The Sacramental View

In case anyone is curious, let me explain my view on the topic of the mind-body paradox.

Oddly enough, I am of that rare school who thinks mechanical determinism and final indeterminism are mutually compatible.

I hold that a neurobiologist examining the chemical and molecular actions of my brain could give a complete description of the mechanical effects and causes without once making reference to any final cause, that is, he need not say the purpose of these actions, or say what they means, in order to describe their physical properties. He can measure my high blood pressure without knowing whether it is caused by fear or anger, lust or malice aforethought.

Likewise, if I were found in a witness stand or confessional booth, the prosecutor or priest could give a complete description, if I were candid, of the purposes and meaning of my state of mind, using wisdom to understand whatever I said about my ends and means. Neither need ever once refer to any measured property of any material of my nervous system or environment. He can draw firm conclusions about my malice aforethought, cowardice, concupiscence or wrath without once measuring my blood-pressure.

The biologist knows the science of what I am, the father confessor knows the theology, the lawyer knows the law. These are different aspect, different dimensions, if you will, of one reality, but they neither clash nor confirm each other.

Common sense says there is some sort of correlation between blood pressure and anger, but it is not a cause and effect relation. You cannot make a man angry with his wife by injecting adrenalin into his elbow. Likewise, a man of icy demeanor can contemplate cold blooded murder without any change in blood pressure.

Philosophy says the correlation cannot be one of cause and effect, because there are at least four different categories of cause and effect, and neither the category of ends and means (which is needed to explain things of the mind) nor the category of cause and effect (which is needed to explain things of the body) can be fit into the same category of causation.

Knowing what molecules bumped which in a man’s brain tells you nothing about what aims he craves and what means he prioritized to achieve that aim. One is a question of how it is done, which billiard ball strikes which, at what angle and force; and the other is a question of why it is done, what purpose it serves, what the player wants to win the bet he made on the billiard game, or the onlooker he wants to impress, and what rule says which ball can or cannot go into the pocket.

I am a dualist, but not in the Cartesian sense. I am a dualist in the sense that I think every cup has an inside and an outside. Or that every storybook is both a book and a story. The book can be paperback or hardcover. The story can be comedy or tragedy. But you cannot judge the story by the cover.

The book does not make the storybook hold a story. The writer does that. But neither can the writer write a storybook without a book were his words are written.

Likewise, the written word is not the written word without the inkmark that makes the letters; but the inkmarks of the letters cannot form a word unless written by someone who can spell.

Likewise again, you cannot draw an honest map if no territory exists to draw; but the map is not the territory.

More to the point, I believe that there are many things in creation which have more than a material value. They cannot be meaningfully described merely by listing of what they are made.

To quote a wiser pen than mine:

“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” — “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”

A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and unseen reality.

The reality never appears without the sign, but the sign without the reality is only an appearance, form without meaning, that is to say, a lie.

Man is a sacramental creature. We are outward signs of an inward image and likeness that forms our being.