Monday, April 15, 2019

Notre Dame fire

I'll use the Notre Dame fire as a launchpad to reflect on some related issues. Why do many people become attached to handsome historic buildings?

One reason is that when you step into a building like Notre Dame, you step into the past. It's like a time machine. Not as good as a time machine, but since they only exist in science fiction, it's the next best thing. 

Humans take an interest in the past. We're born into an ongoing story, and many of us are curious about other times and places. So ancient buildings connect us to the past. And that has a certain counterfactual appeal. It appeals to our imagination: what if I lived back then? What was it like to be around back then? 

On a related note, it reminds us that human life is fleeting. People pass through the lifecycle but the building remains, It was there before you were born and it will still be there after you die. Walking through a Redwood forest can have a similar effect.

Depending on your worldview, that can be good or bad. If you deny the afterlife, then ancient buildings accentuate the insignificance of individual human lives. We're replaceable. Our absence, in death, is barely noticed. 

On another related note, many people have visited sites like Notre Dame. They have fond memories. And these are shared memories. It's like popular movies. A common frame of reference.

So buildings like Notre Dame connect us to other people across time and space. Finally, many people find Gothic church architecture edifying. 

At the time of writing I don't know the extent of the damage. Suppose the stained glass windows are intact. Then the damage should be reparable. It's a case of restoring the cathedral.

But suppose some of stained glass were destroyed. Then it can't be repaired or restored. At best, it can be rebuilt or replicated. Every square inch of the church has been studied and photographed. Of course, it would lose of the charm walking into a medieval cathedral. You wouldn't be stepping into the past, but stepping into a modern simulation of the past.

Why do a I mention this comparison? Because it parallels different models of the resurrection of the body. I don't mean the resurrection of Christ, where there's an intact body with minimal necrosis. 

If a human body has disintegrated, then it can't be repaired or restored, in a straightforward sense. And it's hard to see how the original parts can be reassembled. The atoms recycled into other things. They are now constituents of other things. They can't be removed and reallocated without destroying what they currently constitute. 

Mind you, even in the case of a living body, there's a turnover in the atoms, organic molecules, and cells that compose the body. A body is a dynamic system in flux. It's just that "solid" objects vibrate at a slower pace than fluid objects (as it were). The difference between solid and fluid is a difference in degree rather than kind. 

So it may be necessary to replace the old mortal body with a duplicate. Not even a strict duplicate. It will have some enhancements or improvements.  

1 comment:

  1. Such a pity. Would have made for a nice Protestant church with a little bit of strategic interior re-modeling.