Wednesday, April 8, 2009

An Amusing Story

Well, I didn't get to blog every day while in China like I had hoped. And since getting back there's been lots of catching up to do. Add to that my son coming coming down with a killer flu this week and things have been a wee-bit hectic.

That said, there is one really amusing story from my time in China. And it's relevant to the nature of this blog. The title of my series of lectures was "Dualism, Materialism and the Prospects of Postmortem Survival." My last lecture was titled simply "The Prospects of Postmortem Survival." It followed on the heels of one lecture on dualism and two lectures on physicalist accounts of human nature. I began the lecture by stating the problem. If we are physical creatures through-and-through (as I believe we are), how could we possibly exist in any sort of after life? After all, following an ordinary death it appears our bodies cease to exist, are laid in the ground, and over time, their constitutent parts scattered to the four winds. So, how can the physical objects we are turn up in a heavenly city? Now if you're a dualist but also a Christian, then you've got the very same problem insofar as you believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come.

In any case, the lecture explored different ways to make sense out of such a belief as life after death on the assumption that such life is bodily life. Here I explored two or three differen ways things could go, assuming a certain account of the persistence conditions of human bodies, i.e., the sorts of changes things like bodies can undergo without ceasing to exist. At the very end of the lecture I concluded that we can make sense out of such a doctrine as life after death, but if there is to be life after death it is going to take a miracle.

Now the amusing part. As I concluded, one of the Chinese professors, who had attended several of the lectures, stood up and stared at me incredulously, and said: "Is THAT your conclusion? Where's the postmodernism?" Apparently, he had been patiently waiting for postmodern survival to show up in my lectures and, as it turned out, it never did. He had, apparently, mistaken "postmortem survival" for "postmodern survival." When I pointed out his mistake he recognized it at once, was somewhat embarassed, but the two of us had a good laugh nonetheless.

As for me, I had a wonderful time. I think the highlight may have been our final night in Beijing. I took Rowan downstairs to the Hotel Lounge for a celebratory drink (non-alcoholic for him, of course!). And I asked him, "what was your favorite part of the trip?" And he said, "Well, it's between the lectures and the bird's nest." The bird's nest, of course, is the Olympic track and field complex. But, hey, I tied with that!!!! In fact, during one lecture I saw my son writing on a piece of paper. I figured he was doodling. I later discovered that he was taking notes!!!! 11 years old. Warms a dad's heart.


Stephen Krogh said...

Well if there is something like postmodernism (I am not sure that it is something other than an empty term), and it is what people generally assume it is (whatever that is, considering that it seems to be one of those terms, which evade definition), then it seems like postmodern survival would be impossible, because it would collapse under the weight of its own ambiguity. I am both confused, and half-joking, by the way.

Glad to hear that China went well. At 11 not only was I not taking notes at a philosophy conference, I wasn't taking notes in pre-Algebra (or History, or Science, though I did take prodigious notes in dating...many many lessons were learned there!). Welcome home.

Asa Forsyth(e) said...

In postmodern postmortem survival, one would survive one's death, but only if not expecting it, thereby deconstructing the survivor's theories about life, the universe, and everything...

Glenn said...

Isn't postmodern survival where you survive (relatively speaking of course)?

I've just stumbled onto your blog today Kevin, while preparing my next in a series of podcasts on Christianity and the mind/body problem. I shall revisit frequently!

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