Intruder narratives of immaterial activity

Hypothesis: many of the accounts of immaterial activity are characterized by an intruder narrative, that is, the idea that there is a physical world whose actions are of themselves wholly determined, or at least that they would be wholly determined if nothing acted on them. Immaterial or non physical actions thus can only be understood as intruding on this realm or as pushing it aside from what it would have done by itself. Immateriality is thus viewed as a sort of violence inflicted on the physical. The premise is held in common by both dualists and materialists/physicalists; it is used to define what a miracle is (a “violation of the laws of nature”); it is a tacit premise in “the interaction problem”; it is at the heart of the Kantian antimony concerning divine action on the world,  etc.

This intruder narrative has some value in explaining miracles, but even here it is insufficient. It’s of no value at all in explaining ordinary providence, angelic activity in the cosmos, or the inner-cosmic activity of soul.

The intruder narrative only makes sense if the physical is taken as wholly determined in the same mode in which animate activity is said to make a difference. But animate activity adds to the physical not some new vector or time value, but rather makes some vectors and time values intrinsically directed. Physical vectors only have direction by convenience,  or arbitrary stipulation; but the vector of the ball from the pitcher to the batter is not arbitrary. It is not merely arbitrary to say the batter hit the ball as opposed to saying the pitcher hit the bat.

Intrinsic time direction is slightly different, though incomplete physical theory is not totally clear on this point, since it is not clear if there is any intrinsic physical value to time. If there is not, then life differs from the physical in that it has an obvious temporal direction that is lacking from activity specified by physical law. All the laws of physics we have found so far (leave aside entropy for a moment, though not because it is necessarily an exception) are time reversible, but life is not time reversible but has a definite direction in a line of maturity.  If there is some physical value to the direction of time, then even then consciousness possesses a time value that transcends this. If we were to go backwards or forwards in time, we could anticipate or look forward the past and remember the future, which requires us to divide the physical order of time from a more absolute sense of the time of consciousness.

The claim here is that only soul is intrinsically directed, whether in space or time. The direction to anything else, therefore, can only be by way of participation in soul. In the measure that the physical is seen as having direction, it borrows this from soul or works as its instrument.



  1. PatrickH said,

    January 23, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Would this mean the action of the First Mover is precisely the moving forward of the world in time?

  2. Gian said,

    January 24, 2014 at 5:58 am

    Wasn’t the intruder narrative the point of view adopted by CS Lewis in Miracles and underlies the argument from reason presented therein?

%d bloggers like this: