This book, as indicated by the title, is organized in three parts: Human Being, the World, and God, subdivided in three, four and two chapters respectively.
A short preface opens the book where the author indicates the place this work occupied in her research structured in the field of science and theology/religion around the big structural question “what it is to be human”.
By way of opening, a short introduction takes a look into the world of religion and philosophy giving different views of what it is to be a human being and ends with a brief presentation of parts and chapters.
Part I, “Human Being” concentrates on human being in relation to itself.
The first chapter “A two-and threefold self” investigates the meaning of the self or I. Four questions guide the endeavour. Why, neurologically, do we behave and experience as we do? What is the relationship between a subjective self and the brain? What or who is something we refer to as self? Why is there something we refer to the self? Methodologically, the author appeals largely to philosophy and neuroscience. She starts by defining the concept of being in two ways. Ens (Latin for to be) is the individual as characterized by its brain and DNA. Esse (Latin for being) referring to the individuals as they relate to themselves, the world and God or ultimate reality. Next, from her neuroscientific research she proposes a model of Emergent Self (ES) orchestrated by concepts: the Objective Neural Self (ONS), the Subjective Neural Self (SNS) and the Subjective Transcendent Self (STS). The model implies mutual causation between mental and neural processes. Finally, she argues that the mental properties are as real as the non-mental ones.
Chapter 2 “The Human Experience” argues that experiencing is the sine qua non of human esse. This approach is inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre’s argument that “human cannot not choose”. However, the author takes some issue with Sartre’s proposal. As a matter of fact, experiencing is a sine qua non of all living beings. Next, she examines the realness of experiences according to various authors, and different kinds of experiences including experiences of ultimate reality, to end with their justification as far as they are subjective or intersubjective. She concludes that all experiences are subjectively ontologically real. However, experience cannot always be epistemologically justified, but can be non-epistemologically justified in the sense of being ex-past justified.
Chapter 3 “Human Uniqueness” compares human and non-human sociology.
Human race is characterized by its advanced neocortex which enables it to create language and its specific culture. It possesses a DNA that works differently than in chimpanzees. The author analyses the criteria for being a social animal in “a true sense” and retains at least two traits: identity and intentionality. By identity, she points to self-identity and group-identity, that is “a sense of I and me, and a sense of we and I within us” (46). These traits with intentionality and collective intentionality enable us to distinguish different groups of animals. She acknowledges that experiments show that some non-human animals fulfil the above mentioned criteria. Nonetheless, with these criteria, the human race distinguishes itself as being institutional animals in that way they create their societies. They are creators. The author ends by analysing how the last human feature is highlighted in artificial intelligence, and from there, the differences that remain, until now, between humans and androids. She concludes the study with a summary of part I.
Part II “The World” is focused on how human beings relate to the world.
Chapter 4 “Understanding Reality” starts the enquiry on human beings in the world looking at how reality is understood. The author analyses two philosophical methods for how to comprehend reality, realism and naturalism.
Thus, she investigates different types of realism including a variety that she called extended realism (71). From there, she endorses three dimensions of reality: reality for us (measurable/observable), reality from us for us (created)and reality within us (phenomenological). Then, human reality is at the interface of the three modes of experiencing. In the same way, she reviews different types of naturalism and how we can make sense of reality using them.
Chapter 5 “Mindreading” investigates human behaviour towards others, namely the capacity of mindreading through empathy and compassion. The author defines mindreading as the capacity humans have to understand other minds. Empathy and compassion are concepts difficult to grasp. Because of this, she divides empathy into low-level and high-level. The first is automatic and imitative; the second is more complex, affective and linked to conscious reflexive. By the same token, she proposes a closed and open mirror neuron view responsible for the two-level empathy respectively.
Compassion, defined as feeling sorry for another being, is the bridge
between low-level and high-level empathy. The author then analyses the anticompassion and pro-compassion arguments and concludes that the topics of empathy and compassion both need more research to understand what lies beneath.
Chapter 6 “Free Will, Responsibility and Moral Evil” investigates situations where empathy and compassion sometimes fail to prevail and revisits the philosophical problems of free will and evil. The question here is whether there is free will and to what extent can people be taken to be responsible for their deeds? From the three well-known philosophical views, libertarianism, incompatibilism and compatibilism, the author takes a middle road between libertarianism and incompatibilism. She argues that people should not always be considered entirely responsible for their actions. Analysing different types of moral evils, she proposes four types, broadening Thomas Anderberg’s categories, pure accidental moral evil, belief-based moral evil, and active but not entirely responsible moral evil, and active moral evil. These categories entail some progress in responsibility from no demand to full demand respectively.
She concludes we are in need of a wider philosophical conceptual theory of the problem of evil as well as more interdisciplinary work in order to progress in the understanding such a complex issue.
Chapter 7 “Human Time” tackles the problem of times and human experience of time. The author discusses successively time as it is presented in Newtonian, Einsteinian and quantum paradigms in order to stress the discrepancies.
Common sense experiencing is of the arrow of time from the past to
the future. She stresses the change introduced by Einstein with respect to Newton’s notion of fixed time with infinite duration, while in quantum mechanics, time becomes the present or the now only. Finally, she argues that the quantum physical way to understand time comes the closest to how humans experience time. Time is a personal thing.
Part III “God” investigates some topics on the relationship between human being (esse and ens) and God or the ultimate reality. In chapter 8 “God-Human-God Relationship”, the author stresses in the first place that all people have a relationship with God or the ultimate reality, even atheists in the sense of not-God. For this, she stresses different models of atheism. The next point is to highlight how God or the ultimate reality can be understood and could be acting in the world. For this, different models of God or the ultimate reality are presented; their advantages and disadvantages are delineated. She endorses a threefold model of panentheism inspired by Nicolas Cusanus, Arthur Peacocke and Philip Clayton. She adds Linda Zagzebski and Celia Deane-Drummond‘s concepts to establish a model of divine action in the world including the notions of emergence and imago Dei. She concludes that a model of God or the ultimate reality is not a proof of existence, and action of God in the world is a matter of faith, then the question of how God or the ultimate reality acts in the world remains open.
Chapter 9 is dedicated to “Final Conclusions and Reflexions”. More precision is added to the concept of emergent threefold self coined by the author.
This concept is not related to the Christian model of a human being as composed of body, soul and spirit, nor is it an analogy to the classical Trinitarian doctrine. “It concerns the human self and suggests that there is only one closed self in which, through the mutual causation of hierarchies, new distinct mental and neural properties emerge” (168). The chapter follows with a recap of the different topics developed in the manuscript.
This manuscript confronts big questions within a few pages. The author draws our attention to the three hot topics, the human being, the world and God. She defines them, and then makes them relate to one another through a pattern of interaction, in order to achieve a threefold panentheistic model in the midst of the techno-scientific culture. This is a pivotal challenge in theology at present. Each of the three items is equally vast and manifold. Each obviously remains a work in progress, in other words represents what research truly means. However, the state of the art is achieved through a more innovative perspective. The author makes proposals, which show her own vision of the issues. Among the many questions that help us to engage in the debate with the author, the one about experience stands out. She acknowledges that “all species experience, including plants” (26). This could be the definition of a living organism. Whiteheadian panexperientialism subsequently suggests itself, although it is not quoted. The human being regarded as an experiencer who experiences himself, the world, and God or the ultimate reality could be another definition of himself. The fact suggests that the three items’ interaction has a primary role. We then depart from this interaction in order to try to identify each of them. In other words, this is another possible approach to this big research programme.
Time is another issue that is really worth tackling, above all when the theologian takes into account the scientific notion of time. Because she quotes Julian Barbour, time has been lost in loop quantum gravity, while Lee Smolin tries to raise it up in his “Time Reborn” (2013), when he argues that we must apprehend the reality of time in a new way. Furthermore, this notion is central nowadays in order to understand the world. “How time is understood in quantum physics becomes the closest to how humans experience time” (132), is not immediately intuitive. We live in a now, but we have a memory of “past time” or “past now” as well as compressed data. How could we understand this?
In short, in this kind of study, progress lies in the focus on the multidisciplinary crossroads where the research seems to stand. In that sense, the author has room for additional development regarding the multifaceted nature of the study, while enhancing the complexity of this fascinating research programme.
Finally, the research should engage in a dialogue between the model proposed and sacred scripture, and see what follows next.
University of Namur, Belgium
Reprinted from ESSSAT News and Reviews, n. 27:1 (March 2017), pp. 35-39.