Curt J. Ducasse

C. J. Ducasse

(1881-1969), French-born, highly respected Professor of Philosophy at Brown University. Awardee of the Carus Lectures prize (American Philosophical Association). Contributed to the "Journal Information for Philosophy and Phenomenological Research", "Causation", "Immortality" (Edited by Paul Edwards), "Philosophical Dimensions of Parapsychology" (edited by James M. O. Wheatley). Ex-student of Josiah Royce. Pursued a career in philosophy but retained a strong interest in logic - so much so that he took the initiative to create the Association for Symbolic Logic with its Journal of symbolic logic. Among his many important papers on survival are "How the Case of The Search for Bridey Murphy Stands Today" Journal of the ASPR 54: 3-22, and "What Would Constitute Conclusive Evidence of Survival After Death?" Journal of the SPR 41: 401-406. His books included "A Critical Examination of the Belief in Life After Death", "Paranormal Phenomena, Science and Life After Death" (Monograph), "A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion", "Nature, Mind, And Death", "Truth, Knowledge and Causation", "Philosophy As a Science: Its Matter and Its Method" and "Philosophy of Art".

A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death - Part 3

Chapter 7: What Would Establish the Possibility of Survival?

1. Summary of the findings of Part II | 2. Theoretical possibility, empirical possibility, and factuality | 3. The tacit theoretical premise of the empirical arguments against the possibility of survival

 - Curt J. Ducasse -

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          THE INQUIRY we undertook in Part II, as to what exactly the pivotal terms "material," "mental", "mind," and "life" denote, was unavoidably somewhat lengthy and technical. It may therefore be well to summarize its findings before we proceed, with their aid, to an exposition of the case for the possibility of survival.

1. Summary of the findings of Part II

The first question considered in Part II was: Which things - i.e., which objects, characteristics, events, processes, relations, etc., - are denominated "material" or "physical." The answer reached was that, fundamentally, they are the things that are or can be made perceptually public; and in addition, derivatively, the minute or otherwise unperceivable existential constituents of those.

The next question was: Which things are denominated alive" or "living." The answer was that the marks by which we distinguish them from the things called "dead," or "inorganic," are in general metabolism, growth, respiration, reproduction, and adaptation to environment; and that, more particularly in the case of human bodies, the minimal marks of their being "alive" not "dead" are breathing, heart beat, and maintenance of body temperature above a certain level.

The third question was: Which things - still taking this word in the comprehensive sense - are denominated "mental" or "psychical." We found the answer to be that, fundamentally, they are the ones capable of being introspectively observed; and in addition, derivatively, whatever unintrospectable processes, events, etc., are existentially implicit in those that are introspectable.

The fourth question was: What is "a mind." Distinguishing between the history of a mind, which consists of a series of events, and the nature of a mind at a given time in its history, we found that its nature analyzes as a set of systematically interconnected "dispositions," i.e., capacities, powers, abilities; and that each of these consists in the more or less abiding sufficiency, or as the case may be, insufficiency, of change of some particular kind C in a state of affairs of a kind S, to cause change of another particular kind E in S immediately thereafter. For example, that a person is of a patient disposition means that kinds of occurrences that would in similar situations be sufficient to cause most other persons to feel irritation are in his case insufficient to cause this.

The dispositions, which together constitute the nature of a mind are, we further found, of three comprehensive kinds: psycho-psychical, physico-psychical, and psycho-physical, according as, respectively, the cause-event and the effect-event are both psychical, or the cause-event physical and the effect-event psychical, or the cause-event psychical and the effect event physical.

Lastly, we noticed that existence of a mind having a given nature consists, not in existence of something distinct from and "having" the set of dispositions that define that mind's nature, but in the series of actual occurrences which constitute exercise of ones or others of those dispositions; that is, constitute the historical individuation of a mind having that particular nature.

2. Theoretical possibility, empirical possibility, and factuality

In Chapt Ill, we set forth the considerations that constitute the basis - in common knowledge, in the knowledge possessed by the Natural Sciences, and in certain theoretical reflections - for the contention that survival of the individual's consciousness after the death of his body is impossible. The clarification of key concepts we achieved in Part II now puts us in position to judge whether or how far the items of the case against the possibility of survival are strong and cogent, or on the contrary weak or inept.

If and in so far as they turn out to have either of these defects, then and in so far they fail to establish the impossibility they are alleged to establish, and they therefore leave open the possibility of a life after death. That is, the case for the possibility (not automatically the reality) of survival consists of the case against the adequacy of the grounds on which survival is asserted to be impossible: That a life after death remains a theoretical possibility would mean that the theoretical grounds alleged to entail its impossibility are unsound; or, if sound in themselves, nevertheless do not really but only seemingly entail it. And, that survival remains an empirical possibility would mean that survival, notwithstanding possible appearances to the contrary, really is compatible with all the facts and laws of Nature so far truly ascertained by the sciences.

If critical examination of the merits of the case against the possibility of survival reveals that, notwithstanding the negative "verdict of science", a life after death remains both a theoretical and an empirical possibility, then certain questions will confront us.

The first will be as to what prima facie positive empirical evidence, if any, is available that survival is a fact. Next, we shall have to ask whether such evidence for it as our inquiry may turn up is really sufficient to establish survival or the probability of it. And, if this itself should be dubious, then the methodologically prior question will force itself upon us, as to what kind and quantity of evidence, if it should be or become available, would conclusively prove, or make conclusively more probable than not, that survival is a fact. Overarching of course these various problems, there is the question as to what forms survival, if it be a fact, can plausibly be conceived to take.

3. The tacit theoretical premise of the empirical arguments against the possibility of survival

One of the facts listed in Chapt. III as allegedly proving that consciousness cannot survive the body's death was that a severe blow on the head permanently or temporarily terminates all the evidences of consciousness which the body had until then been giving. This, it is alleged, and likewise the other empirical facts cited in that chapter, shows that a person's states of consciousness are direct products of the neural processes that normally take place in his brain; and hence that when, at death, these terminate, then consciousness necessarily lapses also.

This conclusion, however, is based not simply on the observed facts, but also on a certain theoretical premise, tacitly and in most cases unconsciously employed. The nature of it becomes evident if one considers the prima facie analogous empirical fact that smashing the receiver of a radio brings to an end all the evidences the instrument had until then been giving that a program was on the air, but that this does not in the least warrant concluding that the program was a product of the radio and therefore had automatically lapsed when the latter was smashed.

The hidden premise of the contention that the cessation at death of all evidences of consciousness entails that consciousness itself then necessarily ceases is, evidently, that the relation of brain activity to consciousness is always that of cause to effect, never that of effect to cause. But this hidden premise is not known to be true, and is not the only imaginable one consistent with the empirical facts listed in Chapt. III. Quite as consistent with them is the supposition, which was brought forth by William James, that the brain's function is that of intermediary between psychological states or activities, and the body's sense organs. muscles, and glands. That is, that the brain's function is that of receiver-transmitter - sometimes from body to mind and sometimes from mind to body.

These remarks are not intended to answer or to hint at a particular answer to the question of the nature of the relation between brain or body and mind; but only to make evident that the validity or invalidity of the conclusion, from the various empirical facts cited in Chapt. III, that man's consciousness cannot survive the death of his body, is wholly dependent on what really is the relation between body and mind.

Our task in the remaining chapters of Part III must therefore be to consider the various hypotheses which, in the history of thought, have been offered concerning the nature of that relation, and to decide which one among them best seems to accord with all the definitely known facts.

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Contents | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26

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Some parts The International Survivalist Society 2004