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.

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 #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

Assuming Equal Intelligence

It’s funny how everything comes back to philosophical questions. There can be an assumption, at times, that philosophy is only for the far off and unimportant nerds. Really, though, philosophy underlies everything we do. It is a description of who and what we are, why we function, why we exist. Here, specifically, I am going to explore how philosophy is relevant to human intelligence.

So, first, I begin with a question. Is everyone equal? Society tells us that. Our country says that. Religions say that. It is, ultimately, a true statement. But in what ways exactly are we equal? For example, are all humans equal in intelligence? Postmodern philosophy (or epistemology, if you like) suggests that everyone is equal as much as Christian philosophy and theology does, as much as common sense suggests as well. Postmoderns, though, explain human equality differently than other philosophies. More specifically, they react to the notion of equality in different ways than other philosophies.

More or less, Postmodern philosophy suggests that all humans are equal in value and that all humans, more or less, have the same abilities and rights. They attribute the wild diversity of specific people to a combination of nature and nurture. Certain biological factors and certain environmental factors collide to create the unique experience of any one human person. All people are alike at the most basic level of their humanity, but they are victims to a chaotic world that subjects them to a number of (mostly unwanted) experiences, forcing us to change and become more and more unique. For the Postmodern, life is violent and gloomy. When it comes to intelligence, specifically, Postmoderns would view all humans as being capable of the same level of intelligence, but would attribute the result state of intelligence to whatever worldly factors produced that person.

Now, keep in mind that intelligence here does not mean ‘knowledge,’ per se. Intelligence means, here, more of a notion of ‘ability to reason.’ You might not know the constructive details of a car, but you are really great at conflict resolution for your friends. You might not know how a rocket works, but you can describe the complex organic chemistry of an animal’s body and how to fix a broken organ.

The idea of viewing all people as being capable for the same intelligence but not being in a resultative state of that exact intelligence is a notion shared by Christians, as well. God made everyone equal in value and potentiality, but how we are actually manifestly present in ourselves makes us different from other people. But these two groups of people do not assume the same explanation for how people come to have different intelligences. In the Christian mindset there is an idea of free will, an idea that has plagued many modern philosophers (but not older ones, necessarily). Postmoderns view people as complete victims of their experiences, but Christians view people as reactive agents that have power to choose their own lives.

How do these differences matter? So what if there are different reasons behind the matter? They both agree that all people are equal in their capacity for intelligence!

The ends do not justify the means.

You see, let’s take this seemingly abstract philosophy to a real field of consequence: schools. How our administrations understand ideas of equality will wildly shape their implementation of school policies. What our government officials deem necessary for school will depend on these ideas, too.  Do we think children are complete victims of their experience or do we think that they are active agents and have a role in how they turn out as adults?

I would argue, currently, that much of school administration across the country assumes the prior, that children are essentially complete victims of their experiences. They see children as not having any control over what happens to them, and think about their own pasts as children as being controlled by external events that mattered to them. Part of our nation’s discussion around systemic racism is centered in the postmodern mindset, that African American children are entirely victims of their circumstances. The Postmodern reaction to the issues of systemic racism and systemic education is that we need to flood peoples’ lives with opportunities. If enough opportunities are provided then people who are disadvantaged will use those opportunities to pull themselves out of their situation. It’s just a matter of providing the overabundant amount of opportunities.

But here we must acknowledge, in Postmodern thought, a fallacy around free will. The fallacy is that ‘if opportunity is provided to subject y, then subject y will be super grateful and seize that opportunity. But this fallacy, this assumption about the human experience, is false. A person’s desire to seize an opportunity is anything but guaranteed. And here what might change is not just a matter of circumstances, but the simple desire on the part of the person to either seize or not to seize.

So what does this have to do with intelligence? Well first, let’s begin with the idea that everyone is equal in their capacity for intelligence.  Generally everyone agrees with this statement. There are some obvious exceptions, like biological and mental impairments, where the rule of capacity is ruled out, but, more or less, people are capable. Intelligence is also not something that you are delivered on a silver platter when you’re a baby. Intelligence has to grow over time.

How, then, does intelligence grow over time? Like a plant? No, of course not. It grows through experiences of a person. As someone experiences and lives through reality, their intelligence can grow from those situations. But intelligence is not guaranteed. In all instances of an opportunity for intelligence to grow, people have to choose their reaction to whatever their situations are. If a person chooses, they can accept the education presented before them or they can reject it.

Over the course of time these choices (which might be something like 35,000 a day), affect the overall growth of intelligence. A fallacy that Postmoderns make, and therefore something like what our school systems make, is that choice is not important when it comes to understanding someone. When we think about students, for example, we do not as much consider what the role of willpower has when it comes to education.

Teacher: “Man, all my kids bombed the test.”

Admin: “Well how did you teach your lesson? Did you present the material in a fun and engaging enough way? Did you make sure that all 30 of your students were paying attention to you for 100% of your class?”

[uhm, hello, Atlas Complex anyone? My first year as  a college TA my supervisor taught us about the Atlas Complex, and about not giving ourselves the Atlas Complex, and here I find it’s about the only thing administration encourages in its teachers. In brief, student success = 100% teacher responsibility]

Let’s think about a situation. Let’s gather, in our minds, a large group of people (not necessarily students) who have the same level of intelligence. For the sake of a standardization element, even a terrible one, let’s use the notion of IQ. This large group of people, say 100, all have a high intelligence. They are all at home and they’re just living their lives. You present all 100 people with the option of: reading a philosophy book, reading a romance book, watching a movie, or taking a nap. Each of these things affects intelligence in a different way. Arguably a philosophy book (a good one, anyway) challenges the intellect the most and a nap most definitely does not (while maybe everything else lies somewhere in between). Are all 100 really intelligent people going to choose the thing that increases their intelligence the most? No! Why would they? Because they have a choice!

Even in a situation in the modern classroom we find this same struggle. I present a group of 30 students with a task, to work on vocabulary recognition with a technique called Columns (a modified version of flash cards). This opportunity presents students with a really great way to study class content. But there are a multiplicity of choices on the students’ part with how to react to the material. They can do it all the way, following all of my seemingly arbitrary guidelines, they can do part of it, they can do the bare minimum and do it totally against the rules, or they can just opt out (I’ve seen all of these reactions, if you can’t tell). The students choices on how to react to the assignment affect their intelligence and affect their education. I did my part as a teacher: it’s graded work, it’s relevant to what we’re learning, I gave them plenty of time in class, etc. But how they choose to react is on them.

If you wanted to chart a graph of human intelligence, based on capacity, it might look like a graph with a vertical line. Everyone is on the same level of intelligence. But if you instead make a graph with human intelligence, based on actual (current) intelligence, you would more likely see what is called a Standard Deviation curve.

It’s almost like we were already aware of these facts…

The Postmodern reaction is, essentiallly, to push aside this curve of standard deviation, and to forget the participation of the person on the opposite side of the opportunities. Again, you just have to get enough opportunities out there and then everyone will be taken care of. In fact, just as admin asks the teacher “Well what did you do so that everyone failed?” the assumption is that opportunities have to be forced on the disadvantaged.

When it comes to education, for example, we have to force students to take up the opportunity for education so that they can be raised to a relatively equal level of intelligence. Except by doing this they are inherently putting aside the extremely valuable notion of free will!

In St. John Henry Cardinal Newman’s work Grammar of Assent, he expounds on the delectable saying:

“A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still.”

His exposition around this saying relies on the fact that even though you could possibly provide the most convincing logical argument, or (in a school setting) set up the most materially motivating principles for completing study with integrity, you are not going to receive an organic and natural result. Your own results are an artifice for your own gain at the end of a short time (if even that), but not earning any long term benefit for anyone.

In short, it is well to assume equal capacity for intelligence. It’s never too late for someone to learn anything. But it is absolutely right to assume inequality of intelligence in a population, simply because human beings have free will. It is not right to assume which person has lower or higher intelligence just because you don’t like them, but it is absolutely true that people with lower and higher intellects exist. It is also entirely fair to expect that in a situation like a classroom, not all students are going to excel in education and be intelligent.

Instead of falsely pretending that all people will excel in education, let’s presume that some people just aren’t going to make it that far. Not everyone needs to get a full high school education. We can help people become fully productive members of society without that much education. But liberal education is also good, and those who can should go as far in their education as is possible. Access to apprenticeships should be way easier, and students should have access to starting them sooner. We also should learn, as a society, to be accommodating to such an idea as varied intellects. People who don’t get as much education as someone else shouldn’t make less money arbitrarily. Especially if they go through an apprenticeship and become really skilled at a certain task, but even if they aren’t necessarily skilled, a person shouldn’t have to worry about feeding their family. Inasmuch, they shouldn’t be shamed because of choosing a professional apprenticeship instead of carrying on with a high school or university education. They’re still people, and valuable people at that.

We are a singular race of people with the power of free will, of making choices, no matter how hard the consequences might be. I think we can act like it, too.

Some Things Never Change – A Metaphysical Reflection

I’ve already written on the nature of love and caritas in Frozen and Frozen II, but now I wish to turn my attention to the least important character in the films – Olaf. You see, Olaf is there for the laughs, the unexpected punchlines, and any void of seriousness. Occasionally, though, he offers some really solid lines, the ones that matter.

“There’s your act of true love—riding across the fjords like a valiant, pungent, reindeer king.”

“I just thought of one thing that’s permanent – love.”

The reason that these lines stick is because the audience doesn’t expect them. Man, if cartoons aren’t worth analyzing, then surely Olaf isn’t. Except there is something that stands out about him. Because he maintains such a sideline position for the majority of the films, he gains a unique outsider position and a unique authority.

One specific vein of discussion that routinely arises around Olaf is the nature of change, especially around himself. In the first movie this notion is subtle, as he exposes the fact that he is entirely ignorant and naïve about change. In the end he doesn’t even face the consequences of change when Elsa preserves him with his own little snow flurry.

As he progresses into the second movie, though, it’s clear that his preservation of form, from snow flurry to a layer of permafrost, is not synonymous with a preservation of naivete. He has learned more about life (albeit not nearly enough), and is becoming aware that not everything around him gets to have the same blessing of a personal snow flurry or a layer of permafrost. He asks Anna:

“You’re older and thus all knowing. Do you ever worry about the notion that *dramatic look* nothing is permanent?”

This sparks, of course, an entire song where we get a glimpse into Anna’s fragile sense of love, the power that a sidekick character like Olaf has to cause. His question is nothing to laugh at, however. How would you answer him? If your own small child walked up to you and asked you this question, are you able to answer?

We humans are always worried about any time but the present. The future is unknown and scary and our past good times (which weren’t all that good but they seem better than what we have now) are always fleeting and have run away. Food satiates us for a short while with our hunger but then we just get hungry again. Have you ever thought about how boring it is to have to keep up with eating sometimes? That beautiful sunset that graced our eyes is all of a sudden gone again and all that lives of it is our memory. But Anna tells him this isn’t true – some things never change. Yet, from my other article we know that Anna’s understanding about what doesn’t change is clearly not reliable. So is Olaf right? Does everything change?

Funnily enough, this is a philosophical question that people have been thinking about since the time of the Greeks. Our first point of reference is Parmenides. Parmenides was an ancient Greek philosopher who proposed something quite wildly opposite to Olaf – he said that nothing changes! He said that everything that we perceive to actually be changing is just an illusion caused by our mind.

How? Essentially he thought through the following.

  1. Things either exist or they don’t.
  2. Being is that which exists, and Non-being is that which does not exist.
  3. If Being is going to change, then it has to be caused from outside that Being.
  4. The only thing outside of Being is Non-Being.
  5. Non-Being cannot cause anything.
  6. There is nothing to cause change in Being,

Therefore:

change does not exist.

 

This is quite the proposal. It assumes that everything we experience as change is just an illusion and experience of the mind. It is a bit radical, and Aristotle thought so as well. To claim that there is only Existence and Non-Existence without any sort of nuance is a lot to propose.

Aristotle took a look at this work and argued that there is a little more that happens in the span between Being and Non-Being. Rather than start with the premise that things either exist or don’t exist, Aristotle suggests that in every thing that changes there is a bit of existence and a bit of existence that could happen, which is a bit like non-being except that the potential for something to happen is something that actually exists, albeit not physically. He calls that which exists in a thing act or actuality, and that which could exist potency or potentiality. Change, Aristotle says, is the reduction, or realization, of potency into act.

If you have some rubber, it can be nice. But if you had a rubber ball…well that’s just a lot nicer. You see, the potency of a rubber ball exists within rubber, as it is a potential reality for that rubber, but it won’t exist unless some other thing reduces that potency into act. Aristotle allows that another being (i.e. a person) has the ability to do this, the only two options for reality not being Being and Non-Being (like what Parmenides thought). So, therefore, we can define change as change exists – as reducing potency to act. That is what happens all around us all of the time.

Now, does everything reduce from potency to act? That might be a bit of a tall claim. In fact, Aristotle does not think that everything undergoes change. You see, if you think about some change, like a person making rubber into a rubber ball, you can see that one change is always dependent on some other change. That change needs be complete, though, in its own way. That is, the act, and not potency, of something else is what is needed to effect change. The potency for a person to shape a rubber ball is not what causes the change, but the act of a person shaping. So the reduction of rubber’s potency for a ball to the act of a ball is done by something else in act. But the act of a person’s hand shaping the ball is only possible because that reduction of act to potency was caused by something else that was in act, namely the movement of muscle. And that was supported by a change in neurons, and that was supported by a change in chemicals, and that was supported by active molecular bonding. And that was…

This can go on forever. Or can it? Now we get to the root of answering Olaf’s query. Is nothing permanent? Aristotle and later philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas, argue that something has to be permanent. In a single slice of time, the shaping of a ball is supported by an incredibly large number of changes that happen in a supporting fashion. Aristotle and Aquinas argue that underneath all of these changes there must be something in act that does not require a reduction out of potency like everything else. There must be something that actively sustains everything else which is self-supportive. Think here of a philosophical or metaphysical bedrock on which everything else is supported.

This one metaphysically necessary thing, this one permanent thing, is not some passive agent, either. It is actively involved in the support of everything that changes in the Universe. If something changes, it first must be sourced in this thing that is not changing. It cannot get it’s change from nothingness, as Parmenides had to have some idea about truth, it has to get change from something else that exists positively. This permanent thing is what Aristotle refers to as the Unmoved Mover. In Aristotelian language ‘move’ is another word for change. We could rephrase the term as the Unchanged Changer.

Now if you’re as pagan as Aristotle, or if you just leave the argument there, then this may feel insignificant. So what if there’s an Unmoved Mover? Looks like it will keep supporting you so that’s fine. Moving along. But if you keep reading around the tradition of philosophy that surround the Unmoved Mover, you will see that it doesn’t just stop there. This Unmoved Mover has quite a few other traits that can be surmised from other philosophical arguments. Aquinas says that the Unmoved Mover is that which we call ‘God.’

Again, Olaf tells Anna:

“I just thought of one thing that’s permanent – love.”

There is a necessary priority about the existence of things. The Unmoved Mover, the Universe’s metaphysical bedrock, has to exist prior to everything else. We don’t exist first and demand that the Unmoved Mover keeps up with us; no, the Unmoved Mover exists and therefore we exist dependently on it. But if the Unmoved Mover can subsist all by itself, why should we exist at all? We aren’t necessary the way that the Unmoved Mover is. Whence comes our purpose for existing?

The answer is that there is a part of volition, or willpower, on the part of the Unmoved Mover. The Unmoved Mover desires that we exist, and therefore it is possible for us to exist and makes choices. The second that the Unmoved Mover removes the will for us to exist, then *poof* we’re done. We don’t hold the metaphysical power here, the Unmoved Mover does. What Olaf points to, and what none of the characters perhaps realize, is that they have hinted at caritas, as you may remember from my last article. Caritas is love, specifically a love that wills the good of the other for no other reason than that they fulfill their good. Our existence is good, and our existence is literally willed by the Unmoved Mover, for no other sake than the fact that our existence is a good thing. In short? The Unmoved Mover, or God, if you will, wills our good for own sake. He loves us.

 

Thanks Olaf!