On Being Alive
Being Alive: that's the title of our next chapter, which reflects on the question of What is life? It begins with Goethe's aphoristic attempt at an answer: "Where subject and object touch, there is life."
I would agree. Except this just kicks the definition down -- or up? -- the semantic road, since we then have to inquire into the meaning of "subject" and "object." I define the former as the cosmic interior, the latter as the cosmic exterior; or, one might say "vertical" and "horizontal."
Only living things have both an interior and an exterior, and the evolution of life charts the progressive exploration and expansion of the interior horizon. The human interior is much wider, higher, and deeper than that of any animal. And in the competition between human philosophies, the most expansive wins.
Now, having said that, Whitehead believed -- and science confirms -- that everything has an interior, however attenuated, otherwise it wouldn't be a thing.
In other words, everything is form + substance, else it couldn't exist. There can be no form without substance, nor any substance without form. It's just that the human form is both conscious of itself and capable of virtually infinite expansion.
Conversely a rock or a reptile or a Reverend Sharpton simply is what it is. (Although humans, and humans alone, can also be what they are not, which is a-hole nether slobject.)
I've been looking at this new Portrait of Aquinas, and he makes the same point vis-a-vis the human soul.
Note the predicate "human." For Aquinas, everything has a soul (i.e., form), for reasons alluded to above. Human beings are pure animal from top to bottom, except they have a very different sort of soul-interior, i.e., a rational one (and rational here implies much more -- and less -- than just logic).
Caldecott reviews some of the scientific explanations of Life. For example, life represents a "local reversal of entropy," which reduces us to mere fugitives from the second law of thermodynamics. And like the Mounties, entropy always gets its man.
A living thing resists entropy by maintaining an open system, exchanging matter, energy, or information with the environment. As it so happens, my doctoral dissertation was on just this subject (among others), applying insights from the study of dissipative structures to the mind. Little did I know that 25 years later I'd be blah-blah-blogging about it.
So, life is, in one sense, entropy-resistance, and as one wise revtile once put it, resist we much!
Caldecott poses a coonundrum for us: "Of what is death the absence?" "For someone facing the prospect of his own extinction, the answer must be more than a simple description of what happens when his body turns into a corpse."
For one thing, that's not death, that's after death. Can we even experience our own death? Apparently not, because only life can experience anything; in a sense life is experience.
For Aquinas, "a dead body is only a 'body' in a manner of speaking.... A dead person is not a person in the unfortunate condition of being dead. A dead person is what was once a person, but now is not.... Likewise, an animal body is what the corpse was before it died" (Turner).
So the corpse, really, is neither human body nor human soul, since those two always appear together.
So... what happened to Jesus on the cross? Did he experience death? This is discussed in chapter IX of this fascinating (and challenging) little book I'm reading, Jesus Purusha (which is later referenced in Caldecott's book). In it, the author asks how there can "be continuity of consciousness, if Jesus really died? Are we not demanding the logically impossible?"
No. Davie resolves this question by noting that the essence of Jesus's consciousness revolves around "surrender to the Father," so that "continuity of consciousness is preserved in the Other to whom the surrender is made."
It very much reminds me of Hindu and Buddhist doctrines to the effect that if we die before we die, then we do not die. What Davie is suggesting is that Jesus represents the real historical embodiment of the mythological dream. Much more on Davie's book later.
Way out of time. To be continued....