Dueling Dualists: In which I use the word screwywompous

    “Ah, good, Data. At least you’re functioning.”
    “Fully, Captain.”
    “Data, intoxication is a human condition. Your brain is different, not the same as–”
    “We are more alike than unlike, my dear Captain. I have pores, humans have pores. I have fingerprints, humans have fingerprints. My chemical nutrients are like your blood. If you prick me, do I not .. leak?”
    1. Picard and Data in Star Trek the Next Generation “The Naked Now”

  • The easy answer is that Mormons believe that our spirit that gives us consciousness. (I love giving answers to questions no one has asked).

    Rene Descartes, is sort of the go-to guy when you want to starting thinking about Western consciousness studies. Some of his insights and questions are still in play today. He thought there were two kinds of things in the world, regular stuff—all the material things in the world, and then some non-material thinking stuff from which we get our consciousness. Our soul was made of this non-material stuff. He even speculated they might be connected in the pineal gland—a pea-shaped structure that lies in the center of the action in the brain. He spent a lot of time thinking about consciousness and how soul and body link up. There are rumors he built an android, but the sailors became so disturbed about this on his way to Sweden (and his death), that they tossed it overboard. He called it his daughter. (There is also an episode of Star Trek where Data builds a daughter. It breaks my heart when she dies.)

    We call Descartes a substance dualist. Are we substance dualists?

    There are other kinds of dualists. Process dualists believe that there are two kinds of things in the universe material and consciousness but consciousness comes about through certain material processes. Consciousness is a part of the universe different from matter, but conditioned on what matter is doing. Are we process dualists?

    I think we are one of the two (I could be persuaded otherwise as this ins neither a dear nor well-thought out stance). There are also many other species of ‘ists’ who think about consciousness. Eliminativists who say it’s an illusion and there is nothing to explain. Monists who say consciousness just is mater in motion, not something new or surprising in the universe. Other folks that say consciousness will never be explained. We call them appropriately Mysterians. There are as many kinds of consciousness thinkers as there are dominations of any major world religion. So let’s just stick with dualism for a moment.

    The tricky thing is that we are materialists of a sort. We believe all spirit is matter (only purer). And, as far as I know, we have no clue where the consciousness in our spirit comes from. Something seems skrewywompous trying to use the usual tags we use in thinking about consciousness. Saying we get our consciousness from our spirit seems like cheating. (Like the panspermia theories that life originated somewhere else in the universe and came to earth on a comet or piece of a planet. It begs the question since we are immediately faced with the same problem about how life started in that place. (And I do think science will crack this in the next fifty years.)). So are we process dualists once removed? Or are we substance dualists with the ‘intelligences’ providing the res cogitans (as Descartes called the substance of consciousness. I, however, prefer the more scientific and technical term ‘thinking stuff.’)

    Speculate wildly (this is the bloggernacle after all):

    If we prick a spirit does it leak? Where does our consciousness come from?

    Note: There are a variety of opinions on this from a number of early general authorities—From views that intelligences come from a kind of pool of intelligence stuff that the Lord draws on to animate spirit bodies, to intelligences just are a sort of unembodied ‘soul’ (for want of a better word). But as far as I know we have no clear doctrine on the matter. I am, however, willing to be taught differently.

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    18 Responses to Dueling Dualists: In which I use the word screwywompous

    1. Mark D. says:

      I don’t think “matter” in the “all spirit is matter” comment can be interpreted as meaning “inanimate matter”.

      For one thing, D&C 93:33 draws a distinction between “spirit” and “element”, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless “spirit” encompasses animation in a way that “element” does not.

      [It would be nice if you made your comment entry box wider, by the way.]

    2. Velska says:

      Interestingly posited. I have read into D&C 93:29 and subsequent verses the idea that it is the “intelligence” (which could be the same as “spirit” in Joseph’s vocabulary) is a unique thing that gives us our capacity to reason and to make value judgments. And spirit, as is clearly stated, is matter (and in some way this makes sense to me!).

      In essence, that is what makes us individuals and each different from each other. Call it consciousness, and you have a some kind of process dualism, perhaps?

      Somehow we end up with a linguistic/logical bagel, when we bring into the equation the word “element” – is “element” matter or not? So in verse 33 we have spirit and element connected being sort of a code for resurrection.

      To fully be able to solve that, we should have the same understanding of words as Joseph did (he apparently at times used “spirit” and “intelligence” interchangeably, but context probably matters).

    3. Velska says:

      So in other words, I am thinking of “intelligence/spirit” the “thinking stuff”.

      My son (who has studied philosophy and wants to continue) was in France last year and he heard a Descartes joke: In a café, Descartes was asked if he wanted another cup of coffee. He answered, “I think not”, and disappeared.

    4. SteveP says:

      Good joke, Thanks Velska.

      I’m not sure what to make of element, matter, and spirit matter. I’m not sure the ideas are clear from the scriptures covered and there is really no tie to the science (say particle physics). I think though consciousness and spirit are two linked ideas. I’m just wondering if we are right to let spirit be the sole (would this be a good place to misspell it as soul?) carrier of consciousness and if it is what that means.

      “It would be nice if you made your comment entry box wider, by the way.”

      Wouldn’t that be pharisaical of me?

      (And actually I have no idea how-if it’s not plug and chug I’m helpless.

    5. Jared* says:

      Even if I had a good grasp of the different schools of thought (which I don’t), I doubt I could find one that I’m fully comfortable with.

      To human eyes, so much of what happens in nature seems magical. Yet as we probe deeper it turns out to be physics and chemistry. I have a hard time believing that consciousness or intelligence is different, or that they boil down to some kind of magic. And I agree that attributing consciousness to spirit doesn’t really solve anything.

      On the other hand, there seems to be no getting around the LDS doctrine that we have a spirit that exists independent of the body, and that it is in some way physical.

      I guess my opinion could be summarized as follows: [shrug]

    6. Clark says:

      The easy answer is that Mormons believe that our spirit that gives us consciousness

      While I can understand that as a common view I’m not sure it’s as open and shut as some assume. The relationship of spirit and body is really unclear.

    7. Velska says:

      Perhaps I should have mentioned that I think our consciousness and intelligence (“mind” for short) are subject (and to some degree a result) of our brain – in other words, we are subject to its physical limitations just as our body limits us to certain things in other aspects. Exactly how that works re our mind, I wouldn’t venture to guess.

      But we do go back to the spiritual/temporal dichotomy. Temporal representing decaying (and regenerating) matter that is constantly evolving, while spiritual is something else (process dualism again?). That leaves us to figure out what resurrection means, physically speaking (no decay, but also no regeneration?).

      OTOH, we talk about eternal progression, which means that we will keep evolving at least spiritually/intellectually (however we “intuit” and understand things), but I just haven’t seen any ideas about physical progression beyond resurrection.

    8. Sireofmany says:

      I think it is fairly obvious from an LDS perspective that consciousness preceeds physical birth. (We were active, thinking participants in the premortal councils in heaven.) I think our mortal bodies are actually an impediment to our overall consciousness (the veil being drawn upon our previous existence). Consciousness in this life, therefore, is the constant battle of trying to understand things of the spirit that help us to remember through the veil and recall who we really are (children of God).

      True consciouness then would be communication with the mind of God and since God is without beginning or end, I would postulate that consciousness is seated in intelligence and that it is also without beginning or end. We have always had it, we just don’t understand the full extent of it due to our limited mortal condition.

    9. CEF says:

      Steve, in the episode of Star Trek Next Generation where Data and Jordi are in the holodeck, and Data gives Professor Moriarty the intelligence to beat Data in the the story they are playing in, does Moriarty acquire consciousness or is he still a zombie? I am still trying to understand the zombie visa-vis consciousness thing. 🙂

    10. SteveP says:

      CEF, I like to think that both are conscious but there really is not way to tell. But I’ve always thought of Data as conscious, I’d be really bummed if they wrote in that he was a Zombie.

      Sireofmany, I think our spirits are conscious, but I don’t know where that comes from. We back up the consciousness debates one level (to the preexistance) but we are still stuck where consciousness studies are here on earth.

      Clark, Jared, and Velska I do think our bodies affect our spirits. When I went mad, that became very clear!

    11. Velska says:

      Steve, I had read about your episode with the exotic bug playing havoc with your brain. I also have suffered from severe depression in the past, and have learned by experience that the electrochemical processes of our brain place some heavy restraints to our spirit/intelligence (my memory is shot as a result of the depression, although I’m otherwise (almost) fully recovered).

      Also, I was only talking about D&C 93 before, but Abraham’s vision of intelligences that were organized in the beginning was also in my mind – I concur with the idea that our spirits are conscious, but the mechanics is a riddle. If spirit is matter, could it be organized in a manner not entirely unlike the human brain?

    12. SteveP says:


      Good question. We often talk about our spirit having the shape of our physical bodies, but are the internal structures there as well?

    13. Sireofmany says:

      I think you missed the essence of my point or at least I didn’t make it clear enough. Since our beliefs clearly ascribe conscious behavior to our spirits prior to our having physical bodies as we now know them, then consciousness is clearly a function of or at least associated with the spirit or to go back further the intelligence from which our spirits came. If this is the case, then a clear understanding of consciousness is impossible except from a spiritual perspective. We will not ever fully understand where our consciousness comes from within our mortal perspective. A complete understanding of our consciousness including where it comes from will not take place until the veil is withdrawn from our spiritual existence. To search for consciousness outside of our spiritual life is futile.

      Having said that, I believe that consciousness is an inherent trait of intelligence (it has always and will always accompany and is a part of intelligence) and therefore permeates all of creation since scripturally, everything is made from some prior level of “intelligence” and everything had a spiritual beginning. By this definition, everything is conscious of what it is including the earth itself.

    14. Clark says:

      Actually wouldn’t it be funny if our spirits had no consciousness but were choosing zombies and we need our bodies to become conscious?

      I’m not saying that’s the case but it sure would be funny if it were.

    15. Clark says:

      BTW – the obvious complexity of equating consciousness with intelligence or spirit is the problem of unconsciousness. That is why do we lose consciousness when we sleep, when hit in the head, or even when under the effects of certain drugs. All of that strongly suggests that consciousness is a product of the brain.

      That’s not to say that spirits were unconscious but it does seem to entail that the body/spirit integration is much more organic and entwinned than I think most Mormons tend to assume.

    16. sireofmany says:

      I don’t buy the concept of “unconsciousness”. Just because we can’t recall or don’t remember what happens when we sleep or have been hit in the head doesn’t mean we are unconscious at that time. We may very well be fully aware, but are unable to recall that awareness or consciousness at a later time due to our mortal state.

      As a matter of belief (note I did not say fact), I think our spirits are always fully aware (conscious) and that it is our mortal bodies that create the limitations or supposed moments of unconsciousness. I believe this is an extension of the veil effect. There are things we are not supposed to know or recall until the proper time in our spiritual progression.

    17. mi4u says:

      I surly have a spirit whether my conscience is attached to it or not. I know this because I’m told so . . . And in the words of Joseph Fielding Smith . . . “So that’s, that.” (Doctrines of Salvation concerning his refutation of evolution)

      “That’s , that” is all I need to know in this life, because I’m also told not to fret about the details, and what doesn’t make since, because in the next life I’ll know everything. And besides, it kind of feels like I’ve got something bouncing around inside my body, that I sure don’t want to go away forever. Like the essence of me! That would be scary. And what about my best friend Lacy, she’s so sweet and kind, and loving. When I look into her eyes, I see every bit as much of a benevolent spirit and essence, or more, as I do in that person staring at me in the mirror. Or any other person for that matter. Lacy is my Golden Retriever dog. When I was a kid, and our family dog “Sue” died, Mom told me she would be in heaven waiting and then live with us forever. Whew, that was good news. But, I’ve wondered where the cut off is for this conscience, spirit, and eternal essence thing?

      My wife is very fond of her cat “Sharlet,” though I don’t see much in its eyes past the fur balls coming out of it’s mouth. My 4 year old daughter has a hamster that she has two way conversations with! Obviously, “Burt” the hamster has a spirit and conscience . . . Just try to tell my daughter otherwise. Her twin brother has a fish I bought at a garage sale, $40.00 with a big tank and the filter stuff. It only came with one fish . . . I wondered why? Then when we got it home I discovered it was some kind of primordial carnivorous, dinasoric (my word) man eater with teeth that look like a cross cut saber saw. I’m sure it’s illegal (don’t tell anybody) It eats any other fish “friends” we try to give . . . “It”. Hence, one fish with the tank. It’s a disturbing display of the survival of the meanest. So we go dig up worms and toss them in the tank and see why evolutions adaptations resulting in sharp teeth was a smart move. An educational tool I tell my wife, so as not to have me and my boys sadistic pleasure flushed down the toilet. Does ” Vader,” my sons man eating fish have a conscience? . . . A spirit? What about those worms we throw into that tank of ‘doom’ to be shredded piece by piece, apparently, just as God intended for those teeth. Are there little spirits bouncing around in there slimy, rubbery, blind bodies that had a past life and an eternal existence? Those little guys defecate all sorts of nutrients back into the soil for our benefit. I say, anything that poops for my well being, probably has a spirit and rights to eternal existence. What about all those little cellular creatures and microbes the worm devours? Do they poop, and have spirits, and go to heaven? If they don’t, their out’ a luck in my book. This life will be the end of the line for their spiritual existence.

      I say, anything that poops, has a spirit with an eternal life, and anything that hasn’t evolved enough to poop . . . Well, doesn’t . . . “So that’s that.”

      Or is it . . . What kingdom of heaven or hell is Sue, Lacy, Sharlet, Bert and Vader going to go? Oh, and the worm too. Well, Vader’s essence, conscience, spirit or “what ever” is going to Hell, no doubt about it! That much I know.

    18. ujlapana says:

      I have come to the (interim) conclusion that consciousness is material based on studies of people with damaged corpus callosums. Whether evidenced as Alien Hand Syndrome or other split brain behaviors, it appears that we have two consciousnesses simultaneously existing. It’s hard to see how that reconciles with the traditional ideas of dualism.

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