St. Augustine’s Three Types of Vision [Ghosts and the Church]

Before we get down to St. Augustine’s thoughts on ghosts, I need to do some spadework by exploring his understanding of different ways of seeing. He explains this in On Genesis Literally Interpreted (De Genesi ad litteram), his sprawling twelve-part study that is one of his least-read major works. (Don’t confuse it with the minor, earlier work, On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis: An Unfinished BookDe Genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber.) Augustine’s work follows standard ideas found in antiquity, and would prove influential with the rise of Aristotelianism in the 12th century and beyond.eye2

Chapter 12 of De Genesi is titled “On the Heavenly Paradise: different kinds of visions,” and marks a turning point in the work in which his attention shifts from pure commentary on Genesis and related issues to a consideration of paradise.

Of particular concern here is the vision of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, describing how he is caught up to the third heaven. The nature of this vision—and indeed, of all “dreaming and different kinds of ecstasy—leads Augustine to identify three types of vision: corporeal, spiritual, and intellectual. To understand what he thinks of ghosts we first need to grasp these three ways of seeing.

Corporeal (visio corporalis)

Simply stated, this is the physical sense of sight. Our idea of sight is quite different that of the ancients and medievals. We know that sight is reflected light received by the eye and transmitted to the brain through the nervous system. They had, generally speaking, two models of seeing: extromission and intromission.

  • Extromission suggested that a kind of beam or ray left the eye, touched the object being seen, and then returned to the eye, conveying the physical qualities (shape, size, color) of an object to the soul.
  • Intromission suggested that the form of object being seen emitted some element that traveled through the air (which was conceived as a medium rather than as empty space) and imprinted itself on the eyeball. Various words were used for this form, one of them being phantasma. Vision itself was thus a kind of “ghost.”

Both models suggest that a passive object has in fact an active part in being perceived by the sense of sight. This is the lowest order of vision.

Intellectual (visio intellectualis)

At the other end of the spectrum was the most exalted form of vision: the intellectual vision. This kind of vision is beyond all others: it is to see things as they really are, “not in images, but as it properly is in itself.” (De Genesis 12.15) This is a rare kind of vision, afforded only the the spiritually advanced. It begins in our intellect (mens), and seeks to contemplate God as He truly is. This is the vision of the upper part of the soul, and it is beyond any image.

Spiritual (visio spiritalis)

Between corporeal and intellectual vision, Augustine posited an intermediary way of seeing. In his “spiritual” way of seeing, neither the senses/sensus (as in corporeal) or the reason/mens (as in intellectual) are dominant, but rather the spirit of man. And he is not seeing concrete bodies, but rather semblances of bodies. Mediating between the sensus and the mens is the imaginatio, which can receive images acquired by the eye, submit them to the judgment of the intellect, and then pass them on to the memory. It can also generate nonexistent things from the fancy of the individual. Afflictions of the body or mind could cause the spiritual vision to malfunction, creating hallucinations. “Imagination” is certainly part of this, but imaginatio goes beyond that to suggest a profound mediating role.

Augustine offers an example and explanation:

When you read, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, three kinds of vision take place; one with the eyes, when you see the actual letters; another with the human spirit, by which you think of your neighbor even though he is not there; a third with the attention of the mind, by which you understand and look at love itself.

Both corporal and spiritual vision process images, but whereas the senses produce vision in relation to a material object, the spiritual vision produces images with or without reference to a material object. The spiritual vision perceives “semblances of bodies,” either while the individual was awake or asleep. When something goes wrong in the mind or the body, those semblances may not tally with objects in the real world, and we perceive merely forms in the imagination.

In other words: ghosts.

New Techniques Detect Consciousness in Vegetative Patients

People in a “vegetative state” may have far more brain activity than previously thought, LiveScience reports:

…researchers looked at 32 comatose patients and 26 healthy people. Some of the comatose patients were diagnosed as “minimally conscious,” meaning there was some evidence that they may have retained some awareness of their surroundings (for example, the patient could follow simple commands, such as squeezing a finger). But others were diagnosed as “vegetative,” which means they were thought to have lost all conscious awareness, even though they could breathe on their own or open their eyes.

The researchers examined participants’ brain waves using electroencephalography (EEG) and applied mathematical tools to the EEG data to find patterns of communication across brain regions. The researchers then compared these patterns in the comatose patients’ brains with those of healthy people.

As expected, the brain-activity patterns in the comatose patients’ brains differed from those of the healthy participants. Healthy, conscious brains showed “rich and diversely connected networks,” which were lacking in the comatose patients’ brains, the researchers said. [Top 10 Mysteries of the Mind]

However, some comatose patients who were thought to be completely vegetative actually showed some patterns similar to those of healthy people. These were the patients who, despite being diagnosed as vegetative, had been suggested to have some level of awareness in previous brain imaging experiments. For example, although the patients did not perform any physical movements in response to commands, brain imaging showed that when they were told to imagine doing a physical activity, such as playing tennis, the area of the brain responsible for controlling movement, lit up.

Some vegetative patients who show signs of hidden awareness have remarkably well-preserved networks similar to healthy adults,” the researchers wrote.

It’s a little late to help Terri Schiavo and other victims of medical homicide, but any progress is welcome.

Did King Harold Survive the Battle of Hastings?


King Harold, shot in the eye

The team of surveyors who found the body of Richard III is hoping they’re on a roll. Their next mission is to prove that King Harold II survived the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and lived to a ripe old age in a monastery.

The Bayeux Tapestry shows Harold–last king of the Anglo-Saxons–shot in the eye with an arrow. The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, possibly written shortly after the battle, adds that he was set upon by four knights and dismembered.

Norman propaganda! some say. (Hey, watch it! Those are my ancestors you’re talking about.)

Stratascan–a geological survey company that found Richard III buried under a parking lot–is going to look for Harold at Waltham Abbey Church in Essex, where he lived another 40 years as a hermit after the battle before dying in his 80s of natural causes. The story is found in the 12th century Vita Haroldi.

It’s not an absurd theory. William left Harold’s sons alive and even freed them upon his death, and it wouldn’t be unusual for a victor’s history to say one thing while the defeated tell another story. In this case, the English version of the story is certainly far less probable, but not impossible.

“We have the Norman story put through the Bayeux Tapestry – the English story is a different one,” said [amateur historian Peter] Burke, 64. “You put things together and it begins to build a picture that is quite solid. If everything backs you up in history, you should look at it. You shouldn’t just leave it,” he said.

Mr Burke, who is a stonemason and fiction author, said that he was “absolutely convinced” that the scan would find King Harold’s body and he has funded the search with £2,000 of his own money.

He will lead the scan to a site near the east wall where there are thought to be some symbol markings. This site is roughly 15 yards away from King Harold’s reputed tomb at the High Altar.

English Heritage granted permission for a ground-penetrating radar to scan the area. Debbie Priddy, the inspector of ancient monuments in the East of England, said they “were happy to give consent for this work which involves no disturbance to the nationally important archaeological remains of the abbey church”.

If the scan does provide evidence, excavation may still be a while off due to the consecrated nature of the site. English Heritage would need to advise the Secretary of State to consent to excavation, in an effort to “conserve archaeological remains for future generations”.

“I’m very hopeful we will find something,” said Mr Burke. “I’ve always thought you should question things. You shouldn’t just take history at face value. [The Battle of Hastings] is one of the biggest events in English history. Whether it will go as far as rewriting history books, I suppose they’ll have to,” he said.

Although Mr Burke said that he expected criticism over the search, members of the Waltham Abbey Historical Society have said the king’s remains are unlikely to be found because the site has been frequently disturbed for building works.

“3 Shades of Black” [Dark Country: Songs For October]

Series introduction and other entries.

“3 Shades of Black”: Hank Williams III

This is darker than most, and Hank 3 seems to kind of enjoy it that way. I’m less struck by the lyrics than I am by the eerie resemblance of his voice his grandfather’s. The song certainly not to every taste, and lacks the moral core both his father and grandfather put at the heart of their darkest songs, but it’s interesting to see a third generation of Williams shaking up the country formula.