Humans Are Embodied Beings. Part 1.
Opinion Piece: The Heart of Fools Proclaims Foolishness
The insights of 20th Century biology, specifically those that describe humans as just, cumbersome containers for swarming gene replicators and vehicles for meme replicators, is an anthropological definition that doesn’t gel with the Christian anthropological one, which infers the function of genes as serving to “bring forth the living creature after his kind” (Gen 1:24) and not the other way around. The complexity of embodied life goes way past any notion of a simplistic replicator – vehicle relationship and demonstrates that this “biological” definition of a human being, is inadequate. Initially the idea presents itself as “reasonable” drawing heavily on the theory of evolution. However, I would like to suggest to the reader that upon a closer scrutiny, the conclusions involved in accepting such a postulation, prove to be counter intuitive, incoherent and contrary to our experience.
Part of the Christian anthropological definition of a Human being, (determined by what the LORD has communicated in his special revelation) revolves around the fact that man is a distinctly embodied creature living in a physical world. Gen 2:7 maintains that man is made from the dust of the earth (הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־ הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה ). Therefore, “[t]he corporality is an integral part of humanity, implied in the intention of the creator.”Ulrich. (2020).1Ulrich, Jörg. “Chapter 1 The Peculiar Merit of the Human Body: Combined Exegesis of Gen 1:26f. and Gen 2:7 in Second Century Christianity”. In The Unity of Body and Soul inPatristic and Byzantine Thought, (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill | Schöningh, 2020) doi: https://doi.org/10.30965/9783657703395_002Man is the only creature that is dignified by being formed by the hands of God himself.
Remember, too, that man is properly called flesh, which had a prior occupation in man’s designation: “And God formed man the clay of the ground.” He now became man, who was hitherto clay. “And He breathed upon his face the breath of life, and man (that is, the clay) became a living soul; and God placed the man whom He had formed in the garden.” So that man was clay at first, and only afterwards man entire. I wish to impress this on your attention, with a view to your knowing, that whatever God has at all purposed or promised to man, is due not to the soul simply, but to the flesh also; 2 Tertullian. Treatise on the Resurrection, Translated by Dr. Holmes. ccel.org/ccel/tertullian/resurrection_flesh/anf03.v.viii.v.html#fnf_v.viii.v-p9.2Tertullian.
Genesis 2:7, contains two central themes for Tertullian. The first, concerns the “formation,” of man as a vessel. The second; God’s blowing the breath of life into man, resulting in man becoming vivified. An abundant dialectic of interpretation between, formation and that of the life-breath, prompt a myriad of possible scenarios as plausible conclusions as to the composition of a human being amongst Christians. These have various implications which return differing anthropological hypotheses as seen amongst theologians throughout church history. Practically speaking, it is not exactly known, how these passages translate into a person’s having a soul, a mind and the ability to reason. However, scripturally, there is abundant motive to consider that “man entire” is composed of a unity of body and soul.
In the modern conception of a human being, the conviction that there is room to include something like a spiritual side, understood as a soul (conceived in the classical sense as embodied, perceptive self-awareness) has been removed from the negotiating table inasmuch as it is an idea that, for the naturalist, conveniently defies scientific scrutiny. Physicalism holds that there is no immaterial constituent of a human being, conceived of as mind (or soul). Reductive physicalism describes mental states as being identical to physical brain states. The interaction between conscious being and bodily being has in this case been reduced to material biological-evolutionary drives and thus the mind-body interaction to chemical reactions. This is unsurprising, since considering the human soul as spiritual in nature would necessarily lead to an admission that it could have not been derived through natural evolution of the body but refers its origin to a creative act on the part of God.
The reductionist strategy will be directed against the claim of the ability of a nonphysical substance to causally interact with the physical world, in order not to concede the idea that the mental realm has a real independent status. A question is raised by Gregory of Nyssa in On the Making of Man: “What then is, in its own nature, this mind that distributes itself into faculties of sensation, and duly receives, by means of each, the knowledge of things?” He himself answers: “That it is something else besides the senses, I suppose no reasonable man doubts; for if it were identical with sense, it would reduce the proper character of the operations carried on by sense to one, on the ground that it is itself simple, and that in what is simple no diversity is to be found. Now however, as all agree that touch is one thing and smell another, and as the rest of the senses are in like manner so situated with regard to each other as to exclude intercommunion or mixture, we must surely suppose, since the mind is duly present in each case, that it is something else besides the sensitive nature, so that no variation may attach to a thing intelligible.”3Gregory of Nyssa, St.,On the Making of Man, in H. Wace and P. Schaff (eds.), A Selected Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (NPNF), vol. V, 1893
Non-reductive physicalism holds that the mind and the brain have different characteristics and that mental states are not reducible to physical brain states. It asserts the mind is generated by brain processes and the brain gives rise to epiphenomenal states of awareness commonly understood as joy, pain, love, anger and the like. However, what yet remains to be explained, is how the brain generates the mind or the mind affects the brain (as in neural plasticity, briefly described as: “the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections”4Mateos-Aparicio Pedro, Rodríguez-Moreno Antonio. The Impact of Studying Brain Plasticity. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience 13. 2019 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fncel.2019.00066 DOI=10.3389/fncel.2019.00066 ISSN=1662-5102). In summary the two forms of Physicalism both reductive and non reductive refuse to view the mind as an immaterial substance that behaves as a free agent that can think and make decisions for reasons, rather than just the brain controlling the performing of random acts by means of electrochemical reactions.
Angus J. L. Menuge a philosopher of mind, argues: “If we want to account for consciousness, mental causation and reasoning, we need some entity over and above the body. This entity must be simple, have thoughts as inseparable parts, persist as a unity over time, and have active power. That sounds like a soul . . .” 5Angus J. L. Menuge, “Why Not Physicalism? The Soul Has Work to Do,” unpublished ms. delivered at the Evangelical Philosophical Society panel for the Society of Biblical Literature, San Francisco, CA, November, 2011.
A summary of this paragraph leads to understanding that, Physicalism both reductive and non reductive is incompatible with self-identity over time, free will, intentional states of consciousness, reasoning and mental causation. Naturalistic philosopher, Alex Rosenberg in his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, affirms: “Ultimately, science and scientism are going to make us give up as illusory the very thing conscious experience screams out at us loudest and longest: the notion that when we think, our thoughts are about anything at all, inside or outside of our minds. … Thinking about things is an overwhelmingly powerful illusion. Rosenberg (2011),6Rosenberg, Alex. The atheist’s guide to reality: Enjoying life without illusions. WW Norton & Company, 2011. (pp. 162-163) According to Rosenberg, aboutness is absolute illusion. The property of being about something or of something is the property of intentionality. “In philosophy, intentionality is the power of minds and mental states to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs. To say of an individual’s mental states that they have intentionality is to say that they are mental representations or that they have contents.” Jacob (2019).7Jacob, Pierre, “Intentionality”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2019/entries/intentionality/>. An illusion of intentionality is an intentional state as it is an illusion of something. Therefore to say “Thinking about things is an overwhelmingly powerful illusion” is literally self-refuting, incoherent and contradictory.
Some philosophers who work out of naturalist metaphysics, would have that the existence of the self is an illusion, leading to the proclamation that there is no enduring self. Again, in his book, Rosenberg affirms “I do not exist.” That interpretation is just practically unlivable, as it leads to the conclusion that: He did not write his book, that is not him on his passport, he does not hold a tenured post as R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy which is an arbitrary title (since R. Taylor Cole couldn’t have existed either) for an non-existent post (because that post cannot endure in time either). The problem of personal identity has puzzled and divided philosophers for hundreds of years producing many different theories and thought experiments the likes of which are too numerous to recount for reasons of space. Commenting though; it seems counter intuitive to reject personal identity which requires human beings to be intelligent and capable of both consciousness and, most essentially self consciousness which is everyone’s, every moment, living, personal experience.
Physicalism goes to great lengths to disqualify anything not materially quantifiable and find themselves in difficulty when it comes to qualifying the nature of the “tools” they employ to arrive at their conclusions which are themselves “maps of the territory and not the territory itself”. Logic and language do not have physical domains and yet mathematics (very simplistically a combination of the two) is a major instrument of scientific investigation. Precisely because of its mathematical methods, physics is limited to describing the abstract structure of the natural world, and does not reveal the inner nature of the things that constitute that structure. Logic, mathematics and language do however constitute non-physical, transcendent, abstract objects that are essential to the truth of modern science. “Logic itself is normative insofar as inferences aim at truth and insofar as the logical relationships between beliefs and statements derive from their meanings. Hence if there are no meanings or purposes, there is no truth or logic either.” Edward Feser (2011) 8First Things. “Scientia Ad Absurdum | Edward Feser.” Accessed January 23, 2023. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/11/scientia-ad-absurdum. Admitting non-physical, transcendent, abstract objects into a physicalist ontology remains difficult, as it requires an explanation as to why certain of these objects are accepted and others are rejected, at the risk of exposing cognitive biases, therefore putting into question the self professed objectivity of both reductive and non reductive physicalism.
The disqualification of knowledge passed on spiritually from a transcendent creator God as revealed in his special revelation reflects on scientific dogma as on an equal footing with religious bigotry. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (I Corinthians 2:14 [KJV]) According to this passage in scripture, knowledge comes also from spiritual discernment. Not including the spiritual aspect of a being human diminishes from a complete understanding of our anthropology and the world we are embedded in.
Edmund Husserl, ( attributed as being the founder of phenomenology) articulates the key distinction for phenomenology9Phenomenology is a philosophy of experience. For phenomenology the ultimate source of all meaning and value is the lived experience of human beings. All philosophical systems, scientific theories, or aesthetic judgements have the status of abstractions from the ebb and flow of the lived world. “Phenomenology”. Johns Hopkins Guide for Literary Theory and Criticism entry (2nd Edition 2005). Paul B. Armstrong. Source: http://litguide.press.jhu.edu/ between the body as considered as a third person, objective inert entity, the German “Körper”, and another way of thinking about the body, which is as living subjective, first-person German “Leib”. In the conception of the embodied self in phenomenology, the body is seen as the centre of identity, indivisible from sensory experience and perception. The way in which human beings know the world is by means of a distinctly embodied experience. But what is meant by the term embodiment is largely complex and contended, and its specific meaning is contingent on how a particular discipline defines it. However “Embodiment usually refers to how the body and its interactive processes, such as perception or cultural acquisition through the senses, aid, enhance or interfere with the development of the human functioning.”10https://multimodalityglossary.wordpress.com/embodiment/.
Merleau-Ponty starts from the facticity of the world, and our lived experience within that, from the experience of the body in space. Merleau-Ponty simply wanted to argue that such knowledge is always derivative in relation to the more practical necessities of the body’s exposure to the world. In “The Phenomenology of Perception …….. the claim that we are our bodies, and that our lived experience of this body denies the detachment of subject from object, mind from body, etc (PP xii).”11“Maurice Merleau-Ponty.” by Jack Reynolds. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) (ISSN 2161-0002) https://iep.utm.edu/merleau/#H2 . Monday, 26 December 2022 Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Smith, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962 (PP in text). The problematic nature of traditional philosophical dichotomies; the dualism involving the mind and the body are made manifest.
Rationalism (or what he terms intellectualism), tends to remove us from the world and imagine that we can understand things in a vacuum. In other words, intellectualism regards meaning as the immanent property of the reflecting mind. But then contrary to that, we find ourselves with empiricism, where we are reducing what exists to what we can directly perceive without taking into account structures that make that perception possible and historically contingent. Both the empiricist and rationalist views have fallen short of giving a sufficient account of the dynamic relationship between mind and world, in a conscious agent of experience. “The body that is thereby revealed is not the scientific object of Cartesian dualism, and its subjectivity is not that of a consciousness ‘inhabiting’ such an object. Further, the world as it is for the human subject is ‘for’ an embodied subject, not for a disembodied consciousness.” Keat, R. (1982) 12Keat, R. (1982) ‘Merleau-Ponty and the Phenomenology of the Body’, unpublished manuscript, University of Edinburgh; http://www.russellkeat.net [31/12/22].
Merleau-Ponty argues that the problem of knowledge as exhibited in Platos’ Meno,13Do you see what a captious argument you are introducing—that, forsooth, a man cannot inquire either about what he knows or about whit he does not know? For he cannot inquire about what he knows, because he knows it, and in that case is in no need of inquiry; nor again can lie inquire about what he does not know, since he does not know about what he is to inquire. Plato. Meno. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 3 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1967. lacks a solution:
Empiricism cannot see that we need to know what we are looking for, otherwise we would not be looking for it, and intellectualism fails to see that we need to be ignorant of what we are looking for, or equally again we should not be searching. They are in agreement in that neither can grasp consciousness in the act of learning, and that neither attaches due importance to that circumscribed ignorance,Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Rationalism, offers certainty for its claims, but only to mathematical and logical propositions, which can only be attributed to the domain of concepts, symbols, and deductive inferences, neither of which speak to the real world. Empiricism, articulates its conversation around momentary sense impressions but neglects to take into account that knowledge is attained by interpreting these impressions through key concepts of substantive and second-order concepts.
What makes you rather than a replica of you with all of your memories and other things restored? soul persists through the death of the body and the intermediate state and thus ensures personal identity with the person who died and the person who then is raised on the Judgment Day.
Augustine “defines” embodiment in his confessions: “For thou madest his body for the artisan, and thou madest the mind which directs the limbs; thou madest the matter from which he makes anything; thou didst create the capacity by which he understands his art and sees within his mind what he may do with the things before him; thou gavest him his bodily sense by which, as if he had an interpreter, he may communicate from mind to matter what he proposes to do and report back to his mind what has been done, that the mind may consult with the Truth which presideth over it as to whether what is done is well done”.14 Augustine, of Hippo, Saint, 354-430. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. XI. v. He describes how to be embodied, is to be entirely exposed to a world of objects, through which one finds and relates to oneself.
The scriptural idea of knowledge is an epistemology where knowledge is the experience and apprehension of reality. “The Hebrew root yada [יָדַע],translated “know”/”knowledge, ” appears almost 950 times in the Hebrew Bible….. To know is not to be intellectually informed about some abstract principle, but to apprehend and experience reality. Knowledge is not the possession of information, but rather its exercise or actualization.” Schultz (1996)15 Schultz, Carl. 1996. “Know, Knowledge.” In Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/.
Through this lens, I can reject global or Cartesian skepticism and hence the “Brain in a Vat Argument” (similar to being in “The Matrix,” and forced to participate in a virtual reality as a result of nefarious artificial intelligence) because in that situation I have not apprehended and experienced reality but a simulation. I can know sadness, happiness, fear and anger through experience and realise that others also experience these same emotions and hence understand when others are experiencing them. The experience of the feeling of emotions, are not instances that can be amputated as being epiphenomenal as they comprise of elements of the comprehensive universality of human experience.
Computer scientist and theologian Noreen Herzfeld, states “the center of our being is dynamic and cannot be isolated from the bodies, societies, and natural world in which they are embedded”. (Herzfeld 2002, pp. 310ff)16Herzfeld, N. (2002), Creating in Our Own Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Image of God. Zygon®, 37: 303-316. https://doi.org/10.1111/0591-2385.00430 An important characteristic of our embodied consciousness, aspects of which are our emotions, intuition and feelings, is demonstrated by our subjective apprehension of the world. Merleau-Ponty explains what he interprets as subjectivity: “when I reflect on the essence of subjectivity, I find it bound up with that of the body and that of the world, this is because my existence as subjectivity is merely one with my existence as a body and with the existence of the world, and because the subject that I am, when taken concretely, is inseparable from this body and this world.” 17Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of perception (Translated by Colin Smith). : Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962.
(To be continued)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.(II Corinthians 13:14 [ASV])
- 1Ulrich, Jörg. “Chapter 1 The Peculiar Merit of the Human Body: Combined Exegesis of Gen 1:26f. and Gen 2:7 in Second Century Christianity”. In The Unity of Body and Soul inPatristic and Byzantine Thought, (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill | Schöningh, 2020) doi: https://doi.org/10.30965/9783657703395_002
- 2Tertullian. Treatise on the Resurrection, Translated by Dr. Holmes. ccel.org/ccel/tertullian/resurrection_flesh/anf03.v.viii.v.html#fnf_v.viii.v-p9.2
- 3Gregory of Nyssa, St.,On the Making of Man, in H. Wace and P. Schaff (eds.), A Selected Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (NPNF), vol. V, 1893
- 4Mateos-Aparicio Pedro, Rodríguez-Moreno Antonio. The Impact of Studying Brain Plasticity. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience 13. 2019 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fncel.2019.00066 DOI=10.3389/fncel.2019.00066 ISSN=1662-5102
- 5Angus J. L. Menuge, “Why Not Physicalism? The Soul Has Work to Do,” unpublished ms. delivered at the Evangelical Philosophical Society panel for the Society of Biblical Literature, San Francisco, CA, November, 2011.
- 6Rosenberg, Alex. The atheist’s guide to reality: Enjoying life without illusions. WW Norton & Company, 2011. (pp. 162-163)
- 7Jacob, Pierre, “Intentionality”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2019/entries/intentionality/>.
- 8First Things. “Scientia Ad Absurdum | Edward Feser.” Accessed January 23, 2023. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/11/scientia-ad-absurdum.
- 9Phenomenology is a philosophy of experience. For phenomenology the ultimate source of all meaning and value is the lived experience of human beings. All philosophical systems, scientific theories, or aesthetic judgements have the status of abstractions from the ebb and flow of the lived world. “Phenomenology”. Johns Hopkins Guide for Literary Theory and Criticism entry (2nd Edition 2005). Paul B. Armstrong. Source: http://litguide.press.jhu.edu/
- 11“Maurice Merleau-Ponty.” by Jack Reynolds. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) (ISSN 2161-0002) https://iep.utm.edu/merleau/#H2 . Monday, 26 December 2022 Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Smith, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962 (PP in text).
- 12Keat, R. (1982) ‘Merleau-Ponty and the Phenomenology of the Body’, unpublished manuscript, University of Edinburgh; http://www.russellkeat.net [31/12/22].
- 13Do you see what a captious argument you are introducing—that, forsooth, a man cannot inquire either about what he knows or about whit he does not know? For he cannot inquire about what he knows, because he knows it, and in that case is in no need of inquiry; nor again can lie inquire about what he does not know, since he does not know about what he is to inquire. Plato. Meno. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 3 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1967.
- 14Augustine, of Hippo, Saint, 354-430. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. XI. v.
- 15Schultz, Carl. 1996. “Know, Knowledge.” In Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/.
- 16Herzfeld, N. (2002), Creating in Our Own Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Image of God. Zygon®, 37: 303-316. https://doi.org/10.1111/0591-2385.00430
- 17Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of perception (Translated by Colin Smith). : Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962.