Hesperus is Bosphorus

A group blog by philosophers in and from Turkey

God, Mind, and Logical Space (forthcoming at Palgrave Macmillan)

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My second book manuscript, titled God, Mind, and Logical Space, is now accepted for publication and enters  the production stage. It will come out this year with Palgrave Macmillan, as part of the new series, Palgrave Frontiers in Philosophy of Religion. As with my other book (The Peripheral Mind, Oxford University Press forthcoming), the cover will feature work by Alex Robciuc.

Instead of a summary, I thought I offer a little teaser in guise of some quotes on a few of the many topics I discuss. Here they are:

(…) If you believe that God is actual, then you must believe that logical space does not contain regions with only demigods or regions lacking any gods whatsoever. But, intuitively, such worlds are conceivable (e.g. a world containing a single grain of sand, a world containing a bunch of Greek gods but no God, etc.), hence you should believe that it is almost sure that the actual world does not contain God.

Actually, if we take such probabilistic considerations seriously (and why wouldn’t we?), the most plausible view about the actual world regarding divinity is that it is almost sure that it contains an arbitrary number of demigods and that God does not exist. This is also my take on the issue, and we will see in Chapter 7 that I am not alone in this belief, as at least one theologian seems to subscribe to this view, arguing that what people succeed in referring to when they intend to refer to God as a person is most likely one, or a crew of demigods (angels, spirits, jinn, devas, daemons and the like) (…)

(…) So, for all we know, when it comes to the theological status of the actual world, polytheism is the most plausible religious view to hold (…)


(…) What is the relevance of the Thomas Theorem for a metaphysician? I would like to put forward a radical, ontologized version of the theorem, which goes well beyond the purposes for which it is deployed in the social sciences. The Logical Thomas Theorem, as I call it, states:

If people define a nonactual state of affairs as actual, then (a) it is actual in its effects, and hence (b) present in the actual world otherwise than by existing.

The case of a situation being present in the actual world otherwise than by existing I call transistence.  A region R of Logical Space where some state of affairs transists is a region at which Logical Space is folded, by which I mean that a state of affairs that does not exist-relative-to-R has nevertheless causal effects at R. When such a relation holds between a transistent cause and an effect existent-at-R, I call the relation transistent causation. When a cause c and an effect e are connected by transistent causation, there exist two indices, i and j, i distinct from j, such that c exists-at-i and e exists-at-j, and c causes e. In other words, transistent causation occurs when cause and effect do not coexist.

I am aware that what I have just said will likely cause a stir, so let me defend this radical seeming proposal. (…)

(…) from the ontologists perspective, religious war, that is, actual widespread violence with drastic consequences, is literally a clash of possible worlds—a clash of transistent gods who cannot coexist in the same logical region, in our case in the actual world. One of them has to go, has to be annihilated. Transistence is a matter of behavioral effects of false beliefs, which make the world look as if the beliefs were true. When (i) each component of a pair of such beliefs contradicts the other, and (ii) there is no readiness on the part of the believers to accommodate the other, and (iii) some of the holders of the belief act upon it at any cost, the result is violence. Of course, this holds not only of religious violence, but any ideologically based violence. The power of transistence is shown by the story of Hitler, who is said to have exclaimed during the last days of the Third Reich that Germans don’t deserve to exist, because they are losing the war. An essential component in Nazi ideology was the idea of Aryan superiority of Germans, which coupled with Hitler’s main foreign policy goal, the idea of the need of a Lebensraum (living space), lead to the wars of occupation and the belief that German superiority will be confirmed by their success in occupying the lands they wanted and thus winning the war. From Hitler’s sick perspective losing the war was a disconfirmation of the belief that the Germans were really superior; the superior race of Germans failed to transist, in other words, by losing the war. We can then speculate that given Hitler’s claim that the Russians deserve to win, he might have changed his belief about who is the superior race, attributing racial superiority to the Russians. (…)

(…) To think that ordinary believers ought to recognize the Absolute beyond the particular and relative of their own religion is to think that they ultimately ought to abandon their religion. Of course, I agree that it would be a positive development from the point of view of encouraging tolerance for alterity, if such change of beliefs was practically possible; I would not mind if most people became followers of Logical Pantheism. It would likely have positive effects on tolerance since people would have very different views about the classical notion of God and would be less sure that that being actually exists. But people need convictions, not doubts. They also need surprisingly little depth of thought in order to move them one way or another. To give two examples, most of the ordinary observant Muslims know to recite the Qur’an by heart, even though many of them don’t understand a single word of it (e.g. all Muslims who are not speakers of Arabic), and even a nonsensical musical parody like the song “Gangnam style” by Korean pop musician PSY can become “a force for world peace”, according to the United Nations Secretary General, Bar Ki-moon. Consequently, I think that rather than hoping naively that world religions will discover their “true nature”, that is, their commitment to the Absolute beyond all doctrinal particularities, we could settle for the more modest and realistic hope that the pop-religion, superficial as it is, based on noble lies, will behaviorally evolve in a direction compatible with the requirements of the belief in the Absolute. (…)

(…)  To take our earlier example of public debate, does it matter whether God exists or not? From the point of view of the consequences of the belief that God exists, it does not matter at all. Today, in most parts of the world things stand as if God existed. Objectively, the actual world, even supposing that God does not exist, looks in many ways as if God existed. What are these ways? They are aspects of the actual world that are impacted by human behavior, which itself is dependent on human beliefs. To take an extreme example, in Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to drive cars (as of 2012, when I’m writing this). Politically, Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian theocracy, whose laws are based on the way the religious elite of the country interpret the Qur’an. Part of this interpretation—an essential one, indeed—is that the Qur’an is “the word of God”, so that, at the end of the day, the Saudi authorities will be convinced that they enact whatever God commands to be the right thing to do. God does not exist, we have supposed, yet, God (or “God” as interpreted by the Saudis) is as real as it gets when it comes to His impact on Saudi women’s lives. This is a very clear instance of the Thomas Theorem.

Another paradigmatic example is the case of a mentally ill person suffering from delusions, delusional beliefs, persecution mania, and the like. Suppose someone has the belief that aliens are monitoring his every step, hallucinates alien voices, and interprets various physical signs in his environment as evidence for his beliefs about aliens. Certainly, we can, at a theoretical level dealing only with the content of the beliefs, dismiss his beliefs as false; however, we can’t simply dismiss his beliefs as false and be content with this much at the level of how to interact in real life with this person. Indeed, Thomas and Thomas themselves used the example of a violent psychopath to illustrate their theorem. (…)

(…) What if the answer to the question of whether life is meaningful lies in the question itself, in the very fact that the question can and does arise for us? On the model of how Spinoza treats the question of human freedom—to put it briefly, all our choices are determined by prior state of the world and the laws of nature, so the only feasible notion of freedom consists in the knowledge of such determination—we could think of all instances of raising the question of whether one’s life, or life in general, is meaningful as instances of life’s meaningfulness, regardless of what answer we ultimately offer to the question. Heidegger thought that what is special about our existence, Dasein (being-in-the world) is that we are the only kind of being for which the issue of being arises; Dasein is “a being that does not simply occur among other beings. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that in its being this being is concerned about its very being” ([1953] 2010: 11). In a similar fashion, we could think of the meaningfulness of life grounded in the very fact that the issue of whether life is meaningful arises; since it only arises for us, we are the kind of being whose existence is meaningful. (…)

(…) This means that our and other worlds “being in the mind of God” makes most sense and is most coherent if all worlds, all scenarios, all regions of Logical Space are in the mind of God. If we try to be selective about “the mind of God” and refuse to include things we don’t like, there will be no coherent and principled way to account for this selectiveness. So, although I empathize with the objection that the notion of God under Logical Pantheism contains a lot of “garbage”, I think that the objection is grounded in trying to fit the mind of God into the Procrustean bed of one’s prejudices about how God should look like, and that leads to ad hoc moves in a field where such moves are easily recognized—modal epistemology. (…) To me, using words like “tedious” and “worth knowing” in the context of talking about the content of God’s infinite mind sounds like saying of gravity that it would be tedious and not worthwhile for it to attract all objects on Earth, including all sorts of rubbish (…)

(…) Why spend time speculating about how the ethical requiredness of existence would necessitate the existence of the world in a synthetic, non-logical fashion, instead of finding a way in which the world is logically necessitated, that is, logically guaranteed to exist? Logical Pantheism does precisely this, via the plenitude principle that grounds Logical Space. We have to put up with all the garbage that this brings to God’s courtyard, but, first, we already have to put up with a lot of a certain type of garbage in the actual world (empirical garbage, like bad jokes, meaningless suffering, and politicians), and, second, this is the price to pay for having a both a non-arbitrary explanation of why anything exists at all and a God whose existence is undeniable as a matter of logic. (…)





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