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
COMMENT: Near Death Experiences1; see also "Ayer (A.J.) - Postscript to a Postmortem" and "Ayer (A.J.) - That Undiscovered Country".
"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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