The Moral Superiority of the Modern Military Over Modern Civilian Society

Posted April 9th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: communal human being, Freedom and Structure in Human Life, Moral nature

Military men, even the warriors or “rough boys”, hold a variety of opinions on political issues, including how to use the military. My readings in history and in the news and blogging sites of the Web have led me to believe their opinions tend to be better founded and better reasoned, in terms of basic moral instincts and reason, than those of any recent President of the United States and the vast majority of American public leaders in general—including cultural and religious leaders. The opinions of those military men who blog or write articles on the Internet or for paper publication (exclude those who move into highly-paid jobs in the military-industrial-political complex) are most certainly better founded than those of American citizens but those military men tend to come from the intelligence operations or to have moved from combat roles into academic roles during their careers.

I think many of even the most clear-sighted of military men tend to put what might be called “national greatness” too high on the scale of values, especially in the United States which has a people who are not warriors and are quite immature as a people. As Patton noted, Americans do make tough citizen-soldiers and we should be content with that and get on with our true callings in life. I think that Americans, no matter how well-educated, tend to ignore the importance of community and this might be one reason so many convince themselves they are warriors or potential warriors—their lives are separated from communal critique and their dreams become blurred with reality, especially if reinforced by television and other forms of entertainment. Military professionals, especially those with intelligence or academic backgrounds, are far less likely to make this error because they have a truer community if one with a limited purpose from the viewpoint of a total human life. Certainly, military professionals assume the reality of military communities and the reality of their own selves as shown in the communal mirror.

True military men, and even the dedicated short-termers who are citizen-soldiers, enter into a real form of being which is most directly perceived in their loyalty to their unit. If they serve on the battlefield during wartime, it’s a common claim they will fight for their comrades in that unit rather than for the greater communities of family and nation and all those in between. This makes sense because our foundational being remains flesh and blood no matter how many abstract loyalties we form and no matter how much a particular man or woman might come to understand the nature of those abstract loyalties. Apparently, even a wife and children are a little abstract on the battlefield when the bullets and missiles start flying. The guy lying out in a no-man’s zone with a bad wound to a thigh is of more immediate concern and so is the guy a few feet away. When the the command comes to move into the gunfire—will he hesitate or move out like another Audie Murphy? Often, according to combat veterans, courage is at the group level at that point.

I’m comfortable claiming that communal being in the American military is better formed than is nearly any other communal being in the United States. For reasons I can only partly intuit, the US military matured in this way far faster than other communities in this country still so young though I can put forward one likely reason. As I’ll discuss in another context, military communities are different in having more limited but better defined moral natures.

At the same time that there is a far greater moral order in American military communities than in nearly any other American community, I’m under the impression that our political class has succeeded in partially corrupting the men in uniform, partly because the Department of Defense as a whole, including all the civilian bureaucrats, and the military-industrial complex as a greater whole, seem to be one of the most corrupt of major segments of the United States, public and private. When he was Comptroller General of the United States (from about 1998 to 2005), David Walker had estimated there was a cumulative total approaching $1 trillion dollars of money and supplies in the Department of Defense which couldn’t be accounted for. I’ve read that the estimates for cumulative money missing in the US government as a whole now total to something like $4 trillion. And now we’re witnessing the spectacle of an increasing number of officers, including generals and admirals, going to jail for simple thievery or for crimes worse than that.

Yet, there remains something to the discipline necessary to military life and operations which is not just conducive to moral order but is actually at least a limited but substantial form of a higher moral order and which does reach a much higher level in men such as Robert E Lee and arguably a number of military leaders in the American Revolution—I write `arguably’ only because most of those men were citizen-soldiers. If we strip away our idealistic and self-righteous illusions about the nature of morality in the real world, we can add even two of the Indian-fighting generals, George Crook and Nelson Miles, to the list of those who fought hard but tried to treat enemies, at least when defeated, in a just and sometimes merciful manner. Ulysses Grant and John Pershing and George Patton and Matthew Ridgeway would also be on that list of men who fought hard and with great competence but within the the moral limits of war as they understood those limits. I’m no military historian and I’m certainly missing American warriors of great moral integrity from my list. I’ll move on with that disclaimer.

Now we get to the heart of the matter. First of all, I’ll once again refer to one of my pivotal essays: Intelligence vs. Intellect, where I responded to two related insights of Jacques Barzun in his important book, The House of Intellect. First, he pointed out:

We [in the United States] have in fact intelligence in plenty and we use it perhaps more widely than other nations, for we apply it with praiseworthy innocence to parts of life elsewhere ruled by custom or routine. [page 4]

At the bottom of that same page, he claimed:

Intellect is the capitalized and communal form of live intelligence; it is intelligence stored up and made into habits of discipline, signs and symbols of meaning, chains of reasoning and spurs to emotion—a shorthand and a wireless by which the mind can skip connectives, recognize ability, and communicate truth. Intellect is at once a body of common knowledge and the channels through which the right particle of it can be brought to bear quickly, without the effort of redemonstration, on the matter in hand.

Institutions which rely on discipline, such as militaries, are heavier on intellect than individual intelligence. This isn’t to say there aren’t highly intelligent men and women in the military—there most certainly are such men and women. It is to say that a highly disciplined community will emphasize the communal mind or intellect. Judging by the books and essays on the Web written by retired, or sometimes active, military officers, I’d say the American military might well be better than the Catholic Church at bringing members’ minds in line with the communal mind without crippling the individual minds. This is perhaps due to the extreme reaction against modern empirical knowledge by Catholic intellectuals in recent centuries, rooted in a mindset seen as early as the persecution of Galileo but showing itself in full bloom during the retreat from modern thought at the end of the Enlightenment, a period which gave us a lot of potential good—not yet well developed.

Because Christian thinkers and leaders have refused to properly respond to the Enlightenment (actually a complex of different enlightenments) which defined the Modern Age, the ordinary Christian has had to deal with a fragmented world on his own. He lives in a real world and then goes to church once a week or perhaps more often to hear of claims which seem increasingly dream-like, having less and less to do with any Creation this universe could be part of, less and less to do with any promises of salvation which make sense or are even attractive to flesh-and-blood human beings. See one of my relatively early essays, The Only Sane Christian in the Modern World, where I discussed our modern inability to say anything intelligent or even sensible about Heaven.

The ugly result of this fragmentation of perceived and conceived being is typically a fragmentation of the human being of Christians or else an effort to maintain integrity of human being by leaving Christianity or else dropping belief in the creedal claims of Christianity and then bracketing Christian practices as simply something done out of habit or for the sake of celebrating the fun Holy Days such as Christmas and Easter.

The intellect of the Christian churches is in bad shape. Children are provided with an understanding of God and Creation which makes little sense in light of modern empirical knowledge. At the same time, the formation of individual intelligence in the more talented children is ignored. Christian children aren’t provided with much to help them to deal with the forces of fragmentation and any later education they might seek about Christianity usually relies on books which, however loose and `liberal, simply build upon that earlier indoctrination.

The intellect of the modern American military is limited in scope and is troubled but is in far better shape than that of the Christian churches or other communities in the United States—except for some scientific communities but those are made of the Americans who somehow make it through the educational system with enthusiasm intact and at least some self-discipline. Young men and women entering military service are indoctrinated more than educated, though often real education is offered to those who can benefit and wish to do so. It seems possible to make a good career in the American military without doing much to develop your individual intelligence, but you’ll at least have to become part of a communal intelligence, or intellect, in decent shape though ragged at the edges. You’ll think in ways learned by the hard experiences of the battlefield or the sustained campaign.

To a certain extent, education or training similar to that of the military can be justified to indoctrinate young Christians even at the expense of nurturing a deeper understanding—especially given our egalitarian refusal to differently educate those who might be able to develop more creative or more powerful minds which might find pleasure in dealing with such understandings. In fact, my experiences and what I notice in others leads me to conclude our modern educational systems, public and private, teach us to consider study and even the pleasurable reading of good literature to be a grind, something to be done only when you’re trying to attain your diploma, your credentials for the real world. Even a pretense of learning largely stops at graduation, certainly any learning related to such matters as history or literature or the sciences. In healthier times, even some working men and women would read serious works in those fields, for sheer pleasure of using their minds. As our general educations teach us to hate reading even serious literature which was very popular in past generations, such as the novels and essays of Mark Twain or the political writings of Thomas Jefferson, so do our Christian Sunday Schools and CCD classes teach us to avoid reading the Bible or other great works from various religious traditions.

I suspect the military indoctrination as well as its more profound sorts of education are more effective than Christian indoctrination and leave the minds of soldiers open to learning just because it teaches a way of life but not a commitment to an understanding of reality which is a poor encapsulation of that reality.

The military is in the job of understanding a more limited aspect of Creation: defending country and all it contains against those who have attacked us or preparing to defend country against potential attackers. (For the purpose of this part of the discussion, I’ll ignore the misuse and perhaps corruption of the American military by the political class of the United States or—more generally—the military-industrial-political complex.)

At its best, military life is built around the principles so many honor in the breach:

  1. we must be willing to pay any price to do what is right and important;
  2. we must be willing to pay lesser prices for what is right and less important; and
  3. we must not willingly do positive evil though sometimes forced to act with incomplete knowledge or forced to act when there is a complex balance of good and evil revolving around our various options.

I’ll ignore the problem that the last `principle’ is a catch-all which allows weasels to get to any point they wish—and their points will be accepted by a conveniently ignorant citizenry with manipulable minds—see my recent essay Unreliable Memories, Minds Like Silly Putty.

It is quite possible that military men will find themselves called to fight certain wars against dangerous enemies even if they know those wars came about, or came about in a more serious form, because of immoral or unwise decisions made by the civilian leaders of the government, American or otherwise. There are other, similar problems which military men might have to ignore in waging war against those who may not have truly been our enemies before we engaged them in battle. At a different level, combat officers, including the commanding officers in the field and their staff, are bound to beat that enemy for various reasons including the protection of soldiers under their command even if they know we shouldn’t be in that country, perhaps in the backyards of proud men who have to carry weapons because of violent men who would dominate others against their will.

Order is good, order which respects the basic moral instincts built into our genes and order which respects the best (not most self-righteous or self-serving or…) thoughts and feelings which come from our philosophers and theologians, our politicians (real ones) and business leaders, our social and cultural leaders including artists and musicians.

Much of this order is gone in the Modern West and never existed in a strong form in the United States, largely because generations of Christians have practiced a sort of ghetto-thought allied with a feel-good philosophy toward our emotions. The American military, and some other militaries have a better defined, and necessarily more limited, understanding of moral order, an understanding in the context of their roles as soldiers.

I would maintain that, even in the deeply corrupt United States, the military is still a community with a good percentage of men with true moral character and moral courage. You don’t have to agree with them on all matters—even the non-interventionists in American military uniforms, or formerly in those uniforms, tend to be a bit more aggressive than I would recommend in international matters. Yet, some have looked at the damage we’ve wreaked throughout the world and inside the minds and hearts of young American men and women, as well as having looked at all those who have died or been crippled—American and otherwise. Some of those are at least considering a fairly strict position of “defend our own borders and don’t get involved in faraway lands unless absolutely necessary to defend American lives or property.” (I think there are some adopting a stance which is more to the non-interventionist side than they would prefer because of their perception of that lack of moral order in the American political class and general citizenry—they don’t trust us or our elected representatives to even bother to learn where a country is before bellowing to attack because those evil people, whoever or wherever they are, “hate us for our freedom”; maybe they’ll love us when they understand we are descending toward a relative material poverty to match our moral and cognitive poverty.)

I would also maintain that we Christians, warriors or citizen-soldiers or pure civilians, can learn much from that more limited but firm moral code still honored by many individual American military men and, to a lesser extent, by many American military institutions—though often honored in the breach because of the corrupting influence of the American political class or the military-industrial-political complex as a whole. I’ll mention two lessons similar to principles held by the military. We should form children to the principal that they, and we, should always be living for the greater good of God and our family and our country and our other communities, including those of medical professionals or anthropologists; when necessary, we should be willing to die for God and our human communities. We should also recover a respect for habit-formation, not in a totally mindless way but in a firm and authoritative way.

Is the Invisible Hand Really the Hand of the Body of Christ?

Posted April 3rd, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Body of Christ, Christian in the universe of Einstein, communal human being, Economics, Narratives and truth, Unity of knowledge

Is the invisible hand justly celebrated by Adam Smith really the hand of the pilgrim human community, of the Body of Christ forming—however imperfectly and incompletely—in this mortal realm?

Yes, though the language is far from optimal and that language can lead to improper concepts regarding the Body of Christ and its relationships to human beings in this mortal realm, this empirical realm of facts which we Christians can’t continue to accept when we go to the hospital to be scanned for cancers and then ignore in our worship of God and our efforts to understand God in His freely chosen role as Creator. The Invisible Hand is actually Invisible Mind and Invisible Heart as well as Invisible Hand(s) of the Body of Christ at work on forming itself, something like the self-organizational processes which seem to bring brute matter to life and to organize some brute matter (say stars and other objects as well as gaseous matter) into galaxies and into various complex groupings of galaxies.

The formation of the Body of Christ in this mortal realm is mostly a natural process though it has its aspects which could be labeled `mystical’ without too much damage to human understanding of Creation, of the actual work of the Creator as opposed to fairy tales and dreams preferred by far too many Christians—in recent centuries, even including theologians and philosophers and ecclesiastical leaders. Once those fairy tales and dreams were something different, corresponding well to the best understandings of empirical reality. We’ve kept them too long, like an eccentric lady who keeps threadbare curtains up and rickety unsafe furniture in her house when she could do better, at least repairing the old stuff which is no longer suiting the purpose of a human habitation; a complete refurnishing is often the better course of action, but a refurnishing which respects the context of that particular house.

The Body of Christ, in its preliminary forms in this world of evolution and development, is all of our communities even though many of those communities wage various sorts of war against each other and exploit each other in less violent ways. For now, the Body of Christ is somewhat of a colony of organisms rather than itself an organism, as jellyfish and some other creatures are also colonies of organisms, though amazingly well-evolved and well-developed for life as if truly cells or organs in an organism. As I said, the pilgrim Body of Christ doesn’t form in a smooth way, not even so much as does a community which is a jellyfish. Human beings and smaller human communities are too ornery and contrary for such processes of aggregation to proceed smoothly.

I’ve claimed before, and still claim, that the fullness of a good human life will be found in the world of the resurrected and, thus, the Church, the center and source of our direct relationships with God, is Herself an organ and not the entirety of the Body. Our activities as actors in the economy and the political realm, in music and other arts, in scientific and literary pursuits, in farming and woodworking, are legitimate parts of human life; we would be mutilated creatures if this were all torn away from us; if we were to sit in choirs in heavenly churches for time without end, we would soon be so bored as to be praying for the end of time.

As the Body of Christ forms in this mortal realm, however incompletely and imperfectly, all of its organs and other parts form in a way that suggests a bit of independence of parts and whole—at least in this mortal realm. We Christians have had to admit the incompleteness and imperfection of our organs of worship, our churches, even the Mother Church in Rome and the equally ancient sacramental churches of western Asia have sinned greatly and erred greatly as communities and as gatherings of individuals. Protestant and other Christian churches have done no better. The pilgrim Church moves through this world, advancing at times in Her reluctant and unsteady obedience to God and regressing at other times; at times, the Church in Rome and all other Christian churches I know of have been no better than filthy images of the Church in Heaven. The same can be said of the other developing parts of the Body of Christ, organs and other parts which are the communal analog to the various parts of individual human being. Our political and economic systems also decay to exploitive class-based systems. Our local communities in the modern world seem to vaporize as soon as one generation decides to seek something more exciting, such as a country-club and night-club life.

The economy, the realms in which we make our livings and—for many—act in the most meaningful ways is a central part of our lives, even if our economy is restricted to a family farm. Even an impoverished writer such as myself, is still working as if living in a world with a better publishing industry and more demanding readers. Like the butcher, I don’t write out of pure benevolence but rather because, perhaps with God’s help, I worked myself into a state of being where I’m a thinker and writer, paid or not. Whatever comes of, or from, the works I’m publishing for free on the Web, I’m fulfilling a role which is at least potentially as important as the great public roles of our day.

We human beings are forming various communities in this mortal realm. Some human beings are not obviously God-centered and many seem to be actual enemies of God, at least enemies of any God compatible with the teachings of Isaiah and Jeremiah or the very Person of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. Those human beings also are playing a role in the formation of the Body of Christ, even if they are playing a seemingly negative role; the biological world has plenty of parasites and microbial invaders of other life-forms. I discussed the issue of human predators before, especially in Predators, Producers, Sheep, and the Love of Liberty and in lesser detail in other essays.

Rather than trying to justify either HIV or government-employed professional murderers, rather than even wishing they not exist, we should recognize they are part of the story as much as a pretty songbird or a dedicated nurse. Sad, but the story has sad aspects. If the story were radically different, the creatures in the story would be different—human beings are the result of evolutionary and development processes in a world with pirates on the high seas and pirates on Wall Street as well as medical and religious missionaries around the world. We wouldn’t exist if the world had been either one where human beings were a special creation beginning with Adam and Eve or if it were a place without disease and famine, war and crimes.

What’s amazing in this world of brutal struggles is the good that emerges, even from great nastiness. The persisting good is order, in the physical things and structures of this universe such as galaxies, in the environment of earth where multitudes of living organisms and physical things all shape one another. There is no need to assume any changes in human moral character, either in its makeup or its strength. The forms of imperfect and incomplete order within the evolving and developing communities of the Body of Christ are sufficient to help us modify our manifested natures, though we might remain potentially murderers and adulterers in our dreams. They are also sufficient to sometimes gather us into armies serving criminal governments or into hateful and perhaps genocidal mobs.

We may not be able to build Heaven on earth, but a productive and morally well-ordered barbarian village is nothing to sneer at; a civilization, however minor, is a great wonder. We must keep alive the awareness of the imperfections, cruelties and outright crimes, of those villages and civilizations, whether communal or individual, but we court disaster if we forget the good that was found even in Rome with its gladiator contests and its brutal conquests. I speak mostly of long-lived communities because truly perverse communities, such as Nazi Germany, will self-destruct because they don’t honor even our basic needs and most primitive moral instincts of the sort discussed in some of our great literature and certainly in the Bible.

Human communities are for real as they move toward order as part of a general movement within this universe. These communities aren’t just voluntary, contractual gatherings of freestanding human beings. We human beings remain individuals even as we become truly communities; think of this as analogical to the Christian belief that God is Father and Son and Holy Spirit, each of whom remain individuals while also being one God. We remain individual human beings while also becoming one Body of Christ.

This shows in Adam Smith’s great example though I’ll rephrase it in terms of a more fully Christian morality rather than using language consistent with Adam Smith’s Deistic outlook: the butcher doesn’t provide you with meat out of his benevolence but rather because he has taken on a role in which he makes a living and provides certain products and services for others within his community or other nearby communities. Though there are some exceptions, individual human beings nearly always feel most complete and best satisfied when fulfilling such a role with some competence.

We are tied together by our human natures, individual natures which are made to be part of certain types of communities. We are first tied together by bonds of dependency before those of love. To be stable and satisfying, those bonds of dependency must meet our basic needs and the desires which lead us to satisfy our needs. Bonds of love might develop or might come to be before or at the same time as bonds of dependencies, but it is those latter bonds which are more important and must be accepted before we can form true communities, before we can become the Body of Christ.

As sociobiologists, such as E O Wilson, have told us, our desires for forming certain basic sorts of communities and capabilities of doing so exist in the genes of the individual human being, though I would add soma and environment to make a more complete picture. We desire to form communal relationships. We engage in tentative relationships, often the accepting of dependencies upon others, and grow in communal being, communal mass, communal muscle, communal intelligence or intellect. For a variety of reasons, most of which have to do with the human brain and the mind it can make, we human beings form ever more complex communities, sometimes as a result of lesser activities which include not only economic and political activities but also those involving sports and music and stamp-collecting.

We desire communal relationships. If we succeed in forming good relationships, we begin to create communal stuff and shaping it. As the perfect and completed man is Christ, so the perfect and completed community is the Body of Christ. This way of discussion comes from the ancient Christian principle that grace does not destroy or replace nature, grace perfects and completes nature. What we are in this mortal realm tells us much about what we shall be in the world of the resurrected; in principle, it would tell us the entirety if our minds were powerful enough and if our hearts were pure enough to properly guide our minds.

So it is that when we see complex and well-ordered human communities form as if by magic, we’re really seeing the natural side of a process by which the Body of Christ is developing.

I’m going to step back a little and explain part of what is going on behind the scenes when I write my books or essays. It’s something to be found in my writings as both side-comments and as major statements. The entire small book of select writings, Making Peace with Empirical Reality, deals with some of the basic issues of accepting empirical reality as the manifestations of a lot of thoughts of God, some of those thoughts being mathematical, some being story-telling, others being analogous to other categories of human activities. See my book, Four Kinds of Knowledge, for an overview of my understanding of the necessary, but dangerous and ultimately untrue, fragmentation of human knowledge, a fragmentation which can deform our human beings if we accept it as literally and necessarily true.

Our ways of thinking and speaking, if only concessions to the weakness and smallness of the human mind, work their ways into our hearts and minds, become our attitudes and thoughts. If we use radically different knowledge for our ways of speaking of our Christian beliefs than we use for speaking of the universe, then the universe is no longer part of God’s Creation in our thoughts. We will have bracketed our religious beliefs and will only think inside those brackets on Sunday morning for an hour or so and maybe during our weekly Bible readings and daily prayers. We need technical language for theology and Bible study as well as for economics and physics, but there has to be a bit of overlap and bridges which, at least for the philosophically minded, allow smooth movement from one realm of human thought to another. Modern men have built more walls than bridges inside their minds.

We need a Christian civilization which is a rich variety of compatible cultures; we need such a group of cultures each of which teaches us to speak about the empirical world in such a way that it is part of Creation. We also need a rich variety of understandings of the ancient creeds (and their Biblical foundation) and corresponding practices; we need these varied ways of speaking and thinking of the transcendent God in such a way that He is not only Father and Son and Holy Spirit in one God but also, by His own free-will, the ever-present Creator of this world. This means that we must think and speak of God in His freely chosen role of Creator in such ways as to recognize He works through processes described by modern empirical scientists, through social and cultural and political processes described by modern empirical scientists and exegetes of traditional literary works, theorists and experimenters and practitioners who are firmly planted in empirical reality.

From the time of at least Augustine and Jerome, through Anselm and then Albertus Magnus and his student Thomas Aquinas, there were important thinkers whose works embodied an open and honest recognition of empirical reality—though necessarily within the context of their times. Now it is easy enough to re-interpret some of these works in ethereal ways, but that is not how they were written. With the persecution of Galileo, who was actually an orthodox Catholic thinker of an Augustinian sort, the hierarchy and intellectual mainstream of the Western Church began to separate themselves from an honest and courageous and faithful respect for God’s Creation. It seems odd at first but makes sense upon contemplation that the Church soon lost the skills of speaking of Heaven, the world of the resurrected, in ways other than vague dreams or gushing allusions which make no sense in terms of the only part of Creation we know or can directly explore, the part in which we are born and are shaped, the mortal world which is the source of the world of the resurrected.

In general, theological talk in its academic forms and its more accessible forms deals with creatures and worlds which have little or nothing to do with the only part of Creation we know. Human sin is explained in sermons and homilies and spiritual works as the result of acts by a human couple which never existed—it is likely the last common male ancestor and last common female ancestor of the human race lived tens of thousands of years apart. Matter and time and space are discussed in ways drawn from pre-modern thought, much of it originating in ancient Greece. What saves the Catholic Church from utter disintegration are the large number of priests who exercise greater sense and wisdom than could come from the very defective scripts they are taught in seminary. I would imagine similar comments could be made of other Christian churches.

The invisible hand is a rather misleading way of speaking of some aspects of the formation of the Body of Christ, ultimately a community of friends of Jesus Christ which is well-ordered in various ways, some moral and some seemingly having little to do with morality, but all the order works toward both moral and utilitarian purposes. The mind of the Body of Christ forms by encapsulating this order. It is the mind of that Body and the objective relationships which arise in this moral realm which are of concern. The hand of the Body can only act by instinct unless guided by the mind in developing proper habits and customs, moral and otherwise. This most certainly does not often mean a group of experts gathered in the conference room of some resort hotel nor in the meeting room of some bank or government agency. It nearly always means businessmen planning expansions during a period of growing populations or a group of parents organizing a baseball league for young boys or girls or an international and loose-knit community of scientists pursuing an understanding of some interesting phenomenon which might or might not have commercial application. These are purposeful activities but not attempts to plan from the top down.

Most especially in the past century or so, we’ve seen how much harm can be done by those sorts of planning processes and the consequent efforts to control a seeming chaos as it organizes itself. We saw that harm in the devastation which was Russia after the Bolsheviks had ruled for decades and we saw it in the design and construction of the national highway systems of the United States and other countries, using taxpayer monies to benefit the military-industrial complex but also large corporate employers in general and also mall developers. This led to massive damage to an admittedly inadequate Main Street, where many of those taxpayers lived and worked and purchased goods and services. It’s true that Main Street was likely inadequate to modern needs, but it was crucial to the lives of so many small towns and so many neighborhoods of large cities. We would probably be a country with less junk filling our garages and basements, a country more stable, a country filled with happier and stronger families and church communities, if we’d let Main Street grow and change to meet new needs. That mall down the street and the huge aerospace factory in a nearby town are not the result of any Invisible Hand but rather the result of the velvet-gloved Iron Hand of would-be tyrants, small or great.

Unreliable Memories, Minds Like Silly Putty

Posted March 28th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: decay of civilization, Freedom and Structure in Human Life, honesty in perception, Moral freedom, Narratives and truth

My previous post, We Need All Sorts of Mavericks in This Dynamic Creation, argued the need for certain sorts of flexible and creative thinkers to respond to new opportunities and to deal with problems which have developed in our understanding of Creation or any significant part of it, such as the understanding of human origins and the reasons we are as we are. In this essay, I’ll be dealing with the need for certain types of what might be called reliable thinking on the part of all morally responsible citizens of this world. The meaning of `reliable thinking’ will be developed in the rest of the essay.

It takes a healthy mind to make serious sense of the world about us, however provisional and ephemeral that sense might be. Reality is what it is, what the Good Lord created it to be, modified by His acts and ours and those of other creatures to the extent of freedom exercised by various creatures, from the limited freedom of a bacteria to the moral freedom of social mammals such as wolves and gorillas right up to the self-aware and self-critical moral freedom allowed to human beings. The world, even insofar as we contribute to its being, dictates to us. We don’t impose our ideas upon the world which is a story being told by God. This doesn’t mean we are powerless; it does mean we, so to speak, must play the game by its rules, by rules laid down by God, by rules which must be read out of the game as it is going on.

Without memories which correspond to reality—though not necessarily memories accurate in the way of computers or of scientific recordings—and without minds which can make some sense of what goes on around us in terms of that same correspondence to reality as we know it up to that time and as we update it based upon the experiences of that time, we are confused puppies in a world grown awesomely complex in terms of huge and varied human communities and in terms of a physical universe we now are forced to deal with on terms of modern science and technology. Simple world? We have houses filled with devices designed allowing for quantum mechanical effects, hospitals with diagnostic equipment which also considers relativistic effects. We are starting to diagnose disease, and very tentatively to treat disease, by use of genetics. I’ll mention only one community problem: the American democracy, and most others, are farces in that so much is decided and perhaps has to be decided by political machines well before the voters march into the booths to choose between Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum. The reality of our political situations in the modern West is a bit different than what we pretend.

Some of those mavericks I discussed in my prior post, We Need All Sorts of Mavericks in This Dynamic Creation, need to get to work on these problems, but there are some steps we could take in the context of our current mess to at least minimize the damage we do to our own individual selves, to our communal selves, to our children, and to the rest of the world. Taking these steps will require more awareness of reality as well as more moral courage than men and women of the West have shown in the past couple of centuries.

I speak of `practical’ steps we can take, but choosing the path we step along will require abstract thinking as well as practical thinking and the application of proper habits. I’ll speak a little to the nature of abstract thinking before moving on.

The adoption of abstract modes of reasoning, which I think to have developed in a recognizable and self-sustaining form in the fifth or sixth century before Christ, has not gone so well. In fact, with the modern re-turn to barbarism as described by Jose Ortega y Gasset (The Revolt of the Masses) and others, we have perhaps regressed more than a little over the past two centuries. See Much of Our Knowledge, Much of Our Thinking, Much of Our Moral Structure Lies Outside of Us, where I wrote:

I’m not really pessimistic — in the long term. In The Revolt of the Masses, Jose Ortega Y Gasset told us the growth in prosperity and changes in attitude freed men from parochial lives but only tainted good had come of that release from restrictively local lives. The leaders of the West failed to even try hard at fulfilling their duties to teach the wisdom of the West to these masses or to help them to mature into morally well-ordered adults in this radically new historical situation. Few, if any, leaders rose from the masses themselves to try to develop the sorts of moral characters and minds which could bring about moral order in the new communities which were growing up willy-nilly.

God’s story moves forward. The Body of Christ is forming slowly by painful processes. Some legitimate organs, such as the American government, have decayed into cancers or parasitic organisms preying upon the greater body. The human race which is the mortal stuff of that Body is only reluctantly, and under great pressure, accepting the need to mature and to grow into something not yet seen. We will move forward along with God’s story. What choice have we?

Early in the 1800s, Jefferson was claiming that the hardheaded skepticism of illiterate peasants in Europe had become in most Americans an invincible ignorance based upon “a perverse form of literacy.” The still bigger problem was the loss of any desire to work to reach higher levels of reading skills or reasoning skills or storytelling skills or general understanding of Creation or any substantial part of it. Apparently, a people who came suddenly into a prosperous state in the midst of a civilization which once existed largely in the Cathedral cities and some courts didn’t understand what a civilization is. They knew nothing of the sheer human effort of building and maintaining that civilization—most of that work occurring in the true foundation of a civilization, the minds of its citizens. The technology necessary for the physical infrastructure of a civilization can be grasped by such a people as Americans, but the moral and political infrastructure is transparent to that people. Morality, especially when it was still in its strong and traditional form, seemed as much a part of nature as the desires and needs it helps to bring into a proper order for practical as well as spiritual purposes. One particular aspect of this problem I’ve explored in depth is the need for an understanding of the world, of all of Creation for Christians. A true civilization is an attempt to live out a story corresponding to a people’s understanding of their own role in some great scheme of things.

To be sure, those who came from parochial and uneducated populations have acquired skills and understanding sufficient to read advertising copy or fill out most forms even to doing the arithmetic of tax forms; they have developed some interestingly dangerous skills to manipulate virtual objects on a screen and to drive cars or airplanes. They have not learned to evaluate the quality and reliability of information; they have not learned how to browse the shelves of a library to find at least good background books (even biased books often fill that role in a more than adequate way); they have not learned how to think in historical terms, that is, in terms of reality. The universities graduate a small number of dedicated and highly skilled historians and physicists and chemical engineers each year; the majority of graduates don’t seem capable of finding their way to good information once they are no longer guided by professors or teaching assistants. Some of those in my family from my grandparents’ generation left school at 6th grade but were capable of reading serious books, thinking through difficult lines of thought about this country’s actions or the relationship between capital and labor, and had a healthy skepticism—not cynicism.

Modern inhabitants of what was once the great Christian civilization of the West have no abilities to look into the activities of their own minds, including memory formation. We have minds and memories ready made for manipulation by marketers of the latest and greatest in junk food and gadgets and even excessive versions of useful technology. In general, modern minds are somewhat like silly putty and there is some testimony from American thinkers over the past two centuries that we proudly led the way and I’d claim we still do so. We Americans are proud of our minds of silly putty. Push the mind of an American against a cartoon image and it picks it up, colors and all. The minds of men from other regions of the modern West seem little better in this year of 2014, though Jefferson had claimed to have seen that healthy skepticism in the French peasantry when he was resident in that country. According to Jacques Barzun, the French peasants who were literate in past centuries, apparently a higher percentage than we or Jefferson have imagined, could read books beyond the skills of modern day college professors.

This is a problem, an important problem. An alarmist might look at what has been done to the American mind and other minds since at least World War I when the fathers of corporate marketing joined with Wilson to remove from the American mind the simple desire to mind our own business. There are other strands to this story, the failure of Americans to live up to the promise of this country while pretending we have done so, but I’ll only mention in passing the issues of education and desire for financial security. There are still other problems with the American mind and the underlying American moral character; I’ve discussed some of them in the past. In any case, the world was to be ours to improve as if it were a car engine to be tinkered with and made more efficient.

Serious thinkers, such as Tocqueville and Hawthorne and Melville, had already raised questions by the 1850s about the seemingly weak attachment that Americans had to any part of reality they didn’t wish to recognize. Melville had considered it to be a rebellion against God, on the part of those brave and honest (Captain Ahab) as well as those cowardly and false-faced (Emerson and Thoreau and most Americans).

I’m going to respond to a couple of recent articles about how easy it is for experimental psychologists to manipulate the formation of memories or even the recall of true memories. These experiments are, to be sure, carried out in laboratories, that is—under somewhat artificial conditions, but there is a lot of substance to this work even when it involves a bit of showmanship worthy of Harry Houdini whose tricks were, in turn, as sophisticated as these of experimental psychologists. So far as I can tell, these experiments correspond closely to the real world, however stylized and (falsely) neat those experiments are.

Ed Yong lets us in on some truly weird science in an article, Out-Of-Body Experiences Make It Harder To Encode Memories, about the effect of out-of-body illusions:

When Henrik Ehrsson tells me that his latest study is “weird”, I pay attention. This is a man, after all, who once convinced me I was the size of a doll, persuaded me that I had three arms, and ripped me out of my own body before stabbing me in the chest. Guy knows weird.

Ehrsson’s team at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm specialises in studying our sense of self, by creating simple yet spectacular illusions that subvert our everyday experiences. For example, it seems almost trite to suggest that all of us experience our lives from within our own bodies. But with just a few rods, a virtual reality headset, and a camera, Ehrsson can give people an out-of-body experience or convince them that they’ve swapped bodies with a mannequin or another person.

These illusions tell us that our sense of self isn’t the fixed, stable, hard-wired sensation that it seems. Instead, our brain uses the information from our senses to continuously construct the feeling that we own our own bodies. Feed the senses with the wrong information, and you can make the brain believe all manner of impossible things.

I’ve dealt with these sorts of interesting and disturbing experiences, some occurring because of stress or near-death experiences and some induced by experimental psychologists. The interested reader can check out Staking Your Faith on Gaps in Empirical Knowledge, Preliminary Thoughts on the Evolution of the Human Mind, So What if the Human Mind is a Product of Evolution?, and So What if the Human Being’s Mind is a Product of Development?.

In those essays, I claim that these sorts of odd events shouldn’t be disturbing or shocking in a creature who develops his sense of self by various mapping processes occurring in the brain.

In the article, Your Memory May Be Edited, we learn:

Our memories are inaccurate, more than we’d like to believe. And now a study demonstrates one reason: we apparently add current experiences onto memories.

An author, in particular, would certainly not be surprised to learn about this mixing of past and current experiences in our memories. In fact, I’m dealing with this in a novel I’m finishing up and will be putting on my website for free download—perhaps in a month or so.

The article ends with words which might indicate real problems with human beings finding the truth about anything substantial or at least real problems in remembering the truth the next day:

The researchers note that recent and easily retrievable information “can overwrite what was there to begin with.” Consider that next time you hear eyewitness testimony.

All of this is interesting and very important and likely to be well-founded—Ed Yong is very reliable and Scientific American editors are generally reliable in vetting scientific work to ensure it was properly peer-reviewed and that the authors have taken adequate measures for others to reproduce the results. These revelations about the unreliability of our individual memories are truly weird. More objectively—they indicate to me that we don’t form objective memories so much as we write our own story and the stories of our communities and even a story of our entire world and are constantly revising those stories to reflect something which impressed itself upon our memories.


What is to be done?

To a certain extent: nothing different from what we’re already doing. Scientists have known for centuries our direct observations of nature cannot be taken for truth. Various disciplinary `tricks’ are used even for casual observations and measurements and instruments along with elaborate statistical analyses are more typically used. Medical clinicians and novelists and musicians and machinists have been adjusting their efforts for centuries to compensate for wrongful perceptions of various sorts. Over the centuries historians have especially made various successful and unsuccessful efforts to adjust for a variety of biases, including those prior assumptions that blind a researcher or theorist to even obvious facts or lead them to exaggerate the importance of other facts—which may, in fact, be illusions or delusions. In ways sometimes similar to those of novelists and poets and musicians and sometimes similar to those of scientists and technologists, some philosophers and theologians have also tried to adjust for temporal and spatial and cultural distortions, generally for the weaknesses and imperfections of communal perceptions as well as for those of individual organs—eyes and ears and brain.

What’s remarkable is our ability to be aware of our weaknesses and incompletenesses, our errors of omission and commission. This comes about when we are properly objective, that is, when we look for truths outside of us rather than imagining we have some entity, call it mind or soul, with a magical ability to directly find or know truths.

In the past, I’ve pointed out two important facts to keep in mind when trying to understand our human selves in light of these sorts of glitches in our perceptions and our thinking but also in light of our historically demonstrated ability to move toward significant truths. As I stated at the very beginning of this essay: “My previous post, We Need All Sorts of Mavericks in This Dynamic Creation, argued the need for certain sorts of flexible and creative thinkers to respond to new opportunities and to deal with problems which have developed in our understanding of Creation or any significant part of it, such as the understanding of human origins and the reasons we are as we are.” At the same time, I had also claimed—if not quite so strongly—that we need properly dynamic communities. There is also the need for stability in the thinking and feeling and acting of those communities.

For the individual, the strongest advice for avoiding the misshaping of your mind by external or internal factors is simply to be aware of what is going into your mind and how it settles in, to respond to reality honestly and bravely, and to make honest self-evaluations every so often. There is probably more advice to be given but I don’t think there is anyone who yet possesses the knowledge to give authoritative advice. We need to get to work understanding how our minds are shaped and how they can be better shaped. My exploration of this general issue is generating a number of essays and plans for books over the next three to four years or more, on top of the books and essays available on my websites or described there. For now, I’ll leave the reader with two references to essays I’ve published on this weblog:

We Need All Sorts of Mavericks in This Dynamic Creation

Posted March 26th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Christian in the universe of Einstein, decay of civilization, Mind, Unity of knowledge

Judith Curry is Professor and Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Curry’s blog is well worth reading for reliable commentary on climate science and more general matters of science practice and of public policy in its relationship to science. One of her recent articles, More scientific mavericks needed, is a short discussion of three articles or essays on the need for mavericks in science in the modern limited sense and also in economics. Professor Curry’s article, begins with a quote from one of those articles, We need more scientific mavericks:

Agencies claiming to support blue-skies research use peer review, of course, discouraging open-ended inquiries and serious challenges to prevailing orthodoxies. Mavericks once played an essential role in research. Indeed, their work defined the 20th century. We must relearn how to support them, and provide new options for an unforeseeable future, both social and economic.

Curry is right to endorse this view which is presented in that article as a consensus view of highly-regarded British scientists including some Nobel laureates. She has written before about the need for dissenters to keep the scientific processes working properly, reasoning from the general principles of those processes. She herself is now considered by some to be a dissenter on the matter of human-caused and disaster-laden global warming because she has pointed out the need to understand the 16 years or so where the actual temperature increase in atmospheric temperature (or possibly flattening of that temperature) has been at or below the extreme low-end of the plausible increase patterns as the major climate models have forecast them.

God’s Creation is dynamic in two ways:

  1. It is dynamic in itself, and
  2. It seems still more dynamic because of the various ways in which our knowledge of this dynamic Creation has grown and deepened and become more sophisticated—at a very rapid pace in recent centuries.

At some gut-level and often at a fully conscious and rational level, men have known of the first, the dynamic nature of reality itself, but the second source of dynamics has come into view only by an increase in historical experience. We can learn much from the writings of Aristotle and from the Bible but only when we understand their total context including the purposes of their authors. Something similar can be said about the writings of Einstein and Arrhenius and Chaitin.

In my writings, I’ve presented the second source of dynamic activity as the formation of the human mind which, updating Aquinas’ claim a little, develops by various processes as the underlying brain shapes its neural connections and develops systems of neurons to better encapsulate the world around us, including not only the concrete realms of created being which we can sense and study directly but also the abstract realms of created being (think of the underlying abstract `stuff’ described by quantum mechanics or even pure mathematics).

It takes a flexible mind, one which can shape itself to empirical knowledge, to understand Creation by the best standards of any age. In fact, there are few with minds flexible enough to work across a variety of fields of knowledge and they don’t seem much welcome in established institutions. See one of my essays from 2008, Ways of Thought in the Modern West, for a discussion of some insights which the historian Carroll Quigley expressed in The Evolution of Civilizations (reprinted by Liberty Fund). In Quigley’s view, instruments grow up in new civilizations to serve various needs, including pure and applied science in recent centuries. Over time, these instruments tend to rigidify into self-serving institutions which exclude those who can solve the serious problems which will rise eventually. There is now no reason, nor was there ever a reason, to believe that the physical sciences would be immune from this process, this rigidification into institutions which defend themselves rather than seeking truth or serving a greater cause or an entity such as a civilization or the Christian Church.

The problem is showing itself in science in the modern sense of physics and chemistry and biology and a few others, but it’s been a major reason for civilizations or more local cultures collapsing when their problems were solvable. It affects all fields of human thought and action, theology and philosophy and literature and such areas as national security agencies. In the article Why Dianne Feinstein Can’t Control the CIA, Phillip Giraldi, himself a former CIA officer, tells us:

Government bureaucracies, like many private sector businesses, are initially created in response to a perceived need either to do something or provide a service. The Department of Defense in its current incarnation rose out of the developing Cold War in the post-Second World War environment, while the CIA was created to prevent a second Pearl Harbor. But as bureaucracies mature they become less and less connected to their founding principles as circumstances change and they fail to adapt. They then go into a self-defense mode that makes maintaining jobs, budgets, and political turf in Washington their top priority. This compulsion to protect equities is the reason we are currently hearing of alleged CIA spying on a largely disengaged Senate committee in an attempt to forestall any accountability for torture and rendition policies that many believe to be war crimes.

Mostly lost in translation is the fact that the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, like CIA, is also a stale bureaucracy, one largely inhabited by senators who have been in place for many years. Committee staffers reflect their sense of entitlement, believing themselves untouchable as they bask in their celebrity since 9/11. In short, they too are prone to go into self-defense mode about what they have and have not done, making Sen. Dianne Feinstein no hero for opportunistically attacking the CIA for spying on her committee. Her attempts to shift the blame for now-discredited and abhorrent activities in which her committee was almost certainly complicit are obvious, though this in no way exonerates the Agency.

There is a very large-scale problem, especially at times in history when contradictions and stresses have built up because new knowledge of our world hasn’t been properly integrated into a good and plausible—albeit ultimately time-bound and culture-bound—understanding of our world. The empirical knowledge gathered in recent centuries didn’t fit into any traditional understandings of our world Heroic efforts were made to put huge volumes of new wine into small and old wineskins. The containers tore apart and yet many in such fields as theology and philosophy still insist on the goodness of those wineskins. Great physicists, even Poincare, tried to deal with the discoveries and theories of Planck and Einstein in such a way but physics as a whole was strong enough and youthful enough to move forward. I don’t see reason to believe that contemporary physics, or other fields of science, could deal so well with truly revolutionary understandings of our physical world.

And there is no unified understanding of our world, certainly not one which sets it in the context of a greater Creation—unless my understanding proves to be good enough to found a new Christian Civilization or revive the decrepit West.

Even the limited understandings of disciplined scientific thinkers seem like shards of glass and not like pieces of an intact window or a coherent mosaic. See my book Four Kinds of Knowledge for my take on the nature of human knowledge, and the truer nature of knowledge which underlies it.

As matters stand, the institutions of Western Civilization have constructed various ghettos of thought and attitude and, as discussed above, there are signs that physicists and chemists and biologists are now doing the same—though those ghettos are not so well populated as those of theology and philosophy and literature. To mention national security issues again, we can examine the past 20 years of American treachery toward a Russia struggling out of the mess the Bolsheviks had made and it’s pretty reasonable to conjecture this has happened at least partly because so many have made careers out of opposing and hating Russians. (This is most certainly not an original speculation; some who work in the field, including some who have personal or national reasons to dislike Russia, put it forth as a definite factor in the way things are.)

In any case, many resources are controlled by ghettoized communities of knowledge and thought and creative art. Mavericks are on the outside, sometimes struggling to survive. We mavericks can console ourselves with the thought that we are living in reality while the ghetto-dwellers hold on to often magnificent but no longer valid understandings of reality from prior centuries, but we can also grow bitter in our poverty of income and resources. The time-scales in the prior sentence can be adjusted to describe the situations of maverick scientists in the maturing generation if no one manages to find a way to support them.

It’s the way of the world. We can conjecture, without too much abuse of just-so reasoning, that there are advantages to creatures conforming to established ways of thought and behavior during the relatively stable periods, good or bad, which dominate the timescape of this world. It’s likely that the human race has evolved so that most men and women will try to minimize risk and energy expenditure. I’ll not elaborate on this issue. In any case, most human beings tend to settle into habits which can become so strong as to doom those creatures when surrounding conditions change.

I am not saying, nor is Professor Curry saying nor the British scientists, that it would be desirable or even possible for every scientist or every poet or every composer to be a maverick in the way of Einstein or Eliot or Stravinsky. We need a mixture of human types where all legitimate types respect each other, where all valid ways of being scientists or literary men or philosophers or government intelligence analysts are provided for. That is how evolution shaped us as a race, a mixture of risk-adverse and risk-seeking creatures, conforming and dissenting creatures. We should assume this is a good thing in this world and we should take care of all those who serve the survival and advancement of the human race.

Political Philosophies Are Bound to Be Bad When Creation is Poorly Understood

Posted March 12th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Body of Christ, Christian in the universe of Einstein, decay of civilization, politics, Unity of knowledge

In a short essay recently published under the byline of the staff of The American Conservative, Higher Culture, Better Politics, an argument is made which is in the right direction but steps into the water as the boat is pulling away from the dock:

When a movement neglects culture and philosophy, one can be sure it’s dying. High ideas, art, and literature seem remote from the concerns of political professionals and grassroots activists. But the movements that succeed—or that acquire power, at any rate—tend to be steeped in theory.

Back in May of 2012, I published an essay, What Can We Say About the Body of Christ?, where I wrote:

I’ve spoken in the past of Western Civilization as being a home which the Christian Church (in the West) built for Herself. This is a metaphor used by Joseph Ratzinger (currently Pope Benedict XVI). Cardinal Ratzinger went on to note that Christians of the West hadn’t properly maintained their home. Western Civilization isn’t in trouble because of invasions by pagans or Satanic agents but rather because Western Christians were morally irresponsible in their duties towards their own civilization. Pagans and others didn’t invade the West. They wandered into vacated public spaces.

I went on to argue that the Christian Church Herself is an organ in the Body of Christ and not the entirety of that Body; She is the central organ—moral and spiritual and liturgical guide from which the entire Body grew. The entire Body has the fullness of human life in it and, as such, looks more like a civilization and looks more attractive in that it promises a full human life in the world of the resurrected and not a sentence of eternity in a church choir. In fact, there is very little evidence in the Gospels that Jesus of Nazareth would have been interested in choir life everlasting as singer or conductor.

Western civilization is in a state of decay because of the moral irresponsibility of Christians over the previous two centuries or more. In my opinion, this moral irresponsibility developed into a schism between our worship of the God of Jesus Christ and our concerns, practical and theoretical, with the world created by that God, a world which is the physical universe of the scientists seen in its completeness as a morally purposeful story being told by God. As implied above, this schism shows up in the restriction of the Body of Christ to the Church and an attitude which ranges from condescension toward Creation to condemnation of Creation as if it were truly the kingdom of demonic forces. Christian teachings broadly understood to include the political teachings in Western (Christian) civilization are out of synch internally and more out of synch with the teachings of our current deformed and decaying civilization.

In an essay I published in November of 2010, The Promise and Comedy of Modernity, I stated the basic problem in this way:

[T]he modern phase of the Christian comedy has become a farce, played out by those who strive to remain Christians by remaining true to traditional human encapsulations of “the book of nature, the book of sacred Scripture and the book of the liturgy” as Pope Benedict termed these forms of human knowledge of God’s Creation. These Christians live behind ghetto walls refusing to look at the huge amount of material our age has added to that “book of nature” and to our understanding of at least the history of “the book of sacred Scripture” and the history of the “book of liturgy.”

Somewhere in his many writings, Etienne Gilson said that, around 1800, Catholic intellectuals failed to deal properly with the questions raised by modernity and led the Church into an intellectual ghetto from which She has not emerged. They sinned greatly in doing so—their responsibility was to educate their students to surpass the weaknesses of their teachers, but men will often fall into self-righteous defense of the ideas to which their minds were shaped and will fail to respond properly to a Creation which is not only dynamic but also constantly revealing itself in depth and breadth to a properly curious mankind.

On the 7th of June, 2008, Pope Benedict spoke to a gathering of scholars, Pope Benedict said, “Modernity is not simply a historically-datable cultural phenomenon; in reality it requires a new focus, a more exact understanding of the nature of man.” I wrote not only a variety of essays published on my blog, Acts of Being, but also an entire book in response to this quote. The book is freely available for download: A More Exact Understanding of Human Being.

Before I wrote about human being, I had done a lot of work on the basic nature of being, of spacetime and matter and the nature and facts of human history, of creative fictions and other narratives, which provided the foundation of my work to date on human being. I have done some reading of popular science works which appear on bestseller lists and some of those are written by serious thinkers speaking intelligently about the empirical knowledge of modern science and about what it might mean to human beings. I have also read less accessible, quite serious works by Darwin and Einstein and their successors as well as works by intelligent commentators on modern scientific work. I’ve read John Henry Newman’s comment in which he accepted the truth of Darwin’s work and very wrongly denied its importance. I’ve read commentaries on science by the good historical and literary thinkers, Butterfield and Barzun and others. So far as non-scientists go, I was most impressed by a comment Flannery O’Connor made in one of her letters as published in the Library of America’s collection of her writings (page 953):

To see Christ as God and man is probably no more difficult today than it has always been, even if today there seem to be more reasons to doubt. For you it may be a matter of not being able to accept what you call a suspension of the laws of the flesh and the physical, but for my part I think that when I know what the laws of the flesh and the physical really are, then I will know what God is. We know them as we see them, not as God sees them. For me it is the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the resurrection which are the true laws of the flesh and the physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of those laws. I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church puts on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified. I have always thought that purity was the most mysterious of the virtues, but it occurs to me that it would never have entered the human consciousness to conceive of purity if we were not to look forward to a resurrection of the body, which will be flesh and spirit united in peace, in the way they were in Christ. The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature.

Miss O’Connor was mostly certainly not among the morally irresponsible majority of modern Christians. She was trying to re-understand Creation in terms of what men currently know and not by just putting a new coat of paint on a ramshackle structure. Unfortunately, she somewhat missed the target as I noted in Flannery O’Connor Was a Pretty Good Thomistic Philosopher, but she came closer to the bulls-eye than any modern Christian thinker I’m aware of.

Good works of creative fiction, history, philosophy, literary analysis, Biblical studies, the Bible itself, have also played a role in my efforts to revive my mind. Such works as well as observations of living human beings and a lot of contemplation also play an important role. (I like to do my deepest, and often back-of-the-mind, thinking as I walk or run the sidewalks of my hometown to which I returned some 20 years ago.)

This is the point of this essay: political philosophy is a room in an upper floor of the structure of a complete Christian understanding of Creation, or any other reasonably complete understanding of this world and more. To speak of better political philosophy in an age of man when our ancestors discovered centuries ago that the Christian story no longer makes sense is to speak gibberish, it is to recommend remodeling a room on an upper floor of a decaying structure which could collapse at any time. In fact, to speak of culture as if there is much worth engaging with in the new productions is to speak gibberish. To speak of culture as if it is inherited antiques is to simply misunderstand matters.

I addressed this problem in my previous essay, Modern Ideologies as Misunderstandings of Human Communities though limiting my comments to human being and the general lack of understanding, even among Christians who supposedly believe in the Body of Christ, that human communal being is real being. If it isn’t real being, our hopes in salvation are in vain as both Christians and Jews were warned by Jacob Neusner—see Do We Need Heart and Hands as Well as Mind to Understand Reality? for my discussion of Neusner’s views as well as some relevant ideas of Hans Reichenbach and E O Wilson.

At the end of my previous posting— Modern Ideologies as Misunderstandings of Human Communities, I refer to some of my earliest blog writings where I discuss the debate between Einstein and Bohr over the nature of reality. Einstein is generally seen as the defender of common-sense. I discuss, very briefly, why this isn’t so and why it is that Bohr’s radical view of the nature of reality is similar to the understanding of the school of St John the Evangelist who taught that relationships (starting with love) are primary over substantial being and, in fact, bring substantial being into existence and continue to shape it.

My writings, all part of my general efforts to update the Christian understanding of Creation, are described in Catalog of Major Writings by Loyd Fueston. These writings include six novels.

Modern Ideologies as Misunderstandings of Human Communities

Posted March 9th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: being, Biological evolution, Body of Christ, Christian in the universe of Einstein, Freedom and Structure in Human Life, politics, Unity of knowledge

In an earlier essay, A Brain Shaped to Geometric Thought?, I responded to evidence that the brain does abstract from physical distance to derive, for example, an idea of emotional distance. This isn’t a matter fully understood, though the scientists seem to believe, as do I, that human beings have learned to unconsciously and consciously use the physical skills of their brains to abstract from distance in such a way as to make it a powerful source of metaphors and I’d even say a source of metaphysical insight. I’d say that this process works because distance is a concrete manifestation of abstract forms of mathematical being which are also part of Creation. Those abstract forms can be made a little more concrete as emotional distances or the distance between the states of being of a complex system including those such as human communities which are far from fully quantifiable.

Our use of distance in the abstract, distance between points or regions of abstract spaces, is a very deep matter indeed and one which has proved to be of great use and also fruitful in truths. We are able to design machinery, regulate oil refinery production to supply and demand involving complex groups of possible products, carry out certain analyses at the highest levels of theoretical physics and chemistry, conduct with a lot of qualifications some good analyses in politics and other social sciences, and so on. From there, we have learned general skills of abstraction, abstract skills of generalizing.

So it is that I set out, with my tongue lightly in cheek, to first ask: What is patriotism and what is jingoism? This is a specialized form of the question: what is a good and disciplined way to describe and analyze the processes by which individual human beings come together to form communities?

The sociobiologists, such as E O Wilson, present solid arguments that our tendencies toward moral behavior are part of our physical makeup, selected over the years to improve the chances of successful reproduction of the genes of our family lines, not of our individual selves. Whether or not we feel close to our families, we tend to act in their `Darwinian’ interests because we are made to endure even great suffering to help bring children into the world and to help raise them so they can bring more children into the world. And so on. We act in favor of our family-lines (far more accurate than speaking of genes which are only part of our makeup) largely because of intermediary factors, such as sexual desire. When we speak of family-lines instead of genes, this is very similar to the view in the Old Testament. I discuss these issues in a little more detail, from a Christian viewpoint, in The Body of Christ: A Christian Sociobiology and Sex, Traditions, and the Modern Scientific Materialist.

True morality rests upon that physical foundation, genetic and somatic and relational, but has been subjected to various selective processes at the social level. Great thinkers and saints can present new possibilities but these are then subjected to those various selective processes of God’s world, selective processes which—after all—produced the likes of Isaiah and Jeremiah and the Buddha and Socrates even before the Son of God became incarnate as a man. Aristotle was a noble gentleman of the ancient Greek sort and gave true nuggets of wisdom to mankind as well as a system which is worth studying but is not true by Christian standards. (See the writings of Alasdair MacIntyre for the gory scholarly details.) Taken naively, the current trends of history would indicate that Christian teachings are also fading in importance; certainly, Christian civilization seems to be close to flatlining. This is but one sign of the failure of Christian intellectuals and Christian leaders in general to deal properly with the questions of the modern age; we live in a world described by Darwin and Einstein and their successors, we Christians profess belief in a system of thought in which the Creedal truths have been combined with a largely early modern view, in part ancient and Medieval views, of God’s work as a Creator. With a few notable exceptions, such as Joseph Ratzinger, few Christian religious thinkers or teachers take science seriously outside of liking those shows about the so-called Big Bang—which they often misinterpret as a creation event rather than a phase change. Spiritual books and homilies give the impression we are descended from a couple who were part of a special creation rather than being descended from an ancestor common to men and chimpanzees. Those two stories imply radically different understandings of sin and other aspects of human nature.

In any case, we are bound primarily to those in our family lines and bound with decreasing strength to those who share our genes to a lesser extent. Sort of. This is to say that genetic relationship can be coherently argued, as Wilson and others have done, as the primary factor in the binding of living creatures into various sorts of favorable activities toward one another right up to the behavior of social creatures which can be labeled as `moral’.

We don’t have the ability to detect genetic relationships directly though there have been research claims that, as one example, human beings detect (by smell?) enough about each other’s immune systems to bias them toward mating choices which might be more likely to produce children who survive diseases and parasites. Yet, I’d say it seems most likely for now that we `detect’ close genetic relationships by way of observing facial and other external features and by way of being familiar with other persons at a young age, but too great a familiarity activates an instinct against incest—not an all-powerful instinct, at least not at a conscious level, since Abraham and some Pharaohs married half-sisters or sisters and many in history, including Charles Darwin, have married first cousins.

On the whole, this issue of the evolution of moral nature is a problem for idealists. Moral nature and abstract thoughts, if not the moral creature and abstract thinker, will remain—if only implicitly—in the domain of non-being or special creation long after other forms of dualism die. I recommend we take seriously the idea of a self-contained Creation, a realm of created being which we can’t escape. In particular, I claim with no qualification that created being lies upon a spectrum of abstract to concrete, with concrete forms of being coming into existence largely as the result of `abstract’ relationships. Human communal being is real—the Body of Christ is real—even if a bit more abstract and somewhat invisible to creatures yet in this mortal realm; yet, we can conceive with our minds what our eyes can’t quite perceive if we but acknowledge the reality of what lies in front of us.

Much of what happens to bind us to others and into complex communities doesn’t involve signs of any sort of direct kinship but rather is the result of proxies. The oversized and soft eyes found in mammal babies draw us toward human babies in our own communities and also toward puppies and bunnies and even calves. Some evolutionary biologists have argued that romantic love between mates, found in various species but most explicitly in humans, is the result of a transfer of that love of one’s offspring to one’s mate. If this were true, it would be plausible human females with such crippling gestations and giving birth to such slowly developing babies might be selected to have many of the characteristic of youngsters, large and soft eyes as well as soft skin. This would tie males to them more strongly. The (quite defective) monogamous nature of human beings, even males who would seem to have better reproductive strategies if we watched most other species, is itself an evolved human behavior which is not the result of morality but rather leads to moral rules reinforcing successful reproductive behavior. That there might be a divine purpose taught to us by Jesus Christ and taught since then by the Christian churches doesn’t undo the path behind us as I tried to warn my fellow-Christians in a recent essay, Repeat After Me: The Church Has Accepted Evolution and Our Ancestors Were Sex-Crazed, Killer Apes.

This is deep stuff, not simply the rearranging of the deck chairs which most Christian thinkers engage in when dealing with moral and social and political and theological issues. It requires a lot of study of modern empirical knowledge, a lot of contemplation, and a sustained effort to develop complex and long lines of thought.

For now, let me leave this part of the puzzle of community-formation by claiming we are drawn to form communities with others by a force which is actually our desires and is stronger as genetic relationship (by way of various proxies) grows closer though the distance measurement is likely complex and the basic metric of the state space might make the metrics of the two theories of relativity look quite simple in comparison. (In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if the concepts of state-space and metric might need generalizing, though not sure what that might mean.)

We are looking at a situation where evolution has produced tight bonds between human beings closely related. This isn’t a situation entirely promising from the Christian viewpoint. Secularists in the post-Enlightenment world are in the same boat—partly because modern secularized views are little more than diluted or deformed versions of Christian teachings, though sometimes becoming photographic negatives of a sort. How do we move toward an inclusive Body of Christ if we have strong desires to, for example, protect and nurture our own children even at the expense of the children of human beings relatively far away in physical distance and distances of other sorts? It doesn’t work to do what Christian leaders and charitable groups are inclined to do—throw together human beings from a variety of cultures and ethnic groups and pray that brotherly love develops—see We Prefer to Cooperate With Those Like Ourselves and Networks of Public Spaces Rather Than One Square for discussions of some sobering facts about multicultural neighborhoods as discovered by Robert Putnam, a Harvard professor and collectivist liberal who was very upset with his own research results.

We shouldn’t even think of despairing because there are various ways in which the various bonds of human communities can be extended in sometimes modest ways which can be powerful over a long enough time. Yet, we should respect nature, moving forward slowly and carefully; history tells us of many occasions when groups seemed to have assimilated to a common culture but genocidal rampages or lower-level violence interrupted those movements toward multicultural Heaven on Earth.

In analogy to modern theories of gravity and consistent with what I said above about the metrics of state-spaces, I’m proposing that our deepest inclinations, those treated by sociobiologists and brain-scientists, cause our social state-space to bend, causing us to slide toward great masses; if we passively allow ourselves to slide close to that great mass or if we fail to successively struggle against the slide, then we add to that mass and help to further bend our social spacetime. As we merge into that mass, we perhaps will even change what had been deeply held moral beliefs. The attraction between human beings is inside of us and likely doesn’t produce anything physically detectable, like an electromagnetic field or a spacetime bent near a black-hole, but that attraction is real and so are the communities which result if we respond properly to our attractions to other human beings. Again, abstract being is real including invisible sorts of attraction between human beings.

A theory should be as abstract as necessary but no more abstract and it has to abstract from a realistic understanding of concrete being as we know it—of course, we can also build upon existing abstractions which we accept as at least plausible. Download A More Exact Understanding of Human Being for a summary of my understanding of human being in the concrete and the abstract. This understanding is the foundation of my ongoing efforts. In particular, I discuss both individual and communal human being.

What is the difference between legitimate patriotism and the illegitimate form of patriotism which we can call `jingoism’? I think the problem is somewhat similar to that of sexual love and sexual lust and greatly similar to the common failure for communities to distinguish between truly dangerous aliens and aliens who could be accepted as trusted friends or neighbors.

Patriotism is dominated by processes of inclusion, of bonding, of concrete attachments, though the alien can’t be admitted if he endangers what it is that the patriot loves—that alien must be loved as a Christian brother, or at least a fellow human being, at a distance. Jingoism is dominated by processes of attraction toward oddly abstract ideas or entities, ideas and entities which often have a doubtful reality—some abstractions are delusions rather than real abstract being. On the human level, jingoism is dominated by process of exclusion, of refusal to bond beyond a certain population of human beings and institutions accepted as friendly and trustworthy and worthy of something akin to love. I suspect that ethnic forms of jingoism develop largely because groups are pulled together and begin to push against or hate the other when there are too many differences in culture or appearance—as noted in the essays about unwise forms of multiculturalism I referred to above.

So let’s move forward and try to find a way of thinking and speaking of patriotism and jingoism, that we may test my claim that modern ideologies, including some of the “good ones”, are based upon misunderstandings of human communities, typically the denial of the reality of human communal being.

In an essay I published in September of 2010, Freedom and Structure in Human Life — As Go the Immune System and Neurological System, I began:

Analogies can be taken too far and too literally, yet I wonder if we can apply to the human social organism, ultimately the Body of Christ, the example of a long-ago and primitive immune system ‘spinning off’ a neurological system. As I understand this particular line of speculation in evolutionary biology, and it was years ago that I read about it, that primitive immune system was largely a set of cells which tried to distinguish between ‘self’ and ‘non-self’, between what was supposed to be inside that particular organism and what was an invader. Somehow, that effort to distinguish between ‘self’ and ‘non-self’ led to a central nervous system, ultimately thought, as well as to defenses against diseases.

I went on to propose a line of questioning:

Government as we know it has grown out of systems to identify unfriendly or alien human beings (or sometimes to subjugate the other) or to protect against non-human dangers to the physical and moral aspects of our communities. As we mature towards the Body of Christ, is our government going to split into a policing (immunological) system which operates with some independence but under conditions where it has only as many resources as it needs for the task at hand and a planning and thinking (neurological) system which plays a role in the ongoing functions of the parts of the Body but also plays a central role in understanding the environment of that Body and planning for the future?

Here’s where I see a problem in radical forms of liberalism, including libertarianism: it denies the reality of communal human being. Thus it sees no cultural ties or heritage which are beyond voluntary acceptance or rejection, not even that of families, Some might think that the more modern collectivist liberals have adopted a belief, a poorly formed belief perhaps, in communal human being, but this would be wrong. Collectivist liberals try to force individuals into tight relationships controlled by central powers, but the forms—if not always the reality—of those relationships are contractual and voluntary, deformations of the relationships accepted by classical liberals but essentially the same. Modern collectivist liberals and the citizens of societies they control travel as herds but those herds don’t honestly respond to objective reality, in terms of immediate experiences or in terms of disciplined traditional knowledge or modern empirical knowledge. Those herds change direction, change relationships between the members of the herd, mostly according to changes in opportunities to feel good about themselves. The classical liberals, including libertarians emphasize the individual’s feelings of self-goodness while the collectivist liberals, including modern warmongering `neo-conservatives’, emphasize some sort of shared but not truly communal feeling of self-goodness and recently this has decayed into outright jingoism.

Yet, I think even those who fail to recognize the reality of communities desire to belong to some community or communities which might exist only in their dreams or in something they read, perhaps in the book of The Book of Isaiah or The Gospel of Matthew. I maintain that this desire comes from the most basic level of what we are as human animals, before we’re even able to consciously evaluate the goodness or badness or mediocrity of communities—probably some are never able to do this in an intelligent manner.

I’ll end by pointing out that my understanding of human being as individual and communal, both real and not just ways of speaking, slowly emerged after meditating upon the insight of the philosopher Kurt Hubner that the real debate between Einstein and Bohr over the nature of reality was: “Einstein was claiming that reality consists of substances which remain unaltered by their relationships with other substances while Bohr was claiming that it is the relationships which are primary and those relationships bring substances into existence.”

See my short discussion of this issue in one of my first internet writings: A Christian View of Einstein’s and Bohr’s Debate on Reality. I pointed out the similarity of Bohr’s `radical’ position to the teachings of the school of St John the Evangelist in another early essay: Quantum Mechanics and Moral Formation.

Repeat After Me: The Church Has Accepted Evolution and Our Ancestors Were Sex-Crazed, Killer Apes

Posted March 1st, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Biological evolution, Catholic theology, honesty in perception, Unity of knowledge

I distort for the sake of modern men who have trouble focusing upon reality. Apes are our cousins, not our ancestors; the terms used for the common ancestors of men and ape seem to change every few years or so. And those ancestors were only killers part of the time, perhaps less often than modern Americans would desire for themselves—see my essay, Quietly Charitable or Quietly Murderous But Always Quietly American. The sex-crazed business is perhaps less of an exaggeration for us and for our ancestors.

Sin is a part of this mortal reality. The Church has admitted evolution is a part of this mortal reality. Our ancestors weren’t pure creatures born in a state of grace but rather had the usual bundle of traits, some noble and some useful and some despicable and well-described as `sinful’ for a morally aware creature.

What sense are we to make of this statement found in an article reprinted at Cardinal outlines possible paths to Communion for divorced, remarried:

From the first moments of creation, the cardinal [Walter Kasper] said, God intended man and woman to be together, to form one flesh, to have children and to serve him together. But sin entered the world almost immediately, which is why even the Bible is filled with stories of husbands and wives hurting and betraying one another, he explained.

Let’s try this one again.

We are the products of messy and often bloody processes of evolution and development. There was no time in this mortal realm of Creation when there were any human beings in a state of grace such that they had a choice to first sin or to remain sinless. In other words, specific sins were always options from the first morally self-aware human but sinlessness was never on the table. Moreover, our last common male ancestor most likely lived thousands of years, or more, apart from our last common female ancestor.

When our ancestors became aware of sin, they were in a state of sin because it was the state of a human animal. Our ancestors didn’t fall so much as they entered into a long communal process of listening to… Spirits? No, gods… A God. An incarnate God who offered a share of His life, a life which promised sinlessness.

The invitation came to share a life which was outside of the struggles of this mortal realm where we, in fact, often face the need to risk sin to do our duty to others or to remain truly alive. This world is preparation for an everlasting version of…this world. It is not a place where the peace of sinlessness was ever a possibility.

Heaven may well have many who were quite the sinners on earth, not hateful sinners but rather sinners pursuing the good things of God’s world too aggressively or too often or simply in the wrong way.

Heaven may not have many honest-to-God Puritans because the sheer abundance of a life shared with God would be repulsive to them.

I have to admit I can’t understand the state of mind of someone who can accept evolution as the story of life and of the origins of human life and then talk as if there were a story of a fall from grace into sin of the same but different human race which had evolved and which lived in a messy and bloody world. There is but one human race: the sex-crazed, killer apes, so to misleadingly speak.

But I did write a novel about a modern man who was quite divided in mind as he attempted to meet all the irreconcilable expectations of his life: A Man for Every Purpose.

Convinced to the depths of my mind that there is one created reality, though awfully complex and multi-layered, and, hence, one story of the human race which includes the truths of the Bible and those of empirical knowledge, I can only work to produce a draft version of that story. As it turns out, I produce only some commentary and a few stories which end up being only snapshots of these complex processes of development of a species at a certain stage of evolution and mostly in a state of civilizational decay. The interested reader can download the catalog of my writings: Catalog of Major Writings by Loyd Fueston.

What is Life? A Possible Partial Answer.

Posted February 17th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Biological evolution

There are various angles to be taken about the nature of life and how it came into existence. One question in open play right now with the discovery of so many planets throughout our own galaxy and even other galaxies is: Does life come into existence as a result of processes likely to occur often or is it something likely to come into existence very rarely? A related question is: Can we even determine if life exists out there before we find a way to get to other stars?

Some of the most important issues can be labeled as `physics’; if these prove dominant, a proposition argued against by many scientists and some engineers, then we’ll be able to decide pretty definitively if there is likely to be a lot of life out there in this universe; if not, then we may have to regard the question as a purely empirical matter to be settled only by finding evidence of life, or lots of life, out there.

In an overview article, A New Physics Theory of Life, we can read:

Why does life exist?

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said.

Read the entire article for a very interesting perspective on life from a viewpoint which hints of reductionism but such viewpoints have often produced good results and have been folded into larger and richer understandings.

My opinion is that this is an empirical question, though certainly one with mathematical aspects.

In any case, The article is about a physicist who has proposed a profoundly clever answer I find too neat and straightforward for this world, but that’s a matter of intuition which, as I’ve explained before, is a feeling for reality built into our brains by natural selection—it reflects some serious amount of truth of a utilitarian sort which is to say that it corresponds to some aspects of reality well enough to have allowed survival of family-lines. Intuition, even that of a Plato or an Einstein, is most certainly not guaranteed to be true. Our intuitions are correlated with truth. There is no strict linkage nor is there only an accidental relationship.

In any case, I find it quite plausible that Professor England’s answer might be part of a more complex answer. He implies in his words as recorded in this article that is the case and the more profound answer lies in the relationships between physical entities in this universe. Though it be quite wrong to think of the universe as being an organism, it’s equally wrong to think of it as inert, a mere setting for things to happen leading to life and then to the evolution of a great variety of species and individuals. One part of the work of Professor England is the admission that the physical universe is active in ways that lead to organization of various sorts and at various scales of spacetime.

Near the end of the article, we can read a comment by Ard Louis, a biophysicist at Oxford University:

If England’s approach stands up to more testing, it could further liberate biologists from seeking a Darwinian explanation for every adaptation and allow them to think more generally in terms of dissipation-driven organization. They might find, for example, that “the reason that an organism shows characteristic X rather than Y may not be because X is more fit than Y, but because physical constraints make it easier for X to evolve than for Y to evolve,” Louis said.

And this seems to be part of what I’m claiming: life, like the human mind, is shaped by active responses to what lies around it; thus it is what lies around us which gives us, and bacteria, possibilities. I should also note that my relatively casual readings in evolutionary biology, including that strain of thought found in books about the brain, would lead me to claim that the serious thinkers in the field already know and advocate what Louis says in the above quote, though those other thinkers probably haven’t stated their positions in quite the clean and potentially useful way that England has of dealing with the issue. When they are truly appropriate, well-defined mathematical models of processes or entities are truly useful.

A Brain Shaped to Geometric Thought?

Posted February 12th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Body of Christ, Brain sciences, Mind

In an interesting article, How Our Brains Go the Distance, Virginia Hughes tells us:

People think about distances all day… long. Distance can describe physical spaces (a far-flung city; a nearby store), time (distant past; near future), and social relationships (near-and-dear pals; a quarreling couple needing some space).

Researchers have long thought that these various examples of “psychological distance” are represented by some of the same circuits in the brain. A new brain-imaging study strongly bolsters the idea, finding that certain patterns of neural activity underlie all of our judgments about distance — whether in space, time, or the social realm.

The results makes sense, the researchers say, given that all of these distances have something in common: They give us a way to move beyond the visceral, here-and-now experience of our lives. More provocatively, this ability to “go the distance” might be uniquely human.

This is probably necessary to the `higher-level’ claims I’ve made that human beings can abstract from concrete or relatively concrete levels of created being to relatively abstract levels of created being. I’ve particularly emphasized geometric reasoning in my claim we can gain some sort of a better handle on our moral messes by using qualitative reasoning borrowed from modern physics and mathematics, borrowed perhaps by an abstraction of that reasoning from, say, the analysis of spacetime in our universe, followed by a movement toward the concrete levels of human morality, or of human life in general.

I’ll reuse a diagram from several years ago, one I recently reused in How a Christian Finds Metaphysical Truths in Empirical Reality: .

I originally published that diagram in The Liberal Mind: The Essence of Liberalism where I claimed:

What we need, in terms set by this essay, are thinkers who can move up to higher levels of abstraction to figure out how our human natures and communities become more complex and richer in possibilities (even the most passive of individual human beings have natures which are more complex just because of our more complex communities). I’m suggesting that we can learn many tricks from modern physicists and mathematicians and might very well be able to borrow directly from what has been learned from the exploration of spacetime, matter and energy and fields, and even the most abstract regions of mathematics.

The article, How Our Brains Go the Distance, also tells us:

What most surprised me about this research is its possible connection to empathy and “theory of mind,” or the ability to take the mental perspective of someone else. About a decade ago, researchers linked theory of mind to a specific region in the brain: the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ). Intriguingly, the TPJ region encompasses the IPL.

Theory of mind may be another way that we have evolved to look beyond our immediate, individual perspective, notes Nira Liberman, a social psychologist at Tel Aviv University. “We predict the behavior of other people by forming abstract mental constructs,” she says. “All these different ways of traversing immediate experience were and are achieved by abstract mental representations.”

See Rebecca Saxe: Fine tuning the theory of mind for the discussion about “theory of mind”.

I also discussed this issue of empathy in prior essays: Through the Body Comes Sin, Through the Body Salvation: Part 1 back in March of 2008 and The Embodied But Constructed Self. In that second essay, I wrote:

It’s odd to those who feel a need to think of a human being, their own self or another, as having some sort of well-formed existence given at conception or maturity or whatever. This is the mistake of thinking of an empirical creature, a human being, as metaphysically grounded, a complete being thought of as perhaps a `person’. I might describe this as `backdoor’ Platonism, a replacement of an ultimately erroneous but plausible and rationally stated understanding of being by mere assumptions, prejudices of a sort guaranteed to decay into superstitions if held too firmly and too consistently.

We are embodied but our individual `selves’ are constructed by our interactions with our own bodies and with a lot of surrounding entities, some of them abstract and not embodied, at least not in a direct way. (Embodiment can be a misleading description of, say, a community but it is a valid description if properly qualified by references, for example, to past and future generations or even the me of last year and the you of ten years from now.)

We are, in some reductionistic but legitimate sense, mappings in our brains, mappings which include both our individual and communal selves.

That last line is important. Our individual selves are created by processes in this mortal realm, processes which produce imperfect and incomplete results in a world which allows no better. After all, if the process could be completed in this world, God’s story would end at that point. More importantly for my current purposes, our communal selves are constructed by mappings in our brains. Mappings similar to those which shape our human animal beings as individuals of a truer sort shape our human tribes and clans as communities of a truer sort—though I believe we become `persons’ in a greater sense only when we also become a part of the perfect and complete community: the Body of Christ.

Why We (Mostly) Don’t Need Categories in Metaphysics

Posted February 6th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Biological evolution, Christian in the universe of Einstein, metaphysics, Mind

In my most recent post, the essay: How a Christian Finds Metaphysical Truths in Empirical Reality, I argued that Christians should respond confidently to what lies around us, to our concrete and thing-like realm of Creation and to all the other realms which remain yet in our universe which is our world when seen in light of God’s purposes. I concluded that essay by claiming:

Contingent being, that which is not God, is a coherent collection of manifested thoughts of God. The workings of evolution, natural selection and genetic processes, are among those manifested thoughts as are the quantum processes which bring matter into being and the processes which bring spacetime into being and shape it, the historical processes which have shaped human communities and the artistic processes which have shown us the beauty in Creation.

I’d like to elaborate on one aspect of traditional thought in general and traditional metaphysical thought in particular. In doing so, I’ll be overlapping my previous essay. Please bear with me.

Traditional metaphysics deals with abstract categories and I’ve argued against the use of categories and categorical reasoning: see Sex and Categorical Reasoning in a World of Evolution and Development. I wouldn’t really recommend a categorical rejection of categorical reasoning, only a realization that such reasoning and the related slotting of entities and relationships and so on into categories are dangerous in the way of fast-setting concrete. They give us frozen images of a dynamic Creation, sometimes good and useful frozen images but frozen nonetheless.

But there are many who think well so long as they have a schema with nodes drawn from well-defined categories, some of those men can be truly considered great thinkers or doers.

For those who have studied at least lightly the field of modern dynamics: categories are like a relatively tight cluster of points on a Poincare section, the tight clustering would represent a temporarily stable or quasi-stable orbit through the state space of the underlying dynamic system. Any efforts to predict the state, or `nature’, of the entity being formed by and in response to that dynamic process will work until it doesn’t, that is, until the orbit moves and a new point shows up on the Poincare section which, as you might guess, is a section through a space of states or phases of a dynamic process; the section is a plane through that abstract, mathematical space and shows where the orbits pass through. Conceptually, Europe moved to a new `orbit’ when the Middle Ages became the Renaissance and to another `orbit’ with the Enlightenment and so on. The analog of that Poincare section is a snapshot of Medieval men and Medieval communities. We also create snapshot views of men and communities in our own age or—more plausibly—in our own culture in our own age. We idealize those views, thinking that men were ever like us. Surely, those Neolithic human beings must have been like us but without knowing so much. To which I respond that the human mind itself came into being as human beings responded to their environments in such a way that they began to generalize and eventually to think in truly abstract ways. I might be wrong in conjecturing a human mind with abstract reasoning powers appeared around 500BC, but, if so, it’s an error in detail. In fact, it’s doubtful that even most well-educated and intelligent thinkers have adopted abstract modes of reasoning, other than being able to recycle the thoughts of great and long-dead thinkers: see my essay, The Need for Abstractions in Moral Self-understanding, for my discussion of what was wrong in the thoughts of the very intelligent and well-educated Puritan leaders of New England during “the war known as King Phillip’s War, a war waged by some of the Indian tribes against the European settlers and some Indian allies.” In that essay, I explain:

The details of the war aren’t at issue here except for a general background understanding. My interest lies in an important stream of thoughts and attitudes of New England European colonists which showed itself during the period of King Phillip’s War, a stream which I think to represent a failed intellectual maturing process on the part of highly educated and intelligent men in confrontation with alien cultures. Instead of moving towards a proper abstraction that would have allowed a defense of their own culture but also an understanding of the human good in a different way of life, the European settlers raised their particular way of life to a self-righteous ideal. A conflict of cultures was seen as a war between God’s servants, the White settlers, and Satan’s slaves, the Indians. This stream, which may have been nascent in Puritan thought from the time they first stepped into that wilderness region of the New World, developed fully during the lead-up to the war as the Puritan leaders dealt with the growing resistance of the Indians to the expansion of settled ways of life.

In many of those troubled times—including our deeply troubled age, human communities and the individuals which were formed by and in response to their environments were suddenly (on historical time-scales) moving through a different region of that space of the phases which are different human possibilities. A very complex space indeed.

Categories do seem to work during times of stability. Think of categorical reasoning as being cheat-sheets to the nature of a complex world ever revealing itself. I referred to these sorts of cheat-sheets from a slightly different angle in the essay, Enriching Our Moral World: Simple Is Digested Complexity.

What we now know of reality, manifested thoughts of God, would lead us to language different from traditional metaphysical language; we need a language (and underlying concepts) of evolutionary and developmental processes rather than a language which implies that we in the midst of this grand story can see the `true’ structures underlying evolving life and developing social and moral structures and relationships. We need to be able to speak of that state space and the complex orbits we travel through it as individuals and as communities rather than speaking only of those snapshots, those Poincare sections.

Engineers and physicists and other scientists long ago learned that their systems, a testable piece of machinery or the solar system, are dynamic and the current state of those systems are snapshots—useful in their own way but dangerous if taken as accurate descriptions of either past or future. They provide such descriptions only when seen as moving images: a snapshot of Neolithic men and communities followed by a snapshot of the period when agriculture seems to have been invented in what is now Turkey followed by a snapshot of one or another early civilization supplemented by one of an area where civilization failed to develop and so on to the 21st century.

We should, of course, remember that this crude moving image has to be built up over various cultures as well as over time for, say, the eastern Mediterranean civilizations. These snapshots and the moving images they can help to generate must also include matters of individual intelligence and of communal intellect.

In other words, all human capacities for knowledge and understanding have evolved and developed and we can see those same capacities developing over time and across cultures if we apply our imaginations to our historical knowledge (wherein I include anthropological and archaeological knowledge).

We humans evolved in such a way that our brains can shape themselves to encapsulate reality as we actively respond to it with mind and heart and hands; that reality includes the human past or at least our best knowledge and understanding of that past; it even includes speculative knowledge and understandings of human possibilities for the future. Yet, we bring to these tasks of knowing and understanding specific ways of thinking, intuitions from our evolutionary past and also ways of thinking as individuals and as members of communities.

As a Christian trying to respond honestly to God’s world, I believe that the necessary if not the sufficient rules of metaphysics can be drawn from the simple constraint that created being at all levels of most abstract to most concrete must not be in conflict with what we know of concrete being. In principle, we can only know of metaphysics what God has put into this particular Creation and, in fact, we can only know what has become known to men by a particular point in history.

The individual intelligences and communal intellects of Western, Christian Civilization have been driven forward for 1500 years or so partly by the battles between those most ready to learn from God’s Creation and those most convinced that God’s Creation is something we were called to bring to order. The first are convinced in one way or another that we are called to shape our minds in response to reality and the second think reality is to be ordered by transcendental ideas accessible to at least some human minds. This is clearly an oversimplification—many have mixed beliefs, part Plato and part Hume in a manner of speaking.

I’m clearly on the empirical side. After all: What reason do we have to believe that human beings, a species which arose in this concrete realm by way of evolutionary and developmental processes, can access transcendental truths?