37: All This and a Body, Too?

Cyrano can’t wait to roust the young Moon-being out of bed and convince him of miracles and the soul. Little does he suspect what he’s in for...

The next day, as soon as I was up, I went to awaken my antagonist. “It’s as great a miracle,” I told him, “to find an intellect like yours sound asleep as to see a fire that doesn’t burn.”

He smiled at my awkward compliment and then exclaimed with an anger impassioned by friendship, “Will you never turn your mouth and reason away from this fantastical talk of miracles? Such words defame the name philosopher. The wise man sees nothing in the world that he cannot explain or that he thinks cannot be explained. He must therefore hold for an abomination all the talk of miracles, wonders and unnatural events that stupid people have invented to excuse the feebleness of their understanding.”

I felt that my conscience obliged me to speak and disabuse him: “Even though you do not believe in miracles,” I replied, “they still happen, and there are many of them. I’ve seen some with my own eyes. I’ve known more than twenty sick people who were miraculously cured.”

He interrupted me: “Those twenty people were cured by a miracle, so you say, but what you don’t know is that the imagination is strong enough to combat all illnesses because of a certain natural balm spread throughout our bodies. It contains all the qualities contrary to all those of every illness that attacks us. Our imagination is alerted by pain and goes to the proper place, chooses a specific remedy, opposes it to the venom, and thus cures us.

“That is why the most competent physician of our world advises the patient to listen to an ignorant doctor who the patient thinks is very competent rather than to a competent doctor who the patient thinks is ignorant. He reason is that our imagination works for our good health, and as long as it is supplemented by remedies, it is capable of healing us. But the most powerful remedies are too weak when the imagination does not apply them.

“Are you surprised that men of ancient times in your world lived for so many centuries with no knowledge of medicine? They were strong, and the universal balm had not been dissipated by the drugs your doctors consume you with. To begin convalescence, they had only to wish strongly and imagine themselves cured. Their imagination — clear, vigorous and strong — immediately plunged into this vital oil, applied its credit to their bodily deficit and almost in the blink of an eye they were as healthy as before.

“Astonishing recoveries still occur today, but the common people attribute them to miracles. I don’t believe it. The reason is that it’s easier to believe that those who cite miracles are wrong than it is to believe in a miracle. I ask them this: It seems quite likely that a feverish person who has just been cured wished very strongly to return to health when he was ill; he was determined to do so.

“But, since he was ill, he necessarily had to die, remain ill or be cured. If he had died, people would have said, ‘God wanted to put him out of his misery’. Or maybe they’d have tried maliciously to have it both ways: ‘He answered the patient’s prayers and cured him of all his ills’. If the patient had remained ill, we would have been told he had no faith. However, now that he’s cured, it’s obviously a miracle. Isn’t it much more likely that this was achieved by his imagination’s being stimulated by a strong desire for health? For all the people who wished to return to health and did so, how many more do we see who wanted to but died miserably?”

“But at the very least,” I responded, “if what you say about this balm is true, it is a mark of the reasonableness of our soul. It does not use the instruments of our reason, nor does it rely for support on our will. As though it were outside of us it knows how to apply the credit to the debit side of the health ledger. If it is separate from us and is also reasonable, it must be spiritual; and if you confess that it is, I conclude that it is immortal, because death comes to animals only by a change of shape, and matter alone can do that.”

The young host sat down on his bed and had me do the same. He answered me: “The soul of animals is corporeal, and I am not surprised that it dies. It may be only a harmony of the four qualities, a force of the blood, a proportion of well-concerted organs. But I would be very surprised if our souls — which are incorporeal, intellectual and immortal — were caused to leave our bodies for the same reasons that cause the soul of an ox to die.

“Has our soul made a deal with the body? If we take a sword thrust to the heart, a bullet in the brain or musket-shot through the body, does the soul leave immediately because its home has a hole in it? The soul would often default on its contract, because some people die of a wound from which others recover. Every soul would have to make separate bargain with its own body. To tell the truth, if the soul were so smart, as some would have us believe, it would be quite crazy to leave a body when it sees that it’s going to an appointed place in Hell.

“And if, as they say, the soul were spiritual and reasonable in itself, if it were as capable of intelligence outside our body as inside it, then why are those who are born blind, with all the fine advantages of this intellectual soul, unable to imagine what it’s like to see? Why can’t the deaf hear? Because death has not yet deprived them of all their senses? Really, now, does that mean I can’t use my right hand because I have a left hand?

“To prove that the soul cannot act without the senses because it is something spiritual, those people cite the example of a painter who cannot paint a picture without paintbrushes. Yes, but that doesn’t mean that the painter who can’t work without a brush will do better if he loses his paints, pencils, canvases and palette. Quite the contrary! The more obstacles are put in his way, the less he can paint.

“However, these people claim that the soul can operate only imperfectly after losing one of its tools in the course of a person’s life but can still work perfectly when it has lost all its tools after our death. If they come and tell me that it doesn’t need those instruments in order to function, I will tell them they’ll have to flog the people in the hospice for the blind, because they pretend to see nothing at all.”

In the philosophical playoff series, the Rationalists beat the Mythologists by throwing holy smoke and magnetic curve balls. Cyrano was ejected for arguing over a call by the Umpire, but after a rain delay, Achab drew a walk to bring in the winning run. In the second game, the Rationalists gave Galileo the ball and had Lucretius batting clean-up. With a bench deep in atomist Greeks, they had no trouble outscoring the Aristotelians.

In the last game, the young Moon-being comes to the plate against the Idealists with the bases loaded: if people have souls, then why don’t animals? By what right are human beings supreme creatures? By having a soul? Reason? Or by thinking they sit at the top of the food chain? Cyrano the character serves up a fat pitch: the soul defined as personality. The young Moon-being ropes it by meeting the mind-body problem head on.

The Moon-being asserts that the imagination can cure physical ills. Is he hedging or tossing a sop to miracle-believers? No, the imagination — like other mental functions — is physical. Today we can say the mind and imagination are the effects of physical causes, but can we explain much better than the Moon-being how they work?

In episodes 3-5, Cyrano reveals to an intelligent and intellectually curious Monsieur de Montmagny the vistas of the Solar System, interstellar space and a geologically active planet Earth. Now the tables are turned: the Moon-being is telling Cyrano that he may look outside the Earth, but he must look inward as well. Will Cyrano the character be as able a student as the governor of New France? We shall see...