When does the human person begin to exist? Part 8, a challenge to the last blog.

by David Fleischacker

I am hoping now to return to this line of thought again, after a bit of a delay because of a busy semester and a paper and a trip to South Korea.

In the last blog, the argument lead up to a possibility. Simply possessing a potentiality for phantasm was sufficient for that which possesses this potentiality to be intrinsically linked to an intellectual nature. The reason for this is because the phantasm as such, though an operation of the imagination, has a pattern or order to it that goes beyond the imagination. Lonergan’s definition of a circle in INSIGHT illustrates this point. The cartwheel as a cartwheel is either a direct manifestation of a sense object or it is a remember recreation of the sense object. However, a cartwheel as such is not a phantasm. One has to start increasing the quantity of spokes, decreasing the width of the spokes, decreasing the hub, etc., and move each of these toward the ultimately unimaginable, toward points and lines. The imagination has to be ordered in a dynamic fashion in order to provide the materials for an insight. This dynamic ordering of the cartwheel is no longer just a cartwheel, especially as insight emerges. In fact, by then, the image of the cartwheel has all but disappeared.

Thus, when the imagination along with the underlying neural manifolds reaches a point that it is potentially formable into a phantasm, one then can say that a real potentiality has arrived. However, until questioning actually awakens, this potential in the neural manifolds and imagination, real as it may be, will not move toward phantasm and become actuated in a phantasm.

The Challenge

A simple question however challenges this view. Could such plasticity of the imagination emerge from merely sensate needs alone? In other words, could the motor-sensory integrations that arise because of typical animal sensate operators and operations (a zoological system on the move) be sufficient for a neural plasticity that then could be formed into phantasm as well? For example, would the development of the frontal lobes as found in human beings have taken place even without the emergence of intelligence? When not participating in an actual phantasm, would the neural manifolds exist as they do without any need to appeal to the capacity for self transcendence? Now notice, this is not about whether an actual phantasm requires a higher explanation, but whether the potentiality of the neural structures for participation in phantasm require more.

Next blog: my response. (originally, I had planned on putting this answer up with the above, but it is rather long, and I am hoping to shorten it.