The danger of analogy for Mormon cosmology

November 5, 2009    By: Guest @ 7:01 pm   Category: Spirits/Intelligences,Theology

A guest post submitted by our good friend J. Stapley:

In this post, I hope to successfully describe what I believe to be a prominent and persistent failing among individuals seeking to explore Mormon cosmology. Specifically, I will describe the common use of analogy, its limitations and highlight how, when employed in the exploration of Mormon thought, it frequently yields conclusions that are highly unreliable.

When forming an analogy, an individual takes a source and then maps attributes onto a target. For an analogy to be successful, both the source and the target have to be systemically continuous. That is to say, they have to be playing by the same rules. Furthermore, for any likelihood that the analogy be accurate, the observer has to be aware of the rules.

Let’s look at some historical examples of failed analogies and how they relate to the two requirements of likely analogical success:

In the nineteenth century, and for a number of reasons, scientists grew to believe that the universe was filled with a substance called the ether (or aether) which was necessary to transmit electromagnetic waves. If you want the whole skinny the development of the idea, there are many sources, but simply put, scientists used as the source of analogy, those systems in which they could readily describe the propagation of waves. Waves travel in matter, for example water. They then mapped certain attributes of the source onto a hypothetical ether. Now I think we would all agree that waves in water and light waves are systemically continuous. It was fair for individuals not to believe that whereas waves in water are natural, light waves are supernatural. However, because the people making the analogy didn’t understand the rules of nature, their analogy was deeply flawed.

Another example of failed analogy is the model of the atom. Neils Bohr mapped certain attributes of the solar system onto a target structure of atoms. As the planets revolve around the sun, so to do electrons revolve around the nucleus, he thought. The failure of this analogy can be read as a failure of both requirements for success. As of right now, general relativity (which is our best method of describing the solar system) and quantum mechanics (which is our best method of describing the atom) are discontinuous. They don’t use the same rules. Now many might have faith that there is a set of universal and unified rules, but we don’t know them yet. Neils Bohr certainly didn’t know the rules.

So what does this mean for Mormon cosmology? First people making analogies to describe Mormon cosmology assume that the system is continuous and that they understand the rules. Both of these assumptions are simply not tenable. Let’s take a look at the existence of spirits:

Do spirits follow the same rules that the observable universe does? No. If they did, then we would be able to predict and observe spiritual phenomena according to our current models. Even if there are grand rules by which all things operate, both spiritual and observable, we are completely unaware of them. Because of this systemic discontinuity, any analogy made has a tremendous likelihood of being faulty.

We look at our bodies and observe the incredibly complex material mechanics necessary for cognition. A possible analogy would be to map those mechanics of cognition onto a spirit body. When people have visions of spirits, seeing them with purer eyes if you will, they perceive bodies in similar form to our own. Spirits consequently need to have spirit matter –carbon, hydrogen, calcium, etc.-and breathe spirit oxygen to enjoy cognition. Unfortunately, because we don’t know the rules of spiritual existence, this analogy is most certainly false. Just like the ether necessary to propagate light. Similar analogies made between the discontinuous systems are all equally unlikely. Any real understanding of spirits, beyond their revealed existence is simply impossible without data.

Sound, light and my body are all waves, but what that means is very different in each case, and this is within a system where we generally comprehend the rules. How different might existence be, temporal and spiritual, where the rules are beyond our comprehension?

128 Comments »

  1. I think you did a good job with your Neils Bohr analogy. It really made it very clear to me. Thanks.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 5, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

  2. Do spirits follow the same rules that the observable universe does? No. If they did, then we would be able to predict and observe spiritual phenomena according to our current models.

    I don’t think that follows. It might follow laws (regularities) our physics doesn’t account for. But then there’s already phenomena that does that! I think to assume that we’d be able to predict and observe it if it followed the same rules as everything else is just unwarranted. Dark matter is a relatively recent discovery. For years folks didn’t know about it and no one is yet sure what it is. But I think everyone agrees it follows the same rules as the rest of the observerable universe.

    Comment by Clark — November 5, 2009 @ 8:09 pm

  3. Clark, for all intents and purposes, dark matter does not follow the rules; though it does apparently follow part of them (i.e., gravity). Still, we need new rules to account for it. If our spirits can’t be predicted or observed by our rules, they are necessarily outside of those rules (tautology notwithstanding).

    Thanks Matt.

    Dark matter is actually a pretty good test bed for poor analogy. What sort of analogies can you make between dark matter and regular matter (besides mass)?

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 5, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

  4. …let me follow up with the idea noted in my post that there very well may be some grand unified theory for not only quantum gravity but spirits. We have to deal with what we have, however. I do imagine that if we had such a unified theory, we would have skads of data on spirits, which would make our pathetic analogies look rather quaint.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 5, 2009 @ 8:33 pm

  5. If they did, then we would be able to predict and observe spiritual phenomena according to our current models

    Come on. We can’t even predict, understand, and observe a very large number of things about ordinary matter of the sort we already know about.

    As a general epistemological question, I agree that there are many things we don’t know and which we may not know for a very long time. However, that doesn’t exactly rule out the reasonable application of abductive logic, or inference to the best explanation.

    Democritus predicted the existence of atoms 2400 years before anyone had ever seen one. That didn’t occur till the early 1980s. So was he just lucky? Or did he apply the best natural philosophy that was available at the time, natural philosophy which in most respects is as valid today as it was then.

    How exactly do scientists figure out which experiments to run? Pull numbers out of a hat? On the contrary, they speculate by applying the most reasonable model they can think of to the available data. The realm where science meets the unknown is fundamentally a philosophical enterprise. The best scientists are the ones who can best anticipate the way the world really is, so they can design an experiment to measure it.

    In terms of rationality of explanation a full blown magical world just isn’t very likely. The reason, again is the law of parsimony. Things that are radically more complex than they need to be just aren’t found in the real world. And there is *nothing* more complex or incomprehensible than out and out magic.

    So I suppose one can adopt an essentially anti-scientific and unavoidably irrational view about everything we don’t understand yet, but historically that approach has been a manifest failure, time after time after time. The aether is a stunning success by comparison – at least it was an experimental setup based on some sort of coherent prediction, the faith to believe that the world out there really could be understood, that the world was something more than the irreconcilably magical, subjective, and absurd.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 5, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

  6. On the contrary, they speculate by applying the most reasonable model they can think of to the available data.

    Having been a long participated in this activity, I can assure you that the vast majority of experimentation does not confirm those speculations.

    I’m not arguing for a magic world view, I’m arguing that your analogies have a likelihood of validity that approaches zero.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 5, 2009 @ 9:03 pm

  7. er, …having long participated… (I do have a few successes under my belt though)

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 5, 2009 @ 9:04 pm

  8. The analogy (ha!) between the discontinuous systems of GR and QM and those of mortal and spiritual mechanics is a beauty. For me, it really captures the scope of the (probable) disconnect.

    Here’s an amusing thought: assuming the scientifically inclined among us had a decent understanding of what I just called spiritual mechanics, how much did we know about mortal mechanics?

    Then again, perhaps the former reduces to the latter in the appropriate limit?

    Comment by Ben Pratt — November 5, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

  9. JS: Ignorance is a remarkably easy position to defend. I have never met any of you, how do I know that you aren’t a figment of my imagination? That I am not a brain in a vat somewhere?

    The thing about natural philosophy is that is general enough to describe any law governed system anywhere. In other words, if the world isn’t magical, natural philosophy will cover it. It is just a matter of details.

    What we do know is that shape shifting by something with no parts is positively impossible to model with any system of natural laws. In fact, it is worse – all non trivial shapes have parts – that is what a shape is. Even if the interior of the entity is composed of non-particulate gelatinous glue, the shape itself has parts.

    Suppose the mind that occupies that gelatinous shape has a thought. Guess what? That thought is a “part”, in the sense it is part of the whole. Now suppose the mind here wants to change its gelatinous form to something else.

    Per assumption, no communication is required – the entire gelatinous shape has the same thought simultaneously (it has no parts). Problem number one is the idea of a new shape has parts.

    Problem number two is the different non-part parts of the gelatinous blob need to move in different directions to form a new shape, unless the non-part parts “materialize” out of nothing.

    So how does the non-part part “know” which direction to move? Per assumption, all of the non-part parts have exactly the same thoughts, because they are as non-part-like as possible. That means it is impossible for the non-part parts to be cognizant of where they are in this gelatinous shape.

    And of course there can’t be any internal forces or communication, because an internal force is a part, as is any sort of non-uniform internal communication of any kind.

    In other words, the internal logic of any non-magical system without material parts demands that it be completely unable to change in any visible respect whatsoever. All changes are changes in parts, formal parts, material parts, some kind or properties or parts.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 5, 2009 @ 9:26 pm

  10. Just like something can’t be both a wave and a particle, Mark?

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 5, 2009 @ 9:33 pm

  11. Nope. Waves have parts. In Bohmian mechanics the particles are always coupled to waves, but the particle does not change to a wave and then back. The particle essentially rides on the multi-particle coupled wave. This model is fully consistent with the statistics predicted by the conventional model.

    Bohr is an excellent example of what not to do, by the way. The Bohr model is based on the idea that the world isn’t real, or more explicitly that it is not there until we look at it. That is about as anti-scientific as you can get.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 5, 2009 @ 9:41 pm

  12. Let me just reiterate my main point that, your brain being in a vat aside: that you have absolutely zero evidence for physical continuity between what is independently observable and spiritual existence. Your analogies also have approximately zero likelihood of being valid. That is all.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 5, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

  13. Do spirits follow the same rules that the observable universe does? No.

    I think the proper answer to this is “we have no idea”.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 5, 2009 @ 10:10 pm

  14. Mark,

    I agree with Stapley that your #9 fails. You are unsuccessfully trying to apply the rules to generally grasp on to spirits. Sure there is some chance you are right, it is just not a high chance.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 5, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

  15. JS: That is a legitimate opinion, of course. Probabilities are notoriously hard to estimate, the most useful ones are subjective (i.e. Bayesian), right?

    The main problem I see here is the theological desire to attribute enormous sophistication to something that is metaphysically simple.

    Classical theology has exactly that that problem with respect to God, and as a consequence the metaphysical simplicity of God (no body, parts, or passions) is accepted as an orthodox article of faith, even where it appears to be logically self contradictory.

    Mormon theology, on the other hand, tends to have the same problem not with respect to a single eternal being, but rather with respect to every individual in the universe. Formal distinctions aside, the easiest way by far is to conclude that the eternal part of man has neither parts nor a body, for exactly the same reasons that classical theologians conclude that God doesn’t – to make his existence metaphysically necessary, with no beginning, no end, nor possibility of being created or destroyed.

    And then if you discard pre-mortal and post-mortal pre-resurrection bodies as superfluous, most of the problem goes away, right? No spirit bodies at all. That is Geoff J’s position is it not?

    Comment by Mark D. — November 5, 2009 @ 10:29 pm

  16. Geoff J, like I said, if the world of spirits is magical, all bets are off. Natural philosophy is only useful for systems that are governed by law.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 5, 2009 @ 10:32 pm

  17. Mark,

    Your bleating cries of “magic” about everything we don’t understand (like the rules regarding spirit for instance) are getting pathetic. It need not be magic to be completely different than what we currently know. While I don’t like the mysteries of God polluted with logical nonsense I also don’t appreciate it when people derisively claim actual spiritual mysteries are “magic” if they don’t strictly match the few mundane rules we understand.

    Look, believe what you want about spirits but at some point you might need to come to grip with the fact that your arguments aren’t particularly persuasive on the subject. (If it makes you feel any better, mine aren’t either)

    Comment by Geoff J — November 5, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

  18. And then if you discard pre-mortal and post-mortal pre-resurrection bodies as superfluous, most of the problem goes away, right? No spirit bodies at all. That is Geoff J’s position is it not?

    Yeah, pretty much.

    (At least it is until I change my mind again on the subject…)

    Comment by Geoff J — November 5, 2009 @ 10:50 pm

  19. Geoff J: I also don’t appreciate it when people derisively claim actual spiritual mysteries are “magic” if they don’t strictly match the few mundane rules we understand.

    Your comment confuses (or accuses me of confusing) epistemological and metaphysical questions. There are many things we do not understand, i.e. mysteries.

    I have never claimed that anything we don’t understand is magical. In fact my position is precisely the opposite – that everything, mysteries included, are not magical, that they are in fact phenomena governed by law, and subject to rational analysis.

    So if I ever suggest a proposition appears to be “magical”, all that is neccessary to refute it is come up with any hypothesis, however wild or unlikely, that explains how such a phenomenon might work in some system governed by law.

    Scientists do this all the time – that is where “dark matter” came from. Dark matter is a mystery. No one knows whether dark matter exists, it is simply a hypothesis based on the principle that the material universe is governed by law.

    If the material universe isn’t governed by law, then the hypothesis of dark matter is entirely superfluous. If the spiritual universe isn’t governed by law, likewise virtually anything we can say about it.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 5, 2009 @ 10:55 pm

  20. The problem Mark is that you consistently make arguments about the spirit world based on what you know about the non-spirit world. When people suggest that perhaps X or Y is possible in the spirit world you cry “magic!” if you don’t like the suggestion. But if the law of the spirit world allows X and Y it is not magic at all. Since none of us know anything about the laws of the spirit world none of us have a basis to know what is possible or not.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 5, 2009 @ 11:21 pm

  21. Geoff J, When I say that a phenomenon does not appear to be explainable in terms of a system governed by law, I am claiming that there is no logically consistent explanation in any possible world governed by law – doesn’t matter what the world consists of or what the laws are, just as long as they are laws.

    Take for example assertion that something has a shape but doesn’t have parts. That is dangerously close to a logical contradiction because shapes have externally visible parts by definition – that is what makes it a shape.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 6, 2009 @ 12:03 am

  22. Geoff: As an example, there is certainly a possible law governed world where a worm hole could open up along the path of the earth’s orbit and we end up intact 100,000 light years away.

    But there is almost certainly not a possible law governed world where the earth enters the worm hole as a planet on one end and comes out in the form of a piano on the other.

    Systems that trivially change spherically symmetric objects into pianos simply aren’t law governed under any conceivable set of logically consistent, generally mathematically reducible laws.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 6, 2009 @ 12:15 am

  23. That’s all well and good Mark. And the next time I meet someone who insists on the ever-popular “spirits are literally gelatinous blobs” theory of spirits I’ll be sure to direct them to your insightful comment #9 in this thread.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 6, 2009 @ 12:26 am

  24. I think there can also be just as much danger in non-analogy.

    As a mechanical engineer, much of what I do is based on Newtonian physics. Sure there is some phenomena at the very extremes of experience where this doesn’t work anymore. But WOW, what tremendous progress has been made, and continues to be made based on Newton.

    Our analogies are not perfect, but they pave the way for communicating ideas, and lay a framework for future progress.

    Where would we be without people willing to make analogies? Did not Christ use several when he taught? Incredibly useful things. And I am struggling to see what the alternative is.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — November 6, 2009 @ 5:18 am

  25. Some relevant scriptures:

    D&C 128:13

    And

    1 Cor 15:46-48

    Comment by Eric Nielson — November 6, 2009 @ 6:11 am

  26. Stapley, I now dub thee the Mormon Hume. :)

    Nice post.

    Comment by Ben — November 6, 2009 @ 6:43 am

  27. Geoff J, “gelatinous blob” is just a mental picture of what a spirit body would be like if it did not have any internally differentiable parts. Like a figurine carved out of Jello. I don’t know how else to describe it.

    In principle, the vision idea you describe could be much less objectionably applied to a whole world of spirits. For example, George Berkeley famously claimed that the whole world was an idea in the mind of God.

    We don’t need to go anywhere near that far. All we need is for spirits to be able to project their appearance into the perceptions of other nearby spirits. Then you could have a whole world of spirits conducting a normal society while presenting the appearance to each other of having a normal body.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 6, 2009 @ 7:33 am

  28. Much less objectionably applied than the idea of amorphous spirit bodies, of course.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 6, 2009 @ 7:42 am

  29. I agree with Eric Nielson. The models may not be perfect but they are a starting point. Without models and seeing where they fail or succeed in describing reality there can be no progress.

    Problem with spirit matter, is that our data set is fuzzy and basically fixed – no new data. Still, we can reason based off it. Create a model, see where it fails, refine, repeat.

    Comment by A. Davis — November 6, 2009 @ 7:52 am

  30. Eric, to be certain, analogies can be very effective when the constraints of the original post are met. Newtonian physics is a great example. I imagine that every case in which it has been successful conforms to these stipulations of systemic continuity. Another example of where analogy is rather efficacious is legal theory.

    Those scriptures are also important to show that analogy is something completely different than metaphor. When someone says baptism is the grave, there are particular limits. Metaphors are wonderful, and generally not used to flush out cosmology. In fact, I think that you in particular would tend to reject metaphorical interpretations.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 6, 2009 @ 8:32 am

  31. …also Eric, I think you would agree that spiritual phenomena don’t particularly follow Newtonian physics, right? Simultaneous and instantaneous answer to prayer, e.g.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 6, 2009 @ 8:36 am

  32. Excuse me J., I am a bit thown off by someone agreeing with me on anything…….

    Okay.

    I do like my religion to be concrete and non-mysterious.

    When thinking about prayer, I have speculated about infinite spirits being part of a vast network that allows for those types of answers. Kind of like the verizon team that you see on the commercials, but with spirits communicating on behalf of God. That’s how far I go sometimes to guess how things work so as to avoid things being to mysterious.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — November 6, 2009 @ 9:45 am

  33. Eric, that is a pretty good fix for the questions surrounding prayer. I’ve had similar ideas myself. But we need to fully accept that they are wild speculation based on our current views and objectively have a tremendously high likelihood of being absolutely wrong.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 6, 2009 @ 10:31 am

  34. Sure. But I do think there is value in attempting to make sense of things. But we ought to be somewhat humble in these attempts.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — November 6, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

  35. J. Stapley,

    As a long-time complainer about the limits of metaphor and analogy I am with you to a large extent. However, I think you are taking the argument too far for practical purposes (not for theoretical purposes). I think the brain-in-a-vat and the Hume references above are important for this reason.

    From a philosophical standpoint, folks like Hume have made seemingly air-tight arguments against the most basic aspects of rational thought. If you undermine induction, as Hume successfully did, you undermine the basis of nearly everything we believe. The brain-in-a-vat thought experiment is a winning one in the sense that there is no solution to that problem (from a theoretical standpoint). The thing is, we continue to live lives in which we confidently make assumptions based on induction and we assume the reality of the people and world around us. From a practical standpoint, it turns out to be pretty much impossible to take the crushing limits of epistemology seriously.

    That gets me to your point in this post. While I accept the validity of your complaint here, I just don’t think there is any belief that cannot be called into question in the sense you’re calling it into question here. I think a reasonable argument could be made that rational thought in humans is unavoidably analogical. Consider for example Skousen’s linguistic theory of analogical modeling. We use analogical reasoning to approach every new thing we run into because it seems we have no way to approach something new other than by analogy to what we know.

    Now, in the specific case you bring up in the post (assuming spirit matter is like regular matter), you want to suggest a limitation that is less crushing than, say, Hume’s critique of induction. Your warning about over-assuming that the spiritual is just like the physical is well taken.

    However, I think you are missing an important piece of the puzzle here. For things in the spiritual realm, we are obviously at a great disadvantage compared to the physical sciences. In this realm, we rely greatly on revelation to understand the spiritual world and often that revelation gets to us in second, third, forth, etc. hand accounts. We take as a starting point scriptures and statements made by prophets (which are all in dispute to begin with) and we add on top of those statements reasoning to make sense of them. In this case, we have a canonized statement of Joseph Smith which suggests a basic similarity between spirit and matter. To discount that statement based on an argumet about analogical reasoning is to miss the fact that revelation is the basis of the whole enterprise.

    Of course anyone can come along during that process and say “hey idiots, you are probably wrong on most of the things you are suggesting” and they will be right. But what are we supposed to do instead? This question strikes me very much the same way I am struck by the problem of epistemology. I am willing to concede the uncertainty of it all, but I go about trying to make sense of the world as best I can in the mean time anyway.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 6, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

  36. Jacob, thanks for the thoughtful response.

    While I agree with the practical limits of such limits, I disagree with you regarding where they are. As noted, analogies function really quite well in certain circumstances. In others, not so much. I just don’t see how anyone would be willing to concede that analogical reasoning in certain areas is essentially unfruitful and yet engage in it anyway.

    With regard to revelation, and I agree that it is appropriate data for believers, I don’t see a problem in integrating it as data, with the understanding of what it is.

    Joseph Smith’s secretary wrote the summary of his sermon:

    Speaking of eternal duration of matter he said There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter but is more fine or pure and can only be discerned by purer eyes. We cant see it but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.

    We each need to interpret what that means. He seems to be saying that when we are resurected (purified) we will be able to see spirit(s). Now, I think that a faulty analogy would be to say that spirit light will reflect of spirit matter and then be registered on the spirit cornea of resurected beings, which are made up of spirit oxygen, spirit hydrogen, and spirit carbon.

    I confess that I have no idea how either spirits or resurrected bodies “see.” I think the mechanics of seeing with purer eyes is not knowable, without data on spiritual existence.

    My wager is that you will not claim to know what spirit materiality means either.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 6, 2009 @ 7:34 pm

  37. Whether spirits are material or not, there isn’t the slightest reason to doubt that is what Joseph Smith meant when he said that “all spirit is matter” that was more “fine or pure”.

    The word “fine” here is indicative. We have fine flour, and fine sand. The alternative position is that Joseph Smith’s words here are nothing more than sound and fury, signifying nothing. That he went out of his way not to communicate anything at all. Tinkling cymbals, sounding brass, etc.

    which are made up of spirit oxygen, spirit hydrogen, and spirit carbon

    Spherical harmonics aside, where has anyone ever suggested that there is such a thing as “spirit oxygen”, or that spirit chemistry (if it exists) is anything like ordinary chemistry?

    The only argument around here is that spirit matter is actually material. No analogy required. It is logically impossible to have a real body that isn’t material in some sense or another. The alternative is a contradiction in terms. Either spirits have material bodies, or they don’t have real bodies at all. Real as in more than the figment of someone’s imagination, or a set of plans on a drawing board.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 7, 2009 @ 6:44 am

  38. I confess that I have no idea how either spirits or resurrected bodies “see.”

    The question of whether spirits have real bodies is somewhat open for reasonable dispute (re visions and the like). If the scriptures are to be trusted, however, the same is not the case with regard to resurrected bodies.

    Jesus visited his apostles after he was resurrected and made a point of demonstrating that his body was both real (i.e. not an illusion) and tangible:

    Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have…And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
    And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. (Luke 24:39-43)

    This is what the D&C has to say on the subject:

    Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy.(D&C 138:17)

    Sounds like a real body to me. One that as Orson Pratt said “has extension, and form, and dimensions…occupies space; has a body, parts, and passions; can go from place to place…can eat, drink, and talk”.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 7, 2009 @ 7:03 am

  39. I love a positivistic stance but too often I’ve been burned in the area where verifiability is not a strong contender against falsifiability. Especially when it comes to Spiritual experiences. I grant that a strict empiricists falsifiability construct cannot be applied to spiritual experiences vis a vis Ostlers’s work; and yet there are experiments which work on some level — Moroni 10:3-6.

    When you say: “Do spirits follow the same rules that the observable universe does?” My first response is No! Or else we’d have Newtonian verifiability here or even quantum falsifiability. But we do have experiments that work with far greater “strait line” predictability as Heisenberg could ever hope to ask for: as a missionary I could predict relative location (who) and intensity (yes, no, neutral) of an investigator attempting Moroni 10:3-6 falsifiability.

    So, I guess I’m leaning heavily on Ostler’s argument:
    “I suggest that there would be no possibility of new experiences that break out of the framework of existing paradigms and world-views or our prior interpretations if all experience were necessarily limited to our pre-interpretive framework of interpretation. Yet that is precisely what a conversion experience is–it reorients one’s entire view of the world and changes and alters the interpretive framework. Thus, it must be in some sense logically and experientially prior to interpretive experience.”

    In other words, the realm of the spiritual has strong (positivistic) personal, but weak (positivistic) general observations. The fact that we have at least one falsifiable experiment (i.e. Moroni 10:3-5) and potentially others (e.g. Alma 32/Matt 13, and Eric Nielsen correctly points to correlational models #25) that have general observations prowess leads me to believe that a positivistic and/or magical stance is/are not robust enough for this inquiry. Perhaps, JS, a list of basic, scripturally documented spiritual models; what they offer and where they break down? Or is it just the extra-cannonical analogies in cosmology and theology that give you grief?

    Comment by David G. — November 7, 2009 @ 7:56 am

  40. David G., thanks for the interesting thoughts. I think it is fair to view human experience as systematically continuous. And as you note, spiritual phenomena are fundamentally empirical in nature, whether answer to prayer or the effects of the atonement. Many have also seen how individual experiences map pretty well onto the experiences of others, even if we don’t understand the mechanics of those experiences. So as you say, there is predictive power.

    I’m suggesting that while speculation may be fun, it is generally folly and shouldn’t be used as a basis of cosmology. That is all really. I think some of the most ridiculous (and now discredited) ideas in our history have had as their genesis is based on discontinuous analogy. Analogy within continuous systems is great (e.g., legal theory).

    Mark, while we do see resurrected bodies walking around and eating fish, we also see them very shiny and flying through walls. But this really isn’t that important. Taking a fair reading of Joseph’s Sermon, he believed that a purified body (resurrected) could “see” spirits which were “pure.” What I am saying is that we don’t know how such beings “see” spirits. I don’t think it is by light refraction. Spirits apparently are discontinuous with the physics with which we currently understand.

    Now, all matter or material things don’t have to behave the same or have the same properties, viz., dark matter or entangled matter. It is folly to require all material things be constrained by your physics.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 7, 2009 @ 9:22 am

  41. …also I concede as Jacob notes that humans generally experience analogically. When Joseph Smith experienced a vision of spirits, for example, he is essentially bound to communicate that experience analogically or metaphorically.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 7, 2009 @ 9:26 am

  42. J,

    He seems to be saying that when we are resurected (purified) we will be able to see spirit(s).

    Right, and further, he says that when we see spirit(s) we will see that it is all matter. That is, we can’t tell what spirit is right now, but he wants to assure us that when we can finally see it we’ll realize that it is all matter. As you said, the question then becomes, what does it mean for something to be matter?

    Now, I think that a faulty analogy would be to say that spirit light will reflect of spirit matter and then be registered on the spirit cornea of resurected beings, which are made up of spirit oxygen, spirit hydrogen, and spirit carbon.

    Fair enough, I agree that assuming spiritual oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon would be to take the analogy farther than it is warranted. On the other hand, doesn’t the statement made by Joseph Smith require that some aspect of the analogy to hold in order for the statement to have any meaning whatsoever? This is my beef with the interpretive framework you are suggesting here, it seems to strip the statement of all meaning. It seems to strip the statement of the exact content Joseph Smith was trying to communicate.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 7, 2009 @ 10:02 am

  43. This is my beef with the interpretive framework you are suggesting here, it seems to strip the statement of all meaning. It seems to strip the statement of the exact content Joseph Smith was trying to communicate.

    I have not problem believing material spirits but having no idea about what the properties of that matter are. I’d be interested in hearing your ideas about what exact properties of observable matter you believe are justifiable mapped onto spirits: e.g., gravity?

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 7, 2009 @ 10:12 am

  44. Having established that Joseph’s statement relies for its meaning on some analogy to matter being valid, I’ll take a stab at how we should responsibly approach his statement.

    First, let’s consider the following conversation:

    Son: Dad, what are clouds made of?
    Dad: Well, son, they are made of water.
    Son: But they don’t look like water.
    Dad: That’s true, but some day you’ll understand that they are all made of water.

    What can the son reliably conclude from his new knowledge that clouds are made of water? Can he reliably infer that clouds seek their own level? Can he reliably infer that walking through a cloud would make him wet? Could he reliably conclude that clouds are heavier than air?

    I would suggest that the ultimate meaning of the analogy is limited first by the knowledge (type and extent) of the father. We cannot expect the father to impart knowledge he doesn’t have. If the father has a working knowledge of basic chemistry, I expect he has in mind ultimately something about water molecules in some phase state. If the father is living 1000 years ago, I expect the father has in mind that when it rains we see that water comes down from the clouds.

    The second piece of crucial context seems to be the intent of father. These days, we often give answers like the one above to our kids which are not especially helpful to them because the only sense in which we consider the question is in a scientific sense and so we tell our kids things that won’t mean much now but which we know they will be able to understand later when they get their first introductions to the world as understood by science. If the father was me and told his kids that clouds are made of God’s tears and when it rains it is because they have made God sad, then obviously we get something different out of the explanation.

    Okay, so where does this leave us with Joseph Smith. First, we can’t expect his statement to convey ideas that would have been foreign to him. This is one of the reasons assuming spirit oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon would be ridiculous. That can’t possibly be what Joseph had in mind. So, we’re looking for something within Joseph’s realm of understanding. Second, what kind of content was Joseph trying to convey? Was he trying to communicate information about elementary particles of spirit matter? Obviously not.

    My expectation of Joseph’s knowledge coupled with my inference about what type of information he was trying to convey lead me to conclude that Joseph was imparting knowledge he gained through personal experience with spiritual things/beings and that in saying spirit is matter he is drawing on common sense aspects of the nature of matter that his listeners would have in mind. Thus, when he says spirit is matter I assume he has in mind things like this:

    1. That spirit has real existence (is not all in our mind)
    2. That spirit behaves in predictable ways (don’t think “laws of physics” at the depth of your own understanding, but just common sense experience with matter as we know it.)
    3. That spirit has limitations in time and space
    4. That spirit has “physical” form
    5. That spirit can be seen and felt (nothing about retinas, here, since he didn’t know anything about them, rather, that he has seen spirits and the experience was just like seeing regular things)

    Those sorts of ideas are based on concepts that both he and his listeners would have in mind when defining something as matter. Those are the sort of things I believe he was trying to communicate when he said spirit is matter.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 7, 2009 @ 11:07 am

  45. Jacob, this is a good start, I would add further that when Joseph saw visions of spirits he had to translate them via analogy. So if he “saw” a spirit cloud, he would necessarily translate it via analogy to something comprehensible.

    So assuming that Joseph Smith had about the same level of understanding as his peers with regard to the nature of spiritual existence (beyond what he saw), then the metaphor to the father and the cloud breaks down a bit.

    With regards to your conclusions based on Joseph Smith’s analogy, these are my thoughts:

    1. right on.
    2. I have no idea what this means
    3. I don’t think this follows. This requires knowledge of modern physics.
    4. What does physical form mean? He saw them with spatial form, yes.
    5. Spirits can be seen by vision and not felt (e.g., shake hands).

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 7, 2009 @ 11:46 am

  46. Sorry for the time delay. I’ve been busy and my wife’s been sick so I’ve been taking care of her.

    J. Stapley, I think you are falling prey to the very point I was illustrating. Confounding the ontological and epistemological. Further the point of my analogy wasn’t an analogy between ontological things (as you took it as saw it as problematic) but as an analogy attempting to raise the issue of the epistemological and ontological divide.

    Let me repeat my point, hopefully a little clearer. No physicist seriously thinks, as you put it, that “dark matter does not follow the rules.” They think we don’t know it’s properties (and there are plenty of theories for it). But unless there is strong, strong evidence otherwise all the theories assume that it is regular, albeit perhaps exotic, matter. (Seriously – go through all the theories for dark matter and see)

    So what is going on is that you are taking ignorance of a property to be strong evidence for “does not follow the rules.” But that’s just completely illegitimate. Yes, it’s possible, but given that everything else does follow the rules highly unlikely. Further, if we are making metaphysical arguments (where the arguments are weak enough so as to preclude any real knowledge) then the issue is one of burden of proof. And in argument I think overwhelmingly the view that postulates by default something “completely other” is just a weak argument.

    Could we be wrong? Of course. But then with metaphysical arguments that’s always a live option. That’s partially why it isn’t real physics arguments.

    So once again to be clear, our ignorance is a epistemological matter. The claim of radically new matter completely different in properties from matter we know is an ontological claim and you just can’t get to the ontological from the epistemological the way you want.

    I think this parallels the arguments about spirit matter quite well. Could spirit matter be completely unlike matter? Perhaps. (And you’ll note I’ve often brought up those possibilities such as “intelligible matter” versus matter in neoPlatonism) However given that (a) encounters with spirits have them being phenomenological humanoid and material and (b) encounters with spirits have them having place I think the claim they are radically different matter is the weaker argument. This isn’t because of a weakness of analogy, as you suggest. But simply due to where the burden of proof is within metaphysical arguments. In effect, it’s a manifestation of Ockham’s Razor. Don’t multiply ontological categories until you have to.

    Comment by Clark — November 7, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

  47. Just to clarify, the metaphor with the father and the cloud was supposed to break down in the sense that the father has a different kind of knowledge about clouds than I expect Joseph has about matter. That was a big part of what I was trying to illustrate with the example, that we should not carry the analogy beyond the type of knowledge that the analogizer herself is in possession of.

    I want to add a point that I failed to mention last time, which is that Joseph’s opening about “no such thing as immaterial matter” puts his next statement into a philosophical/metaphysical context. He is clearly talking about the nature of spirit as a substance (please don’t think trinity here).

    You said you don’t know what I mean by matter behaving in predictable ways. What I am trying to capture is one of the most basic things about are interaction with matter. It has all kinds of crazy things is does, but they are basically consistent and predictable. You plate doesn’t walk off the table. Lead doesn’t float away. Metal is malleable when it is heated up. None of these is obvious outside of experience, but once we learn how things work (by observation) we see that their properties are consistent and predictably the same over time. We talk about things obeying the laws of nature, which is how we would express this idea. I’m just saying you don’t need to understand solid-state physics to understand this about matter.

    You said understanding that matter has limitations in time and space requires knowledge of modern physics. I disagree. The way I stated it is indicative of my knowledge of modern physics, but the concept of matter as something that has a place and exists in a given time doesn’t rely on modern physics at all. Concepts of space and time have been argued about for thousands of years.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 7, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

  48. Clark (#46), Yes.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 7, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

  49. J. Stapley (43) I’d be interested in hearing your ideas about what exact properties of observable matter you believe are justifiable mapped onto spirits: e.g., gravity?

    If we take relativity seriously then to be in space is to be affected by gravity. To deny gravity to to deny materiality entirely.

    J. Stapley (41) When Joseph Smith experienced a vision of spirits, for example, he is essentially bound to communicate that experience analogically or metaphorically.

    I’d dispute this somewhat. While he may indeed use figurative language to communicate the feel – everyone does that. And for new experience, you have to explain it as best you can. (How do you describe a food to someone who has never had it?) However I think if you look at most of the visions, especially the early ones, most of what is described is pretty matter of fact normal phenomena. In an usual setting, yes. But what Moroni might have been unusual, he describes him as a person.

    J. Stapley (40) What I am saying is that we don’t know how such beings “see” spirits.

    I think that a fair comment. The question is why spirits would appear anthropormophically. There’s the idea that this is really their form, which I think is the position with prima facie strength. (I mean they all appear like that) Then there is the idea that all encounters are virtual encounters, which raises all sorts of serious issues in my mind. (Not the least of which is the view of Joseph and others against manifestations of spirits in other forms such as burning bushes or doves – something that I think needs to be dealt with better.)

    Comment by Clark — November 7, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

  50. J,

    4. What does physical form mean? He saw them with spatial form, yes.

    I should also make the following concession. I think it would be very reasonable to take the position that Joseph Smith was simply drawing on his experiences and thus his statements about the nature of matter should only be seen as his own extrapolations on that experience. That is, they should not be seen as special revelations on the nature of matter.

    Your statement above that “He saw them with spatial form” is an example of this I think. You’re saying that they may not actually have spatial form and he only thinks they do because he accepted his experience at face value. I think this is a reasonable position, but I think we should be clear that such a position entails that Joseph was actually incorrect in his statement about spirit and matter. That is, the idea he was trying to communicate was not correct, even though he believed it to be correct.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 7, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

  51. To be clear, I think what I’m arguing against is the idea of negative theology. The idea that any description of the divine can’t be trusted as accurate according to our concepts. So that our knowledge is at best negative.

    This has a rich heritage in Christian theology. I admit that I think Joseph is quite in the opposite direction. He tends to take things at face value (which is not the same thing as scriptural literalism). Thus the very idea of spirits as material. To take his claims of materialism as entailing the exact opposite boggles the mind as it makes it difficult to even understand why he was bringing the issue up.

    While no one on this side is suggesting we know much about spirit matter. Clearly the thrust of Joseph’s comments through his sermons was for a kind of anthropomorphic realism where spirits were quite a bit more like us than theology had taken it up to then. (As I’ve mentioned several times, this view actually was a strong folk tradition for various reasons – so Joseph wasn’t particularly being novel here) Can people push this similarity too far? Of course, especially since we don’t know much. But I think the one safe thing we can say is that they are more similar to humans than they are similar to the traditional theological categories Joseph Smith encountered.

    Comment by Clark — November 7, 2009 @ 12:30 pm

  52. The word “matter” has a very basic usage going back to the Latin term materia and Greek term hyle. It means “the stuff that something is ultimately made or composed of”.

    So to claim that a spirit is immaterial is to claim that it ultimately composed of nothing, or rather that it is a purely ideal construct. That is pretty much the Thomist or hylomorphic idea of the soul – pure form. Hylo meaning “matter” and “morph” meaning form, i.e. the soul as the form of the body.

    So if Joseph Smith comes along and says “all spirit is matter”, the historical context going back at least six hundred years is that he is contradicting the idea that says that “spirit is pure form”, i.e. immaterial and ideal.

    Now frankly the debate here confuses me, because these seem to be about the only two positions available:

    1) A spirit is composed of “stuff”
    2) A spirit is pure form

    Is there a there a third option here? And J.Stapley, are you suggesting that the hylomorphic idea of the soul or spirit is correct, or do you have a third option, one where a spirit is not composed out of any kind of stuff?

    Comment by Mark D. — November 7, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

  53. The Cartesian idea of the mind or spirit should be added to the list:

    3) A spirit is an immaterial mind (without a body)

    Is there a fourth?

    Comment by Mark D. — November 7, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

  54. Lots of stuff going on here.

    Mark, I claim ignorance on the material nature of spirits.

    Clark, you raise a some important points. I haven’t been clear in my usage of “the rules.” Most everyone everywhere believe in a unified set of rules for everything. Unfortunately, we don’t know them. In their place we have developed rules that to explain certain continuities. I don’t think anyone believes dark matter to be magic, but we don’t have any validated rules to explain or predict it. Its exoticism require new rules. Now, I concede that there are a number of theories that try to account for dark matter, but we are a ways out, I think from having validation.

    I think it would be folly for anyone to try to map attributes of baryonic matter onto dark matter. I think you would agree. For analogic purposes, they are discontinuous.

    Regarding Joseph Smith interaction with Christian theology, I tend to agree. However, many people fairly believe that while Joseph Smith had his first vision and while the angel appeared in the room, while he had “The Vision” [D&C 76] and when he witnessed the theophany in the Kirtland temple, other people present did not see or would not have seen what he saw. Still I agree that Joseph Smith had a particularly intriguing literalism and that spirits do indeed appear in human form, my resistance to spirit carbon notwithstanding.

    Jacob, I agree that material spirits would necessarily exist according to some set of rules. I don’t really know what Joseph Smith believed about spirit materiality, though, I do think that he believed in their reality. I think the hand-shake thing is deeply expressive of his views.

    I’m sorry if I missed anything, there was a lot here.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 7, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

  55. The theory of dark matter is entirely superfluous if dark matter does not have some sort of causal effect on ordinary matter. Causal interactions that are not entirely random are described by some sort or rule or pattern. So we can safely say that anything that has any predictable effect on matter is at least partially described by rules.

    The same principle applies to the mind. There are epiphenomenalists who claim that mental properties are caused by physical properties, but that the reverse is not the case. In other words, they claim that the mind has no causal power, that from a third person perspective it is irrelevant. The only rules here are oneway, from physical to mental.

    Then there are interactionists who say that the mind has a causal effect on matter and vice versa. The rules describing interaction go both ways.

    If one maintains that a spirit is immaterial (i.e. it does not have a body) and that is causal (i.e. it can have a causal effect on the outside world, including other spirits), then one must maintain that there are some rules that describe that interaction.

    The theory that there are no rules that describe spiritual things is thus tantamount to the theory that spirits have no causal effect on the outside world or on other spirits at all, i.e. that they are impotent. Not only that, but that there are no rules that describe any form of causation in the other direction, meaning that everything a spirit perceives is entirely accidental, with no correlation to the outside world at all. The spirit in a vat theory, more or less.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 7, 2009 @ 3:37 pm

  56. Mark, I don’t think anyone is saying there are no rules, I’m certainly not. I’m saying we just don’t know what the rules are.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 7, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

  57. Its exoticism require new rules.

    But that is the very thing that most physicists don’t accept. You’re taking this for granted. That epistemological ignorance entails new rules. Also note that “exotic” simply means particles not found regularly in our regular experience. (i.e. you need special detectors or accelerators) Once again if you think physicists think it some radically new stuff you’re just wrong.

    The standard physicist interpretation of dark matter isn’t that we don’t know the rules, just that we don’t know how the rules lead to this particular phenomena.

    As with Mark I think appeal to “spirit carbon” is a bit silly. It’s rhetorically arguing against a strawman.

    Comment by Clark — November 7, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

  58. Clark, I think you misunderstood my comment 55. I’m not sure what you think is wrong about my perspective, vis a vis, dark matter. That being said, it is just one example of the futility of discontinuous mapping. If you think non-gravitational analogies between “ordinary” matter and dark matter are helpful, we will have to agree to disagree.

    Clark, spirit carbon is an example of analogy. I’d love to hear what you think spirits are made of and how.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 7, 2009 @ 6:38 pm

  59. I’ve no idea what they are made of other than I think it fair to say they have mass or at least inertia. But I wouldn’t make any claims for the degree of E&M or other forces in practice. Just that I think they behave like regular matter. (And I include within regular matter things like neutrinos, quarks, muons, electrons, and the like)

    Comment by Clark — November 7, 2009 @ 8:17 pm

  60. The idea that spirit bodies are made of some kind of matter that exhibit similar behavior to the type of particles in conventional matter explains virtually all the evidence with regard to spirits having bodies at very low cost.

    In other words, it has greater explanatory power than any other available theory. That makes it the clear front runner until someone comes up with a theory that is superior in that regard, the same way atomic theory of conventional matter was superior 2400 years before anyone had seen an atom.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 7, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

  61. I agree with J. Stapley. The notion that we can extrapolate from physics to explain the “behavior of spirit matter” is just plain nonsense. We don’t know what the behavior of spirit matter is. We don’t know if intelligences are made of spirit matter. Arguing that spirit matter must operate on the same kind of dimensionality as matter as know it in physics is not only unwarranted but is counter to everything we know about spirits and how they appear. They go thru walls and hover above the ground and are impervious to physical forces and rules as we know them, appear out of nowhere and can be discerned only by spiritual eyes — whatever that means. The entire effort to make spirit amenable to physics is a basic category error in my view.

    Comment by Blake — November 7, 2009 @ 11:27 pm

  62. They go thru walls and hover above the ground and are impervious to physical forces and rules as we know them, appear out of nowhere and can be discerned only by spiritual eyes — whatever that means

    None of that is the least bit of evidence that spirits are not composed of some kind of “stuff” and that stuff isn’t described by some kind of rules.

    Case in point: Presumably:

    (1) Spirits are substantively real
    (2) We have a spirit inside of us
    (3) Our spirit (mind) has some sort of causal effect on the physical body.

    That leaves us with two options: (1) There are rules that describe the interaction of our spirit or mind with the ordinary matter that our body is composed of, OR
    (2) Continual divine intervention is required to create the illusion that there is such an interaction.

    And in fact the French philosopher Malebranche (a seventeenth century contemporary of Descartes) advocated precisely the latter point of view, i.e. where volition has only an occasional relationship to action, that divine intervention is the efficient cause.

    Allowing for that, the question is: Does God follow any rules when connecting the volition and action of third parties? If a person wills to raise his arm, does God semi-regularly cause him to wiggle his toe instead?

    If not, then even Malebranche style divine intervention to cross the “category” boundary between mind and body, is indeed describable by rules that relate the spiritual and physical.

    Since I doubt many of us lose control of our physical faculties on a regular basis, I should say the existence of such rules, whether natural or maintained by continuous divine intervention is an empirical fact.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 8, 2009 @ 8:45 am

  63. When conscious, of course. I am deeply grateful that my unconscious self isn’t plotting to rob the local bank though, even if it would require divine intervention for such a robbery to come to pass.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 8, 2009 @ 8:49 am

  64. Note my claims are much more modest than Mark’s. I simply think that if Joseph talks about matter it has to mean something. I oppose the “negative theology” view by which we can effectively deny he means anything.

    Comment by Clark — November 8, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

  65. Mark: (1) Spirits are substantively real
    (2) We have a spirit inside of us
    (3) Our spirit (mind) has some sort of causal effect on the physical body.

    I don’t think we know any of this. I have no idea what you mean by “substantively real” precisely because I have no idea what you mean by “substantively” and I have a sneaking suspicion you don’t either. I reject premise (2) outright. How do you know spirit is “inside” of us? How do you know that spirit isn’t the very process of life? The notion of causation is notoriously difficult and I have no idea what you mean by “cause” and even less by “causal relation” — and admitting that it is merely of “some sort” leaves this expression with no cognitive content. I am not advocating for a via negativa, but I know empty gestures without meaning when I see them.

    As for your false dichotomy of the two options we have, there are all kinds of additional possibilities (probably an infinite number) including the view of concurrence and/or action initiated by a free agent that isn’t bound by some rule that governs all decisions.

    I reiterate, to attempt to circumscribe the notions of spirit, spirit matter and so forth by some physics is worse than shooting in the dark for fear you might hit something — it is failing to recognize that it is dark at all.

    Comment by Blake — November 8, 2009 @ 5:07 pm

  66. Obviously there’s something going on with spirits that has some analogical relationship to the natural world — according to the scriptures. Jesus says, “feel my hands–I’m not a spirit” implying that it may be impossible to distinguish between spirit and flesh by merely looking at the two.

    And the whole idea of indwelling spirit comes right out of the scriptures. Now exactly what “indwelling” means–who knows exactly. But we certainly can infere that something is going on within us — spiritually. And by extention we can infere that such may have some power in shaping who we are in the physical world.

    Comment by Jack — November 8, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

  67. Blake, (Assuming that is really you) If you want to be a solipsist about the most obvious things about the every day world, not to mention the most trivial passages of scripture, go ahead.

    A spirit is a person, walks, talks, appears like a person. Do you think it is remote controlling a physical body from 50,000 light years away? Or perhaps it has no body, no location, no extent at all, and everything recorded in 1 Pet 4 and D&C 138 is a complete delusion. Do you think that there is no personal life after death, that perhaps the idea of immortality taught in the scriptures is the greatest fraud perpetrated on humanity? Because that is what it sounds like.

    And do you think we have free will, but that our will is not the cause of our actions? Whence moral responsibility then? Perhaps causality flows in reverse and our future actions cause our present will? Who can tell?

    And “substantive” is one of the clearest terms in the philosophical lexicon, i.e. real, having a foundation, not simply an idea, concept or abstraction.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 8, 2009 @ 6:08 pm

  68. So Blake, are you asserting that when Joseph said, “spirit is a substance; that it is material, but that it is more pure, elastic and refined matter than the body” we can gain no information from it? It can mean literally almost anything?

    Comment by Clark — November 8, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

  69. This is why people have no respect for philosphers, by the way. Too many of them are immune to common sense. I suppose it was just an accident that men landed on the moon. Nothing to do with a policy decision to spend untold millions on a project to send them there. Or perhaps Nancy Pelosi’s victory speech last night is what inspired JFK to embark on the space program. It is as good a candidate as any other. And who can tell if a Saturn V rocket is substantively real? The term has no meaning right?

    Truth is a delusion, there is no reality, and God is either dead or completely irresponsible for causing anything, because there is no causation, now is there? Only those fool scientists believe in myths like that. Or so my hallucinations tell me.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 8, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

  70. Mark: your end the whole earth argument is just not engaging the issue. The fact is — note Clark also — we don’t know if spirits have some continuous shape, whether there is a continuity with the laws that govern matter as we know it, or whether “spirit” is univocal with “material substance” as that term could be used in physics. You’re claiming and assuming a lot more than you can know.

    Finally Mark, your name calling and side-swipe at philosophers just reminds me why physicists are so often portrayed as wackos in movies and on TV — or have you missed the Big Bang Theory lately?

    Clark: So Blake, are you asserting that when Joseph said, “spirit is a substance; that it is material, but that it is more pure, elastic and refined matter than the body” we can gain no information from it? It can mean literally almost anything?

    No — but I am claiming that it is going way beyond the mark to suggest that we know what laws must govern spirit and we can adopt an analogy with spiritual matter by just knowing physics. Ridiculous that view in my opinion. I agree with Stapley to that extent.

    Comment by Blake — November 8, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

  71. Nice to be together on this one, Blake.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 8, 2009 @ 7:37 pm

  72. I don’t know. It seems like if something looks, acts, smells, tastes, etc., etc., like X then it will probably have some–to what ever extent–analogical relationship to X — that is, in lieu of actually being X.

    If a spirit raises his right hand then are we not somewhat safe in assuming that he did it on his own volition? And if so, can we not further assume that there is some kind of connection between the mind and whatever “element” the spirit is made of in order to control that function?

    I think what we’re really trying to do is get a fix on the limits of useful analogy. Typically a good analogy is specific and as such will work only to a certain extent. The spirit’s “blood” may run vulcan green for all we know, but that doesn’t mean that the functions of the physical body as we know it have zero analogical application to spirit.

    Comment by Jack — November 8, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

  73. And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just…While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful…
    And the saints rejoiced in their redemption, and bowed the knee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the chains of hell. Their countenances shone, and the radiance from the presence of the Lord rested upon them, and they sang praises unto his holy name (D&C 138:23-24)

    Was Joseph F. Smith imagining things here with regard to post-mortal spirits kneeling? assembling? conversing? having shining countenances? singing praises?

    It almost sounds like they have bodies. Empty gestures without content, perhaps? Or is this whole section just a metaphor for the process of life?

    Comment by Mark D. — November 8, 2009 @ 9:21 pm

  74. More evidence that spirits have bodies that closely resemble the bodies we have, and are indeed more than just illusions of convenience:

    for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.(1 Ne 11:11)

    And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood;

    Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh. (Ether 3:6,16)

    Comment by Mark D. — November 8, 2009 @ 9:38 pm

  75. Blake,

    Since you are with Stapley on this, maybe you can help explain D&C 131:7 (see my #42). Do you take a position like the one I described in #50 or something else?

    Comment by Jacob J — November 8, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

  76. Blake, it seems that is a bit of a strawman though. I don’t think even Mark is making that claim. And, as I said, my own claims are fairly modest.

    Comment by Clark — November 8, 2009 @ 11:00 pm

  77. There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;
    We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter. (D&C 131:7-8)

    The only things I am claiming here:

    (1) This scripture is correct: “All spirit is matter”

    (2) Spirits have bodies

    (3) Spirit bodies are composed of the type of matter spoken of in D&C 131:7-8.

    (4) A spirit is a person that walks, talks, and looks like us (D&C 138, Ether 3:16)

    (4) The spirit is coupled to the physical body in living human being in a causal, interactionist fashion. The spirit causes events to occur in the physical body and vice versa. Divine intervention is not required for this to take place.

    (5) A spirit body doesn’t retain its form by accident, by divine intervention, or by sheer dint of mental effort. It maintains its form because the matter of which it is composed is bonded together in a way that the spirit does not have to think about.

    It is worth mentioning that Joseph Smith did not say, “Spirit is an immaterial substance”, or even “spirits are composed of spirit matter”. He said “all spirit is matter”.

    The way that any matter interacts is the subject of physics. The idea that there is no such thing as the physics of spirit matter is a contradiction in terms. That would be like saying “spirit matter does not have any natural properties”, i.e. it isn’t matter at all.

    If anyone is making a category mistake here, it is Joseph Smith. He’s the one who placed spirit in the same category in the first place. I don’t think it is an enormous stretch to take his word for it.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 9, 2009 @ 6:55 am

  78. I fully agree with Mark D. here. I am going to go out on a huge limb and say that spirit obeys definable rules which determinably govern the behavior of “spirit matter”. That is, spirit matter obeys a physics.

    Do we know what the physics of spirit matter is? No. But we can know, based on our current data, some of what the physics is not. For example, we know that spirit matter does not (readily) interact electromagnetically with physical matter. If it did, a spirit body couldn’t walk through walls and such.

    Still, even if we don’t know what the physics is (and there necessarily is a physics of spirit matter), if we have any desire at all to understand it we don’t stop. If we have any desire at all to understand it – we create a model. The model will almost certainly be wrong (no one disputes that). We look and reason about the model and find where it is wrong and make adjustments. This is the process of science. It is the very process upon which we discovered the physics of physical matter.

    I find it unfathomable why there is objection to making models of the nature of spirit matter. No one is going to claim it doctrine.

    Comment by A. Davis — November 9, 2009 @ 7:48 am

  79. Mark: I can go with (1) through (3) in your post # 77. But (4) is just not justified. Spirits don’t talk like us because a spirit can speak to one person and not to another in the same local vicinity. One person can see a spirit in the room and another won’t. Spirits are not communicating by movng air with their vocal cords. They don’t walk like us because they hover off the ground (and so do resurrected bodies for that matter) — any of your friends do that lately? They don’t move like us because they go right thru walls and they wouldn’t be dismembered by a bomb and they wouldn’t drown in the ocean and they don’t die for lack of food and lack of fuel to keep them going. Such spirits aren’t really much like material bodies as we know them.

    Jacob: I imagine that spirit has a different dimensionality than matter as we know it (or as we think we know it — since just what matter is tends to be a very difficult issue in itself). I don’t deny that there may be some regularities that govern how spirits act or interact, I’m saying that we just don’t know. Thus, I don’t make claims like Mark that we can extrapolate from physics and things like quantum mechanics to divine what is possible and impossible for intelligences/spirits and how they must be configured (simple or complex). I don’t think that one can make claims, e.g., that spirit is limited to the speed of light or is subject to gravity. We just don’t know.

    Your (5) is also unjustified. Read Revelation and the forms that the spirits can take — animal forms and forms of bushes and lights and candles.

    Your notion that studying physics is studying spirit is just bizaaro. If there is such a thing as physics of spirit matter, we have no reason to believe that you qua physicist have any better grasp on what spirit matter is or how it acts than anyone else. Has anyone that you know ever written a formula for how spirit matter acts? The very notion that physics can grasp this subject matter of spirit matter is beyond epistemically arrogant.

    I am not claiming that there just couldn’t be any natural laws (whatever that means), natural inclinations or natural tendencies that in fact define spirit matter and how it acts and interacts. I’m saying that we don’t know whether there are and, if there are, we most certainly don’t know what they are.

    Comment by Blake — November 9, 2009 @ 7:56 am

  80. A. Davis: For example, we know that spirit matter does not (readily) interact electromagnetically with physical matter. If it did, a spirit body couldn’t walk through walls and such.

    This is the kind of unjustified extrapolation that I’m talking about. Do we really know this? Even electromagnetic pulses readily go through walls. What if that is what spirits just are? Further, perhaps spirits mutate their electromagnetic properties temporarily to go through walls and then adopt another set of electromagnetic properties after passing through the wall. We just don’t know. Maybe when Jesus appeared he really appeared as a fully physical body composed of matter as we know it but before that his body was composed of matter of a different sort. We just don’t know.

    Comment by Blake — November 9, 2009 @ 8:02 am

  81. Blake has responded as I generally would. In addition, as a response to Mark’s proof texts and riffing of Blake, this is a key phrase:

    “and he [the spirit] spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.”

    I think using texts like this to conclude that spirits have vocal chords and breath spirit atmosphere in order to use their spirit vocal chords is…problematic.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 9, 2009 @ 9:31 am

  82. Blake, First you start out here by insulting me (not just my positions) in two different ways, then you tend to persist in putting words in my mouth and engaging in straw man after straw man without so much as an argument as to why my position entails such unfounded propositions.

    Your continuing argument entails a very narrow conception of what any kind of matter is necessarily like. Physicists do not have such narrow conceptions about the kinds of matter we already know about – far from it.

    Spirits don’t talk like us because a spirit can speak to one person and not to another in the same local vicinity

    That doesn’t mean they don’t talk like us, it implies that they don’t always talk like us. There are numerous scriptures that state that they do indeed talk like us when communicating in person to a mortal human being, and several that imply that they talk like us when speaking in the immediate presence of other spirits. I do not deny that spirits have other modes of communication.

    One person can see a spirit in the room and another won’t.

    So what? One person is sensitive to the spirit to the degree that he can see the spirit while the others have not. Some people are more sensitive to spiritual promptings than others are too.

    Spirits are not communicating by movng air with their vocal cords.

    Air no. Vocal chords, probably not. This is a straw man.

    They don’t walk like us because they hover off the ground

    The fact that they can hover off the ground does not entail that they always hover off the ground. Did Jesus always hover off the ground during his post-resurrection visit to his disciples? What about his visit to the Nephites? Does God sit on his throne, or hover off it? Does the heavenly city have gates and roads or does it have flight paths?

    They don’t move like us because they go right thru walls

    Same deal, just because they can go through walls, does not mean they make a habit of it.

    You continue with a whole series of claims which are either straw men, or which I do not dispute, or which I am not claiming here. For clarity, it would be helpful to stick to the most basic claims, such as “spirits have parts” or “all spirit is matter”.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 9, 2009 @ 10:08 am

  83. I think using texts like this to conclude that spirits have vocal chords and breath spirit atmosphere in order to use their spirit vocal chords is…problematic.

    Straw man.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 9, 2009 @ 10:09 am

  84. Blake,

    Your #79 doesn’t really respond to my #75. For the record, Stapley also hasn’t responded.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 9, 2009 @ 10:15 am

  85. When I say “talk like us”, I mean that when communicating to mortals they use language like we do, and some causal, information bearing influence passes from speaking person to listening person.

    That is what “and he [the spirit] spake unto me as a man speaketh with another” means.

    Nothing more. I didn’t say “air”. I didn’t say “vocal chords”, I didn’t say “audible or visible to any person present”. I didn’t even say “open their mouths”, although that is likely (if entirely superfluous) when communicating to mortals.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 9, 2009 @ 10:29 am

  86. Blake: Your notion that studying physics is studying spirit is just bizaaro

    Now here you are just putting words in my mouth.

    how they must be configured (simple or complex)

    If a spirit has a body that resembles ours, it is necessarily complex, i.e. more than a point particle. A body has parts. Not necessarily any of the internal parts that we have, but certainly eyes, hands, arms, legs, for example. That is to say nothing of the logical complexity of a mind of any kind.

    Read Revelation and the forms that the spirits can take — animal forms and forms of bushes and lights and candles.

    Assuming the more bizarre forms described here are not metaphorical (Joseph Smith indicated in D&C 77 that they were), the proposition that a spirit (in particular a non-personal spirit) can take such a form does not entail that such a form is not stable from moment to moment.

    If bears survive mortality, I think we can safely say the bear does not think about keeping every material particle of its spirit body in place every nanosecond, i.e. so it doesn’t immediately melt, vaporize, or what have you. And further more that God doesn’t do that either. No doubt he has better things to do than babysit electrons.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 9, 2009 @ 10:43 am

  87. A few brief comments.

    1. one kind of matter can’t have a different dimensionality than an other. Either there are multiple dimensions or there aren’t. All matter will be in all dimensions. Now perhaps spirits can technologically make use of this in a way matter by itself wouldn’t. But that’s really a different issue. I worry some see some phenomena as a fact about matter’s properties rather than a technological issue.

    2. if spirits are very fine, then it may well be it could go through walls. After all there’s a lot of empty space in such things. E&M signals seem to get through walls quite easily but no one starts saying they are completely unlike the regular stuff around us.

    3. there are a lot of strawman arguments against the materialists here.

    4. seeing spirits is just as likely to be an issue of interactions in our brains with oure spirit/brain interactions rather than a claim about spirits proper.

    5. to say we don’t know any laws about spirit matter is just to say we don’t know anything about spirit matter. i.e. to claim that Joseph’s rather emphatic comments are meaningless. If the comments have some meaning then that meaning is the regularity in spirit matter.

    6. no one on the materialist side is claiming we know all the laws (i.e. regularities) about spirit matter. We’re just saying that the mere fact it is matter entails some very vague knowledge.

    Comment by Clark — November 9, 2009 @ 10:45 am

  88. And no, I don’t mean “literal electrons”.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 9, 2009 @ 10:46 am

  89. Jacob J. (#84), I responded before your comment in #36.

    Mark (#83), I don’t see how you can call it a straw man, when you also say, “There are numerous scriptures that state that they do indeed talk like us when communicating in person to a mortal human being, and several that imply that they talk like us when speaking in the immediate presence of other spirits.”

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 9, 2009 @ 10:59 am

  90. This is the kind of unjustified extrapolation that I’m talking about. Do we really know this? Even electromagnetic pulses readily go through walls. What if that is what spirits just are?

    Letting pass the erroneous physics statement you made (only some E&M waves can pass through walls), I can demonstrate that spirits cannot be just electromagnetic radiation. You probably can too.

    Further, perhaps spirits mutate their electromagnetic properties temporarily to go through walls and then adopt another set of electromagnetic properties after passing through the wall. We just don’t know.

    Maybe they can mutate their form. But at least in wall passing form or when they are just generally walking about this planet invisible to us they don’t interact with light. Thus, there is a “state” which is different than we are accustomed to. That state obeys a different physics.

    Maybe when Jesus appeared he really appeared as a fully physical body composed of matter as we know it but before that his body was composed of matter of a different sort. We just don’t know.

    I’m not sure if you are talking about pre-mortal or post-mortal here.

    [Admin: Blockquotes were screwy before but now they are fixed.]

    Comment by A. Davis — November 9, 2009 @ 11:18 am

  91. As a side note, I think the conversations about spirits is a bit different than for resurrected beings. I’m fairly certain that resurrected fish eating guy Jesus is a bit different than shiny flying Jesus.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 9, 2009 @ 11:32 am

  92. J,

    In #36 you said D&C 131:7 is appropriate for believers to integrate as data. On this we agree. Am I correct in reading this to mean you accept this scripture as correct and binding but you simply disagree with me about what it means?

    The problem with your exegesis of the verse is straightforward. You paraphrased this statement:

    We can’t see it [now] but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it [spirit] is all matter. (D&C 131:7)

    as:

    We can’t see it [now] but when our bodies are purified we shall be able to see it [spirit]. (Stapley paraphrase from #36)

    Those statements are just obviously and indisputably not equivalent. You’ve replaced Joseph’s point with your own scaled back version. If we are coming at this from a standpoint of treating this verse as correct and binding, then I’d say your interpretation simply fails to accept the verse as written.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 9, 2009 @ 11:56 am

  93. Jacob J. I thought that I had responded. The answer is “I don’t know — and neither does anyone else that I know.”

    When we see or hear communication from angels, spirits and so forth, I can see no reason not to countenance the view that they communicate directly to our spirits without involving our physical senses at all. However, I am also open to the possibility that they communicate directly by interacting at he level of brain physiology so that I am like a brain in a vat and there is no “real” apparition or thing in front of me though I see it there spatially. I can hear things that aren’t there and yet they are direct communications that act directly on the neural networks in my temporal lobe without ever involving anything having to do with my ears.

    Mark: If a spirit has a body that resembles ours, it is necessarily complex, i.e. more than a point particle. A body has parts. Not necessarily any of the internal parts that we have, but certainly eyes, hands, arms, legs, for example. That is to say nothing of the logical complexity of a mind of any kind.

    How do you know that? Perhaps spirits/intelligences are neither simple point particles nor complex material parts — in fact, I believe that they may be just organized information with an eternal pattern characteristic of some identity. What is essential to matter isn’t some point or particle but information it seems to me. But then, we have this discussion as if we knew what “matter” meant even in our own world of course “matter.” We don’t. That’s why I wrote the article for FAIR to show that assumptions about physics and what constitutes matter at all are the more general problem that must be solved.

    I’m a philosopher, not a physicist. But I can readily see that we don’t have a good grasp on what is fundamental or essential to material states.

    Look, it isn’t my intention to insult you. Why do you think we keep brining up all the strange things that spirits do? It is to show that the kinds of claims you make don’t account for these strange behaviors.

    However, we need to distinguish between two issues: (1) is it necessary that there is some set of natural laws or natural kind tendencies that define how spirit matter must act/interact? (2) Do we know what these laws are if they exist? I think we all agree that we have no grasp of the issue (2). As I understand you, you argue for issue (1) and you assert that any notion of matter not subject to such laws can’t be matter. I’m open to that position, but I still don’t know what natural laws or matter are so I resist any kind of firm analogy. Does that make my stance clearer to you?

    Comment by Blake — November 9, 2009 @ 11:59 am

  94. Blake,

    The answer is “I don’t know — and neither does anyone else that I know.”

    You don’t know how you treat D&C 131:7 and neither does anyone else? Do you accept it as a correct statement? Do you think it has any meaning?

    Comment by Jacob J — November 9, 2009 @ 12:04 pm

  95. Jacob, Joseph Smith in his sermon, stated: “We cant see it but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.” Yes I believe this is an acceptable statement. I agree that if spirits exist (which I believe they do) then they are not immaterial (which is to say they don’t exist).

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 9, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

  96. Stapley,

    So you are basing your interpretation on a strange (private?) definition of “material” as “existent.” The problem is that this is not the definition of “material” and it doesn’t seem like a plausible definition given the immediate context of Joseph’s statment. I just put (“There is no such thing as immaterial matter” eq “There is no such thing as non-extistent existence”) into my Perl compiler and it says those are not equivalent. I am siding with Perl on this one.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 9, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

  97. D&C 131:7-8 were “corrections” Joseph made to a Methodist preacher following a sermon in which the preacher had commented on the eternal nature of matter (or rather it’s lack of).

    While the context of the comment isn’t entirely clear I believe it probable that the preacher was commenting that matter is temporal and fickle and that only the spirit is eternal. Smith’s correction would have then been to assert that all is matter – including spirit – negating the temporality of matter that may have been suggested by the preacher. This correction would be consistent with the statement, “the elements are eternal” (D&C 93:33).

    Comment by A. Davis — November 9, 2009 @ 12:37 pm

  98. Jacob, are you saying that Joseph didn’t equate existence with materiality?

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 9, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

  99. Jacob: Of course I accept D&C 131:7-8 as a correct statement. I just don’t know what kind of matter is being addressed — and I don’t know what the essential and fundamental nature of matter that isn’t spirit matter is either. So I reject arguments that base conclusions on an analogy to matter as if we knew what matter is and as if we knew what spirit matter is in its most essential characteristics.

    The meaning of D&C 131, it seems to me, is that whatever matter is most essentially to seeing matter as matter is something shared by both spirit that we cannot detect and course matter that we can see. However, it may be that nothing more than organized information is essential to matter. I’d add that JS was neither a physicist nor a philosopher so I don’t read him as giving me some kind of precise definition nor a physical theory.

    BTW I don’t believe that JS grasped the notion of immateriality in classical thought. There is clearly no such thing as immaterial matter since that is just a contradiction. What I think he meant is that spirit can be involved in the material world and isn’t empty of content in terms of our physical existence or existence as embodied beings. In terms of the 19th century context, there were others who spoke of spiritual matter or some kind of essential materialism — but I doubt that JS was merely parroting what others in the 19th century had to say about spirit matter.

    Comment by Blake — November 9, 2009 @ 1:13 pm

  100. A. Davis: You make a good point in # 97. JS may have been asserting nothing more than that matter isn’t ephemeral and subject to ultimate decay because it is uncreated and eternal. That would be consistent with his general approach to matter.

    Comment by Blake — November 9, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

  101. J #98, yes, absolutely. The word material means more than mere existence and I don’t think Joseph thought the two words were equivalent. I think you’ll be hard pressed to show that he thought they were equivalent words and in the absence of such evidence the default assumption should be that he was using words to mean what they actually mean.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 9, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

  102. Blake: A. Davis: You make a good point in # 97. JS may have been asserting nothing more than that matter isn’t ephemeral and subject to ultimate decay because it is uncreated and eternal. That would be consistent with his general approach to matter.

    He could have said, “Look preacher, matter is like spirit, it is eternal and will always exist.” But instead goes further — much further. He said “Spirit is matter – it can’t be anything else (there’s no such thing as immaterial matter). And if spirit is eternal, then so is matter because they are more-or-less cut from the same cloth — one is just more pure and refined than the other.”

    Comment by A. Davis — November 9, 2009 @ 3:10 pm

  103. Blake,

    However, it may be that nothing more than organized information is essential to matter. I’d add that JS was neither a physicist nor a philosopher so I don’t read him as giving me some kind of precise definition nor a physical theory.

    There are two sentences above. I agree completely with the second one, but it appears to be a critique of the first one. You are trying to use modern questions about the ultimate foundations of matter to inform your reading of Joseph Smith saying spirit is matter. That seems like basic mistake to me as you rightly point out in the second sentence above.

    My approach in #44 relies on a more common-sense understanding of matter as I believe Joseph Smith understood it.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 9, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

  104. Jacob: Saying that matter may be essentially information hardly disagrees with noticing that JS wasn’t being precise. They are just two different thoughts. I’m not saying at all that JS was an expert in information theory or asserting that matter is just information — so your reading is conflating what I didn’t intend to conflate. I guess I should have been clearer. (1) Matter may be just organized information; and (2) JS wasn’t being precise. I happen to believe that both may be true.

    Once again — JS didn’t grasp the notion of immaterial substances as that concept(s) was discussed in classical and medieval theology. An immaterial substance is one having mental properties only like Descartes’ thinking substance — no matter, but interacting with matter by virtue of mental properties. I don’t think JS got that. I think he was under the impression that the traditional theologians were asserting that there is a substance and it is immaterial, but he thought of substance as necessarily being a material substance because if there is substance to something substantial like matter. That is a mistake on my view. Substance doesn’t have to be material, e.g., the substance of War and Peace includes Russia.

    Comment by Blake — November 9, 2009 @ 6:45 pm

  105. Jacob: Re: #44. I believe that your approach is the right way to approach this issue. However, I’m not so confident about your 1-5 as you are. I think that we can couple JS’s view of matter with his statements that there is no God in heaven except one that is in human form and so forth. I agree that he is reflecting on his religious experiences with spirit beings — but that would suggest that if you shook hands with a spirit you wouldn’t feel anything precisely because it is a spirit and not a resurrected being.

    I doubt that JS had anything about the lawlike nature or regularities of natural law in mind when he spoke of spirit being material. I think all that he really meant is that it can be seen and it has effects in our material world.

    Comment by Blake — November 9, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

  106. J.Stapley: I don’t see how you can call it a straw man, when you also say, “There are numerous scriptures that state that they do indeed talk like us when communicating in person to a mortal human being, and several that imply that they talk like us when speaking in the immediate presence of other spirits

    You should read my comment (#85) about what I claim “talk like us” minimally entails. Vocal cords and spirit air are not on the list. That is why it is a straw man.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 9, 2009 @ 9:28 pm

  107. Blake,

    Thanks for those responses, that is helpful.

    I think he was under the impression that the traditional theologians were asserting that there is a substance and it is immaterial, but he thought of substance as necessarily being a material substance because if there is substance to something substantial like matter. That is a mistake on my view.

    This is pretty much exactly what I meant by the possibility that Joseph was wrong in D&C 131:7. As I said in #50, I think that’s a very reasonable position, one which I am somewhat drawn to myself. To take us back to the original post, I think this basically suggests it was Joseph that made a mistake based on analogical reasoning and the people Stapley is complaining about are simply taking Joseph at his word.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 9, 2009 @ 9:28 pm

  108. Blake: How do you know that? Perhaps spirits/intelligences are neither simple point particles nor complex material part

    Allowing for a number of other exotic possibilities, without the proposition (supported by scriptural evidence) that spirits have bodies, I have no way of concluding that spirits have material parts. Non-trivial bodies have parts.

    I believe that they may be just organized information with an eternal pattern characteristic of some identity.

    Information also has parts. That is what makes it information. The problem about being information alone is change. If a spirit can change, the information pattern must change as well. That sounds an awful lot like an information bearing energy / material structure to me, especially since there isn’t the slightest evidence that information can be represented in any other way.

    It is like what Aristotle said about universals – they subsist in matter like pattern and when the material pattern goes away, so does the pattern.

    And in fact, I am deeply sympathetic to the idea that much of our acquired character and identity is informational in representation. I simply claim that information does not exist apart from a material or energetic substrate of some kind, whether modulated on a wave or encoded in a structure, and that it is anything but simple.

    Why do you think we keep bringing up all the strange things that spirits do? It is to show that the kinds of claims you make don’t account for these strange behaviors.

    To me, all that demonstrates is a unusually narrow conception of what kind of systems can be described in terms of natural laws and properties. It shouldn’t take more than a causal acquaintance with contemporary physical theories (GR,QM,string theory,…) to feed a rather active conception of the exotic phenomena that can be described in such terms.

    In fact the only two things I know of that almost certainly can’t be described in deterministic, mathematical terms are the first person perspective (i.e. consciousness) and libertarian free will.

    Anything that is predominantly deterministic can trivially be described in terms of physics, no matter how exotic it is.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 9, 2009 @ 9:56 pm

  109. That should be: “It is like what Aristotle said about universals – they subsist in matter like patterns do and when the material goes away, so does the pattern.”

    So you have classic Thomist hylomorphic concept of the soul, which doesn’t need matter to exist, because it is pure form. On the other hand it is a purely static, timeless abstraction as well. An eternal vision of beatific grace.

    But information that changes pretty much is matter, or can be described in such terms if there is any rhyme or reason to how it changes from moment to moment. Exit Plato, enter Aristotle.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 9, 2009 @ 10:06 pm

  110. Jacob: I want to clarify that while I think JS didn’t get the notion of immaterial substance and confused immaterial matter with something that others believed in (they didn’t), I believe he is correct that spirit is a form of matter — that is, it is causally interactive with the physical world (but don’t ask me how).

    Comment by Blake — November 9, 2009 @ 10:15 pm

  111. With regard to the context for D&C 131:7, the common heritage of substance dualism which you can read in virtually every dictionary definition of terms like “matter” is that matter is what mind and spirit (and form and idea) are not.

    You have the idea of spirit as pure form, and the idea of spirit as pure mind. Joseph Smith was almost certainly trying to make the point that both ideas were wrong, that spirits had bodies – a point which the intellectual heritage of Western Civilization going all the way back to Plato denies.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 9, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

  112. Blake,

    I believe he is correct that spirit is a form of matter — that is, it is causally interactive with the physical world (but don’t ask me how).

    Yes, good point. I’ll add that to my list in #44. I reckon this statement doesn’t actually go very far, though, since on your account radically emergent consciousness causally interacts with the physical world and consciousness is nothing like matter so far as I can tell. I get the sense from Joseph Smith that he thought spirit could interact with the physical world in a matterish sort of way. This is why I think in Joseph’s thought there is a distinction between mind and spirit.

    It is interesting to note that this post from Stapley has been brewing since my minds/spirits/bodies post (at least that is where he first took issue with analogical reasoning w.r.t spirits, as far as I know). The issue there was, once again, whether mind and spirit were equivalent in Joseph’s view. Given his dichotomy between things to act (intelligence) and things to be acted upon (matter) it seems very likely to me that for Joseph, mind falls on the side of intelligence and spirit falls on the side of matter.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 10, 2009 @ 1:34 am

  113. Jacob: I’d say that Joseph saw spirit as the same category as intelligence and that mind is either inherent in matter (some sort of panpsychism like the Pratts were fond of) or some sort of emergence from organized matter (radical emergence). Joseph believed that the physical body enhanced the already extant properties of spirit but also challenged the inherent spiritual nature. I’d say he saw the body as challenging the spirit by adding an entirely new dimension of desires, needs and cognitive challenges that spirits didn’t have — but the spirit is hampered in its capacities for growth without a body. The spirit is necessary for the life of the body in his view, but the body is necessary to gain further capacities to grow.

    On my view consciousness in this mortal body essentially requires an organized and functioning brain to give rise to consciousness — though that in itself is not sufficient. We never find a person who is both brain dead and conscious in the mortal body.

    However, I wouldn’t dare say what consciousness for a spirit is like or what is necessary for it. In fact, that is the whole point of asking if the analogy between the way matter operates as we know it can be extrapolated to spirit matter. It may be the case that the spirit has a spirit brain that must be organized in functioning spiritual neurons carrying on spiritual chemical interactions in synapses for consciousness to emerge like in the mortal body. But I doubt it.

    It seems to me that one of the properties of an intelligence just is that it is intelligent in the sense of being conscious in important senses (and there are many senses in which a person or animal can be said to be conscious). However, I don’t believe that a spirit can be conscious of the world that we know through our bodily senses. It seems to me that the mortal body provides to us an ability to access an entire world of sense experience that would otherwise be opaque to us. Of course these senses also bring challenges like the overwhelming notion that all that exists is what we can gather through our bodily senses, i.e., to be sensuous. There are other challenges like being carnal (body focused) and devilish (stuck in the past memories and addictions that reside in the body or damned where we are).

    Comment by Blake — November 10, 2009 @ 7:19 am

  114. Blake: However, I don’t believe that a spirit can be conscious of the world that we know through our bodily senses. It seems to me that the mortal body provides to us an ability to access an entire world of sense experience that would otherwise be opaque to us.

    It is this interpretation of reality that gives me understanding of D&C 93:33, “For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;” Why should that be so?

    If a spirit body can only sense/perceive the spirit matter side of the universe, then they have an very incomplete picture of reality. A physical body alone does not sense/perceive the spirit matter side of the universe (otherwise we wouldn’t be arguing about it). It too will have an incomplete picture of the universe. A fulness of joy is not possible is these limited situations.

    But a unified body, such as we are when resurrected, will have access to sensory inputs of both sides of the universe and can have access to greater truth.

    Comment by A. Davis — November 10, 2009 @ 7:34 am

  115. A Davis — Well said.

    Comment by Blake — November 10, 2009 @ 7:50 am

  116. Blake,

    I’d say that Joseph saw spirit as the same category as intelligence

    There are reasons to think so, but D&C 131:7 doesn’t give me that impression at all. Try this on:

    All mind is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;
    We can’t see mind now, but when our bodies are purified we’ll be able to see that it is all matter.

    Does anyone think this substitution of mind for spirit is within the bounds of what Joseph was saying on this occassion? I definitely do not. I know there is a real desire to say Joseph equated mind and spirit based on the KFD, but quotes like the one above show (I think) that Joseph did not always speak of mind and spirit as equivalent (or even similar in this case). It seems quite clear to me that in the context of D&C 131:7 his statement that spirit is matter puts it on the side of “element” in D&C 93. It is not the mind/intelligence with agency and ontological freedom but the element/matter which is acted upon.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 10, 2009 @ 10:10 am

  117. (Once again sorry for the delays – life intrudes)

    A Davis Letting pass the erroneous physics statement you made (only some E&M waves can pass through walls), I can demonstrate that spirits cannot be just electromagnetic radiation. You probably can too.

    Yes, but I wasn’t making a broad claim. Just that the idea of passing through walls implies esoteric material is erroneous. Lots of stuff passes through walls. Yes some frequencies of light are attenuated heavily. (And I don’t think anything I said indicated otherwise) But a lot gets through. Then there are neutrinos and other stuff that goes through. I’m not in the least claiming that spirits are “just” E&M radiation. (And I’m amazingly skeptical of such an idea)

    A Davis But at least in wall passing form or when they are just generally walking about this planet invisible to us they don’t interact with light.

    I think that a stronger claim than is warranted. We don’t know how much “stuff” there is in a spirit. I’d note that air interacts with light quite a bit, but as a gas it still takes an awful lot of it to even do things like give us a blue sky. So we have to be cautious here. (And once again, let me reiterate my claims are quite modest)

    Blake Perhaps spirits/intelligences are neither simple point particles nor complex material parts — in fact, I believe that they may be just organized information with an eternal pattern characteristic of some identity.

    Well, yes, although I think it odd that you’d oppose “complex material parts” with “organized information” the way you do. I mean under any normal sense our regular body is nothing but organized information yet we also say it has complex material parts. After all the material in most of my body is regularly replaced yet the structure remains. (The old Greek paradox of the boat constantly being rebuilt applies)

    I do agree that it is an erroneous assumption to assume there is an eternal substance essential to a spirit. Indeed, despite that being the most popular view (common to both Roberts and Pratt) I think analogy to the entities we encounter suggests it unlikely to be the case. That is probably it is information that is eternal rather than particular substance and form both essentially bound.

    Of course once you make such a distinction between substance and form you have a de facto tripartite model.

    Blake Why do you think we keep brining up all the strange things that spirits do? It is to show that the kinds of claims you make don’t account for these strange behaviors.

    This is actually what keeps confusing me. Since I think to both Mark and I it is quite apparent that our claims can account for all the strange behaviors.

    Blake However, we need to distinguish between two issues: (1) is it necessary that there is some set of natural laws or natural kind tendencies that define how spirit matter must act/interact? (2) Do we know what these laws are if they exist?

    While I wouldn’t put it in quite those terms, this was similar to the point I was trying to make to J. Stapley about confusing ontological and epistemological issues.

    Comment by Clark — November 10, 2009 @ 10:24 am

  118. Jacob: Look again at the quotes I gave in the prior post where Joseph uses mind, spirit, intelligence, soul interchangeably as synonyms. Exchange mind for :

    All [properties of mind are dependent on] is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;
    We can’t see [the properties that give rise to mind] now, but when our bodies are purified we’ll be able to see that it is all [derived from] matter.

    Comment by Blake — November 10, 2009 @ 10:27 am

  119. J. Stapley I agree that if spirits exist (which I believe they do) then they are not immaterial (which is to say they don’t exist).

    Existence != being material. This was the big error in Pratt’s “The Absurdities of Immaterialism.” To a dualist, mind is immaterial but exists just as much as rocks do.

    Now we can distinguish between being real and existing (or being actual). Although most of the modern era has adopted a position called nomalism. In that ontological view “generals” or “universals” can’t be real. To a scholastic realist, there are things that are actual but one can also point to general propositions or universals and say they are real even though they don’t exist. One need not be a Platonist to hold to such a position. This was the dominant position among the pragmatists, for instance. Interestingly despite Priestly and all the others around the time of Joseph Smith, idealism was still the dominant position in the 19th century. (Although it was nominalist in certain other ways)

    J. Stapley Jacob, are you saying that Joseph didn’t equate existence with materiality?

    I see no evidence that he did. Orson Pratt clearly did. But I’m unaware of any statements by Joseph which indicated that “to be” entailed “to be material.”

    Comment by Clark — November 10, 2009 @ 10:30 am

  120. Blake Once again — JS didn’t grasp the notion of immaterial substances as that concept(s) was discussed in classical and medieval theology. An immaterial substance is one having mental properties only like Descartes’ thinking substance — no matter, but interacting with matter by virtue of mental properties.

    I don’t think we can say that either. I think it safe to say that in his studies Joseph was exposed to quite a few ideas. Probably not with even the level of rigor a Freshman philosophy class would provide. But I’m pretty confident that by Nauvoo a lot would have been made clear just from his reading of theological commentaries. (As limited as they were) It would be interesting to know if his Hebrew teachers would have communicated any of this to him. (While the Kabbalistic parallels to many Nauvoo teachings are quite interesting, I think no one has presented convincingly that these are anything but coincidental or seen at best in a superficial way while reading Biblical commentaries)

    One should also note that immaterial entities need not be mind. That is, in the post-Cartesian era the most popular view. Thus even those who reject Cartesian dualism such as German idealists still end up embracing an ontology based upon “knowing.” (And thus mind-like) However a Thomist soul isn’t really conceived of in those ways – even though Descartes view clearly is tied to the Aquinas view.

    Comment by Clark — November 10, 2009 @ 10:52 am

  121. Jacob (116). While that’s an odd way of phrasing it, if Joseph were simply opposing dualism I could see him saying such a thing. Indeed such a position wouldn’t be that out of line of how the typical modern physicalist sees mind.

    Comment by Clark — November 10, 2009 @ 10:58 am

  122. Clark: I think that a stronger claim than is warranted. We don’t know how much “stuff” there is in a spirit. I’d note that air interacts with light quite a bit, but as a gas it still takes an awful lot of it to even do things like give us a blue sky. So we have to be cautious here. (And once again, let me reiterate my claims are quite modest)

    I don’t think we have to be particularly modest. If by how much “stuff” you would mean density (‘cuz it’s all stuff) I don’t see it as being a viable model to say we don’t see spirits because instead of having some 10^27 particles making up their bodies like we do they have only some 10^small number (i.e. they are so low density we usually look right through them). Goes back to the complexity argument that Mark was making (which I fully agree with).

    So, at present, the most viable model of interaction that I can conceive of is that spirit matter does not or rarely interacts with physical matter. Yet, on the other hand – we have to account for this weird coupling of the spirit body with our physical body, transferal of memory upon death, etc — that obviously requires some interaction. Tricky stuff.

    Comment by A. Davis — November 10, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

  123. Clark: This was the big error in Pratt’s “The Absurdities of Immaterialism.”

    Orson Pratt didn’t believe that “states”, “qualities”, “properties”, or “operations” were material, and says as much in this very tract.

    He does maintain that none of these things exist independently of matter however. Hence his statement that “the followers of Joseph Smith maintain the materiality of all existence”.

    Most of the tract is directed explicitly at the questions of whether a spirit or a mind can be immaterial, or more specifically, exist independently of material.

    The primary point of view he was criticizing was the idea that spirits have NO PLACE and are indeed NOWHERE, and are without temporal extent (DURATION) of any kind. Any substance that is embedded in space and time is either matter by another name or is associated with matter.

    I think Orson Pratt is pretty persuasive on this point, and as it happens Aristotle shared the same view, i.e. that a materially uninstantiated substance, form, or universal doesn’t exist. Universalia ante rem, or moderate realism with regard to universals.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 10, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

  124. Clark: most of the modern era has adopted a position called nominalism.

    I don’t think that is remotely true, at least with regard to the common definition of nominalism as the proposition that “various objects labeled by the same term have nothing in common but their name”.

    Ockham most emphatically did not believe that. No contemporary scientist believes that either. Not to knock academics again, but I think you would have a hard time finding anyone outside of a humanities department that believes that.

    Now if you take the more restricted position (which is not properly termed nominalism in my opinion) that universals don’t exist as real objects in the outside world, then certainly Ockham agreed. He maintained the reality of similarities and the reality of concepts instead.

    Certainly many if not most contemporary scientists believe the same thing. In any case, the pragmatic difference between the doctrine of real similarities and the moderate realist position of Aristotle is difficult to identify.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 10, 2009 @ 2:52 pm

  125. Sorry, that should be “universalia post rem“. Universalia ante rem was the position of the Platonists.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 10, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

  126. I wasn’t referring to Ockham’s own particular beliefs (much like what is popularly termed Cartesianism isn’t really what Descartes believed)

    I do think that most modern analytic philosophers tend to be nominalists though. I’ll admit that physicists aren’t quite sure how to take the laws of physics, but the view that they are descriptive is I think the dominant view even if sometimes physicists speak like realists towards laws as independent entities.

    The place where you really see nominalism is towards mathematics. Quine famously said,

    We do not believe in abstract entities. No one supposes that abstract entities—classes, relations, properties, etc.—exist in space-time; but we mean more than this. We renounce them altogether.…Any system that countenances abstract entities we deem unsatisfactory as a final philosophy

    Admittedly in some papers he gave lip service to there perhaps being something abstract. But I think this view of Quine was pretty dominant in the 20th century.

    But perhaps this is just the Peircean in me coming out and seeing too much philosophy as nominalistic.

    Comment by Clark — November 10, 2009 @ 11:09 pm

  127. BTW – while I’m sympathetic to many of Pratt’s views I found his arguments amazingly circular and bad.

    Comment by Clark — November 10, 2009 @ 11:10 pm

  128. Blake #118, I’m not surprised that you can fill in the blanks with something meaningful, but do I think your paraphrase is what Joseph meant? Not remotely.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 11, 2009 @ 9:35 am

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