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Summary Against Modern Thought: The immortality of the soul, Part II

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.

We’re finishing the immortality of the soul. This week counter-arguments are refuted. See paragraph 4 for a surprising argument for the finiteness of the universe!

Chapter 80 Arguments to prove that the corruption of the body entails that of the soul [And their solution] (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation.

This material also incorporates Chapter 81.

1 There are certain arguments which would seem to prove the impossibility of human souls remaining after the body.

2 For, if human souls are multiplied in accordance with the multiplication of bodies, as was shown above, then the souls cannot remain in their multiple being when the bodies are destroyed. One of two alternatives, therefore, follows ineluctably: either the human soul perishes utterly, or only one soul remains. And, seemingly, this state of affairs would accord with the theory of those who maintain that what is one in all men is alone incorruptible, whether this be the agent intellect only, as Alexander declares, or, in the Averroistic doctrine, the possible along with the agent intellect.

3 Moreover, the formal principle [ratio] is the cause of specific diversity. But, if many souls remain after the corruption of bodies, they must be mutually diverse; for just as there is identity where there is unity of substance, so those things we diverse which are substantially many.

Now, in souls that survive the death of the bodies which they inform, the only possible diversity is of a formal character, since such souls are not composed of matter and form–a point proved above with respect to every intellectual substance. It therefore follows that those souls are specifically diverse.

Nevertheless, souls are not changed to another species as a result of the body’s corruption, because whatever is changed from species to species is corrupted. Consequently, even before souls were separated from their bodies, they were specifically diverse. Now, composite things owe their specific nature to their form. It follows that individual men will be specifically diverse—an awkward consequence. It is, therefore, seemingly impossible that a multiplicity of human souls should survive their bodies.

Notes Not only are souls not made of matter, but a hidden implication is that your soul survives even if you don’t want it to.

4 Then, too, for those who espouse the doctrine of the eternity of the world it would seem utterly impossible to maintain that a multiplicity of human souls remain after the death of the body. For, if the world exists from eternity, then movement did, too, so that generation likewise is eternal.

But in that case an infinite number of men have died before us. If, then, the souls of the dead remain in their multiple being after death, it must be said that there actually exist now an infinite number of souls of men already dead. This, however, is impossible, because the actually infinite cannot exist in nature. Hence it follows, on the hypothesis of the world’s eternity, that souls do not remain many after death.

Notes Isn’t that a sweet—and unexpected!—argument for the finiteness of the universe. The next is a terrific argument about modern conceptions of the “mind”.

5 Also, “That which comes to a thing and departs from it, without the latter being corrupted, accrues to it accidentally”; for this is the definition of an accident. Thus, if the soul is not corrupted as the result of its severance from the body, it would follow that the soul is united to the body accidentally, and, further, that man is an accidental being, composed of body and soul. In that case, too, we should be faced with the consequence that there is no human species, for one species does not result from things joined together by accident; white man, for example, is not a species.

6 A completely inoperative substance, moreover, cannot possibly exist. All psychic operation, however, is corporeally determined, as we see by induction. For the soul’s nutritive powers function through the bodily qualities, and by a bodily instrument acting upon the body, which is perfected by the soul, which is nourished and increased, and from which the seed is separated for generative purposes.

Secondly, all the operations of the powers belonging to the sensitive soul are executed through bodily organs, some of them entailing a certain bodily transmutation, as in those which are called passions of the soul, for instance, love, joy, and the like. And again, while understanding is not an operation carried out through any bodily organ, nevertheless its objects are the phantasms, which stand in relation to it as colors to the power of sight; so that, just as sight cannot function in the absence of colors, so the intellective soul is incapable of understanding without phantasms.

Moreover, to enable it to understand, the soul needs the powers which prepare the phantasms so as to render them actually intelligible, namely, the cogitative power and the memory-powers which, being acts of certain bodily organs and functioning through them, surely cannot remain after the body perishes.

And that is why Aristotle says that the soul never understands without a phantasm, and that it understands nothing without the passive intellect, which he terms the cogitative power, and which is destructible. This explains why he says in De anima I [4] that man’s understanding is corrupted through the decay of some inward part, namely, the phantasm, or the passive intellect. Aristotle also remarks in De anima III [5] that after death we do not remember what we know in life. Evidently, then, no operation of the soul can remain after death. Therefore, neither does its substance continue to be, since no substance can exist without operation.

Notes I hope you didn’t miss “the intellective soul is incapable of understanding without phantasms” et cetera. Again, you miss all shots are improving your soul after you die. Confessionals are usually open before most masses.

7 [This begins Chap. 81] Now, because these arguments arrive at a false conclusion, as was shown above, we must endeavor to solve them…

9 For some advocates of the eternity of the world the third argument cited above has been the occasion of their lapsing into various bizarre opinions.

For some admitted the conclusion unqualifiedly, declaring that human souls perish utterly with their bodies. Others said that of all souls there remains a single separate entity common to them all, namely, the agent intellect, according to some, or, in addition, the possible intellect, according to others.

Still others maintained that souls continue to exist in their multiplicity after the death of the bodies; yet, on pain of having to admit an infinite number of souls, these persons averred that the same souls are united to different bodies after a certain period of time has elapsed. This was the Platonists’ theory, of which we shall treat further on.

Avoiding all these inferences, another group of thinkers held that it is not impossible for separate souls to be actually infinite in number. For in the case of things devoid of mutual order, to be actually infinite is to be infinite accidentally, and those thinkers saw no incongruity in admitting this. Such is the position of Avicenna and Al-Ghazali.

Aristotle does not tell us explicitly which of these opinions he himself shared, but he does expressly affirm the eternity of the world. Nevertheless, of all the opinions cited above, the last one is not inconsistent with the principle laid down by him. For in Physics III [5] and in De caelo I [5] he proves that there is no actual infinity in natural bodies, but he does not prove that there is no actual infinity in immaterial substances.

In any case it is certain that this question presents no difficulty to those who profess the Catholic faith, and do not posit the eternity of the world.

Notes No reincarnation! And nothing actually infinite, except God. But never forget how big infinity is!

10 Moreover, if the soul remains in existence after the death of the body, it does not follow that it must have been accidentally united to it, as the fourth argument concluded. For an accident is described as that which can be present or absent without the corruption of the subject composed of matter and form.

However, if this statement is applied to the principles of the composite subject, it is found to be false; because it is clear, as Aristotle shows in Physics I [9], that prime matter is ungenerated and incorruptible. That is why prime matter remains in its essence when the form departs.

Nevertheless, the form was united to it not accidentally but essentially, since it was joined to it according to one act of being.

The soul likewise is united to the body as regards one act of being, as was shown above. Therefore, although the soul continues to exist after the body has passed away, it is nevertheless united to the body substantially and not accidentally. Now, prime matter does not remain in act after the form’s departure, except in relation to the act of another form, whereas the human soul remains in the same act; and the reason for this is that the human soul is a form and an act, while prime matter is a being only potentially.

11 The proposition advanced in the fifth argument, namely, that no operation can remain in the soul when separated from the body, we declare to be false, in view of the fact that those operations do remain which are not exercised through organs. Such are the operations of understanding and willing. Those operations, however, do not endure which are carried out by means of bodily organs, and of such a kind are the operations of the nutritive and sensitive powers.

Notes But what about what was said above about losing the chance of further perfection? Of the kind of perfection in effecting your salvation, it cannot. But it can still “operate”. See the next argument, and paragraph 15.

12 Nevertheless it must be borne in mind that the soul understands in a different manner when separated from the body and when united to it, even as it exists diversely in those cases; for a thing acts according as it is.

Indeed, although the soul, while united to the body, enjoys an absolute being not depending on the body, nevertheless the body is the soul’s housing, so to speak, and the subject that receives it. This explains why the soul’s proper operation, understanding, has its object, namely, the phantasm, in the body, despite the fact that this operation does not depend on the body as though it were effected through the instrumentality of a bodily organ.

It follows that, so long as the soul is in the body, it cannot perform that act without a phantasm; neither can it remember except through the powers of cogitation and memory, by which the phantasms are prepared, as stated above.

Accordingly, understanding, so far as this mode of it is concerned, as well as remembering, perishes with the death of the body.

The separated soul, however, exists by itself, apart from the body. Consequently, its operation, which is understanding, will not be fulfilled in relation to those objects existing in bodily organs which the phantasms are; on the contrary, it will understand through itself, in the manner of substances which in their being are totally separate from bodies, and of which we shall treat subsequently.

And from those substances, as from things above it, the separated soul will be able to receive a more abundant influx, productive of a more perfect understanding on its own part. There is an indication of this event in the young. For the more the soul is freed from preoccupation with its body, the more fit does it become for understanding higher things.

Hence, the virtue of temperance, which withdraws the soul from bodily pleasures, is especially fruitful in making men apt in understanding. Then, too, sleeping persons, their bodily senses being dormant, with no disturbance of the humours or vapors to impede their mental processes, are, under the influence of higher beings, enabled to perceive some things pertaining to the future which transcend the scope of human reason.

And this is all the more true of those in a fainting condition or in ecstasy, since such states involve an even greater withdrawal from the bodily senses. Nor does this come to pass undeservedly. For, since the human soul, as we have shown already, is situated on the boundary line between corporeal and incorporeal substances, as though it existed on the horizon of eternity and time, it approaches to the highest by withdrawing from the lowest. Consequently, when the soul shall be completely separated from the body, it will be perfectly likened to separate substances in its mode of understanding, and will receive their influx abundantly.

13 Therefore, although the mode of understanding vouchsafed to us in the present life ceases upon the death of the body, nevertheless another and higher mode of understanding will take its place.

14 Now, recollection, being an act performed through a bodily organ, as Aristotle shows in the De memoria [I], cannot remain in the soul after the body, unless recollection be taken equivocally for the understanding of things which one knew before. For there must be present in the separate soul even the things that it knew in this life, since the intelligible species are received into the possible intellect inexpugnably, as we have already shown.

15 As for the other operations of the soul, such as loving, rejoicing, and the like, one must beware of equivocation.

For sometimes such operations are taken inasmuch as they are passions of the soul, and in this sense they are acts of the sensible appetite appertaining to the concupiscible and irascible powers, entailing some bodily change. And thus they cannot remain in the soul after death, as Aristotle proves in the De anima [I, 4].

Sometimes, however, such operations are taken for a simple act of the will, in the absence of all passion. That is why Aristotle says in Book VII of the Ethics that God rejoices in a single and simple operation; and in Book X that in the contemplation of wisdom there is marvelous delight; and in Book VII he distinguishes the love of friendship from the love that is a passion.

Now, since the will is a power employing no organ, as neither does the intellect, it is plain that these things of which we are speaking remain in the separated soul, so far as they are acts of the will.

22 thoughts on “Summary Against Modern Thought: The immortality of the soul, Part II Leave a comment

  1. I’ve been following a series about the evils and follies of the church of scientology.
    There’s a very strong wifi around these parts and I have to say that some of what is discussed is uncannily reminiscent of the Catholic Way as depicted in writing by this blog.

    Nothing to see in the above writing. Nothing is proved that isn’t obvious or known. As to infinite men who have lived? well there’s room on the planet for all of them actually so silly as that argument is, it doesn’t work. The argument is unnecessary but was of interest in times gone by when men did not know what they know now.

    Dogma is dangerous. Mind control is lethal. Confess to the person to whom you sinned, stop hiding.

  2. Did you know that the Invisible Man of H.G. Wells had to be blind as well? Because in order to see the light has to be projected by a lense on a retina. And you would see two floating lenses in the air, which would reveal the location of the Invisible Man.

    Likewise a soul that can observe the physical world would be observable in the same ohysical world, because of the interaction with the phyisical world. However, no souls have been observed so physical souls do not exist, only in your dreams and your memory.

    QED

  3. Hans yes but how about your thoughts and your mind. They are not visible. They are detectable indirectly and directly only by you.
    This invisible man wasn’t really invisible to start with! was he?

  4. “…souls are incapable of understanding without phantasms.” Really? A phantasm is a sense-impression in Aristotle’s philosophy like a dog’s bark, viewing the color red, feeling a soft surface. But it seems that a person’s understanding can work fine without the direct use of sense-impressions and even without the use of clear, mental, imaginative images. For instance, I cannot imagine or picture in my mind a 100 sided polygon and a 101 sided polygon. Nor have I ever seen a 100 sided or 101 sided polygon. But I clearly grasp the concept of a 100 sided polygon and how it differs logically from a 101 sided polygon. Yes, sense-impressions, experiences, and mental images may help us at times arrive at timeless concepts and different meanings but it doesn’t seem that we always need a sense-impression or even a mental image to grasp different meanings.

    Overall I don’t see how much of this problematic epistemology and metaphysics from Aristotle is helpful in supporting the immortality of the soul. I think you Mr. Briggs would be better off just supporting your contention with a post about near death or out of body experiences.

  5. Joy, the physical things and activities that allow you to have thoughts are quite visible. A movie is just images projected on a screen, but without the projector and screen, no movie.

    There’s a quite lovely, spiritual, stream-of-consciousness sort of thing Aquinas is approaching here. But his endless a priori circular logic shows that is not what he’s shooting for. He’s just trying to prove there is a soul, an entity in itself, that is presented as scientifically indiscernible. It’s snake oil magic.

    JMJ

  6. There’s a lot that is unsatisfactory about these arguments,, the definitions which can never be pinned down adequately, the latin translation which is skimmed over as if it doesn’t matter, the dogmatic fixation with names for parts of the thinking and feeling and general experience of what it is to be human is surprising for someone who preaches Uncertainty.

    Description is interesting, hearing how people describe what they believe is interesting. That’s all. What I know and what others know from their own perspective and revelation with all that that word encompasses can never be adequately reconciled for the purpose of proof.

    Either you believe in the human soul or you do not. As soon as anybody starts writing rules and descriptions you start to sound as mad as the worst kind of man who thinks he’s going to meet 72 virgins on death for ‘good works’.

    Let It deeply Be. As my favourite John Denver sang, a man who’s life story was uncanny regarding flight and destiny. He stayed in Hemnall Street Epping, my road at the time, crossed in front of my Dad once. His audio autobiography which a patient leant me was instructive, came a year too late for me though.

    I do believe there is a purpose of some kind and a pattern in lives which people can either ignore or heed.
    The way that the above article handles the soul this week implies that the souls all join together to form one thing which is God, not a new idea or thought that cannot be arrived at by anybody thinking about this from a standing start as I’ve said so many times before. I’m sorry that I can’t join in the expected delight as claimed by one sect. Is it true?
    As to the operation of the soul? I do believe that the soul can operate on matter. I have my own evidence of it which satisfies me. I do believe in miracles and don’t require any authority to tell me when one’s happened or to tell me if I will or won’t be ‘saved’. One thing is clear from the bible’s New Testament is that God’s acceptance does not have to be earned. If faith is real and true then a good life follows. A good life is not necessarily a happy one. Nobody is guaranteed of that but there are ways to make life happier for those who are not as blessed as the average nay medians . Again, ‘normal distribution’ is used even by the newest Brigsian convert if it suits the argument. What is normal in nature is used all the time tacitly in hard core theologically correct arguments.
    Consistency and critical thinking go out of the window.

    There is no need to invoke miracles for what is not understood either but you know when something special has happened.

    Mr Briggs,
    “Never let the iron enter your soul.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMwcnnT5quI

  7. JMJ,
    The first point about physical tissue that allows thoughts is true with the tacit premise that the brain and it’s working is not understood. Geography is not mechanics.
    As to the screen and eye analogy is separate from the brain and the mind argument,, clearly.
    I assume you refer to Hans’s invisible man in which case to say,
    ‘the invisible man’ is to say something definite about the man. Then to say he would have visible floating lenses is to change the premise which is either proving the nonsense of the invisible man or it’s a separate argument about a different kind of man. It’s has nothing to do with the soul argument.
    Unless the premise is ‘the human soul is like the invisible man’.

  8. JMJ,
    The first point about physical tissue that allows thoughts is true with the tacit premise that the brain and it’s working is not understood. Geography is not mechanics.
    As to the screen and eye analogy is separate from the brain and the mind argument,, clearly.
    I assume you refer to Hans’s invisible man in which case to say,
    ‘the invisible man’ is to say something definite about the man. Then to say he would have visible floating lenses is to change the premise which is either proving the nonsense of the invisible man or it’s a separate argument about a different kind of man. It’s has nothing to do with the soul argument.
    Unless the premise is
    ‘the human soul is like the invisible man’ which would be a straw man since nobody’s arguing that.
    Regarding Aquinas there’s a lot to say in discussion about the text as always but here is not the place for in depth discussion. These sessions are sermons only.

  9. I cannot imagine or picture in my mind a 100 sided polygon and a 101 sided polygon. Nor have I ever seen a 100 sided or 101 sided polygon.

    This was the example used by Descartes (save that he used the 1000-sided vs. 999-sided polygons) to show that the imagination was quite distinct from the intellect and that the human mind can conceive what it cannot imagine. But do not overlook that one cannot conceive of a 1000-sided polygon without some notion of sides, numbers, and polygons as such. All thought begins in the senses. It just doesn’t have to end there.

    Mr. Jones: Thomas is not in these chapters trying to prove there is a soul. He has already done so in previous chapters. He is trying to prove that some portion of the intellective soul does not perish with the body; viz., that part which does not depend on a bodily organ for its operation. And he is trying to show that this does not result in a mere stump of a man even though the memory and other imaginative powers are housed in the bodily brain (leading the unwary to suppose that understanding is also housed there).

  10. @ statistican,

    Well, then I guess we don’t have a disagreement and we both agree that our understanding of concepts and propositions goes beyond sense impressions or phantasms.

    Unfortunately, I can’t keep up with this conversion going on since I have too many things to do this week.

    Nonetheless, I will leave one last remark. One thing that I think is noteworthy since much of the people here are concerned about ‘immaterial operations of the soul,’ you may consider the everyday fact of free will. We make free choices and more than one choice is possible to make within thoughtful decision making. The human soul can account for the existence of free will and free will certainly is a power of the soul. If, however, human beings are primarily physical substances with no substantial soul or mind, then free will would not exist. What would determine our choices would be the brain and body interacting with its environment following scientific laws of nature and no other choice would be possible other than the choices that were made to occur by that physical system. It’s no wonder that many materialist philosophers like Baron D’Holbach that have denied the existence of the soul also deny the existence of human free will because materialism implies fatalism. And without free will, it’s difficult to account for moral responsibility.

  11. No, human souls cannot create God. God is He That Is and He is infinitely infinite. Human souls can understand God, if they choose to accept Him for Who He is.
    On the other hand, God can and did make human souls in His image, via reason and love. Man and the incorporeal Angels, like God, knows sin. Sin is the deprivation of, up to the denial of, that which is Good, and the Good is that which is Life, brings forth Life and makes a more abundant Life possible. Life does not require a material universe. Life just is.

  12. “Human souls can understand God, if they choose to accept Him for Who He is.”
    A statement of pure nonsense

  13. @ YOS: “the memory and other imaginative powers are housed in the bodily brain”

    So one’s soul has no memory? How are you supposed to know you’ve survived death if you can’t remember being alive? How are you even you?

  14. LoL, Swordfishtrombone, that’s a good question. And I think you’ve illustrated one real problem for hylomorphism right there.

  15. @’Bone:
    If you would read the paragraphs from Contra gentiles which Dr. Briggs was discussing above, you would see that this was an objection raised nine centuries ago and answered by S. Thomas.

    Naturally, one’s soul has a memory, but you are thinking only of that portion of the soul that is believed to survive bodily death. The soul also has the powers of digestion, reproduction, metabolism, sensation, emotion, and motion, as well as the perceptive powers already mentioned. Most of these are tied to bodily organs and so do not survive the corruption of those organs. But understanding and volition, not being so tied, do not have reason for corruption.

    “…To enable it to understand, the soul needs the powers which prepare the phantasms so as to render them actually intelligible, namely, the cogitative power and the memory-powers which, being acts of certain bodily organs and functioning through them, surely cannot remain after the body perishes. … Aristotle also remarks in De anima III that after death we do not remember what we know in life.”

    But Thomas goes against Aristotle here (and more briefly in the Summa theologica, Part I, Q 89, esp. arts/ 5 and 6.) An explanation in English can be found here: http://readingthesumma.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/question-89-separated-souls-cognition.html

    The soul has two modes of understanding. The first mode of understanding occurs when the soul is united with the body and consists in the abstraction of form [the quiddity] from material objects via the illumination of phantasms by the agent intellect. [Now you know why Briggs’ material took the long way around through agent intellect etc.] This first mode of understanding should be considered as the natural mode of understanding for a soul because it is natural for a soul to be united with a body. [A mode no longer available when the body perishes.] But still, a soul can subsist independent of a body; and corresponding to this second state of being, there is a second operation of the intellect, a different mode of understanding. The first mode of understanding corresponds to the cognition of intelligible species after they are abstracted from their material being; the second mode of understanding is ordered to the cognition of those things that are intelligible absolutely speaking. That is, of those forms that do not have to be abstracted from a material mode of being.

    Because intelligible species abstracted previously were stored in the intellect, they are still available to the intellect after the body perishes. They are already intelligible.
    https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-2BHPolMuuPo/VsUq1IrtuDI/AAAAAAAABTU/RpIVq4S7NXssFg2724gk7tUwJzDhCHUVQCPcB/s400/Slide5.JPG

  16. Ok since I have alittle time here, I will make last comment – I may not be able to answer anything for a while due to work and other things I will give a bit more effort here.

    Ok, YOS, you’ve stated yourself “Aristotle also remarks in the De Anima III that after death we do NOT remember what we know in life” (emphasis added). This illustrates exactly what I pointed out in an earlier post that hylomorphism cannot be reconciled with Christianity and that Aquinas’ project to reconcile Aristotle’s views of the soul with Catholicism is incoherent. If there’s no memory of one’s past life in the afterlife for Aristotle then this is strong evidence that Aristotle did NOT believe in an afterlife and that Aristotle articulated the implications of his hylomorphist system that a disembodied soul is incompatible with matter and form principles.

    Why believe in an afterlife if the soul cannot even remember past events?

    Oh and it’s ad hoc on Aquinas’ part to say that all the sudden the soul is the bearer of memories in the afterlife but not while being embodied. While Aquinas may have been well intended, I think he’s mistaken in trying to reconcile hylomorphism with the afterlife of the soul.

    Moreover why believe that a material object like the brain can actually think, remember and be conscious? I know that I understand that “2+2=4”. But it’s if my brain that understands this proposition, does that mean that electrons, protons and neutrons inside my head are each subjectively understanding that “2+2=4” is true? If not, then how would a collection of sub-atomic particulars that cannot understand “2+2=4” would together make up a material object that understands the simple math? The same can be asked about memory and perception. I remember going to store yesterday and buying some strawberry soda. But if it’s my brain that remembers the event, then does that mean I have sub-atomic particles each remembering the event? If not, then how is a collection of sub-atomic elements that each cannot remember a thing, going form an organ that remembers anything?

    And how many conscious perceivers/thinkers would we have if the conscious subject were the brain? Do we have as many conscious perceivers as we do brain cells? As much as we have atoms inside our heads? What a violation of Ockham’s Razor here! Why not just have ONE conscious perceiver called the soul?

    I wonder how you would answer Leibniz’s problem with the idea of material things being conscious subjects as illustrated by his famous “windmill” thought experiment. This common view that matter can think or be conscious seems to be a conventional superstition to me. And by the way, the fact that the brain can have an impact on the mind is no proof that the brain is the mind or is the conscious perceiver. A baseball can impact my consciousness by knocking me out but that’s no proof that a baseball is a conscious perceiver. The brain is only the instrument of the conscious perceiver; it’s not the conscious perceiver herself.

  17. But it’s if my brain that understands this proposition, does that mean that electrons, protons and neutrons inside my head are each subjectively understanding that “2+2=4” is true?

    No, and this is precisely what Thomas points out. Perception, imagination, and the storage and retrieval of those perceptions may be housed in the brain — which is the switchboard for sensory perception — but understanding is not, and cannot be. That is why memory of what we have understood can persist after material death. The understanding does not perish.

  18. YOS
    Because intelligible species abstracted previously were stored in the intellect, they are still available to the intellect after the body perishes. They are already intelligible.
    But the intellect is stored in the brain, and if the brain perishes, so dies the intellect.

  19. No, it is precisely because the intellect is not “stored” in the brain like sense impressions or memories of sense impressions are stored. How do you “store” understanding?

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