The Last Post on this Topic for a While

Darrell says:

Mr. Wright, if I recall rightly, refers to himself as a compatiblist (a determinist who believes in free will – a position that I thought Dr. A held as well, but I am now uncertain) and believes in an “underlying reality” for which BOTH physical and mental descriptions apply while neither is able to do so fully and sufficiently without the other. To provide an analogy, if one person only sees a car crash and another only hears a car crash then neither witness can fully describe the crash. Nor did hearing the crash did cause what the one witness saw anymore than seeing the crash cause what the other witness heard.

I suspect that Mr. Wright is quite possibly a monist, or at least someone that would argue that we are unable to observe what the underlying reality “really” is. If this is so, and I stand ready to be corrected, then the underlying disagreement is what is reality composed of? Do we have access to observing this underlying reality?

Well, well. It will sound snarky, but I have been waiting for two years to see if anyone would actually ask me what I thought on this topic. You are all too shy (or have too much good sense).

The question is exactly what is reality composed of. That is the basic question of ontology. It is a question I have now asked Dr Andreassen an even dozen times to address, and he has now given an answer, which as a curt refusal accompanied by an unconvincing face-saving justification. Enough of him.

The question of whether monism implies an unobservable buried reality, however, is fascinating. My answer would either be a qualified yes or a definite maybe.

Oddly enough, Amelia Windrose in my ORPHANS OF CHAOS trilogy is asked exactly this question, and replies that she believes in monads, but that she cannot explain how the physical dimension of the monad relates to the mental dimension of the monad. It cannot be a physical relationship, like a gravity field, because then a brick would have to have the concept ‘brick’ attracted by gravity and connected to it; it cannot be a symbolic or mental relationship because then the physical brick would have to have the concept ‘brick’ producing or manifesting it the way a mind produces an imagination or a god produces an avatar. So she said the concept was unanswerable.

At the time I made it up, I meant it for a clever bit of science fictional reasoning, but seeing how this conversation is trending, now I am not so sure.

Since you are the first person to ask me, dear Darrel, I am do indeed believe physical determinism (and for that matter the omniscience and foreknowledge of God) is entirely compatible with free will, which is not a theory of physics but a category of moral capacity.

I am an immaterialist monist along the lines of Bishop Berkley, in that I assume that the only way sense impressions could make an impression on my thoughts and come into my awareness is if the things sensed were things like thoughts, external forms of thought, as it were. I believe all things are thoughts in the mind of God. God, in His grace, has granted physical objects sufficient independence of Him that they act of their own nature, and, for a parallel reason, man acts of his own volition.

I differ in emphasis from Berkley where I hold that what we call matter is a specific manifestation of a concept or an idea placed in such a relation to us that we can perceive it from the outside, seeing the external nature of a concept by its behavior, rather than, as with concepts we contemplate by introspection, perceiving the concept from within.

So I am something also like a Thomist, who holds that the inward soul of man is the essence of man, and the outward body is his form. If you can grasp this rather non-intuitive concept, you can see why I think of Cartesian mind-body duality as a misleading metaphor.

I hope I will scandalize no one if I say I agree with Ayn Rand on this point. The mind and body are one. We are not corpses without ghosts nor ghosts without corpses, as Cartesian dualism would have it. That is why I believe in the Resurrection of the body, a glorified body, and not in merely the Gnostic silliness or dismal Socratic notions of becoming a floating wisp of gossamer after death, or a pure mental entity like an angel.

We are, in effect, thoughts thought into being by the Divine Mind. From Shakespeare’s point of view, Hamlet’s external garb of dark clothing or the skull of Yorick he contemplates are made of the same substance as the melancholy of that indecisive prince. Both are inventions of Shakespeare, maintained by his imagination. There is no admixture or separation of two separate substances if Shakespeare directs Hamlet to drop his sword while fencing with Laertes and pick up his opponent’s blade by mistake. But no one can mistake the imaginary sword (represented on stage by a prop) with Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, or think the sword is only in Hamlet’s mind or words the way the arms one takes up against a sea of troubles are. Neither does anyone doubt that Hamlet, from the point of view inside the play, has free will, and so his indecision has moral and dramatic weight, whereas Sir Tristan, after he quaff a love potion that overthrows his reason, does not.

I freely confess that as a writer, this metaphor seems quite natural and quite appealing to me, and that is I had the power of a god to make the characters I invent real and act of their own free will and not mine, I would do so. And, at times, something so akin to this happens that I cannot say what is the difference.

Determinism is a built-in and inescapable category of human thinking. No one, not even modern physicists, can say that events happen for no reason, not and really mean it, not and make sense. Likewise, so-called indeterminism, free will, is a built-in and inescapable category of human thinking. No one, not even a modern Liberal, can say that no man is ever at fault no matter what he does, and no one, not even a Hindu, can say that everything which happens to a man is his own fault.

But there is a difference, unbridgeable and fundamental, between human action (things we do on purpose, to get something or to do something) and inanimate reactions (things which happen for no purpose, merely because the machinery of the universe is in that shape and can move no other way). Any philosophy that for any reason comes to the conclusion that one or the other does not exist (that matter is illusory or mind is an epiphenomenon) is useless for every day life.

And since the purpose of philosophy is to learn how to live and how to die and how to bear sorrow manfully and without undue emotion, obviously a philosophy that is useless for every day life is useless altogether.

If you have reached the conclusion that no humans ever can or ever will reach conclusions, then you have entered the land of absurdity, and need to retract and retrace your steps. If you make it all the way back to your axioms without detecting a flaw, abandon your axioms and get better ones.