Mc Luhan and the Antichrist

Hypothesis: Mc Luhan notes that communications technology is an extension of the nervous system. But the nervous system could not stand to be extended by itself – an eye that could only see and not touch – but will seek to grow a pair of hands to control and manipulate the things its sees. If this is right, national communications will pull towards a national centralization and control of things. Global communications are the embryo of global governance.



The asymmetry of logical possibility and impossibility


L = Logically possible.

O = Something an omnipotent being can cause.

Now there is a very old tradition that if ~L then ~O, since there is no such being to be caused. Said more poorly, “omnipotence does not extend to logical contradictions.” It follows logically from this that if O then L.

What I want to deny, but what has a long tradition of being argued in modern philosophy, is if L then O. We get a famous suggestion of such an argument by Descartes, who is clearly borrowing on a long line of voluntarist thought when he says:

[T]he belief that there is a God who is all powerful, and who created me, such as I am, has, for a long time, obtained steady possession of my mind. How, then, do I know that he has not arranged that there should be neither earth, nor sky, nor any extended thing, nor figure, nor magnitude, nor place, providing at the same time, however, for [the rise in me of the perceptions of all these objects, and] the persuasion that these do not exist otherwise than as I perceive them ? And further, as I sometimes think that others are in error respecting matters of which they believe themselves to possess a perfect knowledge, how do I know that I am not also deceived each time I add together two and three, or number the sides of a square, or form some judgment still more simple, if more simple indeed can be imagined.

Descartes immediately suggests that he agrees that if ~L then ~O, and so this argument seems to be an attempt to move from L to O. The “How, then, do I not know”* claim seems to be a claim of logical possibility, which he then claims falls immediately under O.

Voltaire, in clarifying an argument from Locke, makes the L–>O move unmistakably:

The point is not whether we know if matter can think by itself…The point is not whether we know if our soul is spiritual or not. The point is simply whether we know enough about matter and thought to be bold enough to assert that…God cannot communicate thought to the being we call matter

Locke, of course, could see no reason why this could not be the case, and so judged that it did fall under omnipotence.

But that’s where the magic happens. As soon as we say that logical possibility indicates falling under divine omnipotence, what is logically possible becomes really possible. The problem with this is that logical possibility can follow from ignorance, forgetfulness, or imperfect knowledge. As far as a blind man is concerned, it’s logically possible that blue and green are the same color. Maybe the whole sighted world is confused on the point (they’ve been confused about colors before), maybe they’re all involved in some grand conspiracy to trick him, whatever. But omnipotence is not some philosopher’s stone that empowers us to magically transform ignorance into existence, which is what the if L then O move requires. 

The same move rules out the even more dubious move to go directly from logical to real possibility, which seems to be involved in any talk of “possible worlds”. At any rate, it’s certainly involved in the attempt to move from the possibility of God to his existence. Such a move might work if we posit from the outset an ideal knower that is in no way deceived and has all possible knowledge, but then we’ve just posited God from the outset.

There is, in other words, an asymmetry between logical possibility and impossibility. A thing is logically impossible precisely because we see a contradiction in it; and so L is a matter of what we see, and failure to see something is not the same thing as to see it’s not there.


*The distinctive mark of the L—>O move is some variant on “but how do we not know that” or “for all we know it might be that”.

Why “consciousness”?

What was soul or intellect to The Greeks and Medievals and thinking substance to Descartes became consciousness for the first time with Locke. The change stuck, and we still use the same abstract noun. But do we still accept Locke’s reason for the term?

Locke is very clear that he wants consciousness to replace substance, the latter reality being, by his reckoning, unknowable. We do not have a self because we are substances of a certain sort (if this were so I couldn’t know I am a self) and so all self can consist in is the continuity of consciousness. Notice that Locke wants consciousness precisely as a continuous record of events – it is not so much awareness in a moment but a tale-of-the-tape that ensures that me-yesterday and me-now are the same person. Consciousness, and thus the person becomes a narrative record. Self ceases to be that which perseveres and becomes, with the idea of consciousness, the persevering itself.

Note on sex differences

(I’m aware that these sorts of arguments are controversial and it pays to alwasy develop one’s points at length, make all the clear up-front qualifications about exceptions to the rule, note that there is more variation between individuals than between groups, etc. But I’ll just charge ahead and make the fast-and-loose case anyway.)

One approach to arguing for different sexes giving rise to different personalities would be this:

Different powers cause different personalities.

Men and women are born with and naturally develop  different powers.

Assume for a moment that all persons arose as identical as ball bearings. Then assume we took half of  made them comfortable with being outside when it was 10 below. There’s little doubt that this would lead them to have different ways of acting and responding to the world. Even very remote things would be affected – the housing prices for land in the Yukon territory would change, the seasons for playing sports would change, “winter” would cease to be a metaphor for desolation and discomfort, we’d cease to spontaneously associate it with disease (since there was never causality involved here anyway).  But this sort of change in our responses, beliefs and actions just is a personality change.

 True, these powers would have to be significant in order to cause significant change, and so to apply this analogy to sex differences involves an appraisal of just how significant they are. The primary sex characteristics (ability to bear children, ability to impregnate, etc.) are clear enough, but there are secondary characteristics worth keeping in mind as well: Skeletal structure is stronger in men, as is the male hand, which is the primary organ of manipulation of the things in the world. This greater strength comes at a cost, however, since attunement to the environment requires less rigidity in the organs of contact. Power to manipulate the world is inversely proportionate to our attunement and sensitivity to what is going on in it. Again, manipulation makes the thing manipulated an extension of the self, and so does not relate to it primarily in the thing’s own subjectivity. In this sense, power and even authority is inversely proportional to the acknowledgement of subjectivity and interpersonal relation, at least so far as these things have a bodily component. Other more obvious secondary sex characteristics, both in humans and in other primates, point to the same zero-sum-game between domination of the environment and the sensitivity and attunement to the environment, especially the other subjects of the environment. We can strike balances between these things and develop modes of cultivaing the skills that do not come to us spontaneously, but even these developments will be conditioned and built off of innate habitus.

A swipe at defining “personality”

The definition has three parts:

a.) The physical, conscious and unconscious factors

b.) that divide up the human population into characteristic beliefs, responses, and actions

c.) without dividing it as better or worse or perfect and imperfect.

a.) That personality involves our conscious life is beyond dispute, but it is also conditioned and determined by both physical and unconscious factors. By “physical” I include sex differences and body type morphology, but not chronic illness (divisions into better and worse are divided from personality traits as such), along with personality traits we see as parallel in other non-human animals. There are blurry lines of division here.

b.) Personality has to be defined as the manifold responses to one environmental event.  The extent to which events themselves must be incorporated into personality (a la Walter Mischel) is disputed, but we assume we can include them in this part of the definition.

Notice that the definition requires that personality traits divide the population. This eliminates anything universal to all human beings. Things belonging to irascibility, concupiscence, or universal human reactions are precluded. While it is certainly true that sexual desire or the desire for power and respect will determine a great deal about what we believe and do, these are not personality traits in the sense we are interested in since they are common to all. We make an exception with respect to the unconscious factors that determine personality, since in this case we are forced to study universal traits of the unconscious. There are two reasons for this: (i) since these traits are unconscious, we need to spend some time with those factors that are general and common to all persons to get the lay of the land before we make more subtle distinctions; and (ii) this area of personality research is relatively new and so it has not moved much beyond the general.

c.) This part of the definition universally overlooked. Skills and moral characteristics also divide persons, but these are not the subject of “personality” as such. The characteristic responses to a fire will be different among skilled firemen, brave and cowardly persons, depressed persons, etc. but these do not give us insight into personality as it is studied in psychology. In all these cases, the division is into good and bad or perfect and imperfect. The distinctions into, say, introvert and extravert, male and female, passive and aggressive etc. do not fall on these lines.

Ten Years

This blog started ten years ago last week, and the first archived post dates to today. This makes blogging the longest continuous endeavor of my adult life: older than marriage, kids, home-ownership, etc. More to the point, it’s the longest amount of time I’ve devoted to anything sheerly for the love of doing it.

The blog started in the hope of being a part of a larger website that would function as an ongoing philosophical seminar, but the nature of blogging didn’t allow for this. Blogs are essentially personal, and even group blogs are just some number of personal ones displayed on the same page. Comboxes, for various reasons, never read like ongoing seminars on the point of the post or even Q+A’s after a speech, but share in the the idiosyncrasies of blogging itself. At any rate I have little talent for comboxing, which requires a different if in some ways overlapping skill set to writing posts. And so the nature of the thing mixed with my own personality to make this blog a public-though-voiceless record of the things I saw while alone in contemplation.

A good number of the things I saw were embarrassing nonsense, others just wrong, others merely fatally flawed. I’ve put in some time towards deleting the the worst of these and I continue to do so.  But I’ve hit upon a few ideas that are worth keeping too, often by working them out over the course of a few years. I still stand by claims like (a) the argument from evil has no coherent and/or necessary account of divine goodness, (b) that form is the principle of the whole and matter of the part (c.) that the “more and less” in the Fourth Way is of perseity (d.) that the best entryway into the mystery of God is the fact that we must understand him as both a concrete hypostasis and an abstract nature. Most of these claims are underwritten by St. Thomas, but they deserve to be developed and highlighted as responses to modern problems and as valuable insights in themselves.

Much of the work here goes far afield of anything St. Thomas dealt with explicitly, and I’ve toyed with the idea of renaming the blog. But the development of any rational system happens by way of objections, fights, and occasional journeys to the land of foreign  doctrines. There were far more fundamental disputes at the University of Paris than one ever finds among modern Scholastics; and St. Thomas himself spent far more time trying to overturn his own ideas than most of his disciples. For all that, I love that burly  introverted friar more than I’ll ever be able to love any other thinker. The name stands.

I’m very thankful for those who read the things I write here. I would have abandoned a mere private diary or a blog with no readers after two entries, and so each of you had an essential role to play in the project.

So now back to the regularly scheduled fare until, God willing, I feel the need to write another post like this after 20 years.

Altered consciousness and the truth of the world

A few days ago I argued that we don’t have the sort of experience that determinism requires. This morning I wondered if I had found an objection to this during an experience of déjà vu. I experienced my self going down some vein of experience marked out in advance, and in having my choices flow down a causal channel already seen. During the experience I thought that determinism could feel like this.

But if this is right then the proper intuition of physics is a matter of altered and even paranormal consciousness. This raises the question whether our evolved, everyday consciousness is adequately attuned to the reality of the world, or at least whether it is attuned to it beyond the first orders of approximation.

On the one hand, we recognize that the truth of things is there to find; on the other hand, we recognize that the tools we use to discover truth were adapted from organs that were not ordered to this purpose. Contrary to Aristotle’s claim in II De anima, the five senses do not exhaust all possible modes of physical information, and the axioms we use to understand the physical (like the primacy of mechanical interaction) are at least conditioned by modes of consciousness that were adapted to surviving in an environment and not necessarily to seeing the inner nature of objects.

But these altered modes of consciousness seem to only have value for a single vision of things and not for making a science. The most they promise is insight, not discourse. But this is a claim at odds with itself, since no one can doubt that many of our deepest insights came from discourse, and science itself is essentially discourse. And so there seems to be a contradiction in a science of altered consciousness. All this would amount to is a denial of the value of science.

This would be possible if there were some insight that could entirely do away with the need for discourse, and the search for an altered consciousness is an attempt to anticipate this. But so long as this new consciousness is an altered one, it is altered precisely away from the everyday consciousness in which discourse is an invaluable mode of insight. And so altered consciousness could only have a value in a new life or another life where all could be given in pure insight.  It cannot have any value as another consciousness in the context of the consciousness we have now.

But then, if this argument works, it is a justification of the value of the everyday consciousness we have now, even as it is conditioned by elements that were not of themselves ordered to truth. These elements must be understood as underwritten by something outside of this adaptive process that is capable or ordering things to truth.

Omne quod movetur as a principle of all physics

Physical determinism is an axiom since in looking at a fundamental particle we see its position, activity, and even existence as sufficiently explained by its previous causal history, that is, by antecedent physical causal factors. QM – even if we knew whether it was an theory with ontological status or a set of simplest recipes to get results, which we don’t – doesn’t change the fundamental axiom. All it does is make the antecedent physical factors tied to their results by probable and not binary values.

But to say that the position, activity and even existence of a fundamental physical object is determined in this way is to define the physical as what is actualized or moved by another. And so we link up again with the ancient-medieval idea that omne quod movetur ab alio movetur. Now it might seem that there is no overlap here, since the modern idea appeals to the causal history, that is, to what the medievals would have called an accidental causal series. This is not right. First, because every member in this causal series is seen as a manifestation of physical law  – and if this thing is to be of any physical value it has to be some sort of form immediately relating to the physical; second, because this accidental causal series is seen as relating to the causally closed system of the universe itself and so it is the universe itself which is seen as in motion. The causal series is therefore only accidental when considered locally, in the same way that, if there were a train with a thousand cars, there is only an accidental relationship between car 344 and 532, though this is only because the motion is properly of the whole train and not of any of its parts.

And so omne quod movetur is axiomatic and will always factor into our account of the physical. But this is to define the physical in relation to another. We are already comfortable seeing universe and law as other than the physical, although it certainly seems strange to speak of the universe as something other than the physical. If all we mean by “universe” is “all physical things”, then the universe ceases to be the “other” that the axiom demands. We could solve this problem by saying that the universe is something over and above the mere series of parts making it up, but this is to introduce a principle that makes the universe a true whole over and above its parts. But this is to introduce, by definition, a “world soul”. But this throws the door wide open to making the physical subordinate to other sorts of souls or whole makers, whether they are intrinsic or extrinsic to the physical. 

Notes on Emma Jung’s Animus and Anima

Animus and Anima are present in all modes of consciousness. The masculine and feminine both manifest themselves consciously in qualia (feeling a baby kick in the womb) in the subconscious and unconscious (releasing progesterone during pregnancy to  stop ovulation, producing semen, the focus arising from testosterone) and in the collective unconscious (masculine and feminine roles structure collective experience, language, literature, etc.)

Animus has distinctive notes that must be expressed in the mode of Anima where Anima predominates. For Jung, the distinctive notes of Animus are Power, meaning, and self-consciousness. Power is the predominant mode of animus in primitive experience. Here the paradigms are the hero (Achilles, Beowulf), the cowboy, the athlete. The paradigm manifests competition, drive, determination, authority, superiority. This level of Animus has many expressions in Anima: the figure skater, female gymnast, powerful queen, grizzly-mother, activist, office manager. Where meaning and self-consciousness are measured by relationship to God or in religious terms, there are also clear modes of equality between Animus and Anima: Animus makes theologies and disputes over abstract concepts; Anima has personal, mystical insight within the religious-wisdom tradition.

The problem arises when self-consciousness is defined through the inherently abstract, impersonal, and fundamentally subjugative mode of technological accomplishment. Anima has yet to find a way to express itself in this mode, and so finds itself fundamentally alienated. This is the problem of Anima in the contemporary world, and it is not clear whether valuing technology in this way can be just. But this does not bode well for technology, since Anima simply will not tolerate this sort of exclusion from the highest mode of consciousness for long.

My objections to the thin theory of being

Peter Van Inwagen defined his theory of metaphysics by saying that being was either equivalent to or closely tracked what could be numbered. I owe him a debt since I think this idea is perfectly and brilliantly wrong. If we get down to the very bottom of things, numerable being is exactly what metaphysics seems to be about – what it self-evidently seems to be about – but isn’t. The attraction of the idea is both from its simplicity and obviousness and its promise of power. If being is the numerable, then mathematics is metaphysics – what is most intelligible to us is most intelligible in itself, and the ease and power of mathematics becomes the key to being as such. Because of its algebraic manipulation, symbolic logic is seen as taking part in this mathematical power and attracts us with the possibility of resolving all philosophical disputes by Leibnizian calculation. Putting it like this is more triumphalist and universal than an Analytic philosopher would be comfortable with, but it’s true all the same.

I’ve previously argued that this sort of metaphysics is contradictory since it requires that everything that exists (the one of being) is part or source of a larger whole (the one of number), which leaves us having to define existence in opposition to the totality of all things (regardless of whether this whole is finite or not) even while the word “existence” above all is coined in order to mean the totality of all that is since it names what is common to all that is.

Another argument is based not on the division of one but an an account of number itself:

So far as something is potential, it has being derivatively and by another

Things are numbered so far as they are potential.

First, a note on the composition of act and potency:

Aristotle introduces act and potency as intrinsic principles of movable being, and so he considers them parts of the being they constitute. But there is a crucial distinction between act and potency as parts and the integral parts that constitute a whole, like the bricks that make a wall or the organs that make up the nervous system. Act is a principle that constitutes the whole as such and it is only together with potency when the being has constitutive realities (parts) that are distinct from the whole. If such parts exist, they are given being and coordinated by form. Each of the parts is interactive and dependent on the other parts, but form is not dependent on parts – it is a part only in the sense of being a principle of the whole.

But – and I take this as self-evident – everything able to be numbered is a part of some whole*; and to be a part of a whole belongs to a thing so far as it is potential, then numerable beings are only possible to the extent they are potential. This potency divides into three strata:

1.) What is potential both in its being and its activity. Such existence is material, and can be numbered both in its activities and its substance

2.) What is potential in its activity, but not in its being. This is subsistent intellectual activity which uses more than one concept to know all things distinctly. At its summit, this is whatever angel can know all things distinctly either by two concepts. These concepts admit of real enumeration, even in angels, and so are characterized by a discourse and so by a sort of time. This is the sense of Augustine’s observation that God moves all creatures (even angels) in time. It is a reference to the  multiplicity of concepts required for all finite intellects. These beings are numbered in their activities but not in their substance.

3.) Neither potential in activity nor in being. At this level, division does not arise from finitude or opposition. Division in God does not result in parts or in individuals that are enumerated. The Father is different from the Son is different from the Holy Spirit, but this division is not into parts but into individuals that are each the entirety of what is in finite beings the class or totality in which they are contained.

Now so far as the Father, Son and Spirit are things known to us or concepts in our mind, then they share in the multiplicity that all such concepts have. In fact, all second intentions (concepts as conceived by us) have this sort of multiplicity. But this is a fact about our understanding and not about things. We might “number” all the angels too, but this is also doing nothing but numbering the second intentions of a human mind. This is the only sense in which divinity might be numbered, whether in substance or activity.

It is this sheer homogeneity of human second intentions that gives us the illusion that being is numerable, and this is at the heart of the error of the “thin theory of being” that Van Inwagen sees as metaphysics. He thinks he is counting beings when in fact he’s only counting thoughts about things in the lowest sort of intellectual being.


*Whether this whole is infinite or finite is of no difference here, only that each of the parts is constitutive of it.

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