Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Heaven and materialism: The swollen head problem


Suppose, as Christian materialists believe, that materialism is true and yet some people have eternal life in heaven. Good experiences happen daily in heaven, and bad things never do. It is a bad thing to fail to remember a good experience. So in heaven people will have more and more good experiences that they remember. But it is plausible that there is a maximum information density in our brains, and given materialism, all the information in memory is stored in the brain. Thus, it follows that those who will be in heaven will have their heads swell without bound. Humans will eventually have heads that are millions of light-years in diameter, just to hold all the good experiences that have happened to them. But a life with such big heads just doesn't seem to be the life of human fulfillment.

Objection 1: Perhaps there are patterns to the good experiences in heaven such that the total information content in the infinite future of good experiences is finite.

Response: If the total information content is finite, then it seems likely that one will eventually get bored. Moreover, plausibly, human flourishing involves continual growth in knowledge, and it would not be fitting for heaven if this growth were to slow down eventually in order to ensure an upper bound on the total information content.

Objection 2: The laws of nature will be different in heaven, and while there is maximum information density in our current brains, heavenly brains will be made of a different kind of matter, a matter that either has infinitely many particles in any finite volume or that is infinitely subdivisible. After all, the Christian tradition does hold that we will function differently--there is speculation that we may be able to go through solid walls as Jesus apparently did after the resurrection, move really fast, see really far, etc.

Response: This seems to me to be the best materialist response. But given that on materialism the brain is central to the kinds of beings we are, there is a worry that such a radical reworking of its structure into a different kind of matter would create beings that aren't human. The dualist can allow for a more radical change in the physical aspects of the body while allowing that we still have the same kind of being, since the kind of being could be defined by the soul (this is clearest in the hylomorphic theory).

Objection 3: The dualists face the same problem given that we have good reason to think that memories are stored in the brain.

Response: Maybe memories are not entirely stored in the brain. And see the response to Objection 2: the finer-matter response is more defensible in the case of the dualist.

17 comments:

TP said...

Objection 4: Perhaps the other information is stored in some other material reservoir, like iCloud stores my pictures. Provided that the material redeemed can access them via Wifi or the like, they needn't have expanding heads.

heehee....iCloud...

Alexander R Pruss said...

:-)

But it still seems a bad thing to have forgotten a good experience, even if it's available in a quickly accessible diary.

TP said...

Maybe forgetting should be a functional concept. Something like: you forget something when you are unable to quickly pull it to mind after having once had it in mind. But then if I can't remember who starred in Braveheart, I can quickly pull it to mind with IMDB. So maybe the pulling to mind has to be faster than I can web search or ask Siri. Or maybe the pulling to mind has to be without the means of an external instrument. But then the iCloud storage is an external instrument. Well, maybe an external instrument that is manipulated in the reception in some way other than mentally, and the iCloud info is pulled up mentally. Anyway, that's all off the cuff. But the point is that if we understand forgetting in such a functional way and let the iCloud access be functionally similar to what I do now when I remember Mel Gibson starred in Braveheart, then we don't count as forgetting the good experiences.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think there is a value to knowing things, even if one can look them up just as quickly.

But in any case it's hard to see how, given a brain made out of the same sort of stuff that it is now, one could pull to mind so many different memories quickly. I need a way of referring to the memories. Some equivalent of filenames. But if the number of memories is very, very large, the filenames will have to be very, very long. So it will take a while to get the data. And how do we remember which "filename" we stored it under?

Heath White said...

1. We can improve the argument in the OP. It will be impossible to live a flourishing human life with a gigantic head. Thus, if materialism is true, heaven is impossible. But heaven is possible, so materialism is not true.

2. The anti-iCloud argument seems question-begging. For if the materialist is correct, we already have our memories in physical storage (in our brains). Moving some of these to the Cloud (digital or heavenly) is a mere technological difference. The idea that it makes some deep kind of difference is an anti-materialist one already.

 James A. Gibson said...

Hi Alex. Your argument relies on this premise: "It is a bad thing to fail to remember a good experience." I would want to challenge that premise or at least ask for some justification for it. Presently, I cannot remember a very large number of good experiences that I have had, and I seem none the worse off. This is because I can get along with my life in lots of fulfilling ways without them. It would be a bad thing to not remember a good experience if not remembering it was crucial for having some other good necessary to human fulfillment, or if, say, not remembering it harmed someone. I'll grant this too: there may be some good experiences that failing to remember would be bad; but I doubt that number is very large. (It might also be the case that it would be bad to fail to remember some experiences at some time, but not at another time.) Anyway, it seems to me that more should be said about why for any given good experience one has had, it would be bad to fail to remember it.

(You might argue that, for any good experience one has had, one's life would be less good by failing to be able to remember than if one could remember the good experience. However, the same seems true of having various skills. I can play the guitar and piano now, but my life would be better if I could also play as well as my favorite musicians; and it would help my music writing were I able to play drums too. So if you take this line, I'd want to know whether you think we acquire every possible skill in heaven upon entrance as well.)

qwerty said...


The premise that it is a bad thing to fail to remember a good experience may be strengthened by a simple modification to say that it's bad to consistently fail to remember good things.

Alexander R Pruss said...

qwerty:

If you fail to remember a conscious experience, you forgot it. Forgetting is, in and of itself, bad.

James:

"Presently, I cannot remember a very large number of good experiences that I have had, and I seem none the worse off."

Surely you would be better off for remembering them. If only because you would know more stuff, and knowledge is good.

But that you would be better off for remembering them isn't enough for my case. As you point out, there are many, perhaps infinitely many, skills that it would be good to have. A failure to know something isn't itself bad. But to lose knowledge is bad.

Plausibly, losing a skill is also bad. Maybe one could make an exception for skills that become irrelevant in a new stage in life. Thus, certain martial skills may not be relevant in heaven. (Though variants of them may still be. There could be target archery in heaven.) But knowledge--especially knowledge of good experiences--isn't something that becomes irrelevant, because one of the goods of heaven is seeing ow everything hangs together with God's goodness.

Heath:

Ad 2: It is good to have the knowledge in yourself rather than merely accessible to you. Even if materialism is true, the difference between self and an external device is a real difference. Destroying my phone is theft, while destroying a part of my brain is battery, intrinsically a more serious offence, even if in fact this part of my brain holds information less important than what is on my phone.

Everyone:

A variant on my argument is the thought that learning new things is an important human good. So we will continue to learn new things in heaven. But forgetting the things that it was good to learn is surely a bad thing. So we will continue to grow in how much we know. Moreover, it wouldn't be good for this growth to slow to a crawl. So our heads will swell if materialism is true.

steve said...

I'm reminded of a TNG episode in which the storage capacity of Data was said to be 800 quadrillion bits. Of course, that figured was pulled out of thin air by the screenwriter.

But suppose we view Data's memory as wireless. In that case, it doesn't depend on the storage capacity of his hardware.

There might be an analogy to the human memory, even assuming physicalism.

steve said...

"If the total information content is finite, then it seems likely that one will eventually get bored. Moreover, plausibly, human flourishing involves continual growth in knowledge, and it would not be fitting for heaven if this growth were to slow down eventually in order to ensure an upper bound on the total information content."

I disagree, for reasons I've stated here:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2015/01/ship-in-bottle.html

Brandon said...

But forgetting the things that it was good to learn is surely a bad thing.

I'm not sure that this is really so; perhaps they were good to learn then but are now just useless. For instance, today it might be quite important to learn whether you have party snacks in the cupboard; there doesn't seem to be any reason to think that it will be at all valuable to remember it thirty years from now. I think the argument from good experiences is stronger, because one can make a reasonable case that it is (at any given point) better to remember good experiences than forget them; it's harder to make a case that it is bad to forget anything (ever).

Alexander R Pruss said...

I doubt that the world God created has any useless truths.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I just posted a variant of the argument that I think strengthens it in some ways.

I should also have talked about physicalism rather than materialism. My argument won't apply to property-dualist materialists.

Brandon said...

I doubt that the world God created has any useless truths.

But even if this is the case, it doesn't follow that all truths are useful for all time, or even that most are.

Nick Flores said...

I feel like this really is a weird discussion to be having.

1. Christians will just redefine the term good to circumvent this entire argument
2. Our souls contain the data we receive in heaven and seeing as our souls, although physical (I guess under the physicalism assumption), could presumably be under some voodoo Christian magic that allows them to store n^infinity amount of data per square inch.
3. Our heads would not expand because our brain rots when we die. No really, our physical bodies die, so I don't know why you're trying to reconcile the after life, spirituality and God with mortality.

Alexander R Pruss said...

NF:

Ad 2: That's Objection 2 in the post. See the response there. :-)

Kyle said...

"It is a bad thing to fail to remember a good experience."

As a maximizer (re: Barry Schwartz's "The Paradox Of Choice") I'd say it would be a bad thing to remember all good experiences (even ignoring the fat head issue), because the sheer volume of them would cause me distress.

I'd prefer it if my own memory maintained only my *best* N memories, where N is such that it avoids the fat head problem. It would operate somewhat like a computer's cache, where each new good experience would be compared with the N remembered good experiences, and if appropriate it would replace the least good of those.

Since my memory would then be full of increasingly good memories (and would not contain any memory of the fact that I'd forgotten some of my less good memories), I think I'd be maximally happy.