IBRI Research Report No. 48 (1999)

Hope, Language, & the Brain

David P. Hoover

Copyright © 1999 by David P. Hoover. All rights reserved.


The worldviews of both eastern mysticism and western secular humanism deny the meaningfulness of cosmic (or eschatological) hope. The former does this by denying human individuality, and the latter by its attempt to fully "naturalize" human death. By contrast, Christianity fundamentally refuses the normality of death as extinguishing human existence. Death, it insists, is a curse. The purpose of this essay is to explain the character of a hope that addresses this curse. Along the way, linguistic competence (with its architectural embodiment in the brain) is discussed as the amazing and uniquely human ability to track personal historical meaning. Human brains are important both in facilitating and conserving rational hopefulness over time and in the midst of circumstances that seem far less than hopeful. In this regard, two lines of research are discussed: (1) the distribution of cognitive labor in the brain, and (2) the cognitive architecture (the kind of processing structure) that best fits the requirements of emotion-charged informational states like rational hopefulness. Fundamental to the entire essay is the premise that linguistic competence is essential to our constitution as historical beings-beings for whom the rational significance of past, present, and future is vital to their own identity. The rest of the animal world, on the other hand, lacks language and so lacks the means to track personal history-hence also lacks the ability to anticipate an ultimate personal fulfillment given that history.


Although the author is in agreement with the doctrinal statement of IBRI, it does not follow that all of the viewpoints espoused in this paper represent official positions of IBRI. Since one of the purposes of the IBRI report series is to serve as a preprint forum, it is possible that the author has revised some aspects of this work since it was first written. 

ISBN 0-944788-48-3


. . . and not only do we [rejoice in the hope of the glory of God], but we rejoice also in our sufferings, knowing that suffering brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and this hope will not finally disappoint us, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

In matters of science and scientific method it is folly to run ahead of the evidence. It is certainly folly to run far ahead of the evidence. Practitioners who do this are quickly exposed by their scientific brethren and a certain shame is soon fixed to both the practitioner and his hasty hypothesis. There can be no "tabloid science," and to borrow an expression from Jerry Fodor, in matters scientific we must be "as pessimistic as the facts will allow."

In matters of living out our dreams and of living within our ultimate hope, on the other hand, what is immediately evident is often not a reliable guide to future action. Human life is a teleological whole, not a stationary object or a mere material process for scientific scrutiny. Teleo-logic, as we might call it, is not the logic of ordinary hypothesis confirmation; it is the logic of telos fulfillment. For the Christian, confidence in such fulfillment is anchored in God's promises, not in the attempt rationally to construct what is reasonable about the future in terms of what currently appears. Abraham, for one, ran far ahead of the evidence; indeed, he ran contrary to the evidence, hoping against hope (against what it was "scientifically" reasonable to hope), embracing only the promises of God in the face of "empirical impossibility."

The importance of hope-cosmic hope, as I will later call it-is vastly underestimated in secular writings, and for the most part, ignored. To put such hope in its rightful place requires a concession to the human condition that secularism, on its own deepest assumptions, cannot make. To put the matter in a language that all can readily understand, secularism radically parts company with Christianity in its interpretation of death-in its interpretation of the ending of the human biological sojourn, and so its interpretation of the very significance of human life itself.

Secularism has attempted to "naturalize" death. Human existence, it insists, is but a curious slice of space-time sandwiched between two oblivions: the oblivion predating birth and the oblivion following biological death. On a secularist reckoning, therefore, talk of either eschatological hopefulness or even of eschatological hopelessness is nonsense; for if in the very nature of the case the human condition poses no problem for which a proffered hope might count as a solution, neither the concept of hope nor the absence of hope has any rational application beyond the cycle of birth, life, and death.

The intellectual scandal of historic Christianity is precisely where it differs with secularism's "naturalization" of death. The fact is, however (I speak here as a Christian), secularism has not naturalized death. It has attempted, rather, to denature it. Christians have always believed that death is unnatural to the human being's original design; it is not (in a benignly biological sense) natural at all, and its sting cannot be done away with by the attempt to make psychological peace with fundamental biological limits.

The moral scandal of historic Christianity, on the other hand, is really inseparable from its intellectual scandal: death is a curse and an ever-present reminder of human fallenness and preference for sin over obedience to God. The hope of the Gospel is thus foolishness to the secular conscience because the Gospel seems to be outrageous in these two fundamental ways: it offends against materialism on the finality of biological death, and it calls men and women to acknowledge a fundamental condition requiring a Savior from sin.

Although my commitment to the Gospel, thus understood, is the underlying motivation for all that follows, my project is more general and abstract. In the reflections to follow I have attempted to explore the structure of cosmic human hope rather than to develop the specific content of that hope. There is a vast Christian literature that admirably does the latter. A thought that runs throughout Hope, Language, & the Brain, though not extensively developed, is that humans are semantivores (consumers of meaning). They are far more than "informavores" (to use the current computer-inspired metaphor), for they require a sense of personal historical meaning in order to flourish. Given the human condition, I believe that such meaning is supplied only in the eschatological hope of Christianity.

Hope, Language, & the Brain

Much of what I have to say strikes me as common sense-not that everyone knows it already, but that once that it is spelled out it will seem really obvious. In fact, there is a certain awkwardness I feel in writing it all down because surely no one wants to re-invent the wheel in public. But then I think of such "common sense" dispensing media phenomena as TV's Psychic Friends Hotline(1) and feel better. PFH involves neither psychics nor friends in dispensing its guesses and banalities; and its hotline is "hot" only in its tendency to burn the credulous with monstrous phone bills. Thinking of the "Psychic Friends" makes me feel better because the common sense I want to talk about is often lost sight of in the stress of life and recovering it does not require weird powers and huge phone bills. What I want to do is talk about the interrelatedness of cosmic hope, contentment, and linguistic competence-and eventually to speculate a bit about brain function in these regards.

Of all the animals, only humans seem capable of hope. What is more, humans seem to require hope for any kind of life they consider worth living. It's true that I can't speak definitively for dolphins, apes, elephants, or one's household pet, so perhaps it should be allowed that some large brain mammals in addition to humans also require hopeful existence. If Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame were around, the question might be settled, for he had that extraordinary mind-melding talent whereby he could lay hands on an alien sentient creature and literally tap into its cognitive and emotional states. Spock might determine whether Fido, for example, possesses the general anticipation of a long doggy life, with one square meal a day, amidst playful and kind masters. But alas, Vulcan "hands-on" psychology is quite beyond our capabilities and so we are restricted to observing behavior as our only guide to the animal psyche. But there is a powerful inference we can draw about an animal's capacity for hope (dread, remorse, compassion, etc.) from its lack of linguistic competence, and we will return to this shortly.

Whether or Not to Board the Titanic

But what is hopeful existence in the way that humans experience it? In the way that humans require it? Is a psychologically healthy person capable of daily contentment without hope? Can one "enjoy the moment" in the absence of hope? (Think here of those who say they want merely to be.) Richard Keyes, addressing a slightly different issue, uses an apt illustration for our purposes: Consider yourself as about to board that state-of-the-art luxury ocean liner, the Titanic, in its first trans-Atlantic voyage. Suppose also that you will be traveling first-class. You will thus be enjoying the finest stateroom, food service, entertainment, and activity schedule. Bliss!

Now suppose (and this takes some imagination) that just prior to embarking you are informed by a bona fide time traveler that the "scientifically unsinkable" Titanic will hit an iceberg two days out and two thirds of the passengers will die. They will drown in the icy cold waters of the North Atlantic.

It's a bit silly to wonder whether you would get on that boat given that you have understood and believed the time traveler. Of course you wouldn't. For there would be a strong probability that you would never reach your destination. Even if you did somehow reach your destination that mishap at sea would have put a dreadful damper on things. Better off to stay home and maybe get caught up on your reading-perhaps offer your ticket and accommodations to your more scientifically minded and gritty mother-in-law who has always wanted to travel abroad (and will simply have no truck with time travelers and gloomy predictions). But this scenario does illustrate the dynamic between hope and contentment within a linguistically operating mind. That dynamic might be sketched out as follows.

Hope as an Overarching Goal Orientation

In philosophical literature hope is often identified as an emotion along with anger, joy, compassion, gratitude, resentment, feelings of shame and the like. I think this is right; hope is emotional in the sense that it is belief-infected feeling, but it has certain characteristics that make it special and unique. To gain clarity, it is important to distinguish two senses of hope in everyday language. In one sense hope is used pretty exclusively as a verb and comes close in meaning to the verb to wish. That is not the sense we want. The other sense of hope has a simple verb form in biblical Greek, but in English is best rendered as something one has: "to have hope." This is the hope whose opposite is despair (rather than, say, the absence of being wishful toward something), and without which life seems not worth living.

Having hope, of course, is a certain regard for the future involving happy expectation. The Christian hope, for example, is the anticipation of an eternity in which all will be made right-an eternity that will include oneself. In the words of Robert C. Roberts (Spirituality and Human Emotion, 1982), "Christian hope is the construal of our future in terms of God's promises of eternal life and righteousness." The Apostle Paul speaks of it as "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27) and identifies its most significant content as permanence with Christ through the resurrection. The Christian hope is given as nothing less than the personal overcoming of death itself. The Apostle Peter echoes Paul when he exclaims that Christian believers are given new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Christ from the dead. It is a hope involving an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade (I Pet. 1:4).

Less exalted hopes, on the other hand, might include a financially secure retirement, relational permanence with one's spouse or children, or making a lasting contribution in some endeavor. And then there are frivolous and downright irrational hopes. The hope of a Heaven's Gate post-suicide beaming up by a passing UFO is doubtless an instance of the latter. Our present point, however, is that in matters of religious faith and practical life, hope has a distinctive core of characteristics: Hope is a goal-orientation, its concerns are overriding, and subtly but powerfully it bestows meaning on all that takes place within the interval of time that it takes to arrive at one's destination.

Hope: An Enabling Emotion

Hope, moreover, is a fundamentally enabling emotion. It is a curious kind of force in life (distinctively human life) and over time provides cohesion for life as a whole. Though its importance is in being always present, its role in keeping us glued together becomes especially noticeable only in times of crisis and those life episodes that seem to threaten our living with meaninglessness. Hope is what makes even terrible suffering bearable, and in the warmth and beauty of its promise it creates-even forges-contentment in the midst of otherwise bewildering circumstances. Hope is worth talking about precisely because it is powerful in this way. But it is a subtle power in routine living, and in this regard I think it is somewhat analogous to physical gravity-the weakest of the four basic forces known to physics. Gravitational "pull" subtly but powerfully provides an invisible cohesion for the solar system and beyond. It is, so to speak, the force that will determine the destiny of the universe in the long run (so long, of course, as nothing else intervenes; barring intervention, the cosmically long run is indefinite expansion or final collapse and implosion).

Hope, on the other hand, gently tugs us into the future with the constant reminder that it makes sense to keep going. That tug is not physical (as in the case of gravity), but teleological and cognitive; and its content-what it promises-is of the utmost importance. False hope will make fools of us, while no hope at all will reduce us to despair, inactivity, and even suicide. Perhaps the key biblical metaphor for the function of hope is given in Hebrews 6:19. The hope offered in the Gospel is "an anchor for the soul," the source of one's innermost cohesion regardless of tempestuous life circumstances. It is worth some reflection, then, to ponder how hope does its work. In a profound sense, a hope fulfilled retroactively charges the past with a significance it could not otherwise have and the anticipation of fulfilled hope is an ongoing participation in that significance.

Cosmic Hope & the Redemption of Suffering

Shakespeare wrote "All's well that ends well"-a folk truism, perhaps, but the aphorism is not very informative and it is not particularly comforting to those whose lives are not presently going well. In the midst of suffering it might appear that things will not turn out well, or that, all things rationally considered, they cannot turn out well. The Muslims who suffered unimaginably at the hands of the Bosnian Serbs, for example, might well have felt an abject hopelessness. The one suffering a relentlessly painful terminal illness might find Shakespeare's "cliché" less than sensitive. The same goes for the outlook of a man or woman whose spouse no longer communicates love but an unending emotional (or even physical) abuse. In such cases, and in countless others, it is easy for one's entire world to shrink to just the dimensions of the pain involved. Living becomes little more than survival and one's personal horizons are narrowed in the extreme. The question then arises: Under what general conditions is suffering meaningful? The answer, I think, is when suffering contributes to, and is interpretable by, an ultimate fulfillment.

Although I speak and write as a Christian, my present concern is not the content of the Christian hope. That of course is vital, but can be taken up only briefly below and in the final section. My aim here is to clarify the essential role of hope for distinctively human existence. That too is a uniquely Christian theme for me but space does not allow the development it deserves. I will have to limit myself to a few conceptual points and speak, more or less, in a philosopher's conceptual style rather than in a theologian's prose. In the event that my style begins to clank quite badly, permission is granted to skip the offending word-salad for more readable thoughts beyond. And now to restate my immediate concern, I want to try to clarify the metaphysical function of a hope that is grounded in truth. That's a mouthful, but it's meaning is pretty straightforward.

We have already seen that hope is future oriented and that it somehow charges the present with significance. Call this sense of hope, eschatological hope, or to lose a few syllables, cosmic hope. What must be appreciated is that cosmic hope has application only to the lives of historical beings-beings for whom the rational significance of past, present, and future is vital to self-identity. Moreover, the importance of cosmic hope to historical beings resides in its constituting an answer to a problem. It is worse than silly to offer someone hope when the proffered "hope" does not constitute such an answer. So if we humans require hope (of the cosmic kind), and require it merely due to our membership in the human race, then there is something about human existence that constitutes a problem-something very wrong.

Christianity, of course, locates that wrongness in a historical fall with all its repercussions. To borrow a couple of metaphors from C. S. Lewis, we come into the world "bent" and we inhabit a "silent planet" whose communication and fellowship with God was cataclysmically broken leaving us with no internal resources to regain the life and communion that were lost. (God has provided external resources, of course, but I leave that for later.) By contrast, the visions of human existence provided by materialistic humanism and by (most) eastern mysticisms deny the existence of a generically human problem in need of personal cosmic hope. Humans do not require hope in the Christian sense, they say, because Christianity is wrong about the human condition. Materialistic humanism confines all inquiry into what is humanly meaningful to the categories arising from within the cycle of birth, life, and death. Nothing transcends that cycle so we had best make our psychological peace with it. Eastern mysticisms characteristically repudiate the "Western" logical distinctions and dualities that lead us to suppose that there are the problems which Christianity addresses (e.g., subject/object, good/evil, and propositional truth/falsehood). Once the illusoriness of these distinctions is recognized, say the mystics, there is no longer any real problem, for the problem itself is defined in terms of those very illusions. Thus it is irrational, or at least misguided, to pursue cosmic hope. So say the folks I take issue with.

Where have we gotten? A cosmic hope, in the event that it is fulfilled, somehow charges the historically lived events that preceded it with a significance (a value or worth) that they would not and could not otherwise have. A terminally unfulfilled hope, on the other hand, confers no such significance and leaves the "hopeful" looking pretty foolish, or in the biblical idiom, "put to shame" (cf. Rom. 5:5). Metaphysically, that is because of the sort of whole a human life is. Henry Ford is supposed to have once quipped that "history is the succession of one damned thing after another." I take it that that goes for personal histories as well as world history. But in either case, Ford surely got it wrong; human history (including personal history) constitutes a curious teleological whole, not a series of logically disconnected vignettes. The eventfulness within a teleological whole is purposive and goal directed, and individual events gain their ultimate significance in terms of the telos to which they lead. That's curious, I say, because a kind of retro-causation is suggested here. Can the future determine the significance of the past and present?

Consider the woefully beleaguered Frodo Baggins trekking through Middle Earth on his quest to drop the evil ring of power into the fires of Mount Doom. (My apologies to those who haven't read Tolkien, but I think such readers will have no trouble following my point anyway.) Suppose you have been reading Tolkien's three volume tale and now, at very long last, you are there on the slopes of that evil mountain with Frodo and his faithful companion Samwise, peering into the "Cracks of Doom"-an apocalyptic ending for either good or evil imminent! Suppose that instead of the scuffle that sent the ring to its destruction (then followed by the rescue of our improbable hero), Frodo had been stripped of the ring by Gollum whereupon Gollum threw poor Frodo and Samwise into the molten lava. Finis. Punkt! We would then have a resounding and unqualified triumph of evil over good for the "foreseeable" eons! What then?

Well, after hurling all my Tolkien through the nearest window, and regaining some philosophical composure, I might well reflect that endings have a semantic and valuational impact upon whatever led up to them. A novel is instructive in this regard because it too is a kind of teleological whole. That is my claim for human life and much of the suffering it may contain. I am disposed to take the Apostle Paul's comment on his own suffering in just this way. In II Corinthians 4:17 he says: "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison." It is the phrase "affliction is producing . . . an eternal weight of glory" that I find amazing here, not the fact that the affliction and the weight of glory are far beyond comparison. The astonishing moral is that God can weave even our pain and sorrow into a tapestry of eternal life! So in God's hands present faithfulness, in whatever circumstances, is a historical investment in glory. And to come full circle, fulfilled hope retroactively gives suffering its very character as precious investment.

The purely philosophical point is worth stating clearly before moving on: Because of the kind of teleological whole that is constituted by a human life, historical nuance that obtains later in one's own story can affect historical nuance that obtains earlier. Thus the overall significance of one's life trades crucially upon its eschaton (how things ultimately turn out). Happy endings may be merely quaint within contemporary story-telling, but they are vital to human identity. We return now to more pedestrian matters. What has language got to do with all this? What makes a cosmic hope existentially wax and wane? And how does one rekindle a flagging hope?

Language & Hope

There is a staggering leap from a merely sentient animal to a linguistically competent human. Because of the representational system that is language, the human being has an enormously powerful means of representing the environment to itself. By means of language we think about the environment. This is such a commonplace-so very familiar-that the profundity of what it means to think about things can easily escape us. It is such a commonplace, in fact, that one might think that only a philosopher would pay any serious attention to it. So I beg the reader's indulgence to say a bit more about it.

We have the ability not only immediately to detect our surroundings and physically interact with physical stimuli in law governed ways, we can, as I say, re-present salient features of our surroundings-re-present them, deliberately abstract them, within the representational medium of language for the purpose of considering them, pondering them, puzzling over them. And we can do this in a way that is independent of the physical stimuli that got our attention in the first place. (We can, for example, consider an event long after it has occurred. In the technical literature this incredible feature of linguistic thought is called stimulus independence.)

Endowed in this way, our hypotheses, as the saying goes, can "die in our stead" as we consider future options. But if there truly is such "information processing" in the privacy of one's mind, it is easy to see how profoundly mistaken Behaviorism was with its purely external stimulus-response account of intelligent behavior. The brain, whatever else it may be, is a "semantic engine" that somehow combines consciousness with cognitive processes for the production of behavior.

Carrying this a step further, we can, thanks to language, actually stand back from the immediate flux of daily life to reflect about and interpret our pasts (where we have been) and represent a future (where we would like to go). In fact, we seem driven, as language users, to require that the flow of our lives and our relationships be meaningful. While professional historians chronicle a human past writ large, so to speak, individually we concern ourselves with family trees, diaries, photo albums, camcordings of special events, carvings on trees, high school reunions, and mementos of personal honors and accomplishments. Sub-human animals cannot do this, and it's not just that they lack opposable thumbs. They lack the intellectual medium by which to track historical meaning. They lack language.

Viktor Frankl called this drivenness to embrace personal significance over time our "search for meaning." The gift of language, at a single stroke, is the gift of a sense (no matter how inchoate) of personal history. Human beings have a natural thirst for meaning, and this goes beyond simple curiosity. We are more than informavores, to use the current computer inspired metaphor; we are also semantivores. The entire emotional and spiritual make-up of ordinary people makes the relentless demand that their personal histories make satisfying sense, that their personal long-term aspirations which are represented in, and periodically monitored by, language not be ultimately blocked or thwarted.

Hope, we may now say, is the linguistically modeled and emotionally driven investment in a future scenario in which our personal histories will not ultimately prove empty or futile. It is the enabling confidence that a fulfilling personal destiny is at least possible, even though we may not know the fine details of its attainment. But there is a far stronger claim in the case of cosmic hope of the Christian sort and I need to use caution in its statement lest I get hung up in epistemological issues that would be extraneous just now. Cosmic hope is the enabling confidence that a fulfilling personal destiny is certain, and it is God who takes care of the details of its attainment.

Rational Longing

But there is a problem here, for language seems to impose both a curse and a blessing. The blessing is that inhabiting a linguistic world is to be a historical being, a being, that is, that is able to identify, work for, and finally savor a personal destiny. Dogs, cats, lizards, beetles, and other creepy-crawlies, so far as I know, are not blessed in this way. On the other hand, the curse of inhabiting a linguistic world is that by our powers of observation and reflection we will also become acutely aware whenever our meaningfulness seems canceled and our own fulfillment begins to look impossible.

Hope involves a longing for fulfillment, but thanks to language it must be a rational longing. Rationality imposes the constraint that fulfillment be consistent with the body of knowledge that one is committed to, that the objective content of one's hope be attainable-indeed, that that objective content be somehow secure within the realm of possibility.

Rationality, it should be conceded, is a tricky constraint; but what I want to guard against is identifying hope with the mere feeling of optimism. I have nothing against feelings of optimism and wish that I had them far more often than I do, but as feeling, optimism is non-cognitive and non-rational. Optimism in and of itself can afford no reason for supposing that the future is bright or that it should be welcomed. We should thus be very reluctant to recommend quixotic hope. Even though something inside us may stir whenever we hear those ostensibly noble and heroic strains of the popular song "The Impossible Dream," the sober truth is that Don Quixote was quite mad (in spite of his charm), and so is anyone who sincerely hopes to own the Hawaiian Islands or to be President of the Solar System (not to mention anyone willing to ride the Titanic first-class believing that it will sink).

It is primarily because of language that human hope cannot be equated with mere feelings of optimism or a merely positive psychological anticipation of the future. In Western nations generally, but particularly in the United States, a number of powerful secularizing currents have reduced rational cosmic hope to private psychological "well-being"-a well-being, as it happens, that is in very short supply. Dispassionate psychotherapists, mood technicians, and motivation experts ply their craft among a paying public whose feelings are badly out of whack. It is, moreover, disquieting feeling rather than ultimate values and worldviews that are considered out of whack. The passengers aboard the Titanic, to play again on the metaphor of Richard Keyes, become increasingly antsy afloat their scientific marvel. On board, "fortunately," mental health professionals abound! There are chaplains too-proclaiming, for the most part, the gospel of The Power of Positive Thinking (or, perhaps, Possibility Thinking) as well as pastoral adaptations of the latest pop psychology. But while conceding this shallow "spirituality," the metaphor of the Titanic is a metaphor for secular humanism. Its cosmic view of the human race is bluntly stated in The Humanist Manifesto II (1973). Here is a paragraph from that document with regard to religion, God, and salvation:

Traditional religions often offer solace to humans, but, as often, they inhibit humans from helping themselves or experiencing their full potentialities. Such institutions, creeds, and rituals often impede the will to serve others. Too often traditional faiths encourage dependence rather than independence, obedience rather than affirmation, fear rather than courage. More recently they have generated concerned social action, with many signs of relevance appearing in the wake of the "God Is Dead" theologies. But [by the critical use of scientific reason] we can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. While there is much that we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves. (Italics my own.)

The italicized phrase in brackets occurs one paragraph earlier in Humanist Manifesto II, and is very important. It is only by "the critical use of scientific reason" that secular humanists are willing to take up the "salvation" prospects of mankind. But a scientifically disciplined rationality, they boldly claim, rules out the substance of Christian hope. "No deity will save us; we must save ourselves." For the secular humanist, therefore, longing for the coming of Christ and his kingdom is an irrational-even dangerous-longing.

It is tempting to digress here to talk about the compatibility of science and religion, but that would take us too far afield. Besides, there are excellent materials the reader can consult that treat the compatibility issue with proper thoroughness (for example, Donald M. MacKay's Science, Chance, and Providence [1978]). Suffice it to note here that the Christian's quarrel with the atheistic Manifesto is not with its bare insistence on the critical use of scientific reason. In the broadest sense of science, one's concern is with truth-truth in physics, psychology, biology, history, and so on. What critical scientific reason amounts to for the signers of Humanist Manifesto II, however, is emphatically not the broad scientific quest for truth but scientific method confined to a metaphysics of materialism. Let me illustrate with a parable. It concerns the inappropriate extension of a successful but quite narrow investigative method outside its legitimate area of application.

A drunk staggers around a light pole late at night, apparently searching for something. A police officer stops to ask him what he is looking for and the drunk answers, "My keys."

The officer responds, "Where did you lose them?"

The drunk points out to the darkness. "Out there."

Perplexed, the officer asks, "So why are you looking here?"

The drunk replies, "Because this is where the light is."

Perhaps the moral of this little story is a bit less than obvious. Suppose you are looking within human history for an authentic miracle. Can the flashlight of scientific method operating from within a metaphysics of strict materialism cast any light on this subject? Francis Crick (of Double Helix fame) is armed with precisely this "flashlight" when he says that even if a statue of the Virgin Mary should wave at you we should not count this as a miracle. The phenomenon should be reckoned as a marvel of physics and investigated as such. The reason Crick's investigative method cannot illuminate miracle is because it "shines" only on the physical properties of things. To shift metaphors, his "viewing distance" on the imagined statue is, so to speak, too close. It is as though we were to say that because a newspaper photo of the President is really nothing but a purely physical distribution of black dots, there is no picture.

As already mentioned, the other instructive contrast with a broadly rational, and hence linguistically mediated, cosmic hope is eastern (monistic) mysticism. The Titanic, it should be noted, is a distinctively Western boat. I'm afraid, however, that for eastern mysticism (and, in general, for devotees of pure consciousness) I have no catchy metaphor. Ghost Ship might do, but there are ways that that metaphor can be misleading. Even ethereal existence aboard a Ghost Ship would be far too individualized and logically determinate for those ineffable ports-of-call, Nirvana and Satori. The primary culprit for the eastern mystic is a consciousness laden with rational categories-particularly Western scientific and logical categories. This Western "false" consciousness is one whose would-be contact with reality is mediated (and hence distorted) by logic and language. The mystical alternative is to follow the regimens of Hindu, Buddhist, and Zen masters that offer a salvation, of sorts, by following a path to a fully deconstructed, and hence a truly receptive, consciousness. For the mystic, the damage done by linguistic mediation is far worse than getting short-changed by words that may be inadequate to their subject matter. Rather, linguistic mediation itself brings the very rational distinctions that generate such irreconcilable dichotomies as pleasure/pain, good/evil, subject/object, self/not-self, and propositional truth/falsehood. For the eastern mystic, reality itself is One. In the seamless perfection of this Oneness there is no misery, struggle, and pain. It is precisely a dichotomizing false consciousness that creates a prison of illusion from whence come all pain and suffering! A radically deconstructed consciousness is the remedy, for only then is one beyond all mediation and therefore beyond all dichotomies. Indeed, some mysticisms are so radical that one is said to transcend self-identity itself-somewhat like what happens to a drop of water once it has fallen into a pond. What is on offer from eastern (monistic) mysticism, then, is a "salvation" that requires the obliteration of individuality-the obliteration of the self.

In contrast to eastern mysticism, Christianity finds nothing illusory about evil and suffering in this world. They are horrifyingly real and must be dealt with. In contrast to secular humanism, Christianity does not block the road of scientific inquiry at the empirically material level. History bears witness to an interventionist God who transcends this world. Christianity is thus both gloomily diagnostic (humankind is fallen and under a sentence of death) and joyfully hopeful (its Christ has defeated death and still calls men and women everywhere to repentance and life).

Before launching in a new direction, let's briefly sum up. What have our reflections on hope-cosmic or eschatological hope-turned up so far? First, in everyday life this hope is a subtle but powerful carrot-and-stick phenomenon that provides spiritual cohesion and meaning for life as a whole. Second, this hope confers real enablement. Like a particular gravitational field, hope may be either strong or weak, but unlike physical gravity, hope (in its felt subjectivity) is the product of emotion-driven rationality rather than simple mechanical force. Third, therefore, hope is a cognitive phenomenon made possible by our linguistic ability to represent our histories as personal histories and to represent future satisfactions that are worthy of the sort of beings we are. There is, however, a dynamic or "mechanics" to hope. Hope in this life, after all, requires the physical brain. And this brings us to the most complex leg of our journey.

Illuminating the Black Box

What I have in mind at this point in our discussion is to remain, as much as possible, in the shallows of current discussion and debate. In saying this I certainly am not expressing the desire to keep things superficial, but only the aim to swim at the right depth given our primary concern: the invigorating of hope and the revitalizing of life-enhancing perspective. Note that the content and truth-claims of any particular hope are not in view at this point; our present concern is with the function and activation of hope.

Two areas of research in recent years invite some intriguing speculation along these lines. One is the mapping of brain function-chiefly left and right hemispheric function within split-brain research. The other is the work in cognitive science that seeks to model how the brain processes information-in particular, the suggestion that our cognitive architecture may be, in part at least, connectionist. I begin with a brief overview and historical perspective on philosophy of mind and the beginnings of cognitive science.

In the history of human inquiry into the causes of intelligent behavior, the brain has steadfastly remained a near total mystery as to its utterly strategic role in the production of thought, images, mood, emotion, and behavior. It has been a black box which has seemingly worked a distinctive kind of magic, utilizing a complex physical organ to transform physical stimuli into the rationally ordered, comprehended, colorful world we inhabit. It gives every appearance of being a physical box, but a box with a point of view--and that boggles the scientific mind! A physical object is simply not the sort of thing that can have a point of view (be sad, glad, mad, nostalgic, understanding, etc.). Or is it?

In the modern era (since Descartes' formulation of the mind/brain relation in the early 17th century) the philosophical pendulum has swung from dualism to materialistic monism. Dualism is the view that at work between one's ears are two radically dissimilar stuffs, one stuff immaterial and the other material. Because in our modern conception of science we require the disclosure of material mechanism to explain empirical regularity, strictly immaterial causes of such regularity are frowned upon; these cannot be fitted into the scheme of things that science investigates. No one has yet empirically isolated a spiritual mechanism and shown how it can causally influence a material mechanism. This may be an overly narrow view of science (I think that it is overly narrow), but it is roughly the view that is back of the materialistic monism which has held the field for most of the 20th century.

The materialistic monism of our day (since, roughly, the early '60s) has changed dramatically, however, from the older metaphysical materialism. The latter theorized in a rather conceptual armchair fashion about material substance in the abstract. Its fundamental worry was how to generate a smooth conceptual account of how it is that mind is really nothing but matter, or how to conceive of "mind" as a conceptual category that does not name anything real at all.

In a manner of speaking, the new materialistic monism has thrown away the armchair and has enthusiastically followed the lead of science in scrutinizing the conceptual implications of material processes rather than substances (or alleged substances). In a word, the notion of mechanism has replaced matter, and the notion of mental processes has replaced mind, spirit, and soul. I overstate this somewhat, but those imbued with this vision are betting that all the old problems that are still worth solving are now to be solved by regarding the brain as an information processing system fully accessible, in the final analysis, to empirical science. This striking shift of emphasis and subject matter is due to a number of important intellectual discoveries and developments whose most significant achievement is the computer revolution (the best depth analysis of these developments that I've seen is Zenon W. Pylyshyn's Computation and Cognition, [1984]). What computation theory and computer technology have provided cognitive science is, roughly, its very claim to be a science, for what has been provided looks very much to those in the field like a mechanics of thought itself.

We should note, however, that a mechanics of thought modeled on information processing in a computer is not a mechanics of consciousness. Consciousness itself (the subjective experience of information processing, whether discursive or gestaltic) finds no place in computation theory and remains utterly mysterious. Or if you like, although computers may process information like mad, they do not experience what they are doing. They are not "self-aware" of their own projects.

Nevertheless, leaving aside the problem of consciousness as such, it seems to me that there is value for our present concerns in understanding both the compartmental character of brain functioning (the brain's distribution of cognitive labor) and in understanding cognitive architecture (the type or types of "mechanism" responsible for the flow of information in the brain). Both kinds of inquiry provide some illumination into the black box. Of course, I can't even begin to tell those complicated stories in a short space, so I will proceed to simplify with our more narrow interests in view.

Selective Vacations for Cerebral Bureaucrats

The two cerebral hemispheres of the brain make quite different and specialized contributions to cognition. Nearly three decades of research still confirm this-though with some interesting qualification. During the seventies and eighties some really excessive and exaggerated claims were made (an overdoing it sometimes referred to as dichotomania). The past twenty-five years of left brain/right brain literature (some of it sheer nonsense) is worth reviewing, and I cannot do better than refer the reader to two sane works. For a non-speculative assessment of the basic data, Left Brain, Right Brain [1981] by authors Sally P. Springer and Georg Deutsch is still excellent as an introductory work. For a summing up of what is now accepted with reasonable confidence, and a nice correction of past error and exaggeration, see The Right Mind: Making Sense of the Hemispheres [1997] by Robert Ornstein.

As I was saying, the two cerebral hemispheres provide quite different and specialized contributions to cognition. Language is typically located in the left hemisphere (in right handed individuals) while spatial, aesthetic, and generally intuitive (holistic and non-inferential) tasks heavily involve the right hemisphere (again, in right handed individuals). The limbic system (of the brain) seems to manage emotional traffic and there are specialized subsystems within the major brain systems as well as all manner of sub-subsystems. In short, the brain seems to be, to borrow a phrase from Daniel Dennett, a kind of task-oriented bureaucracy (sometimes referred to as the brain's modularity). The human brain seems, in fact, to be rather like a committee (with certain important qualifications). If you were to travel down the corridors of your bureaucratic brain you might see signs on doors like "Bureau of Language Parsing," "Bureau of Affective Nuance Distribution," "Bureau of Sex," "Bureau of Visual Edge Detection," "Bureau of Hearing," "Bureau of Face Familiarity," but probably not "Bureau of What to Do Next."

I'll return to the bureaucracy metaphor in a moment, but let me add here that the evidence for the brain's modularity of cognitive function is impressive. Scientists get clear on the autonomy (relative independence) of specific cognitive functions in a variety of ways. These include the study of neurological deficits, the correlation of a region of brain damage (or disease) with a specific cognitive impairment or loss of function, EEG readings correlated with specific tasks assigned to the subject, and experimental stimulation of just the right hemisphere or just the left hemisphere (in commissurotomized patients, or in patients with one hemisphere anesthetized). As we proceed I would like to caution the reader that my playfulness with metaphors like "committee" and "bureaucracy" is not intended to imply that human minds are fragmented. The modularity of the brain does not imply the disunity of the mind. I say this because the "bureaucratic" complexity we are considering might produce the idea in the reader's mind not merely of a bureaucracy, but a nightmare bureaucracy not unlike the one located in Washington, D.C.-wasteful, inefficient, and one in which the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.

So keep in mind that what we have been talking about is brain function, not necessarily mind function. Again, the physical distribution of specialized function (visual, olfactory, speech, contextual connectedness, etc.) does not lead to a splintered mind in the healthy brain. An automobile engine is composed of a number of mechanical subsystems, resulting in a division of labor that secures the smooth functioning of the engine as a whole. Large corporations may function efficiently and productively even though that very efficiency and productiveness are facilitated by a large number of relatively autonomous departments and bureaus. Similarly, unified mental life should be conceived as facilitated by a very complex organ in which reside several larger systems whose behavior is the product of subsystems and a plethora of sub-subsystems all the way down. Return with me now to my play upon the metaphors of committee and bureaucracy.

Some committee members, or cognitive bureaucrats, must get constant updates from other cognitive bureaucrats in order to carry out their tasks. But there are apparently brain systems (e.g., the several systems of the senses) that are much more informationally insulated from the rest of the brain. These do their work with minimal risk of editing or modification from other brain systems and they report, uncensored and without having to disclose their sources, to general intelligence. For example, we can be thankful that the optical system of the brain is modular in this way since we would surely want our sighting of the tiger near a bush to our left to be a very stubborn optical datum in the event of an actual tiger! When time is of the essence it's okay that some of our brain systems be relatively hardwired-not subject, that is, to time-consuming bureaucratic reinterpretation. Better to be visually mistaken than eaten! Moving along, we complicate this picture still further when the bureaucracy is conceived of as hierarchically organized, and as one in which we have no conscious access to how the lower levels in the bureaucracy do their work.

But, so what? How does a knowledge of discrete brain functions with their locations and mechanistic embodiments help us in a quest to renew hope-to regain the enabling perspective that hope uniquely has to offer? The answer, I think, is that it does not help very much. But it may help a little.

What if some key cognitive bureaucrats must take a break, stop working, do some R & R, whenever certain other cognitive bureaucrats are in charge of the overall system's activity? And what if the resulting relaxation reinvigorates the bureaucrats who got the time off, returning them to their jobs free of fatigue and more efficient for their specialized tasks? We might call this the Vacation Principle and it is certainly a familiar one.

With regard to the ordinary kind of vacation, we send the entire organism (ourselves in mind and body) away to a setting-Tahiti, let's say-where there will be a radical break with all our routine cares and worries. Even if Tahiti should prove to tax our system with its own set of stressors, it will nonetheless call upon our mind-body system's resources in a way that is entirely different from the life we have briefly interrupted. The result is that we often return to our everyday lives refreshed and ready to go again. This can be true even though we may have endured "the vacation from hell" (within limits, of course).

But our present concern is with the prospect of "in-house" vacations, so we return to those sometimes stressed-out, fatigued, and fevered cognitive bureaucrats. But rather than considering them all at once, we address only the crew that staffs the language bureau (left hemisphere). And small wonder, because it is linguistic cognition that is reasonably regarded as the most powerful kind of cognitive resource in the work of representing the quality and direction of our lives. But it is also this crew that uniquely fuels worry, remorse, and dread, for it alone has the resources to make worry, remorse, and dread verbally explicit, and hence ever so compelling. The question is, How do we get those guys to take some time off before they reduce the entire system to anxiously muttering in circles, clinical depression, or even suicide?

We can, of course, drug them or get them drunk, but that would produce a system-wide funk affecting all bureaus at once and lead to worse problems. The saner course is to see whether we can selectively get just this crew to shut down for a time without doing violence or damage to the rest of the system. Let's assume-what is surely the case-that these word-mongers over in the language bureau won't willingly and cheerfully leave their posts, for under stress they become control freaks. Is there an indirect way to get them to cease and desist?

Apparently, that can be done-right in the privacy of our own bodies (brains). Although we have always known at least some of the activities that work in this regard, in 1972 researchers Ornstein and Galin experimentally confirmed (using an EEG study)(2) that when a subject is given an exclusively right brain task the left brain tends to idle (emit an alpha rhythm) and vice versa. Right brain tasks are now activities in which cognitive energy is neither deployed in representing the past nor the future. So when the brain's resources are sufficiently immersed in a right brain task, a gloomy and anxiety-ridden left brain must go on holiday, if only briefly. The Vacation Principle is at least part of what is back of the success of bio-feedback and a large part of the explanation for why exercise works to the same effect. Aerobically strenuous exercise is a perfectly wonderful now activity. So are relaxed spatial and aesthetic activities. (Of course, a complete account involves brain hormone release and distribution.)

Time to sum up again. Cosmic human hope, when present, is typically a quiet voice in our lives and the force it exerts is subtle. If our heads become verbally and analytically noisy, if our verbal selves begin frenetically to crank out problems without solution, then that quiet voice may be drowned out. Even though hope may still be informationally present (more on this shortly), our ability to hear it and be encouraged by it is much reduced. One natural way to give our linguistic cognitive bureaucrats the vitality to be governed by a positive perspective (thus minimizing the noise of remorse, worry, and dread-all verbally fueled states of mind) is by regularly engaging our whole selves in activities that require the noninvolvement, or a greatly restricted involvement, of those bureaucrats.

The Computational Theory of Mind & Connectionism

There are, of course, no actual bureaucrats in the brain nor is there any deliberative committee. As I have been careful to stress, that has all been metaphor in the service of making a few important points about function. Thus there is no army of minded idiots in our brains speaking our speech or behaving our behavior. Whatever its complexity, the brain, while embodying a single mind, is a physical system and in that sense it is mechanical and functions by physical law. The astonishing fact, however, is that in its obedience to physical law the brain implements processes whose fundamental behavior can only be described as rulelike rather than as lawlike. What dramatically distinguishes rulelike behavior from strict lawlike behavior is that the former has semantic properties: rulelike behavior possesses what philosophers call intentionality. When a system (e.g., the mind/brain system) produces for its own purposes syntactically well-formed expressions through a generative grammar, that system is engaged in rulelike behavior. Also rulelike are inferential and heuristic thought processes in general. Prior to some extraordinary developments in the '30s and '40s, however, we simply had no theory (or model) for how lawlike and rulelike processes might be intimately associated in one and the same mechanistic process. It is very important that we not be thrown off by the word "mechanistic". Within the present context this term refers to a lawful process and not to any particular physical implementation of it. Particular implementations, then (whether gooey or dry, whether of plastic, metal, silicon, or protoplasm), are not in view here. As Zenon Pylyshyn has clarified, we are concerned with a certain abstract conception of mechanism.(3)

It was not until the mathematical logic developed by Frege, Whitehead, and Russell was combined with important results achieved by Alan Turing, Emil Post, and Alonzo Church that the required abstract understanding of mechanism finally arrived. Computational theory was born which, for better or worse, began dramatically to change our commerce and information consumption habits forever. But much more than that, cognitive psychology now had a theoretical foundation that seemed to provide a scientific basis for investigating a mechanics of information processing-and perhaps overly optimistically, a mechanics of thought itself!

Whether computational theory will prove ultimately fruitful in providing the rudiments for a fully psychological model remains to be seen and the research it has inspired (in artificial intelligence) continues to provoke controversy. As I have already indicated, there is good reason to suspect that a computational theory of mind is inherently limited when it comes to explaining consciousness and when it comes to explaining what philosophers have called "original intentionality" (a fancy expression for a system's ability to be informationally sensitive to its own goals and meanings). No computer-not even a hypothetical computer-can be conceived as other than intellectually prosthetic at the present time-a tool whose results are utterly parasitic upon human interpreters for their significance. I suspect that the major reason for this is that the computational theory of mind is actually a theory about certain purely formal aspects of a thought-like process, not a theory of mental agency.

But still, computational theory (and so the computer revolution) is a spectacular achievement in intellectual history. Whether there are at least some deep, thought-like processes whose neural implementation is genuinely computational only time can tell (see Roger Penrose's Shadows of the Mind [1994] for an intensive exploration of this topic). Nevertheless computation is the only currently understood process that, after a fashion, unites semantic and purely lawlike properties in a way that can be mechanically realized-i.e., physically embodied. And here, if I may greatly simplify matters, there are two styles of computation, two candidate cognitive architectures, with quite different characteristics. One style is the more or less classical symbol processing style which, in artificial intelligence, invites the construal of information "flow" as syntactic operations on precisely defined, discrete symbols. Until quite recently, virtually all research in artificial intelligence has proceeded in terms of the classical model. In the elaborate theory of Jerry Fodor,(4) the crucial computational activity occurs subconsciously as the manipulation of symbol tokens in a "language of thought". The point to be pressed here is that for classical symbol processing in theories like Fodor's, informational traffic is sentence-like. The primitive elements in this sort of computation are either propositions or proper symbolic parts of propositions out of which propositions may be built according to syntactic or logical rules.

One thing that troubles me as I consider this sort of computational model is how believed propositions exert their influence in the system or, in general, how they throw their weight around. It seems they would have to do that through sheer sentence crunching-through implicatory (logical) relations among elementary elements. If so, it would seem that ideas (propositions) get to be powerful merely in terms of storage and (roughly) logical manipulation. I think that is extremely implausible, especially as it concerns general, global, and emotionally charged cognitive content. In particular, this strict symbol manipulation model seems ill-suited to accommodate the character of rational hopefulness (as well as all the other emotionally charged rational attitudes-e.g., love, compassion, anger, fear, and the like).

In the mid-'80s another candidate cognitive architecture was revived from earlier disappointment. It is called connectionism, or parallel distributed processing (PDP).(5) Its computational character is quite different from the higher level processing we have noted in the classical computation over symbols. Keep in mind that the notion of a cognitive architecture is simply the general name we give to the ultimate neural structure or organization that facilitates information processing in the brain. It takes familiarity with the literature to get used to the jargon, but it is really important and useful. Classical computation is discrete symbol manipulation; connectionism is not. The primitive elements in a connectionist system need not have any symbol content at all. In a nutshell, connectionist architecture is that of a network of (characteristically) simple units whose discrete or fixed "content" is sub-symbolic and whose cognitive content proper-e.g., "There is a horse running in the field"-is distributed throughout an activation pattern of the network. Since it is the activation pattern that counts (in parallel distributed processing), there is no precise address in the brain where that specific content is stored. (Precise numerical content addressing is an essential feature of classical computation.) So in a connectionist (or PDP) system, the content "There is a horse running in the field" is not stored as a proposition at a given location. Rather, this propositional content is "spread out" and stored not as a symbol structure but as a disposition of the network to reactivate the same pattern given the right stimulus. This disposition is determined by the distribution of connection weights and values among the simple elements.

There are important differences at this point in research between actual neurons and a PDP system's simple elements, but the staggering numbers involved in the brain's complexity is surely adequate for the brain to be, in part at least, a PDP processor. There are quite literally many trillions of interconnections among the brain's 1012 neurons! Here is a paragraph from Jack Copeland's Artificial Intelligence on this subject:

Each neuron sports an enormous number of connecting fibres, known as dendritic projections and axonal projections. These fibres snake about the brain, connecting each single neuron to maybe ten thousand of its neighbors. Picture a neuron as a body with many hands and feet. Each hand (axonal projection) grasps a neighbor's foot (dendritic projection). The bodies hang there, each the centre of a tangled web of linked projections--a web of awesome complexity. At a very conservative estimate of a thousand "hands" per neuron and 1012 neurons per head (that's a million with six more zeroes added) there are a staggering total of one thousand million million interneural connections in each brain. In the words of Steven Rose, an eminent neurobiologist: "The mass of processes, structures and interactions possible within this [maze] beggars both description and mathematicization. The fascination is almost akin to terror . . ."(6)

A key attraction of connectionism for our purposes is that a connectionist network learns by repeated exposure (to input) in which connection weights and values are redistributed resulting in new activation patterns for the network.

Though I cannot develop the idea further at this point, real life degrees in strength of belief find a far more plausible architectural counterpart within connectionist architecture than in classical symbol manipulation. I say this while acknowledging that connectionist theory and its computer realization are quite embryonic at the present time. Connectionism is exciting, nevertheless, because at stake is cognitive muscle for the system and not merely monotonic logical relatedness. Put another way, since beliefs in ordinary life may have their poignancy or forcefulness (in one's outlook) upgraded or degraded without affecting their sheer status as information, we need a model that includes the emotional saliency of a system's information in addition to the flat implicatory complexity of that information. We need, somehow, a model that integrates affect with cognition.(7)

From Cliché to Energetic Hope

Distinguishing Mere Information Problems

from Problems of Personal Strength

We have already considered the problem of hope-enervating cognitive "noise" (aided and abetted by linguistic representation). I want now to conclude with a suggestion for enhancing hope that does not have the indirectness of mere stress management (physical exercise or right brain activities). I want briefly to explore the prospect of renewing causally energetic hope by means of social reinforcement-encouragement from another person (whether divine or human). In doing so it should become clear why interpersonal encouragement, in terms of a connectionist cognitive architecture, may affect our cognitive-emotive systems in a way that is fundamentally different from, and causally more effective than, auto-encouragement (or self-talk).

We begin by assuming that encoded information may be causally inert as well as causally active. We might think of causally inert information as having the energy status of a cliché; such a datum may be easily accessed and subscribed to, but it has no power to alter behavior or enhance one's emotional state.

Accordingly, one's emotional attitude toward the intellectual content of one's hope might, for a time, be flat or uninspired. This seems to imply that a flagging or dimming hope need not be an information problem as such. The irony is that basic hope-forming beliefs may remain constant as informational holdings while hope itself waxes and wanes. Here the classical computation theory is no help for all it provides is (memory) storage and computation.

Let's assume also that one's entire cognitive-emotive system is, to borrow a term from physics, an inertial system. What I mean by that is that one's cognitive-emotive system will tend to conserve its set of dynamic characteristics over time unless it encounters a learning regimen strenuous enough to alter those characteristics. This is in contrast, for example, to a doctrine in Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialism. Sartre firmly states "there is no inertia in consciousness."(8) The Sartre of Being and Nothingness (1943) is quite famous for championing a radical freedom to choose how one will be emotionally disposed toward circumstances, come what may. One chooses one's "inner state" from moment to moment in a kind of total volitional autonomy (or freedom). There are absolutely no neural or circumstantial constraints on the Sartrian freedom to emote one way or another. From my own standpoint, and that of contemporary psychology and cognitive science, Sartre could hardly have been more mistaken.(9)

But I digress. There are two initial assumptions before us: (1) Human agents often believe content that is causally inert-content whose energy for their cognitive-emotive systems is little more than that of a cliché; and (2) the cognitive-emotive system itself is an inertial system whose stock of beliefs, both inert and active, tends in a systemic fashion to conserve one's mental status quo. The question before us is the relative merits of self-administered encouragement versus other-administered encouragement. Suppose, now, that Fred is forlorn, for he has fallen into a funk and finds it difficult to function with his customary freedom and fortitude. I grant that this is a less than scientific description of Fred's problem. (Funk, for example, doesn't even show up on DSM-IV's list of psychological maladies.)(10) But my little thought experiment doesn't require exacting diagnosis. It is enough to grant that Fred is "down" because he has lost perspective.

Let's assume, moreover, that Fred has not lost his perspective informationally. He now knows and believes what he knew and believed before he lapsed into his despondency. His positive perspectival beliefs remain informationally encoded, therefore, with the very same set of upbeat logical implications. And to give my central point some perhaps needless emphasis, Fred does not have an information problem-not in the ordinary sense. I prefer to think of Fred as having a strength problem.

Fred, I think, needs to be re-minded of what he already believes. His beliefs need to be somehow upgraded, energized, rendered causally effective again. If the classical computational view of mind were correct, Fred might bootstrap himself by reaffirming a few logical implications he has temporarily lost sight of, for in that case his problem was the simple failure to duly note implicatory links among propositions in his system.

I pause here to say that my intention is not to deliver a put-down of such bootstrapping. Upbeat and realistic self-talk is not silly and it is not nothing. But it needs to be borne in mind that it may be less than adequate, and for this reason: Given that information is broadly distributed and variously weighted within an inertial system, even Fred's ostensibly upbeat cognitive holdings serve in a holistic way to conserve Fred's funk. Those very upbeat holdings are themselves a part of the problem because their energy for the system has temporarily been determined by the level of energy of the system as a whole; and within the system the energy value of the "clichés" (zero or near zero) is sadly a function of the system's total energy. So if the system presently gives the value of cliché to a proposition or set of propositions, the system's inertial resources are hard put to re-energize the clichéd beliefs as profound or moving. And again, that is because the clichéd content, as holistically implicated in the system, is itself a factor in the current distribution of weights and values.

If I am right, Fred's cognitive-emotive system would have a fundamentally different receptivity to another person's reminding him and encouraging him of the very same information that Fred himself could supply. That is because intersubjectivity requires a systemic vulnerability to the other that is absent in self-talk. It seems to me that the social dimension dramatically alters the dynamic whereby even a simple item of information may become cognitively re-distributed, re-weighted, and thereby become salient and energetically present in one's outlook.

But why? I think it is this. Data inform, whereas relationships strengthen. Of course certain conditions must be met for either of these to hold true. Cognitive data must be understood in order to inform, while trust in a relationship seems vital to any would-be strengthening. The point is, we often draw strength for our living through social intercourse with trusted others. And my question, again, is why? Why should what anyone else thinks, anyone else's communication, have a general tendency to energize (or conversely, enervate) what is already informationally present in my cognitive system? To make what could become a very long story deceptively short, I think it is because intersubjectivity (accompanied by trust) produces an expanded system. A monadic system becomes a dyadic system, and the dynamic of the latter is what does the work. If I let the other in, I am instantly vulnerable (subject) to my own bag of truths in a fresh way-from the perspective of the other. The emergent dyadic dynamic may be destructive as well as beneficial, but again, my point has to do with accounting for how a strengthening (or weakening) takes place.

In passing, it is perhaps worthwhile to note that it is this social dynamic that accounts for the remarkable success of support groups. Christians, it seems to me, should refuse to credit Twelve Step success to the abstract and generic, fill-in-the-blank, deity (or quasi-deity) that is so often invoked. A group of Druids gathering on Thursday nights to kick a bark-eating habit could surely boast of the same success rate as Alcoholics Anonymous, because they too (even though invoking tree spirits as the Higher Power of choice) possess cognitive-emotive systems that are designed by God to draw strength within fellowships of suffering.

The Ark or the Titanic?

Before concluding I want to add a note of urgency and content to all that I have said. There is a remarkable irony to riding life's seas aboard the Titanic. A vast number of books are available to the general public on how to flourish in any relationship, on how to maximize personal wealth, on how to be a consummate lover, on how to live with or conquer any disease-even on how to die with proper dignity. Even a cursory browse through the self-help and psychology sections of your local Barnes & Noble bookstore is likely to turn up two or three books on whatever is afflicting you! And for what it is worth, not all these books are junk. Some are genuinely insightful and helpful. The irony, however, is this. The mere availability of all these technique-based "secular scriptures" has not helped our culture where it needs help the most. Indeed, one might almost conclude that there is an inverse relation between the abundance of such works and the public capacity to be profited by them. One wants to ask, "Since we know so much these days, shouldn't the resultant availability of this knowledge be reflected in the population at large?" Apparently it doesn't work that way. An enormous percentage of the children born into our culture make their arrival without fathers. The divorce rate (for those who do marry) is about fifty per cent. Public education is a disaster. Television era adults seem not to have the attention span to read depth treatments of anything. And on and on.

To return to Barnes & Noble, there may be chicken soup for the soul, but there is no anchor for the soul (unless one finds the occasional work in biblical Christianity). To sum up, technique-based psychology and healthy brains have their places of importance, but living in hope is not the same as the attainment of Nordic Track physique or the tolerance for this or that stressor. Living in hope is the linguistically modeled and emotionally driven investment in a future scenario in which our personal histories will not ultimately prove empty. The Christian hope is the rational longing for, and expectation of, such a scenario, and here I want to add two ancient voices to this cosmic theme. The speakers are Jesus's Apostles Peter and Paul, and they speak, as I believe, God's own word. To understand these voices of hope one must, again, first come to grips with the biblical understanding of a universal human plight-God's estimation of the human condition.

It is Peter's and Paul's contention that humankind has been historically estranged from God and that as a consequence each human journey through life is on a collision course with death-an everlasting estrangement from God. Humans were never designed by their Creator for such a final denouement and yet they stubbornly choose it for themselves. The Christian hope is remarkable in that it acknowledges the realities of physical and spiritual death as well as the reality of evil. The latter cannot be explained as psychological dysfunction or a dichotomizing mind's illusion. Evil is real and poses precisely the problem for which Christ is the solution and mankind's only hope.

The simplicity of the biblical witness is that death is unnatural to our original design, but that the Designer, in a historical act of mercy, extends a hope of reconciliation and life. It is the eyewitness of Peter and Paul (as well as many others) that God himself intervened in our history in the person of his Son to defeat both spiritual and bodily death. In words from Peter's first New Testament letter, God has shown us mercy by offering us "new birth into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (I Pet. 1:3). What makes the Christian hope alive rather than dead (or quixotic) is that it is sustained by one who has himself conquered death. The probative value of Peter's testimony to this hope is summarized in his second New Testament letter:

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. (II Pet. 1:16-18, NIV)

Paul likewise claims eyewitness credentials regarding a risen Christ (I Cor. 15:1-9), and places the same significance on the resurrection as Peter. The Christian hope is the final triumph over death; it is the very "redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:23). And even beyond these benefits, it is the "hope of glory," the prospect of everlasting life with Christ himself.

As we move more and more deeply into the "scientific" era of our species the message of Peter and Paul seems to be met with increasing skepticism and indifference. The skepticism is not owing to scientific method itself; it is owing rather to a humanistic faith in science to deliver human beings from whatever might ail them. And one thing that this humanistic faith says cannot ail us is a literal and historic alienation from God whose consequence is death. Hence, say the materialists, Peter and Paul cannot have announced any such hope as they supposed.

But offer it they did. And that, dear reader, is at once both the intellectual and moral scandal of the Gospel-the hope offered humankind by Jesus Christ. It is perhaps fitting to close with the observation that Peter's first letter makes mention of Noah's Ark as he reminds his readers of their hope in Christ. In its time, the Ark was mankind's only hope from a catastrophic judgment, although Noah's contemporaries considered such a judgment nonsense. And they all perished. It seems to me that Noah's Ark serves nicely in our own time as a metaphor for another Ark that is, once more, offered as mankind's only hope. Peter and Paul would be quick to identify that Ark as Christ.

Here then is the final proposition: God has put eternity in our souls (Eccl. 3:11), so the only hope that is cosmic enough to embrace that fact is one that promises everlasting life. The choices, in effect, are either to board the Ark or stay afloat the Titanic. If you stay with the Titanic you may be fortunate enough to ride first-class (though I suspect that most of its passengers ride third-class or less than third-class). If you board the Ark your earthly accommodations may be less than wonderful, but your destination is right off the chart and is as secure as the living Christ who guarantees your passage. The Titanic, by cosmic contrast, has an appointment with an iceberg.


1. It occurs to me that I haven't noticed PFH on television for quite some time. Perhaps they were forced off the air due to unforseen circumstances. At any rate, there continue to be several other "psychic" groups (on cable TV, at least) offering their dubious services on a daily basis.

2. D. Galin and R. Ornstein, "Lateral Specialization of Cognitive Mode: An EEG Study," Psychophysiology (1972) 9:412-418.

3.  Zenon W. Pylyshyn, Computation and Cognition: Toward a Foundation for Cognitive Science (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1984), p.49.

4. Fodor provides a nice summary of his basic position in the introductory chapter of Jerry A. Fodor, Representations: Philosophical Essays on the Foundations of Cognitive Science (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1983), pp.1-31.

5. Cf. Chapter 10 of Jack Copeland, Artificial Intelligence: A Philosophical Introduction (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), and John Haugland, ed., Mind Design II: Philosophy, Psychology, Artificial Intelligence (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1997).

6. Copeland, p.183.

7. We are, of course, clueless with regard to a model that integrates cognition with affect (or emotionality). Such a model would have to go beyond information processing to include consciousness, and that is nowhere on the horizon. But concerning whether an adequate model of mind would have to provide for such integration we are certainly not clueless. It is now generally acknowledged that no sharp disjunction exists between emotion and cognition. Once we distinguish emotion from mood, it seems clear that all emotions have a distinctive cognitive aspect. Anger, for example, is in part constituted by the construal (where construal = cognitive act) that one has suffered offense (often with the accompanying desire for penalty or revenge). And similarly with these emotions: A case of compassion is in part constituted by the construal that a person, say, is in need, with a desire to help that person; a case of envy is in part constituted by the construal that a valued thing, talent, or advantage belongs to another with resentment that this is so; and a case of fear typically involves the construal that something is threatening harm with a more or less urgent desire to get out of harm's way.

Significant writings that relate cognition to emotional states include Robert C. Solomon, The Passions (Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1976); James R. Averill, "Emotion and Anxiety: Sociocultural, Biological, and Psychological Determinants," in Explaining Emotions, ed. by Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980); and an excellent and far less technical work by a Christian philosopher in the field, Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982).

8. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, Hazel E. Barnes, trans. (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1956), p.61.

9. Humans simply cannot "turn on a dime" emotionally. An emotional state--whether grief, fear, anger, sadness, joy, resentment, jealousy, gratitude, or the like--is conserved, in part at least, by the physiological "mechanisms" of its embodying structures. That is, the neurophysiology that helps facilitate an emotional state is inextricably bound to such features as intensity and duration. One clear example is anger. Anger (especially when it is correctly informed) cannot instantaneously be "turned off" by the exercise of a Sartrian will as though flipping a light switch. Anger needs time to subside, and that is why in marriage, for example, spouses do well to respect one another's need for recovery time.

10. DSM-IV refers to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition [1994]. It is published by the American Psychiatric Association for the purpose of standardizing clinical psychiatric diagnoses according to the latest research.