Thursday, April 20, 2006

The soul as the emergent property of a moral nature

I have for some time been attracted to the view that understands the soul is an "emergent reality," as I think it holds great potential for fruitful dialogue, if not cooperative therapeutic interaction, between the theological and psychological disciplines. Representative theologians such as John Polkinghorne (also a noted scientist) and Keith Ward have been on the forefront of this relatively new understanding of the human soul.

In brief, this view was inspired by philosophical, psychological and medical speculations on the "mind-body" problem, and suggested by new paradigms in physics, specifically the school of thought known as "non-reductionistic materialism." The mind-body problem is actually an old philosophical conundrum pertaining to how the mind is related to and interacts with the body, and what properties, functions, and phenomena should be regarded as, respectively, mental or physical. In physics, "emergent properties" are those that characterize complex systems that, while arising out of the properties and relations that characterize a system's simpler constituents, are neither predictable from, nor reducible to, these lower level constituents or properties. For example, the property of flight (as it pertains to a bird) cannot be predicted from, nor can it be reduced to, the sum total of characteristics, properties, or elements that make up the construction and material nature of a bird's wing.

How the theory of emergent properties pertains to the origin and nature of the human soul is the proposal that the soul emerges (by the design of God, of course) as the unique personal individuation, intelligence, and self-consciousness of a moral (in our case human) nature. Furthermore, as an emergent reality or property of our physical nature and design the soul cannot be predicted from, nor can it be reduced to, the sum total characteristics, properties, or elements that make up our physical existence.

But wait! Wouldn't this still mean that the soul emerges from our physical nature nonetheless? ("That's not what I learned in Sunday School!" I can hear you say.) Yes, indeed, it does mean this. And yes there are incredible theological ramifications that follow from such a proposal. I intend to explore some of these with you in future entries.

So....until next time.

10 comments:

Johnny! said...

" ...and what properties, functions, and phenomena should be regarded as, respectively, mental or physical. "

Why one or t'other?

lexorandi2 said...

Precisely!

Good to hear from you Drummer Boy!

Dan

Jason Loh said...

Are there any "Traducianists" out there? I think, if any, what is being taught at Sunday schools (read: Protestant) as an established doctrine, i.e. dogma is premature to say the least. Even "Creationism" has not been defined as de fide by Rome.

Johnny! said...

Hey, I pop in...I just don't want to fill up your comments with stuff like "[Homer] Barth! [/Homer]."

anOther Jeff said...

Jason,

Acually, I think, if I understand it correctly, that Rome has gone the opposite direction, in endorsing some form of theistic evolution, as opposed to a "literalist" view such as 6-day creationism.

jjh

anOther Jeff said...

I'm definitely looking forward to more on this thread, but in the meantime, a random comment. A member of my parish went through a horiffic car accident years back in which she suffered extensive head trauma. As a result, her entire personality changed so radically that her son couldn't ever adjust to his "new" mom. He wanted his "old" mom back, and couldn't reconcile himself to the doctor's advice that the "old" mom had "died" and he had to get used to, and learn to accept his "new" mom.

Obviously this could lend support the idea that at least such things as personality are related to (emergent from?) physical body parts/components, like "the brain" which, in her case, had suffered damaged.

But if the personality is so changeable, and if we likewise base the soul (in some sense) in the same changeable matter, might we have any issues potentially arising with respect to the status of the soul after a life-and-personality-changing event such as this car accident proved to be?

Is there a "new soul" generated in this case, since it seems to be a "new person"? What happens if the "new person" is not understood, or doesn't understand herself, as the "old person" did with respect, not only to her biological family, but to her church family?

Not sure I'm going anywhere with this, but just some questions which this topic brought to mind...

jjh

David+ said...

Dan,
Admittedly having studied the Mind/Body problem at a Jesuit graduate philosophy program I have a certain Thomistic like take on the issue of dualism and how one might approach the problem. However, I am curious, how is "the soul as the emergent property" actually different from simply recognizing human beings as hylomorphic entities where any supposed dualism is simply a fallacy of disjunctive union and thus a problem of simply asking the wrong question? How is the theory of soul as an emergent property actually different from "physicalism" in an Artistotlelian sense that also holds up the all important issue of Form(with its unique ability to provide intelligability, ie., first and final causes)?

lexorandi2 said...

David+

You raise a great question. Though you seem to me to be far better versed in Thomistic thought than I, I'm going to attempt to address your question in the next entry (which I plan to publish either tonight or tomorrow). I am very frequently amazed about how often Aristotle (and by extension Aquinas) anticipated philosophically what modern biology, physics, and even medical research have discovered phenomenalogically. I think in some respects that can be said here.

Dan

lexorandi2 said...

David+

You raise a great question. Though you seem to me to be far better versed in Thomistic thought than I, I'm going to attempt to address your question in the next entry (which I plan to publish either tonight or tomorrow). I am very frequently amazed about how often Aristotle (and by extension Aquinas) anticipated philosophically what modern biology, physics, and even medical research have discovered phenomenalogically. I think in some respects that can be said here.

Dan

jjg said...

Read "How to read Aquinas" by Timothy Mcdermott to see just how similar the emergent proerty view is to Aquinas views of form and matter.

For a more in depth reading, look at "The Summa Theologiae: A concise translation." by the same author.