes a final chance at conversion, as the brain is given visions related to the person's individual life; it can also contain rather startling symptoms of clairvoyance that cannot be explained merely by the physiology.

            What if John Paul II, Albert Einstein, and atheists are ALL correct? Albert Einstein famously noted that human beings have a sense of time that is related to, but not the same as, physical time. John Paul II in a series of Wednesday Audiences discussed Heaven, Hell and Purgatory as not being places, but being states of mind outside of time.

            What if in the last second of life, we human beings are given the chance to experience *either heaven or hell* in a way that *feels like an eternity*, even if it only takes a hundredth of a second of real time, as a part of the physiological process of the brain shutting down and that effect on the NMDA neuralreceptor?

            This is completely compatible with *both* the existence of the supernatural, and the "dead know nothing" of Ecclesiastes 9, AND the common atheist understanding of there being no physical afterlife.

            It is even compatible with the visions CS Lewis and Sr. Faustina describe in their writings, and with the visions in The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

          • Octavo

            "What if in the last second of life, we human beings are given the chance to experience *either heaven or hell* in a way that *feels like an eternity*, even if it only takes a hundredth of a second of real time, as a part of the physiological process of the brain shutting down and that effect on the NMDA neuralreceptor?"

            Regardless of whether I agree, that's a neat concept.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • tedseeber

            The interesting part is when you take into account the apparent additional symptom of clairvoyance; and realize that the rare cases of actual clairvoyance in human beings are not limited to space time as we know it.

            Which could explain both the "contact with deceased loved ones" part of heaven- and the "accusers" part of hell.

            Of course, as a modern rational Catholic I maintain that an explained miracle in keeping with natural law is still a miracle- a miracle is in its effects, not its causes.

          • articulett

            If there is no evidence that witches are real or that curses are real, why believe in them?

            If there is no more evidence for demons than fairies, why believe in them?

            If there is no more evidence for souls (that can exist absent a material brain-- whatever that means) than there are for any of the above, why believe in them?

            Just because you can't prove something doesn't exist-- is not a valid reason for presuming it does. I can't prove that aliens aren't controlling your thoughts for example-- but that doesn't mean alien control of thoughts is a real thing or a good explanation or something worth "believing in".

          • tedseeber

            1. I have known wiccans, and in my wandering time between being a Catholic Child and a Catholic adult, practiced Wicca enough to know that both witches and curses are real, and have real effects. I ultimately rejected Wicca for the same reason I reject Sola Scriptura Protestantism- the Rede is chaotic evil and is a form of moral relativism.
            2. I've got plenty of evidence in my life for both demons and fairies, though the stories told about them have issues similar to the problems with Wiccan/Protestant theology.
            3. Recent work in NDE studies have proven the soul exists, though it might still die with the body. Closer to AA than DD, but death may well take a subjective eternity still and provide contact with "other souls" that have been through the same experience, due to the way certain neural receptors in the brain act when flooded with ketamine.

            Finally, one of my favorite cartoons answers the reductionists:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w5JqQLqqTc

          • articulett

            NDEs do not prove that souls exist. It is mere confirmation bias type evidence for those looking for reasons to believe. If it was real evidence, scientists would be testing it to find out more.

            The very best evidence for souls (consciousness that exists absent a material brain) is very poor evidence indeed. It's the sort of evidence that may suffice for those looking for a reason to believe-- but it does not suffice for those who are interested in what is true.

        • Michael Murray

          You have invented a very large gap called supernatural to put your gods in. It makes sense as science has pretty much closed all the others.

    • Randy Gritter

      That is precisely what is nor being asserted. Nagel is insisting that consciousness is not a limitation of current state of science but a limitation of science in principle. He does not insert God in there. He is an atheist.

      It seems to me that you are filling gaps based on faith in your theory. Sort of an MM of the gaps.

      • Andrew G.

        Right, and there's no reason to believe that Nagel is correct on this. (Not least because he's been embarrassing himself lately on scientific issues.)

        • Randy Gritter

          People just use word like "embarrassing" because they disagree with him. That is how atheist dogma gets enforced. You teach heresy and you are out of the fellowship. That is done by having the big names call you things like embarrassing.

      • stanz2reason

        The gap is questions of consciousness being granted an equivalence with some sort of out of body soul. I think using our present gap in knowledge about 1 (consciousness) to assert the other (the soul) is uncalled for. It's not a leap of faith on my part to suggest this assertion is unwarranted.

        In addition, I wanted to note the following.

        But philosophers have been more or less aware of this correlation between brain states and mental states since the ancient world. (You don’t need to be Socrates to see that the mind weakens as the brain decays, or malfunctions when the head is injured.) Yet, most have gone on believing in souls, because correlation does not imply causation.

        Perhaps, but philosophers of the ancient world, nor those up into even the 20th century really have a grasp of neuro-biology. You have to look only to our major sports to see when they adopted helmets to realize how poor our understanding of head trauma and it's subsequent effects has been until fairly recently.

        To use a computer analogy, the brain might be like the hardware of your iPhone which transmits the software of Words with Friends. When you smash your phone to pieces (say, because you keep getting all vowels), Words malfunctions and vanishes with it—but your game can continue on your iPad. Similarly, after brain death, the “software” of the soul may not die with it, because it was not caused by it—only transmitted.

        While the comparison of a brain to a computing device has materialistic undertones that are difficult to ignore, lets think about this for a moment. The use of 'words with friends' might not be appropriate as the game and those similar to it are really working off some server elsewhere. A more appropriate comparison would be an iPhone that you've customized as you see fit. Files stored in a folder system, icons on your home screen, bookmarked websites, email contacts organized, etc. Now smash the iPhone. Barring having done some sort of backing up (which isn't currently an option with people) where does that information go? Does it go to mega-byte heaven and live for eternity with Windows '95? No. It is gone. Without hardware to run it, the software is as dead as the rest of the phone. It ceases to exist in any form we'd still define as software. There remain others like it. And you could get another phone and make it very close to what was on that other phone. But in a real way, your specific phone and everything on it is gone forever.

        • Randy Gritter

          You miss the point. It is not that neuro-biology has a gap. It is that a complete understanding of neuro-biology would not answer the question of consciousness. Sure there have been advances. There will be more. But will a complete understanding of neuro-biology leave questions unanswered? They are arguing Yes. You are asserting without argument that the answer must be No. That if they just understood neuro-biology they would not say this. But that is begging the question.

          • stanz2reason

            I am asserting that the equivalency of consciousness and a soul is unjustifed, which is essentially what's being argued. That neurobiology has not, and potentially can not completely account for consciousness does not somehow give validity to the soul argument.

          • Michael Murray

            What! You want to throw away one of the best gaps there is!

          • Longshanks

            "It is that a complete understanding of neuro-biology would not answer the question of consciousness. "

            A pretty concise description of the problem: asserting what the results of future research will be.

            In light of how radically science has, to-date, changed our understandings of the universe, it seems a precarious position to take.

            It may be correct, it just seems ill-advised.

            As an analogy, let me propose every single end-of-the-earth prediction I've lived through so far. Might they have been correct? Might my whole understanding of the universe, causation, knowledge, science, asteroids, physics, undiscovered-Planet-XYZ-on-collision-course-with-us be mistaken?

            Emphatically yes.

            However the possibility of being wrong (ie describing consciousness as the brain and it's various electrochemical states as temporal phenomena) seems, in light of the trends of vindication, to me, low.

    • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

      Hey Stanz - I had the phrase "soul of the gaps" in the article (back when it was three times longer), anticipating this attack. I recommend re-reading the eighth paragraph and comparing it with what you've just said. The argument against eliminative materialism (especially the argument concerning qualia and the hard problem of consciousness) is not a religious ploy, as evidenced by the support of Thomas Nagel, David Chalmers, and Sam Harris, who, again, says that: "an analysis of purely physical processes will never yield a picture of consciousness.” You simply can't, given the person articulating it, coherently call this view "soul of the gaps."

      • stanz2reason

        You can pull out the textual reference, but the principle remains. I'm pasting a point I've already made below:

        The gap is questions of consciousness being granted an equivalence with some sort of out of body soul. I think using our present gap in knowledge about 1 (consciousness) to assert the other (the soul) is uncalled for. It's not a leap of faith on my part to suggest this assertion is unwarranted.

        • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

          Hey Stanz - You're reiterating the connection between consciousness and the soul again and again in your comments. But Nagel, Chalmers, and Harris simply don't make this connection. They're atheists. There are plenty of philosophies (panpsychism, property dualism, neutral monism, etc.) that reject eliminative materialism without making the leap to souls or spirits. If you feel that their arguments bolster religious claims, and in that respect are harmful, I would think your first order of business would be to debunk their arguments. Simply stating that the soul is an unnecessary postulation, far from weakening their case, seems to strengthen it - for they don't mention souls, and why should you mention it unless you felt that there was something they were saying that was very difficult to disprove?

          • stanz2reason

            I'm not saying they do. I'm saying you're using the uncertainty they're suggesting regarding consciousness to further your own argument about the soul. This seems to be a common thing among christian apologists that they like to quote notable skeptics on certain matters and attempt to use and argument about 1 thing (consciousness) to support an argument about another (the soul).

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Let's try another angle here. My article asks: which theory (person is body, person is soul, person is body and soul) has the fewest problems and the most explanatory power? I wonder, whether to convince readers that the answer is "person is body," you might take some time to debunk the arguments of these three atheist philosophers, rather than returning again and again to the fact that theists find them seductive. Barring a convincing rebut, I could see where reasonable people, religious or not, will continue to search for alternatives to the MMs.

          • stanz2reason

            I disagree with Sam & the rest thinking that consciousness can't be thought of as the sum of the material mind, even if it is a distinct describable phenomena in it's own right. A leg might have distinct properties separate from a knee or a thigh or a foot, yet the leg remains a sum of those things and those distinct properties of the leg are the result of how it's parts work together. I view consciousness as the same thing, a product of 100 billion or so neurons working together in the brain. What emerges is the distinct phenomena, like walking or kicking, of consciousness. Bear in mind, while Sam's expertise is neuroscience, his views are a result of a metaphysical position (one that seems inconsistent with points he makes in 'Free Will'), one I and many others disagree with.

            My view seems consistent with victims of head trauma and noting the often drastic and bizarre changes to their very person. It is consistent with similar changes in persons with any of the many forms dementia. It is consistent with people whose behaviors and very person can be modified with experience or chemicals, often permanently. This is compelling enough for me to support the idea that what we think of as a conscious individual is simply a product of the mind.

            Consciousness is an elaborate convincing illusion, in a large part because it is you. Its complexity is the result of the unimaginably complex workings of the brain. I haven't found anything to convince me otherwise.

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Thanks Stanz! I'll leave a response, then let you have the last word (if you so choose).

            "If physicalism is to be defended," Nagel writes in What Is It Like to Be a Bat, "the phenomenological features must themselves be given a physical account." To give this account and dissolve the problem, Nagel notes, physicalists often provide certain analogies: the water-H20 problem (which he covers in "Mind & Cosmos" - a must read for this discussion), the gene-DNA problem, and yours, the leg-parts problem. Bones, joints, and flesh work together to constitute the distinct phenomenon of the leg. The brain and consciousness is the same situation, but more complex. Where's the mystery?

            The problem with such analogies is that they fail to draw a meaningful parallel to the privileged access of subjective experience - say, your subjective experience of this comment on your computer. Physical events are available to every point of view - they are objective. Your experience of the computer, in contrast, is available only to your subjective consciousness. A bat has no access to your "what is it like" and you have no access to his. No physical stuff, or arrangement of physical stuff, or functions of arrangements of physical stuff, parallels this feature of conscious experience. We can all discuss and exhaustively study water, genes, and legs - but the "what is it like" is exclusively my own, and I know it more intimately and immediately than anything else.

            Now, scientists could study the physical events of your body and brain as you read this comment and report qualia - but it is in principle conceivable that no consciousness attends the physical events, including your speech - that you are a "zombie." (I don't feel comfortable talking about fellow human beings this way, but Descartes got us in this mess.) Also, consider Frank Jackson's "Mary's Room." A woman is stuck studying neurophysiology of seeing color in a black and white room, and understands everything there is to know about the physical events involved with seeing color, then one day leaves the room and for the first time sees color. There is not a single hole in the physical explanations, which are air-tight and exhaustive - yet isn't something added to her knowledge?

            I agree with Nagel that if physicalism is to be defended, the phenomenological features of human consciousness must themselves be given a physical account. This is self-evident, and many are valiantly trying. But I agree with Harris that, given the privileged access and irreducibility of qualia described above, the physical sciences cannot, in principle, provide such an account. The conclusion follows: physicalism cannot be defended.

      • Longshanks

        In the future, I would ask you to do Mr. Harris, and myself, the courtesy of non-selective quoting.

        Consciousness—the sheer fact that this universe is illuminated by sentience—is precisely what unconsciousness is not. And I believe that no description of unconscious complexity will fully account for it. It seems to me that just as “something” and “nothing,” however juxtaposed, can do no explanatory work, an analysis of purely physical processes will never yield a picture of consciousness. However, this is not to say that some other thesis about consciousness must be true. Consciousness may very well be the lawful product of unconscious information processing. But I don’t know what that sentence means—and I don’t think anyone else does either.

        The way you've truncated his words you've pulled out a definitive meaning where none exists, this is disingenuous.

        I am unfamiliar with the other authors you've cited, but your treatment (or understanding) of Harris leads me to conclude that your judgement may be suspect in those cases too.

        You may be right, however, that they positively articulate a position of non-monism. I believe they will end up being wrong on this point if they do.

        Whatever ends up being true or not, the laymen's conversation on these topics will not be productive if we continue to misuse and misconstrue the words of people more expert than ourselves.

        http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-mystery-of-consciousness

        • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

          Hey Longshanks - What in that quote makes me disingenuous or selective? What strikes me about Harris (and what I think I captured pretty concisely) is his claim that the physical sciences can't in principle account for consciousness, a thesis that any MM would find repulsive. Any MM would respond, "of course it can, just give us time!" Frankly I would've liked to include his whole essay (both parts - which goes on to reference both Nagel and Chalmers) if it weren't for fear of boring people. And you don't need to link to it - I linked to it in the article.

          • Longshanks

            How were you being disingenuous with your selection?
            1) You pulled the quote out of a sentence where he tempers that remark with the premise "It seems to me that just as “something” and “nothing,” however juxtaposed, can do no explanatory work" -- indicating the tenuous ability of the words themselves to get at our meanings.

            2) You're using a bold typeface to place your emphasis without making it clear that it is not the author's.

            3) You're framing Harris's belief and conjecture as a factual, scientific claim, which it is not. That should be painfully clear from the last three sentences of quote I selectively chose.

            You freely admit that you've linked to a lengthy article which you doubt people will read, you then proceed to pull out a partial sentence to try to prove that a prominent atheist AND neuroscientist claims that consciousness is factually not monistic -- ignoring his immediately subsequent admission that this is only a hunch (and quite possibly false) -- and THEN (emphasis mine) go on to ignore his admission that his hunch is entirely rooted in his belief that the fact that he doesn't know what it would mean makes it unlikely to be useful.

            Which is an appeal to ignorance in itself, the god of the gaps basis.

            So yeah, I could be wrong, but it seems disingenuous to me to be name dropping Harris, cutting up his sentences to make it sound like he's definitively, rationally, anti-monist, and then ignoring that he's pleading incredulity.

            I love Harris and his writings, that doesn't free him from error in all things. What I find repulsive is not facts contradicting MM, which you seem to be throwing out as a dismissive red-herring, but willfully or perhaps ignorantly misusing others' words for your own rhetorical gain.

            As I said above, despite your claim that I must be repulsed by ideas contradicting it, MM may be untrue; but if we're going to reason about these things together, there is no room for re-casting someone's opinion in a mold that better fits your case.

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Good point on 2 - I added the [emphasis mine], which I thought I did!

            But I still don't see any trickiness. Plus, your finale (Harris isn't infallible) seems to belie the notion that you're rushing to save him from my Procrustean bed. I recommend people read the entire article and decide whether I've captured his perspective fairly. It's really an iconoclastic and surprising piece from him that I wanted to quote at length. (And again, note that he explicitly uses Thomas Nagel's definition of consciousness and calls it a "hard problem" - this is not some "category mistake" or "word game" argument!)

          • Longshanks

            Hey look, I can quote Harris too. All emphases are his unless otherwise proven.

            Of course, this does not rule out the possibility that consciousness is, in fact, identical to certain brain processes.

            (http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-mystery-of-consciousness#foot_3)

            Therefore, although science may ultimately show us how to truly maximize human well-being, it may still fail to dispel the fundamental mystery of our mental life.

            (http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-mystery-of-consciousness-ii/)

            How is it that unconscious events can give rise to consciousness? Not only do we have no idea, but it seems impossible to imagine what sort of idea could fit in the space provided.

            (http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/this-must-be-heaven)

            Such accounts have led many people to believe that consciousness must be independent of the brain. Unfortunately, these experiences vary across cultures, and no single feature is common to them all.

            (http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/science-on-the-brink-of-death)

            And, unlike many neuroscientists and philosophers, I remain agnostic on the question of how consciousness is related to the physical world. There are, of course, very good reasons to believe that it is an emergent property of brain activity, just as the rest of the human mind obviously is. But we know nothing about how such a miracle of emergence might occur.

            (http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/this-must-be-heaven)

            If there's one thing we can say about Harris' views about mind and consciousness, it's that they're complicated and not easily reduced with the concision you claim to have used.

            Does he actually believe that 'consciousness' is something immaterial, it's hard to tell, he certainly seems to believe it's something so utterly subjective as to be incapable of inquiry.

            What he does not, it seems pretty clear to me, ever get around to is making an absolute declaration like the one you pared down.

            --

            For number 1, it doesn't matter that what you left off was an analogy (why phrase it like that?), the concept of analogy has no intrinsic pro/con value per se, what matters is what he was pointing out with the analogy. What you left off was a qualifier, not an outright contradiction, but a warning, a reminder of caution to the next clause.

            The way you've truncated his words you've pulled out a definitive meaning where none exists, this is disingenuous.

            As to number 3...
            Let me try this again.
            You were trying to name-drop Harris into attacking "eliminative materialism". The truncated quote you pulled does an admirable job of this.

            You've got an Atheist, a Philosopher, and on top of all that a Neuroscientist passionate about Consciousness declaring that "purely physical processes will never yield a picture of consciousness.”"

            Except that the part you leave out is a warning about semantics and the possibilities of misunderstanding. And one sentence later he says that he doesn't know what that implies. And in the next sentence he admits that though it may be un-approachably subjective, it may be purely physical. Then he says he doesn't know what that means again. Then, in every other quote I've got posted above he's either hedging, or admitting a lack of knowledge, or pleading for a recognition of nuance. He also explicitly decries Cartesian dualism and states that he partially disagrees with Chalmers.

            Quite apart from the original point above about god-of-the-gaps arguing-from-ignorance, which to me it seems that Harris is doing here occasionally, he has not made his position as sure as you've made it out to be. Maybe this is where my "tricky" and "disingenuous" circuits start firing.

            "The work of these three eminent, non-religious thinkers yields an inconvenient truth: that the richness of subjective consciousness will not be subdued by materialism, not because the empirical tools of science have yet to advance on it, but because it is inescapably “stuff” of a different order."

            You're using a truncated statement to shoehorn him into your contention that a prominent atheist believes that consciousness is non-material, that it is "inescapably 'stuff' of a different order."

            Harris is merely stating that he believes consciousness *might* prove irreducible, that it might not be something susceptible to external analysis.

            You're painting him as sturdily in the non-materialist corner, while in the real world he has an extremely nuanced and agnostic materialist view.

            It was precisely a "category mistake."

          • Andre Boillot

            Next time you decide to respond to somebody, you should probably sit down and really lay your arguments out in detail, instead of settling for these pithy retorts you usually engage in.

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Hey Longshanks - What's striking about your quotes, and the whole article, is that Harris essentially (however nuanced) contrasts his views on consciousness with Dennett, Churchland, and the MMs, and essentially (however incomplete) utilizes the lexicon and mentality of Chalmers, Nagel, and Searle to do it. Hey may try to stake out some neutral position between those groups, but in doing so, his distancing from the MMs and association with their toughest critics is what matters, both for my article and for the discussion at large. Check out some of those footnotes! After all, critics of materialism are a dime a dozen, as most Christians are just that; but atheists with the humility and courage to challenge (however modestly) materialist neo-Darwinian orthodoxy are not. The last word is yours if you want it. Thanks for the dialogue, and for correcting my blatant mistake before!

  • Meta-N

    Matt - Excellent topic. Didn't you watch Scooby Doo as a child? There's no ghost in the machine! Nor have I seen any evidence as an adult to change my mind on this.

    • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

      Hey Meta-N - Thanks! That was before my time, but I agree (see above). Jinkies!

      • Josh

        Matt, I appreciate your article very much, and especially the Love in the Ruins quote, having read that recently myself. I'm also enjoying reading the comments and counting how many times AA is implicitly misunderstood as DD. It's fun!

  • Mark Hunter

    It's always positive examples people give to claim there is something beyond the physical., Love, justice, beauty, etc. they claim point to something beyond the material and hence the existence of the soul and/or God. But one could equivalently say where does hatred, injustice and offensiveness exist in the material realm. How can the physical sciences measure hate, injustice or offensiveness. Therefore they must be spiritual. You can't get out of it by saying that love is just the absence of hate because then I could claim that since Angelina Jolie doesn't hate me she must love me. (and claiming that brings about court orders).

    Here's the solution. The words Love, hate, beauty, etc. exist as nouns but they are only defined through actions. Try defining love or hate without referring to an action. It's impossible. How do you measure love? By watching the action of a person who truly loves another. Love does exist and can be measured by recording the actions of those who have it.

    • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

      Or that hate, injustice, etc are simply deprivations of love, justice, etc. And so are "existing" in so far as they signify a lack of a thing.

      • Mark Hunter

        So to use the Angelina Jolie example. She does not love me, so does that mean she hates me. Love and hate are not necessarily related.

        • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

          I missed that in my original read-through, but preempted your objection above. I think it helps clear up what I mean.

          The problem is that "opposite" has many different meanings depending on your frame of reference. For example, is the oppostie of "2" "-2", "1/2" or "0" (since nothing is the opposite of something).

          You're talking about the relationship between 2 and 0. I'm talking about the relationship between 2 and -2

          • Mark Hunter

            My point is that they are not opposites and that one is not just the absence of another. My original question is that why do people always use "positive" attributes when discussing the need for a non material aspect of the world when the same argument could be used for "negative" attributes?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            It is used for negative attributes though. If the positive thing is seen to be not physical, than the negative thing is also not physical. That doesn't mean the not physical realm *gives* us those things. Those things, positive and negative, exist. They just exist metaphysically as opposed to physically.

    • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

      And no, I don't think that's the same as saying Angelina Jolie loves you. if it's a number line, we're saying that angelina feels a zero of affection for you (she doesn't know you exist (I think)), whereas someone who hates you feels a negative affection.

    • Randy Gritter

      I would say the opposite. People are more uncomfortable not being able to say there is evil than not being able to say there is good. This is why Hitler comes up so often. We know evil when we see it. We especially know when we are wronged. We don't just disagree. Some standard has been violated.

  • Erick Chastain

    This article is confusing soul with spirit. For Aristotle, the soul is basically just the software running on the hardware of the body, whose purpose is to gather food etc. Mathematical invariants and symmetries of the underlying dynamics that are themselves not particles or forces or muscles or neurons (since they are properties of mathematical formulas, not of neurons). All animals have souls. And with death, the animal soul dies. Anyhow, Darwin and Baldwin believed that all animals have a soul in this sense.

    • CoastRanger

      What is your soul/spirit distinction?

      • Erick Chastain

        Soul is nothing but the life principle of an organism. Spirit differs from matter by being without parts. The life principle in animals isn't spiritual because it can be destroyed by destruction of the body (and thus be divided). The life principle in humans is said by Aquinas to be spiritual, the reason being that we have the power of reason.

        • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

          Got evidence?

          • Erick Chastain

            Let's say that reason doesn't require anything spiritual. Then our state-of-the-art models of how the brain implements it will be able to beat human know-how at an advanced reasoning task such as jeopardy. But that isn't the case. In particular, neural dynamics seem to implement very simple machine learning algorithms, such as temporal difference learning ( http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.133.6176&rep=rep1&type=pdf ) and bayesian inference ( http://www.saminverso.com/brg/archive/Ma-WJ_2006_NatNeuro.pdf ). For the papers in which these models were proposed, they ran simulations. They have tried to use these algorithms (TD and bayesian inference) to solve very complex problems involving abstract reasoning in jeopardy, but ended up only getting 25% accuracy (data from a talk that isn't online), and switched primarily to human reasoning hard-coded into a searchable database instead, after which the accuracy in jeopardy almost tripled (and ultimately won jeopardy: http://ibmresearchnews.blogspot.com/2010/12/how-watson-sees-hears-and-speaks-to.html ) The algorithms were still useful in the simulation, but not as good as human know-how.

            We can certainly model cognition on a computer, but it won't end up being the best model. The reason is that a computer can only take perceptual input and apply transformations to them to arrive at an answer. Cognition and reason need some kind of insight that isn't in the perceptual data! There is something about that model that will never be completely accurate for very hard tasks that humans carry out (like proving Fermat's Last Theorem). The kinds of experiments my wife does are about "cognition," but I would just call them simple sensory decision-making tasks. Computational models are good for that kind of thing. This isn't a gaps argument because it is a comparison of two models: one which posits that cognitive behavior is neural circuitry simulating a Turing Machine, and the other which models cognitive behavior as an oracle turing machine, which receives extra information about the problem as additional input and applies neural circuitry on that data. Two models, both entirely mechanistic, but involving different inputs. One model fits the data better than the other, and I think its the second (again because of the machine learning / neuroscience considerations above).

            So summary: moved by the data I have proposed that the neural circuits receive additional input that is body-independent and relevant to the problem. This information is some kind of "insight" into the problem provided by reason. And these "insights" are independent of the body, so it is plausible to think that whatever produces them exists independent of the body. And this is a computational version of Aquinas' model of reason.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Let's say that reason doesn't require anything spiritual.

            What level of reason? Symbolic representation, at all? Ability to do Calculus? What?

            ... Then our state-of-the-art models of how the brain implements it will be able to beat human know-how at an advanced reasoning task such as jeopardy.

            All humans, or just some humans? How would you do against it?

            ... But that isn't the case. In particular, neural dynamics seem to implement very simple machine learning algorithms, such as temporal difference learning (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/v... ) and bayesian inference (http://www.saminverso.com/brg/... ).

            At present.

            ...For the papers in which these models were proposed, they ran simulations. They have tried to use these algorithms (TD and bayesian inference) to solve very complex problems involving abstract reasoning in jeopardy, but ended up only getting 25% accuracy (data from a talk that isn't online), and switched primarily to human reasoning hard-coded into a searchable database instead, after which the accuracy in jeopardy almost tripled (and ultimately won jeopardy:http://ibmresearchnews.blogspo... ) The algorithms were still useful in the simulation, but not as good as human know-how.

            What do you mean "human reasoning" in the above. If it is being implemented on a machine, how can it still be "human reasoning"?

            We can certainly model cognition on a computer, but it won't end up being the best model. The reason is that a computer can only take perceptual input and apply transformations to them to arrive at an answer. Cognition and reason need some kind of insight that isn't in the perceptual data!

            Got evidence?

            ... There is something about that model that will never be completely accurate for very hard tasks that humans carry out (like proving Fermat's Last Theorem).

            Never is a very long time. Why do you say this?

            ... The kinds of experiments my wife does are about "cognition," but I would just call them simple sensory decision-making tasks. Computational models are good for that kind of thing. This isn't a gaps argument because it is a comparison of two models: one which posits that cognitive behavior is neural circuitry simulating a Turing Machine,

            Sort of; it does not "simulate a Turing Machine," but simply is not seen as requiring some special "magic" that a finite Turing Machine could not provide.

            .... and the other which models cognitive behavior as an oracle turing machine, which receives extra information about the problem as additional input and applies neural circuitry on that data.

            What??? Remember, all neural circuitry is finite, so parallels with theoretical machines that are assumed to be unlimited, is highly suspect.

            ... Two models, both entirely mechanistic, but involving different inputs. One model fits the data better than the other, and I think its the second (again because of the machine learning / neuroscience considerations above).

            What data?

            So summary: moved by the data I have proposed that the neural circuits receive additional input that is body-independent and relevant to the problem. This information is some kind of "insight" into the problem provided by reason. And these "insights" are independent of the body, so it is plausible to think that whatever produces them exists independent of the body. And this is a computational version of Aquinas' model of reason.

            Got evidence?

          • Erick Chastain

            Hi Q, thanks for your detailed reply. I will go through and spell things out item by item. For ambiguous context of your response (due to redundancy), I have included the context in square brackets.

            What level of reason? Symbolic representation, at all? Ability to do Calculus? What?

            Advanced reasoning, for example problem solving that requires insight (eg mathematics at the research level) or answering jeopardy questions.

            All humans, or just some humans? How would you do against it?

            About half. So the neural dynamics would break even with humans in aggregate, idea being that they are about as good at advanced reasoning as humans.

            in response to your comment "At present.":

            The models I discussed are state of the art. And they are quite accurate. They fit data from neurons in vivo during tasks that involve reasoning, both economic reasoning and perceptual judgments. So "At present" is a meaningless objection unless you point out that the current models don't fit some aspect of the data in systems neuroscience.

            What do you mean "human reasoning" in the above. If it is being implemented on a machine, how can it still be "human reasoning"?

            Well for example I wouldn't call Google search results machine reasoning. Basically google search is just an indexing device that allows you to find human reasoning that contains keywords you search for. IBM used human reasoning (culled from internet sources) indexed in an easy to search way, and basically did a more sophisticated form of Google search. In particular, they used some indexing for lookup queries from recent work in databases, rather than something like PageRank.

            [We can certainly model cognition on a computer, but it won't end up being the best model. The reason is that a computer can only take perceptual input and apply transformations to them to arrive at an answer. Cognition and reason need some kind of insight that isn't in the perceptual data!]

            Got evidence?

            That was a comment to give interpretation for the results about jeopardy. It would be like the "Discussion" section of a paper. The evidence is given by the computational considerations and IBM's success rate with Jeopardy increasing considerably when they used human reasoning.

            Never is a very long time. Why do you say this?

            Again, this is discussion, interpreting the results about jeopardy. The models we have for neural implementation of reasoning which are accurate aren't very useful in advanced reasoning (jeopardy).

            Sort of; it does not "simulate a Turing Machine," but simply is not seen as requiring some special "magic" that a finite Turing Machine could not provide.

            Basic neural circuits can implement logic gates (this goes back to Hopfield, and Pitts/McCulloch) , and there are a huge number of these gates. Formally this means that neural computation is in a circuit complexity class TC0 that contains the class P of Turing machines that halt in time polynomial in the input size.

            What??? Remember, all neural circuitry is finite, so parallels with theoretical machines that are assumed to be unlimited, is highly suspect.

            An oracle turing machine is the same as a turing machine, it just is given a finite advice string that is a function of the problem instance as additional input. If you don't like turing machines as a model for whatever reason, you can just consider the circuit complexity class TC0 given an advice string for problem instances. TC0 only involves finite circuits using ordinary logic gates and threshold functions.

            [Two models, both entirely mechanistic, but involving different inputs. One model fits the data better than the other, and I think its the second (again because of the machine learning / neuroscience considerations above)]

            What data?

            Again, this is discussion interpreting the results of IBM's attempts to win at Jeopardy.

            [So summary: moved by the data I have proposed that the neural circuits receive additional input that is body-independent and relevant to the problem. This information is some kind of "insight" into the problem provided by reason. And these "insights" are independent of the body, so it is plausible to think that whatever produces them exists independent of the body. And this is a computational version of Aquinas' model of reason.]

            Got evidence?

            Again, this is discussion interpreting the results of IBM's attempts to win at Jeopardy.

            PS: As you can see above, many of your questions in the response are answered by considering the context of the paragraph (eg as the "discussion section" interpreting the result of IBM's Jeopardy attempt and neural models of reasoning), and reading more about computational complexity theory/ neuroscience.

        • Michael Murray

          Do you think it's possible we moved on in our knowledge from 1200 ? I'm a mathematician and 12th century mathematics means people like Fibonacci. Smart guy but we have come a very, very long way since then.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            That is why I keep asking them how Aquinas would modify or withdraw his work if he could know what we know, today.

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Quine - No need to wonder! Here are some modern schools of Thomistic thought, including the phenomenological personalism of Karol Wojtyla:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomism#Schools_and_interpretations

            Also, here is a fantastic article from a Thomist explaining why Thomism is incompatible with ID theory:
            http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/aquinas-vs-intelligent-design

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Hey Michael - But philosophy does not proceed in the manner of the natural sciences. The proof is in the Plato, whose insights are still rigorously taught in classrooms - not as a relic of the past, but as relevant for human beings today. The same could not be said for, say, Presocratic biology or Newtonian physics, which are superseded by more exacting empirical discoveries. As Karl Jaspers put it: "every great philosophy is complete and whole in itself, living by its own right, without reference to any broader historical truth. Science progresses step by step. But philosophy by its very nature must achieve wholeness in each individual man" - even if that philosophy is that philosophy is bunk, and only empirical science and deductive logic yield truth.

          • Michael Murray

            But that doesn't mean it's all correct Matthew or that we haven't learnt new things since then. We teach Euclid's geometry to primary school students but mathematics has moved on.

            "every great philosophy is complete and whole in itself, living by its own right, without reference to any broader historical truth. Science progresses step by step. But philosophy by its very nature must achieve wholeness in each individual man"

            Seriously ? Philosophy is complete and whole in itself ? Then why do they spend so much time talking about each other.

          • Michael Murray

            The problem I have with "old"philosophy is it usually dates back to the time that we had very little scientific knowledge. It's not that long ago. So it made sense to try and prove things about the real world using pure reason. What else did we have ? Now we know a lot about the real word using science I think philosophy as "natural philosophy" has, or should have, died and it takes its role as the study of human ideas. That said I have no objection to philosophers doing science if they learn some. Anyone can learn science and do it.

            But if you treat old philosophers musings about the real world seriously you end up with absurdities like the Aquinas quote about hot things on the "don't freak out the atheists page". Like Newton's ideas on alchemy you have to throw some ideas out.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            But if you treat old philosophers musings about the real world seriously you end up with absurdities like the Aquinas quote about hot things on the "don't freak out the atheists page". Like Newton's ideas on alchemy you have to throw some ideas out.

            ... Which is why I always ask them how a philosopher from antiquity would answer if he/she (almost always 'he') knew what we know today.

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Michael - But don't you think this mentality risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater? Philosophy, again, is only incidentally concerned with the mechanics of the world, which is the province of the natural sciences - its aims are ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, and politics, which are timeless arenas of thought. Prescientific (or modern, for that matter) philosophers made goofy, obsolete statements about the way the material world works - but I think it's unwise to turn around and assume that they have nothing to teach us or reveal to us. Modern science is a great blessing, but science can't adjudicate all questions; and when we dismiss "old" thinkers for their limited scientific knowledge, we close ourselves off to the depth of insight they offer into these questions - and to the edifice of philosophy itself.

          • Michael Murray

            Sure. That's what I'm saying.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            But don't you think this mentality risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

            Good reasoning from true premises will continue to stand. However, as we keep learning more facts about the world, we have to go back and check those premises for hidden assumptions that seemed to be true in the old days, but have been found to lack evidential support. Also, science now extends to how our brains work and what steps we need to take to keep from fooling ourselves.

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Hey Quine - I'm not sure I disagree. But would you agree that some matters addressed thoroughly by philosophers don't come down to evidence and "more facts"? I notice a favorite catchphrase of yours here is: Got evidence? But Stephen Weinberg admits, for example, that science cannot - in principle - get us from "is" to "ought." When a philosopher lays out a robust philosophical case and concludes, "we ought to go beyond good and evil," or, "we ought to adhere to the categorical imperative," and you reply, "got evidence?", aren't you making something of a category mistake? Scientific facts can inform and correct some aspects or assumptions of philosophy, yes; but would you agree that, in exploring science's very foundations and horizons, a tug-of-war between the two isn't necessary, any more than a tug-of-war between reason and faith? That ground gained by one isn't necessarily ground lost by the other?

            I believe that the philosophy and science should be in constant dialogue, just as both should be in constant dialogue with the world of religious faith; and It really does strike me as a dangerous and delirious subset of atheism that would just as soon dismiss all of philosophy along with all of religion.

          • Longshanks

            "But Stephen Weinberg admits, for example, that science cannot - in principle - get us from "is" to "ought." "

            Sam Harris disagrees.

            (unless you quote him out of context)

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Hi Matthew, you put quite a few things in that comment, so I may have some trouble getting around to all of it, but I will try. Yes, there are some who want to throw all of Philosophy out with the bath water, but I am not one of those (and not just because I want to self-justify all the time I have spent reading it, I hope). At the same time, the same aspects of the Scientific Method that help keep us from fooling ourselves about the world around us can help cut through the confusion that plagues schools of thought not grounded in evidence. Long ago, I was heavily influenced by the famous paper "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" by C.S. Peirce. I find nothing clears up ideas as well as asking for evidence.

            But Stephen Weinberg admits, for example, that science cannot - in principle - get us from "is" to "ought."

            Reading Hume and understanding why that is true is very important. You hear it put that way, but you lose part of the meaning in that shorthand. I tell people "you can't get a provably correct "ought" from an "is." Hume noticed that there were always hidden assumptions in the premises folks used to argue to the "oughts" they wanted to defend. It is simply true that nothing about how the Universe is tells us how it ought to be, but that also leaves us free to explore ideas about what kind of world do we want to live in, and leave to future generations.

            Of course, someone is going to ask, "Why do we want what we want?" which is going to shift the discussion to the scientific study of our brains. Science is a sub-field of Philosophy, that has grown to take over much of what was the playing field of the past, however, I think I am mostly with you insofar as agreeing that Philosophy and Science need to move ahead together.

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Thanks for the response Quine! I'm glad we found some points of agreement. I will definitely check out the Peirce article too - I've come across and greatly admired his writings on language and semiotics. Peace!

          • Longshanks

            Stop being dangerous.

            And delirious.

            Deleterious?

            (alliteration is better in threes)

          • Longshanks

            Is Newtonian physics no longer taught in school? Do they go straight to QM in high school, with up, down, strange and charm quarks?

          • Erick Chastain

            Indeed, we have also moved on from logical fallacies in arguments, for example appeals to authority and appeals to "progress."

            To inform my objection scientifically, ever-increasing "progress" is as mythical as unicorns, with progressions from more to less sophisticated cultures happening quite often in the Austronesian-speaking societies of the Pacific and islands South-East Asia: http://144.82.111.20/heeg/files/nature09461.pdf . One can imagine something similar happens elsewhere in human civilizations.

          • Michael Murray

            I don't recall suggesting civilisation always progressed.

          • Erick Chastain

            Well in any case I am sympathetic to your point. My view on these subjects is that we can make new models besides the MM, DD and AA models. What I have been discussing is a new computational model that is compatible with AA but uses recent advances in computer science theory to make a better quantitative model. Rather than saying tenuously some philosophical position, which MM and AA are, I've made this as a computational model.

        • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

          But not all humans have the power of reason. Some have brain damage or mental problems that proclude such. Also, at an early enough age, you did not either. Does that mean that before that time you had no "soul"?

          • Erick Chastain

            according to AA, brain damage or mental problems just impede the body's ability to take insights from reason and use them for anything. Descartes says they don't have reason at all but Aristotle famously disagreed. Before the age of reason children, like all other living things, have a soul. Their soul has a rational part because the developing brain has been developing with substance S as an input, but the body can't properly process insights from reason.

    • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

      Hey Erick -

      Thanks for the thoughtful clarification! Your comments here have been great.

      In the AA section I was trying (and I hope succeeded) to stick with "soul" as you've defined it here (life principle, form of the body), without even opening the "spirit" can of worms when it comes to the human soul. I did wade into this distinction originally, but the article was getting far too long, and without sufficient explication I think I ran the risk of people further conflating the AA and DD view in people's minds. Judging by some comments, this still happened. In the West, especially our Cartesian America, it's an exciting and important thing to lay out, in the dueling chaos of dualism and physicalism, the glory of the third way - the AAs - which incidentally is precisely what underpins Thomism and the Catholic intellectual tradition. (Descartes ruptures, Maritain said, where Aquinas fuses - but before we have any hope of fusing soul and spirit in man, don't we have to rupture Cartesian soul and Aristotelian soul, which for so many - like psyche, self, consciousness - both finally mean "ghost in the machine"?) Cheers!

      • Erick Chastain

        yeah unfortunately it still happened, but I think that's just an artifact of having a short article and bad semantics on the part of the readers. Thanks for posting this! I had some fun conversations with my wife who is a neuroscientist about this as a result. I think there is a tendency to equate immaterial with spiritual because of descartes as you say. And also to equate soul with "human soul." But as I've discussed with others, the problem started when Francis Bacon declared the formal properties in Aristotle's Physics to be part of metaphysics, because they aren't measurable directly. Then the soul became metaphysical instead of physical, and the former category is viewed by many non-catholics as essentially arbitrary or pointless to even consider.

  • hiernonymous

    One problem with the software analogy is that every aspect of the software - installation, transmission, usage, etc - is physical, and leaves a physically detectable trail. Software doesn't just spring up in one's computing device. Installing the software involves physical activity on the part of the computer; the software is a series of electrical charges maintained in a storage device, and those charges are placed and indexed through the material activity of the computing device, based on very rigid and physically determined rules. If your game is still available when your device is damaged, that is because the software and the information on the state of the game is physically resident elsewhere. If you destroy the last accessible copy of the record of the game state, you very much destroy the game.

    Human personalities, on the other hand, have yet to be recordable and transferable. It's conceivable that at some point in our future, we could do so - there's no shortage of science fiction dealing with moving personalities from brain to brain, or from brain to mechanical device - but even then, that would not imply a 'soul' or non-material component to personality. In fact, quite the opposite. If one's personality could be detected, recorded, and transferred as software is, that very much implies that there is no undetectable, immaterial component to our personalities.

  • Meta-N

    Aspergers & God/Ghosts

    Matt - There is also a genetic component to the soul. My daughter been diagnosed with aspergers syndrome. Clearly she has inherited this trait from me, and I from my father (a family tree of atheists). Some psychiatrist also call it engineer brain.

    Seems our agency detection system is less active than yours. We simply and naturally don't believe in ghosts, soles, angels, demons, etc.... We can even imagine them.

    Oh, my daughter, she's doing great (now that she understands why she is different). Her IQ is off the charts. She was just accepted to her first pick University.

    • Randy Gritter

      My brother has been diagnosed with Aspergers and he is a very strong Christian. Things like love and beauty are harder for Aspergers sufferers to grasp and they are also strong reasons to be Christian. Still there are many more reasons to be Christian beyond that.

      • Meta-N

        Randy - I hope the diagnosis is serving your brother well. For us is was key for making all the pieces come together in my daughters life. My daughter did try the Christian (congo) life for a while, however it wasn't her thing. If it works for your brother, good for him!

        I can't say I have Aspergers, I've never been diagnosed. I do know that my daughter and I share the same personality and neither one of us can detect ghosts or any other type of imaginary friend. It seems that aspergers is at least a partial physical explanation for belief in ghosts IMHO. More information can be found here: http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt157691.html

        And now shout out to all of the Catholics out there. As an Atheist born in the late 50s, my childhood through the 60s and into the 70s was in an all Catholic neighborhood in the Boston suburbs (we where the only non-religious family). Y'all make the best neighbors. Not once did I ever fell out of place as a young child nor in my teen years. But don't get you hopes up for a conversion. Lets just be good neighbors.

        Thank you!

        • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

          I'll take that. Glad you had a good experience.

        • Randy Gritter

          I am like you. My personality is like my brother's but I have not been diagnosed. He finds it helpful. Even my wife finds it helpful to think of me that way. I actually like the term "engineer's brain" a lot better. It sounds more like a personality type rather than a mental disorder.

          I do think there is a spiritual sense most people have that I lack or at least have to a lesser degree. I accept their testimony. I tend towards on the skeptical side but I do think they are discerning something real rather than just making things up from nothing.

  • 42Oolon

    I stopped reading after you accused Pinker of a post hoc fallacy. Your analogy of playing a game on multiple machines is quite misplaced. Some video games may be played on several devices, and they transmit information to a central server of some sort and the various devices connect to it. We observe this central server and hardware just as well as we do the the phone etc.There is no human being version of the iPad in your analogy and we have no good reason to believe there is a central server. It would be great if it were like that, but you are thinking wishfully, not critically.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      42Oolon, thanks for your comment. In the future, though, may I suggest reading an article to the end before responding to it? It's only fair to the original author. Otherwise it makes it look like you're simply reading to disagree, and as soon as your find one point to critique your task is complete.

      • 42Oolon

        I stopped reading because the analogy made in that paragraph was so problematic that it suggested an extremely biased point of view or utter failure to think about this issue rationally. I have now read the full article and my view does not change. I take it that you do not disagree with my criticism?

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com/ Kacy

    I come to this conversation with a limited background on the subject of the soul, so thank you for referencing resources for further reading. I do have a question on one point: If one takes an AA perspective, as defined in the article (a person is both body and soul), why must the soul part necessarily be eternal? The article only makes an argument from authority (Aristotle) to say that it is. I want to know why.

    • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

      I think (and I have an equally limited background) that Plato does go into reasons why the soul has to be immortal, but I can't remember them. Aristotle's position on the immortality of the soul is really ambiguous. He sets the soul up as the first actuality of the body, which then makes you suspect that the soul would dissipate without a body. But there are two caveats he has where he says the soul would be immortal *if* ____.

      There's a quick summary of it here http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/A133SECT3

      If I was defending the immortal soul, though, I could only say that a "soul" whose existence is contingent on a body's existence, is really in no meaningful way differentiated from physicalism.

      Argument by definition, I know, is about as great as argument from authority.

    • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

      Hey Kacy - Thanks! I was very wary of the suggestion of immortality in the description of the AAs, and in the article in general. I could only explicate so much - and if I could persuade you that the position of the AAs is more coherent than that of the DDs or MMs, agnosticism about the immortality of man's immaterial aspects notwithstanding, I'd be happy!

      Aristotle's defense of immortality in De Anima is somewhat cursory, and Aquinas' explication of it is very technical. There are, as Epicus notes below, traces of Platonism. Here is a dense but helpful summary: http://www.faith.org.uk/publications/Magazines/Mar08/Mar08TheIncorruptibilityOfTheSubsistentSoulAccordingToThomasAquinas.html In the end I'm not sure that either totally succeeds, or that the immortality of the soul is something that human reason can render clear as crystal. As with God's existence, there must always be some obscurity, otherwise we would be compelled against our will to believe, and all the virtues and graces of faith would fly out the window.

      This doesn't mean that we can't speak intelligently about it, or seek understanding in other ways. One book that I found absolutely fascinating (this from someone who tends to be skeptical about near-death experiences, which are a dime a dozen) was "Proof of Heaven" by Eben Alexander, a notable neuroscientist and skeptic. The title is misleading; it is not a rock solid proof of anything. But trust me that his case is remarkable and the book is worth your time. Peace!

      • articulett

        Do dogs have souls?

      • Michael Murray
        • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

          That's the one! (Evidently http://www.skeptiko.com/sam-harris-wont-debate-eben-alexander-on-near-death-experience-science/ Dr. Alexander read Harris' review and emailed him inviting him to debate the subject in public. Harris responded: "Unfortunately, I'm too busy to consider it...the truth is, there's nothing to debate either." What a shame! 30 weeks on the NY Times bestseller list - who would pass up that opportunity to be heard?)

          This is not your standard NDE. Dr. Alexander's personal case (religious skeptic, materialist, Harvard neuroscientist) and physiological case (complete shut-down of the neocortex overnight) are both very unique. Next time you're in a Barnes and Noble, check out the Appendix of his book. He goes through possible scientific explanations one by one and explains why they fail to account for his hyper-real and perfectly intelligible experience.

          • Michael Murray

            I did read about it a bit on the net when it first came out. Not just the Harris article. It seems Alexander was making a lot out of the fact that he had no brain function when the events occurred. But he doesn't know that the events occurred then. Memories could have been created when his brain recovered and started trying to make sense of what had happened.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I have not read the book, but the little I know (I have heard Alexander interviewed) doesn't seem to conform with Christian ideas of what happens after death. His description of "heaven" sounds more New Age than Christian.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            I did read the book. Dr. Steven Novella has written about it and other NDE accounts. It is clear to me that what Dr. Alexander says he remembers can be explained by the actions of his damaged brain while going into and coming out of coma. He even admits that he spent a couple of days in "post coma psychosis." I am glad he was able to recover as much as he has from such a severe brain infection and all the damage it did. That the damage left him with memories of "hyper-real" delusion is not surprising, or evidence of the supernatural.

          • Longshanks

            Maybe after enough of these little chats you'll get the hint, the way you chose to crop quotes is deplorable. Maybe you've had such extensive experience as a blogger that pulling sensationalist quotes vs. concise, explanatory quotes is a habit you've fallen prey to? If so, it might be best to curb that inclination.

            "Unfortunately, I'm too busy to consider it...the truth is, there's nothing to debate either."

            Again, you've left out the following sentences:

            "He can’t reasonably claim that the relevant parts of his brain (not just the cortex) were “completely shut down.” It’s just not a factual statement. And yet, everything in his account hinges on his making that claim."

            --

            Let me apologize in advance, I imagine you might be a bit uncomfortable having it pointed out to you that you are, yet again, misrepresenting Harris' point of view, but this one really shouldn't have been tough to figure out.

            Especially since I sourced this article in our last encounter.

            There is also a rumor circulating online that, after attacking Alexander from the safety of my blog, I have refused to debate him in public. This is untrue. I merely declined the privilege of appearing with him on a parapsychology podcast, in the company of an irritating and unscrupulous host. I would be happy to have a public discussion with Alexander, should it ever seem worth doing.

            (http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/science-on-the-brink-of-death)

            P.S. Do go on to read the entirety of the article. He does a fairly convincing job of explaining why Alexander is mistaken in his understanding about what constitutes cortical inactivity.

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Wonderful! I'm happy to hear this, thanks for pointing it out. I hope the debate happens. It certainly seems "worth doing", no? This guy has spent 30 weeks at the top of the bestseller list and has captured the attention of millions of skeptics and Christians. Harris should strike while the iron's hot!

          • Max Driffill

            There is also a lot of reason to doubt his description of what happened. Harris lays all this out in his debunking of the Drs article and his position.

  • Obliged_Cornball

    "Neuroplasticity research further complicates the MM's position. There is growing evidence that—in patients with OCD, for example—the brain reshapes under the tutelage of new attitudes and behaviors. But if the soul is to the brain as digestion is to the stomach, why should mental effort execute any top-down causation?"

    You wouldn't be shocked when the activity of a person's muscles (or lack thereof) triggers different growth patterns for those muscles in the future. What you are characterizing as "top-down causation" can be understood as internal feedback, and it is observable in other bodily systems. Hell, even their imitations will do. We need look no further than neural network learning procedures to see that feedback doesn't require anything mysterious and non-physical.

    In fact, I actually think the MM account can make sense of neuroplasticity in a much simpler fashion. For an account of an immaterial mind would have to posit *additional* rules for immaterial-material interaction as well as detailing the biochemical processes the MM already relies on. This is because an immaterial account of "top-down causation" still requires an account of how this is carried out biologically. Of course, simpler need not equal truer, but all else being equal it is favored.

    "Aquinas agreed with Aristotle that “it belongs to the notion of a soul to be the form of a body,” and that although a human soul’s rationality points to its subsistence after death, the disembodied soul is a form without matter, and therefore incomplete."

    If rationality is immortal, then brain damage is a bit of a pitfall for this theory. Any apparent damage to the intellect has to be reinterpreted either as 1) the body's inability to be moved by the intellect, or 2) the body's inability to supply the intellect with any impressions on which to operate. But this would yield odd predictions in either case, neither of which could account for all neurological data:

    1) If it is the former, then brain trauma patients should be able to perform the same intellectual functions as the rest of us, just without the ability to act on them. I don't know of a single patient whose reports would conform to such an account. AFAIK, people typically speak of having to *relearn* old activities, not merely getting their bodies to move in accordance with thoughts that were there all along.

    2) If it is the latter, then intellectual functions should be preserved when dealing with impressions presented to the brain *before* the onset of brain damage. We do see this in cases of anterograde amnesia, but severe Alzheimer's and dementia patients lose the ability to preform these operations as well. Later-stage cognitive impairment in these diseases suggests that this view doesn't account for all cases either.

    Furthermore, because AA theory views the intellect as immaterial, it has no reason to posit the existence of an organ as elaborate as the neocortex in the first place. The intellect could simply move the body by acting on existing neural circuits controlling bodily motion, and receive impressions from existing sensory circuits. It has trouble explaining why our brains should be so much different from other animals' - but only if we assume that the thing that makes us different doesn't reside in the brain.

    An AA theorist who conceded a material (or at the very least brain-dependent and emergent) intellect wouldn't have this problem. But then again, such a person would hardly be distinguishable from a MM after all. The two might argue about whether the mind was "physical," but they would share the conclusion that the mental ultimately depends upon the non-mental for its existence.

    Finally, going beyond the scope of this article, it is my understanding that the intellect is responsible for moral judgments. Cases of frontotemporal lobe damage or dementia have actually led some previously-reserved people to adopt the lifestyles of libertines (Dr. Bruce Miller has written on this, in case anyone is interested in more details). Here the body is actually being "moved" toward certain actions

    "The work of these three eminent, non-religious thinkers yields an inconvenient truth: that the richness of subjective consciousness will not be subdued by materialism, not because the empirical tools of science have yet to advance on it, but because it is inescapably “stuff” of a different order."

    I've yet to read Mind and Cosmos - I have it sitting next to Jesse Prinz's The Conscious Brain to finish this summer. I will say that Chalmer's arguments are not compelling (Seriously, does anybody believe that "logically possible" = "actually possible in this world?"). While current materialist theories may prove to be false, the contingency of this other "stuff" upon the ordering of physical things suggests that some form of monism is still true IMO.

  • Ben

    39 Catholic articles, 1 atheist article.

    • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

      While that's true, Ben, I hover between theism and atheism, and the effect of most of the Catholic articles is to push me towards atheism. So I am not sure more atheist articles are needed. :P

      • Ben

        It makes a mockery of the claim that this site is a "meeting place" rather than a propaganda effort.

        • http://exconvert.blogspot.com/ Kacy

          Perhaps it would be simple propaganda if their wasn't a commenting system, but the comments are the best part about this website (in my opinion, anyway). I view the articles as ways of introducing a forum topic, as most of them are pretty introductory, like this one. With that said, it would be nice to see more atheist articles, especially if an atheist and Catholic could write on the same topic but from different points of view.

          • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

            It would be possible to write an "introductory article" about philosophy of consciousness without concluding with an endorsement of one particular view. I doubt Brad would enjoy an "introductory article" about the historical Jesus which concluded he was probably a clever conjurer, or an "introductory article" about the Church's track record on child abuse which concluded that Ratzinger should be captured and put on trial.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Ben, your last sentence is unfounded, and also suggest you haven't read the article on this site where we address this exact misunderstanding:

            http://www.strangenotions.com/bxvi-abuse-crisis/

          • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

            I've read that article, as you'd know if you'd read the single comment on it, which is by me. It's very much the case for the defence. You haven't posted an article summarising the case for the prosecution, as laid out in The Case Of The Pope by Geoffrey Robertson QC.

            You claim here: http://www.strangenotions.com/what-is-the-soul/#comment-913741552 that the point of the site is not the main articles but the comments, yet you cite an *article* (not a comment) to dismiss my "misunderstanding" that Ratzinger is complicit in allowing child abuse. Obviously, it's easier to present your case in a relatively long blog post than in a comment, and it's easier to cite an article than a scattered collection of comments, no matter how devastating their cumulative effect.

            As I said, there is only one comment (by me) on the article you cite - a fact which somehow escaped your notice despite your claim that the comments on this site are more important than the articles - so it's not like Bunson's claims about Ratzinger's handling of the case received a thorough examination.

            I would happily write an article for you summarising the case that Ratzinger is criminally liable for his part in concealing child abuse by priests. I will work pro bono. Please reply to this comment indicating whether or not you would like me to write that article for publication.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Ben, thanks for the reply. I'd definitely be open to such an article. However, I'd prefer to see some of your main arguments first in the comment box at the previous article on this topic.

            You say, "I've read that article, as you'd know if you'd read the single comment on it, which is by me. It's very much the case for the defence."

            You're comment, though, is hardly substantial. The first paragraph corrects a typo and the second paragraph is two sentences long. It that's the primary objection it needs to be far more developed and include citations to back up the points you reference. In no way would I consider it "the case for the defence [sic]."

            That said, if you'd like to send a more developed guest post for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Thanks!

          • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

            I definitely agree that you shouldn't consider my comment "the case for the defence [sic]". For one thing, I am on the side of the *prosecution*, not the defence.

            There was no need for the sarcastic "[sic]" after defence; that's not a typo, that's how we spell that word in my country.

            I didn't claim my comment was the *whole* case for the prosecution; I simply pointed out that if you'd read my comment, you would have realised that I had, in fact, read the article. The fact that you apparently didn't notice my comment before condemning me for not reading the article makes me wonder about your claim that comments on this site are somehow more important than the articles.

            Another thing that makes me wonder about that issue is your tactic of dismissing brief comments as not "substantial", compared to 2000 word blog posts which are going to be longer than Disqus comments by their very nature.

            If you are truly interested in the case for the prosecution against Ratzinger, I suggest you contact Geoffrey Robertson QC and ask him to write a guest post. If he is unavailable, I will happily fill in for him.

            Incidentally, do you ask your Catholic contributors to present their main arguments in the comment box of a previous article before you'll consider publishing them? If not, it seems like you might be operating a double standard.

            PS: I think you meant to write "Your comment" for "You're comment" [sic] and "If that's the primary objection" for "It that's the primary objection" [sic].

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "There was no need for the sarcastic "[sic]" after defence; that's not a typo, that's how we spell that word in my country."

            It wasn't sarcastic. I'm not sure why you would think so. The "sic" is a common literary device, an acknowledgement that most people in America would consider yours a spelling error--even if it's spelled correct in your own land--and that I was noting it, too; it's a sign that I'm aware of the uncommon spelling, but chose not to change it.

            Your PS is clearly a sarcastic dig, and is totally unhelpful. I only included the "sic" to quote a relevant line. You're pointing out spelling errors to make a sarcastic point. It's unneeded, adds nothing to the discussion, and you're better than that.

          • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

            You're right. Let's get back to the substantive point of my comment: you should publish an article putting the case for Ratzinger's guilt.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            Hear, hear. Like what Bob and Fr. Dwight did, but... better. Maybe not argument/response, but two sides of the same argument.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt
        • articulett

          I kind of look at as a place where atheists are free to challenge theists. Normally I leave believers to their own devices unless they wander into skeptic sites or inflict their beliefs and/or opinions upon me in a public space. Here I feel free in challenging the doctrine of my youth. I hope to plant a few seeds of thought. I can't imagine this place will change many minds-- but lurkers might benefit.

          I agree, It's a little boring for the atheist, because it feels like we are being preached at, but I don't mind the lack of atheist articles; I don't think the theists would read them anyhow.

          Atheists are not the one with the burden of proof. Most of us don't care whether theists become atheists or not. But the Catholics need to show us why we should take their beliefs more seriously than they take Mormons or Muslims or reincarnationists.

          One thing that really bothers me here though is navigation. I have a hard time finding new posts or the posts I want to respond to.

          • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

            The problem is, if you wait until Catholics "inflict their beliefs and/or opinions upon me in a public space", it will be too late - they will have already decided that you're not allowed to take the morning after pill after you've been raped: http://last-conformer.net/2013/04/14/confusion-and-the-morning-after-pill/ or something equally ridiculous.

            Theists tend to work hard to impose their beliefs on society. There's a danger that a small pool of committed fanatics can manipulate democratic systems into imposing their will on others - here's an example of how Christians tried to impose their will about abortion in the UK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gqhlRdOxJg

            For that reason, I want as many theists to become atheists as possible, so I can live safely, able to access modern sexual and reproductive health technologies, and free from the fallout of theologically motivated wars and terror attacks. The only defence is a thorough secularisation of society.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

      39 Catholic articles, 1 atheist article.

      Seems okay to me. The atheist side has no belief to assert, so the burden to present evidence is on the Catholic side. Debunking assertions made without evidence is the usual skeptic position. Therefore, I would expect the chances to do that to be greater.

      • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

        I think the materialist account of consciousness is so counter-intuitive that it would definitely be worth getting a neuroscientist or a philosopher to present the case for it. Instead, we get an account of it by another "Catholic blogger".

        The spiel on the about page: http://www.strangenotions.com/about/ pretends that this site is about seeking the truth, and excuses the Catholic bias in the content like this:

        "One difficulty of Congress is that the Speaker of the House must himself be a member of one of the political parties. We face a similar difficulty here."

        But if the Speaker of the House allowed his party to speak 39 times as much as the opposition, he'd soon be deposed.

        The about page goes on to rattle off a load of nonsense about the process of argument being "impartial", but that's not really the case where one side has all the power to pick the topics for debate and frame each issue. And of course, we have to have polite and respectful debate, so anybody expressing anger at some of the arrogant and intellectually dishonest articles on this site (I'm thinking particularly of the one which presents Anthony Flew's "conversion" as anything but the manipulation of a vulnerable man who was bullied into putting out a book in his name which he didn't even write) will be silenced.

        This is a site where Catholics lecture atheists and rewrite history and science to suit themselves, then demand unearned respect. It's typical Christian arrogance and unexamined privilege, dressed up in fake humility and the attendant martyrdom complex.

        • Michael Murray

          "One difficulty of Congress is that the Speaker of the House must himself be a member of one of the political parties. We face a similar difficulty here."

          Oh thanks Ben. I missed that. It's as forced and inaccurate as most of the other analogies on this site.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            And yet for some reason, folks, despite the "forced and inaccurate" analogies, the guy keeps coming back--and has commented more than any of the other 1,000+ commenters :)

            Michael, if the site is really as poor and frustrating as you suggest, you're always free to comment elsewhere.

          • Michael Murray

            I come back for the discussions I guess Brandon. People are interesting. Annoying. But interesting. The articles have struck me, up until recently, as being by Catholics for Catholics. I'm sure you see the reverse kind of thing on atheists and pull your hair out thinking what a caricature they are. But the last couple by Matthew Becko and Jon Sorenson have been more interesting.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            The articles are not "Catholics for Catholics." If that were true it would be difficult to explain why they've attracted so much attention from atheists. I don't read or comment on many atheists sites that write only for other atheists. I'm simply not interested.

            I only ask that if you choose to stay and comment, you not be so dismissive toward the posts and comments. If something strikes you "forced and inaccurate", comment on that particular issues. But general descriptions of the entire site as "forced and inaccurate" are unhelpful and unnecessary.

          • Longshanks

            The articles are not "Catholics for Catholics." If that were true it would be difficult to explain why they've attracted so much attention from atheists. I don't read or comment on many atheists sites that write only for other atheists. I'm simply not interested.

            Don't you now? That's interesting. The way different people think is interesting to me. The specific contents of their individual thoughts might not, in any one particular, be, but the tenor...the shape to it, the intellectual structures undergirding a worldview.

            If you have any good Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist/Mormon/Orthodox websites to suggest which have similar formats I'd be just as interested to spread my attention around.

          • Michael Murray

            The articles are not "Catholics for Catholics."

            Well I guess you know the authors so if that wasn't their intent I'll take your word for it. They read that way to me. That's not a disparaging remark I would say the same thing about a lot articles I read on atheists sites that are clearly written for "fellow non-believers".

            If that were true it would be difficult to explain why they've attracted so much attention from atheists.

            That would be because a general call went out (arising from you I aways assumed) that there was this new website for atheist / Catholic dialogue. As an ex-Catholic atheist that had some interest. But the interest was in the website as a concept it wasn't that someone said to me "there is a great article over there -- you have to go and read it".

            I don't read or comment on many atheists sites that write only for other atheists. I'm simply not interested.

            So why set up a website for atheist / Catholic dialogue if you aren't interested in atheism ?

        • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

          I don't want this to sound antagonistic, but I am wondering, why do you keep coming back?

          The best way to let the site die, if you think it deserves to, is to leave. The atheist commenters are more numerous and more vocal (holding the top three spots in posters), and without the atheists here to debate, I'm not sure I would keep coming back and I'm a Catholic.

          • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

            (a) I'm epistemically rational, but not instrumentally rational enough to be able to stop picking at a scab.

            (b) I'm kind of a connoisseur of the ways people holding what seem like indefensible positions justify themselves. Brandon declares this is "the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists", but publishes hardly any articles by atheists because - well, he's like the Speaker of the House, forced to give 39 times as much floor time to his own party as to the opposition, because that's just the system. His hands are tied!

            It's fascinating to see Catholics declare their worldview is better because it offers a coherent set of eternal truths, and then watch them scrabble to explain how the Church was wrong about Galileo, and evolution, and waging war to exterminate the Cathar heretics, and signing a pact with Hitler, and enabling child abuse, and putting "fallen women" in labour camps, but still, the eternal truths give them much superior moral insights!

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Ben, thanks for the feedback. As we explain on the About page, the point of the site is not the main articles. Those are merely the launching pad for combox discussion, where the real action is. (To put things in context, there have only been 46 articles yet 4,200 comments.)

            Even more, of the 4,200 comments about 75% of them are from atheists. As Epicus alluded to, 7 of the top 10 commenters so far are atheist.

            Finally, again as Epicus noted, the Catholics are presenting the positive case on each of these topics (i.e. God exists, the soul exists, etc.) and so it makes sense for Catholics to begin the conversation. But the articles are not meant to be the last word; they're the first word in a conversation that, so far, has been dominated by atheists.

            From everything I've seen the site has been tremendously effective at hosting fruitful dialogue between Catholics and atheists--better than any other site on the web. But if you're still having issues, nobody is forcing you to stay. We invite you to check out other sites that cover these topics, or even start your own that fits more in line with your desires.

            Thanks again!

          • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

            If there is no advantage to writing an article rather than a comment, and you aim to be "the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists", then will you ensure article writing is divided 50:50 Catholics:atheists from now on, just to ensure the appearance of fair play?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            Do you know how many atheists have tried to submit posts? I don't, but I don't think it's fair to ask it to be 50/50 if they've posted 100% of the atheist posts submitted.

          • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

            It's possible that Brandon has put equal effort into soliciting articles (or reposts of articles) from Catholics and from atheists, and it just so happens that Catholics are 40 times more likely to respond. It's possible, but it seems very unlikely to me. It's not like online atheists are known for their reticence.

            Maybe Brandon issued a neutral call for articles to everyone he knows, but he knows 40 times more Catholics than atheists, but that's no excuse: if Brandon's aim is really for this site to be "the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists", then he should work to solicit more atheist articles (or reposts).

            I would certainly welcome a detailed breakdown of the steps Brandon has taken to solicit articles for this site. If articles are no more important than comments then I can't see why he'd object to providing that.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

            Online atheists are not known for their reticence, but I could see why they might view this as "enemy territory" with nothing to gain from posting here.

            Obviously I can't speak to what Brandon's done to solicit articles, but I know I asked Hemant Mehta to write something here (I'm a pretty big fan of the Friendly Atheist) and he was kind of like "Yeah, it's just a bunch of silly Catholics pretending to have a debate". Which is exactly what it looks like, no? Until you get down into the comments.

            Talk to your favorite bloggers and ask them to write pieces, that's what I've been doing. Brandon has a full-time job, writes, and manages two websites, in addition to having a family. Maybe he doesn't have time to solicit articles from atheists, and if his circles run to the Catholic side, well, can you fault him for that.

            I think we the readers should do some legwork here and find people to write. I don't see why that's a big issue.

            If it turns out Brandon is actively blocking articles from being posted, then there's a problem. But I hardly think that's the case here.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Thanks for the comment, Epicus. It's accurate across the board. I've reached out to some well-known atheists but only a few have replied. My hope is that as the site grows, other atheists will take it more seriously. It's still a work in progress. In the future I'd certainly welcome more atheist guest posts.

          • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

            If Brandon wanted to avoid the appearance that this is Catholic territory, maybe he shouldn't have posted 40 Catholic articles to a single atheist one? The damage is done now.

            He could just get permission from atheists to reprint some juicy anti-Catholic posts at zero effort to them if he actually cared about balance.

            If an atheist blogger set up a site purporting to be *the* central place for Catholic/atheist dialogue, then posted 40 articles espousing materialism and one against, would you accept the excuse that she was busy and most of her friends were atheists? Or would you rightly identify it as an act of gross intellectual dishonesty?

            I've offered to contribute atheist articles, but apparently I have to write the substance of them in the comments boxes first. I don't know if you've tried to type 2000 words into Disqus, but that's a mug's game. And if I did submit something, Brandon could easily decide it wasn't "respectful" or "substantive" enough. Given the rich Catholic tradition of attempting to enforce orthodoxy by warfare and torture and censorship, I have limited faith in this propaganda site's commitment to honest debate.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt
          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            One more thing: you clearly misunderstand the purpose of the site when you say "[Brandon] could just get permission from atheists to reprint some juicy anti-Catholic posts at zero effort."

            This is precisely why I haven't reached out to paritcular atheists. We're not interested in "juicy" posts. We're interested in posts that elicit serious dialogue, as all the posts have done so far.

          • Longshanks

            To be fair, a great deal of the "serious dialogue" elicited has been about the frivolity of many of the articles.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Longshanks, if the articles are so frivolous, and the comments so frustrating, you're always welcome to leave. Nobody is keeping you here. But it makes no sense to just stay and complain.

          • Longshanks

            Maybe I misused my quote marks and should have added "perceived frivolity"? While some of the comments are frustrating, I wouldn't be here if there wasn't more good to be taken from them than bad.

            All I'm stating is that much of the dialogue you're lauding has been specifically about the quality of the articles themselves.

            The articles I find frivolous, I'll address the various points which seem to me to deserve rebuttal. The ones I don't....I don't.

            I come here not for the stable of writers you have, in fact I have strong opinions about several of your main contributors, but for the quality of the exchanges that are going on in the boxes.

            But don't let's be disingenuous here, many of the articles you're posting are specifically inflammatory, "gotcha", and "juicy," and it's probably better that way.

            I have no desire to read a bunch of "right on" comments.

            I think you won't find any contradictory quotes to supply when I mention that Tolkien thought a good story needed conflict.

          • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

            By "juicy" I mean containing in-depth intellectual analysis of theism and the cognitive biases which produce it, not scandalous or anything like that. The kind of article that you'd see on LessWrong.com.

            There are plenty of places to read about the Catholic Church's track record of running child rape camps in Ireland, or the excesses of the gay clergy of Florida, so discussing that kind of thing on this site would be redundant.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    Too bad physicistdave left the site; he and I could have had the Mysterian vs. Physicalist debate right on this thread.

    • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

      Why did Dave leave?

      • Michael Murray

        Concerned about the bias of the moderators against the atheists and in favour of the theists.

        • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

          That's really too bad.

  • Roger Hane

    That brain picture is creepy.

  • mally el

    Man, a human soul created in the likeness of God, is body, mind and spirit.

    • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

      Deep.

      • Michael Murray

        Sure you don't mean deepity?

        • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

          Indeed.

    • articulett

      A human created in the likeness of god is invisible and would be indistinguishable from an imaginary human.

      • mally el

        Invisible? A human has an earthly biological body which enables us to communicate etc. with each other on earth. It will also get its nourishment from earth. Likeness does not mean identical.

  • articulett

    There is zero evidence that consciousness of any sort can exist absent a brain. If such evidence existed, scientists would be testing, refining, and honing that evidence for their own benefit and so that we could all learn more (see the Higgs boson, space dust, atoms, DNA... and everything else that is real!) Why doesn't a soul step in to help a brain damaged person? If a soul can "see"-- why doesn't it step in to help the blind? After how many years of zero evidence can we, as humans, admit they are just an illusion?

    We don't even have a good definition for what it would mean to be conscious but have none of the measurable properties of consciousness-- how do you know a carrot isn't conscious? Or a rock? How do you tell immaterial consciousness from imaginary beings or mythological beings? A god from a demon? A demon from a fairy? 1 god from a 3-in-1 god from lots of gods? An advanced alien from a god? A ghost from a god? A soul from a gremlin? A reincarrnated being from a fresh one? How can anyone think, feel, or want anything without a brain? You can't even make new memories without a working hippocampus-- what would a being be with no memory at all?

    Souls make no sense with what we know about the world. Why should we think that religious people can "know" about such things when scientists cannot even establish which, if any, are real-- and an increasing number are decideing that the soul (like all other invisible/immaterial/ beings) is entirely the product of human imagination.

    I want to ask you theists-- if souls aren't real, would you want to know? How would you know? I'd sure like to know if they were real-- but I'd expect the kind of evidence for other things that we know are real-- scientific type evidence. Barring that, I don't believe Catholics know any more about gods/souls/afterlives/ than the Greek myth believers did!

    • mally el

      Religious people can know about the soul and consciousness because they have either experienced it - as in NDE or OBE - or believe those who have had experiences and revelations. For whatever reason some people refuse to accept truths that relate to our relationships and human nature. It is true that the original concept of God that Adam and Eve had was distorted, misinterpreted and manipulated over time. The Greeks saw godliness in created things such as the sun and moon and gave them names but their local beliefs did not impinge upon the greater world community. Disbelief or unbelief in God did not exist from the start. Even consciousness has been the focus of study for thousands of years in the biblical lands and places like India and Tibet. If scientists choose to ignore truths outside their studies it is their problem. The truth will still march on.

      • Michael Murray

        For whatever reason some people refuse to accept truths that relate to our relationships and human nature.

        For at least two very good reasons scientists refuse to take accounts of NDE and OBE as automatic proof some sort of soul that can leave the body. Firstly if such a thing exists it will overturn a vast array of very, very well established results. See

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

        for why this is the case. Secondly people are often not the best judges of what goes on in their own minds. It is well known for example that while we think we have rich visual field of sight all the time this is actually an illusion created by our brains.

        Even consciousness has been the focus of study for thousands of years in the biblical lands and places like India and Tibet.

        Some of the experiences people have while meditating are consistent with what modern neurology is telling us. For example the idea that the self is a construct of the brain which can be turned off resulting in feelings of oneness with all creation. See for example

        http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/consciousness-without-faith

        for a non-religious perspective. Or work by Sue Blackmore who is a long time Zen Buddhist practitioner and researches consciousness.

        • mally el

          Not all scientists refuse to take NDEs into account. There are many who are seriously studying it. The concept of consciousness among Hindus has nothing to do with the practice of meditation.

          It seems that your fear is that 'it will overturn a vast array of very, very well established results.' To begin with these are not very well established results. Anyway, why should we not overturn what is not well established?

          • Michael Murray

            Hinduism isn't the only religion in India. I was thinking of Buddhism.

            It seems that your fear is that 'it will overturn a vast array of very, very well established results.' To begin with these are not very well established results.

            It's not a fear. Its a weighing of the evidence. Why would I fear science being overturned and discovering that my consciousness might be going to survive my death. Sounds really interesting.

            How do you know that the standard model in physics is not well established ? Do you do research in particle physics ?

          • mally el

            I have seen that video on this site before. There is such a lot this guy does not know. Could he scientifically define the mind and tell me where it is located and how does it work. How do people have real OBEs? Has science proved that our mind does not survive after the body dies?

          • Longshanks

            1) You can't prove a negative.
            2) Do people have "real" OBEs, or do they just have trippy experiences that they don't understand?
            3) The mind is located in the brain. We're working on getting better and better understandings, but for now we haven't ever seen minds outside of brains.

          • mally el

            The mind is not a negative. Besides the fundamental and instinctive activities of the brain there is an abstract thinking mind which, for obvious reasons, works through the brain. The mind, like gravity and time which we cannot see, does not have to be 'located' anywhere but it is an entity of the human soul. This is why NDEs and OBEs you call 'trippy experiences' happen.

          • Michael Murray

            The mind is not a negative.

            The negative was: "our mind does not survive after the body dies".

            This is why NDEs and OBEs you call 'trippy experiences' happen.

            No-one is denying they occur. The question is do them mean "something" left the body or are they explainable in purely materialistic, reductionist terms as some kind of hardware/software failure in the brain.

          • mally el

            Those who are studying this phenomenon with open minds believe that these are real experiences and not just a failure or whatever of the brain.

          • Michael Murray

            Surely if they study with open minds they should be open to both possibilities ?

            I guess you might be defining open mind to mean accepting these are real experiences in which case you have stated a tautology.

            Or maybe you don't know all the people who have studied these things. In that case have a look at Susan Blackmore. She had an OBE as a student and that prompted her to research parapsychology. She definitely thought there was something going on beyond what we know. After a lot of research she decided she was wrong. That's what real scientists do. They evaluate evidence to test their ideas. They don't go out and gather evidence to support a conclusion.

            Blackmore's website is here

            http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk

          • mally el

            I know. This is why there are many scientists who are still trying to understand this human phenomenon.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Good. That is what science is there for.

          • mally el

            This does not mean that there are areas that are outside the field of science. Seeing that people have experiences which they know are real, it would be wrong on our part to reject the possibility.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Seeing that people have experiences which they know are real, it would be wrong on our part to reject the possibility.

            Unfortunately we never "know they are real." That is why even scientists have to wait for other scientists to replicate their results to know if they are "real."

          • mally el

            So, no one should dismiss their beliefs simply because proof of some sort is lacking. In the meantime they should keep an open mind.

          • Michael Murray

            Sure. Except an open mind to something doesn't have to
            mean both outcomes are equally likely.

            It is really unlikely that anything like this is going to overturn the physics we already understand so well. The far most likely outcome is that as we learn more about the brain we will understand how these phenomena can be explained without reference to the mind leaving the body.

          • mally el

            Only a closed mind would say the other outcomes are not likely.

          • Michael Murray

            No. A closed mind would say the other outcomes are impossible without examining the evidence.

          • mally el

            But one cannot reject the current evidence - people's real experiences - just because it does not fit into your pre-conceived views.

          • Michael Murray

            I am doing what any court of law would do. I'm weighing this evidence in the balance with all the other evidence I have. I find it unlikely to be true because it disagrees with things for which I have an overwhelming amount of other evidence.

            If you explore the internet you will find people who will tell you have they have real experiences of alien abduction, alien sightings, ESP, telekinesis, ghosts, talking to the dead, reincarnation, spirit guides, sighting yeti, bigfoot or Loch Ness monster, crop circles produced by aliens, alien bodies in Area 51, miracles by Hindu or Buddhist holy men, ... The list is pretty endless. Do you accept all of them at face value ? Or do you perhaps way them against things which you are more confident are true.

            That's all I'm doing as well.

          • mally el

            What other concrete evidence to you have regarding people's personal experiences besides the views of some scientists who are atheists i.e. people who have closed their minds.

          • Michael Murray

            Answer my question above. How do you feel about all those persons experiences I listed. Is your mind open to all of them? Is your mind open to god not existing. Is your mind open to Allah being god and jesus just some second rate prophet ?

          • mally el

            Yes, open to all of them. This does not mean that I do not have my views on them.

          • Michael Murray

            You haven't replied to these questions either

            http://www.strangenotions.com/what-is-the-soul/#comment-917269989

            If you are only interesting in complaining about people having closed minds and not actually in a dialogue then let's just give it a miss. Thanks.

          • articulett

            Are we allowed to dismiss the idea that people can be witches because we can't prove that there is no such thing?

            Should we allow parents to pray for their children rather than seek medical help because we can't prove that god doesn't answer prayers any better than wishing on a star?-- What about if the kids dies?

            Do we have to respect every magical belief-- or just the yours?

            You can't prove that invisible penguins don't exist-- does that mean some scientist should take such claims seriously?

            You can't prove that missing childrent aren't being eaten by aliens-- but I doubt any parent would want a cop to follow believers in that idea!

            When the truth matters-- evidence counts. And not all notions are equally respectable. I think that those who are interested in the truth, can dismiss all supernatural claims-- should there ever be any evidence for any such thing, I'm sure it will be on the front page of top science journals and the money will be rushing forth to replicate the results and find out more!

            Those who imagine there are rewards for "faith" or that some god will punish them if they don't believe in the right supernatural thingies-- can go on believing whatever crazy things they wish to believe, of course. But don't expect rational people to take your beliefs more seriously than you take Greek Myths or Scientology claims-- and for the same reasons.

          • articulett

            I love the Susan Blackmore article from 2000. Thanks for posting the link.

            (One of my favorite things about this forum is the other atheist posts.)

          • articulett

            Believers in "woo" always think that people who don't believe in their "woo" are closed-minded. I think it's believers in the supernatural who are the closed minded ones-- they'd rather believe in their fantasies, then find out that they are subject to the same errors in thinking as all those others who believe the the "wrong" "woo".

            *woo means supernatural or pseudoscientific belief.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T69TOuqaqXI

            If you were as wrong as you think the reincarnationists are, would you want to know?

          • mally el

            I suppose we are either 'woos' or 'boos'. I think you are wrong to believe that the woos are closed-minded. The greatest scientists in the world had not, and have not, closed their minds to the possibilities. People who say, without justification, that there is no God or no non-biological aspect to our nature are the ones who have shut off a possibility.

          • Michael Murray

            The greatest scientists in the world had not, and have not, closed their minds to the possibilities.

            Remind me again who they are. Present day greatest scientists please. Dead ones don't count.

            People who say, without justification, that there is no God or no non-biological aspect to our nature are the ones who have shut off a possibility.

            Can you point out to me someone who says these things without justification.

            Michael

          • articulett

            Why don't studies into NDE ever bear fruit? http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7621608.stm If souls are really leaving their bodies, you'd expect to see something we can test, right? If there was real evidence, scientists would be testing, refining, and honing that evidence for their own benefit. What possible reason can you envision for not doing so? Don't you think scientists like Steven Hawking would be eager to find out more if there was the slightest bit of real evidence that consciousness could exist absent a brain??

            But instead, neuroscientists don't find any more evidence for disembodies souls than they do for fairies! http://www.livescience.com/37056-scientists-and-philosophers-debate-consciousness.html

            On top of that, the evidence is accumulating that consciousness is entirely the product of an evolved living brain. Dualism is an illusion. We can recreate it in a lab. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/feb/17/people-virtual-reality-avatars We even have pretty good ideas as to why we perceive invisible agency where there is none.

            You can believe whatever you want, but the question I asked you was, "If souls weren't real, would you want to know?" The fact that there is zero scientific evidence for souls puts all religions' and imagined afterlives on equally poor footing as far as the actual evidence is concerned. My guess is that you would NOT want to know anymore than a person in a conflicting faith. You are not interested in the truth-- like the Muslim, you want to beleive you have it already.... and that you are going to live happily ever after because of this faith.

            Could any evidence or lack of evidence convince you that souls are no more real than fairies? If you think they are real, why do you imagine that real evidence isn't accumulating? Do you think it will ever do so? Do you think people who really think they've seen chupacabras have actually seen them? What about those who are sure that they or others are possessed by demons? What about claims that someone is a witch or has a curse upon them? Should scienntists take such claims seriously or trust that real evidence will accumulate should any of these notions be more than miserceptions/delusions/etc?

            Did you know we can recreate OBE's in th elab? http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/feb/17/people-virtual-reality-avatars

            Do you understand how believing in wrong things makes people vulnerable to confirming their biases. If someone thought you were cursed, for example, and shortly after you visited --a tornado struck their city-- this would seem like evidence that you were cursed, right? And if they killed you, and there was never any more tornadoes, they would think that this confirms the "fact" that you were cursed and even be less likely to learn the truth behind tornadoes. If they had another tornado, they might look for someone else "needing" to be killed. This is how superstition (including religion) works.

            It's confirmation bias. Religions thrive on it. Science has methods to card againsts it.

          • Michael Murray

            This isn't a question about consciousness. Sean Carroll doesn't have to define the mind. It's a simpler problem. You just have to ask how information can flow in and out of the mind. If we could prove a real NDE there would be information flow into the brain that the person could not have got by any known means. But we understand the particles and fields making up the brain. Problem for us scientists. But first you need proof and results from the Sam Parnia study

            http://www.horizonresearch.org/main_page.php?cat_id=38

            seem very slow to arrive.

          • Michael Murray

            Sorry about the above post. Disqus crazy things if you try to delete and start again.

          • Michael Murray

            Hinduism isn't the only religion in India. I was thinking of Buddhism.

            It seems that your fear is that 'it will overturn a vast array of very, very well established results.' To begin with these are not very well established results.

            It's not a fear. Its a weighing of the evidence. Why would I fear science being overturned and discovering that my consciousness might be going to survive my death? Sounds good to me.

            How do you know that the standard model in physics is not well established ? Do you do research in particle physics ? If not have a look at that Sean Carroll video I linked to and get the opinion of someone who knows the facts.

          • Longshanks

            The point is we know everything about the physics relevant to how the brain works. So if OBEs and NDEs really mean the mind can leave the body there is something wrong with that physics.

            In all fairness, I think we should acknowledge that while many neuroscientists might believe (and I, a complete layman, would agree) that mind and consciousness are entirely the products of physical phenomena which are, in principle, well understood, some, at least, do not -- or at least are open the the idea that they might not be.

            Additionally, while they may in fact be emergent properties based on well understood basic physical notions, the various layers of neural/regional/cortical/hemispheric granularity, the interactions of these different levels and aggregate pathways, and the mechanisms by which these ?mind-sub-units? work in concert to produce the mental life we are each party to is not, I don't think, well understood at this point.

          • Michael Murray

            I agree there are questions about consciousness to be settled but I was thinking more about the NDEs. If someone like Sam Parnia comes back from his studies with definite evidence that during an NDE a patient sees a random number on cupboard in the operating theatre that it just isn't possible for them to have seen that's a revolution. It means information has passed into the brain in some way that we don't understand. But we think we understand all the particles and fields acting on the brain. There isn't any way for that information to get in there.

          • Longshanks

            Ah.

            Then with my usual caveat that I rarely know what I'm talking about, and never to completion:

            I agree.

  • gwen saul

    It continues to puzzle me why articles focused on philosophy and psychology are categorized on this site under "Anthropology" (there is a psychology tab after all). Neither article under "Anthropology" contains cited works by anthropologists, anthropological theory, nor any mention of the discipline at all.

    Furthermore, anthropology has historically been devoted to the study of culture and is widely recognized as the discipline that has given us the best understanding of cultures and human behavior; and yet the tab "culture" on this site is completely removed from anthropology. It makes no sense.

    • Luke Arredondo

      Hey Gwen,

      That's a great question. The use of the term anthropology, for a Catholic theologian, has a very different meaning than the one you suggest. Certainly anthropology, in its typical usage, is what you describe. I don't know whether it's true that that is historically what the term has always meant. The etymology comes from the Greek anthropos (man) and logos (word/reason).

      The use of the term on this site is in reference to the philosophical tradition of studying what it means to be a human being, what separates us from the rest of creation, what unites us all at the most fundamental level (and thus cuts across all cultural differences), etc. It might be more accurate to say that this article is one of philosophical anthropology rather than just anthropology.

      Does that help?

      Peace,

      Luke

      • Dcn Harbey Santiago

        Hi Luke,

        I think the term you are looking for is Theological Anthropology.

        "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
        Deacon Harbey Santiago

        • Luke Arredondo

          Hey Dcn. Santiago,

          I sure could have mentioned theological anthropology, and probably should have. But philosophical anthropology asks those questions I mentioned. Theological anthropology goes to the heart of more specific questions like what is sin, and would look further than philosophical anthropology to see Christ as the ultimate example of what it means to be a human being, whereas philosophical anthropology wouldn't do the same. Clarification is always important, so thanks!

          Peace,

          Luke

      • gwen saul

        Thanks to both of you for clearing this up for me. I had no idea that a very different understanding of anthropology was in use by Catholic theologians-I find that extremely interesting. I hope that someday soon there might be an article about this on this site. Coming from the academic discipline of anthropology myself, it is very confusing to see "culture" separated from "anthropology."

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    From the OP:

    They're convinced that poetic discourse about your or my “soul” is a form of “folk psychology.”

    For those who are not familiar with the terminology, watch this explanation of Folk Psychology by Patricia Churchland.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    From the OP:

    ... David Chalmers (the “hard problem” of consciousness), ...

    Contrast that younger Chalmers with what you see more recently. He is a very smart person, but has made no progress in these many years (except for getting some of us to come out as p-Zombies). He now has to admit that "consciousness" emerges from the operation of the brain, but in order to preserve his Mysterian position, he has to posit that, whereas we see emergent behavior in systems all around us, that is "just weak emergence" that we can understand, whereas, consciousness requires a new "strong emergence" that we don't (and can't scientifically) understand, and of which, consciousness is the only known case. Or, maybe everything that processes information is conscious.

    • Andrew G.

      Of course no discussion of p-zombies is complete without a link to:

      Zombies: the movie

      • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

        Watchit, fella! I'll report you to the ZAL (Zombie Anti-defamation League)! Oh wait, I can't really be offended because I don't have an inner life to take offence (I just report that it feels like I do).

        Never mind.

  • FZ

    Ah, phil of mind. Intentionality is probably my favorite subtopic.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

      Good.

  • articulett

    I wish that theists would answer this question-- If souls were not real, would you want to know?

    Are you afraid to even think about the question?

    Certainly you can admit that it is possible that they are an illusion of a human brain-- and that most neuroscientists think that they are... would you want to know this if it was true? Or would your rather keep believing in the soul?

    If scientists cannot even establish that there is such a thing as disembodied consciousness, why do you believe that your religion has expertise on the subject as opposed to the religions you reject?

    Without a belief in the soul, would you still believe in a god? The Catholic god?

    • mally el

      How can one not believe in the soul which is essentially an individual human being. This soul which is endowed with a wonderfully made body, an intelligent mind and a discerning spirit has the capacity to be good stewards of this magnificent and very meaningful world. The fact that some believe that this individual has a wonderful purpose, namely, to live on eternally in the heavenly environment, and that others do not, makes no difference to the nature of the soul.

      • Longshanks

        Question: "If souls were not real, would you want to know?"

        Answer: Why wouldn't you believe? Without them life is purposeless.

        Question: "Are you afraid to even think about the question?"

        Answer: Yes.

        • Michael Murray

          Good move. You can get some actual dialogue if you do the questions and the answers. I should have thought of that :-)

      • Michael Murray

        wonderfully made body

        What about the prostate which closes of the male urethra when you get older, the single entry point for food and air causing constant threat of choking, the birth canal which is too narrow, the route of the vas deferens, the lower back which is complete rubbish, the eye design, the testes that have to hang outside the body, the appendix, ...

        If it was a engineering biology practical exercise it would be a fail.

        • Longshanks

          There's a Neil DeGrasse Tyson quote that's comes to mind....something about a pleasure complex and a waste removal system right next to one another...

          • Michael Murray

            I haven't see the dissection. I must watch.

            I've heard the other one as a Civil Engineer joke. How do we know God is a Civil Engineer. Who else would put the waste outlet right next to the recreation area ?

            Of course this isn't really a joke as women know. It's another bit of non-design.

          • articulett

            Well, it beats the cloaca. And, at least our gonads are tucked up on the insides instead of having to hang out to keep cool. (Do you know the male elephant has the "family jewels" on the inside?)

          • Susan

            >(Do you know the male elephant has the "family jewels" on the inside?)

            Yahweh took it out on them in other ways. He gave them ivory.

          • Michael Murray

            So how do the handle the temperature thing ? Interesting I'll have to have a look. (On wikipedia not between the back legs of a male elephant)

        • Michael Murray

          And wisdom teeth, eye nerves wired backward, ...

        • mally el

          The fact that we can build bridges, roads, mansions, communication systems, public transport networks and so on which no other living thing can do does tell me that we have wonderfully made bodies. Unfortunately, our lifestyles and other factors have damaged this body. You may complain about our bodies, I will praise them.

          • Susan

            >You may complain about our bodies, I will praise them.

            We can do both. What choice do we have?

            Michael was just pointing out that the "wonderfully made body" with which you claim a "soul" is endowed, isn't made so "wonderfully" after all. The evidence is that natural selection is behind it, not some brilliant engineer.

            If a designer were behind it, that designer would not win any "design" awards.

          • mally el

            I suppose one of your friends could design it better. Let us not forget that arrogance, ignorance and defiance of the good spiritual laws have corrupted human nature.

          • Michael Murray

            I suppose one of your friends could design it better.

            snark alert

          • mally el

            Exactly!

          • mally el

            But, Michael, will you take away man's free will to achieve your purpose?

          • Michael Murray

            No I'll redesign the body and let people keep their free will. Where is the difficulty in that ?

            In fact to a large extent we have done this already. My genetic tendency to asthma, high blood pressure and bad eye sight have been compensated by drugs and glasses without any need for omnipotence or any damage to anyones free will. Which just proves that your supposed creator could have done it.

          • mally el

            This intelligence is all part of the original design. Glad you found that out.

          • Michael Murray

            Are you every going to reply to my questions ? Like how the bad design of the body relates to us having free will ?

          • mally el

            The body was designed well but our lifestyles we chose and other factors have polluted them.

          • Michael Murray

            So could you walk me through that list of bad design features I gave before and explain why they are good design ?

          • articulett

            Ah-- so you imagine yourself "in on" the design plan of the invisible creator of the universe?

            How long have you been having these delusions?

          • mally el

            You are the one having delusions.

          • articulett

            Free will? Do you think pedophiles freely choose to be attracted to children? Do you choose your parents, gender, genes, preferences? Could you choose to fly if you wanted to? Can a handicapped person choose to walk? Can you will someone to be attracted to you? When a dog chooses to scratch on the door to go out, is it exercising free will? Free will is an incoherent religious concept to account for an imperfect world. But a perfect god could have created perfect people with free will-- like he did with Jesus, right? Or does Jesus-god not have free will?

          • articulett

            Arrogance-- ? This from a person who imagines the universe was created so s/he could exist?

            Natural selection gives the appearance of design because we only see the "winners" in the procreation race that extends back billions of years.

            Remember-- you believe in a "perfect" god-- what reason would a perfect god knowingly have for creating cancer or Tay Sachs disease or anencephaly--- or ANY imperfect beings? Your theology makes no sense.

          • Max Driffill

            I would certainly have designed the human spine differently, gotten rid of the s-shape, which is great for quadrupedal tetrapods, whose spines have to support weight and flex during movement, but that are prone to injury and weakness when that S is vertical and subject to gravity and other mechanical forces. Yeah, no S-shaped curve, which we inherited from our ancestors.

          • Susan

            I would have found a way for life to exist without all the mindless suffering. You know... if I were a clever, loving, powerful being.

            I wouldn't have created life so that 99 per cent of species went extinct. Babies of all species wouldn't have suffered and died at such a high rate since life began, long before humans
            became a central part of my passive aggressive theatre and continuing to this day.

            I wouldn't be so keen on the "burnt offerings". I'd take a pass on that.

            Also, American Idol would have been willed out of existence.

          • mally el

            Love another as I have loved you. Love your neighbour as yourself. How good would it have been if we had not acted selfishly and rejected those teachings. Could you start with yourself? You and your friends could promise not to harm people and the rest of creation. Reach out to others and make the world around you a much better place then maybe the good work might catch on. Till then, expect to have more problems in your world and ours.

          • BenS

            Love another as I have loved you.

            Carte blanche for me to drown millions of people then. Wicked!

          • mally el

            All bad actions have consequences. Pollute the air and we will suffer many disease and animals will die. Pollute marriage, as they did in those days, then society will suffer its consequences. Fortunately, humanity did not go extinct with those disastrous marriages. The Flood got rid of the harmful elements and humanity was spared.

          • Michael Murray

            So the flood just killed the bad guys ? That was neat. I guess your god used smart flood technology. Are you sure there wasn't any collateral damage to innocent children ?

          • mally el

            Not really. Our wrongdoings do cause harm and, at times, even the innocent ones suffer. Abortion kills the young human beings at the early stages of life. It is the wrongdoing on the part of some that causes harm to these little ones. If I were to hit my fingers with a hammer I would feel much pain. I would feel the pain even if the blow had been accidental. The laws do not change. The good that came out of the flood was the continued existence of human beings.

          • Michael Murray

            No it was your gods decision to punish indiscriminately that killed those children. It is a particularly serious charge as they could have used omnipotence to avoid any collateral damage. But we know from the existence of childhood cancer that your god isn't particularly worried about children. Look what happened to Jobs children.

          • mally el

            No, it was the consequence of wrongdoing that harmed people. Children are victims of their human and natural environments. This is very sad and we need o apply our knowledge well and also behave well so that innocent people are not victims of our ignorance or callousness. We should not blame God or others for our ignorance, errors or corrupted lifestyles.

          • Michael Murray

            Children are victims of their human and natural environments.

            So there was no way god could kill the wrong doers other than bye global flood with indiscriminate killing of innocents. He couldn't manage all the wrong doers just being zapped with lightening bolts.

            Children are victims of their human and natural environments.

            Remind me again who created the natural environments ?

            Remind me again what omnipotent means ?

          • mally el

            God created the natural environment with its actions and reactions which are reliable.

          • Michael Murray

            God created the natural environment with its actions and reactions which are reliable.

            If I stretch a piece of thin wire across a cycle path and someone rides through it and garrottes themselves I'm the murderer. Likewise if as you claim God creates the natural environment and the children are victims of the natural environment created by God then ...

          • BenS

            Got evidence?

          • Michael Murray

            How good would it have been if we had not acted selfishly and rejected those teachings.

            Excellent idea. Let's behave as if we believe Jesus' message. Let's sell the artwork in the Vatican and give the money to the poor.

            Till then, expect to have more problems in your world and ours.

            Yep more of those earthquakes and tsunamis caused by selfishness.

          • mally el

            If all those artworks are sold the money would not offer permanent help. The Church does much more than any other group to help those in need. The schools, hospitals, dispensaries and clinics all over the world serve an ongoing need. I for one, would not advocate getting rid of these assets for some temporary gain.
            Sure we have natural disasters. It would have been to our advantage had we spent more time studying our world and its behaviour and responded accordingly. However, most of our problems are own doing. Killing, aborting, hoarding, raping, drugs and alcohol to name a few.

          • Michael Murray

            The schools, hospitals, dispensaries and clinics all over the world serve an ongoing need. I for one, would not advocate getting rid of these assets for some temporary gain.

            Of course not. You would sell the artworks and property and invest. The earnings on the investments could be used to fund the good works. You could spend it on advising people on contraception and returning the world population to a sustainable level. Or perhaps not.

            Sure we have natural disasters. It would have been to our advantage had we spent more time studying our world and its behaviour and responded accordingly. However, most of our problems are own doing. Killing, aborting, hoarding, raping, drugs and alcohol to name a few.

            No. I only have to give one example to show that free will is not an adequate justification for your god allowing suffering in the world. One example and there are millions. Have you ever thought of the suffering caused by the Toba super volcano

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

            It possibly reduced the world population of humans to 10,000.

            Catastrophic extinctions have been frequent in our geological history. Where the dinosaurs wiped out because your god gave them free will and the chose wrong ?

            Every day animals all over the world suffer and die -- it's all part of your gods wonderful plan of evolution by natural selection.

          • mally el

            One cannot know why certain things do happen because our knowledge is limited. I do believe that at the beginning of creation all was well and blissful as Adam and Eve lived as good stewards of creation. However, when they decided to go their own secular way selfishness, disharmony and disorder took over. I know you will reject this, but I do not.

          • Michael Murray

            Unfortunately, our lifestyles and other factors have damaged this body.

            Name one of the "design" deficiencies that I have mentioned above that hasanything to do with lifestyles and other factors. Or are you thinking of damage caused by excessive consumption of apples by naked women ?

            Michael

          • articulett

            Or maybe damage caused by interacting with talking snakes?

          • articulett

            We have a gene (no longer working) for making egg yolk. Although we had ancestors that lay eggs-- we do not. We also have a defective copy of the gene that makes vitamin C... we (like our primate kin) have to get our vitamin C from our food or we'll get scurvy. Your cat and dog --along with other mammals manufacture Vitamin C in their body. It's our evolved brains that are wonderful and responsible for the technology that impresses you-- not "wonderfully made bodies".

            Why are there deformities? Why do men make so many (trillions) of sperm when only a couple are needed to make the next generation-- it's hard on their bodies and shortens their lives? Although there is much to wonder at-- I don't think most people intimately associatated with bodies would agree that they are "wonderfully made".

            Of course we weren't talking about bodies-- you were talking about some immeasurable something or other that intereacts with these bodies... you believe in souls-- likening them to gravity and time... but you cannot seem to give us the sort of evidence for them that we have for gravity and time. So tell us-- what distinguishes souls from imaginary souls. What souls from superman? If scientists cannot establish that they even exist, why should a rational person think that you know anything about them? What can you possibly know about something that has no measurable qualities and no measurable affect on matter? Where do these "souls" exist other than in the human imagination?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Where do these "souls" exist other than in the human imagination?

            The invisible and the non-existent look amazingly similar.

          • articulett

            Indeed-- and I want to know what "method" people are using to tell them apart.

            Every believer in the supernatural believes that they have found a way-- even as they dismiss all those others who believe in conflicting faiths just as sincerely.

          • Susan

            I would also like to know what methodology is being used and why they consider it reliable, even better why anyone else should consider it reliable.

            From earlier comments on the site, I'm under the impression that catholic epistemology will be addressed in an article tomorrow.

            I do hope it's not "revelation". If it is, I hope they can justify it.
            It's at the heart of all the assumptions that atheists (many of whom are ex-catholics and have heard a lot of it, if not all of it before) are not won over by.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            From earlier comments on the site, I'm under the impression that catholic epistemology will be addressed in an article tomorrow.

            Unfortunately, not so much.

          • mally el

            How do you justify a revelation? Not in scientific terms which is very limited. How could I prove to you that , a long time ago, my father revealed something that was significant in his personal life. You may not believe what he said or you might dismiss it. I believe because I learnt to trust him. I trust what was written in the bible. I trust all that Jesus revealed to his followers which they recorded for our benefit. You disbelieve; I believe.

          • mally el

            The mind performs mental activities. It works through the body which acts as the hands, legs and mouthpiece for the mind. The mind is alive even after the body ceases to function. Many thousands will attest to this fact.

          • articulett

            How do you know? Why is there no real evidence that science can test? Shouldn't real things be distinguishable from misperceptions via scientific testing?

          • mally el

            Every individual human is a soul of which the body is the tangible, visible part.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Really? And how do you know this?

          • articulett

            By the way, when atheists points out "design flaws", they aren't "dissing" your god-- nor are they complaining. They are showing you that this world is very much like what one would expect over billions of years of evolution without a designer and not at all what you'd expect if a "perfect" being was involved in the design. Now you might redefine the word "perfect "and/or claim that YOU would expect imperfections from a perfect deity... or you could say your god isn't perfect-- but pretending that we atheists are ungrateful complainers is just a means of distracting yourself from what was actually said.

            I suspect that you are deflecting, because there are NO good responses to what we've pointed out, but you want to keep on believing-- and you want to believe you can convince others with your earnestness. However, if souls aren't any more real than fairies, then you will have the same sorts of problems that believers in fairies will have when it comes to rationally supporting your belief. People like me won't take you more seriously than you take believers in fairies.

          • Michael Murray

            The devil did it! Because of "The Fall" he rerouted the male urethra through the middle of the prostate. Bastard.

            Michael

      • articulett

        Human beings are made of atoms-- souls are things that are purported to exist but have no measurable properties at all. Everything everyone attributes to them requires a brain--

        Talking about disembodied consciousness doesn't mean anything-- it's like "music in a vacuum" or "immaterial flowers photosynthesizing". Real things should be distinguishable from imaginary things, don't you think? And real beings should be distinguishable from non-existant beings. --Souls aren't. As far as actual evidence is concerned, they are no more real than fairies.

        I take it the answer to the question "would you want to know if souls were not real?" is "no". You "need" to believe. That's fine, but that takes you out of equation for rational discussion on the topic. To those of us interested in learning more about the world, the truth matters more than what we want to believe. The fact that your beliefs make you feel super duper and "in on" the secrets of the universe have no more bearing on the truth than schizophrenic delusions, alien abductions stories, nor the super duper feelings of people with conflicting faiths.

        • mally el

          The body is material as it is part of this world. The mind and spirit are not. It is true, mate, that we cannot see the non-material entities of the soul but they are essential. Just as gravity and time, which cannot be seen or measured are essential for the existence of our world. And just as we can measure the impact or influence of time and gravity in and through matter we can observe the non-biological works through the body.

          • Susan

            Are you suggesting that gravity and time are immaterial or is that a metaphor?

            >The body is material as it is part of this world. The mind and spirit are not.

            Please define "mind" for me.
            We'll get to "spirit" next.

          • mally el

            Can you describe, in detail, gravity? Or, time?

          • Susan

            No.

            What does that have to do with my original question:

            "Are you suggesting that gravity and time are immaterial or is that a metaphor?"

          • mally el

            I am suggesting that certain phenomena or entities cannot be defined by mere scientific terms.
            Okay, I will tell you what mind means to me. I believe that the brain is capable of limited mental activities. It has more to do with response to stimuli, growth, protection and a few more reactions. The human mind has the capacity to think abstractly looking into the past and planning for the future. Not only for ourselves but also for our environment. The mind, whatever its description, works through the brain because this organ controls our muscles. So, if the mind of an individual is aware that a certain old person needs help to cross the road and decides that the individual should go up to this person and offer assistance, it conveys this message through the brain thus activating particular parts of the brain. The brain acts as a conduit for mental activity.

          • Michael Murray

            I believe that the brain is capable of limited mental activities.

            You're basing this on personal experience I guess.

          • mally el

            Where is gravity? How does it connect to all matter?

          • Michael Murray

            I can explain it, or at least I can point you to places that can. How much mathematics and physics do you currently know ?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Where is gravity? How does it connect to all matter?

            That is a rhetorical deflection. How about an answer to Michael's question?

          • mally el

            No everything that exists can be located or described scientifically. This is why I mentioned gravity.

          • Michael Murray

            So you are claiming that gravity cannot be defined scientifically. Are you by any chance Aquinas posting from the 12th century ?

          • mally el

            I am asking you.

          • Andrew G.

            So explain this: if you ask a split-brain patient (someone with damage to the corpus callosum, which links the two hemispheres of the brain) a question, such as "what do you think your ideal job would be", they might give you one answer verbally, but a radically different answer if you have them spell it out by picking out letter blocks with their non-dominant hand (thus engaging the opposite hemisphere).

            This result is of course exactly what we expect on physicalism and exactly not what we expect on any account that assigns concepts like intentionality or abstract reasoning or future planning to a non-physical soul.

          • mally el

            The brain is a biological organ that can have weaknesses and faults and so behave accordingly.

          • Max Driffill

            I think Andrew would like you to explain how this is explained by the mind/body dualism you seem to propose. What Andrew's example demonstrates is that the brain is the mind. The mind doesn't exist else where. And damage to the brain has very predictable effects on minds. In the example given, damage to the corpus callosum the hemispheres of one's brain require a certain degree of integration and that a person's mind, their sense of "i" can be disrupted by damage to the corpus callosum. Split brain patients also tend to have issues when picking out clothes (their right and left hands reaching for different clothes.
            So explain how this fits with your theory of mind.

          • Longshanks

            For what it's worth, I've listened to Brian Greene articulately argue against the existence, or in any case evidence, of time.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kbyjjw_oLFk

          • mally el

            I am suggesting that some things, though they exists, cannot be precisely defined.

          • articulett

            Gravity and time are measurable.

          • mally el

            Do you measure the phenomenon we call gravity or do you measure its effect. The same with time. We do not really know what it is but we do know that it enables change, in whatever manner, to occur. It is the change that we notice but not the phenomenon.

      • Max Driffill

        "How can one not believe in the soul which is essentially an individual human being."

        This is actually quite easy to reject this hypothesis (There is a soul). There is no evidence for a soul, so I cannot reject the null hypothesis (there is no soul). Thus, I find the idea of a soul, at present inconsistent with reality. So until better evidence comes in (this seems unlikely to me, but I suppose it could happen) I have no choice but to not believe that souls exist.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    This is in reply to the comment by Tim Dacey, placed here because his comment is nested almost off the edge of my screen.

    Q. Quine. You seem to be speaking of physicalism and I think Richard Swinburne has an excellent reply.

    Swinburne's reply reminds me, very much, of the "Irreducible Complexity" arguments made by the I.D. movement. I have re-labeled this as "Irrefutable Perplexity" because is embodies the idea: "What I say is true because you can't show it isn't, and what you say is false because, I can't understand it."

    I try to stick to methodological naturalism. Physicalism seems to be true, to me, but that cannot be shown, for sure.

    Even if mental events can be explained in correlation with physical ones, it is still not at all clear that mental events can be reduced to physical ones.

    At the same time there is no evidence that "mental events" are anything discontinuous from natural biological processes. There is little doubt that other animals have "mental events" and that this has been the case for millions of years in the past.

    Perhaps some kind of "emergent complexity" might provide answers but it still begs the question as to what actually causes mental events.

    I am a bit unclear, here, as to if you are using the expression "begs the question" in its formal definition of "uses circular logic," or if you are using the common idiom that means "raises the question." In either case, we get to a very complex situation. We can have emergent behavior in complex systems based on simple rules. A good example is a glider gun in Conway's game of life. Others are hurricanes and tornadoes in systems of air and water molecules. We have patterns of neural activity going on in our brains that interact with each other. This is because the neurons themselves can oxidize fuel to support that electro-chemical activity, and trigger activity, or inhibit activity, in neighbor neurons.

    Putting any sympathies to naturalism aside, it certainly seems reasonable that the 'soul' might provide some causal explanatory power for mental events.

    How? Unless you are equating 'soul' to such patterns of neural activity. If so, I am with you.

    • articulett
      • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

        Seems an unavoidable conclusion. However, just as people with autism have a different kind of consciousness, so one would expect with different animals. Also, we would expect it to manifest by degrees though the history of Evolution. Do you know about the jumping spider Portia? It has only has about 100k neurons, but does amazing behavior that looks like planning and executing the plan against an internal representation of its world.

    • Tim Dacey

      Sorry for the delayed response Quine (I like the name btw; Willard Quine is one of my favorite philosophers)

      RE: Swinburne's reply reminds me, very much, of the "Irreducible Complexity" arguments made by the I.D. movement. I have re-labeled this as "Irrefutable Perplexity" because is embodies the idea: "What I say is true because you can't show it isn't, and what you say is false because, I can't understand it."

      Swinburne denies (though I can't speak for him) 'irreducible complexity' insofar as it does not explain adaptive traits as well as the Darwinian explanation. At first blush it could be that Swinburne's view (i.e., the soul can serve as an explanation for thoughts, feelings, etc) is analogous to 'irreducible complexity'. Upon closer inspection it fails. Why? Irreducible complexity is competing with our best scientific evidence with regards to adaptions (it isn't necessary that we discuss which one best explains adaptions but I confident in the Darwinian one). Swinburne's view that the soul explains why we have thoughts, feeling, etc. does not compete with our best scientific evidence in the way irreducible complexity does. Substance dualism is not competing with our best scientific evidence. In fact, I'd be surprised to meet a single Substance dualist who challenged our best scientific evidence. Now, you might respond with something like 'well Tim even if Substance Dualism is not competing with our best scientific evidence, it certainly isn't supported by it. You are just wandering into speculative error Tim, and you shouldn't do that!!" I'll let you pick up there if you'd like though.

      RE: "Emergent Complexity"

      I should have said Emergentism (reductive physicalism or non-reductive physicalism), which is the philosophical view that the mind is an emergent property of lower level brain activity, and can (i.e., reductive physicalism) or cannot (i.e., non-reductive physicalism) be reduced to lower level brain activity. There could probably be cases where Emergentism and Dualism (e.g., Property Dualism) are compatible. I still think these views would be lacking with regards to what causes mental events though. Saying that mental events have properties that cannot be reduced to (or are not identical) to physical properties is separate from what *actually* causes those mental events, right?

      RE: "How?"

      Consider *I* as referring to the person/soul. I agree with Swinburne that *I* is the best explanation for why I have thoughts and feelings. *I* cannot be reduced to, nor is *I* identical to the physical brain.

      • Tim Dacey

        You'll simply have to forgive my bad grammar, punctuation, etc. eek

    • Tim Dacey

      Sorry for the delayed response Quine (I like the name btw; Willard Quine is one of my favorite philosophers)

      RE: Swinburne's reply reminds me, very much, of the "Irreducible Complexity" arguments made by the I.D. movement. I have re-labeled this as "Irrefutable Perplexity" because is embodies the idea: "What I say is true because you can't show it isn't, and what you say is false because, I can't understand it."

      Swinburne denies (though I can't speak for him) 'irreducible complexity' insofar as it does not explain adaptive traits as well as the Darwinian explanation. At first blush it could be that Swinburne's view (i.e., the soul can serve as an explanation for thoughts, feelings, etc) is analogous to 'irreducible complexity'. Upon closer inspection it fails. Why? Irreducible complexity is competing with our best scientific evidence with regards to adaptions (it isn't necessary that we discuss which one best explains adaptions but I confident in the Darwinian one). Swinburne's view that the soul explains why we have thoughts, feeling, etc. does not compete with our best scientific evidence in the way irreducible complexity does. Substance dualism is not competing with our best scientific evidence. In fact, I'd be surprised to meet a single Substance dualist who challenged our best scientific evidence. Now, you might respond with something like 'well Tim even if Substance Dualism is not competing with our best scientific evidence, it certainly isn't supported by it. You are just wandering into speculative error Tim, and you shouldn't do that!!" I'll let you pick up there if you'd like though.

      RE: "Emergent Complexity"

      I should have said Emergentism (reductive physicalism or non-reductive physicalism), which is the philosophical view that the mind is an emergent property of lower level brain activity, and can (i.e., reductive physicalism) or cannot (i.e., non-reductive physicalism) be reduced to lower level brain activity. There could probably be cases where Emergentism and Dualism (e.g., Property Dualism) are compatible. I still think these views would be lacking with regards to what causes mental events though. Saying that mental events have properties that cannot be reduced to (or are not identical) to physical properties is separate from what *actually* causes those mental events, right?

      RE: "How?"

      Consider *I* as referring to the person/soul. I agree with Swinburne that *I* is the best explanation for why I have thoughts and feelings. *I* cannot be reduced to, nor is *I* identical to the physical brain.

      • Tim Dacey

        You'll simply have to forgive my bad grammar, punctuation, etc. eek

  • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

    This is some reactions and thoughts on the general topic raised by the post; not so much on the errors of the post, which have been duly pointed out by many commenters.

    I'm a pluralistic naturalist now and was something like a Berkelian idealist when I was Catholic. So it was apparent from the section where Becklo chose three options to discuss that there weren't going to be any conclusions of interest to me. I'm perfectly willing to grant that, in a restricted choice between materialistic monism (MMism), descartesian dualism (DDism), and aristotelian animalism (AAism), the last is (barely) the most tenable.

    Materialistic monism does seem to be utterly dominant among the neuroscientists I knew while in the field, but I suspect that's mostly a consequence of what it's like to be a scientist. When you're doing science, you have to be able to experimentally prove what you claim or all the other scientists will just ignore you. There's no way to experimentally prove that nonphysical things are really there, so the idea of them has zero utility for scientists in their daily work. Even the few committed theists in science reject out of hand the idea of "explaining" a biological feature by reference to some ineffable soul.

    Philosophers are not beholden to experiment, so alternatives to MMism are more common among them. They are still committed to the process of giving adequate reasons, though, so it's unsurprising that MMism is the "default" opinion -- it's the one ontology which has unambiguously adequate reason for it, and all the others either add new substances or new properties to account for other observables.

    Religious teachers are not beholden to either experiment or adequate reason; rather, they heed tradition, authority, and "common sense". For Catholics, their Tradition merely affirms the reality of souls; their authority recommends Thomistic views of the soul for apologetic purposes; and for all mundane purposes they fall back on dualistic common sense notions of a soul.

    Adopting a pluralistic ontology, whether naturalist or supernaturalist, explains how there can be qualia, but that by no means makes it an account worth congratulate ourselves for having. A successful account of how qualia works must explain, at the least:

    1. What substance qualia are made of.
    2. Why patterns of ions and neurotransmitters crossing bilipid membranes in certain regions of the brain cause qualia, and why when we intervene to change the former the latter changes also.
    3. How a quale is related to what it is about, and what a quale is about when it is caused by artificially stimulated neurons, dreams, hallucinations, sensory illusions, etc.
    4. How qualia can be distinct "sensory" information for the brain to work on, i.e. how it is that we can talk and write about qualia.
    5. How we can know that the brain processes that lead to our instinctive belief in qualia are justified.

    MMism fails #1-5. DDism fails #2-5. AAism fails #3-5. Epiphenomenalism fails #4-5. It's easy enough to give a panprotopsychist account that only fails #5. The best account I've found for succeeding on all five points is a form of mathematical platonism. But there are probably other criteria that I missed anyhow. In short, the everyday facts about qualia are a mismatch for virtually everyone's beliefs, including those of Catholics. That's why it's a "hard problem"!

    If we want to define the "soul" as the principle by which a living thing is alive, then "form of the body" isn't a bad summary. We can even grant that there are different scales of interest, including "vegetable soul" (the genetics and epigenetics, metabolic pathways, and organelle and organ systems by which organisms are alive), "animal soul" (the stimulus-response behaviors, learning, habits and instincts, and problem-solving by which cephalate animals stay alive), and "rational soul" (the real but extremely limited capacity for general computation enabled by our language capabilities, by which we humans make a living). But in all three cases modern knowledge is billions of times greater than ancient knowledge, and we're better off talking about the known real things than trying to say sensible things about those vague ancient categories.

    • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

      Noah - Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I also just finished reading your blog post about Strange Notions, which was fascinating to read. I look forward to hearing more from you! A few brief responses:

      For Catholics, their Tradition merely affirms the reality of souls; their authority recommends Thomistic views of the soul for apologetic purposes; and for all mundane purposes they fall back on dualistic common sense notions of a soul.

      I don't think that's right. As I hinted at in the article, an aversion to dualism pervades the Church to the marrow of its bones, not just in theory, but in practice. Nothing was clearer to me as I returned to faith than this: the Church sees the holiness of ordinary material things and events. At every Mass we smell incense, touch holy water, look at colorful glass and statues, and eat our spiritual food. (Fr. Jim Martin once remarked to me that Catholicism is so often used in films because of its visual drama.) The Church is all about signs and sacraments and the resurrection of the body - a dread business for the religious DD, ever-wary of "the flesh."

      Regarding the question of AAs vs. panpsychism, property dualism, mathematical platonism, and all of the other isms proffered to explain qualia, that's a whole other can of worms! Suffice it to say that I'm very open to all the literature on these theories, whereas the MMs - as you agree - fall short in a very big way. (And that's a concession that you won't find many other atheists making in the rest of these comments.)

  • mriehm

    Answer: "A pleasant fiction".

  • Goetz Kluge

    What feature are required by an organism in order to have a soul? And does it have to be an organism?