Tag Archives: substance dualism

Breaking Trail

For the umpteenth time, my snowshoe breaks through the crust and dives into hopeless depth hoar. The continental snowpack nibbles away at one’s soul with a false promise in every step. The crust feels solid when one’s foot first rests upon it. It even holds as weight shifts from back foot to front foot. But, it can sense when the full weight of body and pack has shifted, and then it collapses.

The slog would be bad enough were it a grueling monotony of breakthrough after breakthrough, but it is worse that that. Because sometimes, the crust gives you a few steps on top, and just when you relax, then it lets you fall through into the great vat of cornstarch beneath. What’s still worse about my current situation is that I am following a trail. Minus the snow, it would be easy walking.

If I persist, I will soon get a little psychological boost, as my course turns off the cut trail and into untracked forest. Though it really isn’t any harder or easier than wallowing above the Summer trail, breaking off the established path onto the section that only I know, feels like progress and is an antidote to the demoralizing snow conditions.

I used to do the walk to high camp with a map and compass. I no longer need those. The rocks, trees, sequences of slopes and their conformations chart a more accurate course in my memory. These days, I can get to my destination despite the snow cover because the trail isn’t really on the ground; it is in my mind. Or, so it would seem,

One might say that the trail presupposes or lies in the potential of, my mind and memory. For a trail to be, the possibility of a trail must have been. But the trail is not made of possibilities. It is made of my memories of trees, slopes, rocks, and all the other landmarks on the way. It is made of my senses of time, space and distance, which are properties of the phenomena which constitute thought and memory. My memory, and its possibilities, are dependent upon its contents. And so it is with memory in general; it is defined by having extant referents.

In other words, my memory is nothing without memories, and all the possibilities of memory lie in its contents, including its metaphysical possibilities, which lie in its having contents. When I recall looking down the trail in this moment, I trace a path through the space and time of my memory, just as I did when I stood in the snow on the day I recall. And I do so on background – all the historical infrastructure which orients my current experience and dictates its aspectual shape.

My recollection at the keyboard can’t get going without the background, yet the background can’t be background except in relation to current experience, which links it all together. The possibility of a trail inheres in legs, eyes, slopes and trees. Memory resides in its defining contents. The contents of my memory rely upon where and when I am now.

Some folks get frustrated with all this interdependence and would retreat to the simple certainty of a hierarchy. I can understand the appeal of a world where there is a separate mental substance, an uncaused cause, memory as an independent faculty among other independent faculties, and a trail waiting beneath the snow to accommodate our walk without the hard work of trail breaking.

But that means a world where there may be memory which doesn’t necessarily remember anything, a mind which doesn’t necessarily think about anything,  an agent which does not experience the changes it makes, and destinations which don’t belong to anybody – a world which is not possible.

 

 

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Buddy the Blastocyst Gets a Soul (or does he?)

Nobody likes abortion – not the people who go through the procedure, not the people who perform the procedure, not the people who make the rules – and for good reason. For the patient, it is emotionally and physically traumatic. For the physician, it is one of those sad duties on the ethical borders of the profession. For the society,  it is desensitizing and it ‘whites out’ a gray ethical situation. From proponents, abortion rights call for a sober advocacy, the kind of favor given a less bad thing. Only one thing makes the whole mess worthy of a fight, and that is the contention of abortion opponents that abortion is murder. To qualify as murder, Buddy the Blastocyst’s destruction must be the destruction of a human. To qualify as a human, Buddy the Blastocyst must have a soul. What makes the accusation of murder objectionable is the murder which justifies the accusation. That murder is the murder of the soul, or at least one concept of it.

Most religious people are dualists; they believe in a soul which is a substance separate from the body. In this model of the soul, the nature of the substance is a sort of nascent self- consciousness or quality of humanness – a realized version of what it’s like to be human. The soul then forms a nidus for the mind, as well as a motive force, and through its one-way, motivating influence on the mind, causes the body to act. Though the body’s actions may  indirectly represent the soul’s intent, the soul is only affected by its own decisions independent of the body and the parts of the mind that gather and manipulate information from the physical world. In this model, we are soul puppets. Though it is subtle and convoluted, this arrangement is necessary to have the soul be one substance with the deity. The deity then encounters no philosophical problems in being the direct creator and ultimate owner of the soul.

Obviously, skeptics and other monists do not subscribe to the soul puppet model. However, most still believe that there is something it is like to be human, and so believe in a version of the soul. But this version is a dependent soul. It derives from the gradual realization of the potential to be what a human is like, over an individual’s lifetime. The soul is thus an accretion on the body and mind, with the potential quality of humanness as its nidus. This is the idea of soul which the soul puppet people are bound to destroy. To properly understand this imperative, it helps to examine the implications of being a soul puppet for Buddy the Blastocyst.

Let’s say Buddy forms under the dualist model. He has a soul, created by the deity, which is a substance separate from his body and rational mind. His soul may indirectly affect his body and mind, and to remain a separate substance, may not be directly affected by the body and mind. As soon as Buddy comes to be, there is about a forty percent chance that he will  quickly cease to be. The uterus may not be ready for him or he may have a fatal genetic abnormality. For a variety of reasons, a large proportion of early pregnancies fail. On superficial examination, this fact seems to pose some problems for Buddy the soul puppet. Perhaps the deity is a cruel practical joker, who bestows Buddy with a soul only strip it away. Perhaps the deity knows Buddy will fail and so does not give Buddy a soul in the first place.

Buddy needn’t worry though. Just as the motives of his soul are not directly accessible to his mind and body, neither are the motives of the deity. In an ironic twist, the benevolence of divine caprice saves Buddy from predestination and arbitrary judgement. Just as the soul must affect itself and merely be represented in mind and body, so the greater material world must symbolize the deity’s motive, but in context of the deity’s real condition alone, which is separate and self-contained, completely encompassing and determining the material world. Otherwise, movements in the material world begin to operate on the same rules as in the divine, and so begin to have a direct meaning for the deity, bringing the deity under their influence (even if he/she must only choose to ignore them). Then he/she is no longer a separate substance, just a separate category.

So, Buddy is saved by never being able to know god’s mind through interpretation of material events. However, by the same ironic twist which allows Buddy the soul puppet to dodge potential problems with predestination and arbitrary judgement, the real consequence he suffers is condemnation to thorough-going Nihilism. He can’t know the motives of his soul in terms of material objects subject to his reason. He can rationalize the material representation of the deity’s will, though he can never know its significance. Forever pushing around symbols he can’t read in a game with rules not relevant to anything outside themselves, on all but the very deepest level, he is a zombie. But if he comes to see himself as a soul puppet, accepting the viewpoint of those who would call his destruction murder, his future can be a happy  condition of necessary ignorance.

The material world will no longer be a big problem once Buddy comes to that conclusion. It will be very convenient for him if he can rationalize its relationships, but consistency is not vital. Likewise, the moral sense that he may feel could be indigestion, but it may just as well be a one-way communique from his soul. He will be justified in believing his intuitions, though he can never really validate them. He then has a choice of two paths to follow. He can decide to do as the Shakers and others have and simply avoid confusing situations where an underlying psychological motive might masquerade as inspiration. Conversely, he can follow the majority of his fellow soul puppets, hold all his intuitions to be inspiration from the higher realm, and simply have faith that he is not deceived.

Still, it takes a tremendous amount of faith to walk about in pitch black dark. Like so many of us, Buddy may not cope well with uncertainty. He may seek solace in the scriptures which record  inspirational intuitions concordant with his own. History is cold comfort, though. He may wish to know something in his own time and space which validates his intuitions. Then, the only means available is comparison of his intuitions with those of others, and he may feel, since he is justified in believing his own intuitions true, that others’ intuitions must coincide with his own. He may demand a substantial soul for every blastocyst, and seek to silence any talk, or even implication, of an accreted soul.

The demand for consistency may seem inconsistent, but if it is driven by an intuition related to religious sentiment, the soul puppet may be justified in believing it is just as close to the truth as an action based on reason. Actually, if an intuitive conclusion cannot be related to a cause based in the material world, he may be more justified in believing such a conclusion is true. Distinguishing  discomfort from inspiration requires insight in the soul puppet’s world, and in that world insight is not more reliable than intuition. He might as well flip a coin.

This is the problem: in a material world where we are all weak from time to time, the soul puppet perspective ultimately requires universal participation. It is too uncomfortable otherwise, and in a system where the difference between discomfort and inspiration is not reliably discernible, relief becomes an imperative. So, the soul puppets are justified in crying ‘murder’, and more. They are justified in demanding that everyone else cry ‘murder’, and more. It isn’t abortion that’s a fighting matter, it’s the imperative behind the cries of  murder. Everyone may not agree on the nature of the soul, but no one wants to be a pawn in another person’s scheme to insulate himself from the implications of his own beliefs. Even a blastocyst deserves protection from that.

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