The Nature of the Mind


    Thomas D. Davis's fictional story "Life After Life" in his introductory Philosophy pictures the prospective and activity of 50-year-old man, Charles R. Smith, whose spirit has departed his physical body at death. Charlie is somewhat surprised by the absence of the after-death reality described by religious fundamentalists. After hanging around his home for a while Charlie is bewildered by the morally disrespectful manner and action observed in the surviving members of his immediate family. Deciding that he has seen enough, he considers mental telepathy desiring to make contact with other departed spirits and, following a couple of high-speed journeys to other states, he succeeds only to be disappointed in the end by their shallow interests and stuffiness unbecoming to spirits that no longer fit in the material world. Ultimately this new existence finds him (to use his words) "bored as hell."

    Besides the subject of the nature of the mind, Davis's story raises several related issues for students of philosophy: (1) the lack of resolution in the after death existence of Charlie; (2) the subjectivism of clinical studies related to out-of-body experiences; (3) Halloween; (4) the immortality of the soul & the nature of the hereafter; and (5) necromancy.

    The reader is faced with a lack of resolution in this story. Somehow we expect a Judgment so as to bring things to a proper conclusion for Charlie, even as he himself makes moral judgments regarding the behavior of the members of his own family who seem to have betrayed his interests in them. Anthropologists tell us that a belief in an afterlife is common to every human culture, as evidenced by their burial customs. Revealed religion informs us that a judgment awaits all mankind following death, though an intermediate period in a place of habitation may precede that judgment.  
    As for Davis's literary use of the concept of boredom to describe hell, he seems to have a problem distinguishing between the nature of heaven and hell.  You will recall his portayal in "A Little Omniscience Goes a Long Way" of a Deity in heaven who was bored on the basis of his own foreknowledge.  In "Life After Life" he suggests that boredom is a condition of hell.
Charlie in whose mouth Davis put the words, "I am bored as hell," obviously had as his reference point the Christian tradition.  This is evident from his earlier reference to St. Peter and to his discussion of the minister who conducted his funeral.  To define hell as a state of boredom may well reflect the French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre's description of the afterlife in his three-act play No Exit.  But it falls far short of the horrifying description of hell which Jesus of Nazareth and his apostles gave and which we can read in the New Testament.  

    Men have commonly held superstitions and fears concerning the appearance of ghosts or the spirits of the departed, but such views have typically been regarded as just that--fears and superstitions--more the grist for Hollywood movies and Halloween pranks than an actual reality to be seriously explored. Of course, it is a simple historical fact that Halloween was originally a time for commemorating Christian martyrs, but somehow that commemoration gave way to the ghosts and goblins which characterize the occasion today.

    To be sure, there were special occasions recorded in the Bible, such as the resurrection of Christ and the Mount of Transfiguration where departed saints make special appearances to highlight the sacred occasion. Communication with the spirits of the departed, however, was strictly condemned by the Law of Moses under penalty of death, much as an adulterer or a murderer received the death penalty. Israel's first king, Saul, met his demise as king and an untimely death as a direct consequence of his visiting the witch of Endor to conjure up the spirit of Samuel--so pathetic was Saul's spiritual plight. When the book of Revelation is examined, clearly the world of the occult cannot cohere with the Holy City described.

    We cannot deny the existence of those who deliberately engage in occult activity and make their living by supposedly bringing others into contact with the spirits of departed loved ones. Neither do we deny that those who engage in the occult have experiences of some sort; but we must raise the question whether these experiences are genuine, in terms of what they purport to be, or counterfeit, deceptive, and psychologically damaging. The infamous Bishop Pike who made headlines in the early 1970s tragically became so involved following the death of his son. His delusion in the matter led to his own premature death in a middle eastern desert. It is not uncommon for those who engage in necromancy, communication with the dead, to have tragic deaths.

    All this needs to be mentioned up front as we consider these issues, for modern parapsychology poses as a science, as though doing clinical studies of out-of-body experiences, or the study of psychokinesis--the moving of physical objects through the activity of the mind were no different than the study of the law of gravity.  Jews and Christians who take the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments seriously are compelled to question the propriety of labeling such studies "true science."  There are too many variables impossible to identify, much less isolate. The matter is subjective by its very nature. How can the "scientist" be sure that he is dealing with a simple human mind, and not a mind that is controlled or influenced by a demon?  Where are the controls? How can the person who has lapsed into a coma, and had a supposed out-of-body experience, know whether he has actually seen an angel, visited heaven, or has been simply duped by his own imagination or by a demon posing as an angel? How can a person who thinks he is communicating with a relative know that the relative is not simply being impersonated by a demon? Certainly this was Augustine's view with respect to pagan deities, and the principle applies equally to the subject at hand.

    The irony of parapsychology--and this ought to cause us great concern as to whether it represents the antithesis of philosophy--is that it appears to be a reversion to the magical arts that so characterized primitive societies, even pre-Socratic Athens.

    Having made these preliminary observations, we now turn to the issue of the nature of the mind. Davis speaks of two basic concepts concerning the nature of the mind: (1) Dualism; and (2) Materialism.

    Dualism is the view that the world is composed of two different kinds of reality--physical bodies and non-physical minds. There are two forms of dualism: (1) the Interactionist view whereby nonphysical minds and physical bodies are causally related; and (2) the Parallelist view that nonphysical minds have no causal relationship to physical bodies. Descartes was an interactionist; Leibnitz was a parallelist.

    Materialism is the view that everything that exists is physical including the mind. Materialism is represented by two different schools of thought: (1) Behaviorism, the view that the mind simply consists of observable outward behavior; and (2) the Identity theory, the notion that the mind is factually identical with (but not the same as) the brain. Behaviorism is the view of logical positivists and was illustrated by Davis's fictional story entitled "Strange Behavior." These strange-looking citizens of the planet Gamma were hardly distinguishable from the robots they had created, and found the concept of "the thing inside" to which the visitors from earth referred, as unnecessary and downright amusing. According to the identity theory, mental events are nothing more than the chemical processes of the brain.

    The problem of the behaviorist view is that some activity of the mind simply does not fit into the category of behavior. There is such a thing as private internal thought that is not expressed in terms of outward behavior. Critics of the identity theory argue that the mind and the brain cannot be factually identical because mental images have color which the brain does not have.

    The New Testament sheds a great deal of light upon the issue of the nature of the mind and the state of human "life after life" (to use Davis's expression). To try to resolve this philosophical issue while ignoring the data of the New Testament would be like trying to conduct war in the modern world without live ammunition. The New Testament data is simply too relevant to be ignored. Since God is called "the Father of spirits," and Christ came "to bring life and immortality to light," one would expect this to be the case.

    The New Testament describes the immaterial aspect of man in its various aspects which include (in addition to "mind") "soul," "heart," "will," "conscience," and "spirit." Clearly, man's spirit supercedes his physical nature, as indicated by Christ's words to his drowsy disciples at Gethsemane: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." The essence of man's restoration to God is described in terms of a spiritual regeneration resulting in a union of God's Spirit with man's spirit. So essential is that spiritual union, that in certain passages biblical expositors have difficulty telling whether the word "spirit" refers to God's Spirit or to the human spirit. This is not to say that God's Spirit is ever confused with the human spirit, for that would conflict with other New Testament passages, but simply to acknowledge the wonder of communion of God with man, and the challenge posed to the human mind to sort it all out.

    New Testament dualism would seem to be of the interactionist kind as distinct from the parallelist theory.  For the Spirit is said to "give life to these mortal bodies," and the body is described as a temple of the Holy Spirit. Further, the Christian believer is said to live by putting to death the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit, and the flesh wars against the Spirit. All this data coheres with the interactionist theory, but conflicts with the parallelist theory.

    Man as viewed from a New Testament perspective, however, is not complete in his immaterial aspect, but is considered to be "unclothed" in the intermediate state following the separation of the spirit from the body at death. Only a resurrection of the body can clothe him for his eternal destination. The nature of that resurrection body is made clear by the description of the risen Christ who ate physical food with his followers while on earth and challenged their skepticism when they thought him to be a ghost: "Handle me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see that I have." 

    On the other hand, the resurrection body was of a supernatural character as evidenced by Christ's sudden appearance to his disciples who were behind closed doors, and by his ascension. Since the New Testament states that every Christian will be given a resurrection body like that of Christ's, the nature of man's immortal being need no longer be a subject of philosophical debate. This is certainly the case inasmuch as the argument for Christ's resurrection on the basis of historical probability has been challenged time and again over the centuries but never successfully.

    Logical positivists will continue to deny the resurrection on the grounds that the event is not demonstrable in the laboratories of our day. When they argue in that vein, they are pushing "scientism" rather than pure science. To rule out the resurrection of Christ on an a priori basis, as though God is under obligation to perform at man's command to satisfy man's intellectual curiosity rather than to carry out His own purpose, denies the very definition of Supreme Being. But then, as Thomas Davis has stated and we have noted, logical positivists also defend the behaviorist theory of the human mind which simply does not account for some of the activity of the mind.

    In his fictional story entitled "Strange Behavior," Davis includes an interesting twist that ought not to be overlooked. He states that the behaviorism of the citizens of Gamma includes a belief in "life after death, which they imagine to be a physical resurrection of the body that occurs at some far distant time." Davis seems to be arguing that the bodily resurrection is consistent with the behaviorist concept that the mind equals observable behavior. From that standpoint, the logical positivist ought to see the resurrection event as recorded in the New Testament as expressing the Mind of Deity. The number of first-hand witnesses (over five hundred on one occasion), and the fact that the event is so historically verifiable ought to settle the matter even especially for the logical positivist! 

    The problem arises when the logical positivist imposes the methodology of the experimental scientist upon the role of the historian. The experimental scientist and the historian both employ inductive reasoning, but each considers a different kind of data. Whether or not an event can be duplicated in a clinical laboratory has nothing to do with whether the event actually happened and was observed in human history. 
    To be sure, there ought to be, and there has been, an ongoing observable effect of the historic resurrection of Christ for all who would inquire, but it is not an effect designed to satisfy mere intellectual curiosity.  There is observable evidence in the world today of those who bear the image of Christ and exhibit a lifestyle characterized by good works that come as an authentic expression of the heart.  Jesus called them the light of the world.  They are luminaries in a world of darkness with respect to moral and spiritual isues.  
    We noted in the discussion of experimental religion as a category of epistemology that "faith" was defined by a New Testament writer as  "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  But not all have faith.  For those who insist that objectivity can only be found in the ranks of the uncommitted, the best they can hope for is the proof represented by historical probability.  That is as far as inductive reasoning can take us.  Faith takes us beyond abstract inductive reasoning--it is a participation of the heart--a spiritual tasting or partaking of that which the physical senses cannot touch.