— Nicos' passage to Thanos — is our point of departure into Metaphysics by
Default. What can we see of the metaphysics now, at the outset? We return to its
metaphor. In our mind's eye the ebony wall is gone. Where it once
stood now runs the river Lethe; the river whose clear waters, once drunk, cause
forgetfulness of the past. We stand on the river's near bank, at the end
of this life. The river's far bank is birth into the next. In the
spirit of the metaphor we can say that Nicos has dipped into the river, emerging
at the far bank as Thanos.
Which is all very
archetypal and literary — but here I should restate the idea plainly,
lest metaphors obscure my meaning. The literal truth of the passage
mechanism is that the passage is understood as nothing more than an unfelt time-gap. It's a purely subjective event — a natural relocation of the awareness of
This passage mechanism is
a modern novelty. But there is more to
Metaphysics by Default than the passage mechanism itself. There is
precedent to consider, as well as a distinctive set of properties unique to this
new metaphysics. If I might set the passage mechanism within a pedagogic
structure (allowing myself imagery once again), I'd like to think of it as a
philosopher's first "stepping stone" across the river Lethe.
There will be four more stepping stones strewn out beyond the first: we should take
each in turn. When we've tested all five stepping stones Metaphysics by
Default will extend beneath us as a completed philosophical path across the
First off, we
should consider some objections to the transmigration philosophy. Any number
of objections are possible at this early stage of development, but with an eye towards relevance
I'll focus on those objections I
think readers are most likely to encounter hereafter. I will
present and answer just three potential objections within the confines of this
My philosophical macrame may yet grow tedious.
To relieve the tedium I will wrap up this chapter's argument with a final
metaphor, a narrative. This concluding narrative will release the passage
mechanism to its more proper visual setting, which is inherently fluid and boundless. I hope the narrative suggests
to the reader a thoroughly naturalistic vision of passage. This vision can justify the
mechanism at a level of high intuition, intuition which tedious argument
informs but cannot by itself attain.
Now on to the
three potential objections, and replies to same.
To begin with, we
know that the bodies of Nicos and Thanos must be different. The objective reality of this
difference is beyond dispute, but its relevance to the passage event is not. Let's think back to James' original story,
wherein Peter and Paul awake and "reach back" to their respective
streams of thought. As James surmises the process:
As I've noted earlier in this chapter
understanding of the physiology of sleep is not entirely correct. Thought
continues during sleep, if only in a mode of
passive somatosensory awareness
. The stream of
thought is not broken or halted by sleep, contrary to James'
conjecture. His introduction of the electrode metaphor only confuses
matters. As no "break" actually exists to be mended, the electrode metaphor is devoid of explanatory value.
So what is
actually happening to Peter? We're closer to the truth if we say that
Peter wakes as Peter because his stream of thought
has persisted all through the night. As it happens, that
stream of thought has remained all night within his own body — specifically,
within the neural structures which remain active during sleep. These structures are
inclusive of the cortical episodic memory structures essential to self-knowledge. Consequently
Peter wakes, as himself, in his own, familiar body.
Paul, who also wakes to his own body.
This is the most
direct explanation of the gentlemen's "unerring" ability to wake to
their correct bodies.
So true breaks, or unfelt time-gaps, are easier said than done; hence the need for Old and New Paul.
As I have modified James' story, Old
Paul suffers a stroke during the night. The injury destroys his
long-term memories, and he wakes amnesiac, as New Paul. But
why exactly do we think that Old Paul must pass
imperceptibly into the new? The stream of thought concept helps us here
We may suppose
in this case that Old Paul's stream of thought has been disrupted momentarily — in toto —
by the stroke.
We take it to be an extreme situation, one in which a complete break in thought can be hypothesized to occur during life. The
break throws Old Paul into a deep, utterly unfelt time-gap until the damaged brain can restore its
swirl of neural current. When the restoration is finished he can
awake. He wakes as the amnesiac New Paul.
In this story Old
Paul's stream of thought has halted momentarily within his body. Shortly
thereafter New Paul's stream of thought has commenced within that same
Subjectively, an unfelt time-gap begins when Old Paul's stream of thought halts, and it ends when New Paul's
stream of thought commences. These two terminals
of the unfelt time-gap
(its beginning and ending coordinates) define the time-gap uniquely. Between the terminals lies a period of
inactivity: a full cessation of thought.
In this story both terminals are found
down inside the single body of "all-Paul." Since both terminals
are located within that one body, we conclude that the thoughts of Old Paul must merge across the time-gap into the thoughts of New Paul. Any other conclusion would
contradict our common understanding of the psychological events described.
The story of
Nicos and Thanos matches the story of Old and New Paul in its temporal, functional, subjective details.
The only significant difference is that the
time-gap fashioned by Old and New Paul had its terminals inside a single body, whereas the time-gap fashioned by Nicos and Thanos has its
terminals inside two different bodies.
Focusing on this new
Nicos' stream of
thought halts — permanently — inside his own body. Hence Nicos' body is the location of
the beginning terminus of his unfelt time-gap. The only ending terminus available thereafter is the one located in
Thanos' body. We find it there because Thanos' stream of thought
commences inside Thanos' body, rather than Nicos'.
Now, we have no reason to deny Nicos
access to that ending terminus. Indeed, James' stream-of-thought
paradigm offers the insensate Nicos no alternative to Thanos' terminus — it is Nicos'
only subjective option after death.
We should not expect Nicos to resist Thanos' terminus from within
death's unfelt time-gap. Such an expectation would be, as James unintentionally
suggests, like "expecting the eye to feel a gap of silence," or "the ear to feel a gap of darkness."
These are impossibilities: an organ of perception cannot escape its essential function.
Likewise, an unfelt time-gap cannot escape the terminals which define it. Whenever two terminals
delimit a period of complete inactivity, they define an unfelt time-gap — one which would seem to
operate without regard for irrelevant particulars, such as the name assigned to the subjective function at
Of course, each particular body is
unique, hence named.
is a universal
: a ubiquitous and purposeful neuropsychological state. (This understanding
is supported by the functional knowledge I've cited in the previous chapter
.) Subjectivity comes to fruition always by common means and with common traits, as any universal must.
In daily life subjectivity's universality is entrained continuously within the particulars of an individual: subjective awareness brings to mind the individual's unique thoughts, such as the events of episodic memory. Each subjective time-gap is felt by the individual, and each pertains to the unique individual only — in daily life.
Now in extremis — at subjective terminals demarking the beginning or end of complete inactivity — the individual's unique particulars are inaccessible. At death the requisite neural continuity is disbanding; at birth, banding together. At these extreme terminals individual uniqueness cannot pertain: the thalamocortical subjective state is at such transitional moments isolated from, say, the hippocampus and its unique content of memory. Subjectivity in extremis lacks the continuity and content of individuation.
Yet the terminals remain, and although extreme terminals may be thought effectively indistinguishable in their universal subjective aspect, each terminus does retain one distinction: its unique spatio-temporal coordinates. Each terminus still exists, uniquely in space and time. Only individuation is lost here; a loss rendering infeasible the individual's felt time-gap. The terminal pair does still satisfy the temporal and functional conditions of an unfelt time-gap. Given that individuation is lost, this pairing would be an unfelt and divided time-gap. (Divided in the sense of antonym to the individuated case.)
So. Old and New Paul have jointly
defined one divided, unfelt time-gap. Nicos and Thanos have defined another. Under the postulated conditions Thanos' ending terminus
presents itself as an
adequate match for Nicos' beginning
We can conclude that the
ending terminus of Nicos' time-gap will be located within Thanos' body. Consequently, Nicos'
thoughts can be expected to merge imperceptibly across the time-gap into those of Thanos. As was the case with Old
and New Paul, any other conclusion would contradict a straightforward reading of
the psychological events described.
answers the first objection. The answer is minimally sufficient as it
stands, but the stream-of-thought reasoning will be strengthened by the reply to a
second objection. This reply will tap the concept of personal identity in
order to build a more encompassing argument.
A second and similar objection concerns the
slippery transfer of thought between lives.
"transfer" of Nicos' thoughts (and, by inference, personal identity)
to Thanos seems in a way too easy. If we grant
that a subjective passage from Nicos to Thanos is possible, it remains to be
demonstrated that Nicos' passage to Thanos is the only
one possible. Why should Nicos not pass to Casta, for example?
Or to some person who might walk into their idyllic cosmos some hundreds of
years hence? This objection asks for a justification of the claim that
Thanos, in particular,
must receive the passage.
We can build a reply to this
objection by making use of a prior result,
in which we found that personal identity is fashioned out of
the three Great Criteria exclusively: emerging through the bodily dynamics of continuity,
subjectivity, memory — and nothing else. Insofar as personal identity appears to be wholly dependent upon those corporeal criteria for its being, it must
follow those criteria where they lead. If the three criteria
operate within a particular body, personal identity adheres
faithfully to that body: it has no choice but to do so. If the three
criteria should fail in one body and emerge anew at a later time in another,
the experience of personal identity would then have no choice but to transition from one body to the
other. This is only a consequence of the supposed primacy of the three
In the Aegean
idyll Thanos is the first and only person to begin life after Nicos'
death. It is for this reason that Nicos is thought to pass specifically to Thanos: not because of the filial relation, which is irrelevant, but only because Thanos is
. As reasoned previously, Thanos' terminus adequately satisfies the temporal and functional requirements for an ending to Nicos' unfelt time-gap. More generally we might say now that Thanos' new personal identity criteria are naturally sufficient to continue the old personal identity criteria of Nicos. Thanos' birth, the first restoration of subjectivity, is also the first restoration of personal identity. Said either way, the meaning
is much the same:
Thanos' appearance as the
newborn after Nicos'
death is the temporal condition which must be met if Thanos is to be the recipient.
Thanos is naturally positioned to receive the passage.
It is important to state again that no
incorporeal substance is posited as transferring between Nicos and Thanos.
Any suggestion of incorporeality would be duplicitous at this point, in light of
what has been said heretofore. So incorporeal transfers are not to be
Much the same
restriction must be placed on physical transfers. Thanos is Nicos' posthumous son,
but this filial link is not relevant to the metaphysical event. Nicos'
spermatic seed conveys no memory of Nicos' life to the newborn. We
still assume Nicos' memories to have been lost irretrievably at death. No
"thing" is imagined to have transferred any memory, or personality, or
soul, or any psychic entity whatsoever from Nicos to Thanos.
The passage is understood as unfelt time-gap, with nothing superadded — rather, and critically, with individuation subtracted. All that has
"passed" is a shift of perceived existential "moment"
— a natural relocation of the awareness of existence. It is in this sense an
"existential passage" which Nicos encounters, and I will refer to it
as existential passage in subsequent chapters of this essay.
Perhaps it would be helpful to contemplate awareness again:
Contrary assertions do invite confusion. How after all could awareness or individuation persist apart from the living body? How could awareness or individuation command the ontologic issue at those times when they do not exist? I think they cannot. No, such assertions, when made explicit, seem always to confuse themselves. To clear the confusion one must posit additional, unjustified metaphysical entities or assumptions: an unavoidable "multiplication beyond necessity," subject to Occam's Razor. The parsimonious reasoning of existential passage fares better on this score.
Living minds exhibit subjective awareness of
existence. This awareness is attained by thalamocortical mechanisms such as those
sketched in Chapter 8
. We'd invite confusion were we to assert that Nicos' awareness could in any way persist apart from his living body. Such an assertion would not make sense, given what is known about the phenomenon of awareness. As life generates awareness, that awareness exists only where life makes it be. Likewise the individuation attendant awareness. And so if, following Nicos' death, awareness should first come into being again with Thanos, it is metaphysically parsimonious to infer that Nicos would then be
where Thanos is
— an amnesiac, relocated.
Awareness folds into
personal identity as subjectivity. Considering now personal identity
after Thanos' birth: any person
born into the idyll
Thanos' birth must be denied the possibility of receiving Nicos'
existential passage. Nicos would by that time have passed already to
Thanos. From the time of passage onward Thanos would maintain the
continuity, subjectivity and memory which guarantee that the resumed personal
identity stays with him, defining him, for life.
This last point
also explains why Nicos' wife Casta is not thought to participate in the passage.
Displaying the timelines again: