Interior dialogue II

The universe is immense, therefore you are not special.

Why is that? If the problem is that the universe is immense, then human life would be instantly special  if a person were a bit bigger (like a few million light-years tall).

That’s not what I mean. I mean that when you look at the universe, our world looks like it came by chance

Special things happen by chance all the time. Mozart was born to a musical family.

Yes, but Christians believe they have a special place in the universe, which means the world can’t come to be by chance.

What Christian argues that providence doesn’t extend to chance events? What a perfectly stupid idea! And when will they start taking Eccesiastes seriously?

You’re making stupid, technical objections. The best hypothesis is that the world just happened. It doesnt look planned, it looks like a random event. Maybe some other hypothesis explains things, but purposelessness explains everything best.

Perhaps. But natural causes are more evident, and you haven’t said a word about nature. Many of the natural causes that make worlds are pretty well known: mass, force, energy. We can study these things and know how our world came to be.

But that ‘s what I mean, all these things just happen from natural causes.

Is this where you bring in those perfectly worthless  “blind forces” again?

Yes. If you just let the forces bang around enough- blindly- you get a world.

And if you let billions of seeds bang around enough- blindly- you  get some plants. Living things purposely use immense numbers of seeds.  If it takes so many seeds to make a dandelion, we could expect a universe to be left over after making an earth.


Interior dialogue on “blind forces”

All came to be from blind forces

What’s a blind force? What do I call the force I hit a baseball with? A sentient force?

No no no…when we call a force “blind” we mean it is not directed to a goal.

So a blind force has no direction? That’s not true (and what about the forces I direct, any way?)

No, we mean that a blind force is not directed by mind.

So the force I hit the baseball with is another kind of force? The measurement of the force, the equations for it, the vector plotting, etc are different?

No.

So no analysis of the force made you call it blind. So why did you say all came to be from blind forces? 

Because we didn’t see the forces directed by human beings or intelligent things, etc.

But you didn’t see the forces that all things came to be from at all! Where did you learn about them?

From Science! From Physics!

But physics doesn’t care about the difference between blind forces and… whatever the opposite of blind forces are (you never came up with a decent name to call them). You didn’t learn about blind forces there.

It’s a postulate of physics, its methodological naturalism.

No it isn’t. Physics doesn’t distinguish between forces like you think it does at all.  Physics is no more methodologically naturalist than it is methodologically theist, or spiritualist, or humanist, or animist. Physics has no tools whatsoever to figure out whether forces are blind or sentient. So where did you learn about “blind forces”?

Actual agents go towards one thing as opposed to another, and so their action is toward an end.

We should never overestimate our powers to know what this end is- in most cases we do not know it, and we probably never will know it. We can only know that there is some end, not what the end is in particular.

In the case of the sorts of motions considered most “scientific”; i.e. inertial motions, chemical changes, energy conversions, etc, we have no idea what exactly the end is, and we perhaps never will. The reason for this is that inanimate things perform no action for their own sake, since such action is proper to living things. It is therefore unnecessary, and perhaps impossible, to say (for example) that some radioactive substance gives off isotopes for the sake of the radioactive substance, or that an inanimate object floating by in space is attaining some good for the floating object itself. Inanimate things have no selves, and therefore cannot act for themselves. See Questio disputata de anima a. 13 co. in inanimate things what happens is from some extrinsic agent, in living things, it is from some interior agent. The sense here is not that inanimate things are totally inert: St. Thomas knew about fire, lightening, magnets and falling stones. The sense is that the action of the inanimate does not constitute a self motion, which no one disagrees with. For an account of life as self motion, see Summa theologiae I q. 18 a. 3 co.

What follows from everyone knowing that “relativism” is false?

Everyone knows that moral relativism is impossible. Almost no one has ever knowingly advocated it. A high school kid can crush it. So now what?

All “relativisms” fail because they nominate something absurd as an absolute. Cultural relativism says that some culture is absolute; moral relativism says that someones own opinions, or upbringing, or circumstances are absolute. But they aren’t absolute. So what is? “Nothing” is not an option. This just lands us in the same relativism that no one ever accepted anyway. So what is? Two things? So relativism would make more sense if there were only two people/historical eras/cultures etc? Nonsense. We are forced to a single Absolute, who is nothing like some division of time or finite agent in space.

We know relativism is false because we know something like St. Thomas’s Fourth Way is true. One Cosmos gives a pitch-perfect account of the argument:

To say “progress” is to say “God,” for the very word implies a standard of truth, or beauty, or moral excellence, a standard which cannot exist in the absence of the absolute. Remove the absolute, then truly, nothing is any better or more true than anything else. This is a hierarchical cosmos. Deal with it.

There is some dispute over whether the Fourth Way proves its point by the second sentence. I used to think no, but I lean more towards yes now.

Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum.

The Martyr

Soon you come to take my corpse away.

And each of us will see the other

Dead upon the earth.

The interaction problem

The “interaction problem”: how can the intellect be immaterial when no one can imagine how the immaterial can interact with the material?

It’s odd that people view this as an objection. I look at the same facts and view it as a proof. Of course you can’t imagine the interaction. That’s the whole point! Did you think we were kidding when we said “immaterial”? If I could imagine the interaction, then I’d be wrong! Don’t you see that I’m insisting that you can’t imagine any interaction?

What then? does anyone want to insist that what is, is imaginable? That’s a relic of “space and time” Kantianism that thought Newtonianism was the end of scientific history.

There is no “interaction problem” with intellect from the point of view of sensation or imagination. Seen from within the imagination, intellect does not even exist, so interaction is totally out of the question.

Set yourself for the moment within the sensible universe. Two images have just been made one, like a clam and a rhinoceros being made into an animal. Where are they one? Nowhere. What do they look like? Nothing. Who combined them and drew them together into a single idea? No one. In the imagination, they remain just what they are, just where they are. Nothing has touched them or moved them or even seen them.

Intellect as unimaginable

Both Aristotle and St. Thomas quote Democritus approvingly as saying “you can’t make two out of one, or one out of two”. This is helpful axiom to remember when we analyze understanding. I look at two plants and form two images. How do I make the one idea of a plant out of them? How is it even possible to form a single image of an iris and a palm tree?

The answer is that you don’t need another image to make the images in your brain one, just as you don’t need another chemical to make the chemicals in your skeleton alive. The union you draw among images is not an image. From the viewpoint of the imagination, intellect is nowhere, and it never touches the images at all.

Imagination can reproduce infinite pictures of the whole cosmos, from the details of atomic models to the light-year measurements of the universe that make our whole galaxy the size of a pin prick. The pictures will not find intellect or will anywhere. This world of change and death, while remaining just what it is,  is a willing offering to a higher power.

Intellect and sense

It’s easy enough to imagine forming a generic image of a mosquito after we have seen several of them- but if this is what a universal is, then the exact same process forms the generic image “animal” after we have seen mosquitoes, clams, and dolphins. But what in the world does that image look like? As our concepts become more general, any images of them become more and more incoherent. According to St. Thomas, therefore, as our concepts become more and more intelligible to us, any supposed image of them becomes less and less intelligible. Unless we make an essential distinction between sensation and intellect we are forced to say that sensation becomes better to the extent that it becomes worse.

On the irreducibility of the more universal in our knowledge

Why not say that a universal is nothing other than a collection of its species, or the species is nothing other than collection of individuals? St. Thomas never speaks to this question directly, but a fitting response can be gathered from what he says about how species arise in the process of our knowing.

Our intellect moves from what is more general to what is more distinct by adding  to our general ideas, and the concept of “species” arises as the result of adding to some general idea. Species arises precisely by adding a difference to a genus. If one simply reduces the genus to a multitude of species, he annihilates the very thing that he added the difference to in order to form the species in the first place. An analogous argument applies to the distinction between the species and the individuals. There is something that makes this individual different from that one. Whatever this difference is, if we do away with the species we annihilate the very thing that allowed for opposing differences between the individuals. And so just as the very notion of species vanishes when we identify the genus with all of its species, so too the very notion of an individual vanishes when we identify the species with all of its individual members.

One might object that individuals are still different from each other even if they do not have a common genus. For example, there is no common genus of “shoe” and “white”, but they are certainly different. But this uses a notion of “different” which is not being discussed here. This kind of difference is what St. Thomas calls “other”, which is any absence of identity. If everything that was other than something was a difference in the way we are speaking of here, then “inanimate” could be a difference added to animal, and non-being could be a difference added to being itself.

In general, to say that a genus is nothing other than a multitude of species or a species is nothing other than its individual members is to destroy the order of our knowing, which proceeds from the more universal to the less universal by various kinds of addition. This explains why St. Thomas did not need to argue for why the more universal could never be reduced to the more particular, for he saw that understanding the former was the very principle by which we understand the latter, and so to reduce the more universal to the less universal destroys the very means by which we understand the less universal.

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