[In this essay, I’ll be mostly recapping ideas I’ve developed and written about over the previous 10 years or so. These ideas are necessary to understand my deepest and most hardened objections to forms of dualism other than those which are necessary and bracketed ways of speaking.]
In my parrot-mode, I say: “Created being is created being is…”
I’ll add: “Human being is human being is…”
An additional claim, often useful and productive of true insights is: “Human being is mind and heart and hands.” Human being is certain sorts of acts of thinking and feeling and doing. [In this metaphysical mode, acts has more to do with “bringing into being” or “shaping being into entities by way of creation-type forces” than with physical events measurable by scientists and engineers—though those events are among those acts.] But those acts are not a well-defined set. Human beings can respond to what lies around them in very flexible and creative ways. When they do respond in such ways—and assuming they respond in a proper way, they encapsulate part of what lies around them in their own minds. Even the simplest of animals do that, even the simplest of brainless organisms do that, even nonliving complex systems do that—with proper modification of wording. This universe, probably all of Creation as a Christian would define it, is an entity of evolutionary and developmental processes.
There is something special about the human (proper) responses, conscious and unconscious, something special about the encapsulation produced by those proper responses: the human mind which can see not only the relationships of concrete, thing-like being but also those of the abstract being which flows into and is shaped into that concrete, thing-like being. The human mind can conceive of an encapsulated flow of past into present into the future and even extend that past back to the badly-named “Big Bang” and perhaps metaphysically back before that event which was a phase change.
The human mind can obscurely perceive and sometimes clearly conceive of abstract, complex entities (sort of: totalities) which show in altered relationships within groups of individual entities—such as human communities or the universe.
In many and sundry ways, this human mind has been greatly enriched and complexified in recent centuries as men began to explore the concrete and abstract regions of Creation, but a price has been paid. The sometimes extreme specialization of the human mind which began around 1600 or so reinforced the (Pseudo-Platonic or Neo-Platonic or dumbed-down-Platonic) error which had assumed that the Reals were but the models for an entirely different realm of being. Or something like that. It’s likely that Plato, and certainly those ancient cultures which said a man knows a woman when his penis enters her vagina, wasn’t treating knowledge as something which somehow rises above concrete reality, perhaps judging it but certainly to `model’ it in a detached way.
What did Plato mean exactly by the Reals and by knowing? What did the authors of the Old Testament mean when they wrote about a man knowing his wife?
What does it mean for a man to know his heart (feelings) or his hands (behavior)? Can we know our own hearts only in the wrongful way in which shallow scholars might know American history? What does it mean for a man’s brain to come to know the mind it generates? Can we know our own brains only in the way of badly educated high school mathematics teachers who know manipulation of numbers and a little bit of manipulation of symbols but share not in what might be called “the mind of mathematicians”?
If our minds must know even the brains to which those minds are intimately connected in the modern sense of `know’, then we are truly lost, truly alienated first from our own selves and then from the world into which we are born, the world which will the starting point (not something left behind) for the world of the resurrected. We will be inherently alienated from the world into which we are born, the world which is the foundation of the next world for those blessed to be friends of God.
In order for us to be part of our environment, even to the extent of all of the universe or all of Creation, that environment must be encapsulated in our minds. Christians should have a clear idea of what is going on when a human being responds properly to his environment: that human being is learning how to share the thoughts God manifested in His Creation, what the Medieval thinkers called “the effects of God.”
Part of what we can learn to share with God is what I call a worldview, an understanding of the one-ness of Creation and of some of its levels, an understanding of one-ness not in terms of a homogeneous pudding of created being but rather a one-ness which is that of unified levels of complex entities arising from various sorts of created being, abstract and concrete, all arising in turn from truths God manifested as the primordial stuff of Creation, truths we Christians see as coming from and through the Son of God, the Word of God.
Without a Creation which is unified (and coherent and complete), such characteristics cannot hold in a human brain/mind complex which evolves and develops in response to what lies outside and inside of that human being. Similar statements can be made of coherence and and completeness and also of the human heart and hands with respect to all three of those characteristics of unity and coherence and completeness; I won’t explicitly make such statements.
There is a back-and-forth movement which tells us that a human mind fragmented into regions of human study, such as religion and science and history, won’t be able to deal with the unity and coherence and completeness of Creation or even of simply this universe of concrete, thing-like being. In fact, such a mind won’t be able to deal with even the unity of a complex human community. Thus it is that the West has fragmented and begun a serious stage of an ongoing process of decay.
The above re-understanding of the decay of the West provides an answer to the oft-asked question: How is it that the Modern West has advanced so rapidly in science and mathematics while decaying so rapidly in moral order and social order and political order? The simple answer is: The Western Mind was fragmented and the individual minds in the scientific and mathematical fields remained energetic and adventurous while the minds in many fields such as philosophy and theology and (somewhat) in history and creative fiction settled down to travel ruts. The fields allied to human order in individuals and communities stagnated. This is the sort of thing which is likely to happen and we have no reason to believe that the minds devoted to mathematics and science will always be the minds which retain energy and good attitudes. In any case, with the radical separation between fields of human intellectual endeavor, the fields such as political philosophy or creative poetry or historical analysis which had stagnated weren’t able to draw upon the ideas and energy of the fields of intellectual endeavor which were doing better. This also led to further separation, to a quite understandable loss of respect for “soft” fields of human knowledge on the part of those thinkers in “hard” fields of human knowledge, especially quantitative fields.
This general process of decay, seen from the viewpoint of a decay in literacy and literate styles of reasoning and knowing, is described brilliantly in Jacques Barzun’s magnum opus: From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present. Without claiming Professor Barzun would agree with all I’ve done, I’ve added a theory of being to the critical apparatus he developed to understand this decay of the West—fundamentally, a decay of the Western mind and of Western human being.