Should Uniqueness be Assumed?

Posted: October 28, 2009 in Uncategorized
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“People often talk as if nothing were easier than for two naked minds to ‘meet’ or become aware of each other. But I see no possibility of their doing so except in a common medium which forms their ‘external world’ or environment. Even our vague attempt to imagine such a meeting between disembodied spirits usually slips in surreptitiously the idea of, at least, a common space and common time, to give the co- in co-existence a meaning; and space and time are already an environment. But more than this is required. If your thoughts and passions were directly present to me, like my own, without any mark of externality or otherness, how should I distinguish them from mine? And what thoughts or passions could we begin to have without objects to think and feel about? Nay, could I even begin to have the conception of ‘external’ and ‘other’ unless I had experience of an ‘external world’? You may reply, as a Christian, that God (and Satan) do, in fact, affect my consciousness in this direct way without signs of ‘externality’. Yes: and the result is that most people remain ignorant of the existence of both. We may therefore suppose that if human souls affected one another directly and immaterially, it would be a rare triumph of faith and insight for any one of them to believe in the existence of the others. It would be harder for me to know my neighbor under such conditions than it now is for me to know God: for in recognising hte impact of God upon me I am now helped by things that reach me through the external world, such as the tradition of Church, Holy Scripture, and the conversation of religious friends. What we need for human society is exactly what we have–a netural something, neither you nor I, which we can both manipulate so as to make signs to each other. I can talk to you because we can both set up sound-waves in the common air between us. Matter, which keeps souls apart, also brings them together. It enables each of us to have an ‘outside’ as well as an ‘inside,’ so that what are acts of will and thought for you are noises and glances for me; you are enabled not only to be, but to appear; and hence I have the pleasure of making your acquaintance.” -C.S. Lewis

Does your head hurt yet? I had to reread this portion in The Problem of Pain several times to even begin to understand what Lewis is talking about here. If I understand him correctly, however, he is challenging the assumption of unique personhood (not to challenge its truth, but for the sake of a larger philosphical argument which I won’t attempt to summarize here). You and I are separate beings which exist as entities with individual wills, thoughts, emotions, and so on. Why is this so, however? Wouldn’t it make more sense to think that all matter would exist either for a singular purpose or for no purpose whatsoever? We see the former in science. All matter tends to promote its own life. Plants absorb nutrients from other matter and animals eat plants and other animals, and so it is with all organisms. Therefore, it seems all matter exists for the purpose of retaining life. There is diversity of methods, yet singularity of ultimate purpose. In this universe, it seems arguable that there is no individuality. What makes one block of matter (e.g. life form) separate from another in any ultimate sense (mind you, I don’t mean distinct, but altogether separate)? Is all matter simply a grand cosmic sheet? Are all plants, trees, lakes, roads, street signs, and people all a part of this sheet of matter, twisted and formed in complex ways like a giant block of modeling clay? If this were the case, how would we account for the uniqueness of humanity? How can I, as one being, have an altogether different will from yours, if we all exist within this giant matter-world that exists for one purpose? How can I even have a conscious sense of myself as distinct from you or anyone else? In other words, how is it that I have this sense of myself as altogether separate from you? My will and thoughts are disclosed from you, and vice versa (provided I have not audibly expressed them to you in some way). Distinct personhood seems difficult to grasp in this theoretical framework. Yet it is certainly possible that God could use all matter together yet retain uniqueness. And any view of the physical world involving order or purpose must be founded on a creator, or all falls to pieces.

I think this video is similar to what I’m trying to express.

On the flip-side, if all matter existed for no purpose whatsoever, we would live in universal chaos, for which no common foundation seems to exist. Under this framework, I can easily imagine you and I as separate entities with separate wills and thoughts, but I cannot afterward account for any communication between us. There is simply no mutual ground for us to share because there is a sheer chaos of matter and existence. No physical universe could even exist without order, for the very laws of science are based on universal consistency.

I’m afraid I am overstepping my ability to articulate what I can barely reason in my own mind, so please forgive my ramblings. Ultimately, my desire is to dwell on the fact that God has created each of us on this earth with essentially the same materials and yet each vastly different and entirely distinct from one another. All 6 billion+ people who live on earth have different hearts, but all of which God knows perfectly and desires uniquely and solely for himself. What artistry! The depths of his wisdom who can fathom!

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