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Mind-body dualism and Orthodoxy?

Maksim

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Lately I've been reading a book by Frank Tipler, a physicist from Tulane, entitled "The Physics of Christianity".  It's one of those wonderfully wacky eschatological physics books, though this particular physicist argues that modern physics points the way to (what he considers) traditional Christianity.  It's a bit out there at times, but I must say it's the first physics book I've read with the Nicene Creed in the appendix!

In any event, in the book he argues that traditional mind-body dualism (and the belief the soul is by nature immortal) is a form of Gnosticism.  His view appears to be that our souls arise from physical matter, and exist in the physical world as patterns.  In other words, they are essentially computer programs, which "naturally" cease when the mortal body dies.  The soul, however, does not actually cease to exist because God continues to sustain it (Tipler likens this to computer emulation) while awaiting the Resurrection, where the soul is reunited with its body. 

Can anyone comment on this view, or point me to any Orthodox thinkers who have considered the mind-body problem?


 

Asteriktos

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While certainly not the traditional belief(s), some of his premises are not too wacky. If you are going to take the traditional position that only God is truly uncreated and immaterial, then it stands to reason that everything from angels to the soul must, at least to some extent, be material. Also, the soul isn't by nature immortal, but it is said to only be immortal by God's continuing grace. John of Damascus touched on both concepts when he said:

"An angel, then, is an intelligent essence, in perpetual motion, with free-will, incorporeal, ministering to God, having obtained by grace an immortal nature: and the Creator alone knows the form and limitation of its essence. But all that we can understand is, that it is incorporeal and immaterial. For all that is compared with God Who alone is incomparable, we find to be dense and material. For in reality only the Deity is immaterial and incorporeal." - Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 2, 3

The same would apply to humans, though I don't have any quotes right at hand dealing specifically with that. Anyway, paradoxes are funny things, curious problems for philosophers, delightful solutions for theologians.
 

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I don't find the gentleman's description to be too off base.
He is correct that the concept of an eternal soul is a heresy. We believe in immortal souls, but only because God grants then such longevity. But the soul is created when God inputes one to each of us
 

Maksim

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I agree that he's clearly right to deny that the soul is somehow self-sufficient outside of God.  Mind-body dualism could still be true, however, without the soul being naturally immortal.

I suppose my question is more regarding the "mind/soul as software" aspect.  If mind-body dualism is wrong, then it would seem that the mind is a "pattern" in the physical world.  Would this not open up possibilities (which Tipler is comfortable with, but probably seem alien to most Christians) such as artificial intelligence with actual internal mental lives?  Or the transferring of consciousness from a living being to a sufficiently powerful computer? 

I suppose mind-body dualism doesn't rule out such things entirely, but Tipler's view would seem to guarantee their possibility.

 

Heorhij

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Hi Maksim, welcome to the forum!

I can't really say much about the software business, but I do think that some Orthodox thinkers were, indeed, not comfortable with various teachings (possibly of the Gnostic origin) about an "independent existence" and "experiences" of "pure," bodiless" human "souls." Fr. Alexander Schmeman wrote rather sarcastically about these mystic ponderings, not as much in his theology books as in his "Journals." If you read in Russian, here's a good link:

http://www.krotov.info/libr_min/25_sh/shme/man_41.htm

All best,

George (Heorhij)
 

BrotherAidan

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Maksim said:
I agree that he's clearly right to deny that the soul is somehow self-sufficient outside of God.  Mind-body dualism could still be true, however, without the soul being naturally immortal.

I suppose my question is more regarding the "mind/soul as software" aspect.  If mind-body dualism is wrong, then it would seem that the mind is a "pattern" in the physical world.  Would this not open up possibilities (which Tipler is comfortable with, but probably seem alien to most Christians) such as artificial intelligence with actual internal mental lives?  Or the transferring of consciousness from a living being to a sufficiently powerful computer? 

I suppose mind-body dualism doesn't rule out such things entirely, but Tipler's view would seem to guarantee their possibility.
Well,
I don't suppose that those who will attempt anything simply because we can, will be influenced one way or another by eternal souls, created souls or patterns. Although artificial intelligence may be created with its own pattern, we cannot confer immortality on such - only God can and it doesn't seem that he will be preserving the pattern and resurrecting the hardware of machines at any point in the eschaton. And even if one's consciousness could be preserved in a powerful computer, if it were even possible, it would have no bearing on God's treatment of that soul. Think about it - trapped in a computer! That would be the beginning of hell. It would be a decided lack of faith, so I don't think Christians would be attempting that kind of preservation. Maybe God would allow it as a sort of living hell, however? Scary thought.
 

Maksim

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Thanks for the Schmemann link, George.  Among other things, I have learned that my Russian abilities have eroded more than I had thought!

BrotherAidan said:
Maybe God would allow it as a sort of living hell, however? Scary thought.
One thing I will say for Tipler is that he does turn a lot of "transhumanist" thinking on its head.  He's one of the few who understands that there's a fatal flaw in the "eternal life through science" paradigm:  Computers aren't immortal either!

I have discovered that when many atheists speak of "eternal life" they actually mean "a very long time compared to our current lifespans".  But of course, that's not eternal at all, by Christian standards.
 

Heorhij

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Maksim said:
Thanks for the Schmemann link, George.  Among other things, I have learned that my Russian abilities have eroded more than I had thought!

(...)

I have discovered that when many atheists speak of "eternal life" they actually mean "a very long time compared to our current lifespans".  But of course, that's not eternal at all, by Christian standards.
You are very welcome, Maksim. Is Russian your parents' language? If it is and you are concerned that you are losing it, please feel free to communicate in Russian with me, off-list - I would be most happy to help. I have two "first" languages - my parents' Russian and my grandfather's and my wife's Ukrainian; English is a distant second, learned in Soviet school...

As for the eternal life as atheists understand it, oh yes, yes!!! I remember one correspondent of the Ukrainian Web site, "Maidan," who wrote in this regard: "Just WHY do people think that ETERNAL means VERY-VERY-VERY LONG?? It just aint' it!" Curiously, not only atheists seem to confuse eternality with "something very-very-very long," but Jehovah's Witnesses, too. Their theology of "resurrection of a part of the humankind for eternal life on Paradise Earth" is based exactly on the notion that "eternal" equals "very-very-very... (very-)-very long." It does not mean that at all, though - eternality means extemporality, being outside of the realm of time (as well as space), it cannot mean anything else...
 
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