Thursday, June 19, 2014

Two Places at Once

You have one body. Two arms, two legs, a mouth, two eyes, two ears, a nose, lungs, a heart, a stomach, all physically connected to the same nervous system. Your nerves aren't wireless. Your body is one whole thing, and it can't be separated and made to occupy multiple places without harming you. So you can't be in two places at once.

Or can you?

To occupy a place is to be able to interact with it. I first encountered this view in discussions of God's omnipresence. It is a solution to the problem of how God can be entirely everywhere. Not some part of him everywhere, as a distributed body, nor all of him multiplied so as to be reproduced everywhere, but him, entire and complete, at every place. The solution is to suggest that God's omnipresence is his ability to know what is going on everywhere and to respond to it from anywhere and everywhere. His actions and knowledge are not bounded by space, and this makes him omnipresent.

So, if I were to be in two places at once, I would need to be able to perceive both places and perform actions in both places--at once.

The biggest problem we face in doing this at this point is that it involves multitasking, which we can't technically do. What we actually do is switch back and forth between tasks very rapidly. Let's ignore this problem for the time being, because we get close enough.

When you are talking on the phone, your ears and voice can reach two different, and usually distant, locations. You can usually still hear what is going on around your body, but you can also hear what is going on where you are calling. Two locations become linked by your phone. That is just the most common way it works, of course: there is pretty high demand for technologies that will let you be in two places at once now. That is what allows for telecommuting: your presence is no longer limited to the geographical space around your body.

It gets weirder.

Massively Multiplayer Online Games create a new, shared space which many people can occupy. You occupy both your desk, and this artificial world. The feature which makes it most obviously a world is that multiple persons can communicate in it and about it, and can get results relative to it, and all this can happen within its space. So within these games a person can occupy, not only two places, but two distinct, though connected, worlds.

You are still limited, though. You can't fix a sandwich and work at the office at once. Pretty much all our devices for telecommuting involve our fingers, and, even if they didn't, it would hard to multitask so thoroughly.

And this is just descriptive. I haven't even started thinking about the ethics of this.
I want to say we should avoid multitasking, and that we should be present wherever we happen to be. That needs some nuancing, however, especially seeing that we can't really function in this era without phones.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Wittgensteinian Ethics

Maurice Drury tells a story about an interaction he had with Wittgenstein where Drury said something about monastic kinds of life being a waste of time. Wittgenstein responded "how can you know what their problems were in those days and what they had to do about them?"

To Freidrich Waismann Wittgenstein said "At the end of my lecture on ethics, I spoke in the first person. I believe that is quite essential. Here nothing more can be established, I can only appear as a person speaking for myself."

It can easily be seen throughout Wittgenstein's comments and actions regarding his life and philosophy that his philosophical work was bound up in his life.

I would like to suggest that Wittgenstein's ethic was a kind of existential ethic. Ethical problems are seen as problems which need solved in life--by a form of life--and one cannot solve an ethical problem without encountering it in a life. We speak from where we are in matters of ethics. My answers to ethical questions are only valid insofar as they are livable, and so the best test for an answer to a problem of ethics, of life, is to live it out. The question is whether the solution can fit into a way of life.

Why are we incapable of speaking about what is ethical? This is an attack on the open question argument, or a kind of agreement with its force. The point, that is, is that we cannot capture the normative power of what is to be done, or what is good, in language. Normativity exceeds what can be expressed. What we should do is what would solve the lived problems of our lives. Why? And the answer is not given in words, so much as by our inability to truly ask the question if we have heard the answer rightly. We must see what is normative, we cannot merely speak it.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Body and Soul: A Normative Relationship

"The human body is the best picture of the human soul." Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations pt.II, iv, section 25.

I use this quote because it is what began the thought processes which led to the conclusions here, not as evidence for them.

My thesis here is that the physical ought to represent, picture, or better yet embody the spiritual (by which I will mean in this post anything one would refer to as mental, spiritual, relating to the soul, emotions, cognition, etc.).

As a Christian, the most obvious evidence in favor of this is in reference to those places where the spiritual is embodied in the context of Christianity. These are, first, the human person, but that is the case we wish to understand by reference to the others; second, Christ, who is God incarnate; third, the Christian sacraments and what went before them.

In the case of Jesus Christ, God became human and thereby took on "sinful flesh" in order to bear our sins, and our sin nature in the flesh, which nature is often referred to as our flesh. He suffered, bled, and died as sinner--in our stead, or as ourselves. He represented all humans and so became human.

I think the sacraments are more obvious, and to those I now turn. In baptism, one exhibits outwardly that one has been cleansed, that one has been buried and raised with Christ. In taking communion, we take Christ in bodily and in so doing show our taking him in spiritually. I take neither of these as salvific, but both as means of grace in which we meet God spiritually in the physical representation. I count neither of these as mere ceremonies or as merely representations, but as also involving the presence of God with us in spirit in a special way. If these were merely physical representations, then they would be of no help in understanding the relationship between the physical and the spiritual in this way.

So much for the particularly Christian points, on to more broadly theistic.

I take it that all of creation pictures God, whether by choice or not and whether in the short term or long. I further take it that, in a perfect (i.e., pre-fall or once Christ returns) world, we would be able to learn directly from creation how things stand regarding the nature of God. Those who take disaster as a sign of the displeasure of God should not be wrong, and likewise those who take riches as a sign of God's pleasure--their being wrong about these things is a consequence of the fall, and so to be lamented as it is in the psalms and by the prophets. Thus I take it that the right structure of the world as a whole was meant to be one of imaging the spiritual in the physical. It may be possible for this to be the case and yet particular physical things not be intended to relate in that way to particular spiritual realities, but I doubt that it is likely that that is how it is supposed to be. That is, I suspect that particular physical realities correspond relatively straightforwardly to spiritual realities as regards what they are supposed to image. Thus, human body is to picture human soul.

On to broadly philosophical points.

Insofar as what I am referring to here as the human soul is what directs the human body, it seems natural that it would exhibit itself in the human body, and insofar as there is design, it seems designed to do so. Thus there would seem to be a malfunction if the human soul was not pictured by the human body.

If the normative in no way shows up in the physical, then we cannot charge anyone with guilt on account of actions performed, but only on account of intent divorced of physical content, e.g., intent to commit murder, but not intent to drive an axe through the skull of a self-moving human body's skull. If the normative does show up in the physical, then I would expect it to do so by means of, at least, what is harmful or beneficial to human well-being, broadly construed. Such things would then indicate what is good or bad to us.

What is conducive to our well-being, broadly construed, is what is conducive to our being what we are as fully as possible. We are humans which are both spiritual and physical, with the spiritual directing the physical, by and large. Thus, what is good for us is, in part, what is conducive to our exhibiting who we are as spiritual persons in what we are as physical bodies.

There is much complication which may follow, such as balancing changing insides versus changing outsides, but the point here is to establish that, all else being equal, one's spiritual person should show up in one's physical body. I take it, further, that this extends to speech and to social life and exhibiting spiritual relations via physical ones, which we do naturally, indeed, instinctively, by adjusting distances between us, shifting foot positions, crossing arms, etc.