Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review: I am a Strange Loop (Part 2)

(Continued: Part two of an anticipated four parts)

Your book really comes together when your own life fell apart, halfway through when you talk about the sudden loss of your wife. Like you say, this is a book with the same focus as the one you wrote in your late 20’s, but older and therefore sadder. The idea of letting your dead wife see her children through your eyes is heartbreaking and yet comforting. I can accept that as a good "echo" of the reality of marriage. And your philosophy lets you put forward a model of marriage with the idea of selves that are intermingled, reflected, and even transferred: truly a “one mind” argument that is very close to the Biblical term “one flesh.” Isn’t it interesting, though, that the Biblical term is that much more physical? At any rate, the soul-merger language you employ (and rightfully so!) about marriage is actually several steps down the road to the Paradox of all Paradoxes: the mystery of the Trinity, three “selves” merged yet distinct. So I have to thank you for your scientific insights enriching my theology!

You know, most science writing tries to (but often fails to) avoid teleology, the end purpose of things, while you dive headlong into it. Really, your model of a soul is all about the goals of the self. When you talk about Carol living in you, the main justification is that her ends live on in you. So I’m going to turn the tables on myself and argue against teleology in this respect. In marriage, the “ends” have merged, and her goals are your goals, but after she’s gone, the copy you have of her in you is faint and, here’s the real nub, it only matters to you (and less so to the others around you). Not to her. According to your philosophy, “she” stopped when her body stopped. Her memories do live on, that is so valuable. But she is only a reflection in your mind, a genetic reflection in your children, and she will never surprise you again. She will never truly know anything, if the ashes stay ashes and the dust stays dust. There’s no gentle way to say it: the consolation of living on in memory is a consolation to the rest of us but not to her. And you SHOULD fight against that, and that IS wrong, that death cuts a young mother off from her children and that she never gets to see them grow. Our insistence that the universe is wrong here is human; there’s no need to defend the universe by developing a complicated scheme for selves and self-awareness.

What I see in this book is an initial strict definition of causality that’s only bottom-up, and it ends up eating itself, or dissolving itself in Dennett’s metaphor of Darwinism (here meaning materialism) as the ultimate acid. You don’t allow top-down causality, then you end up disassembling your own will. I would like you to admit into your philosophy a third level of being and two-way causality. I don’t think anything is inaccurate in your description of the first atomic level, or even the second symbolic level, except you have made the choice by fiat that all reality must be reducible and laboratory-controlled. That explains a lot – but not everything.

It’s funny, as I was reading I said to myself, “I really wish he’d write about teleportation of the body” and then at the end of the book you do! So thanks for anticipating that. You seem to think this causes problems, so I may be missing something, but to me it’s simple. If I am disassembled on Earth and my atoms are reassembled on Mars, I have just been torn apart on Earth. End of story. The reassembly of my atoms means my memories and future actions and everything about me is on Mars, sure, and so to the rest of the universe “I” am still there. But to me, to my only possession of my point of view and my choices, I am gone. The copied me is a different me. Therefore, I will never step into a “teleporter”!

Now, my proposal with the resurrection is that the creator of it all can reconstitute everything down to my point of view and my will, which I believe requires my body to be reassembled, that this interiority can be put together but not by me or by any one of us, no matter how complicated our reassembly apparatus.

(To be continued in Part 3, in which I get a little snippy)

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