Intelligence in nature

-The Fifth Way argues that direction is intelligence-dependent, and that nature has direction but no intelligence.

Re-write: given direction and final causality, either panpsychism or theism. STA apparently takes panpsychism as absurd, and the prima facie case for this is very good.

Leibniz: Consciousness is any incorporation and representation of multiplicity in unity. “Representation” seems circular, but the basic idea is clear. Whatever has a universe, an umwelt, a domain of survey, action, and direction is perceptive over it.

Ruyer: Our own consciousness is just the peculiar consciousness of beings with nervous systems that incorporate information about what is other than self/body. The digestive tract has a consciousness that is self-absorbed and looks after the unity of its manifold operations while the brain, in order to perform an identical act of self-absorption, must incorporate information from outside the organ. The domain from esophagus to the end of the colon is what the consciousness of the digestive tract calls the universe. And it is right. It grows its own food, conserves all its energy, and can date the moment of its big bang. We judge this claim only because we have a perspective that allows us to be extrinsic to this universe.

-Aristotle: The best metaphor for nature is a doctor healing himself. The metaphor is identical to – though not as good as – the barber who shaves himself or the chef who cooks his own meals. Acorns are oak-makers provided with all that they need to make themselves. We see the oak’s dependence on another only because our mode of consciousness is capable of taking an extrinsic view of acorn-universes.

But then how is it that we even conceive the possibility that our universe might be caused, much less prove that it is? All intelligence can do this in light of its seeing being and the transcendentals. No intelligence has a universe and can never be at home within one. Even to know that there is something outside your universe requires an alienation from any given universe. Nothing contextualized can be a universe, and a vision of being contextualizes all possible universes.

-The chef cooking for himself clearly has a purpose, but this is a pure extension of the action of his digestive tract, genes, nervous system, etc. In the face of this, we must either (a) deny cooking has a purpose or (b) affirm that the digestive tract has one. But there is no sharp break between the purpose of the digestive tract, the cells composing it, the fundamental particles composing them, etc. My typing this fulfills some intention of the periodic table, if only we could get a clear enough view of it.

-Nature is an intelligence in the natural. But it seems that the Fifth Way demands that there be no intelligence in teh natural, just as arrows can’t direct themselves to targets.

-STA himself defines nature as an aspect of the divine art given thing things, not “a way in which things react to or respond to the divine art. But how do we tell a natural endowment from an intrinsic property? Doesn’t the distinction collapse in the domain of the Fifth Way?

-The Fifth Way cannot mean that nature is intrinsically lacking purpose and so needs an additional level of explanation to account for its being purposive.

 But this does happen in a very crucial sense – the only way we can see meaning in bad luck, accidental meetings, the flow of history, and even our mistakes is if God directs them in a way that is impossible for us to understand.

But we can’t say that nature lacks a purpose and so requires God to infuse it with one except in the sense that all things are infused into nature by creation. This isn’t a vacuous addition: it’s proof that creation is an at of intelligence.

After listening to an hour of musak

Dear Pop Christian Singer,

If you’re writing something that values the message or the meaning of words, then this is not music but poetry, and has to succeed as a poem even apart from its being set to music. For reasons that are largely unclear, poetry is the most difficult sort of writing to do well and almost none of it has been written in fifty years. One can’t make up for bad poetry by singing it in extreme earnest or using various other tricks that have been invented to sell cigarettes, cars and sugar water. Keeping the massage simple, or using things that are repetitive, attention-grabbing, memorable, and easy to dance to or using Scriptural quotations that allow for tribal identification is fine marketing, but God doesn’t need pitchmen or a new ad campaign. Have you ever noticed how insipid and unpersuasive so many old ad campaigns are? This failure to hold up is the difference between what is beautiful and what is merely catchy, attractive, and sophistically persuasive. There is nothing of the Gospel in the latter. It’s the seed that fell on shallow ground.

This is not entirely a critique from the outside. I write a lot of first-draft theology that is largely focused on merely passing problems, and I don’t have the intelligence or the patience to write it as it should be done. You have your shock, cleverness, and earnest presentation and I have mine. Hey, a guy’s gotta do something. But let’s not kid ourselves that this is the level we were meant to work at.

Variation on Phaedo arg. 1

All things resolve themselves into what is most simple, bodies into elements and the spirit into what is simplest among spirits.

This resolution of each happens according to its nature: bodies resolve into their elements by an impulse that is at once unconscious mind and machine and spirits resolve to the absolutely simple by exercise of their freedom and self-determination to the good. The resolution of each is into what constitutes it, but for body this is material pieces and for spirit it is into that pure self that makes derivative and finite selves possible. Again, all resolution preserves the feature of the simple that existed in the composite: bodies into the properties of elements and spirits into properties of selves.

All corruption is therefore tendency to the incorruptible, made possible only to the extent that the incorruptible is already present in the what will pass away. Christianity adds an additional level of resolution which promises to resolve even the divergent destinies of body and spirit, and which has already been overcome in the resurrection and ascension of Christ and Theotokos.

Experience and experiment

Experience and experiment are different and even conflicting modes of knowledge. The clearest difference is communicable certitude – experiments are supposed to be set up with perfect clarity in advance with clear criteria that could be verified even by machines or other ignorant beings; but experience is a non-theoretical awareness that can be had even by brute animals and so needs no abstract, communicable element. Again, an experiment is a more or less decisive event that is meant to serve as a paradigm instance of the whole while experience has no one decisive event but is composed of a messy series of mere facts. Think the difference between the gardener and the botanist, the good wife and the successful marriage therapist, the engineer and the scientist.

The opposition between the two is exacerbated by our wish to transcend the opposition. It would be nice if the resolution to all problems were potentially theoretical and therefore communicable or “publicly verifiable” or even “empirically given”, but experience is both too subtle too stupid for that. It would also be nice, one supposes, if experience alone could be decisive, but it is itself motivated to a large extent by the desire to organize itself into theory. There is also an unavoidable finesse of experiment itself, which might be responsible for why so few of them are really repeatable.

The conclusion of the Five Ways

STA does not have a consistent formulation for what the Five Ways conclude to:

1.) “this thing all understand as deus.” 

2.) “which all name deus” 

3.) “which all call deus” 

4+5) “and this thing we call deus”

Taking the formulae as equivalent, the proofs all involve some intentional action (understanding, naming, speaking of) of all persons.

1.) All persons. The “all” can’t be understood as what every single individual called deus, so we have to take it collectively, though it’s not clear what collective STA might be targeting. He could mean “all who believe in deus” and so be speaking of pagans, Muslims, and Christians. Read in this way, the “we” is a generic reference to the collective of populations. But we can also read the “we” as meaning “those who do what I am doing now, namely rational theology.” Taken in this sense, the “all” should be read as speaking of a rough consensus among natural theologians. St. Thomas is clearly speaking to a collective consensus, but it is unclear if it is what Aristotle would call a consensus of all or a consensus of the wise.  A moderate answer would probably be that he’s targeting all theists or at least a consensus of natural theologians.

The most significant consequence is that, however one takes it, STA is not considering deus as he is spoken of in a any particular tradition. He is not trying to prove the occasionalist God of Islam, the loving God of Christianity, the powerful but fickle local gods of Olympus; nor is he proving any particular variant of deus that one can find in rational theology. He is not excluding all of these accounts of diety, or at least not excluding them all in every way, but he is not providing enough information about deus to flesh out which diety in particular he takes as the true one.

2.) The intentional action. If STA is talking about all theists, then the intentional word is a way of recognizing that the use of the word deus can involve a good deal of error. STA insists that what the Pagans call deus is used analogously to the Christian use of the same name, and so if he wants an account that will include the beliefs of Pagans he has to talk not about the thing itself he proves the existence of, but only the use of the name.

Another reason for this intentional description of deus is that proof for the existence of something usually has to start from the name of the thing you are trying to prove the existence of. Mere naming does not require the existence of the thing named and so serves as a neutral ground to approach the question of real existence.

3.) deus. English distinguishes between “God” and “a god” by use of a capital letter, and then proceeds to edit even Latin liturgical texts in accord with the distinction. STA clearly understood both senses of the term, but his deus did not require him to take up one in the exclusion of the other. What we now call the capital-G god is a being whose existence could never be proven by a single argument but only by a very large and developed treatise, especially if one wanted to speak of a God understood by a consensus of contemporary theologians and athelogians. All one can hope to establish by a single proof – especially a cosmological proof – is a god-like being or a least possible divinity. If, for example, one takes any given cosmological argument in isolation there is no way to avoid Humian critiques a la “for all we know, this designer might be just be a clever or ingenious being, and not an omniscient deity” or “for all we know, there might be billions of first movers and not one supreme God of all gods.” But to think that any of these are meaningful critiques of the Five Ways involves conflating deus with the capital-g god.


Student note

Nietzsche says God is dead like we say disco is dead. People may well continue to be into into it forever, but they’ll be hobbyists, a subculture, and largely stuck in the past. The idea that anyone would insist that disco is for everyone or that it has any place outside of a plurality of different music has become unbelievable.

Heidegger and neurology

Ramachandran: Religious experience might be extreme activity in the frontal lobes consistent with attributing emotional significance to everything – a grain of sand is seen as being as precious as our mother. We are in a state where all objects of experience are of infinite value.

Heidegger: Being is disclosed in boredom because we experience all as equally bland, uninteresting, and triggering no emotion.

So the opposite of boredom is not concern or emotional engagement but religious experience. Concern or absorption in work is a mean state between boredom and mysticism.

Some cosmological arguments off the beaten path

1.) Cousin: The infinite and finite are correlatives. The correlation is in thought, and in this sense we obviously can’t know “infinite” without knowing what finite is; but the finite can only be understood relative to another as “this and not-that” and to do this demands reference to what cannot be finite. This is clearest by analogy to the finite things in place: if we are trapped in a room with no windows then we can know the location of all the things in the room but not the location of the room. The finite is known by the infinite in the same way that location is given by what can have no location.

Cousin’s hypothesis is clearest in mathematics but has applications in all discourses.

2.) Parmenides: Every being necessarily exists. What-x-is can’t cease to be x. Whatever sweet is (who knows? a class of molecules? An evolutionary response to calories?) can’t cease to be sweet unless it ceases to be. But whatever is in existence is a being and so can’t cease to be, which rules out the “unless” qualification just given. This is the generalized form of the final immortality argument given in Phaedo. 

3.) Revealing nature by experiment. We want to see nature so far as we can control how it acts. But if we had complete control over how it acted it could not reveal anything to us. We would only need to consult our own intentions to know what it will do. The experimenter identifies knowledge with control and yet the locus of such identity could only be in one who thinks the universe into existence, and so would no need experiments to know it.


The paradigm of emergence

So the paradigm case of emergence is the wetness of water. The smallest parts of water aren’t wet but a large enough mass of them is.

But wet and its contrary are formally constituted by sense organs – water skippers can’t experience water as “wet” any more than we can experience ice as wet. So in what sense is a molecule “not wet”? Because it is too small to feel running over one’s fingers?

Wetness emerges only in the same way that audible or visible does. At certain frequencies we can hear something and at others we can’t, but it is extremely odd to describe this as a new property of the thing we are talking about.

Here’s the basic problem: either we take water as partially sense-relative or we don’t. If so, then the “emergence” of its wetness is nothing more than the uninteresting, purely epistemological claim that our sense powers have detection thresholds. If not, then the ocean is no more actually wet than a molecule of H2O.

“Emergence” wants higher-order realities to follow lower-order ones. It’s hard to see how all of them could not be just as easily re-framed as accounts of how higher-order proerties use lower ones to achieve their goals.

Natural motion

-Our beliefs about qualia should be able to make sense of potty-training a two-year-old.

-“But we could isolate the neuro-biological mechanism of needing to pee, and have it trigger a bell going off. So the feeling is purely physical!” It is probably truer than we know to compare the necessity of a physical system to the necessity of a biological urge. But a closer look at the comparison requires that we be able to divide it from a violent motion. Having someone hold your feet to the fire and the need to satisfy an urge are both pains, but one is the desire to reverse a movement the other is a desire to complete it. A natural necessity should be teleological. “Blind urges” all have an eye to an end.

– Are we just supposed to not notice that falling is an operatio of body? It’s not as if a body is suffering some mechanical conveyance when it falls – it’s exercising a natural tendency with extrinsic help. The same description can be given of eating, reproducing, digesting, sensing. Newton’s apple in an insight into nature.

-The force of gravity = resting, it falls. In stable equilibrium, it falls.

-Aristotle made motion for the sake of rest because he saw the operatio of body as attaining its natural place. But the operatio of body is not this, but falling. Bodies fall like eyes see. True, if there were only one body in the universe, it would not fall, but if there were only an eye in the universe, it would not see.

-The basic reality of nature is the system. We understand this though metaphors of the machine or computer but this could never be a system of substances. The system is a proto- city, where all the substances composing it are drawn together by their mutual needs. A body has a need from within to fall but requires another to do so in the same way that an animal has a need from within to reproduce or eat a deer.

-Energy is a commodity and currency in natural systems. The substances exchange it and use it to achieve their ends. It is conserved in the same way that any exchanged currency is conserved.

-Natural urges are sometimes cooperative and sometimes zero-sum-games. Nature desires both private and common goods.

-We can’t express natural desire except though desire language: “wants to” or “is trying to”. Feel free to say this is all a matter of language, but ride the taxicab to the end of the line, please. Your own desire to pee has to be a matter of language too. Riiiiight.

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