The Mystery of Matter

A Review of a Review

Some reviews - thoughtful yet critical - are like invitations to dialogue. The following review by Willibrord Welten, S.J., appeared in Gregorianum, Vol. 80 (1999).

"The introduction of this book describes clearly its purpose and structure, "Nonlocality, morphic resonance and synchronicity. What possible connection could they have with the philosophy of nature of Thomas Aquinas? It is the purpose of this book to show that these bold scientific hypotheses and a renewed Thomist philosophy of nature could enter in a dialogue that would enrich them both and give us a glimpse of the hidden unity of the universe."...

The program looks fascinating, and I found indeed the book very interesting, rich and stimulating. It leads away from mechanism and towards wholeness and the unity of the universe as a communion of beings. But does the author really show the possibility of a fruitful dialogue? In my mind there remain strong doubts. I will only make a few remarks, paying attention mainly to the first of the three hypotheses, viz. Bohm's interpretation of quantum mechanics.

First an observation on the term 'causality' is in place. In my view, what has been confuted by quantum mechanics, is not Aristotelian efficient causality but rigorous determinism, a doctrine which began to spread in the sixteenth century and attained its strongest expression in a well-known text of P.S. de Laplace. This determinism has up to now been called causality by many scientists; it is regrettable that the author has not pointed out this confusion more clearly. A Thomistic philosopher, therefore, is not constrained to admit Bohm's hidden variable interpretation in or er to save Aristotelian efficient causality from quantum indeterminacy. But, even without such an interpretation, nonlocality could well find scientific confirmation as an objective feature of the physical world; then the Thomist would perhaps be confronted with a more difficult problem."

The confusion that I was trying to point to is the impression that quantum theorists of various persuasions give us that causality - by which they mean efficient causality, which is the only kind they explicitly recognize - no longer holds sway in the quantum world.

"In Part IV James Arraj attempts a renewal of the Thomist philosophy of nature and especially of the doctrine of matter and form. With the introduction of the real distinction between being and essence, Aristotle's metaphysics of substance became Thomas' metaphysics of being; it lies at hand that this has consequences for the concepts of matter and form, and the author thinks that Thomas has not realized these consequences completely and that important work has still to be done. The publications of W. Carlo and W. Norris Clarke, S.J., have been very helpful here; but at the end one wonders if the author has arrived at a unified and consistent view. His modernization of the traditional vocabulary might contribute to this perplexity; Arraj uses words in a very flexible and suggestive way, but is his language precise enough?"

I am not sure what the problem is.

"The heart of Arraj's book is the re-proposal of formal causation, starting from particular scientific hypotheses. The author tends towards a position in which the three phenomena (nonlocality, morphic resonance, synchronicity) are explained by formal causality in such a way that efficient causality needs not play a part in them and that there is between distant things a kind of transmission of form which does not require time or energy. He seems to believe that this proposal is compatible with a renewed Thomist philosophy.

This calls for some comments. A first, rough reaction is the following. Arraj deals with phenomena in the material world, in Bohm's case even the world of non-living beings; but in a sense matter plays no role in his philosophical explanation, and it seems that forms, or informations, are moving like pure spirits and need no time nor physical energy nor an efficient cause to move from here to there. Let us look at this more closely."

Matter does, indeed, play a role, but it is a more dynamic matter which emerges out of the analysis of St. Thomas' views on matter carried out by Carlo. And this more dynamic matter is rooted in an actually existing substance, or form, rather than being conceived as a separate primordial stuff.

"Treating the case of nonlocality, Arraj writes: "There is a connection between the two particles not mediated by space, time and efficient causality" (p. 154); and appealing to Maritain, he considers the possibility that the two particles, in different locations after their separation, still are one substance and share the same individual substantial form. Then he continues, "Therefore, what is done to one is immediately known or felt by the other" (p. 156). However, it is well known that the human body has one substantial form, the spiritual soul, and that this soul is simultaneously present everywhere in the body. Nevertheless, it seems to be generally admitted that the transmission of information within the human body, through the nervous system, requires time and energy and efficient causality. Hence the unity of substantial form is not a sufficient condition for a transmission of information without time and energy."

The real issue here is that physics, itself, cannot come up with an explanation framed in traditional categories for nonlocality, so that is why I write: "There is a connection between the two particles not mediated by space, time and efficient causality." How is philosophy to deal with this? Citing the example of the soul in the body does not seem particularly relevant. It would be better to talk about one soul in two bodies, or as John Stewart Bell does, two identical twins reared apart who have many behavioral characteristics in common which we associate with how they were raised.

"An important Thofaiistic concept in Arraj's explanation is that of intentional being. When I look at my clock or think about it, the clock, the known object, is in my mind with its intentional being (esse intentionale); but at the same time with its natural or physical being (esse naturale) it continues to stand in front of me, outside my body, with its own dimensions and material parts. There is an intentional union of knower and known in the act of knowledge. Arraj distinguishes three kinds of information: 1) Literal information takes place in the physical interaction between material substances in their natural being, by means of efficient causality; 2) intentional information is the communion of form with form by intentional presence or knowledge; 3) there is also intentional action, by which a form becomes intentionally present to a physical motion and guides it to its proper conclusion, as in the case of Michelangelo making a statue (pp. 146, 152-153). Since 1) and 3) imply physical action, it would seem that 2), i.e. intentional information, based on intentional being, is most interesting for Arraj's purposes. This, however, raises at least two questions. First, intentional being is an aspect of knowledge, intellectual and sensible; can this notion be generalized within a Thomistic philosophy? In other words, is it possible to appeal to intentional information and thus to intentional being in situations where no knower is present, as is the case in the two-particle-experiment in Bohm's description? Second, even where a knower is present and knows an object so that the object has an intentional being in the mind of the knower, may one forget that "omnis cognitio (humana) incipit a sensibus" and that sense knowledge begins with a physical action of the object on the sense organ? It would seem therefore that there cannot be an intentional being of an object in the mind of a human being without preceding efficient causality."

This appears to be another version of the previous objection. The whole weight of things like nonlocality, morphic resonance and synchronicity makes us think that we are faced with other modes of transmission beyond efficient causality in the narrow sense of the term. This, of course, is a real challenge to a Thomist philosophy of nature, but somehow it has to rise to this challenge.

"To sum up: James Arraj has written a very rich and dense volume, a book that makes one think. I do not find his position convincing, and the formulations in the final chapter are rightly very cautious. The great merit of the author is to have presented in a very lively way a problem between science and Thomistic philosophy and to have elaborated suggestions for a solution."

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