Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Are bodies superfluous?

i) I'm going to consider a philosophical objection to the resurrection of the body. The objection is not that physical resurrection is impossible, but unnecessary.

Traditional Christian eschatology distinguishes the intermediate state from the final state. The intermediate state is a conscious, discarnate state. When a human dies, their soul is "separated" from the body. The soul (mind, consciousness) continues to exist.

And I think that's correct. I put "separation" in scare quotes because, strictly speaking, I don't think the soul is in the body or attached to the body. Rather, the soul uses the body.

ii) There are different ways of representing the intermediate state. In Scripture, the intermediate state is like an extended out-of-body experience. In Scripture, the mode of visionary revelation employs what is, at least from a phenomenological standpoint, an out-of-body experience.

In this altered state of consciousness, the seer has very vivid, inspired dreams or visions. It simulates physical or sensory experience. The intermediate state is like an inspired collective dream. It can heavenly for the saints, and hellish for the damned.

iii) In principle, it seems as though a discarnate state can mirror physical experience. Indeed, because it is liberated from what's physically possible, it is more flexible than physical experience. In that state you can do or perceive things you can't do with the body. By "do," I mean manipulate or interact with the imaginary environment.

But if that's the case, the final state seems to be superfluous. It doesn't add anything to the intermediate state. Indeed, it's more limited than the intermediate state. It is subject to physical restrictions.

iv) We can also model the intermediate state by using SF analogues. These take two basic forms. There's virtual reality. A neurointerface may bypass the subject's sensory inputs. Instead, information is fed directly into his brain. An imaginary world which may mimic the real world down to the last detail. The experience may be indistinguishable from reality. 

A more dualistic version involves uploading consciousness into a computer–or synthetic body. On this view, consciousness is information. It can be digitized. 

It's dualistic in the sense that mind is separable and transferable. However, it still requires a physical platform to subsist. And that's because science fiction is into hardware. 

Examples of both include Avatar, Freejack, The Matrix, Harsh Realm, Total Recall, "Kill Switch" (The X-Files), &c.

A character can become trapped in virtual reality. He can't tell when, or if, it ends. 

Although this is fictional, there are scientists like Frank Tipler and Ray Kurzweil who think it's realistic. That, of course, depends on a particular theory of the mind. As well as the assumption that the brain is exhaustively mappable. 

v) If this is true, then the final state seems to be superfluous. But is it true that the intermediate state is empirically equivalent to physical existence? Or is there some loss as we switch from embodied existence to disembodied experience? 

vi) One possible reason is that we initially need genuine sensory experience in a physical world to stock our imagination. But once we acquire a mental map of sensation and physicality, then, in principle, imagination can take it from there. 

But perhaps sensory deprivation would become psychotic unless our imagination is periodically refreshed by the real thing. If a dreamer never wakes up, will the dreamscape deteriorate the way memories fade unless they are reinforced by contact with the person or place? 

vii) Although this is controversial, one thing VR can't properly simulate is procreation. Imagining a baby isn't a baby. A mental projection of a baby or child isn't the same thing as an independent person. So one irreducible value of a final (physical state) is if the saints can procreate. 

viii) Even if a discarnate state can simulate a physical sensation, yet without a body we may not have the same motivation. For instance, young men are physically restless because they have surplus energy. They burn it off through athletic activity. 

Even if a discarnate state can simulate athletic activity, without a body there wouldn't be the same impulse. They wouldn't have energy to burn, so the incentive would be gone. 

ix) Apropos (viii), what makes some sensations pleasant isn't merely the immediate sensation, but the prior physical state of the agent. 

Tasty food is pleasant even if you aren't hungry, but it's more enjoyable if you are hungry. A chilly drink is more enjoyable if you're thirsty. 

Some physical pleasures assume a degree of physical discomfort prior to the subsequent experience which brings relief. Like eating and drinking.

Sleep is more enjoyable if you're dog tired. Chocolate gelato is always good, but better on a hot day.

A hot bath or shower feels even better if you're chilly. Same thing with sitting in front of a cracking fireplace.

Even if the discarnate state can simulate swimming, the pleasure of merely swimming doesn't capture the pleasure of swimming on a hot day. You must feel initially overheated to fully enter into the pleasant experience of cooling off by taking a dip.

x) This all goes to the fact that in interactionist dualism, the body affects the mind, as well as vice versa. Without a body, you can't have the complete experience. So there's something lost in the absence of a body. It isn't possible to replicate embodied experience in toto minus a body. Not everything carries over. 


  1. "And I think that's correct. I put "separation" in scare quotes because, strictly speaking, I don't think the soul is in the body or attached to the body. Rather, the soul uses the body.

    Could you expand on your thinking here? What are the implications to being indwelt by the Spirit, or being possessed by demons? When Jesus cast evil spirits "out of" people where were they before they were cast out?

    When the Bible speaks of believers being indwelt by the Holy Spirit what do you think that means?

  2. The Bible uses spatial metaphors to describe spiritual relations. I think that literally describes influence or control. It's a mind-to-mind relation. It can operate at a subliminal level.

    1. I see. As for the spatial language, do you take it that the relation between soul and body could be analogous to remote control?

      That the soul resides spatially (maybe even temporally) apart from the physical body?

    2. If the soul is immaterial, then the soul is illocal.

    3. This is an interesting line of thought, I don't intend to press the issue, but along this line of thinking what's to be made of Biblical language of certain fallen beings being chained, apparently locally beneath the Euphrates river? Of course that could be analogical / metaphorical language, but it seems highly specific.

      Also what's to be made of apparently localized supernatural activity like poltergeists or demon possession in your opinion?

    4. They have a specific sphere of influence. Their field of action is localized in time and space.

    5. Up to a point I think remote-control signaling is a good analogy. But I just don't think the soul is physically offsite. If the soul isn't physical, it can't occupy space.

    6. I guess my mind tends toward verses that lead me to view spiritual creatures as occupying some sort of discrete spatio-temporal area, even though it may differ somewhat from the physical world we're familiar with.

      The hills being filled with chariots and horsemen when Elisha's servant's eyes were opened, the angel who barred the way of Baalam, Gabriel's various appearances, Ezekiel's visions, John's description of praise in the throne room of heaven, Saul's experience of Samuel with the necromancer.

      I've not thought it through carefully or at length, but some sort of localized self-contained form of spirit being appears to be the general witness of Scripture, although I don't think we have the physics or metaphysics with enough explanatory power to say much with any degree of certainty.

    7. Most-all of your examples involve perception. Visions. But we can perceive things in a dream. A dreamscape simulates space.

      I'd add, though, that there's some Scriptural evidence that angels can materialize.