Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Contemplating the Mind of God (Pt. 1 of 2)

{Podcast this essay} God's mind is not like our mind, and the metaphysical status of God's mind is now much more mysterious than even what the ancients or medievals would claim. They had the advantage of positing a spiritual substance, roughly a "soul", that could bear the identity of minds, whether for God or for humans. But this is no longer a necessary posit, for the brain is now established as the underlying substance which bears the identity for the kinds of minds we know -- namely, human minds.

Granted human minds do not straightforwardly reduce to brains, as there is growing agreement that the structures which underlie human minds yield emergent processes. Thus, even if one were sure that the brain is the underlying preservation of identity in humans, decoding the physical substrate of each consciousness event might be extraordinarily difficult, though hopefully not impossible. Any decoding procedure would depend on how successful scientists are at deriving the physical structures from their emergent properties, and at this point how to complete such an endeavor is anything but clear.

God does not have a brain, yet God is claimed to have a mind. Yet this mind must be extraordinarily different from human minds, and not just in degree, which has been well recognized in the past. God's mind is qualitatively different, since it does not have a material substrate. And even if God's mind did have some logical or metaphysical part which was material, as is seemingly claimed by process thinkers, it has no likeness whatsoever to the material substrate otherwise known as a brain. Lymbic system, thalamic relay strobing, facial recognition module, and a host of other brain-specific attributes -- none of these even remotely apply to God. Just how, then, does one contemplate the mind of God?

A first approximation might be that we look at the behaviors of God. In the Christian tradition, reliable accounts of God are stipulated as being recorded in Scripture. What may be claimed about the mind of God is derived from the recorded acts of God. However, there are difficulties here with contemplating the mind of God on behavioristic grounds. An immediate difficulty is understanding the intentions behind behaviors. People often do things which could be interpreted in several ways. Sometimes one wonders about motivations, or miscommunications. All of these are tied to the imprecise understanding of behaviors. Even if, somehow, one were assured that a certain event were a behavior of God, understanding God's motivation or presicely how to understand God's behavior would be at least as ambiguous as understanding another human being's behavior; actually, it would be even far more difficult, since the analogy between God and humans is very limited.

A second issue concerning the mind of God is consideration of modularism. Human minds have modules that are specialized for evolutionarily relevant survival/reproductive strategies. For example, the human mind has specific modules for face recognition, and for recognition of object classes like tools, plants, animals, topography, and probably for mindedness too. Yet how would God's mind classify objects? God's mind was not formed by biological processes related to survival strategies and reproductive success. So what would be God's preference for kinds of things, much less "natural" kinds of things? It is not clear.

One possible solution would be that though the structure of God's mind is not decided by biological processes, it might be decided by evolutionary processes nevertheless. Perhaps the subset of logical possibilities for universes, what we think of as physically possible universes, is partitioned in ways that allows God to direct God's attention to so some, though not others, even though God is well aware, by virtue of being omnipotent, of all possible universes. Universes which have moral value apparently demand moral creatures, and all moral creatures are creatures with self-consciousness. Thus, universes with self-conscious creatures would be particularly attention worthy to God.

Physicists tell us that there is good reason to think that universes inflate in partitionary spaces, where some are more dynamic and complex than others. There is no sure analytic measure of complexity, much to the chagrin of intelligent design advocates, but we might posit that, if there are kinds of complexity, sentient creatures, and moreover creatures with self-consciousness -- these would be of the kind of complexity attractive to a God interested in morality. (Morality certainly sets us apart from other animals. The goat, for example, does not ponder whether eating the last tree on a small island is wrong, since it wipes out the whole plant species.) Perhaps, then, God's mind is restructured after all, albeit by his long and care-giving interaction with the various and special subsets of universes that inflate with just the right attributes to allow for the possibilities or even actuality of beings with self-consciousness. The modules of God's mind are formed by God's ontologies of preference, which means that God's values guides the structure of God's mind, and not vice versa, as is probably the case with human brains and human virtues. God may very well actively consider the various ways the logical possibilities would allow for physical incarnation of universes of interest, but only those with a non-zero probability of sentience would demand God's attention.

In sum, then, and as a caution to theologians: you can take God out of the biologically physical universes, but you can't take the evolving logical universes out of God.




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At 7:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eich: Where's part two?

At 12:15 PM, Blogger brinticus said...

Okay, it's up.


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