The only way to learn anything is to be confronted by your own misconceptions, which is why you are going to learn so much today.

— Lawrence Krauss

 © Russell C. Baker, 2017

Welcome to the Pons Asinorum

There is no easy fix

Entering Lonergan's Novum Organon

Facing the Reality of a Lack of Moral Courage

Joyous Insurgency & the Long Game?

A Strategy for People Celebrating Life

It is a strange thing. Dozens of times I have been asked by patients or acquaintances: “Dr. Peck, why is there evil in the world?” Yet no one has ever asked me in all these years: “Why is there good in the world?” It is as if we automatically assume this is a naturally good world that has somehow been contaminated by evil. In terms of what we know of science, however, it is actually easier to explain evil. That things decay is quite explainable in accord with the natural law of physics. That life should evolve into more and more complex forms is not so easily understandable. That children generally lie and steal and cheat is routinely observable. The fact that sometimes they grow up to become truly honest adults is what seems the more remarkable. Laziness is more the rule than diligence. If we seriously think about it, it probably makes more sense to assume this is a naturally evil world that has somehow been mysteriously “contaminated” by goodness, rather than the other way around. The mystery of goodness is even greater than the mystery of evil.

M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983), p. 41.

This is first and foremost a theoretical work. As such, it relies on carefully defined terms, a theoretical context, and a logical argument to make its point. But once the core hypothesis has been laid out, a shift takes place to a more common sense realm of meaning where we explore the implications of this complex and compound insight into what it means to be human.

In this site we propose a theory of human knowing covering all the range of possibilities from the moment of conception to resurrection. For coming to know is never a single state but a process, a system whereby humans create a world mediated by meaning at different levels of development in the course of a typical life-cycle. This is both a process of gradual refinement and total transformation, as the individual grows to meet the challenges that arise at each stage of their life.

This theory lays out the reality of a dynamic open-ended complex non-linear system of who a person is, for the question of being underlies all human knowing. Like any complex system, the same input at one time can result in a completely different reaction at a different time. Furthermore, such systems can shift their attractor from one instance to another, bringing about a radical change in who the person is. In the end others are not only a mystery to us but we are a mystery to ourselves.

How does a human being go from being a pure animal at conception and early life to an individual whose control mediator is located in a mature soul connected with the transcendental, the Divine Mystery?

What is needed is a systems approach, one that relies on process and method rather than a static definition "the nature of . . ." While it is true that human beings are problem solvers, do search for meaning, and have a normative culture, it is also true that none of these explain how a shift can take place that transforms an animal to a spiritual being. 

We draw upon the following concepts from Bernard Lonergan's Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957) and Method in Theology (1971):

  • Intentionality analysis, leading to a transcendental method.
  • The world process of emergent probability with its emergent levels of intelligibility, recurring schemes of operations, conditioning of the upper by the lower, and the sublation of the lower by the higher.
  • Symbolic worlds mediated by meaning, where the sensate world is experienced through a man-made world of meaning and significance.
  • Lonergan's invariant structure of the human good.
  • Two notions of finality and mediation.
  • Two imported soon-to-be-theological notions of entanglement and infusion.

Three emergent levels of intelligibility can be observed throughout a person's life:

  1. A non-conscious purely animal existence of the body with its recurring schemes of operation centered in the "brain."
  2. A conscious intentionality of four distinct emergent levels of being ranging from that of pure experience, to understanding, to judging, and finally decisions of what is truly of value together called the "mind."
  3. A transcendental reality operative in the individual as the person's "soul."

The use of the terms "brain", "mind", and "soul" refer not to common sense bodies but to things in the realm of theory that embody specific recurring schemes of operations.

Each person is a unity of self but--perhaps like the hypostatic union of Christ in which it has its completion--has two modes of existence: the time-and-space based world of the human, and the eternal limitless world of the Divine Mystery. It is postulated that the brain/mind is entangled with the soul, in such a way that a change in one is simultaneously experienced by the other. The transcendental soul is said to be infused by the Divine Mystery to the degree this is permitted by the human side of the individual. It is only in Christ that both the invitation to join in the hypostatic union and the joyful infusion by the Spirit is carried out.

Each individual starts life at the point of conception as pure potential. Yet even then there exists a finality, a potential direction for growth and development that is part and parcel of this being. Over the next few years, three distinct sets of "intentional" schemes emerge and mature:

  1. Homeostasis, i.e., the set of positive and negative schemes that maintain the unity of the body over external and internal changes, the latter including the slow maturing of the person's physical self.
  2. Control, i.e., the fine motor control that allows for manipulating of the external world.
  3. Mediated world, i.e., the non-conscious creation of an internal token system that identifies and represents units of intelligibility from a massive influx of electro-chemical signals.

When the neural net becomes sufficiently dense to allow for conscious to emerge, intentional self-awareness begins to organizes consciousness into four emergent cognitive levels of experiencing, understanding, judging, and deciding where lower levels condition upper ones while upper levels sublate lower. Each of these levels has its own experienced self, from the passive observer to the dynamic detective, from the dispassionate reasonable judge to the concerned responsible actor. It is the conscious mind that carries of the primary task of each human beings, to create, maintain, and enhance a world mediated by meaning the guides and directs all human efforts toward a truly humane existence. Of course, the opposite can take place--in which case human beings no longer flourish but devolve toward a man-made hell whose ultimate form was made concrete in Nazis' extermination camps.

It is now that the individual begins to experience a certain dissonance. Due to the finality inherent in any individual, there is a "drive" or "awareness" of the transcendent realm of meaning that now places in conflict two diametrically opposed "visions" of what it means to be human. The brain can only create a token system that consciousness experiences as the perceived world from a world that is essentially limited, with scarce resources, where bodies come and go with no rhyme or reason, where death (non-existence) is always a real possibility. This is the foundational horizon that condition the mind's later understanding and judgment. But all this changes once the reflective level of deciding, of discerning, emerges as the primary occupation of the conscious mind. Then the soul's influence begins to be felt, the call of the transcendental through the individual's soul-self. For the soul also has to mature, and this process takes far longer.

At this point, the Divine Mystery's infusion of the individual's soul brings a sublating effect that redirects consciousness from the fear-ridden resource-limited, death-haunted world of human affairs to the lover-permeating and death-defying world of the transcendental. And so begins a courtship between the individual and the Divine Mystery, one that involves a complex dance of permission, willingness, and a succession of gifts of the Spirit that has at its core the intentionality--both human through finality and divine through love--of forming a creature capable of joining in the mystical body of Christ, in the kingdom of God.

This is an exercise in Lonergan's functional specialty of Systematics, where the objective is to create theories that give meaning to Christian Doctrines at the current level of intellectual development, something that now includes both an historical consciousness as well as an awareness of scientific methodology. This hypothesis lies in the realm of theory, a realm that demands all concepts and operations to be laid out in detail; hence it deals with intelligible things rather than observable common sense bodies. Ultimately such an hypothesis has to connect with the world of common sense, so that the real world can control what a speculative consciousness can conceive. But to use common sense to understand the theory would be a grave mistake in the same way that any scientific theory cannot survive the transition to the common sense intelligibility of a particular time, a unique place.

Russell C. Baker

Montreal, Canada

April 23, 2017

Being Human: Life-Cycles