DCST Session 3 of 8: Human Dignity — Faculties of the Soul

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  1. Video
  2. Video Skeleton
  3. Slides
  4. Bibliography
  5. Lecture Notes by Peter Berkman

0:00:00 Introduction

0:02:48 Question #1: What is the Soul and what are its Faculties?

0:13:33 Question #2: How do Psycho-technological environments work (us over)?

0:19:10 Question #3: Which environments have we experienced?

0:29:22 Question #4: What are “containment” and “retrieval”?

0:34:44 Question #5: What is an ELECTRIC human?

0:40:57 Question #6: What is an DIGITAL human?

0:48:39 Question #7: Will we survive the shift from Fantasy to Memory?

0:53:04 Audience Questions

0:59:40 What will happen to American Exceptionalism in the Digital age?

1:09:00 What constraints do each of the 5 psycho-technological environments place on human beings?

1:15:42 What does community look like in Digital age?

1:20:03 What do you mean when you say that Form is indissoluble with matter?

1:24:19 How are physical and biological laws relate to psycho-technological ages?

Session 3: Human Dignity — Faculties of the Soul

In the process, the Church’s authority about the character of the 
human soul (“psyche” in Greek, “anima” in Latin) was severely 
undermined, as “experimental” psychology took over.  Still, underneath 
Freud’s hostility to religion, a remnant of a Viennese Catholic 
psychic understanding lurks in the shadows of his theories.  Even that 
has now been discarded and replaced with Cognitive Psychology, 
modeling humans on computers.  Increasingly marginalized, the Church 
seemed to withdraw, pressured by the rising social sciences, with many 
relying on a “mystical” interpretation of God’s relationship with 
humanity.  We forgot Aquinas’s Aristotelean Faculty Psychology and 
manipulating the soul became a social engineering imperative.

Question #1:  What is the Soul and what are its Faculties?

— The Form of a living organism
— Potential and actual
— Material and immaterial
— Inner Senses and Intellect
— Loss of Faculty Psychology

Question #2:  How do Psycho-technological environments work (us over)?

— Technological structures shape sensibility
— Subconscious and conscious
— Habits become behaviors
— Society demands affiliations
— Faculties are re-balanced

Question #3:  Which environments have we experienced?

— Oral (??? –c. 500BC) Axial Age
— Scribal (c. 500BC –1550) Classics
— Print (c. 1550 –1850) Modern
— Electric (c. 1850 –2000) Systems
— Digital (c. 2000 –???) Human

Question #4:  What are “containment” and “retrieval”?

— Earlir environment contained in new one
— Even older sensibilities are retrieved
— Figure and Ground
— Laws of Media
— The Tetrad

Question #5:  What is an ELECTRIC human?

— A Machine (from Print)
— An Animal (Darwin)
— A Computer (Cognitive)
— Psychological warfare
— “Human Rights”

Question #6:  What is a DIGITAL human?

— Based on Memory, not Fantasy
— Remembers what it means to be human
— Retrieval of the Classics
— Divided not unified
— Society reorganized at human scale

Question #7:  Will we survive the shift from Fantasy to Memory?

— Identity is challenged/War and Peace
— Generation gaps and institutions
— Recovery of human freedom
— Re-discovery of causality
— Less work; more religion

Bibliography: Coming Soon

Lecture Notes by Peter Berkman

Digital Catholic Social Teaching (DCST)

Session 3: Human Dignity — Faculties of the Soul

Sunday, 13 March 22, 3PM

In the process, the Church’s authority about the character of the human soul (“psyche” in Greek, “anima” in Latin) was severely undermined, as “experimental” psychology took over.  Still, underneath Freud’s hostility to religion, a remnant of a Viennese Catholic psychic understanding lurks in the shadows of his theories.  Even that has now been discarded and replaced with Cognitive Psychology, modeling humans on computers.  Increasingly marginalized, the Church seemed to withdraw, pressured by the rising social sciences, with many relying on a “mystical” interpretation of God’s relationship with humanity.  We forgot Aquinas’s Aristotelean Faculty Psychology and manipulating the soul became a social engineering imperative.

This has never been said in a forum like this before.

Scribal hyperbook designed for people to navigate through complicated material like this.

Wide range of people understand we’re in a new paradigm.

Nobody has asked the essential question:

What is a human?

Such a fundamental question, so ground level, that people are too comfortable entering into the conversation. They think they already know the answer. They don’t.

Why not?

“In order to explore what it means to be human, that requires a course of study that none of them have gone through. As much as they would like to borrow ideas from it, spin their own theories based upon it, the key points have still been missed.”

Question #1:  What is the Soul and what are its Faculties?

This q is not a ‘toss-up’ or ‘out there’, not a difficult q for most of western human history.

Only in the late 19th and 20th century that this question got foggy and was then set-aside.

Impossible to understand AI without an understanding of this question.

This is the ground level question: what is the soul and what are its faculties?

Digital Catholic Social teaching built on St. Thomas Aquinas’s psychology.

  •  The Form of a living organism

Patterns… dynamics… what about forms?

Not Platonic forms, but Aristotle’s forms (St. Thomas builds on this one)

How do forms relate to reality?

Soul (English) = Anima (Latin) = Psyche (Greek)

Everything in existence is an indissoluble composite of FORM and MATTER.

Not everything with form is alive.

Form is received from that which forms.

[‘Extensions of man’: receive their form from the human soul in its particular circumstance

 ‘Extensions of God’: receive their form immediately from the divine essence ]

History of reception of Aristotle —>

Baghdad House of Wisdom, first European universities (Paris, Bologna, etc)

  •  Potential and actual

Mark incorrectly says “form is potential and immaterial”, this is wrong. 

Form is actual and immaterial. 

Matter is potential and material.

(Hence… God is pure act (“actus purus”). 

  •  Material and immaterial

Aristotle: Hylomorphism

Greek: hylo (matter [lit: wood]), morphe (shape, form)

Matter with form.

Aristotle: The soul is the first actuality of a natural body that has life potentially.

(On the Soul Book II)

[This is ‘empirical’: we experience that something material is alive, and takes shape (or ‘form’).]

  •  Inner Senses and Intellect

The heart of the topic.

Where the “material” and the “immaterial” meet in the human soul — all day, every day.

See: Dianoetikon vol. 1 on the Inner Senses

Rarely thought through by anybody who isn’t an expert in an academic silo.

  •  Loss of Faculty Psychology

Civilization has completely forgotten this.

No longer possible.

The loss was an enormous mistake.

Hell-bent effort to create artificial human beings forces the issue.

Peter’s notes: Aristotle’s on the soul (de anima / peri psyche) —— “The soul is the form of the body.” 

The form tends to be defined by it’s highest possible act (its ‘limit’… de-finito). In human beings this is our capacity for understanding a form and becoming it — no other living animal does this. We are not simply understanding beings (like angels), because we also have bodies that mediate that understanding — so we share a sensitive soul (like dogs, cats, birds etc) which ultimately depends on a vegetative soul (like plants) for its growth/decay. The understanding, sensing, and vegetative parts of the soul are each made up of various faculties. 

Human beings have 5 exterior senses (powers of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) where things potentially sensible become actually sensed — we have 4 interior senses (powers of integration, imagination, cogitation, and ‘memoration’). 

The sensible forms touch the intelligible forms where our material “cogitation” meets what Aristotle calls the active intellect.

Question #2: How do Psycho-technological environments work (us over)?

“The red meat” of the discussion.

Marshall McLuhan: technological structures shape the way we sense the world.

  •  Technological structures shape sensibility

Human beings are not born with any subconscious sensory biases.

“The medium is the message”

Psycho-technological environments == Medium

  •  Subconscious and conscious

Psychology 101. 

“Unconscious” the term Freud (and Jung) used.

These are actually faculties of the soul. There are ‘subconscious’ and ‘conscious’ faculties

  •  Habits become behaviors

Yes — but habitual use of technology is never discussed in this conversations.

Piaget: stages of human development — technological environments?

We form subconscious habits

Apropos the linguistic studies of N. Chomsky, Thomas S. Kuhn, philosopher of science, was recently cited by the Listener on “what people are prepared to accept as facts at one point cease to be and new things are regarded as facts.”  Our studies of media as environments that alter patterns of perception and sensibility are intended to develop awareness of the process by which “new things” come to be regarded as “facts.” These “new facts” concern the message or effects of new media as hidden environments. These effects are not the “content” of the media. The content is always the [audience] “hypocrite lecteur” (or auditeur). This is the central fact missing from the speculations of Noam Chomsky concerning the verbal universe. Languages are not programs but environments which are hidden from the young learner, and to which, like fish to water, he relates synesthetically, using all his faculties at once. After childhood the senses specialize via the channels of dominant technologies and weaponries. Electric channels of information have the effect of reducing (or elevating) people to the discarnate status of instant information.

——Marshall McLuhan

  •  Society demands affiliations

We can’t get away with ‘isolating’ ourselves

By the time we get to puberty, physiologically speaking, these faculties are being shaped by communications in what Piaget called the “concrete operational phase”.

‘Grammar school’

  •  Faculties are re-balanced

What is the “first act” of a potentially living body depends on the surrounding environment.

What is the “first act” of a digital human?

What is the “first act” of a human in a world without writing?

Souls are changed according to different unperceived groundrules: biases and parameters.

Peter’s notes: They set certain material de-limiting contexts for the soul to be shaped. The subconscious faculties of the brain (the interior senses, and corresponding exterior senses) cannot escape the practice & exercise employed through the use of various tools, weaponries, and media which the human being, the young learner, uses to survive, socialize and grow.

Question #3:  Which environments have we experienced?

  • Oral (??? –c. 500BC) Axial Age

Society shaped by the spoken word (before the written word existed.)

Preface to Plato (literacy) – Eric Havelock

  • Scribal (c. 500BC –1550) Classics

Writing: “The Greatest Invention”, Silvia Ferrara 2022

Writing itself is not the greatest invention

Literacy is the social change that is so crucial— a literate audience

If there isn’t an audience, you are not in a scribal society

Only when there is an audience of human beings shaped by writing that things get interesting

  • Print (c. 1550 –1850) Modern

Print challenged scribal literacy

Invented in the 15th century

No print audience or significant print activities until the 16th century

Print PEOPLE: Book fairs, printing houses — things change radically.

Estimate: only 10% of scribal works made the ‘transition’ to print.

  • Electric (c. 1850 –2000) Systems

Most of the audience here were born in the ELECTRIC age.

Not a ‘modern’ sensibility, but a ‘systems’ (-ism) sensibility.

Problematic for human knowledge: human beings are not systems.

  • Digital (c. 2000 –???) Human

Retrieval of the medieval sensibility.

Peter’s notes: Extremely dense. This can and should be it’s own course. This is the single most important and difficult to understand statement made today. 

These communications technologies (speaking, writing, print, electricity, digital) are different paradigms for human life that we have to consider.

Question #4:  What are “containment” and “retrieval”?

Human beings throw things away after use, only to recycle them later in a new context.

‘Energy cannot be destroyed’, only transformed.

  •  Earlier environment contained in new one

There is a ‘lag’ effect in human knowledge.

Literary world of the 20th century is a print environment expressing itself inside an electric environment.

Just like today, “social media” is an electric television environment expressing itself inside a digital environment.

Facebook is ELECTRIC, not DIGITAL.

  •  Even older sensibilities are retrieved

Print retrieved the “classics”

Electric retrieved the “archaic”

Digital retrieves the “medieval”

  •  Figure and Ground

Psychology 101: Gestalt term

Figure & Ground describes the parts of a situation

Areas of attention (figure) & inattention (ground), how they mutually shape each other

  •  Laws of Media

Marshall & Eric McLuhan, published 1988 as a revision of Understanding Media

  •  The Tetrad

All human artifacts stand these questions:

What does it enhance?

What does it obsolesce?

What does it retrieve, or bring back that had been previously obsolesced?

What does it flip into when pushed to a limit?

Four-part alternative to Hegelian ‘unfolding’.

Peter’s notes: Containment is the tension between what we are aware of vs. the real boundaries of what is actually happening — human attention cannot noticing these borders without careful and constant study. Humans “tend to use the new thing for the old job”. 

Artists (“the antennae of the race”) are attuned to new sensitivities and reveal things about the new environment before others are aware — they make what is actually possible in these conditions apparent to everybody, to more-or-less reception.

Retrieval is another fact of the limits of human knowledge, that “new things” tend rather to be old things brought back into view under a new light, gaining new meaning. We cannot make something entirely new, but we can re-introduce things that feel unfamiliar and are very new to us — outside the scope of our typical habits. These new limits and boundaries can be, and often are mistaken for “no limits”. “Anything is possible”.

Question #5:  What is an ELECTRIC human?

  • A Machine (from Print)

Descartes’ vision of the human, a clockwork engine or machine.

Dualism — the mind is separate, not integrated.

  • An Animal (Darwin)

Specialized animal.

Darwin’s “Metamophoses”.

  • A Computer (Cognitive)

How do we “program” human beings?

How do we make computers that replace human beings?

  • Psychological warfare

Psychological warfare took precedence over “kinetic warfare”

  • “Human Rights”

Has morphed into Robot Rights – though that is not yet apparent.

Without an understanding of the human soul, what could human rights be?

“Rights” without corresponding obligations

Peter’s notes: A person forced to survive off of make-believe. Someone who has to manage millions of images in resonance with each other, lives outside of their body — “discarnate”. 

Question #6:  What is a DIGITAL human?

  • Based on Memory, not Fantasy

Digital technology never forgets.

Television is a fantasy medium.

We now live in a world structured by memory.

These are faculties of the inner senses of the soul.

  • Remembers what it means to be human

Remembering is unavoidable in this context.

  • Retrieval of the Classics

This happened during print too… but we are retrieving them differently, in a hands-on way.

China retrieving classics too. Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism.

China also interested in western classics.

iChing, Dao de Jing, Confucian analects being taught to the Chinese politburo

Xi Jinping is a student of these Chinese classics, wife is a classical folk singer

Gregorian chant

  • Divided not unified

A ‘place for everything’ and ‘everything in its place’

This finger (digit) is not that finger (digit)

Discrete, separated

“Three spheres: east, west, digital”, each global in their scope


Late 40’s early 50’s — binary wasn’t decided yet. Base 10, 8, 12, 16, variety of approaches.

  • Society reorganized at human scale


Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus – Douglas Rushkoff

Peter’s notes: Someone who is forced to remember all day long, and manage / navigate through various hierarchies of memory in order to simply survive.

Question #7:  Will we survive the shift from Fantasy to Memory?

  •  Identity is challenged/War and Peace

“Who am I?” – brush up against others to find out. Violence

  •  Generation gaps and institutions

Humans formed by radically different environments

Intense rivalries

Institutions come & go on this basis

  •  Recovery of human freedom

As we discover these paradigms, the possibilities become clear.

We discover that we are free to do various things, options are available to us

  •  Re-discovery of causality

Critical element: if you don’t know something’s causes, you cannot understand it.

Systems approaches must go.

Aristotelian causality, formal causality will be vital.

  •  Less work; more religion

As work disappears, praying returns.

Three estates: those who fight, those who toil, those who pray.

Peter’s notes: If we understand the causes of the appearance and disappearance of various habits, we can readjust while paying attention to the various dangerous and tensions involved, and scope out the new opportunities available to us.



Bill Frezza — Indissolubility

If the form is Indissoluble with the material — why are so many people convinced that the soul departs the human body upon death? Building upon this ediface, beliefs, practices, institutions, etc?

Shrikant: What do you mean when you say that form is indissoluble with material? If that is so, why are so many people convinced that the soul departs from the human body? If you could focus on the first part, what do you actually mean?

Mark: A corpse no longer has a soul. The form of a corpse is different from the form of a living human being. It could be the case, which is where Bill wants up to wind up – that when death overtakes us, the form disappears altogether. That has not been the human answer to that question. Indeed, the notion that there is something immaterial that is ultimately far more important – if you will, for those of you who follow the physics of this, you may have noticed the current physics theories have been very widely challenged. The notion that dark energy and dark matter make up the vast majority fo the universe, even though they can’t be detected, is another version of the same process. What would seem to be entirely materialist, physicists, who have abstracted the world into formulaic theories, have discovered that they cannot make the formulas work without something that is immaterial. No matter where we look, the notion that matter is all there is makes no sense to human beings.

So, the dissolution – indissoluable – they are united, it isn’t a dualism – there aren’t two separate things talking to each other – they are the same thing. Hylomorphism describes form and matter as unified. But upon death, they are dissolved. They are separated. This process of recognizing the materiality is an inherent reduction of existence. I think it has swept through the physics world, I think it has become untenable in political, economic, and other social thinking. So as a result we will need to reexamine and remember how others have dealt with this question. It is simply, in every endeavour that I’m aware of, proven itself to be inadequate to believe that materiality as expressed in particle physics and so forth, is an adequate explanation of existence for human beings. I think that recognition that disenchantment of the world, the secularity that took over under electric conditions, can’t possibly be adequate – will be dramatically emphasizeda s we head into the digital age. I don’t believe that humans will be satisfied otherwise.

Peter’s note: See St. Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on the soul, Book III.

[Dispute over this can be seen in the lone footnote to Yale’s translation: NOTE TO III, 744-5 (Lectio ten)] 

See also, the Summa article on knowledge of the separated soul. I. Q. 89 A. 1.


Joe — Less work, more religion

What form will that take, what will it actually look like?

Mark: We’re not going to be united, we’re going to be divided. There is no one answer to that question. The specifics we’ve described in our previous sessions, 3 spheres, said that the religion of the west will be continually attempting to structure itself around virtue. The retrieval of the virtues, not a single unified voice – as division is the story here, there will be a variety of attempts to incorporate virtue into our lives.

The east does not seek virtue, they seek something called “the way”, or “the dao”. This is another approach developed under a different scribal technology, and it is already very much being expressed in the attempted instruction around Chinese society. There will be an attempt to get to a much deeper understanding of nature. The daoist approach turns out to have been amongst the various Chinese “religious” approaches, very much incorporated into today’s leadership. The Daoists were promoting new technologies, very much the case today, whereas the Confucians were trying to hold things back. It is important to emphasize that there are new contrasts and conflicts. We are not moving towards unification in any of these situations. Multiplicities within multiplicities. Even in the Digital Sphere which is trying to retrieve the “spark”.

I am not here trying to recruit people for the Catholic Church. Rather this is an attempt to get you more familiar with the way that the Catholic Church incorporated natural law into a very elaborated understanding of how society might organize itself. It is the most coherent effort I have found, therefore Digital Catholic Social Teaching.

There is an inevitable away from the secular world to one that has a much deeper religious context, it is already well underway. It is impossible for this to be reversed but it will be expressed in many ways.

Chris — Less work, more religion 

What happens to American exceptionalism?

Mark: America is messed up. Why? This transition we are discussing is a reason. The United States is an 18th century, PRINT and protestant institution. Protestantism has largely receded from the world stage. PRINT left the world stage a long time ago.

There is an identity crisis built into the American character.

The ground on which America was established — the American Constitution — is shaky. Jefferson suggested we re-write it over and over again. These things all need to be re-thought in terms of the digital paradigm.

Few other countries have this foundation. France is on their 5th constitution. Laicite had to be suspended to acknowledge religion. Same has happened over and over again.

Exceptionalism is not sustainable. Victor Gaetan calls it an armageddeon.

We are the weakest, most conflicted, driven to extremes & absurdities of any political organization on earth today. How will this be resolved under digital conditions? I don’t know the answer.


Maritza — Tribes are now irrelevant?

Is that true? Why do you feel that it is?

Shrikant: What about community? There was a kind of community in the tribes. They were trying to retrieve that in the electric age. Is the concept of tribes relevant in the digital age? What will a community in the digital age look like?

Mark: Excellent question, the straightforward answer is we don’t know. Significant proportion going to monasteries? I’d bet. Let me cite something probably not familiar to the group here — there is an outfit out of San Diego going by the name Game B. First of all: life is not a game, so there is a reduction here to say we can come up with a set of rules, come up with a game, and go out and test it.

That electric age effort at trying to be systematic while being manipulative has now spun off into a situation, not what happened in the ‘60s and ‘70s, we are beginning on behalf of Game B and I think behalf of many other efforts — for people to go out and build intentional communities. These intentional communities will not be “tribal”. Just to remind you, there may be some anthropologists here, I welcome your corrections here – but how anthropology deals with this, first you have families, second you have clans which affiliations of various families, third you have tribes which are affiliations of various clans. That process is no longer possible. Humanity has gone through this series of PTE’s such that we have in some very serious sense “evolved” from that time period. It is understandable why under electric conditions why people would want to look at primitive organization, early anthropology, and project that forward. But that is not where we are anymore.

We are not in a world in which, I believe, we have these archetypes that inevitably have to be repeated. That is not true. Human free will,as it reasserts itself, will wind up coming up with many different approaches to these things. Whether those turn out to be successful ways to organize will depend upon their ability to be preferred approaches to raising families.

The notion of a tribe as a building block, or as an affiliation, skips over the important part. The important part being winds up being the family as the basic unit of human society. How those families affiliate, how they build institutions, how they train the young, will have – under digital conditions – very little to do with what anthropology understands by studying “tribal” behaviors.


Shrikant — Psycho-technological environments

What are the various constraints of those five paradigms?

Mark: Shrikant has done many discussions on Julian Jaynes, Brian McVeigh etc. What we describe as “self-awareness” was not present under what we call “oral” circumstances. As Jaynes describes it— you are born into a position in life with the expectation that that could not change. Your place in society was something to find and not something open to mobility, dynamics, or self-awareness. It was the invention of writing that overcame that limitation.

What are limitations of the scribal age? Obviously the scribal age had a very flat population growth. It couldn’t deal with things like plagues. It was fraught with all sorts of conflict and wound up being relative to what came afterwards, limited. Here the conflict between Confucian and Daoist strains in Chinese history, which alternated from dynasty to dynasty. What Tong and Song were capable of doing wound up being constrained. The primary constraint of the scribal age was its suspicion that anything innovative was likely to be the devil’s work. The whole process was constrained in such a way that, as we know, we take the lid off of it and we wind up with modernity.

What were the limitations of the print age? In order to transition from the scribal, contained lid on the basket, into this boiling cauldron that becomes modernity, it went overboard. It limited itself by reconceptualizing what was going on and effectively tossing out the baby with the bath-water. We wound up with a situation in which people took innovation to an extreme degree. We can all point to the benefits in our longevity and our health and so forth, but we also have to recognize what was taken away. The recognition was that something had to be cut out, an operation had to be performed. We had to start losing some critical organs: in particular, the faculties of our soul.

By the time we got to electric, things had gotten even more frantic. The limitation of the electric age is that it is founded upon the notion that we will invent a new kind of humanity. If the print age, the modern age, forgot what it meant to be human. The electric age was limited by its broad attempt through systems thinking to design a new human. That has, of course, had disastrous results. Shrikant’s question about limitations is enormously important.

What would the limitations be of the digital age?

I suspect what we are going through right now is a transition in our identity, from fantasy to memory, is going to produce many bizarre offshoots. It is quite unclear whether as Alfred Korzybsky put it, whether humanity is prepared for its manhood. The question has come up in earlier sessions: are people really ready to deal with all of this? The limitation is the danger associated with it. We are headed here with something that has a potentially significantly upside in terms of humanity becoming human again, but to get from where we are today to that, given the technologies and the destructive powers of them, we have, if you will, we have to learn how to dive through rings of fire. The drama, which will primarily play out for our children and grandchildren, is likely to be heightened to the point of extremes.

Shrikant: Wonderful, that was an incredible answer. Thank you!

JP — Paradigms appear like a progressive, accelerating, and evolving process of the universe

What are the forces pushing, pulling, and accelerating it?

Shrikant: When you look at laws of physics, like the thermodynamic laws of entropy, biological laws of evolution, when you compare all of these physical laws how do they compare with these various psycho-technological ages? What is the relationship between the psycho-technological ages and the general laws of physics that we know? Physics and biology?

Mark: Physics began as a topic that we would now call alchemy. The four elements in the west are the predecessors to todays particle physics. By the way, as some here might note, four is a very unfortunate and unlucky number in Chinese culture. Their alchemy is based on five elements. Be that as it may: we have long been trying to divide things into their components and then express lawful relationships amongst them. My best understanding, since I need to confess to you that as a young man I was confronted with the standard Yogi Berra – when you come to a fork a road, take it. For me, that fork in the road was between physics and biology. I made my mind up about the age of 18 or 19 that there’s a fundamental difference between living things and dead things. Physicists deal with dead things, biologists deal with live things —  I would have thought, naively. This has now come to the point where attempts at the unification of science, across that boundary, have uniformly failed. No one has ever, and will ever mathematize biology. It can’t be done. As Bill is nodding his head here, I know that Bill has paid close attention to Stephen Wolfram and his confrontation with this problem, which is a very interesting one. That is simply to say, I believe I have this right in Wolfram’s sense, there is an enormous amount – the most important stuff – that can never be computed. Fundamentally: cannot be computed. You have to figure it out some other way, or run experiments and figure it out.

After centuries of trying to tell us that physics could explain everything, we now must admit: that’s wrong. The laws of physics cannot possibly explain existence. The physicists have come to this solution themselves. 

I don’t know how many people here bother with the television series The Big Bang Theory. Big Bang Theory revolves around a bunch of physicists at CalTech, their love lives, their foibles and so forth. That series itself had to incorporate this fundamental problem when Sheldon Cooper reaches the end of the road after spending his entire life on string theory, he comes to recognize he’s getting no place. Laws of physics cannot explain life. Indeed, in my 18 or 19 year old life, it was application of the second law of thermodynamics to living things that really got me deeply engaged with this. The information theoretic explanation that life is a closed, not an open system, and that in fact it operates in a way that is negentropic. None of that was satisfactory. These were all rationalizations, they were if you will epicycles being added. 

The basic answer, JP, life and death are different.

Life involves the soul, which is the form of a living organism.

Any science that ignores those facts cannot possible succeed in the long term, and I think we’re at exactly that juncture right now. There have been various attempts to patch things together. There have been various attempts to explain quantum mechanics for instance in a way that takes this into account. I’ve read dozens of them, none of them are satisfactory because I don’t think it can be solved that way.

We need different laws. Not physical laws. Not complexity laws. 

Our suggestion of a return to “natural law” as it was understood particularly in the scribal period is an inevitable next step as they attempt to deal with natural law. That natural law tradition is very much wrapped up in the rest of the questions we’ve been talking about.


Mark: Everybody here knows what an algorithm is, I would guess. Probably the way most of us have been familiarized with this is by the demands of the social media companies that they disclose their algorithms. When somebody says that about Facebook, or any of the rest of them, you know what you’re talking about is — if you want, in quotes, a “robot”.

Google is a robot. Facebook is a robot. When Debbie asks me a question, my response often is, “ask the robot”. We all have robots in our lives.

I’m involved with a group in Warsaw who are attempted to figure out an algorithm for “compassion” amongst robots. This brings up to Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

What we’re going to address next week in the artificial humanity section, just as today I presented a lot of issues, problems, questions, revolving around human dignity, next week we’re going to take a look at how some of this is being expressed in the digital age. In particular, what the “human use of human beings” means, the title of a book written by my ‘Godfather’ Norbert Wiener, initially 1950. What that means in a world in which the militaries of the world have no choice but to expend billions of dollars to invent artificial humans. We are going to take a deep dive on the robotic, AI, algorithmic confrontation that we’re all going through, and will only accelerate.

After that there will be two sessions on the second pillar of Catholic Social Teaching: subsidiarity. That is the matter of how do we organize hierarchies? We’re not gonna live in a flat world where everything is equal: that is the obvious problem with equity as it expresses itself in academic spheres, there’s no such thing in reality. The worlds not flat. The worlds not a simple stack. The worlds not a network. How do we properly organize this? That’s the topic of subsidiarity.

We will do the same thing: in the first session we deal with the major predicates associated with that, and then in the session after that, we’ll do a deep dive on how subsidiarity is likely to unfold in digital conditions.

Lastly, there are two session on the topic of solidarity. Victor Gaetan will help us with some of that, in particular the diplomatic dimensions of solidarity. And so we will do it again: the background materials and then a deeper dive into the digital implications.

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