Love is Love is…Love?

Postmodernism, the umbrella term for today’s most prevailing philosophical thought, covers a wide range of topics. Previously I have even shared a picture I found which I dubbed ‘The Postmodern Creed’:

Like any creed, there are mountains of literature that could be written on elaborating the various points, most specifically targeting how you arrive very squarely at the summative points of the creed, but also like any creed there are some core underlying currents of thought that propel the philosophy or belief forward.

One of the core notions of Postmodernism is the idea of deconstruction. Our society is currently facing this tenet of Postmodern belief with unbelievable force, as those who are in a position of power and privilege (white people) are being asked to recognize mountains of implicit biases against those who are oppressed (black people), and, most importantly, are being asked to remove systemic issues that enforce such a divide between the powerful and oppressed. What is interesting about the idea of deconstruction is ultimately that postmodernists aren’t trying to tell white people that they are literal racists (although there are plenty of explicitly racist people and they are saying that, too), but that the systems of societal structure and thought into which we are all born have shaped us to believe these things.  In some ways we are all slaves to the systems that we are born into. So even if we do not intentionally hold racist beliefs or actively try to make a systemic gap between white and black people, our passive existence in a society that does therefore means that we are complicit with racism and are allowing it to exist.

A core understanding of deconstruction is that any formation of society relies on social constructs of some kind. Social constructs can be any formation of spoken or unspoken law that dictates some element of reality (black people are genetically inferior, poor people should stay poor, marriage is solely between a man and woman). Postmodernism holds that all of these social constructs are artificially put in place by man at some point in history and have no ground in a deeper reality than man’s own desire for power over others.

Whatever you may say or think about this way of thinking (for it or against it), it has a lot of merit in helping us realize that what we believe matters. Whatever you think about reality affects all of your decisions, explicitly or implicitly. Psychology has demonstrated that the brain makes sensory ‘leaps’ when observing and helping us interpret reality. We cannot possibly think about everything that we sense (that bell ringing in the background, the feel of your phone in your hand, the two people talking with you, how one of them smells, the coffee that’s being made behind you, whatever your toes are feeling, the AC running in the background, etc). So the brain makes shortcuts and only focuses on some of those things as relevant. This shapes what we think because we do not think or make decisions without some biases (focusing on the coffee instead of the sound of the bell). There is, though, a good chance that the kind of person you are or the philosophy that shapes the framework of your thought is going to modify what you pay attention to and think about. So even if you don’t explicitly think about how you feel about a person of a different skin color, there is a good chance (in the U.S. in the modern time) you have some bias about it. Whatever systems of thought have formed you will affect how you operate at every level (implicitly or explicitly).

There are many things that true adherents of Postmodernism want people to call into question and to deconstruct within themselves and in society as a whole. We could really spend a long time talking about all of them: economy (financial disparity), education (enslaving to old systems of thought rather than liberating from them), religion (disguised oppression), etc. But there is one thing that I want to focus on, as it actually serves to highlight a core issue in the larger field of Postmodern thought:

Sex.

Now, the truth here is that as Postmodern thought is growing in popularity, it’s seeing some growing pains. Not everyone is of the same opinion on this subject, but there are some basic agreements. Firstly, and most importantly, is that centuries (millennia) of thought have informed and told us (humanity) that sex equals 1 man and 1 woman, with the inevitability of children. This system of thought about human sexuality has been, as you may guess, oppressive. When adhering to this system of thought, there are consequences, such as the oppression of women where they are not allowed to work outside of the house or make authoritative changes in their own lives. Without any birth control, women would have to have many children, they wouldn’t be able to get higher education or a high paying career, and so they are subjugated to men who do have access to these things. Furthermore both women and men in a society that enforces such a relationship (implicitly or explicitly) are not truly free to decide how their sexuality and gender may express itself. Maybe someone doesn’t want to have a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Maybe they like both. Maybe they feel like they were born the wrong sex? Maybe they just aren’t interested in engaging in it at all? Maybe they think there is no binary of sexual identities?

The main point is that what needs to happen in every person and at the societal (and therefore systemic) level, is deconstruction. We have to all throw off these old shackles that are holding us back from being truly free to choose. As long as we are stuck in old ways of thinking, as long as we are relying on tradition and especially western colonial thinking (residual culture and thought from Colonizing Europeans), then we are enslaved to that singular mindset. Postmoderns are very interested in attempting to unveil cultural views from non-western groups of people to show that the western way of viewing sex or any other constructed system is not the only way, and that it is not arbitrarily more correct than any other.

You might think that Postmodern thought is purely destructive in this manner, and that there are no positive contributions to the discussion, but this wouldn’t be true. Ultimately Postmoderns (politically liberal or conservative) are interested in freedom of choice, and then love.

Love is love is love.

Once somebody makes a choice, love them! That choice, for all you know, is exactly right for them. Don’t judge them. Don’t oppress them with whatever system of thought oppresses you. Don’t obligate someone else to conform to your view. Love is almost single-handedly the antidote to oppression, as love allows the other person to make choices free of any such oppression. If the problem at hand is being trapped by old systems and not being free to choose how you live your life, then loving people, who make choices you think are weird or morally unsound, is the answer. Love empowers people to be free and and to shed an oppressive past.

Mind you this doesn’t mean open relativism, where everyone has an inherently different worldview and there is no founding truth. A Postmodern does not truly think that murder or stealing is okay, even if the murderer or thief thinks it is the “right choice for them.” There is an inherent ground of good and evil, a necessary and basic social construction; good lying with liberation and love, evil lying with oppression and hate. Someone murdering someone else is hateful and oppressive.

This month is pride month.

This month and this time of year this oppressed group of people gets a platform to express themselves, and the rest of the world outside of the LGBTQ+ community has the opportunity to respond. Do they respond with oppression and hate? Or do they respond with love and welcoming arms?

But…what is love?

Love is love is…love? Where does this talk take us? Certainly they do not mean a romantic love, as no one is insinuating that that Bill Gates needs to develop a romantic love for every single person in the LGBTQ+ community in order to be good towards them. Some people in this community even define themselves as aromantic, meaning that they have sexual attractions but explicitly do not have any romantic attractions.

We could go through a list of multiple kinds of loves, but we don’t have to go very far to demonstrate that the LGBTQ+ community is describing a more ethereal love. But it still seems to lack a defining feature. What does this love look like?

On the one hand, it has unique expression in every relationship or case. Maybe it looks like a heteronormative (1 man+1 woman) relationship. Maybe it looks like two men who have no formally contracted relationship. Maybe it looks like a relationship between someone who identifies as a woman and someone who identifies as a man, even though appearances suggest something else. In any case, these individuals may have genuine love for each other, so it exists at a unique level, but is still more abstract.

I would suggest that there are two forms of love that exist ethereally behind the idea of generic Postmodern love.

One idea is delightDelight is a form of love that gives one those fluttery feelings. It moves one in the direction of something (abstractly or physically) because it makes one feel good. It gives one pleasure to think, to interact, and to just exist in proximity to something or someone else. This is where we see love as feeling. Wherever one finds delight, romantically, sexually, or generally, then they are encouraged to seek it out and to live as approximately to it as possible, because having these positive feelings is exactly the kind of happiness one can get in life.

A second idea is affirmation. This is probably the most important one for the Postmodern philosophy. Affirmation is not based in feelings. Affirmation is rooted in the higher philosophical truth of Postmodernism that is essentially the opposite of oppression. Instead of someone choosing to oppress an individual in the LGBTQ+, the opposite motion is to affirm them. Not only do you validate their position and identity, but you affirm them and tell them that it is good, and that they should pursue it and pursue what makes them happy. You support them in their diversity. It is contrary to affirmation that we find the idea of hate. To not support and affirm someone is to condemn them and say that they are wrong, which is inherently hateful.

Okay…great…so what?

Postmoderns’ relationship to the idea of love is flawed. It misses the mark. It falls short.

Delight is good, but it is fleeting. If a parent bases the love for their child in delight, then both parent and child are bound to suffer infinitely. Children do not yet understand the world. They are selfish. They don’t know any better. They have to grow and have to learn about other people around them, which is the root work of parenthood. But this root work is anything but delightful. It is tough and gritty, and involves a lot of tears. It leads to delight (uhm, hello, baby giggles? omg so great), but delight is a bonus, not the root location of relationship. If you only seek out delight in a relationship, but avoid the difficult and gritty work of growth in relationship, then you are looking at a poisonous and dishonest relationship. Resentment, conflict and pain will be the fruits instead of happiness and growth. If you teach a child that relationships (romantic, sexual, or whichever otherwise) are about being happy with other people and that true relationships never really have conflict, then that poor child will have a frightful life, filled with anxiety and doubt.

Affirmation, as an ultimate level and distinction of a type of love, is poisonous in and of itself as well. Affirming someone can be good, as affirmation is fuel. It gives someone else the power to move forward and to confidently make choices. Affirmation is a necessary ingredient for growth, because how else will someone know that they can and should keep going? Affirmation is necessarily communal. One can push ahead on their own towards what they believe is good, but being alone is difficult and depressing. Receiving affirmation tells you that what you are doing is worth the gruel and grime of life. But blanket affirmation, affirming someone wherever they are and however they think it is good to proceed forward, is not an inherently good move. In general, black and white affirmation means affirmation in spite of knowing what it is the person is engaging with. Indeed black and white affirmation is part of the mental framework that says there is no singular good towards which to work. It means letting people find their own good in the world, wherever that is and however it might appear. It would be reckless to simply affirm my child whenever they engage in an activity that they would assume to be ‘good.’ At the end of the day, I might not have a house left to live in. As stated previously, though, Postmoderns do not think that it is okay to affirm a murderer. Affirmation requires nuance, attention to that which is good (but we’ll get to that in a second).

Of course, these two loves within Postmoderns do not exist in isolation: they cooperate together. When these two loves work together, they come in and contribute love where the other is deficient, and work together to create a higher experience of love. Delight helps define the limits of good and evil so that affirmation is more effective in community, so that healthy boundaries are found for people and for relationships. Affirmation, as a more abstract experience and expression of love, gives relationships substance even when delight is not to be had. Affirmation itself as an act introduces a level of delight in the one who gives as well as the one who receives, though. In the end, the ideal of love is embodied by these two dimensions of delight and affirmation.

There is, however, a more important form of love. There is a love that is greater than these two, a more ‘noble’ form of love, if you will. In truth I believe it is the type of love that Postmoderns are trying to establish and maintain where they are instead conveying affirmation, or a mix of affirmation and delight.

This more noble form of love is present in delight and outside of delight. This more noble form of love is pure, it expects no good feelings in return. This more noble form of love is entirely focused on the other, and it strengthens others. But, most importantly, this more noble form of love is good. Objectively good. It cannot deviate from good otherwise it is no longer the same love.

The best definition I know of this love is this: to will the good of the other, for the sake of the other. In traditional Catholicism this is called caritas (charity).

We could rephrase it like this: to desire and want objective goodness for someone that is not yourself, for the benefit of this other person and for no other ulterior motive.

Now, this may look like affirmation. When someone else is pursuing something that is good, one affirms them and encourage them to continue on pursuing such a good.

But, and this is the bad news, if someone is pursuing something that is not good, caritas means not affirmingIt even means, God forbid, correction.

One can see how, in the Postmodern mindset, this immediately translates to hate. To oppression. If one disagrees with another on the premise of what is good and therefore does not affirm that other person in their choice and identity, then that equates, in the postmodern mindset, to not loving. Even worse, if one even pretends to correct someone, one is talking about about oppressing that person with one’s own views, as that other person likely sees no wrong in how they have chosen their identity and life.

As I have said, caritas is not present within Postmodern thought, as it inherently does not think that there is a singular and ultimate good worth pursuing that does not end up becoming a rule of oppression. One might argue that sacrifice is a key point of liberation, and that caritas does exist within the postmodern mindset, but the sacrifice is not oriented towards objective good – it is oriented towards an inherent lack of objective good. If Postmodernism opens itself up to the idea of objective good, a subject of debate and inevitable ‘oppression,’ then it would defeat itself in argument. Sacrifice? Yes. Caritas? No.

The moment, though, one refers to objective good, an argument of religion is inevitable. Any source of discussion that may arise in the correction of someone LGBTQ+ brings itself back to religion and back to God. The objective is to shift the location of the discussion. Instead of objectively analyzing where Postmodern philosophy or new wave feminism takes a stand, the location shifts to the philosophy and theology of religion (however shallow), attempting to deconstruct the idea of an objective good. First and foremost in the arsenal of retorts is Christ’s own commandment to love one’s neighbor:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40).

“How can you pretend to love God and not love someone that is LGBTQ+? How do you synthesize those two things? Jesus never specified that you should love everyone except LGBTQ+ people.”

The issue, here, is that a Postmodern reads “love your neighbor,” and understands this to mean love on their own terms rather than what religious tradition has taught. It means to not judge, to not hate or oppress. It means to affirm and to delight in them, without desiring them to change.

Remember, though, that caritas is desiring the objective good for others. It’s not about delight, it’s not about blind affirmation, it is about desiring others to pursue good. Even outside of the context of religion and the LGBTQ+ community we see that this is a higher good. If someone has racist views or racist biases, then we should want that person to change, not just for how that person impacts others, but also for improving their own lives and liberating them from such toxic thoughts and ideas. There is good in wanting someone to change for the better, regardless of how that change might return and affect the agent of change themselves.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

The Bible only ever makes reference to two genders – male and female. These two sexes. New Testament exhortations are directed at husband and wife, not two wives and not two husbands.

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Ephesians 5:3).

In Romans 1, St. Paul shows the Romans what sinful lives looked like when people turned away from God:

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:24-27)

In all of the years of the existence of the Church, there has never been a hint of support for a sanctified sexual relationship that was not defined as being between one man and one woman, that is inherently open towards the possibility of life.

Ultimately there is no place for someone to practice and/or prioritize a life as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Why? It prioritizes delight, self-interest, and pleasure over the caritas that we receive from God. The individual prioritizes their chosen identity over the identity which was given to them. God was not afraid to give us morals, to give us a perfect ideal to work towards. One of these ideals is the beauty of sexual relationships. Say what you want, there is only one combination of sexual organs that has the potential to create life. Even if a singular act does not ultimately result in procreation, it had the potential to. No other combination works to make that happen.

Just stop and think about it for the second. We are talking about the ability to create another living human being. Do you know how long science has dreamed of doing that artificially? It is an awesome power, something akin to superpowers (that’s right ladies, I just called you superheroes).  By reason alone, and especially informed by Divine authority, we can see that this form of sexual relationship (1 man + 1 woman) is more noble and more correct than any other form. It can inherently produce goodness (more life), even if the act was performed in an evil way.

For this reason the Church says that homosexuality (or other forms of sexual relationships that are not heteronormative, and even masturbation) is intrinsically disordered. It means that these sexual acts go against the design that God has given us, and that they defile the natural beauty of what sex is meant to be.

“It’s God’s fault that He made me this way. Being gay isn’t something I can control, it’s not a choice. If God didn’t want me to be this way, then He shouldn’t have made me gay.”

There are many elements of human nature that we don’t really have a choice over. Our hearts beat without our willpower, neurons fire without our permission, so to speak. We get hungry against our wills. We feel sad, sometimes, without our willpower. Some people are born infertile, some people are born with bodily deformity. Some people are inadvertently affected by drug consumption, and without having any willpower, are more easily addicted to material substances. All human beings, however imperfect, are beautiful children of God. We are born, however, into an imperfect world and we have many affectations that withhold us from the glory that God originally designed us by. What the Church responds, in any of these situations, is that we work through our weaknesses and deficiencies to more conform ourselves to Christ, through the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God. In the case of LGBTQ+ relationships, the Church asks not that they change the very substance of their being, and ‘make themselves straight.’ No, it asks them to set aside their personal desires and delights (to experience sexual pleasure in a specific way) and, in St. Paul’s words:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1)

One of the images of the Holy Spirit is that of fire. When we speak about God we talk about the definitive Being that is Truth, Love, and Goodness. He is perfect and without flaw. We, as humans, are full of flaws (that’s right, me too. I’m full of flaws). How can a flawed being even approach God? With much mercy and grace. Most people understand this much, but does that mean that we as humans don’t change? God just takes us up the way that we are and doesn’t worry about changing us?

No!

He calls us to perfection!

“You therefore must be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)

Most people don’t understand the Catholic teaching of purgatory. They think it is extra-biblical knowledge that is simply untrue. But it is rooted in this element of caritas and of God. God is so pure, so good, so true, and so loving that if we choose to come close to Him we have no choice but to be purified, like iron ore that is having its impurities burned and sifted away, so all that is truly good is left to be presented to God. Any time (if we put the analogy of time in a timeless place) in purgatory is time where you are burning away your imperfections and the scars of your imperfections so that you may be presented whole and renewed to God, through Christ.

Here then, once again, the Postmodern reads in and sees hate and oppression. They see God as abusive. He says that He loves but He expects us to be different than “how we were created?” Even if the Postmodern might reject the notion of Hell even existing, they’re happy to be afraid of it, or at least rhetorically ask:

If God is all love, how can He condemn someone to Hell?

God does not want anyone to go to Hell. That is not what He desires for people. Since He is Caritas in its most pure form, He desires to be reconnected with us. But He is also Veritas (Truth). If we choose to live in a way that is not true, then therefore we reject Him. Heaven is the beatific vision, the pure sight of God. Hell is separation from God, the most separated we can possibly be. God does not send people to Hell, people choose to go there. Yet it is even God’s love that makes Hell possible.

God loves us so much, and He desires to have a true relationship with us, which means that we would choose Him. Definitionally, if we have the choice between God or not God, then God has to allow there to be a way for us to not choose Him. There has to be a way that we can reject Him. Hell is that possibility. Hell is anything but evidence against God. It is evidence of God’s caritas and mercy that allows us to choose Him and to choose love.

Love is…caritas. And in lesser forms it can be delight and affirmation.

Sometimes before engaging in discussion with someone, we have to realize that we have very different founding principles about how we view our world. Even if one understands themselves to be wholly correct, they have to comprehend the root thought of the people they are talking with. One of the biggest areas of disrupted conversation is when people are talking about the same concept, in different words, or the same word, but different concepts.

When Christians engage Postmodern thinkers, or when Christians confront their own Postmodern tendencies or flaws, they must realize this inherent difference between the love that is God, and the love that Postmodernism preaches. We must also realize the inherent difference between understanding a founding Truth of the world, rooted in God, versus an open pluralism, and championing of pluralistic societies. Postmodernism yields enough to religion, for now, but soon their will be no room for it. This notion of love, which we thought we all agreed on, is indeed not the same. Let us come to terms with it.

IMP #6 – Superpowers

At the end of this article you might be able to tell that as I have navigated down my list of IMPs, posted here, I went from refuting 100% to refuting with less strength. The more I go down the list the more nuances I have to make about my claims. In my last IMP article, about teleportation, I ended up coming to a very scary conclusion that we might create terrible animalesque humans that comes straight out of a dystopian nightmare, but never achieve the goal of true teleportation.

In this article I will address superpowers. If you follow Edward Feser you will know that he has addressed the ideas of humans having superpowers, and you might check out of this conversation, then, and I wouldn’t be terribly offended. But even if you know his arguments, you may still find a point of relevance here in how we react to his arguments.

Superpowers are, of course, of super interest to us humans. By their very name they mean that they are abilities beyond our normal means, something to make us special and something that allows us to overcome normal difficulties with great ease. What kid growing up watching Avatar: The Last Airbender didn’t want the ability to bend one of the four mystical elements?

“Yeah sure, but no one thinks superpowers are real or could be real”

Are we sure? Why are people working on jet packs? Are you telling me scientists aren’t working on cellular regeneration? What is DNA manipulation about if not this? Telepathy is a very real technology that the startup world is already taking advantage of. These things may not end up looking exactly like the Marvel characters so many of us are familiar with (or not, if you’re lame), and we may not be talking about Avatar levels of power, but these technologies and manipulations of the human body are exactly used for the same purpose that superpowers have. Hello, Iron Man is a superhero, too.

Just thinking from your own experience, and especially if you’ve been reading my other articles, you can guess that something like Marvel or Avatar levels of superpowers are not something coming down the pipeline. Why do you think science is so focused on the technology side of our ability to overcome nature? Changing things with your thoughts, or adding some supernatural physical ability like flying, is not something that just happens for a human.

This is an impossible modern possibility: humans will never have superpowers.

So there…that’s…it, right? Wow, short article.

Except not so much.

There are two situations that we need to contemplate with regards the supernatural side of our imagination.

  1. The value of discovering and incorporating super technologies into our lives, essentially granting us supernatural abilities.
  2. The deeper reality of our will, and what a perfected will looks like. Would we even want superpowers?

So, first. The value of getting all of these super technologies. It’s a fascinating point.

What if we could live forever?
What if we could fly?
What if we could see what other people were thinking?
What if we could have an advantage over everyone else?

There’s some fascinating answers to these questions. You could think about the innumerable material benefits that these powers would grant us, but what value would it have for us? That we could possess more of the material world? That we could get more…social power? Possessions? Comfort? Security?

Aristotle, when reviewing the notions of what true happiness consists, looks at all of these things. He ultimately comes to the conclusion, though, that nothing in the material world could be a true source of happiness, because anything gained in the material world ultimately goes on to serve some other purpose. There is nothing in the world that leads to true happiness, that is based primarily in itself, that does not lead to some other end.

Money cannot be the source of happiness, because it’s inherent design is to acquire other goods. The other goods cannot be the source of happiness because they inherently serve to cause you pleasure. Pleasure cannot be the source of happiness (via food, drink, or diversion), because, as Aristotle says, ‘that is the life of a fatted cow’ (Nicomachean Ethics, Chapter 5)- a human can have all of those things and still be sad. Power cannot be the source of happiness because it inherently serves to leverage the later possession of other goods or other peoples’ pleasing you.

All superpowers could do is provide us with more leverage within the worldly domain. Extend our time or other peoples’ time on earth, delaying the inevitable doom of death, of which all people suffer. In other words, superpowers cannot provide us with something that we do not already have – opportunities to seek good, truth, pleasures and evils within the world.

In short, I must ask you to reflect, what’s the value of pursuing superpowers? Why even care about manifesting them in real life? Additionally, I ask you to reflect on the wonderful superpowers that you already have access to: video calling, internet, electricity (the most advanced form of firebending), plumbing (waterbending), etc. Have those superpowers landed us with some amazing form of life that has resolved our problems? Or has it just left us hungry or more, putting us on a path of constantly seeking for more worldly things to satiate a hunger for happiness and goodness?

Now, second. If you have read Feser’s article on superpowers (forgive me, I cannot find it for the life of me), you will know that he does allow for the possibility of superpowers…just…with an interesting nuance.

If you follow with the logic for the existence of the Aristotelian human form, you know that there are the intellect and will as integral parts of the human form, or soul. Now, St. Thomas Aquinas argues that because the intellect and will are part of their own cycle of act and potency, the soul itself is capable of persisting beyond death and into eternity. It does not exist in an ideal way, since our form is meant to co-exist with materiality (i.e., our bodies), but it does keep existing.

Now, if you aren’t a Christian and you don’t enjoy the idea of an afterlife…well…I’m sorry for you. But bear with me here.

As far as the Christian life is concerned, we are promised a future Heaven. The Unmoved Mover of the universe, God, the reason for which we exist and the reason we exist at all, has revealed Himself to us and promises that, should we believe in His divinely revealed message, sent through His son Jesus Christ, then we will have eternal life. Just as Christ was raised on the third day with a perfected material body that was capable of co-existing with His eternal soul, so one day we will also be given a material body that does not deteriorate as our current bodies do.

On this future Earth, things will be a bit different. One of the principal causes of disorder in the world is that humans became inherently disordered, starting back with Adam and Eve. They were created perfectly, but chose sin (chose away from God). One of the consequences, St. Thomas Aquinas believes, is that the hierarchy of nobility within the human person (intellect and will, rational faculties, are more noble than sensory faculties) became inherently disordered. Whereas Adam and Eve had a perfectly ordered existence (suffering no physical ills, their rational powers having complete and proper domain over their other powers) they chose sin and lost that order.

In the restored Earth, Christ has promised us bodies that are perfectly restored. This means that our wills and intellects will have complete and proper domain over the rest of our bodily powers.

So, what’s the point of this?

Feser’s point is that a perfected will would have complete domain over the perfected body. Should we will ourselves to float? Well, the body should just comply. Should we will ourselves to move incredibly fast? The body should just comply.

Now, I’m not saying this is some sort of perfect argumentation, but I wanted to mention all of this to come to this main summary point: if we are in a perfected and restored Earth, and basically had every manner of using superpowers, we wouldn’t want to use themWhat would be the point? We would need no advantages, we would need no increased material gain. We would have everything we needed and wanted. Even in this distinct possibility in the existence of having superpowers, there would be no point for them.

In conclusion, fantasizing about superpowers does no one any good, just like the rest of these impossible modern possibilities. So we gain a couple more years of life, so we live a little more comfortably, but what then? Nothing much more at all.

Just like the reasoning for the rest of the IMPs appeals to, we have much better things to focus on and much more important things to attend to than trying to make possible these modern impossibilities.

Seven Storey Mountain – A Review by Paige Skipper

You should feel small, because you are. You are the dearly beloved of the Creator of the universe, made in His image. He sacrificed Himself for you, out of intense love for you on a scale unimaginable to you. You matter. And yet, you are naught but a human: you are naught but small.

I just finished reading The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. While it was a very impactful read that everybody stands to benefit from, I do not recommend everyone to run to the store and buy a copy. A bit of perspective (and a few caveats) are necessary to understand Merton and his life. The Seven Storey Mountain is an autobiography written when Merton was only thirty-three years old. He was very young, still reeling from the impacts of the things he writes about, with a limited perspective on how they would change the story of his life to the end. That is not a criticism – indeed, I believe it is one of the unique things about the book that give it its impact.

This is the story of his conversion from a casual and disinterested atheist to a Trappist monk. Truly a huge leap to make within only thirty-three years, he walks the reader through each step. His narration of events is peppered with essays of contemplation. The essays vary widely; some are reflective, some theological, some accusatory, and some are simply tangents in which he praises God before coming back to his own story. This gives the novel a unique flow that I found captivating. Despite the fact that I knew the story’s end (he becomes a Trappist monk) I still found it unpredictable, never knowing what the next page would bring.

Reading this directly after Dante’s Divine Comedy was an excellent choice on my part. Not only did Merton name his novel after the seven levels of Purgatory as described by Dante, but he expresses a fervor for uniting as closely to God as possible that is reminiscent of Dante’s time in Paradiso. In the epilogue of this autobiography, in which Merton contemplates contemplation, he describes in detail the need we all have for a deep interior life. He presents the following paradox of the Christian life:

“We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, and that is why we are always travelling and in darkness. But we already possess Him by grace, and therefore in that sense we have arrived and are dwelling in the light.

This sentiment is not easily grasped, because it is truly one of the mysteries of the faith. Due to Christ’s sacrifice and the grace God affords us, we have the opportunity to find our way to heaven, to unite with Christ. The way is long, however, and often quite murky.  He iterates it again like this:

“But oh! How far have I to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived!”

In living a Christian life we acknowledge His presence within us while also acknowledging the distance of heaven. This distance is vast, and our small, slow legs can only hope to keep on the path next to Christ as we traverse through our sin and shame: that is our only hope of crossing it.

This paradox, made possible only by the unfathomable love of Christ, floors Merton, and it floored me as I myself read. Our Father pours so much love into me; he created me with love and He died for me out of love and he continuously forgives me for the sins I continue to commit out of nothing else but love. And yet I am made from dust, and to dust I shall return.

Even as Jesus was nailed to the cross on which His people crucified Him, He pleaded:

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

We know not what we do. We know not how incredibly small we are. We know not the lengths Christ must go to bring us back home.

 

Merton doesn’t come to these conclusions until the epilogue of the novel. It isn’t until he is already a monk that he understands the interior life we all must have in order to begin fathoming these core truths of our faith.

His conversion began when he first truly encountered Catholicism. There was something about the Catholic church that pulled him into it; it was a discovery that changed his life. One of the first descriptions Merton gives us of a Catholic church comes from his friend Bramachari, an Eastern monk who travelled to the United States. Bramachari’s impression of the  Catholic church was in stark contrast to the Protestant churches he had visited since he came to America: :

“These were the only ones in which he really felt that people were praying. It was only there that religion seemed to have achieved any degree of vitality … the love of God seemed to be a matter of real concern, something that struck deep in their natures, not merely a pious speculation and sentiment.”

Merton’s friend makes an interesting observation here, one that speaks to a very divisive issue in our current culture right now. These words evoke images of grand alters, intricate stained glass, and giant crucifixes that force the reality of Christ to stare into your soul. Chilling Gregorian chant, booming organs, ancient Latin text praising our God, effortful vestments worn by priests as they conduct mass, and especially the postures of the people in attendance: the pews full of people kneeling as the speaks the words of Christ, the movement from sitting to standing as the gospel is read, and even the genuflecting done before sitting down at the beginning of the mass. It makes me wonder how I had ever settled for anything less than this.

Merton never did settle for anything less than that. It was only the grand shrine to our Lord, that the Church is, that stirred Merton’s heart.  When Merton went to mass for the first time, he felt upon entering that the attendees were “more conscious of God than of one another”. After hearing the sermon, when the time for the Eucharist began, “it all became completely mysterious.” He had been fine up until that moment, but all of a sudden he felt the horrific need to leave right then and there, during the most important part of the mass.

“I suppose I was responding to a kind of liturgical instinct that told me I did not belong there for the celebration of the Mysteries as such. I had no idea what took place in them: but the fact was that Christ, God, would be visibly present in the alter … Although He was there, yes, for love of me: yet He was there in His power and His might, and what was I?”

Yes; what was I?

After my conversion to Christianity, the It was too much. It was too scary and unwelcoming, and surely not what Jesus called us to. It made me feel small in an uncomfortable way. So I settled into a non-denominational, comfortable church; sometimes the sermons were challenging, but the coffee and chit-chat and comfortable chairs and pop songs were easy. I could wander in, unconscious of my posture, without a mind necessarily turned toward prayer.

And He does; He desires to know us, and He wants us to know Him. But He also calls us to a radical life of difficult sacrifice, of leaving behind our comforts to walk with Him wherever He goes. We can’t keep forgetting that. We can’t know Him if we don’t respect all that He is. In the presence of the grand Lord and King, we are so powerfully and unimaginably small. Once we recognize that He is truly before us, we have no choice but to kneel. We kneel because, like John the Baptist himself proclaims, we are not worthy to even untie His sandals.

And thus, after that liturgical instinct that told Him the place He had entered was a holy place, he began to realize how much more his life should be. He recognized the need to strive for holiness. He becomes Catholic, and then quickly finds his vocation, his calling, as a monk. His path is interesting: at first he tries to become a Franciscan, specifically, but is dissuaded from doing so. He is devastated when they use his past against him and bar him from entering the order. He then begins to believe he has no vocation, and His faith starts to feel aimless; he is too distracted by the world around him to feel settled. After a retreat to a Trappist monastery, however, he can once again no longer shake the fact that he is called to be a monk and sets himself back on the path to becoming one.

The way he describes this part of his life is, by far, the part of the novel that makes the biggest punches. His desire for the monastery comes from a desire to rid himself of all worldly distractions. As he leaves the monastery after his first retreat he says:

“And how strange it was to see people walking around as if they had something important to do, running after busses, reading the newspapers, lighting cigarettes. How futile all their haste and anxiety seemed.”

To him, the monastery is freeing:

“So Brother Matthew locked the gate behind me and I was enclosed in the four walls of my new freedom.”

Freed from the world’s distractions and free to spend all of his days solely focused on God. Free to be small, without the world trying to make him feel big and important and lavish and in control of himself.

I mentioned earlier that his epilogue is a contemplation on the concept of contemplation. He decides that every individual is called to a deep interior life, regardless of how easy it comes to any individual person. We are all called to contemplate just how Big our God is. And we cannot do that until we understand how small we are.

What had I shed? Where was the space in my life for God? Nothing I ever did, even entering a monastery, would leave Him enough room.

Because there isn’t enough room inside of me, even if I were to empty out everything else. Because He is so big. And I am so, so small.

 

IMP #5 Teleportation

Here we are already at number five! Can you believe it?

So, how do I plan on trying to thwart science today? By talking about teleportation. This is, once again, one of those things that we see in nearly everything science fiction. From Star Trek‘s ‘Beam me up, Scotty!’ to Stargate‘s Stargates, we see all sorts of variations and assumptions of how teleportation might pan out.

If you’ve been paying attention to my past few articles, and especially the articles surrounding my Thomistic Linguistics thesis, then you may be predicting my every word as I go through this article. But that’s okay, let’s see if you get it right.

Let’s start with how we might assume the inevitability of teleportation. Humans have an innate desire to move, to get from place to place. As time has gone on since the industrial revolution, our methods of transportation have gotten faster and faster and faster. We did just see the SpaceX craft Dragon reach something like 12,000 km/h (7,500 mph)? And that’s not even the fastest that human artifacts have traveled. The point is that our desire to move and get about is intense. Especially recently in our history humans have desired to make this transportation as efficient as possible. But, we ask ourselves, why worry about moving at superlight speeds when we could just transport there instead?

We can conceptualize it quite easy. Humans have a specific composition, a finite reality. My body is only so many feet wide and only so many meters tall. There is a limitation to my corporeal reality that means we can fit in some theoretical ‘box’ of some kind. Think, for example, about 3D printers. This technology, which improves all the time, only needs to print complexly enough our organic material, and it could theoretically compose a human person. We just need a 3D printer big enough.

How could teleportation work, theoretically? Well the main idea would be transmission. It could use electric transmission, light transmission, literally beaming atoms out of some atom gun that shoots from one place to another, but the essential point would be transmitting data. Since humans have material limits, we would just need sensitive enough scanners to pick up on the finest points of our reality and compile it into a transmissible package. Then we send that data from one terminal to another and boom, the second terminal is a 3D printer that pops out the human that entered at the first terminal.

In many ways this kind of technology already exists. We have the capacity of scanning a 3D object, of computing the finite limits of an object in 3D art programs, sending that data file to another terminal across the internet, and printing the same exact object at the second terminal. Sure, it might take a long time to refine the technology, especially scanning a specific object (wherein the scanned object becomes technically destroyed) and transmitting it in whatever state it was scanned, but with what we already have it just seems like a matter of time before we can pull it off. But, of course, you shall see me say:

This is an impossible modern possibility: we will never be able to materially transport a human being from one place to another.

Now, I would like you to take careful note of how I articulated the IMP. I said it will never be possible to materially transport a human being. The reason for articulating this is because of how someone might perceive teleportation as occurring. In the actual conceived teleportation process, doesn’t the person become immaterial? This is somewhat true, but the reality of every explored teleportation concept is that it somehow rests on the idea of transmitting the person, or parts of the person, through material reality. Either the person’s atoms are collected and redistributed or the specific composition of the person is maintained through computer transmissions. In any case, the transportation of the person never leaves the realm of the material, it is always material.

Before getting to the main objection, I would like to look at a minor one. As demonstrated in the recent Netflix series Living With Yourself, where Paul Rudd’s character thinks he is just getting a really rejuvenating massage and ends up getting cloned by accident. This is essentially the same technology we’re talking about, where even if the technology eventually gets developed, we run into the issue of potentially creating two of one person instead of transporting. The idea here, of course, is that we’re talking about recreating a human person every single time they transport. If the original that gets scanned isn’t properly destroyed, then two of that same person end up running around, wreaking havoc. While this dilemma does not prevent the technology from working, it at least presents a complicated philosophical question that should give everyone pause.

But, ultimately the minor objection doesn’t need to hold up any weight, because the main objection makes it obsolete. If you remember from any of my articles where I dissect the composition of a human person, you will know that I explicitly deny the notion that humans are solely composed of matter. Remember that my statement about that which is impossible is the material teleportation of the human person. All of the ideas about human teleportation, of course, are material in nature because the same people that conceive of teleportation being possible are also people that conceive of humans being solely made of matter.

If humans were indeed solely material beings, I would yield in a heartbeat the inevitability of human teleportation.

But humans aren’t. We are not just matter, but form and matter. While our form is immaterial, it is still a reality, a thing that has existence. In Thomistic language we say that forms have substance (meaning they have being, not that they are composed of matter in some way). If teleportation would ever be possible, it would not be a simple matter of transmitting matter, it would be a matter of transmitting an immaterial reality from one physical point of reality to another.

By its very nature, you cannot use material and physical means to modify something that is immaterial. It just doesn’t work that way. They exist at different levels of reality. No matter what sort of teleportation device you might theoretically engage with, the form of the person will never move along the mechanics of the teleportation device, meaning that people can never be teleported.

“But Robert, what if we do create a sophisticated enough 3D printer that can re-print a human person?”

I would not deny that science could eventually produce a 3D printer with such abilities. It seems highly improbable that we could ever really produce technology that handles physical material in such a delicate manner on such a large scale, but far be it from me to say what could be done in the realm of physical reality. Who would have ever thought that we could split an atom? Not to mention, 3D printed organs are expected to soon be a reality, and a whole human body is only a few steps away from that.

My friends, this actual possibility, the ability to print a whole human body, scares me. To print organs to save lives is a beautiful thing, but the ability to recreate human bodies is asking a living nightmare on us. If someone were to truly develop a technology that could painlessly and effortlessly destroy a human and then transmit their data only to have it 3D printed, we’re talking about a corporate or governmental monolith with the world’s most efficient weapon.

For this technology would, make no mistake, kill the person currently living, leaving their soul behind, obliterating their body, only to recreate that body somewhere else. That recreated body has two potential ways of turning out:

1.  Dead.

The body, soulless and lifeless, appears at the other side of the teleportation equipment. All of the organic components are properly reprinted together, but it is not the same person, just a copy of that person, whose mind has now been separated from the body.

2. As an Animal.

This is probably the scariest option. If the scanner was so delicate to pick up on the quantum-level realities of a human person, it is likely able to pick up everything, such as neurons mid-fire and the heart mid-pump. If the 3D printer is so efficient that it re-creates that person in an instant, then we’re talking about a moment to moment success of the heart pumping pre-teleport and finishing the motion of that pump on the other side of the teleportation equipment, and leaving the body alive. But if I can admit this, then what about the mind?

It gets left behind.

Human forms have multiple powers, but some of those powers are inherently tied to a physical reality. If you remember in my article #1 – An Argument for Aristotelian Forms, forms like triangles exist when we create a material triangle and then cease to exist one the triangles disappear. If we create technology that can re-create a human body, it would be akin to us creating a triangle. All of the physical side of humanity would be present – organs, the brain, sensation, appetite, etc. But we can’t manipulate immaterial reality. We couldn’t introduce the rational side of the mind, the purely immaterial part of our reality. It would be the totally animalized version of whatever person got scanned.

That’s freaking terrifying.

So remember folks:

This is an impossible modern possibility: we will never be able to materially transport a human being from one place to another.

And please, don’t try. The consequences (raging evil corporations and governments to the existence of animal people or the abuse of animal people once they could exist) are terrifying.

Facebook Posts Don’t Change the Heart

…so what does?

I saw this casual phrase in a Facebook post the other day, and it got me thinking about the state of communication in modern society. It got me thinking about how I write my own articles (that I know many people in my own circle don’t read) and what the point is of communication. It got me thinking about all of the emotion-filled posts I’ve seen recently about this plague of racial violence and discrimination that our society suffers from. It got me thinking about those people in my extended family who I know are racist, and those who think racist things but don’t quite realize it.

More importantly, it got me thinking about religion and philosophy and the pursuit of truth and happiness. I can imagine many people in my Facebook circle to essentially agree with the statement that

“Facebook posts don’t change the heart.”

Political, religious, philosophical, medical, and heck, even dietetic posts on Facebook don’t have any true impact on those around us. If you post something on social media, you can expect your echo chamber to love it and you can expect the rest to ignore it. Such is the luxury of social media.

I am not content, however, living with this maxim. Do people realize what the implications of this statement are these days?

“Facebook posts don’t change the heart.”

Do you know what else doesn’t change the heart? Public conversation. Private conversation. Conversations on internet forums. People waving signs on the side of the road. Scientists with convicting evidence from scientific studies. Politicians who are supposed to wield some weight of public authority. Judges who interpret law. Theologians who build on thousands of years of philosophical and theological thought. In the modern world nothing changes the heart.

Now, I say this in a hyperbolic fashion with a reason. These statements embody a truth that our western society holds but for some reason is not really discussing. The ultimate commodity and truth of the western world is individualityIt’s my world, my way, and everything is what I want it to be. Prior to the advent of the internet many people certainly had their own opinions on everything, but they were more reserved. There wasn’t really a platform to hold them out for everyone else to see and usually there was a deference to authority on important matters.

With the evolution of the internet these limitations on people’s individuality have dissolved, and individuals stand more prominent than ever. In the face of a huge and wide array of opinions that everyone can find on the internet, the average individual is convinced that wading out into the sea of opinion is a lot more dangerous than just sticking it out on their individual island. What’s more, these individuals find that they are not alone in their thoughts (no one usually is alone in anything), and they cling together with like-minded individuals in the midst of this vast sea of chaotic opinions. For more about this weakness of our society, I would suggest listening to this Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast.

“Facebook posts don’t change the heart.”

No, my Facebook post isn’t going to convince my racist uncle that he should change his ways. My Facebook post isn’t going to convince my LGBT friends that they’re living in sin.

“Facebook posts don’t change the heart.”

So, my friends, what does?!

Already amongst millenials it is an unspoken rule that you don’t speak about politics or religion with your friends at in-person gatherings. Speaking about any topic that has moral, life-changing implications is social taboo, and marks you as an evil extremist right from the start. And now, this same mentality is bleeding into social media as well. Facebook and twitter don’t necessarily need to be the grounds, the locus, of meaningful dialogue and conversation, but something needs to.

My previous statements about all of the various other things that also don’t change the heart are obvious hyperbole. Clearly science has changed how some people view the world. Theologians have also drastically changed how some people view the world. Some politicians have clear power and use rhetoric to change minds. Change happens. People are moved. People obviously agree that it is possible for someone to change their mind, and they obviously think that they even have the power to do it. They believe it because they believe they are persevering after a truth.

Everyone thinks a definitive truth exists. Something guides and shapes the rest of the way that we live, the way that we think the universe works. There is a base principal to everyone’s existence, and it’s what we all seek. Even postmoderns (philosophical descendants of relativists) uphold that there is some inevitable truth that shapes the way we understand the world, if there is not at least a definitive truth that has to shape the world. There is no way, though, that we are going to find that truth and share that truth with others if no one agrees on a place where it is socially acceptable to discuss it.

I guarantee that someone who says “Facebook posts don’t change the heart” isn’t finding a way outside of Facebook to change others’ hearts. I also guarantee that those who say, from the start “Unfriend me, don’t comment, don’t message me, just unfriend me” are also engaging in this same exact mentality and problem.

Some already have an idea of a place where it is socially acceptable to discuss opposing points of view. That’s great! I, for one, think Facebook is just a place as good as any. My challenge to you, though? Think about it. Where do you think it is a socially acceptable place to discuss opposing points of view and potential change? Do you frequent that place? Do you engage with the people there? If no place comes to mind, then I suggest you find it, because if you don’t then you forfeit before the debate has even begun.

Don’t have any ideas on how to engage in dialogue with someone else about an opposing point of view without blowing up first about it? Check out this podcast by Catholic Bishop Robert Barron, famous for his recent talks at (politically liberal and secular) Amazon and Google headquarters where he discusses how it is possible to ‘argue’ about religion.

“Facebook posts don’t change the heart.”

SO WHAT DOES?!

IMP #4 – Teaching Animals to Speak

Wait…what? I have to write a whole article about this? Nobody thinks we can actually teach animals to speak, how absurd!

…Okay, so we’ve had fictional ideas about animals talking, but obviously that’s a ridiculous thing to think about.

Or at least, that’s what I want to say.

The notion that animals might speak has been a fascinating subject of investigation in the past century.

I could speculate on all of the reasons why humans started investigating, in serious and uncomfortable ways, the possibility of animals using language, but the most convincing to me is where the focus of the field of psychology was in the past century. At the beginning of the 20th century a lot of psychology was built up around behaviorism, the notion that all of human behavior is nearly equivalent to animal, only that we for some reason have developed more advanced behaviors than animals. Behaviorism might say that language is a result of an acquired behavior that humans developed over time in our social groupings, relating to nothing that happens with any sort of human ‘mind.’ Later psychology would bend in a different direction towards cognitive pyschology. Here psychologists would almost flip their narrative and say that human behaviors are a result of complex neurological workings inside the brain. More recent psychology has settled somewhere in between.

In each camp, though, most would agree that human abilities are first and foremost based in materialistic elements of human nature. Language, resulting from either a learned behavior or a complex neurological structure, would happen as a result of physiological means.

Someone smart along the way must have asked the question “well what about animals?” For, you see, if you say that human behaviors result from bodily structures that chimpanzees, gorillas, and dolphins also have, then who’s to say that chimpanzees, gorillas, and dolphins can’t also do what humans do, given the right circumstances?

Most modern pet owners will talk about the complex feelings of their animals, their personalities and silly quirks, and will even talk about how those animals might communicate to them about needs, likes and dislikes, and desires. Nowadays I’m even observing that pet owners will attribute mental disorders such as depression and anxiety to their pets.

The fact of the matter is that, for some reason, people in the modern time are extremely preoccupied with the idea about animals speaking. While I don’t see a huge interest in developing technology to achieve animal use of language, or a huge interest in research around training, the fact of the matter is that it does exist as a course of study by a selected few. Ultimately it remains as a subject of interest, especially when it comes to trying to prove exactly how animal humans actually are.

This is an impossible modern possibility: animals will never learn to use language.

Koko and Michael are two gorillas that learned a robust system of signs from American Sign Language (ASL). These gorillas learned to use these signs to communicate with researchers and, since ASL is a language, it was deemed that these gorillas could speak just like humans do.

This is the closest evidence that anyone has ever come to try and present the idea that animals could achieve language like humans. There is a huge flaw to this thinking, however. Most researchers have investigated these claims looking into whether the gorillas used complex syntactic and grammatical structure with their signs, or whether the gorillas’ use of language superseded that of a child, but these are not the right questions to ask when investigating the claims.

At one point I had read, God forgive me for I do not remember who said it, a point that at no point do any of the gorillas ever ask about something. That is to say, no animal has ever wondered about the way that something simply is. From the earliest stages of childhood development not only do children build up an ability to speak and communicate, but they also investigate and wonder about things. A gorilla has never done this.

So what? What is the significance behind that? The point is that at no point in time has any animal ever demonstrated a significant capacity to reason. Koko and Michael may have accepted how to use signs around a banana, but they had never asked ‘what is a banana?’ or ‘why is it yellow?’ or even ‘what is yellow?’ There is no evidence to ever suggest that animals are capable of separating abstract and generic knowledge from the particular knowledge of their experiences. This, compared to humans, who are capable of abstraction from the earliest times of their lives. This is an inherent difference between animals and humans, one that makes us stand apart in a grand way. Humans learn and know things, apart from their experiences, while animals only remember things sensorally.

“Well Robert the science on this subject has only started recently in the past century, we can’t possibly conclude this subject right now. There’s a lot more science needs to research before we could possibly come to the conclusion that animals can’t use language.”

Fun fact, going back as far as Aristotle, we have some good philosophical logic that actually supports what I’m talking about. Aristotle himself came to the conclusion that while animals do share certain traits with us, they cannot possess this element of reason. When pondering the subject of happiness, and explores the possibility of finding happiness through good food and drink, he says that ‘no, a human could never be happy through food and drink. This would be the life of a cow.’ What he meant by this is that cows can be plenty happy if they have enough food and drink and sensory pleasures that accompany them all their lives, but even when a man has plenty of access to physical pleasure and satisfaction, he always yearns for more.

In my article #2 – The Formal Cause of Man, I explore the idea of a hierarchy of forms that Aristotle and his subsequent philosophers discuss. The notion is that there are forms that have very little substance to them, but that there are other forms that have a lot more substance, that contain other little forms in a virtual way (possessing forms in an integrative way, not as distinct sub-components). The more widely encompassing a form is, the nobler it is. The most noble form is the form that precedes all other forms, that cannot be possessed by another.

Plants are noble than rocks. Plants have virtual forms that make it possible for plants to grow and reproduce. Animals are more noble than plants because they can do all that plants do, but on top of that can sense (yes, Aristotle said animals have feelings, too) and can use locomotion. Yet humans are more noble than animals, because humans can do all that animals can do and yet further possess the capacity for reason. For Aristotle, the capacity for reason, the intellect, is the defining feature of humanity.

As is the bulk work of my thesis Thomistic Linguistics, reason is the necessary ingredient to make language possible.

Now, let’s be clear about what animals can do: Animals can feel! That time Fido was sad you left for work and happy when you came back? Totally valid. Probably actually sadness and happiness. Sadness and happiness are feelings, elements of our existence based in the ability to feel or to sense, something animals are clearly capable of doing. Furthermore animals can communicate! It’s a ludicrous job to try to deem Koko and Michael as some obscure conspiracy theory. Obviously the researchers were successful in teaching the gorillas to use sign language to communicate. What is doubt-worthy is the notion that it was fully language. This, not because I question the use of grammar or syntax, but because the gorillas never used reason alongside the signs. Using signs to communicate feelings, needs, and motions of their sensory desires is indeed a feasible task (albeit complicated an impressive), but is not actually language. The gorillas never learned to gather abstract anything further than what was directly presented to them and remembered through their sensory organ (the brain). Your dog, clearly, is in fact communicating with you when you teach it a trick, but it doesn’t learn words as abstract notions – it associates sounds of words with specific sensory responses, and moves accordingly.

Until humans gain the power to magically alter someone’s form, no animal will be learning to use language.

Will They Know Us Through Our Love?

How will the world know who I am? How will the world know what I believe?

Growing up as a Protestant, I knew a few certain things about love:

  1. Jesus loves me, and I love Jesus
  2. Love your neighbor
  3. Tell other people that Jesus loves them, too

One of the chosen names of modern Protestant Christianity is ‘Evangelical Christianity.’ It denotes those who follows the message of the ‘Good News’ (Gospel) and who spread the Good News. Inherent to the idea of Protestant Christianity (or at least for me, growing up) is that your faith in Jesus Christ is never a personal one that you keep all to yourself. It is about sharing, sharing, and sharing. Not everyone is called to be a missionary that gets shipped out overseas, but you should be ready to try it out, and at the very least you should be a missionary to your friends around you.

This image of ‘missionary’ was pressed so hard on me that I often wondered what was so wrong of me to not join up on every single mission trip I heard about, and why I was so bad at telling my friends about Jesus. In short, it was those questions above that I thought most about: How will the world know who I am? How will they know what I believe?

As a child I was of course no theologian. I didn’t even know what a theologian was, much less that being one was a serious affair. For all I knew, it just meant you were really really good at reading the Bible, not that it had anything to do with outside argumentation and academic work. Yet even then I didn’t think that sharing the faith was a matter of arguing about truth, it was a matter of experience, and having a convincing experience.

In retrospect I now realize that I was coming of age in a time that was riding on the curtails of the rise of New Atheism. Since Protestantism isn’t exactly founded in a rich and firm tradition of theology and philosophy, the general response from theologically illiterate Christians was to resort to use ‘faith’ against New Atheists. An Atheist can bring up arguments that disprove God’s existence, and they could tell you having ‘faith’ was an aspect of the simple minded, but by American right they couldn’t tell you what to believe. And faith is what I went with.

Yet faith, as its own notion, is really difficult to share with others. You can share your experience, but we are all so unique. Sharing your ‘testimony’ (as it is known) of your faith journey may have an impact for some, but not necessarily any more than that.

Towards the end of middle school and definitely by the end of high school, I had what I thought I understood to be the answer: Love. Love is how you preach the faith.

Now objectively speaking, love is a hallmark of Christian faith. Literally since the inception of Christianity, love is what made Christians stand out. For the more selfish pagans, the self-sacrificing love of Christians was a bit of a mind-blowing concept. Sacrifice was a commonly held notion in pagan culture (which helped facilitate conversion to Christianity), but not self-sacrifice. Corruption was a common assumption, even for many years afterwards in the Roman Empire, and the idea that you would give up what you had for others was opposite of what you would expect.

In many ways, from that time until now, that idea is still very true. Selfishness is an inherent tendency within the human person, and sacrificing that selfishness for the good of others is exactly counter-human (if not counter-cultural).

The idea of evangelizing through love, service, and sacrifice, is that by living a life so centered around Christ, and not yourself, you make people curious and want to buy-in to whatever belief system you have. By being so radically centered around love, you become the lighted city on top of the hilltop, shining into the darkness around you. All will gather around the light, simply because it exists and is baffling for its generosity. While I say many things facetiously, realize that this is not. Radical selfless love is necessary for Christian evangelization.

Recently, though, I’ve wondered about this. Is this truly the way to evangelize to our modern time? Do I work through charity and charity alone, in the form of service and kindness, so that I bring thousands to baptism? It worked in the Roman Empire, it worked for Mother Teresa and it works for her order the Missionaries of Charity, but what about in the United States?

In many ways, I would like to present the idea that American culture has moved to the point of accepting that love and service are, or should be, just normal characteristics of a good person. Self-sacrifice is exactly the quality of a hero personality. If you want to be a recognizably good person, you just do these things. One of the hallmarks of modern thought is “I don’t have to be religious to be a good person.” In many ways this can be an excuse to just not be a religious or a good person, but overall people still strive to be that ‘good person,’ if for no other reason than the fact that it’s just expected for people to be that way.

Behold, the Postmodern Creed, where nicety, kindness, and ‘love’ prevail over all, no religion required.

In other words, if you’re loving, serving, and self-sacrificing in the modern day, well…people just say ‘Cool, good job. Keep it up. You’re a good person.’ and they move on. If you don’t do these things then you’re just not a good person and nobody likes you. PBS Kids is entirely built on the idea of teaching kids to be ‘moral’ and ‘good’ without any attachment to the idea of religion, and news stories will circle occasionally about a few kids or young adults who did a really great service, and that their work is amazing.

So what’s the point of using love as a point of evangelization? No one cares anymore. It’s the norm and it’s expected. It brings nothing of note to the conversation and doesn’t necessarily do anything to bring others closer to Christ. What’s more is it has created apathy. Not only do people stand back and say ‘well I’m living a faith-filled life, so I’m fine’ but also ‘well people will see my faith-filled life and they can ask about it if they want to.’ They get filled with sloth!

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15, RSVCE).

My belief is that the Devil has had a serious victory in the ‘progress’ of modernity. Not only have many fallen away from leading a faith-filled life, but the Devil has made it so that living a virtuous life almost seems to fade into the background. It is not of note to just live out a virtuous life, simply because ‘that’s just what good people do, religion or not.’

But if we can’t use love as the primary point of evangelization, what do we use? My answer is theology. My friends, the world will not know us through our love but what we teach. I say this, not talking about preaching a simple message of love. I say this talking about our rich tradition that is nearly 2,000 years old, pulling out the rich intellectual history that belongs to us as Christians. Bishop Barron has been saying this for a long time, blaming a dumbing down of the faith that occurred in the latter half of the 20th century for much of the loss of religion in modern times.

Now, more than ever, people need to see that Christianity is a religion of no shallow faith. We are a religion with a strong tradition of knowledge, philosophy that bows to theology, that has resolved many of the questions of man’s spiritual ailments through Divine intervention and nearly 2,000 years of study of that Divine revelation, guided by the Holy Spirit.

One of the revelations made to me, that kickstarted my whole discovery of Catholicism, is the fact that Catholicism has possessed, since the 13th century, not one, not two, not three, but five distinct philosophical proofs for the existence of God. Religion never developed because of an ignorance of knowledge, it was coaxed to existence in relationship to knowledge.

Christian teaching, Christian doctrine, is filled with a long list of other-worldly beliefs. We eat the sacrificed flesh of the God-man Jesus Christ. Our God is three persons in one essenceOur God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universeThe purpose of man is first and foremost to know and worship God. The Christian people participate in and become the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We can communicate with our Christian brothers and sisters who are in Heaven. Our God is not being but IS being itself. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” [The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis].

All of these beliefs also have mountains of theological and philosophical backing – they aren’t just random shots in the dark, a desperate grasp for an answer to the question of ‘how does lightning/an earthquake/a hurricane happen?’

My friends, they will not know us through our love, they will know us through what we teach. I dazzle more people with the mere fact that I hold any strong religious beliefs than I dazzle them by being nice.

Of course, the only caveat I make is that we must follow that latter part of Peter’s encouragement: yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Just because they will not know us through our love does not mean that we are excepted from having Christian love. As I stated, true love, caritas or agape, is a hallmark of the Christian faith. If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t be the Christians we claim to be.

It’s not hard to learn some basic theological facts about your faith, and it’s not that hard to share them. You don’t need to be an advanced scholar to know of a good book reference here and there to direct conversation with someone. It is biblical, in fact, for us to follow Peter’s direction:

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15, RSVCE).

 

Imp #3 – Artificial Intelligence (A.I.)

The topic of Artificial Intelligence (A.I., or Æ if you’re Grimes) is a difficult one. There are many layers to the subject matter, partially because of how far technology has already come with regards the matter. It’s easy to talk about Time Travel as some far off and different technology, totally unachievable by science, because there’s nothing in our modern time that even closely resembles it. In this year of 2020, though, we have plenty of supposed evidence that indicates that the arrival of a technology such as A.I. is imminent.

Ever since the dawn of computers, living technology as Artificial Intelligence has been at the fore of the human mind. Think Data from Star Trek, Skynet from Terminator, Ultron and Jarvis from the Marvel universes, the T.A.R.D.I.S in Doctor Who, and so many more. As soon as the study of neurology exposed and equated the seemingly simple function of the firing of neurons to electronic circuitry, the concept of Artificial Intelligence was easily made a prediction of the near-future. How can A.I. be created? It’s a matter of catching up with evolution. We have to figure out how to make efficient enough technology that coordinates together in a similar way to the human brain, and boom, we’ll have it.

Of course when your computer needs a whole small bedroom to fit in, there might not seem to be much hope for the future of Artificial Intelligence. This, of course, until we see the rapid development of efficiency in computer technology. The rapid development of efficiency is seen with Moore’s Law, which “is the observation that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.”

With such a prediction of efficiency, it seems to make sense that at some point, Artificial Intelligence is all but inevitable. It should be no wonder that the human brain will be made to be inefficient, even, at some point in the future (if not already).

Thinking about this year 2020, we have already seen a lot of success in the field of A.I. IBM’s Watson was solidly invented in 2010 (but Watson’s capability has dramatically increased since then). Siri is another great and obvious example, along with all of the imitations thereafter, such as Cortana (named in honor of the honored Halo character) and Samsung’s Bixby. Even other styles of A.I., such as search engines, are huge. Duolingo’s whole program is based on Machine Learning technology (A.I. technology not necessarily purposed for direct two-way human interaction). Machine Learning is technology designed to ‘think’ for itself, adapting itself when encountering new data.

These technologies have their limitations, of course. There is so much left to be desired before Siri adapts herself into Skynet, and Cortana is in many respects lacking compared to her namesake. Watson can beat someone at Jeopardy, but couldn’t engage in a rhetorical debate.

As you may have guessed, by reading my last two articles, the normal assumption that I suspect out of society is ‘well science will figure it out eventually’ and my retort is that ‘science never will.’

This is an impossible modern possibility: we will never be able to create a truly ‘intelligent’ artifice.

Again, you might ask: “Now Robert you aren’t a scientist, how could you possibly know that we won’t ever be able to do this?”

The answer here, the answer for my first IMP, and the answer forever after, is that when we analyze the notion of A.I., we are using qualitatively different questions and modes of thinking than what you normally might assume. Instead of assuming, for example, that human existence is a complex composition of neurons and other biological components, I assume here that humans are a complex interplay of immaterial as well as material components. You can see those arguments here. If you haven’t already read up on those arguments, make sure you do before carrying on too much farther.

When understanding Aristotelian forms and how they manifest in the real world, we logically understand that some forms are more noble than others, by virtue of the fact that they contain other forms virtually, in a metaphysically simple fashion. Humans have a lot of moving parts, but these parts are not entirely indistinguishable from other parts. Their existence largely depends on the rest of what resides with the human body. The Aristotelian form of ‘human’ virtually contains the form of ‘heart’ and ‘lungs’ and ‘spine’ not like one form acting as a bucket holding a bunch of other individual forms, but as one giant seamless form.

In this tradition of teleology, human artifacts, like coffee pots, are not afforded a similar hierarchical position of nobility as trees, for example. The form of a coffee pot is regarded as a ‘composite’ form while trees and humans are regarded as a ‘simple’ form. This is because the forms contained by the form of coffee pot (heating element, on/off switch/ piping/ pot/ etc.) are all separately existing forms that cooperate together to accomplish a greater task. While human organs can technically be transplanted, humans were not originally built like a coffee pot, with all of the pieces starting out as entirely completed individual parts. Coffee pots, by design, did start out this way. If one part of the coffee pot breaks then it can be replaced with a new part, fixing it up just the way that it was put together in the first place.

Think of an orchestra, for example. The orchestra is composed of many cooperating units. For the time that all of the units cooperate together, they work together as a singular movement. Once they are finished, they break apart into their normal individual selves and the concert of their effort is complete. Ultimately we can say that humans are capable of crafting new immaterial forms, but only by adapting physical material, and by coordinating that physical material with other physical material.

A key element of human intelligence is the ‘intellect,’ an immaterial aspect of the human form, or soul. It’s main ability rests in abstraction, taking elements from the real world and re-shaping itself to imitate and understand them. The largest, and hugest, obstacle to re-creating Artificial Intelligence lies here, in the nature of the intellect. Furthermore, the intellect is paired with the ‘will,’ another virtual component of the human soul. The intellect itself even virtually contains two aspects – the passive and the active intellect.

This is a huge deal when it comes to talking about A.I. Our current technology does wonders with imitating our material abilities, like speaking, but no technology, not even Watson, understands. Further, the technology does not reason. No technology abstracts immaterial reality, contemplates what that immaterial reality is, and, as Aquinas says of the intellect, composes and divides these immaterial forms. It cannot ever ask, by itself and without direction, “What is that? Of what is that? How is that? For what is that?” Children, you see, do this without any direction from us and without having been taught to (although we certainly teach them how to do it better as they get older).

Necessarily, too, if the nature of the intellect and other aspects of the human form relating to intelligence and existence are immaterial things, we find a huge disconnect between our ability to create a coffee pot and our ability to know. We can modify a coffee pot and create other physical components (that have forms with them) but we have no way to create purely immaterial things.

Any human artifice, no matter how many organic synapses it replicates with electronic ones, can achieve the seamless and simple nature of the human intellect and will. Beyond that, no human artifice can create these immaterial forms. At best, human artifices can imitate them by creating individual material components that mimic something like the activities within, but as our creative abilities lie with modifying physical reality, and the nature of the intellect and will are immaterial, then we are forever at an impasse. Humans will never be able to create Artificial Intelligence.

Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that there is one and only one specific way that humans are actually capable of creating immaterial forms – by having children.

IMP #2 – Time Travel

Who doesn’t expect time travel to occur? It’s all over our science fiction. In any real, fun, and good science fiction, time travel is explored in at least some minor fashion. Need I list all of the fiction of our time that explores the possibility?

Doctor Who
Back to the Future
Terminator
Stargate
Harry Potter
Meet the Robinsons
Primeval
Men in Black
Star Trek
Star Wars: Rebels
Avengers: Endgame

Anyway…you get the idea. Certainly you can think of a list much longer than my own. The point is, time travel is one of those things that we don’t understand…yet. Science will, again, uncover it sometime in the near future and it will be great. All we need is that miracle scientific breakthrough, the magic key that allows us to do what no man has done before. Is there an ethereal Time Vortex, an element of physical space waiting to be traversed? A spacial wormhole that is warped, perhaps by a black hole, that we need to go through? Is it left to magic? Or do we rely on a more intimate connection with a universal force that transcends the body? Or, more obscurely, do we have to find a way to traverse the quantum realm, a degree of physical existence that is so unpredictable we might be able to navigate from one time period to another?

We could, of course, debate all of these minute elements of physical science, but at the end of every single line of debate we will necessarily end up at a question of metaphysics. What, even, is time? Is it an element of reality controlled by a stone? Sorry, that was my last rhetorical question poking fun at a movie…maybe…
But, seriously, is time an underlying force of physical reality? Is it another dimension of space, meaning that it can be traversed with the right vehicle?

For the present article, I have to admit, I will be relying heavily on the philosophical backbone of Edward Feser’s own blog about time. While I have not read his book Aristotle’s Revenge (but I probably should), I am not sure whether Feser directly addresses the matter of time travel. He does have, thought, in that previously linked blog post, a picture mentioning time travel…

Either way, when wondering about time and time travel, one has to conceptualize what the actual nature of time is, and what the consequences of that conceptualization would be.

What exists? You, at the time of reading this, but I may or may not. I might have suffered a tragedy and perished, but if you’re reading this then you certainly exist. But if I have already died, then I no longer exist. My body might exist in some decaying fashion, but that would be all. My person would not exist (in the physical world). When I have drawn a triangle in the sand, it exists. When the ocean washes away the triangle, it no longer exists. I am, of course, speaking of existence in the most strictest of terms. Either something exists or it does not.

If something, like that triangle, used to exist but no longer do, do they exist somewhere else? Most readily I answer: no. Memories of things are not the things themselves, and if they no longer exist in the physical world then they no longer exist. They don’t come back. It’s the terrible notion of death that plagues us all. They don’t keep existing on some back burner somewhere, hiding from our point of view until we want to ‘travel back in time’ and see them again. That beautiful (or terrible) first kiss only happens once. Peanut butter and jelly, mixed together, do not come apart again and into their original containers.

There is certainly evidence of the past having existed, but the point is that it no longer does. Were it not for human memory, were it not for human reason that can deduce temporally anterior causes, there would be no existence of the past, as far as we were concerned. If the past no longer exists, then how can we travel to it?

Similarly we can think about the future. The future is that which is yet to exist. In many ways it is so dependent on the individual choices that there are an almost infinite amount of possible ‘futures’ to go towards. The reality, though, is that one ‘future’ will come true out of all of them, and only one. Once that future comes it will exist, but the future does not exist until it does come.

This idea is explored by St. Augustine in his Confessions. The future is not a year from now, the past a year back, and the present a current year. The whole year does not currently exist. The future is not a day from now, the past a day back, and the whole present day that currently exists. The future is not a minute from now, the past a minute ago, and the present the whole current minute. The future is not a second from now, the past a second ago, and the present the current second. The present is but a fleeting moment, and yet the present is all that exists.

Feser, in his above article, argues that Aristotelians should be presentists, believing that the present is all that exists. The past is no longer accessible and the future isn’t accessible either. All a person has dominion over is the present. Why is that?

Here we answer the question of what time is: itself is nothing. Time is but a measurement of change. Remember what Aristotelian change is? We look at the reduction of potency to act. That change is the movement of future to present. Once that act suffers another change, that act moves into the past and it no longer exists. That is all time is.

So what would be necessary to traverse time? Is it a question of finding the right physical channel? Nope.

This is an impossible modern possibility: we will never be able to physically travel to the past and we will never be able to “travel” into the distant future.

To be able to travel in time means needing to transcend the reduction of potency to act, but can we ever do that? The sheer act of traveling in time, the idea at least, is itself a reduction of potency to act, not a transcendence of the movement of change itself.

At best, even if we could manage some level of transcending material change, existing sans-materiality, the type of time travel would never be something of a material journey – it would have to be an immaterial journey. As the past is only known through memory, we would essentially have to travel within someone’s memory. Once we were there, all we would be able to see is the immaterial. Here, essentially, think like Assassin’s Creed – going into “genetic memory” (a ludicrous idea, by the way) and reliving past experiences. But that isn’t really time travel, is it?

Of course, we are always traveling towards the future, and as we pass moment to moment one might argue we are time traveling into the future. One could even conceive of traveling to the future by means of some deep sleep that somehow preserves our bodies. But usually when someone talks about traveling to the future, an inherent sequiter is ‘and also traveling back to the past.’ But, as already argued, there wouldn’t be a return journey. So would it really count as “traveling” to the future?

In the end, the most resolute conclusion we can come to is that time travel is not, and never will be, possible. No future discovery of science will unveil the means for us to transcend causality and change, for if a subject of study transcended change, science would never be able to study it. Every moment preoccupied about the past or future is another moment of the present that is wasted.

Carpe diem.

IMP #1 – Transplanting Human Consciousness

This is one of the most fantastical ideas of the current time. In almost any successful sci-fi franchise or story, we see this idea of an ability to transplant human consciousness. It seems like such a cool idea! A human person has limits, right? We aren’t infinite creatures. If we have limits, then we can scope out those limits and quantify them, creating the ability to transfer personhood out of the body and into a computer. Well luckily we have science, a methodology whose whole aim is to scope out limitations, that will one day provide us with an answer to what those limitations are.

In terms of physiology, we’re pretty covered. We know the most inner workings of the human person. A lot of medicine isn’t necessarily about figuring out what the nature of the problems are, just what pieces are working together to cause a problem, and figuring out what pieces to put together to solve the problem. There are, however, a few key modern issues. Even though we have identified that neurons are the substrate of the human brain, the vehicle of thought, we have no idea how they work together to help us sense our world. Scientists have no understanding of how human consciousness manifests itself in this web of neurons, but one day they will. When they do, we will be able to transfer our human consciousness from body to body, or body to machine. Then…we would be immortal. We would transcend the need for a physical body.

The manifestation of this science fiction reality can be especially seen in a few modern pieces of cinematography: Amazon’s Upload, Netflix’s Altered Carbon, and Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie (2015).

In Amazon’s TV series Upload, a man is facing death, and has the option of being uploaded into a sort of virtual ‘heaven.’ He will have the ability to interact, in some contorted manner, with people back in the real world, but his new reality will become one that is totally fabricated by programmers. His consciousness is transferred out of his physical body and into the new computer that is his home.

Netflix’s Altered Carbon, a dystopian tale of a very dark complexion, is a futuristic film noir. The basic premise lies in the fact that, in the future, people are implanted at a young age with a ‘cortical stack,’ a hard drive that is inserted into the spine at the neck. Everything about a person’s memory is stored within that hard drive. Should that person die, then the stack can be planted into another body, degradingly called ‘sleeves,’ and the person’s life can continue on, albeit in a different and perhaps uncomfortable way. The show largely explores the exploitation of such technology.

Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie explores the ability of not only transferring human consciousness, but the creation of artificial consciousness (a theme to be later explored on its own). While most of the movie explores the consequences of creating a real and artificial intelligence, it also deals with the necessity of transferring consciousness between artificial and real bodies. [Spoilers] Multiple people die, but they are ‘saved’ by being transplanted into robots, and go on living in new bodies.

This is an impossible modern possibility: we will never be able to transfer human consciousness from one body to another, or from one body to a computer.

“Now Robert you aren’t a scientist, how could you possibly know that we won’t ever be able to do this?”

There are certain philosophical principles that we can know, and know to be true, that stand and say this. For the longest time in human history, it would not have been a feasible idea to distinguish a person from his body. The notion of a mind exists indistinguishably from his body. This all changed when Renè Descartes unwittingly founded modern philosophy. His famous phrase, Cogito ergo sum [I think therefore I am], comes from a philosophical idea that the center of human existence lies in the mind of a person. This mind is all that we can possibly know. Anything beyond our minds, the real world and our own bodies, for example, are distinct from our minds and therefore we are not able to be sure about their existence. There is an impossible divide between us thinking, therefore existing, and being, physically. For Descartes, God is a necessary being because he supposes God is the only reason that we can trust that what is around is truly there.

Later interpreters of Descartes would like where Descartes was going in his work, but would find the appeal to divine intervention a bit appalling, and would ignore it. Except if you ignore the thing that Descartes says holds the person together, then it creates a bit of a philosophical problem. This is known as a classical philosophical problem, the mind-body problem. It’s funny to call it a classical problem, as it only began with Descartes (~1600 A.D.). And of course, when modern philosophy has gone on as long as it has, and it hasn’t ever found a good solution for how to describe the human mind, it generally just gets kicked to the curb. We can observe the body – we can’t observe the mind. So let’s accept that the body exists, but we’ll forget about the mind until science turns something else up.

Ray Jackendoff, author of Foundations of Language, addresses the mind body problem in his own work about linguistics. He essentially argues that there is some reality of the mind, but not an immaterial mind that (wimpy) religious people appeal to. Nay, he instead appeals to a material mind that somehow exists collectively between the mass firings of neurons. He calls it the f-mind, the functional mind (this is a metaphysical fallacy of conceptualism, but I am not addressing that here). He doesn’t even prefer a term that maintains some use of the word ‘mind,’ as he thinks it maintains bad implications for understanding a very physical and material person.

In essence, what we have leftover in the current time and in the current thought of popular society is the notion that people are just a complicated sum of physical truths. We are a materially composite person, and a coincidentally existent creature that just so happened to evolve above other kinds of animals. The notion of a ‘mind’ is an illusion we have given ourselves about ourselves, because in truth we are just a complicated computer program – a calculable and predictable physical person. Again, we just have to seek the bounds of our physically limited reality and, once we do, we’ll be able to transfer our human consciousness out of our weak products of evolution and into stronger bodies of our imagination. We will beat evolution at its own game.

It’s just progress, guys.

Remember what I said about Descartes, however. The supposed ‘classical’ mind/body problem only originates in the 17th century. What about before? Were we just in a time of darkness and ignorance? Positivists might have you think that, those who think science and science alone will answer all of our questions and problems. But if we look into the depths of philosophical wisdom from the middle ages, and even our Greek ancestors, we would see that the answers to this question existed for a long time.

I’m going to suppose you already know what an Aristotelian Form is, as I described in my article here.

Since every changeable thing has a form, we can recognize that humans, as changeable things, have immaterial forms. This is logic that we have had since Aristotle, at least 1900 years before Descartes! Not only is this logic that stood alone on Aristotle, it was reinforced in a most dramatic way in the 1200s by a theologian and philosopher named St. Thomas Aquinas (much to the disappointment of other church members). Initially Aquinas faced backlash from using pagan philosophers to bolster his arguments, but the truth of the arguments eventually won out, and he is recognized as on of the greatest philosophers of all time, as much as theologian.

The notion of a form that underlies the human body, that exists indistinguishably from the body, that is an immaterial mind, is nothing like what modern philosophers suppose it to be. It is not a physically bound aspect of reality. While we, as humans, can gain dominion over the physical realm and even of the physical body, we have a very limited control over the immaterial realm of reality. We can obviously flex the powers of our own mind, but we are limited from directly interacting between our minds and other things in reality. We have to mediate what occurs in our minds through our bodies into reality. As much, since our minds are our forms, everything about our specific reality, most especially our body, is inherently tied to the form that gives us literal shape. Aquinas says that our inherent design is to exist in exact cooperation with our material bodies. Should we be lacking in our bodies, our natural bodies, then we would always be lacking. We would experience a bit of confused existence, unable to perceive things through a sensory body that doesn’t exist.

Since the only immaterial thing we have control over is our own form, no amount of cooperation between other people who also are metaphysically limited from controlling forms that are not their own will solve the problem. That is, it is metaphysically impossible for us to transplant another immaterial form. We can’t even transplant our own immaterial form. No technology will aid us in the project, either. Our technology, our fabrications, all exist solely within the physical realm. These physical technologies can only help but work in the physical realm that they were created within.

The immaterial forms of reality, and the immaterial forms that are our minds, exist beyond our physical grasp, and metaphysically lie out of our reach. There is no hope for us to one day transplant our consciousness.

Memento mori [remember you die].

Our physical bodies will ultimately fail. Funnily enough, though, I have some philosophical hope for you. You see, human forms are not the same as other forms in reality. A triangle’s form exists in tandem with the physical triangle that takes its shape, and when the physical triangle is gone, so does that instance of a form. Metaphysically speaking there isn’t much that happens with a triangle. Humans, though, have a bit more going on for themselves. Within the mind, the immaterial part of a human, there are multiple powers at play. The very act of change, the reduction of potency to act, happens all within the human mind (I elaborate on this here). This means that the human mind is metaphysically capable of subsisting beyond the death of the physical body. So, just because we can’t sustain our physical reality doesn’t mean we stop existing when we die. But what happens to the mind once it is separated from the body at death?

Meh, go ask a Catholic**.

**St. Thomas Aquinas