Thursday, 27 December 2012

Theology And Sanity: The Confusion Sets In

The proof's in the pudding.  Please, give me some
pudding! And after your done proving the statements 
could I have a proper definition of what the statements
were in the first place?
Edit: I modified the title of this post.  It was originally Theology And Sanity: The Confusion Sets In - Part I.

Awhile back, Catholic blogger Stacy Transancos over at Accepting Abundance suggested I read part of Frank Sheed's Theology and Sanity in order to better understand this statement of hers:
If reason is real, then it is as inconceivable that the Big Bang is the primordial beginning of the universe as it is inconceivable that a circle can be squared. That is — it is impossible.
I went ahead and bought the book.  I've been on a theological kick lately.

I've already talked about the first chapter, Theology And Sanity - Part I, Chapter 1: The World Through Church-Tinted Glasses.  Now it's time to tackle chapter 2, Examination of Intellect - unfortunately, I forgot my church-tinted glasses.

This chapter begins with a multi-pronged attack on imagination.

(i) How imagination can hinder intellect
One of the results of the Fall of Man is that imagination has got completely out of hand; and even one who does not believe in that "considerable catastrophe", as Hilaire Belloc calls it, must at least admit that imagination plays a part in the mind's affairs totally out of proportion to its merits, so much out of proportion indeed as to suggest some long-standing derangement in man's nature.
Too much imagination - not enough good Catholic thinking.  That's basically what much of the first part of this chapter is about - how imagination acts like a faulty firewall.  It either accepts untrue ideas out of hand without giving the intellect a chance to vet them or else it discards perfectly true ideas that it's unable to picture.   More on this later, but first, remember how I pointed out that this book tends to personify inanimate objects in a sort of creepy way?
The first difficulty in the way of the intellect's functioning well is that it hates to function at all, at any rate beyond the point where functioning begins to require effort.  The result is that when any matter arises which is properly the job of the intellect, then either nothing gets done at all, or else the imagination leaps in and does it instead.
Sheed does this all the time.  I can see the intellect as a functioning of a brain, but I cannot see it as a disembodied (or rather disembrained) floaty-ghostie-thingy.  Thus, statements like the above mean little more than people don't like to reason - they would rather go on flights of fancy.  (You know, like Catholicism).  If that's what it's supposed to mean then fine, but let's drop all the spooky language.

The book goes on to say serious contemplation can be derailed by intruding thoughts of food, coffee and sex - watching imagination's pictures flash across the mind.  I have no arguments here, but sometimes, the brain does needs some downtime.  I get some of my best inspiration sitting in a room and listening to music or the rippling of of a stream.

The imagination discards truths it cannot itself "picture"

A second strike against imagination is that it is a censor upon what the intellect shall accept.
Tell a man, for instance, that his soul has no shape or size or color or weight, and the chances are that he will retort that such a thing is inconceivable.  If we replay that it is not inconceivable but only unimaginable, he will consider that we have conceded his case-- and will proceed to use the word "unimaginable" with the same happy finality as the word "inconceivable".
Sheed sees imagination as the power we have of making mental pictures of the material universe.  So the imagination can only reproduce that which we have seen from the material world - sight, smell, touch, taste etc.  Meanwhile, the intellect has access to concepts that are presumably beyond the imagination.  Sheed is saying the imagination can act as a Cerberus and stop any ideas which it cannot itself vet first by picturing it.

You know, I have experienced the same thing trying to come to grips with Einstein's theory of Special and General Relativity - and forget about 11-dimensional M-Theory.  Religion doesn't have a monopoly on this sort of thing.  Science of late has concepts that bend and break the imagination because they are so far from our everyday experiences.

But the theories of Relativity have been tested over and over again for the past century - independently and reproducibly.  Experiments have demonstrated outcomes predicted by these theories, as crazy as they sound to our imaginations.  Likewise with Quantum theory - 10 Real-world Applications of Quantum Mechanics - we have real-world applications which help bolster its credibility.  As for String Theory - well there is still much doubt about it in the Physics community and this is honestly admitted by both boosters and detractors.

It seems that in Science the more unimaginable something is the more intellectual proof must be offered to increase its certainty.  But this doesn't mean that imaginable things get a free pass.

Remember the misconception that heavier things fall at a greater rate than lighter things?  This is completely imaginable but scientists didn't sit on their laurels - they still experimented to confirm the hypothesis.  It turned out to be false and they had the evidence and math to prove it.

I wonder what real-world evidence Sheed can provide for his theory?

The basic thesis of Sheed's argument is that matter can be imagined and is thus imaginable and hence can be confirmed by the imagination.  While things that are immaterial (read: spiritual) cannot be imagined (pictured) by the imagination and hence can only be examined and confirmed by the intellect.

Hence, Sheed feels the need to distinguish spirit from matter.
Spirit, we say, is the being that knows and loves; and this is a positive statement of its activity, what is does.  But we can say something also of its nature, what it is.  Briefly, spirit is the being which has its own nature so firmly in its grasp that it can never become some other being.
What...
the... 
Hell?  

More ghostie language.  You know, Einstein's proof was a tad more rigorous than this - and I was actually able to understand his Special Relativity.  It all sounds a lot like the kind of proofs I saw while reading the Greek metaphysicians from 2,000 years ago.  Wait a minute, that's where the Church likely got all this anyway.

I'm guessing the gist of it is that spirits don't have any parts so they are somehow permanent (unless God destroys them), while all other things are made of atoms and molecules and stuff - so they are non-permanent.
What has parts can occupy space -- space indeed may be thought of as the arrangement matter makes to spread its parts in.  It is from the occupation of space that those properties flow which affect the senses.  That is why matter does.  That is why spirit does not.
... silence ...

I hope more in on the way later in the book.

I can vaguely recall the Greeks being obsessed with extension and immutability.  Change is bad and it's not the sort of thing you want spiritual things to be doing - if it's changing then it must not be perfect (finished, complete).  Perfect things are finished changing - that's the definition of perfect... OKAY?

Apparently it's the parts that occupy space, (1 ... n parts, I guess).  Something that has zero parts does not occupy space - hence it is immaterial and doesn't exist materially.  Okay, that's pretty non-controversial.  But then apparently spirit is one of these immaterial things that knows and loves.  Where's the proof for that?

Anyway, the take home information here seems to be that the reality of any spiritual statement must be tested by the intellect, not by the imagination.  And apparently the way the intellect can test a statement for veracity is to to ensure there are no logical contradictions.
Thus the first test of any statement must be tested by the intellect, not by the imagination.  The intellect's word of rejection is "inconceivable".  This means that the statement proffered to the intellect contains a contradiction within itself, so that no concept can be formed embodying the statement. 
Sure, this always should be a first test.  But one could make any number of non-contradictory false statements.  The pudding's really in the proof.

I need pudding!

There's too much craziness in this chapter to deal with it all in a single post.  More on the evils of the imagination from chapter 2 to come.


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