Monday, October 25, 2010

Readings: of The Ghost in the Machine

from the fourth essay, “Thinking Again,”of Marilyn Robinson’s book, Absence of Mind – the Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self:

As Bertrand Russell pointed out decades before Gilbert Ryle coined this potent phrase [i.e “the Ghost in the Machine”], the old, confident distinction between materiality and nonmateriality is not a thing modern science can endorse. Physicists say a change in a split photon occurs simultaneously in its severed half, at any theoretical distance. As if there were no time or space, this information of change passes instantly from one to the other. Is an event that defies any understanding we have of causality a physical event? Yes. Can the seeming timelessness and spacelessness that mediate this change also be called physical? Presumably, since they have unambiguous physical consequences. Then perhaps we cannot claim to know the nature of the physical, and perhaps we ought not to be so confident in opposing it to a real or imagined nonphysical. These terms, as conventionally used, are not identical with the terms “real” and “unreal,” though the belief that they are is the oldest tenet of positivism. The old notion of dualism should be put aside, now that we know a little about the uncanny properties of the finer textures of the physical.

This consideration, which has long lingered on the periphery of my knowledge base—as an uninvited squatter of sorts—has indeed (now that Ms. Robinson has so forcefully rubbed my nose in it) caused me, of necessity, to put aside my old notion of dualism.

I have not been a positivist. But I have been a dualist of the type: Spirit Good / Matter Bad. As such distinctions become ambiguous, however, so must that species of dualistic assumption. The only sort of dualism left standing would be that of the Good as opposed to the Evil. But if, as we are sometimes told, the Evil has no real existence, but is only an absence of the Good, then what? It’s all Good?

You tell me. I’m stumped…