Thursday, June 14, 2012

Newtonian angelology

Newtonian angelology

The title might be a bit misleading, but seemed like a good eye catch for this post. I told my thesis advisor that I would probably write about how it is possible for angels to know bodily individuals. I knew that they could on account of our faith in guardian angels, but it seemed doubtful on rational grounds since angels lack some material organ by which they could perceive bodies. God is simpler in a way. Since he is the cause of materiality, it makes sense that he know all of his material effects, and thus every particular. According to st Thomas, angels know material things because God places in them knowledge of both the formal and material principles of beings, and therefore know us individuals with bodies. More could be explained, but that's a decent summary.

Now what intrigued me in st Thomas' account is that he frequently referred to an analogy with bodies.

[terrestrial bodies]:[celestial bodies]::[human mind]:[angelic mind]

Fairly clear analogy. He relates motion in the bodies to knowledge in the minds. I'd have to read again to see the exact terms, but through this he is able to explain why it is fitting that the angels do not have to learn, just as the heavenly bodies do not suffer alteration. Now most people in our modern world look at this and immediately think that that whatever st Thomas thinks about the planets is false and therefore disregard the analogy. There is plenty of reason to do this. The analogy seems to be more of an illustration than an argument, so I don't think an astronomical argument will destroy angelology.

Yet the question remains: what can our physics teach us about the higher intellects? By our physics, I mean Newton's. I know there's all that Einstein and quantum stuff, but Newton is modern enough. If I can understand a cosmology which accommodates his greatest discovery, then we will be ready to move forward from there. Einstein's work seems like a development of Newton's; quantum is a whole different story, but one I would be interested to approach in time. Even if angelic arguments do not rest on physics, st Thomas seems interested in teaching that physics is a good means by which to understand angels.

So on to Newton. Newton's single greatest achievement as far as I know consists in seeing that the motion of the heavenly bodies is caused by the same cause which makes terrestrial bodies fall toward the earth. This is astounding. Perhaps atomists of old made similar claims, but Newton gives the excellent proof for it in his third book of the Principia. With this argument, it seems that there is no difference in kind between lower and higher bodies. This doesn't have to follow, for animals are certainly bodies and as such are subject to the conditions of bodies yet are still other in kind insofar as they transcend merely material existence. In the case of the planets however, no argument for a difference in kind is readily apparent.

Whether tangential or not, a consideration of animals seems necessary to make at some point. Descartes reduced to machines, mere conglomerations of bodies. Newton would seem to incline to this view as well. This brings me to my earnest desire to study physiology. It seems to me that animals have something of an interior life insofar as they have sensation. By sensation, it seems that they have a true experience, which is something that no machine could ever undergo. This certainly arises out of and from their bodies with their physico-chemical functions, but it is something beyond. I'm not sure exactly what a proof of this would look like. If one grants the otherness of our experience, then one could infer it for animals. I suppose it just seems true that cats chase mice in order to eat them. One could explain the billions of physical processes which explain this action, yet there would still be some intelligibility in saying that the cat was chasing the mouse in order to eat it. A cat is something. A mouse something. Eating is good for cats. Chasing is good for getting something to eat. Any child could grant the last four statements, but many socalled philosophers would avoid making those assertions at all costs. Or at least would say their meaning does not correspond to a reality.

This is going all the way around to a statement I considered last semester: Newton's account of motion does violence to our notion of goodness as a cause. If one reduced all of the motions of bodies to the rules in the Principia, there would be no diversity of natures, no morality, and really no natural good for anything. It would just be (which means one could still argue that God exists). Yet this is not what we experience. When I heard arguments that "arrow of time" could go in either direction, I was somewhat astounded but it seemed to follow. But then I realized that would mean we don't do anything because of anything, rather we happen to do one thing at a different time than we do another thing. This should strike us as odd.

I wonder biologists think about all of this. Perhaps chemists and even physiologists are not affected by this arbitrary account of direction, biologists would seem to take a great interest in it. Especially evolutionary biologists, who argue for a progression among life forms over time. Life and death would also lose their respective meanings. It just seems nonsensical.

So this brings me back to a consideration related to the above: how the object of apprehension is a cause of motion. After some ponderous thinking, I think I can grant the natural axiom that there is no action at a distance. (I'm actually going to talk about Einstein a little bit.) Now for men and animals to be moved by their appetites, they must somehow perceive what they want. The cat sees the mouse, wants it, and then chases it. One might say that the mouse is distant from the cat and therefore can't act on it, can't cause it to move. Yet the mouse is not distant insofar as it is in the cat's senses and imagination. It got there through a medium which joined them. Thus there was no action at a distance.

Now we move on to the socalled gravitational force. It seems to act at a distance, for instance when the earth pulls on the moon. Yet even this force seems to be exerted through a medium. Newton looked for some kind of fluid and couldn't find it, quantumists are looking for gravitrons but having trouble. I don't propose that this force is or isn't a body (I incline toward saying it isn't) but that the origin of the force is joined to its object by a medium. Thus a body will exert its power on what touches it, and what touches it will exert it on what touches it and so on. Since every body in the universe is connected, it will eventually exert some little influence on every body. Quantumists might say otherwise, but I have a suspicion that too much of what they say is based on the limitedness of human instruments. That's a bold claim and I could be wrong. So granting the continuousness of the universe, what I said would work. It seems congruent with Newton and Einstein at least, that latter one even proving that this force takes time to travel, evidence that the action is not at a distance.

So that's kind of a lot to think about. I want to think about plants more. They barely have an interior life and don't even have sense, so why are the called living? I also want to read more of Aristotle's account of the motion of bodies, including the upper ones. Physiology would be great too: what initiates motion in an animal? A good question.

I almost feel crazy spending time considering these things. It seems unnecessary to the modern mind to reconcile Aristotle's natural axioms with modern physical discoveries, and it also seems odd to make connections between morality and physics. Nonetheless, these have not been sufficiently considered to my knowledge and I think an intellect that recognizes problems seeks satisfaction of certain apparent contradictions. Yet the crowd with whom I talk about these things is extremely limited unless I find a better mode of presentation.

Sent from my iPhone

No comments:

Post a Comment