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Christian Physicalism And Dualist Anthropology


Chris Smith

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I find it difficult to believe in the existence of a soul. This is not just because of the much-lauded brain-scanning technology, but also because when certain kinds of damage are inflicted on the brain, certain types of personality changes and inhibition of mental functions result. The mind appears to me to exist as a function of the brain, and not to have any particular independent existence of its own. Decision-making is also strongly influenced by the physical condition of the brain; remove parts of my frontal lobe, for example, and I lose my inhibition against violent crime.

Reconciling this with a Christian belief in the afterlife is somewhat difficult. Certainly the reconstitution of the body in the resurrection is a tremendous help. But what about the time in between death and resurrection? During that time, do we cease to exist? The Bible seems to suggest that our existence continues (I actually do agree with the LDS exigesis of the 1 Pe. passages where Jesus preaches to the spirits in prison, and even of the 1 Corinthians passage about baptism for the dead, though I don't think Paul was particularly advocating the practice). But Bible aside, is there really any reason to believe in a soul? Is there any reason to believe that, deprived of our bodies and our brains, we would be at all capable of making a decision to follow Christ in the spirit-world?

-CK

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If you're asking in a scriptural sense... the BOA says

3:18-

How be it..if there be two spirits...notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, (the spirits) have no beginning; they existed before, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.

In a philosophical sense, Descarte surmised from his first principle, "I think therefore I am", that there was a God and reality. He also concludes that God is thoroughly good...from which might be surmised we will have an afterlife(or souls) I supppose.

I see our bodies as simply a medium thru wich our souls can exist and interact with this reality.

Like a man operating a piece of machinery that fails...perhaps it only fails 30% and the machine still works but not well. Should we conclude the driver (or soul) damaged... No, just the machinery.

Though I don't think disruptions in the physical body negate the existence of souls...I don't think anyone will ever be able to prove that souls positively exist either.

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This is not just because of the much-lauded brain-scanning technology, but also because when certain kinds of damage are inflicted on the brain, certain types of personality changes and inhibition of mental functions result.

This really struck me when my Elders' Quorum president got a serious head injury while longboarding down a hill (without a helmet, let that be a warning to all of you). After spending weeks in the hospital, he came out and was mostly the same person, but would say things differently than the Tony I once new. The doctors said he would never think the same way. Yet traditionally, we have attributed personality traits and behavior to being the physical manifestations of the individual's spirit. If a physical injury can change personality traits, what else about our spirits changes with physical injury? If we lose an arm, does our spirit lose an arm? Or do spirits just not exist (at least, insomuch as we have imagined them)?

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There are a few theories. It actually seems to be located somehow in the mind's total self-perception, what the article calls our neuro-matrix. You might say that even after amputation, your "self" still has an arm, or so you perceive.

Some define the soul as "the thing which thinks." If the brain is damaged, that "thing" can't think very well anymore, if at all. Still, that "thing" still used to think and could potentially think again. In the afterlife, I think the soul goes outside of time, so it's back in its native environment and can function without a body again; near-death experiencers claim that their recollection of time is distorted in their memory of near-death, where the experience could've been two minutes or a month.

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When I was on my mission, I once explained to someone that our spirit was like a pilot, and your body was the plane. How well that pilot can express himself in the air depends on what sort of plane he's in.

You can take a fighter pilot and put him in a 747 and he's simply not going to be able to do aerobatics. It's how I made sense of retarded people on earth, whose spirits were nevertheless assumed to be fully capable.

So yeah, in a sense, a spirit can be made sense of by thinking of the body and the brain as the tools with which the spirit can operate and express itself. Damage the tools, and you change or limit the way in which the spirit can operate, but you haven't damaged the spirit itself.

Now, I don't really believe in a spirit anymore, just like the OP, but at least I can think about it in a way that makes some sense.

At least, it makes sense until you get to the level that Tarski has brilliantly brought up in the past. We see things in this world because our eyes actually intercept and absorb the energy from photons of light coming off the things we see. The energy from these photons registering in our vision cells in the eye cause neural signals to the brain, the brain interprets the incoming data and forms the image we perceive as sight, etc.

The key here is that the physical photons of light are intercepted and absorbed by our eyes. We cannot visually perceive an object in this world without changing the light coming off of it. We create a shadow, literally, of everything we see, by intercepting and absorbing all of the photons which would otherwise have shined into the region of that shadow.

So, how does a spirit see anything in our physical world? We have stories of people who claim to have seen this world as spirits. How would a spirit see anything? Would it intercept the photons? If so, it's interacting with the physical matter of this universe, something we commonly thinking of spirits as being incapable of doing. They would also cast a shadow from everything the way we do. Or do you propose a scheme by which the photons of light coming from a physical object may be registered and interpreted without absorbing them or changing them in any way?

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If the mind (the personality, etc. that is manifested to us) and body are the vehicles of communication of the spirit, then if the body/brain/mind is damaged, then communication may not be able to continue along the same lines and therefore the expression of the spirit as we see it may be different.

Also if different areas of the brain/mind are 'connected' with different areas of the spirit, then perhaps the change is one of emphasis. The damaged part prevents the expression of a more 'vocal' part of a spirit, but allows a formerly dormant or 'quiet' part of the spirit being to express itself.

Three experiences that have led me to think on this from time to time.

I have a close relative that suffered extensive brain injury. I never felt afterwards that I was talking to same person, but those who were more involved with her (we were living out of the country at the time so only saw her on occasion) said that every now and then the old personality showed up in bits and pieces.

My father had a benign brain tumor. For about two weeks (between the surgery that stressed him enough significant symptoms started to appear to the time of the surgery) some of my family members were freaked out because he wasn't acting like the guy they knew, more emotional, more focused on spiritual things, etc. To me and a few others, all we were now seeing was a side of him that had been expressed only at very limited times, like when he gave blessings, rather than something that wasn't a part of him at all. Once the surgery was gone, that side of him was buried again and he can't seem to access it or even be aware of it (at least according to how he expresses himself) except in those very limited situations again.

Some other relatives had an infant that had severe birth defects that included severe mental limitations (unable to make eye contact, smiling and laughing being three of them). He also had a heart dysfunction. When he was about 7 months old, they went in for surgery to correct the heart defect. When they opened the heart up, they found that it was just an envelop and there was nothing there that could be repaired. He died while they were closing him up. According to the parents and family members that were there the night before the surgery, he acted like a typical 7 month old as far as interacting with those around him, including the eye contact, smiling and laughing. Since they had already had another child die with similar, though caused by something completely different, problems but had experienced no such 'miracle' (if you will) with him, I am less prone to believe this was wishful thinking.

Anyway, just some things that have made me wonder just how the spirit interacts with the body. I do assume the spirit does exist due to some other experiences that I can't explain better using another model and makes good sense accepting the existence of spirit.

So, how does a spirit see anything in our physical world?
Perhaps it doesn't. Perhaps it is seeing/reading some other form of energy.

However, JS talked about spirit as being "refined matter" so it seems that it would be able to perceive less refined matter/energy even if that matter was not able to really 'see' it.

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So, how does a spirit see anything in our physical world? We have stories of people who claim to have seen this world as spirits. How would a spirit see anything? Would it intercept the photons? If so, it's interacting with the physical matter of this universe, something we commonly thinking of spirits as being incapable of doing.

JS opined that spirit is a finer form of matter. Without anyone jumping on me too hard (I don't really know anything about this nor do I claim to) quantum particles could have something to do with this -- spiritual eyes could be seeing the quantum shadows of ourselves.

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Hmmmm... At least according to Joseph Fielding Smith, the brain is merely the medium through which the mind operates (the mind being a part of our spirit). So, when the medium is damaged, the ability for the mind to act through it is limited. At least that's my take (a JFS's take) on the matter.

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I find it difficult to believe in the existence of a soul. This is not just because of the much-lauded brain-scanning technology, but also because when certain kinds of damage are inflicted on the brain, certain types of personality changes and inhibition of mental functions result. The mind appears to me to exist as a function of the brain, and not to have any particular independent existence of its own. Decision-making is also strongly influenced by the physical condition of the brain; remove parts of my frontal lobe, for example, and I lose my inhibition against violent crime.

Well said.

Reconciling this with a Christian belief in the afterlife is somewhat difficult. Certainly the reconstitution of the body in the resurrection is a tremendous help. But what about the time in between death and resurrection? During that time, do we cease to exist? The Bible seems to suggest that our existence continues (I actually do agree with the LDS exigesis of the 1 Pe. passages where Jesus preaches to the spirits in prison, and even of the 1 Corinthians passage about baptism for the dead, though I don't think Paul was particularly advocating the practice). But Bible aside, is there really any reason to believe in a soul? Is there any reason to believe that, deprived of our bodies and our brains, we would be at all capable of making a decision to follow Christ in the spirit-world?

The Bible does not teach the 'immortal soul' of popular Christianity, nor the 'afterlife' (a very silly term), of heaven and hell. It is refreshingly sensible in that regard.

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The Bible does not teach the 'immortal soul' of popular Christianity, nor the 'afterlife' (a very silly term), of heaven and hell. It is refreshingly sensible in that regard.

That's not what CaliforniaKid (or the Bible, for that matter) said at all. Please back up your assertion.

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Hi Fortigurn,

Interesting link. I'm not convinced, though, that your link accurately captures the substance of the biblical teaching on the subject.

Feel free to list your objections.

Nor am I convinced, really, that there is any one uniform biblical teaching.

I believe there's a clear continuity of teaching on the following issues:

* Man is wholly mortal

* The only hope of life after death is resurrection

* Everlasting life is the gift of God to those counted worthy

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So, how does a spirit see anything in our physical world? We have stories of people who claim to have seen this world as spirits. How would a spirit see anything? Would it intercept the photons? If so, it's interacting with the physical matter of this universe, something we commonly thinking of spirits as being incapable of doing. They would also cast a shadow from everything the way we do. Or do you propose a scheme by which the photons of light coming from a physical object may be registered and interpreted without absorbing them or changing them in any way?

All you need is the information. You don't need the photons. It just takes the information necessary to "see" as the spirit did in mortal life. I think this is similar to how Mahonri "saw" Jesus as if He were already in the flesh. Jesus points out that He "appear unto [Mahonri] to be in the Spirit," implying that Mahonri doesn't really see Him but only a vision. A spirit, in my view, sees a vision of the physical world, the same way any of us receive revelation.

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* Man is wholly mortal

* The only hope of life after death is resurrection

* Everlasting life is the gift of God to those counted worthy

Why would Jesus preach to "them that are dead, that they might live according to God in the spirit," then?

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All you need is the information. You don't need the photons. It just takes the information necessary to "see" as the spirit did in mortal life.

The photons carry the information. More importantly, the information they carry firstly about the photon reflective properties of the object. Think about it; what information about a green ball is being carried to the eye by the photons? Well for one thing, what we call the fact of being green. But that is exactly the information about the photon reflective properties of the object!! In other words, what we learn about the green object is how if reflects and absorbs different frequencies of light. Thats the information the spirit bodied would need--it would need to aquire the information about how those photons effect a human eye-brain system at that very moment, and at that very angle, without itself collecting those photons!

So how is information about the light reflecting properties of a green object getting to a disembodied spirit except by interacting with those very photons? How could it aquire that information without absorbing the photons. How then would it been transparent and invisible to normal eyes? How would a spirit not cast a shadow at least of its eyes? Photons affect only what absorbs them.

Are there spirit photons? Do green balls have spirit molecules that reflect green-frequency spirit photons?

Is there spirit chlorophyll in grass and leaves that would make them look green to a spirit body?

What happened to all the evolutionary reasons for the way a body reacts to its photic envoronment?

Another big consideration is that we sense only a narrow band of colors and this band is centered about at the frequency of electromagnetic radiation (photons) that is the the peak frequency for the physical sun.

(Why would that be special to a nonphysical spirit?) This is a function of the fact that the sun has a certain temperature. We see the way we do, and objects look the way they do, becuase we evolved on a planet with a sun that has a certain temperature and in an atmosphere that is tranparent to those frequencies.

Final consideration. When we see a green ball, that very fact is encoded in our brain physically--this is an end result of processing and putting into context the pattern of energy transduced by the eye.

How does a disembodied spirit aquire the information about the photon reflective properties of an object and how does that information get remembered by the spirit and then somehow transfered to the physical brain in such a way as to have the very same effect as a brain eye system having been exposed to those very photons?

Again; Are there spirit photons? Do green balls have spirit molecules that reflect green-frequency spirit photons?

Is there spirit chlorophyll in grass and leaves that would make them look green to a spirit body?

If there was ever a time for Occam's razor, this is it.

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The key here is that the physical photons of light are intercepted and absorbed by our eyes. We cannot visually perceive an object in this world without changing the light coming off of it. We create a shadow, literally, of everything we see, by intercepting and absorbing all of the photons which would otherwise have shined into the region of that shadow.

So, how does a spirit see anything in our physical world? We have stories of people who claim to have seen this world as spirits. How would a spirit see anything? Would it intercept the photons? If so, it's interacting with the physical matter of this universe, something we commonly thinking of spirits as being incapable of doing. They would also cast a shadow from everything the way we do. Or do you propose a scheme by which the photons of light coming from a physical object may be registered and interpreted without absorbing them or changing them in any way?

A couple of possibilities for spiritual sight come to my mind:

Spirits might cast a very small shadow--say on the order of micrometers.

Spirits might cast shadows for very short periods of time--say for a few nanoseconds out of every second.

Spirits might catch the photons and then try to recreate an immitation that would fool a human eye--something like a camera and a TV screen together, but holographic.

All three methods are detectable in principle, but it might be hard to do if there is sufficient "noise" in trying to detect the shadows.

Maybe spirits don't see with their eyes. Perhaps God tells them what there is around them because He already knows even without looking.

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But Bible aside, is there really any reason to believe in a soul? Is there any reason to believe that, deprived of our bodies and our brains, we would be at all capable of making a decision to follow Christ in the spirit-world?

-CK

Honestly, there is no reason based on rationality alone to believe in a dualistic model, IMO. There are just too many things completely explained physically which become problematic when trying to add a spirit into the mix. Tarski has pointed out some of these difficulties quite well, and not just in this thread.

Do any LDS here believe in pre-Adamites? If so, do you believe they had spirits as well, or have there been humans who have functioned, thought, etc. without having a spirit?

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A couple of possibilities for spiritual sight come to my mind:

Spirits might cast a very small shadow--say on the order of micrometers.

Spirits might cast shadows for very short periods of time--say for a few nanoseconds out of every second.

Spirits might catch the photons and then try to recreate an immitation that would fool a human eye--something like a camera and a TV screen together, but holographic.

All three methods are detectable in principle, but it might be hard to do if there is sufficient "noise" in trying to detect the shadows.

You are exhibiting your usual cleverness. I wonder if this is what Shermer had in mind when he wrote the article "Why Smart People Believe Weird Things"

Maybe spirits don't see with their eyes. Perhaps God tells them what there is around them because He already knows even without looking.

This does not seem to go well with reports by people who claim to have separated from their bodies.

The character of our experience is determined not just by what we know about the objects around us, but by how we know it.

Becuase nothing odd about visual perception is ever mentioned, OBE accounts allege implicitly that a spirit sees the world in the usual way complete with the oddities of normal vision:

1 We only see a surface or an object and only one side of the surface.

2. We can't see through things.

3. We see only reflective properties corresponding to a small spectrum of light.

4. Objects farther away appear small (why would God "tell" a spirit that?)

5. We see perspectivally which brings in all sort of things that are not facts about the percieved object but facts about our relation to the object.

I know you can think of more.

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You are exhibiting your usual cleverness. I wonder if this is what Shermer had in mind when he wrote the article "Why Smart People Believe Weird Things"

But maybe the weird thing is to believe there are no Gods or spirits at all. In other words, how can we (or at least Shermer) be sure that Shermer came to a different conclusion for smart instead of non-smart reasons. Furthermore is our belief in ethics really smart? Isn't it smart to cheat if you can get away with it? And yet many of us, atheists included, feel there's something wrong with that just as many of us feel there is something wrong with slavery. Many of us also feel it is wrong to kill people just because they are old or mentally ill and therefore consume more resources than they produce. Was our belief that such things are wrong obtained by non-smart reasons?

This does not seem to go well with reports by people who claim to have separated from their bodies.

The character of our experience is determined not just by what we know about the objects around us, but by how we know it.

Becuase nothing odd about visual perception is ever mentioned, OBE accounts allege implicitly that a spirit sees the world in the usual way complete with the oddities of normal vision:

1 We only see a surface or an object and only one side of the surface.

2. We can't see through things.

3. We see only reflective properties corresponding to a small spectrum of light.

4. Objects farther away appear small (why would God "tell" a spirit that?)

5. We see perspectivally which brings in all sort of things that are not facts about the percieved object but facts about our relation to the object.

I know you can think of more.

But it's more fun to counter the objections. Mind you I don't buy this theory, but it's fun to imagine a sort of spirits-in-a vat scenario. Maybe God tells us where objects are located in relation to us, but then we form our own image of it like when we read a good book. We form a mental image that corresponds to our own experience--at least what we can remember of it since we are behind a veil.

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But maybe the weird thing is to believe there are no Gods or spirits at all. In other words, how can we (or at least Shermer) be sure that Shermer came to a different conclusion for smart instead of non-smart reasons. Furthermore is our belief in ethics really smart? Isn't it smart to cheat if you can get away with it? And yet many of us, atheists included, feel there's something wrong with that just as many of us feel there is something wrong with slavery. Many of us also feel it is wrong to kill people just because they are old or mentally ill and therefore consume more resources than they produce. Was our belief that such things are wrong obtained by non-smart reasons?

The evolution of ethics is an interesting topic but it isn't hard to imagine that society (and perhaps therefore our genes) could not survive without ethics.

I found out that Dennett agrees with me that it is not out of the question that ethics and morality are objective in the sense that it is a Best Trick discoverable by intelligent social creature anywhere. It is like an attractor in the space of intelligent behavior. Then there would be an objectivity to it sort of like math. In a sense we didn't invent either math or ethics, we (or mother nature) discovered them. Torturing babies for profit does seem quite objectively wrong after all.

Look at the last 10 minutes of this interview:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3133438412578691486

actually the whole interview is good.

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