William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Knows All At Same Instant

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

God is outside time, hence He knows everything at once. How is this possible? We can only argue by analogy. Be sure at least to see the hill analogy below. We are now two weeks away from “God is Truth.”

Chapter 55 That God Understands All Things At The Same Instant (alternate translation)

[1] FROM the foregoing it is also made evident that God understands all things at the same instant…

[4] Moreover. The intellect of one who considers many things in succession cannot possibly have only one operation: for since operations differ according to their objects, the operation whereby the intellect considers the first thing must needs be distinct from that whereby it considers the second. But the divine intellect has only one operation, which is its essence, as proved above.[3] Therefore it considers all that it knows, not simultaneously but successively.

Notes Also, if you’re not now thinking of hot dogs and how awful they taste, but instead thinking about how God could know all at once, then your intellect is in potential to thinking about hot dogs. If you are now thinking about hot dogs, then your intellect is in act with respect to these most disgusting of all sausages. But as Thomas proved much earlier, God is pure act, and is never in potential. Thus He must know all things simultaneously.

[5] Further. Succession is inconceivable apart from time, and time apart from movement: since time is the measure of movement according to before or after.[4] Now no movement is possible in God, as may be gathered from what has been said above.[5] Therefore in God’s thought there is no succession: and consequently whatever He knows He considers simultaneously.

Notes Here’s our analogy. Think of you traveling through time as a journey along a hilly line. Draw a stick figure, representing your intellect, standing on a very choppy line where the peaks are all much higher than the figure’s head. You can only see what is right ahead of you because the hills further on block your view (and also behind!). But now, way above, imagine God is looking down. Since He is so high up, He can see all at once. Meaning, He can understand all at once, whereas you, stuck in time, can only think about one thing at a time.

In the skipped arguments, St Thomas shows, through technical arguments, why you can only think of one thing at a time. It doesn’t mean that you can’t switch between hot dogs and St Thomas very rapidly, or even imagine St Thomas eating a hot dog, but you can’t focus your intellect on more than one genera at a time. I mean, you are not and cannot now, in this instant, think of everything you know. Try doing that. You will fail. This is amplified by the next point.

[6] Again. God’s act of understanding is His very being, as shown above.[6] Now there is no before and after in the divine being, but it is all simultaneously, as proved above.[7] Therefore neither is there before and after in God’s thought, but He understands all things simultaneously.

Notes The analogy holds with even more force here if you consider there is nothing above God in our crude picture. If you are able to think mathematically, imagine the time line on which ordinary intellects must trek as extending very far to the left and right. And then put God higher and higher so that all below is just a speck. Well, it’s an analogy and the “distance” God is away from us (in intellectual ability) is infinite. Hence He can know all there is to know at once.

[7] Moreover. Every intellect that understands one thing after another is at one time understanding potentially, and at another time actually: for while it understands the first thing actually, it understands the second potentially. But the divine intellect is never in potentiality, but is always understanding actually.[8] Therefore it understands things, not successively, but altogether simultaneously.

Notes This by now follows easily. Next week we sprint through four chapters, picking up some interesting items about the Nature of God’s thoughts, and two weeks from today we return to juicier topics, starting with God is Truth.

———————————-

[1] 3 De Anima iv. 12; v. 2.
[2] Ch. xlvi.
[3] Ch. xlv.
[4] 4 Phys. xi. 5.
[5] Ch. xiii.
[6] Ch. xlv.
[7] Ch. xv.
[8] Ch. xvi.

55 Comments

  1. I disagree with the entire premise that God is outside time. If God is outside time, there was no reason to even create humans—he knows the outcome and everything about us. There is no reason to create something if you know the beginning, middle and end of the story. You’re just watching what you already know. Only an irrational creature creates something that he’s already watched created, lived and died. There is no point to the creation.

    I don’t find it unbelievable that God is as subject to time as everything else in the universe is. In fact, it makes far more sense than him being outside of time. It also brings up the question of why God would create a being with the sense of time when he has none. If one assumes the garden of Eden had no time, then perhaps we were not created with a knowledge of time. In that case, time was created to reign us in or punish us, depending on your viewpoint of what happened in Eden. I suppose that is possible, but seems unlikely. Death (the cessation of time for a human) was the outcome. Time would have already been there. To me, it seems more likely God in part of time, just like everything else is.

    This does not preclude God from knowing everything in the current second that is going on everywhere in the universe. That does not require being outside of time, but rather outside of physical limitations that keep one in a specific location.

    (Yes, Bob and other physicists, I know I am not agreeing with the space-time continuum notion of physics. It just never made any sense to me and until it does, I will continue to disagree. I may wrong, but for now, I’m holding my position on this. If you want to explain to me why this makes sense, I am always open to new interpretations and explanations.)

  2. A misprint “But the divine intellect has only one operation, which is its essence, as proved above.[3] Therefore it considers all that it knows, not simultaneously but successively.”

  3. Sander van der Wal

    May 17, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    Humans cannot think about multiple things at the same time because that is how the brain is structured. But it doesn’t follow that it is therefore impossible to think of two things at the same time.

    And secondly, simultaneous means: at the same time. But you are outside time, there is no such thing as “at the same time”. There’s only “at the same place”.

    Secondly, thinking also has a time component. Maybe not thinking about hot dogs, but thinking about a problem to be solved definitively has a time component. At some point in time, you solved the problem.

    So, if God is outside time, he’s not thinking. Keeping a hot dog or a problem in your mind is not thinking. Having a hot dog an your mind and then deciding you buy one, is. Solving a problem is thinking. Having a problem in your mind and not solving it is not thinking.

  4. @Sheri:

    “I disagree with the entire premise that God is outside time. If God is outside time, there was no reason to even create humans—he knows the outcome and everything about us. There is no reason to create something if you know the beginning, middle and end of the story. You’re just watching what you already know. Only an irrational creature creates something that he’s already watched created, lived and died. There is no point to the creation.”

    Your comparison makes no sense. It talks about “create something” and then “watching what you already know”, which is completely antithetical to what Aquinas maintains, as knowledge and creation are one and the same act, only notionally distinct.

    At any rate, what we can gather is that you believe all of the following:

    (1) There is no reason to write any story at *all*.

    (2) Only irrational people watch reruns or read a book for the second. I must be pretty irrational, since, and to give the most extreme example, I have read one book seven times from cover to cover, not counting the bits and pieces I have read here and there.

  5. Rodrigues,
    “Only irrational people watch reruns or read a book for the second.” Etc.

    In defence of Sheri, she is talking about God not people. We watch reruns etc because our memory is not perfect, i.e. we are not all knowing. Those of use with good memory have less patience with reruns. I once, jokingly, told a close relative with a poor memory that she only needed one book that she could read over and over again. All explanations of God eventually come done to the answer given to Job which is that mere mortals can not understand the divine.

  6. @Scotian:

    “In defence of Sheri, she is talking about God not people.”

    Actually, she is talking about God as if He were one of us, which is worse.

    “We watch reruns etc because our memory is not perfect, i.e. we are not all knowing. Those of use with good memory have less patience with reruns.”

    This is simply not true, as any Reader can tell you. Hazlitt, one of the true great Literary critics, starts his essay “On Reading Old Books” with the sentence “I hate to read new books. There are twenty or thirty volumes that I have read over and over again, and these are the only ones that I have any desire ever to read at all”.

  7. G. Rodrigues: My comparison was meant to make no sense. If God knows past, present and future and can see all throughout time. how can he “create” anything. I don’t believe Aquinas’s assertion–knowledge and creation are not one in same act unless you’re using very different definitions of knowledge and creation than are generally used.

    (1) The writer does not write the story for himself, he writes it for other people who have no idea how the story starts, ends and what happens in the middle.

    (2) As far as reruns, Scotian addressed this well. I have a very good memory and generally do not rewatch things except out of boredom or for background noise. I don’t remember ever rereading a book (though I don’t read books much so that may be irrelevant). The better one’s memory, the less likely one is to rewatch something. And knowing the end does change the way you watch–there is no breathless anticipation anymore.

    The real question here is: If you knew everything about your child before you concieve him, would you conceive him? Would God create his children knowing the entire lifespan and outcomes for them? (If you knew your child would be a criminal, drug addict and end up dying a miserable death, would you conceive him? If you knew your child would die of a painful, horrible disease, would you conceive him—and note that you know it before conception, not after where abortion would be the only other option? Yet this is exactly what is being claimed with God—he know humans would end up a mess, have to be destroyed in a flood, do horrible things to each other, etc, yet he went ahead and conceived them and let them live this way. It makes far more sense that God gave his creation free will and waited to see how that worked out.)

  8. Ye Olde Statistician

    May 17, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    I disagree with the entire premise that God is outside time.

    Indeed, that was the pagan view.
    ++++++++
    Keeping a hot dog or a problem in your mind is not thinking. Having a hot dog an your mind and then deciding you buy one, is. Solving a problem is thinking.

    I say eating a hot dog is thinking. See? It’s easy if you get to redefine terms. Solving a problem is called “problem-solving.” Thinking may be used — or trial-and-error — but it is not the same thing.

    Remember that “thought” does not mean “a mental picture.” That is called imagination and as chimpanzees and crows have shown, many problems can be solved with imagination. In the schema Thomas is following, he is talking about intellect not about imagination. (Check the Latin text, found in the link provided.) In this, merely picturing or recalling from memory an image of a hot dog is not thinking about the hot dog. Paraphrasing Aristotle here: a dog knows hot dogs, but a human knows what hot dogs are.
    +++++
    Aquinas eating a hot dog

    Not impossible. They are called “wieners” because they are the sausage specialty of Vienna (Wien). When I was at the Restaurant Palmenhaus in what was once the Royal-and-Imperial orangerie, I ordered Vienna sausage from the menu and, lo!, I was served two very long hot dogs with sharp mustard. Yum.

    For a truly disgusting sausage, try Bavarian white sausage (weisswurst). Yuck.

  9. @Sheri:

    “The writer does not write the story for himself, he writes it for other people who have no idea how the story starts, ends and what happens in the middle.”

    Huh? Your question to *me*, which I quote below again is: “The real question here is: If you knew everything about your child before you concieve him, would you conceive him?” This is exactly parallel. If according to you, there is no sense in birth-ing because the one giving birth already knows it all, neither there is any sense in writing a story for others since the writer already knows it all.

    “I have a very good memory and generally do not rewatch things except out of boredom or for background noise. I don’t remember ever rereading a book (though I don’t read books much so that may be irrelevant). The better one’s memory, the less likely one is to rewatch something. And knowing the end does change the way you watch–there is no breathless anticipation anymore.”

    I did not object to the fact that knowing the end changes the way you approach the book. Of course it does; for the really good books, the ones that deserve rereading, for the better, as any half-decent Literary critic will tell you. I quoted Hazlitt; you can read his essay online.

    At any rate your claim goes waaay behind the quoted portion; your claim is tantamount to calling irrational (your words, not mine) people that reread or watch reruns.

    On to the question itself.

    “The real question here is: If you knew everything about your child before you concieve him, would you conceive him?”

    That is not a real question, but a pseudo-question. There is no “before” and “after” in God, since as Aquinas *shows* knowledge and creation are in God one and the same act; the distinction is a purely logical distinction. Period, end of story. Now, there are a couple of responses one can rehearse; they always entail that Aquinas got something wrong, whether in the nature of knowing and creation or in the nature of God or something else. That being so, you have your work cut out for you.

  10. @Sheri:

    There is one potential ambiguity in “knowledge and creation are in God one and the same act” that may be worth clearing up. Knowledge here, refers to knowledge of the created order, or of what is actual, not knowledge of such things as possibles, counterfactuals, etc., which is the type of knowledge relevant to your analogy.

  11. Rodrigues,

    Who is this Reader with a capital R? How do I get in contact with such an exalted person and what insight would there be for us mere readers? Are you a Reader or just a reader and if so how did you obtain this distinction?

    It is obvious that Hazlitt was claiming that he was unusual in this respect. He certainly did not wish for others to emulate this behaviour, because then there would be no point in his writing any new books himself. Maybe he had an unusually poor memory.

    P. S. You are not referring to the British faculty position called a Reader are you?

  12. Sheri, I don’t myself (nor do many other physicists) believe in a “block universe” in which the future is predetermined (it undermines free will).
    For a relatively straight forward explanation of the block universe of special relativity, see
    http://www.informationphilosopher.com/freedom/special_relativity.html
    A debate between two theoretical physicists–Chris Isham and John Polkinghorne–on the reality and significance of the block universe is given in the series on the Vatican conferences on scientific perspectives on divine action, the one on Quantum Cosmology, in particular. Unfortunately I can’t find a single link to the whole article. If you go to the link for CTNS books (http://www.ctns.org/books.html)
    and click on the icon for “Quantum Cosmology” and then on the right side, on the article “block universe” you’ll see a summary.

    Anyhow, with respect to God being outside of time. Standard theology (as opposed to process theology), beginning with St. Augustine, has it the time began when God created the Universe, i.e. the creation of the universe required the creation of time. (see, for example, http://www.ericrosenfield.com/time.html)

    And when asked what God was doing “before” he created time, St. Augustine answered “Creating Hell for people who asked that question”.

  13. @Scotian:

    “Who is this Reader with a capital R? How do I get in contact with such an exalted person and what insight would there be for us mere readers? Are you a Reader or just a reader and if so how did you obtain this distinction?”

    If you do not know who The Reader is, then I cannot help you. As far as making contact with Him, you do not contact Him, He reads you. He never sleeps; He suffers from an ideal Insomnia.

    “It is obvious that Hazlitt was claiming that he was unusual in this respect. ”

    I do not deny that Hazlitt is unusual; after all, I judge him one of the top Literary critics in the English language, which is also to say, one of the top readers. But his difference to the common reader, in this one respect under discussion, is a matter of degree, not kind.

  14. YOS: May be the pagan view, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just because it’s the Christian view, doesn’t mean it’s right.

    G. Rodriques: Can’t help you if you don’t understand a writer writes for others.
    No, it is not the same thing. It’s like someone down the street with a time machine knows what will happen to the child you may conceive, but you do not.

    No, actually my claim is tantamount to saying you know everything that will happen to your child before conception and you conceive him anyway. You watch it play out in REAL LIFE–not a book, not a movie. You watch your child become an addict and die a horrible death just as you knew would happen.

    It is a real question, unless you agree with Aquinas, which I do not. He defines knowledge and creation as one but I don’t agree. Knowledge of the creation order is not the same as creation. If it’s knowledge of the creation order, since God created us, that is self-evident.

    Bob: Thanks for the links. I will read through them. I’m somewhat familiar with the “block universe” so it will make interesting reading. As for St. Augustine, well….. 🙂 ( See my comment to YOS)

  15. @Sheri:

    “Can’t help you if you don’t understand a writer writes for others.”

    I do not understand that a writer writes for others?

    “You watch your child become an addict and die a horrible death just as you knew would happen.”

    So it seems your *real* problem (which, if I understand you, is not a “problem” per se, but just muddleheaded confusion) with an omniscient God is that then He is guilty (of something I know not what), so you think that if only He is ignorant then He is off the hook, is that it?

    “It is a real question, unless you agree with Aquinas, which I do not. He defines knowledge and creation as one but I don’t agree. Knowledge of the creation order is not the same as creation. If it’s knowledge of the creation order, since God created us, that is self-evident.”

    With all due respect, you do not understand Aquinas. He does not “define[s] knowledge and creation as one”, he gives reasoned arguments.

  16. Ye Olde Statistician

    May 17, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    you know everything that will happen to your child before conception [etc.]

    What do you mean “before”?

    I can see where this might be a problem for a god who is part of the universe and therefore bound by time. It also makes the creation of time a problem.

  17. YOS: Yes, it makes the creation of time a problem. I do not subscribe to the idea that time was created. I believe it exists outside of even God. It’s a stand-alone phenomena as far as I can tell. That is a conclusion I reached based on logic and what I have learned of God. It does not agree with much of religion. So be it.

    As for my example requiring God be part of time, yes, it does. If I understand you correctly, you are saying God has always existed and always will. Nothing happened before because there is no before as far as God is concerned. Actually, I think if we go that route, God knows all and its has already happened, we negate free will. We are “predetermined”.

    All of this is like trying to understand infinity. Can a line go to infinity in one direction? Mathematically, I am told the answer is yes. But infinity has no beginning and no end. So how can that be? After a while, I came to decide that all the mess that ensues with conventional ideation on time and infinity indicates the conventional ideation is not correct. I may be wrong, but again, the ideas as presented to me here and elsewhere make no sense whatsoever.

  18. Well Sheri, you and the great mathematician Hilbert had the same misgivings about infinity. He proposed the famous “hotel paradox” to illustrate his misgiving. (Google “Hilbert’s hotel paradox for many links.)

  19. Ye Olde Statistician

    May 17, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    I do not subscribe to the idea that time was created. I believe it exists outside of even God. It’s a stand-alone phenomena as far as I can tell.

    Time is the measure of motion (change) in mutable being. Hence, there can be no time unless there are mutable beings, like quarks or photons. Time is consequent on matter, not independent of it. Or as Einstein put it when he deprived space and time “of the last trace of objective reality.”
    Formerly, people thought that if matter disappeared from the universe, space and time would remain. Relativity declares that space and time would disappear with matter.

    The problem with DIY ontology is that it often does not tie together coherently, and is based only on what one can imagine.

  20. God’s into the road trip, not the destination, otherwise he’d fly Delta for convenience. Or you can chat all day about things that make no sense to begin with so won’t make any sense after going around in circles for hours on end. It’s dancing angels on pin heads recast.

  21. YOS: I noted that it’s my belief and I could be wrong. On a blog where “the experts” are often questioned, this should not be unusual. In this case, it’s quantum theory, time-space, etc that make no sense to me. Should I accept this because the “experts” said so? Am I then bound to experts on climate change?

    It’s kind of tough to tie together the complete ontology in a comment section. I think I’d have to write a blog or a book. I am also willing to modify or drop the belief if at some point I find things start making sense. I have studied this at various levels–it’s not based on what I can imagine. It’s based on what makes sense in the overall scheme of things. I did not arrive at it on whim.

    Bob: Thanks. Guess I’m not totally crazy after all. I will look up the hotel paradox.

    Will: Some seem to take this very seriously, judging by their reactions. I find it interesting to ponder if I have the time, but if I turned out to wrong, it really wouldn’t change anything. I guess we will find out when we die.

  22. The problem here, and one that Aquinas assumes, is that God is a Mystery- something that we cannot comprehend. Aquinas is using logic and rationality to try and give some explication of what that implies. No matter how well he did that, and he did it very well, it is not an explanation because an explanation of God cannot be done. God can only be believed as a matter of faith- which is accepting what one cannot understand as true.

    Sheri’s problem “I disagree with the entire premise that God is outside time. If God is outside time, there was no reason to even create humans—he knows the outcome and everything about us. There is no reason to create something if you know the beginning, middle and end of the story. You’re just watching what you already know. Only an irrational creature creates something that he’s already watched created, lived and died. There is no point to the creation.”

    Creation only occurs from our point of view in a space/time/matter universe. As pointed out, space/time/matter are all intertwined in the universe. Since God does not exist in the universe none of that applies. Reasons, beginnings, middles, ends, rationality are all constructs that apply to us. We simply cannot understand God. We can only observe the universe and try to understand it.

    From what I’ve read recently it is most likely that the universe is not closed, but infinite. The various measures of cosmological constants are getting closer and closer to the values that would suggest that. An infinite being(which as a human understanding is nonsense) would have no problem with that.

  23. Aquinas reminds me of a comic book nerd arguing arguing about whether Superman would indeed defeat Batman.

    JMJ

  24. YOS,

    Remember that “thought” does not mean “a mental picture.” That is called imagination and as chimpanzees and crows have shown, many problems can be solved with imagination

    I only think in images except when I’m thinking about music or using words. I suppose that makes me a chimpanzee and/or a crow. My guess is you don’t really have a good definition of “thought” or what “thinking” is.

  25. DAV: Like many things, I find that what your stated end game often is what frequently defines your words. With thought, if you are into animal rights, simply following a maze and getting out qualifies as thought. If you’re a philosopher, complex logic may be what you define as thought. I doubt there’s one definition that would be accepted by all, which makes discussions concerning thought somewhat futile unless one agrees upon what definition is being used for the discussion. As we’ve seen here, that rarely happens.

  26. If God is outside of time, how can He create a universe? Would not the act of creating require time to be external to the thing created? Otherwise the creation would always exist or be eternally in the instant of creation. If it did always exist, then how did God create it?

    Not advocating Sheri’s position here; just grappling with a conundrum.

  27. @Gary:

    “Not advocating Sheri’s position here; just grappling with a conundrum.”

    Your conundrum seems to arise from a conflation of change with creation. Time is the measure of change, and where there is change there is time. But creation is not change as there is nothing that undergoes change in creation. There is still an analogical sense in which we speak of a “before” and “after” in Creation, but this sense has nothing to do with Time, but with ontological priority.

  28. G.Rodrigues,
    Yes, there’s a difficulty with terminology and I’m untutored in technical usage. Still, how can something changeable come into existence in a domain where there is no change? How can a First Mover “decide” to create when decision implies a sequence of conditions or differing states in His mind?

  29. Ye Olde Statistician

    May 18, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    It’s dancing angels on pin heads recast.

    When and in which writing can this be found?

    In this case, it’s quantum theory, time-space, etc that make no sense to me.

    General relativity, not quantum theory. Unlike, say “climate change theory,” the predictions of general relativity (and quantum theory) are verified by actual observation and experiment. So they can be relied upon to that extent as well as to the extent that they mesh with one another and with other physical theories.

    I only think in images except when I’m thinking about music or using words.

    An image, or phantasm, can be aural, tactile, olfactory, etc., as well as visual.

    I suppose that makes me a chimpanzee and/or a crow.

    It means that a rational animal is still an animal.

    My guess is you don’t really have a good definition of “thought” or what “thinking” is.

    Your guess would be wrong.

    Try thinking about “dog.”

    OK?

    What image did you conjure up? A Rottweiler? A Shi-tzu? A Great Dane? There is not and cannot be an image of the thought “dog.” You can only have images of specific dogs. That is because imagination is restricted to things actually sensed, even though the image can be remembered and even manipulated. The legendary pink elephant does not exist in nature, but can be imagined — but is it an African elephant or an Indian elephant?

    The first level of cognition is digestion, by which we know things directly by absorbing their matter and discarding their form. (Reproductive acts are also knowings at this level.) The second level of cognition is perception/imagination, by which we know things by absorbing their forms while discarding their matter. (When you see an elephant, a minature elephant does not appear in your brain.) The third level of cognition, which is what Aquinas means in these passages when he uses terms like intellectus, is when the intellect reflects upon the perceptions and abstracts conceptions from them.

    If you’re a philosopher, complex logic may be what you define as thought.

    Only if you are a bad philosopher. The primary marker is the use of language. This does not mean mere use of signs to indicate physical objects. You don’t need language to say “It is raining.” Everyone knows it is raining by the simple fact of getting wet. You do need language to say, “Maybe if we built an artificial cave, we could stay dry tomorrow.” The key terms — if, could, tomorrow, maybe, etc. do not refer to physical objects or observable states. The difference between a symbol and a sign.

    Would not the act of creating require time to be external to the thing created?

    No. Not if time itself is a created thing and is consequent, as Einstein proposed, to the exitence of matter.

  30. Through all of this, I keep reading and getting the impression that the bottom line is God is incomprehensible, yet people keep regarding Aquinas as if he comprehended.

  31. “Through all of this, I keep reading and getting the impression that the bottom line is God is incomprehensible, yet people keep regarding Aquinas as if he comprehended.”

    Well that basically nails it.

  32. There is not and cannot be an image of the thought “dog.” You can only have images of specific dogs.

    Maybe you can’t but what I see would be better characterized as a cartoon of a dog and that’s not an adequate description. It’s also blurry but I doubt that would help you. I also have images for concepts like a year and other units of time (and, no, they don’t look like calenders and clocks).

    I think you are out in left field even if you can find others who would agree with you. All you are doing is supplying words which explain nothing nor illustrate anything. You certainly aren’t in a position to know what chimps and crows are doing when they process information so this imagination vs. thought thing is hogwash.

  33. @Sheri:

    “Through all of this, I keep reading and getting the impression that the bottom line is God is incomprehensible, yet people keep regarding Aquinas as if he comprehended.”

    q12 of the Summa Theologiae bears the title “How God is known to us”. In the first article, he argues that created intellects can grasp the nature of God. Then in the following articles he proceeds to thoroughly qualify this. In article 2, that He cannot be seen by an image; in article 4 that it cannot be grasped by any created intellect by its natural powers alone; in article 8 that those that grasp the essence of God cannot grasp all that there is in God; in article 11 that no one in this life can grasp the essence of God, etc. and etc.

    So Aquinas concurs with you that, that God is indeed “incomprehensible” (unknowable is better, as less liable to misunderstanding), and in a very strong sense. Practically everything that Aquinas predicates of God on the basis of reasoned argumentation are denials: He is purely actual (= there is no admixture of potency in him), He is infinite in power (= He is not finite in power), He is immaterial (= He is not material), etc. and etc.

  34. “…in the following articles he proceeds to thoroughly qualify this…”

    Comedy gold. Scholasticism had a 600 year run and got thrown out of the academies because it produced nothing but intellectual circles for its entire run.

  35. @Will Nitschke:

    “Comedy gold.”

    We get it already, you are devoid of any knowledge or wit, there is really no need to prove it again and again in every Aquinas’ thread.

  36. Ye Olde Statistician

    May 18, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    You certainly aren’t in a position to know what chimps and crows are doing when they process information so this imagination vs. thought thing is hogwash.

    Animal behavior can be adequately explained using imagination (which includes memory) without invoking intellect, so we defer to Ockham’s razor: Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora, Summa Totius Logicae, i. 12 Or as Aristotle put it long before:

    “We may assume the superiority all else being equal of that demonstration which derives from fewer postulates or hypotheses.”
    –Aristotle, The Posterior Analytics

    If you can identify any animals that use language, that would help your case. The use of language indicates the ability to abstract concepts from percepts. A horse knows an apple; but man knows what “apples” are. Remember: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    what I see would be better characterized as a cartoon of a dog

    A cartoon of what kind of dog? Schnauzer? Mutt? Husky?
    It is also possible to imagine the sound of the word “dog” or a picture of the letters d-o-g, etc.

    Since rational animals are animals, every act of conception is accompanied by an image. (And hence forms a trace on an fMRI scan.) Zen masters, yogis, and contemplatives may overcome to some extent the coupling of thought with phantasm. That would be an interesting question.

  37. YOS: If you are talking about animals creating their own language, some will argue that they have, only we can’t translate it (conveniently, of course). Then there are the chimps that reportedly learn sign language.

  38. Ye Olde Statistician

    May 18, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    Sheri: Chimps can be trained to imitate a few signs (with great effort and reinforcement), but they do not do so by nature. Any creature with imagination can be trained to perform tricks.

    Walker Percy put it this way:

    “How can a child learn to speak a language in three years without anyone taking trouble about it, that is, utter and understand an unlimited number of sentences, while a great deal of time and trouble is required to teach a chimpanzee a few hand signals?”
    The Message in the Bottle, p. 8

    For some reason people will go to absurd extents to minimize the distinction by drawing parallels and analogies in behaviors so they don’t have to acknowledge the bleeding obvious.

  39. YOS: I agree totally. I especially like the quote.

  40. Animal behavior can be adequately explained using imagination (which includes memory) without invoking intellect,

    So, when solving problems with imagination you mist also be including planning which doesn’t require thinking?

    Hey! I get it! Only humans can think so whatever non-humans do can’t be thinking! You arrange your definitions to exclude from thinking anything that an animal might do. Ockham’s razor? It would seem to me that the simplest explanation thinking and intellect follow a gradient throughout the animal kingdom and didn’t suddenly appear in humans.

  41. DAV: As I stated above, definitions are what one needs to prove the end game.

    I don’t agree that there is a gradient of thinking and/or intellect, unless there’s the top .0000001% (humans) at a HUGE level and then the rest, which technically not a gradient. This is based on observations, since only humans have risen to the extremely high thinking/intellect level while no other creatures have. This is in spite of the long length of time other creatures have been here versus the short period humans have.

  42. Ye Olde Statistician

    May 19, 2015 at 11:07 am

    So, when solving problems with imagination you mist also be including planning which doesn’t require thinking?

    Generally speaking, it requires instinct rather than thinking. (Keeping in mind that the English term “thinking” (especially as used today in an imprecise age) is not what Aquinas was writing about in Latin terms. Check the link that Briggs provided and read the Latin text for your self.

  43. Sheri,

    don’t agree that there is a gradient of thinking and/or intellect, unless there’s the top .0000001% (humans) at a HUGE level and then the rest, which technically not a gradient.

    The problem perhaps then is recognizing it. YOS likely never will because he apparently subscribes to the notion only humans can do it and as one aspect after another appears in non-humans his definitions change accordingly.

    Strangely, he says: Any creature with imagination can be trained to perform tricks. then quotes Percy : How can a child learn to speak a language in three years without anyone taking trouble about it …

    Learning to speak is one of our instincts. One of many. Learning to walk is another so is relating to other humans. Those don’t occur because of some great intellectual breakthrough. Animals also communicate with each other which implies a language. The one thing we have done is found a way to communicate from the past. Much of our accomplishment is based on applying and improving upon past knowledge. Many of the examples of our “superior” intelligence really are a testament to our ability to communicate past knowledge. I doubt a child raised without other humans (ignoring some of the physical problems) would exhibit any more intellectual prowess than the surrounding animals. A recurrence of euclidean geometry and invention of the computer would be very unlikely.

    Despite YOS’s plea to instinct and the even less defined “imagination” he can’t explain how those tools would lead to problem solutions. All they can supply would be problem solving strategies. Watch a cat hunt. They have the prey as a goal and when the prey goes into hiding the cat just doesn’t suddenly lose interest or wander about aimlessly. Instead its actions look quite purposeful. I’ve had several cats who certainly seemed to understand the purpose of a doorknob and tried to operate it. Hard to explain with “instinct” but, oh yeah, YOS leaves himself an out with “imagination” whatever that really is.

    Its telling that one of YOS’s distinguishing characteristics of intelligence is language. He must be one of those who hears a voice when he thinks. Seems that would put a speed limit on his thinking.

  44. DAV: Okay, I agree there’s a lot of word play here. I probably would not say that animals have imagination, though YOS does. I also will acknowledge that animals can understand the body language and tone of humans. A dog will run and cower if you shout “Do you want a treat?” at him. They may also recognize certain words like “walk”, “sit” “stay” (in the language their owner speaks). I don’t think it’s comprehension at a very high level, but they can recognize spoken language if the tone is neutral.

    You are correct on the child raised without humans lacking much of the behaviour we associate with humans. Feral children are an example of this. There also appears to be a window where this can be learned and once passed, the individual does not learn the needed skills. It may be we just don’t have the tools needed yet. Look how well autistic children communicate with a computer.

    Not to necessarily disagree with your analysis, but it seems to me that you are simply labeling human characteristics as “instincts” and thus making us equivalent to animals in how we behave. That, to me, is using a definition that suits your ideas. I really think this is virtually impossible to actually reconcile because most people are going to cling to the idea that humans are special if that’s their belief, or not special if that’s their belief, no matter what someone argues. It’s just so much a part of identity (or is that instinct?).

    I am still left with why humans are the only animal to rise to this level of communication and technological advances when humans have been here such a short time. Also, how humans got the “instinct” to speak and the ability to record their past when no other animal does so. It seems we are different, though the why is pretty much in the realm of religion and not science.

  45. Sheri, there is a so-called language gene, Foxp2, identified by MIT scientists. (See
    http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/language-gene-0915.)
    It was identified before this by language disorders in an English family that had a modified gene.
    (See
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FOXP2)
    As the Wikipedia article points out, there are a number of other genes required, but this is the main one.
    Robert Silverberg, in his story “The Pope of the Chimps”, goes on to explore the development by genetic manipulation of language in primates other than man.

  46. @Sheri:

    “Okay, I agree there’s a lot of word play here.”

    I am not sure what “word play” means, but if it means that YOS is playing fast and loose with words so as to get the conclusions he desires that is false; not only the words have precise meanings in their intended context, there are *arguments* to support the conclusions. For example, DAV complains that:

    “Its telling that one of YOS’s distinguishing characteristics of intelligence is language. He must be one of those who hears a voice when he thinks. Seems that would put a speed limit on his thinking.”

    The take away message seems to be: YOS (arbitrarily) declares language to be one of the features of Intellect. But, or so the thought seems to go, such a narrow definition is question begging. YOS may be skipping a step or two here and there, but there is absolutely no question begging going on, for there are independent arguments, drawn from both the scholastic tradition and the modern analytic one, that language is indeed inextricably tied to thought. Since posting links to Scholastic arguments is a waste of time, since the opponents will never bother to learn them but will *still* complain about “circularity”, “hogwash”, “verbiage” and offer other such shows of intellectual lazyness, irresponsibility and dishonesty, I will mention the family of arguments advanced by Donald Davidson. A precis can be found here.

  47. G. Rodriques: Regarding the cartoon on the link: I doubt people would adore Fido if he told them what he actually thought of his owner in many situations. I foresee a great dumping of pets should this ever actually come true. After all, your kids already tell you things you really don’t want to hear–who needs a dog that does the same thing? (Perhaps that’s why they hide their language? Nah…)

    The blog link was very interesting. I read both parts of the “Animal Souls”. He makes points similar to what I have heard before. I agree that language is tied to thought. However, it’s just an interesting discussion to me, not a life defining belief.

    All of this language and souls, etc., remain tied to religion, rather than science. Scientifically, it would be fascinating if animals could talk. It might take a huge toll on the livestock industry and pet industries due to people objecting to eating and owing animals that think. If animals have souls (with or without language), actually I think the same thing would be true, though according to one person I know, if animals had souls we could not euthanize them–it would be like killing a person.

    I appreciate your answers here. As noted on the blog link, however, people tend to cling very dearly to their beliefs. What constitutes language, thought, possessing a soul all impacts their most cherished beliefs, which as you noted, means arguments rarely sway them. I don’t know if animals think–I’m inclined to believe they do not. If suddenly my puppy started screaming “Let me out of this playpen NOW” instead of the high-pitched shriek she currently uses, I will modify my belief. As for the afterlife and critters, I’ll deal with whatever shows up there–I have better things to do than sit around and try to figure out what God made for us after we leave the planet. (I should note I have hissing cockroaches and snakes for “pets” and I doubt most people want to see those in heaven!)

  48. Sheri,

    One dictionary definition: “instinct” a natural propensity or skill of a specified kind.

    I would refine that to mean a skill not learned or acquired although perhaps improved upon. Language learning is an innate skill. It is not taught nor is it learned. And if language is a primary marker as YOS has claimed then it would seem that thinking cannot occur in humans until language has been learned. This does not at all seem reasonable.

    GR,

    DAV complains “Its telling that one of YOS’s distinguishing characteristics of intelligence is language” … The take away message seems to be: YOS (arbitrarily) declares language to be one of the features of Intellect.

    Observation; not complaint. YOS did say language is a distinguishing characteristic (The primary marker is the use of language. ). It isn’t important at all if the idea didn’t originate with him or if it’s arbitrary although it is arbitrary to latch onto a specific form of communication and restrict it to only the form used by humans as the primary marker. Making sure the definition of thinking can’t be applied to non-humans appears to be what it’s all about so it can then be claimed it has been proven that non-humans can’t think. Somehow this isn’t circular reasoning of begging the question? It fits my definition of “word play” .

  49. Ye Olde Statistician

    May 20, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    he apparently subscribes to the notion only humans can do it and as one aspect after another appears in non-humans his definitions change accordingly.

    But these “uniquely human traits” were specified by the scientific revolutionaries, not by Aristotelians or scholastics.
    https://thomism.wordpress.com/2008/10/11/what-really-are-uniquely-human-traits/

    YOS actually subscribes to the notion that some evidence if actually required. Language is one such evidence and, since the intellect is precisely the ability to abstract concepts from our percepts, the very existence of words is an important marker.

    Learning to speak is one of our instincts.

    Indeed. Rational animals are still animals and have instincts. This is no surprise.

    Feral children

    And there is no guarantee that a potential will be actualized. This makes perfectly good sense from an Aristo-scholastic viewpoint.

    Animals also communicate with each other which implies a language.

    You can “communicate” a disease, too. That doesn’t make it talking.

    When a zebra out on the edge of the herd sniffs a lion in the tall grass, he does not say to himself in any fashion, “I had better tell the others.” (Nor would you, for that matter.) He simply does what is appropriate for a successful zebra to do under those circumstances. His startled neighbors, startled by what he does whether they sniff lion or not, do likewise. That’s part of how they got to be grown-up zebras in the first place. The zebras who are slow to startle have a way of dropping out of the herd early in life. In a moment, the whole herd is in flight, but it cannot be properly said that a zebra has sent a message. It would be more accurate to say that the zebras have caught something from one another.

    Human beings, too, catch things from one another, and usually with no use of language at all. We can imagine the hominid and speechless precursors of man wandering not far from the zebras. What need could they possibly have had to call the lion by a name? Just as surely as the zebras, they must have reacted appropriately to a whiff of lion. If they hadn’t, they wouldn’t have been around long enough to provide a future for all of us. What need, for that matter, would they have had to name the food they were eating or seeking, the food of the world of experience? Would they have had to be “told” to feed the young? To sleep at night? No animals need names for such things, because they do not have to “tell” of them. Such things, in their seasons, are just there. Language is for telling, not for naming. Nobody needs to be told that he is getting wet in the rain or that he is eating a banana.
    http://www.sourcetext.com/grammarian/less-than-words-can-say/02.htm

    Despite YOS’s plea to instinct and the even less defined “imagination” he can’t explain how those tools would lead to problem solutions.

    Actually, the subsequent description of the cat hunting the mouse is an excellent example. The proper object of the imagination is the absent, and its product is the ymago or phantasm. There is a discussion here, if you scroll down to “7. Imagination.”
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/10/in-psearch-of-psyche-man-animal.html

    Hard to explain with “instinct” but, oh yeah, YOS leaves himself an out with “imagination” whatever that really is.

    Moderns have an attenuated idea of “instinct” due to the scientific revolution demoting animals to meat puppets having no inner life at all. Instinct is a lively and dynamic power of estimation, also discussed at the link just given.

    Its telling that one of YOS’s distinguishing characteristics of intelligence is language. He must be one of those who hears a voice when he thinks.

    No. Why would you suppose that?

    there is a so-called language gene, Foxp2

    So-called, indeed. Like the so-called “aggression gene” (which turned out to be possessed by many non-aggressive people and not to be possessed by many aggressive ones). Of course, nothing can be actualized unless it exists in potential so it would not be surprising to discover a material cause.

    All of this language and souls, etc., remain tied to religion, rather than science.

    Actually, to natural philosophy. I’m not sure what religion gave Aristotle the idea, but it was likely not Christianity.

    thinking cannot occur in humans until language has been learned.

    There’s that imprecise term “thinking” again. Aquinas used the term intellectus and cognoscere. These are not the same as the way “thinking” is used by Late Moderns. But children are said not to achieve the “age of reason” until they are around seven years of age and why few memories survive from times when we had no words to express them.

  50. @DAV:

    “It isn’t important at all if the idea didn’t originate with him or if it’s arbitrary although it is arbitrary to latch onto a specific form of communication and restrict it to only the form used by humans as the primary marker. Making sure the definition of thinking can’t be applied to non-humans appears to be what it’s all about so it can then be claimed it has been proven that non-humans can’t think. Somehow this isn’t circular reasoning of begging the question? It fits my definition of “word play”.”

    This is nothing more than gainsaying.

    (1) Language as used by humans is not the only marker but an especially important one. And the reason is quite simple: by thought what is meant is rational, abstract though, which involves the ability to grasp abstract, universal concepts, form propositional judgments and concatenate them in formally valid chains of reasoning.

    (2) It is a contingent matter, a matter to be decided by observation of the world, what species besides Human beings, if any, possess the capacity for rational thought. I am taking as uncontroversial that human beings do indeed possess it. If tomorrow we were visited by space aliens in UFOs, we would quickly, and quite correctly, conclude that we are not the only rational animals in the Universe.

    (3) But as far as we know, no other species on Earth has the capacity for rational thought. Because they do not exhibit the typical manifestations of such a capacity (Language, Culture, Mathematics, Art, etc.).

    (4) Now someone comes along and asks “What about members of species Y that do Z” with Z some sort of task that seems to involve rational thought? What YOS points out is that the sensory capacities, together with memory and imagination (in the technical Scholastic sense), suffices to account for how members of species Y can do Z. A Zebra surely must know in some sense the difference between one and two or three lions for risk assessment, or be able to gauge a spacial distance and the time it takes to cover it running, without thereby grasping the abstract concept of a number or the difference between 1 and 2, or have a grasp of universals like line, distance, velocity, etc. So if the sensory capacities suffice to explain the behavior of animals and they do not exhibit the typical manifestations of rational thought, the conclusion is that they do lack the capacity for rational thought. After all, why would nature endow them with such a capacity if they never exert it or even so much as need it?

    (5) Now someone, even finding not much to object in the above (and there isn’t, it is all pretty much bleeding obvious), might still want to press that animals can still think, and that there is not so much a difference in kind but merely a difference in degree. But given (1) it is unintelligible to say that the difference is merely in degree. What does it even mean to claim that a Zebra say, grasps abstract concepts but only in a tiny amount? Or that it reasons syllogistically but only in limited ways? But then to call whatever “reasoning” processes the Zebra does engage as “thinking” is mere equivocal word play.

    (6) At any rate, the concept of thought that is prominent in Aquinas arguments, whether that God has intellect or the argument that goes from thought to the immortality of the soul is the one described (very briefly) in (1). So if you still want to hold to your guns and say that whatever the Zebra does (or whatever other animal species you care to name) is “thinking”, sure go ahead. It is irrelevant for the arguments.

  51. Language as used by humans is not the only marker but an especially important one. And the reason is quite simple: by thought what is meant is rational, abstract though, which involves the ability to grasp abstract, universal concepts …
    But as far as we know, no other species on Earth has the capacity for rational thought…

    And that’s my point isn’t it? You just don’t know . So your perverted meaning of language is abstraction of concept? Well, if so,:

    (1) it’s about time the meaning was made clear; and
    (2) every situation an animal faces is unique. It is necessary to compare the current situation with past ones so appropriate action can be taken. That requires abstraction of concept. Even if the same action is applied without regard to differences, the animal still would need to know when to apply that same action. Is it possible your perverted meaning (a favorite pastime among philosophers it seems) of imagination is recognition?

  52. @DAV:

    “And that’s my point isn’t it? You just don’t know . So your perverted meaning of language is abstraction of concept? Well, if so,:”

    Do you actually bother to read what people write?

    (1) I gave an argument for why Humans are the only species on Earth with the capacity for rational thought, so in that sense, yes I do know (2) nowhere did I say or implied that “language” is “abstraction of concept”.

    “It is necessary to compare the current situation with past ones so appropriate action can be taken. That requires abstraction of concept.”

    The second sentence is false; it does not follow from the first. That has been YOS’ point — to be clear, “compare the current situation with past ones so appropriate action can be taken” does not require the capacity to form abstract, universal concepts — or one point anyway. There is no argument I can see to back up the inference, so my best guess at how your reasoning goes is: the capacity for grasping abstract, universal concepts can account for why animals Y can do Z, ergo animals Y have the capacity to grasp abstract, universal concepts. But this particular reasoning is obviously invalid.

    “Is it possible your perverted meaning (a favorite pastime among philosophers it seems) of imagination is recognition?”

    No. This is a funny game you are playing; you are resolutely ignorant of what you are criticizing, but that does not stop you from maintaining that “this imagination vs. thought thing is hogwash”, that the proponents have no ‘good definition of “thought”, what “thinking” is’, that they are “perverting meanings” and similar mutually incompatible n-tuples of claims. The particular claim may change to the tune of what is more rhetorically convenient at any given moment, but it still is nothing more than automatic gainsaying. But at this point, having no wish to pander to intellectual lazyness and irresponsibility, I will defer to the links YOS gave.

  53. Ye Olde Statistician

    May 21, 2015 at 11:14 am

    To which we may wish to add Noam Chomsky’s “A Review of B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior,” (found here: http://www.chomsky.info/articles/1967—-.htm) in which he dismantles Skinner’s behavioralist, stimulus-response approach to language.

  54. It is necessary to compare the current situation with past ones so appropriate action can be taken. That requires abstraction of concept.”
    The second sentence is false; it does not follow from the first.

    It requires recognition of situation which is a generalization/abstraction you both must have a strange definition of abstraction.

    Oh, and this language=abstraction is silly. Language comprises many things only one of which is abstraction. It’s like saying automobile when you really mean transmission.

    Re Skinner/Chomsky: not the same thing.

  55. GR, I wanted to add this earlier but had more pressing issues at the time.

    nowhere did I say or implied that “language” is “abstraction of concept”

    From MAY 21, 2015 AT 10:18 AM: Language as used by humans is not the only marker but an especially important one. And the reason is quite simple: by thought what is meant is rational, abstract though, which involves the ability to grasp abstract, universal concepts

    I get: “Language as used by humans … not the only marker but important … reason is quite simple … involves the ability to grasp abstract, universal concepts.”

    You either stopped talking about language after the first sentence and changed the subject or you were implying something about language. If the former, don’t blame me for misinterpreting a muddled paragraph. And also if the former, you haven’t given any reason why language is a primary marker making it an unsupported claim.

    Interesting you say language as used by humans implying language in non-humans. GR: Language as used by humans is NOT the same thing as the unqualified YOS: the primary marker is the use of language the latter of which can be construed to mean simply using language without any regard to the manner of use. Furthermore, you can’t say in what manner non-humans actually use their language so you can’t claim it’s in any way different than human use. It looks like it’s forcing the definition to fit only humans.

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