Preface (Full Text)
- This book is not only about immortality but also about two of the most fascinating and difficult philosophical problems — the mind-body problem and the nature of personal identity.
- Immortality cannot be seriously discussed without an understanding of these problems and hence, both in my introduction and in the selections, I have covered all three issues.
- In making the selections I have been motivated by the desire to do justice to all viewpoints and arguments that deserve to be taken seriously. I believe that the selections do not exhibit any bias. However, in the introduction I have not refrained from occasionally expressing my own views. The temptation to do so proved irresistible, and, in any case, an introduction in which the editor takes sides is usually more interesting than one in which he tries to assume a pose of complete neutrality.
- Many of the selections deal with immortality as it has been debated by Western philosophers and religious thinkers, but the book also contains extensive coverage of reincarnation1. This theory has become extremely fashionable and is accepted or sympathetically considered by a great many people who are totally unaware of the case on the other side. This is particularly unfortunate when those involved are college students who ought to be better informed. The case for reincarnation2 is represented in several selections, but because I could not find a sufficiently compact statement of the case against it anywhere in the literature, I have summarized the major objections in the Introduction. Readers interested in a fuller presentation of the case against reincarnation3 are referred to my four-part series on the subject, which was published in Free Inquiry in 1986-19874.
- The majority of the selections are well-known, but I have also included some pieces of great interest which are probably unfamiliar to most students of the subject. I would like to call special attention to
- Tertullian's critique of reincarnation5, which is as simple as it is incisive;
- Voltaire's satirical treatment of all forms of belief in survival;
- Joseph Priestley's attempt to reconcile materialism with immortality;
- Hugh Elliot's defense of epiphenomenalism, here entitled "Tantalus," and
- Donald MacKay's ingenious argument that even if we regard consciousness as embodied in our brain, we need not abandon the hope for eternal life.
- John Beloff's "Is There Anything Beyond Death? — A Parapsychologist's Summation" is here published for the first time. Both believers and unbelievers will be grateful for this authoritative report of the work of psychical researchers.
- … [… snip …] …
In-Page Footnotes ("Edwards (Paul), Ed. - Immortality")
Footnote 4: Actually, "Edwards (Paul) - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination" seems a better bet.
Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 1997
"Aquinas (Thomas) - The Resurrection of Man"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 91-99
"Ayer (A.J.) - What I Saw When I Was Dead"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 269-275
- My first attack of pneumonia occurred in the United States. I was in hospital for ten days in New York, after which the doctors said that I was well enough to leave. A final X-ray, however, which I underwent on the last morning, revealed that one of my lungs was not yet free from infection. This caused the most sympathetic of my doctors to suggest that it would be good for me to spend a few more days in hospital. I respected his opinion but since I was already dressed and psychologically disposed to put my illness behind me, I decided to take the risk. I spent the next few days in my stepdaughter’s [Nigella Lawson] apartment, and then made arrangements to fly back to England.
- When I arrived I believed myself to be cured and incontinently plunged into an even more hectic social round than that to which I had become habituated before I went to America. Retribution struck me on Sunday, May 30. I had gone out to lunch, had a great deal to eat and drink, and chattered incessantly. That evening I had a relapse. I could eat almost none of the food that a friend had brought to cook in my house.
- On the next day, which was a bank holiday, I had a long-standing engagement to lunch at the Savoy with a friend who was very eager for me to meet her son. I would have put them off if I could, but my friend lives in Exeter and I had no idea how to reach her in London. So I took a taxi to the Savoy and just managed to stagger into the lobby. I could eat hardly any of the delicious grilled sole that I ordered but forced myself to keep up my end of the conversation. I left early and took a taxi home.
- That evening I felt still worse. Once more I could eat almost none of the dinner another friend had brought me. Indeed, she was so alarmed by my weakness that she stayed overnight. When I was no better the next morning, she telephoned to my general practitioner and to my elder son, Julian. The doctor did little more than promise to try to get in touch with the specialist, but Julian, who is unobtrusively very efficient, immediately rang for an ambulance. The ambulance came quickly with two strong attendants, and yet another friend, who had called opportunely to pick up a key, accompanied it and me to University College Hospital.
- I remember very little of what happened from then on. I was taken to a room in the private wing, which had been reserved for me by the specialist, who had a consulting room on the same floor. After being X-rayed and subjected to a number of tests, which proved beyond question that I was suffering gravely from pneumonia, I was moved into intensive care in the main wing of the hospital.
- Fortunately for me, the young doctor who was primarily responsible for me had been an undergraduate at New College, Oxford, while I was a Fellow. This made him extremely anxious to see that I recovered; almost too much so, in fact, for he was so much in awe of me that he forbade me to be disturbed at night, even when the experienced sister and nurse believed it to be necessary.
- Under his care and theirs I made such good progress that I expected to be moved out of intensive care and back into the private wing within a week. My disappointment was my own fault. I did not attempt to eat the hospital food. My family and friends supplied all the food I needed. I am particularly fond of smoked salmon, and one evening I carelessly tossed a slice of it into my throat. It went down the wrong way and almost immediately the graph recording my heartbeats plummeted. The ward sister rushed to the rescue, but she was unable to prevent my heart from stopping. She and the doctor subsequently told me that I died in this sense for four minutes, and I have had no reason to disbelieve them.
- The doctor alarmed my son Nicholas, who had flown from New York to be by my bedside, by saying that it was not probable that I should recover, and moreover, that if I did recover physically it was not probable that my mental powers would be restored. The nurses were more optimistic, and Nicholas sensibly chose to believe them.
- I have no recollection of anything that was done to me at that time. Friends have told me that I was festooned with tubes, but I have never learned how many of them there were or, with one exception, what purposes they served. I do not remember having a tube inserted in my throat to bring up the quantity of phlegm which had lodged in my lungs. I was not even aware of my numerous visitors, so many of them, in fact, that the sister had to set a quota. I know that the doctors and nurses were surprised by the speed of my recovery and that when I started speaking, the specialist expressed astonishment that anyone with so little oxygen in his lungs should be so lucid.
- My first recorded utterance, which convinced those who heard it that I had not lost my wits, was the exclamation: “You are all mad.” I am not sure how this should be interpreted. It is possible that I took my audience to be Christians and was telling them that I had not discovered anything “on the other side.” It is also possible that I took them to be skeptics and was implying that I had discovered something. I think the former is more probable, as in the latter case I should more properly have exclaimed, “We are all mad.” All the same, I cannot be sure.
- The earliest remarks of which I have any cognizance, apart from my first exclamation, were made several hours after my return to life. They were addressed to a Frenchwoman with whom I had been friends for over 15 years. I woke to find her seated by my bedside and started talking to her in French as soon as I recognized her. My French is fluent and I spoke rapidly, approximately as follows: “Did you know that I was dead? The first time that I tried to cross the river I was frustrated, but my second attempt succeeded. It was most extraordinary. My thoughts became persons.”
- The content of those remarks suggests that I have not wholly put my classical education behind me. In Greek mythology the souls of the dead, now only shadowly embodied, were obliged to cross the river Styx in order to reach Hades, after paying an obol to the ferryman, Charon. I may also have been reminded of my favorite philosopher, David Hume, who, during his last illness, “a disorder of the bowels,” imagined that Charon, growing impatient, was calling him “a lazy loitering rogue.” With his usual politeness, Hume replied that he saw without regret his death approaching and that he was making no effort to postpone it. This is one of the rare occasions on which I have failed to follow Hume. Clearly I had made an effort to prolong my life.
- The only memory that I have of an experience, closely encompassing my death, is very vivid. I was confronted by a red light, exceedingly bright, and also very painful even when I turned away from it. I was aware that this light was responsible for the government of the universe. Among its ministers were two creatures who had been put in charge of space. These ministers periodically inspected space and had recently carried out such an inspection. They had, however, failed to do their work properly, with the result that space, like a badly fitting jigsaw puzzle, was slightly out of joint.
- A further consequence was that the laws of nature had ceased to function as they should. I felt that it was up to me to put things right. I also had the motive of finding a way to extinguish the painful light. I assumed that it was signaling that space was awry and that it would switch itself off when order was restored. Unfortunately, I had no idea where the guardians of space had gone and feared that even if I found them I should not be able to communicate with them. It then occurred to me that whereas, until the present century, physicists accepted the Newtonian severance of space and time, it had become customary, since the vindication of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, to treat space-time as a single whole. Accordingly, I thought that I could cure space by operating upon time.
- I was vaguely aware that the ministers who had been given charge of time were in my neighborhood and I proceeded to hail them. I was again frustrated. Either they did not hear me, or they chose to ignore me, or they did not understand me. I then hit upon the expedient of walking up and down, waving my watch, in the hope of drawing their attention not to my watch itself but to the time which it measured. This elicited no response. I became more and more desperate, until the experience suddenly came to an end.
- This experience could well have been delusive. A slight indication that it might have been veridical [objectively real] has been supplied by my French friend, or rather by her mother, who also underwent a heart arrest many years ago. When her daughter asked her what it had been like, she replied that all that she remembered was that she must stay close to the red light.
- On the face of it, these experiences, on the assumption that the last one was veridical, are rather strong evidence that death does not put an end to consciousness. Does it follow that there is a future life? Not necessarily. The trouble is that there are different criteria for being dead, which are indeed logically compatible but may not always be satisfied together.
- In this instance, I am given to understand that the arrest of the heart does not entail, either logically or causally, the arrest of the brain. In view of the very strong evidence in favour of the dependence of thoughts upon the brain, the most probable hypothesis is that my brain continued to function although my heart had stopped.
- If I had acquired good reason to believe in a future life, it would have applied not only to myself. Admittedly, the philosophical problem of justifying one’s confident belief in the existence and contents of other minds has not yet been satisfactorily solved [‘the Problem of Other Minds’]. Even so, with the possible exception of Fichte, who proclaimed that the world was his idea but may not have meant it literally, no philosopher has acquiesced in solipsism. No philosopher has seriously asserted that of all the objects in the universe, he alone was conscious. Moreover it is commonly taken for granted, not only by philosophers, that the minds of others bear a sufficiently close analogy to one’s own. Consequently, if I had been vouchsafed a reasonable expectation of a future life, other human beings could expect one too.
- Let us grant, for the sake of argument, that we could have future lives. What form could they take? The easiest answer is that they would consist in the prolongation of our experiences, without any physical attachment. This is the theory that should appeal to radical empiricists. It is, indeed, consistent with the concept of personal identity which was adopted both by Hume and by William James, according to which one’s identity consists, not in the possession of an enduring soul, but in the sequence of one’s experiences, guaranteed by memory. They did not apply their theory to a future life, in which Hume at any rate disbelieved.
- For those who are attracted by this theory, as I am, the main problem, which Hume admitted that he was unable to solve, is to discover the relation, or relations, which have to hold between experiences for them to belong to one and the same self. William James thought that he had found the answers with his relations of the felt togetherness and continuity of our thoughts and sensations, coupled with memory, in order to unite experiences that are separated in time. But while memory is undoubtedly necessary, it can be shown that it is not wholly sufficient.
- I myself carried out a thorough examination and development of the theory in my book, The Origins of Pragmatism. I was reluctantly forced to conclude that I could not account for personal identity without falling back on the identity, through time, of one or more bodies that the person might successively occupy. Even then, I was unable to give a satisfactory account of the way in which a series of experiences is tied to a particular body at any given time.
- The admission that personal identity through time requires the identity of a body is a surprising feature of Christianity. I call it surprising because it seems to me that Christians are apt to forget that the resurrection of the body is an element in their creed. The question of how bodily identity is sustained over intervals of time is not so difficult. The answer might consist in postulating a reunion of the same atoms, perhaps in there being no more than a strong physical resemblance, possibly fortified by a similarity of behaviour.
- A prevalent fallacy is the assumption that a proof of an afterlife would also be a proof of the existence of a deity. This is far from being the case. If, as I hold, there is no good reason to believe that a god either created or presides over this world, there is equally no good reason to believe that a god created or presides over the next world, on the unlikely supposition that such a thing exists. It is conceivable that one’s experiences in the next world, if there are any, will supply evidence of a god’s existence, but we have no right to presume on such evidence, when we have not had the relevant experiences.
- It is worth remarking, in this connection, that the two important Cambridge philosophers in this century, J. E. McTaggart and C. D. Broad, who have believed—in McTaggart’s case that he would certainly survive his death, in Broad’s that there was about a 50 percent probability that he would—were both of them atheists. McTaggart derived his certainty from his metaphysics, which implied that what we confusedly perceive as material objects, in some cases housing minds, are really souls, eternally viewing one another with something of the order of love.
- The less fanciful Broad was impressed by the findings of psychical research. He was certainly too intelligent to think that the superior performances of a few persons in the game of guessing unseen cards, which he painstakingly proved to be statistically significant, had any bearing upon the likelihood of a future life. He must therefore have been persuaded by the testimony of mediums. He was surely aware that most mediums have been shown to be frauds, but he was convinced that some have not been. Not that this made him optimistic. He took the view that this world was very nasty and that there was a fair chance that the next world, if it existed, was even nastier. Consequently, he had no compelling desire to survive. He just thought that there was an even chance of his doing so. One of his better epigrams was that if one went by the reports of mediums, life in the next world was like a perpetual bump supper at a Welsh university.
- If Broad was an atheist, my friend Dr. Alfred Ewing was not. Ewing, who considered Broad to be a better philosopher than Wittgenstein, was naive, unworldly even by academic standards, intellectually shrewd, unswervingly honest, and a devout Christian. Once, to tease him, I said: “Tell me, Alfred, what do you most look forward to in the next world?” He replied immediately: “God will tell me whether there are a priori propositions.” It is a wry comment on the strange character of our subject that this answer should be so funny.
- My excuse for repeating this story is that such philosophical problems as the question whether the propositions of logic and pure mathematics are deductively analytic or factually synthetic, and, if they are analytic, whether they are true by convention, are not to be solved by acquiring more information. What is needed is that we succeed in obtaining a clearer view of what the problems involve. One might hope to achieve this in a future life, but really we have no good reason to believe that our intellects will be any sharper in the next world, if there is one, than they are in this. A god, if one exists, might make them so, but this is not something that even the most enthusiastic deist can count on.
- The only philosophical problem that our finding ourselves landed on a future life might clarify would be that of the relation between mind and body, if our future lives consisted, not in the resurrection of our bodies, but in the prolongation of the series of our present experiences. We should then be witnessing the triumph of dualism, though not the dualism which Descartes thought that he had established. If our lives consisted in an extended series of experiences, we should still have no good reason to regard ourselves as spiritual substances.
- So there it is. My recent experiences have slightly weakened my conviction that my genuine death, which is due fairly soon, will be the end of me, though I continue to hope that it will be. They have not weakened my conviction that there is no god. I trust that my remaining an atheist will allay the anxieties of my fellow supporters of the British Humanist Association, the Rationalist Press Association and the South Place Ethical Society.
In-Page Footnotes ("Ayer (A.J.) - What I Saw When I Was Dead")
"Badham (Paul) & Badham (Linda) - The Evidence From Psychical Research"
Source: Badham (Paul) & Badham (Linda) - Immortality or Extinction, Chapter 6
COMMENT: Also in "Edwards (Paul), Ed. - Immortality", pp. 250-258
"Beloff (John) - Is There Anything Beyond Death? A Parapsychologist's Summation"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 259-268
"Broad (C.D.) - On Survival Without a Body"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 276-278
"Ducasse (C.J.) - Survival As Transmigration"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 194-199
"Edwards (Paul) - Immortality: Bibliographical Essay"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 316-337
"Edwards (Paul) - Immortality: Introduction"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 1-72
- Some Preliminary Distinctions – 2
- Reincarnation1 and Karma – 5
- The Case for Reincarnation2 – 7
- The Case Against Reincarnation3 – 14
- The Astral Body – 19
- Dualism and Materialism – 22
- The Objections to Materialism – 25
- Interactionism – 30
- Is the Mind a Substance or a Bundle? – 31
- Can Matter Think? – 37
- Epiphenomenalism – 42
- The Disembodied4 Mind and Its Critics – 46
- The Resurrection of the Body – 53
- The Age Regression Problem – 59
- Metaphysical and Moral Arguments – 62
- The Conservation of Spiritual Energy – 64
- God and Survival – 67
"Edwards (Paul) - Karmic Tribulations"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 200-212
"Edwards (Paul) - The Dependence of Consciousness on the Brain"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 292-307
"Elliot (Hugh) - Tantalus"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 184-185
"Flew (Anthony) - The Cartesian Assumption"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 220-224
"Foster (John) - The Objections to Epiphenomenalism"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 186-187
"Geach (Peter) - Immortality"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 225-234
COMMENT: Also in "Penelhum (Terence), Ed. - Immortality"
"Hick (John) - The Recreation of the Psycho-Physical Person"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 235-241
"Hospers (John) - Is the Notion of Disembodied Existence Intelligible?"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 279-281
- This is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of the 1988 3rd edition of Hospers’ much-revised book. I have the two surrounding editions, ie:-
- This passage appears in revised form in Chapter 6 of the 1997 4th Edition, and in a yet different form in Chapter 20 of the 1967 2nd Edition.
- The passages appear fairly similar, though the long quotation from Geach’s Mental Acts is considerably truncated in the much briefer 4th edition.
- Perhaps one might do better2 to imagine surviving without a body. We have already noticed some problems with ghost life and apparition life, but these at least contained some aspects of body, such as visual appearance. Let's try now to eliminate body altogether and imagine a purely mentalistic existence.
- You go to bed one night and go to sleep3, then awaken some hours later and see the sunlight streaming in the window, the clock pointing to eight, the mirror on the other side of the room, and you wonder what you will do today. Still in bed, you look down to where your body should be, but there isn't any. The blankets and bed sheets are there, but there is no body under them. Startled, you look into the mirror, and see the reflection of the bed, the pillows, the blankets, but no reflection of your face or body. "Perhaps I have become invisible like H. G. Wells's The Invisible Man." The invisible man could not be seen, but he could be touched. You try to touch yourself, but there is nothing there to be touched. A person coming into the room would be unable to see or touch you — people could run their hands over the entire bed without ever coming into contact with a body. You are now thoroughly alarmed, thinking that now no one will know that you still exist. You try to walk forward to the mirror, but you have no feet. You might have the visual experiences you would have if you were approaching the mirror, but of course, not having a body, you are unable to walk.
- Have we now succeeded in imagining existence without a body? Not at all. There are hidden references to body even in this description. You see — with eyes? But you have no eyes. You look toward the foot of the bed — but how can you look in one direction and then another if you have no head? You can't touch your body because there is no body there — and what would you touch it with? Did you reach out with your fingers? But of course you have no fingers — nor hands, nor arms, nor anything else. What would it mean, without a body, to even try to touch? You move, or seem to move, toward the mirror — but what is it that moves or seems to move? Not your body; you have none. Things seem to be getting larger as you approach them — approach them with what? your feet? Your body seems to be involved in every activity we try to describe, even though we have endeavored to imagine existing without it.
- Is the problem just that we are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as having bodies and can't get out of the habit? The difficulty seems to be not just the inability to imagine; we can be very ingenious at imagining. The difficulty seems to be conceptual: how can we have a concept of moving when there is nothing to move, or touching when there is nothing with which to touch, and so on.
- "But a person can imagine visual sense-data even if she has no eyes; surely she can imagine the visual data even if she lacks the sense organ, the eyes, with which in our present world she sees." But can she? Try it for touch — to touch is to be in physical contact with something, and how can one be in physical contact without a body? Even the idea of seeing without a body doesn't really survive analysis:
What shows a man to have the concept seeing is not merely that he sees, but that he can take an intelligent part in our everyday use of the word "seeing." Our concept of sight has its life only in connection with a whole set of other concepts, some of them relating to the physical characteristics of visible objects, others relating to the behavior of people who see things. I express exercise of this concept in such utterances as "I can't see, it's too far off — now it's coming into view!" "He couldn't see me, he didn't look round," "I caught his eye," etc., etc. . . . And the exercise of one concept is intertwined with the exercise of others; as with a spider's web, some connections may be broken with impunity, but if you break enough the whole web collapses — the concept becomes unusable. Just such a collapse happens, I believe, when we try to think of seeing, hearing. pain, emotions, etc., going on independently of a body4.
- Is there anything left of the concept of disembodied existence5? Descartes believed himself to be a mind, a "center of consciousness." The body is only the external trapping, said Saint Augustine, which is discarded at death. There are thoughts, and since thoughts cannot exist without a thinker, there is a thinker. And what is that thinker, and how can he/she/it be distinguished from anything else? Can one try to imagine it, perhaps in a community of other minds or spirits? Without a body, how could such a spirit have even the most elementary interaction with the world? (How could one even distinguish he or she from it?) And how could these disembodied6 minds do anything? Is such a description even intelligible? Whether it satisfies anyone's conception of personal immortality is surely open to question.
- It is sensible to press those who claim to believe in the possibility of disembodied existence7 to explain something of what – if not exactly what – they think they are imagining.
- But, one presumes, most don’t imagine themselves interacting with the physical world without the aid of some body or other – some sort of spiritual body maybe, or metamorphosed8 into an angel9.
- It’s also rather strange quoting Geach, a Catholic Thomist (Wikipedia: Peter Geach), in support. He, presumably, believed that God has no body, yet is able to interact with the physical world. And presumably he’d thought things through a bit.
In-Page Footnotes ("Hospers (John) - Is the Notion of Disembodied Existence Intelligible?")
Footnote 1: Taken from the 4th Edition, Chapter 6, pp. 195-6.
Footnote 2: The previous Section was “Survival in a new body”.
Footnote 4: Peter Geach, Mental Acts: Their Content and Their Objects (London: Routledge, 1963), pp. 112-113.
Footnote 9: Yes, I heard this at a funeral recently.
"Hume (David) - Of the Immortality of the Soul"
Source: Edwards - Immortality
COMMENT: Also in "Flew (Anthony), Ed. - Body, Mind and Death" (double-check identical!)
"James (William) - Consciousness, the Brain and Immortality"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 282-291
"James (William) - The Theory of the Soul"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 177-183
COMMENT: From 'The Principles of Psychology', Vol. 1, Chapter 10
"Johnson (Raynor) - Preexistence, Reincarnation and Karma"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 188-193
"Kant (Immanuel) - Refutation of Mendelssohn's Proof of the Permanence of the Soul"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 155-6
COMMENT: From "Kant (Immanuel), Kemp Smith (Norman) - Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason"
"Lucretius - The Mind and the Spirit Will Die"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 73-82
"MacKay (Donald) - Computer Software and Life After Death"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 247-249
- Mechanistic brain science proceeds on the working assumption that every bodily event has a physical cause in the prior state of the central nervous system. Traditional moral and religious thought, on the other hand, has always presupposed that some at least of our behaviour is determined by our thinking and deciding. This apparent conflict has given rise to suggestions that unless some parts of our nervous system are found to be open to non-physical influences, brain science will effectively debunk all talk of man as a spiritual being, and oblige us to accept a purely materialistic view of our nature. Many people seem to expect a battle to be fought between religion and the neurosciences like that waged by some theologians in the nineteenth century against evolutionary biology.
- How justified is this impression? It is true that the seventeenth-century French philosopher-mathematician Rene Descartes held that the mind or soul would be powerless to influence bodily action unless some part of the brain could act as a transmitter-receiver for its controlling signals. He considered that the pineal gland, in the middle of the head, was ideally suited to the purpose. "In man," he says,
the brain is also acted on by the soul which has some power to change cerebral impressions just as those impressions in their turn have the power to arouse thoughts which do not depend on the will. . . . Only [figures of excitation] traced in spirits on the surface of [the pineal] gland, where the seat of imagination and common sense [the coming together of the senses] is . . . should be taken to be . . . the forms or images that the rational soul will consider directly when, being united to this machine, it will imagine or will sense any object. In recent years the neurophysiologist Sir John Eccles and the philosopher Sir Karl Popper have advanced theories of the "interaction" of mind and brain, which, though they differ in important respects from that of Descartes, agree with him that the brain must be open to non-physical influences if mental activity is to be effective.
- At first sight this might indeed seem obvious common sense; but a simple counter-example throws some doubt on the logic of the argument. We are nowadays accustomed to the idea that a computer can be set up to solve a mathematical equation. The mathematician means by this that the behaviour of the computer is determined by the equation he wants to solve; were it not so, it would be of no interest to him. On the other hand, if we were to ask a computer engineer to explain what is happening in the computer, he could easily demonstrate that every physical event in it was fully determined (same word) by the laws of physics as applied to the physical components. Any appearance of conflict here would be quite illusory. There is no need for a computer to be "open to non-physical influences" in order that its behaviour may be determined by a (non-physical) equation as well as by the laws of physics. The two "claims to determination" here are not mutually exclusive; rather they are complementary.
- The analogy is of course a limited one. We (unlike our computing machines) are conscious agents. The data of our conscious experience have first priority among the facts about our world, since it is only through our conscious experience that we learn about anything else. Our consciousness is thus not a matter of convention (like the mathematical significance of the computer's activity) but a matter of fact which we would be lying to deny. Nevertheless the logical point still holds. If we think of our mental activity as "embodied" in our brain activity, in the sense in which the solving of an equation can be embodied in the workings of a computer, then there is a clear parallel sense in which our behaviour can be determined by that mental activity, regardless of the extent to which our brain activity is determined by physical laws. The two explanations, in mental and in physical terms, are not rivals but complementary.
- Note that we are here thinking of mental activity as embodied in brain activity rather than identical with brain activity. The latter is a notion favoured by what is called "materialist monism," at the opposite extreme from the "interactionism" of Eccles and Popper. This would simply identify "mind" and "brain," and would go so far as to attribute "thinking" and other mental activities to the matter of which the brain is composed. The objection to this extreme view can be understood by once again considering the example of a computer. It is true that the solving of an equation is not a separate series of events, running in parallel with the physical happenings in the machine. It is rather the mathematical significance of one and the same series of events, whose physical aspect is well explained by the engineer. On the other hand it would be nonsensical on these grounds to identify equations with computers as physical objects, or to attribute mathematical properties (such as "convergence" or "being quadratic") to the physical matter in which the equation is embodied.
- By the same token, even if we regard our thinking and deciding as a "mental" or "inner" aspect of one and the same (mysterious) activity that the neuroscientist can study from the outside as brain activity, this gives no rational grounds for taking the material aspect as more "real" than the mental, still less for identifying the two and speaking of thinking and deciding as attributes of matter. This would be a confusion of categories belonging to different logical levels, for which nothing in brain science offers any justification.
- It might appear that thinking of our conscious experience as "embodied" in our brains would still be incompatible with the Christian concept of "life after death1." What we have seen in the case of the computer, however, shows that there need be no conflict. The physical destruction of a computer is certainly the end of that particular embodiment of the equation it was solving. But it leaves entirely open the possibility that the same equation could be re-embodied, perhaps in a quite different medium, if the mathematician so desires. By the same logic, mechanistic brain science would seem to raise equally little objection to the hope of eternal life expressed in biblical Christian doctrine, with its characteristic emphasis on the "resurrection" (not to be confused with resuscitation) of the body. The destruction of our present embodiment sets no logical barrier to our being re-embodied, perhaps in a quite different medium, if our Creator so wishes.
COMMENT: Originally in "Gregory (Richard), Ed. - Oxford Companion to the Mind".
"Mill (John Stuart) - Immortality"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 172-176
COMMENT: From "Mill (John Stuart), Taylor (Richard) - Theism"
"Price (H.H.) - What Kind of Next World?"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 213-219
"Priestley (Joseph) - Materialism, Personal Identity and Life After Death"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 157-171
"Reid (Thomas) - Of the Nature and Origin of Our Notion of Personal Identity"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 148-154
COMMENT: From 'Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man'. Probably duplicated elsewhere.
"Tertullian - The Refutation of the Pythagorean Doctrine of Transmigration"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 88-90
"Voltaire - The Soul, Identity and Immortality"
Source: Edwards - Immortality, pp, 141-147
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