Existence Of Spirits

Is the existence of spirits still a controversy? My be some will argue that they are not real, so let us address that. People who argue so do not understand that the existence of spirits is a semantic truism. Something is blocking them from understanding what a spirit is, even though the concept is not terribly abstract. A spirit is just an identified language game. From a holistic point of view, there is but one language game, namely, the one that we have played since we learned to speak; we can call that "the spirit of Humanity". But nothing precludes us from distinguishing certain sub-games within it and labeling them according to the contexts in which they appear or groups of people which engage in them. There is, for example, friendship. We are, generally, very keen at recognizing its manifestations. The spirit of friendship is just that: the game of friendship being played out.

Elsewhere I speak about "daemons"; those are, basically, spirits, but I make an attempt to speak of them by drawing on the concepts in the computer science. If we are to understand a mental process as a computation, and so also a language game as a distributed computation, then the notion of "spirit" can be fleshed out to a more satisfying detail. A daemon is an identified computation and it can be compared with a program run by a computer. Just like a computer program, a daemon can be discussed in the context of hardware (groups, individuals who do the talking, brains which do the thinking) or in the context of software (the narratives which go along with the language game and the descriptions of the concepts involved). Note, however, that a daemon itself is neither a physical object nor a concept. Think of the "hand rising", which is neither "a hand" nor is "the rising", but a process in the world which involves the transformation of the former and is understood through the application of the latter.

It should be clear then that the existence of spirits is blatantly obvious, even though "existence" is a poor choice of a word. Since we talk of them as of processes, their status may be clarified by saying that they are "present" or "active" at certain times. In any case, there cannot be any doubt as to them being real: as real as the rising of your hand while you are raising it. The spirit of friendship, for example, is active whenever and wherever people engage in a friendly interaction. To say that there is no such thing as the spirit of friendship is to mean that there are no friends and no friendly acts anywhere, anytime. Even worse, it is to mean that there is no potential for such acts either, as no human mind has any knowledge of what it is to be a friend or skills which pertain to being one. But that is patently absurd, and people who would argue that there is no such thing as "spirit" do not mean that.

What do they mean then? I think that most of them make a category-related mistake. Namely, they think of "spirit" as of an object rather then of a process. The question about the reality of spirit, then, becomes an ontological one. This happens, at least in part, because many people these days are enamored by the spirits of rationality and scientific method, and the side effect of housing these is the fear of superstition (ironically, itself irrational). In my opinion, this fear is the chief cause of hastily classifying our question as the one about the actual existence of a platonic form. For a rational person, it is much too important to decide this question first, and to decide it in the negative. It, therefore, escapes his attention that spirits are very real in a different sense of the word and that the ontological question is nothing but a language trap. Unfortunately, the main result of this hasty analysis is the mental block which prevents the rational person from understanding what many other people are talking about. If someone says, for example, "and God revealed his will through the hand of the apostle", the rational person will not merely disagree with the statement, but will immediately discard it as a total nonsense, seeing no way to understand it at all.

And yet the statement like the one above is perfectly cogent and can be fully understood by anyone, regardless of personal beliefs and convictions. For God is, indeed, a spirit, and so his reality is beyond question. There is no way to deny that the the God-related language game is being played by great many people and on the daily basis. So pervasive it is, in fact, that even those who profess to be atheists are forced to learn some of its rules, just so that they can participate in the political play. (Note that there is no contradiction in their position, for they only reject God ontologically, never having considered the question about his status as a spirit.) So look again at our sentence: "and God revealed his will through the hand of the apostle". Would it still be nonsense if we said "and their ardent friendship inspired him to write at length"? In both cases we are to understand that a particular spirit is at work, and that this spirit is responsible for the things being written. As is always the case with spirits, we have to be careful when we separate causes from effects. A long letter is a manifestation of his friendship, but in some other context it might serve as a description of what a true friendship should be like. And even more consideration should be given to the context of a religious text: often, we need to understand such texts holistically. There, the spirit and its manifestations are presented in a continuous narrative. Attributing actions to the spirit is citing their cause, but at the same time also fleshing out the spirit itself by providing the rules of the language game and the context in which it is being played.

Finally, a reader might have noticed that after I accused him of sidestepping the question at hand by engaging it on the ontological grounds, I myself swept under the rug the ontological issue. Let me say, then, why I did that and why I consider the question of whether God, or gods, or friendship exist a moot point. What I care about are the pragmatic implications of my decisions. To bring an example out of the recent history, it is hard to deny that millions of Americans voted for Bush Jr. because it was in line with the will of God. Anyone who has any idea about the content of pre-election speeches by the clergy knows it to be true. That God's spirit moved millions of people to cast their vote in a particular way did not depend on the ontological status of God at all. God's form stands or falls together with any other platonic form, and if history is of any indication, discussing the merits of the Platonic world-view does little to settle the question. In fact, after centuries of sophistry this question is muddled more than ever, and only graduate students can understand its finer points. So, for the purposes of having a political impact (and by that I mean the politics in the widest sense of the word, not just the ones on the state level), or even a coherent political discourse, would it not be infinitely more effective to understand what the spirit of God is doing? Would it not be refreshingly unexpected and just plain wickedly cool for an atheist to make his mark by conversing with God himself, rather than by shutting out religious groups because of the lack of understanding? No amount of dialectical flourish will ever convince Christians that God does not exist, since that would be too inconvenient for playing their language game (just as no serious dent can ever be made in the platonic bastion of numbers guarded by practicing mathematicians). Actively participating in the game, on the other hand, may well result in the game changing its face or getting broken up completely. Would God still exist ontologically if Christians were no more? I say, it still would not matter.