27 November 2011

The Agnostic Inquirer | Spirit interacting with matter

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This is part of a series of posts in response to "The Agnostic Inquirer" by Menssen & Sullivan.

This post will be short, but I had to speak on it as I was surprised by it. Menssen and Sullivan cover the objection that an immaterial mind cannot interact with matter:
How could a spiritual entity interact with the physical order? How could a god, an immaterial mind, affect or move matter? If mind cannot interact with matter, then a supernatural entity cannot create a natural or physical world.

Admittedly, we have no idea how mind can move matter. But how big a problem is this? It could be monumental if it were not for one thing: in the end, we have no idea how matter moves matter. Despite what is sometimes said, we do not actually experience physical causality in any deep way. We see that matter moves matter in some sense, but we do not see why or how it happens. We see someone throw a pencil across the room: we can see the hand grasp the pencil, we can see the arm move back, and we cna see the pencil leave the hand and fly across the room. We do not, however, see the causation. Hume was right on this point: all we have are laws associating causes with effects.

While their point might be valid (I'm not an expert in physics and causality debates), what is the harm in backing up to change the question from how to whether? If they grant that we see that matter moves matter... how about establishing that mind moves matter instead of derailing the train onto discussions of why and how? There are a whole host of assumptions at play:

1) A non-physical realm exists
2) A mind can exist without a physical brain
3) A non-physical mind existing in the non-physical realm can interact with the physical realm

While we might not know how matter moves matter, our ability to know that it happens has established areas of study like static and dynamic mechanics, fluid flow, heat transfer, and the like. We can design bridges to sustain various loads, hydraulic devices which take advantage of force/pressure relationships and incompressible fluids, etc. Our ability to know that matter interacts with matter enables us to do all kinds of useful things.

What has been verified, experienced, or predicted as the result of the hypothesis that an immaterial mind can affect or move matter? The cause of the universe? Apparent miracles? These seem more like unexplained phenomenon explained by unexplained phenomenon.

This probably belongs more in a discussion of causality and determinism, but it gets fuzzy to me how we can allow intervention by an immaterial mind (will) and still maintain physical causality. Let's say a very devout and holy man is playing pool in a competition to win money for his starving family. As he makes his last shot, he prays that god would hear him and help him win. If god's immaterial mind granted the request and compensated for his slightly off shot by "tweaking" the cue ball or the ball it impacted so that he sunk the shot... how would that mesh with the realm of physics? We could know with high confidence the outcome of the shot as soon as the ball was struck -- both masses, angle of incidence, velocity, resistance of the felt, etc. The unknowns would be the exact position of all fibers in the felt and their effect, the minute air currents in the room, etc. Even so, these are fairly negligible. Let's say that initial calculations resulted in 99% confidence that the ball would miss the pocket, yet it sank. Furthermore, let's say that this continued to happen again and again. Why should anything be predictable, then? If god is able to violate physical laws, how should we behave when it comes to behaving as if physical laws are... well... laws?

In any case, I think there's a lot more to this than simply claiming that since we don't understand matter/matter interactions, there's nothing wrong with positing mind/matter interactions. We observe one, even if we lack understanding. We neither observe definitively nor understand the second.


nr said...

Thank you for sharing this information.
It will really helpful to solve my confusion

Process $ Chemical Engineering

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