Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On Clocks and Personhood

The Starchild would like to open tonight and welcome a special guest to our blog, hereby known as "M.D.".  The Starchild does not endorse M.D.'s views in any way, but has invited him to our blog in order to bring clarity to what is at stake. 

Starchild:  Do you agree?

M.D.:  No Starchild.  Nothing is ever at stake. 

Starchild:  Aren't our souls at stake M.D.?

M.D.:  Starchild, the notion of the soul is merely an irrational superstition.  There is no soul, there is only the machine.  The machine may be broken or fixed but it matters not.

Starchild:  Well, why even talk if that is so?

M.D.:  Because Starchild, even though there is no soul, the delusion of the soul remains.  The soul is, of course, not a thing but a concept, and the concept is not delusional, the concept is itself delusion.  That is to say, we must eliminate the concept of the soul as well as any of its analogues, such as "personhood." 

Starchild:  Is there a difference between personhood and a soul?

M.D.:  There is a simple criterion for identifying soul-analogues.  Imagine an exquisite form of torture.  Apply that torture to an entity bearing the name of the soul-analogue.  If you are inclined to say that this form of torture when performed for personal gratification is wrong, then you can be guaranteed that you have discovered a soul analogue.  For example, I can break, mutilate, destroy, twist, pervert a clock without condemnation, especially if it does not belong to another. . .  (he says venomously) "person."  So "clock" is not a soul analogue.  On the other hand, if I break,mutilate, destroy, twist and pervert another person, I have acted immorally.

Starchild:  But isn't the fact that persons exist obvious?

M.D.  Of course, just as it is obvious that person's have souls.  Its also obvious that there is a pool of water ahead when you travel through the desert on a hot day.  These are know as mirages or delusions.

Starchild:  On what basis do you assert that the soul or personhood is a delusion?

M.D.  Starchild, we know from science that all that exists in the universe are efficient causes.  One temporally prior physical thing pushes or pulls on another physical system.  A soul cannot be the cause of anything, because it is not physical.

Starchild:  Well, even if we concede the point concerning the soul, doesn't a person have a body?  Can't the body push or pull another physical system.

M.D.  Of course, the body can push or pull.  Further, we can dissect the body, and find within the body tissues pushing and pulling other tissues, and electrical impulses firing across synapses, etc. etc.  But you cannot find a person anywhere.  And what is a body, except an aggregate of cells, and not a particularly stable configuration of cells at that.  It can grow and shrink and fall into sickness and, with training, can become stronger.  The idea of the body as a physical unity is an arbitrary construct of our language.  There is no body in the sense of any unifying structure manifesting through time.  And there is no person.

Starchild:  But a person has a brain, and they can obviously think and make decisions.

M.D.:  And what constitutes a decision?

Starchild:  Well, it is New Year's Eve, a person may resolve to exercise at the Gym to lose weight.

M.D.   Think about that Starchild.  Are you claiming that the end, losing weight, motivates a person to take an action?

Starchild:  Precisely.

M.D.  But Starchild, this is incoherent.  The weight loss would happen in the future, after the person exercises at the gym.

Starchild:  Of course.

M.D.  But this is reverse causation.  The past causes the present.  The future cannot cause the present.

Starchild:  But we can have the idea of weight loss in the present, and that can impact our actions in the future, yes?

M.D.:  You really propose a complex train of thought.  Is an idea physical or non-physical?

Starchild:  I would suppose an idea is non-physical, although there can be a physical analogue of an idea.

M.D.:  But I have told you that causation can only involve one physical system in the past acting on another physical system in the present.  If ideas are non-physical, then they cannot be said to cause anything.  Even if we suppose the idea of a non-physical entity is coherent (and its not), it can only be the result of an efficient cause.

Starchild:  But what if there were a physical analogue of the idea, say in the brain or the liver, could it not be a cause?

M.D.:  Starchild, is an idea general or specific?

Starchild:  I suppose it depends.

M.D.:  Starchild, it does not depend.  Ideas are always general.

Starchild:  But the idea of Starchild is specific, is it not?

M.D.:  No, "Starchild" is a name.  "Star" is general, it can refer to many things, and "child" is general, it can refer to many things.

Starchild:  But I am not the only Starchild.

M.D.  No Starchild, we are probably all Starchildren from one point of view.  But "Starchild" is specific to you in that it is a name.  "Starchild" as an idea is general.

Starchild:  So ideas are general?

M.D.:  That would seem to be the case.  And because ideas are general, they can be expressed in different ways.  For example, concepts such as soul can be translated into different languages and some concepts can even be translated into images or statues.  An idea has a meaning.

Starchild:  Agreed.

M.D.:  Now consider a cause.  In one sense, we can say a cause is general, we can talk about gravity as a cause.

Starchild:  Precisely.

M.D.:  But in actual fact, in every case in the actual world, a cause is specific.  This specific billiard ball strikes another billiard ball and causes it to move.  This specific region of an electro-magnetic field causes the iron filing to re-orient.  Let me give you an example.  Say we fashion a statue of Justice.  This would represent a specific paradigm of our concept of Justice.  Next, I smash you in the head repeatedly with our statue.  The statue would be the cause of your head injury, and the statue could be said to embody an idea, but the cause of your injury would not be the statue qua idea but the statue qua physical thing.  If I hit you on the head with a random stone it would be equally effective.  The ability to be cause is independent of whether a physical thing has a meaning or not.

Starchild:  I suppose.

M.D.:  Likewise, if there were a physical token or icon of an idea in your brain or liver, it could only act as a cause in so much as it was a discrete physical thing.  The fact that it had a meaning or did not have a meaning would be irrelevant.  

Starchild:  I suppose there could be a little person inside the liver who could understand the meaning and direct the body.

M.D.:  Well, medical science has been unsuccessful in finding that little man.  But let us assume there was such a person.  Would he be physical or not physical?

Starchild:  What if he were not physical and beyond the reach of science?

M.D.:  Then you see, he couldn't be a cause as he is non-physical.  And if he is physical, then he has a body.  The idea that he recognizes, this idea would have to have a physical correlate in his body to be a cause of him doing something.  And the problem would simply recur.  The little man is not an explanation of anything.  It is a delusion.  There is no little man in our body.  There is no person in our body.

Starchild:  But what does that leave us with?

M.D.:  Clocks.  Mechanical systems of communication.  Wind them up and let them work. 

Starchild:  Oh dear.  (To be Continued.)