Saturday, February 22, 2020

The flaw in simulation theory

Simulation theory is the idea that what we believe to be the universe is actually a computer simulation and each of us are characters in this simulation resembling characters in a video game. A similar idea was the plot of the 1999 films The Matrix and The Thirteenth Floor. In the films, the characters discover that what they believed was reality was really an illusion, a virtual reality computer simulation.

There are people today who take this idea seriously, including scientists or entrepreneurs. Before delving further, I'd like to begin with the unspoken flaw in this theory that is often absent from discussion on the topic.

THE FLAW
Simulation believers build their idea on advancements in computer technology. And, the current trajectory of increasing technology tends toward indistinguishability from reality.

One of the more famous simulation theorists is industrial engineer Elon Musk, who, in 2016, answered a question on the topic thusly:
It's a given that we're clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality and those games could be played on any set-top box or or on a PC or whatever and there would probably be, you know, billions of such, you know, computers or set-top boxes. It would seem to follow that the odds that we're in base reality is one in billions. Tell me what's wrong with that argument. Is there a flaw in that argument?
The flaw is this: simulation theory is self-admittedly founded on the characteristics of a world that is considered an illusion. It is circular thinking.

FURTHER ANALYSIS
The only way for real technological advancements to have occurred is if we are living in a true base reality. In the first part of their deduction, simulation theorists treat technological advancements as if they were real phenomena in a base reality. But, in their conclusion, simulation theorists say the very technological advancements on which they formed their premise are an illusion.

Online entrepreneur Naval Ravikant was interviewed in 2018 by Scott Adams, who asked him to name illusions people experience. Ravikant said "the illusion of reality":
Well the thing is if you understand simulation theory it's statistically likely that not only is there one level above there's zillions of levels above you. So in The Matrix Neo doesn't actually get out. He just pops one level higher. And now he's even more deeply trapped because he's trapped in a ***** environment and he's convinced it's real, which is the ultimate trap. Now he's not even looking for the next level up. Even one level beyond that, it's worse than that, because it's statistically likely, if you're in a sim, you're not some real world character representing a sim, you're actually an NPC. There's millions more NPCs in Call of Duty than there are real players. So you're you're probably just a computer simulation
Here we see another appeal to video games. There are millions more NPCs (i.e. non-player characters) in the game Call of Duty than human gamers actually controlling a character. Notice, to form his theory, Ravikant appealed to a virtual game created in the very world he says is an "illusion." The pool of data from which Ravikant derives his claim that "it's statistically likely" that there are "zillions of levels" of simulations is based upon a game and a reality that he says do not exist. His conclusion is absurd. Again, the simulation-theorist falls into the illogic of a circular reasoning that destroys its own premise.

The simulation theorist attempts to use some form of the following syllogism:
  1. Simulation technology is getting harder to distinguish from reality.
  2. Since billions of such simulation could be created by such advanced technology, the odds that any given "reality" is the base one is highly improbable.
  3. Therefore, what we believe to be reality (INCLUDING THE TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS IN STEP 1) is most likely an illusion. 
Now, the simulation theorist doesn't mention the part in caps in step 3, but it cannot be avoided. What the theory requires to be a real phenomenon in step 1 is reduced to an illusion in step 3. And, an illusion is not a reliable model for reality. (Incidentally, step 2 doesn't even logically flow from step 1 because there is no cause given for why the level of indistinguishability must have already been achieved in some other universe by some alien species.)

Again, simulation theorists are observing the development of computer and video game technology that is occurring within a realm they claim is not real. According to their theory, there isn't really development of computer technology occurring at all. The higher species who created "this" simulation programmed it so its characters can "do" the virtual illusion of "leveling up" their video game technology. But, if this is a simulation, those advancements have never actually occurred any more than there is a real Pac-Man who has colorful ghost enemies whom he sometimes eats.

Astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson is also known to seriously entertain the idea that we live in a computer simulation. At the 2016 event 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate: Is the Universe a Simulation? Tyson closed in part by saying:
So, given our definitions, we’re the only intelligent species there ever was because we have poetry and philosophy and music and art. And then I thought to myself, well, if the chimpanzee has 98-whatever percent identical DNA to us—pick any animal. It doesn’t matter. Dogs, it doesn’t matter. Mammals have very close DNA to us. They cannot do trigonometry. Some people can’t do trigonometry. Certainly not these animals. So, if they cannot do trigonometry, and they have such close genetic identity to us, let’s take that same gap and put it beyond us and find some life form that is that much beyond us that we are beyond the dog or the chimp. What would we look like to them? We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence. ... Oh, you’re back from preschool? Oh, you’ve just composed a symphony. That’s so—let’s put it on the refrigerator door. We just derived all the principles of—oh, that’s cute.  And so that is not a stretch to think about. And if that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity for their entertainment
But, guess what. None of the things to which Tyson appeals as a trajectory of intellect are actually real if we are living in a simulation. He said it himself that "everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity." If this is a simulation, the idea that humans have poetry is an illusion, just like everything else in the simulation. The animals we think we see aren't real. There isn't actually DNA nor DNA similarities. Etc. All these things would just be part of the illusory world created by some theoretically advanced computer programming species.

Is our universe just a sophisticated computer simulation?
MORAL CONSIDERATIONS
In my recent book, Hollow Anchors of Morality, I discussed the nonsensical claim that morality can exist in a strictly material world devoid of free will. If someone were to claim morality exists in an artificial simulation just as it does in a base reality, the error would be similar.

Think back to the examples of video games to which simulation theorists appeal in their circular error. If one NPC "kills" another NPC in Call of Duty, did an "immoral" act occur in reality? If "Mario" throws the penguin off the cliff in Super Mario 64, did a real Mario commit a real act of cruelty? Of course not. No one was harmed in reality. But, if we were just characters in a similar kind of game, we wouldn't be any more real than the NPC.

Even if a simulation theorist wanted to argue that there are "real" persons operating the characters in the simulation through some futuristic virtual reality headgear, there still wouldn't be acts of morality committed by or against the pixels they are controlling. We see this directly when observing people playing, say, a battle game and "shooting" each others' characters in the game, but, of course, not in reality. If an act of unreal violence was committed against an unreal illusion of a person, what crime was done? Nothing actually happened other than pixels rearranging, no matter how sophisticated the graphics might be. The simulation theory essentially strips the universe of moral obligation.

Of course, an overly violent or sexually charged game, for example, could influence a real person playing it to commit a sin, but only because the person is outside the game and in reality. The pixel constructs in an illusory realm lack the necessary quality of being made in the image of God (a principle also discussed in Hollow Anchors) in order for morality to pertain to them in the first place. Thus, the idea of morality is absurd when confined to the activity of a computer chip.

From a related Catholic perspective, apologist Jimmy Akin discussed simulation theory on his blog and on Jimmy Akin's Mysterious World. He concluded it would not matter in the order of salvation. When addressing the consequences of living in a simulation, he said, "We still have the same three elements—God, the spiritual world, and the natural world—and all three interact."

CAN SUCH A SIMULATION EVEN BE CREATED?
One of the objections to simulation theory is that in order to create an "ancestor simulation" of an actual snapshot of the historic universe, it would require "a computer memory that requires more atoms than what’s available in the universe."

This objection is useful if limited to discussing the aforementioned simulation theorist's premise #1: Simulation technology is tending more toward indistinguishability from reality.

By limiting the thought exercise only to our advancements in computer technology, there may well be physical limits that would prevent a simulation detailed enough to be indistinguishable from a base reality. However, remember, the simulation theorist ultimately ends up claiming that this universe is an illusion, along with everything in it, including advancements in video game technology.

It is also worth mentioning, in the aforementioned 2016 debate on simulation theory, not one scientist on the panel said the odds were in favor of us being in a simulation. When asked what the odds were, they said: uknown, 17%, 1%, 0%, and 42%. Only Tyson, who was hosting, said the likelihood might be "very high."

Theoretically, if we did live in a simulation, it is useless to point to qualities inside the simulation to deduce we are in one. There's no reason to think the physics of any simulation must be a reflection of the physics of its world's creator any more than Pac-Man should assume there are entities in the real world like him, who move faster and faster the more they eat.

CONCLUSION
At the end of the day, simulation theory is wild speculation, not some deductive reasoning of intellect. Other science fiction theories, such as our memories swapped out periodically such that we never know it, seem to have just as much a logical basis as simulation theory. Such theories are not demonstrated by our experience, even if they are theoretical possibilities.

Finally, the irony of modern simulation theory, is that the very premise on which it is founded depends on this world being a real base reality, for their entire theory is built upon its contents.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Does the Church still heal the sick and raise the dead?

Perhaps you've heard an atheist or skeptical challenge to the effect of, "If the Church really was divine, why doesn't it heal the sick and raise the dead, etc., like it says in the Bible:
And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:17-18)
The response to this is twofold.

LITERAL
First, this prophecy was fulfilled in the immediate early Church following the Ascension. Most of the promises are recorded to have occurred in the book of Acts. As well, there have been other records of such miracles occurring in the subsequent history of the Church.
  • The matter of exorcism is attested, for example, in Acts 16:18. In Church history, the ministry of casting out demons in exorcism is attested by a number of other subjects and witnesses.  This is the case even today with lay people and clergy who work in close conjunction with medical professionals in order to rule out medical conditions. See the footnotes for references.
  • Regarding the gift of tongues, the Scripture attests to the phenomenon in the book of Acts, which followed Christ's promise. Some early Christian texts repeat the claim (e.g. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.6.1). It is sometimes attested in modern times that this gift, perhaps, is now rare or non-existent (e.g. Fr. Edward O'Connor, The Catholic pentecostal movement, 1971). Read further in the next section regarding a concentration of miracles in the early Church.
  • The matter of handling serpents or poison, again, is attested in Acts. Paul is bitten, yet unaffected, by poisonous snakes (Acts 28:3-5). In Church history, one of the miracles attributed to St. Edith Stein (aka St. Benedicta of the Cross) is the recovery of Benedicta McCarthy who in 1987 ingested "19 times the lethal dose of acetaminophen" and recovered instantly.
  • Healing the sick is attested in Acts 3:1-10, Acts 14:8-10, et al. Peter is recorded to have raised the dead in Acts 9:32-42. Of course, there have been numerous healing miracles attributed in every age of the Church, such as the aforementioned Edith Stein miracle, and even more recent miracles, such as attributed to Bl. Fulton Sheen.
St. Peter Raises Tabitha, Fabrizio Santafede, 1611, acquired from Wikimedia Commons

For the purpose of interacting with a skeptic, it is enough to note that the Biblical text records fulfillment of Christ's prophecy. Whether the skeptic believes the miracles is a different matter. The text of Acts accounts for the prophecy in Mark.

SPIRITUAL
Secondly, and more importantly, the Scriptural promise must be understood spiritually. After all, Scripture likewise alerts us, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28)

Preservation of the soul, in the order of Christianity, is more important than preserving the body. That, of course, does not suggest we are to neglect the body, because the body is also the sacred temple of the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).

But, Scripture often uses the figure of healing the body as the figure of man healed of sin. The opening of the Mark 16 prophecies fits with this healing language, which is indicative of healing sin.

Consider another occasion on which Christ juxtaposed the healing of a body in order to make a point about spiritual healing. After healing the paralytic whom was lowered through the ceiling, Christ said,
But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins." He then said to the paralytic, "Rise, take up your bed and go home." (Matt. 9:6)
Christ reveals the purpose of performing the visible healing—that the onlooker would understand that healing of sin is real, even though he cannot see it. Christ performed a visible healing in order to give cause for his audience to believe the invisible healing. They saw the paralyzed man healed. They had reason to believe the invisible, but real, wounds of sin were likewise healed by the power of Christ.

Luke quotes Christ analogizing sin and sickness. When asked why he would engage sinners, Christ replied, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." (Luke 5:31)

The Catechism echoes this sentiment in multiple places. For example:

  • [W]e are dead or at least wounded through sin... (CCC#734)
  • Thus the sinner is healed and re-established in ecclesial communion. (CCC#1448)
  • But [Christ] did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. (CCC#1505)

Return now to the Mark 16 prophecies and the spiritual meaning becomes clear. This spiritual understanding is explained by Pope St. Gregory I (d.604):
Are we then without faith because we cannot do these signs? Nay, but these things were necessary in the beginning of the Church, for the faith of believers was to be nourished by miracles, that it might increase. Thus we also, when we plant groves, strong in the earth; but when once they have firmly fixed their roots, we leave off irrigating them. These signs and miracles have other things which we ought to consider more minutely. For Holy Church does every day in spirit what then the Apostles did in body; for when her Priests by the grace of exorcism lay their hands on believers, and forbid the evil spirits to dwell in their minds, what do they, but cast out devils? And the faithful who have left earthly words, and whose tongues sound forth the Holy Mysteries, speak a new language; they who by their good warnings take away evil from the hearts of others, take up serpents; and when they are hearing words of pestilent persuasion, without being at all drawn aside to evil doing, they drink a deadly thing, but it will never hurt them; whenever they see their neighbours growing weak in good works, and by their good example strengthen their life, they lay their hands on the sick, that they may recover. And all these miracles are greater in proportion as they are spiritual, and by them souls and not bodies are raised. (Pope St. Gregory I, commentary on Mark 16, quoted in St. Thomas Aquinas's Catena Aurea)
It is worth emphasizing that St. Gregory also expounds on why the volume of miracles are more prevalent in the early Church—because they were useful in giving the Church root. From there, the Church stood with greater strength, having a firm foundation and the assurance of a divine pedigree. The Catechism #156 refers to miracles as one of the means by which faith is nourished (cf. Is faith belief without evidence?). Although miracles have occurred in every age in the Church, it is sensible to expect greater "proofs" would be given at the beginning of a new era in the divine economy of salvation. This is somewhat analogous to an infant requiring much sleep until he grows in strength and depends less on it.

St. Gregory's spiritual interpretation of the Mark 16 passage is echoed by others, including Fr. Cornelius Lapide (d.1637), the Flemish exegete, by quoting St. Bernard (d.1153):
Mystically: S. Bernard (Serm. de Ascens.) says, “The first work of faith which worketh by love is compunction of heart, by which, without doubt, devils are cast out when sins are rooted out of the heart. After that they who believe in Christ speak with new tongues when old things depart but of their mouth, and for the time to come they speak not with the old tongue of our first parents, who declined unto words of wickedness in making excuses for their sins. But when by compunction of the heart, and confession of the mouth, the former sins have been blotted out, in order that men may not backslide, and their latter end be worse than the beginning, it is needful that they take away serpents, that is, extinguish poisonous suggestions, &c. If they shall drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them. This is, when they feel the stings of concupiscence, they shall not consent. They shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover. This is, they shall cover their evil affections by good works, and by this medicine they shall be healed.” (Lapide, Commentary on Mark 16)
So, when someone asks, for example, why doesn't the Church still heal the sick or raise the dead, the answer should be that it does, every day, in the sacrament of Confession. Whenever an earnest soul makes his sacramental confession, a miracle occurs. We have the visible installment of belief from the miracles of Christ and his apostles and saints through the ages. It is up to us to recognize the greater healings occurring in spirit.

Further resources:
Christ’s Power Shines Even in “Creepiest” Exorcism Case, Says Psychiatrist by Patti Armstrong, 2018.
The Rite by Matt Baglio, 2010.
Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcisms, Adam Blai interviewed by Patrick Coffin, 2019.
US exorcists: Demonic activity is on the rise by Patti Armstrong, 2011.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Serial Killers & Abortionists: Psychological parallels

The subtitle of the 2018 film Gosnell is "The Untold Story of America's Most Prolific Serial Killer." This is more than just a description of someone who took multiple lives. When one compares some of the common psychological and other characteristics of serial killers and supporters of abortion, one finds ominous parallels.

DEHUMANIZATION OF VICTIM
Compartmentalization is aided by another universal process: the capacity of human beings to dehumanize “the other” by regarding outsiders as animals or demons who are therefore expendable. Serial killers have taken advantage of this process in the selection of their victims: They often view prostitutes as mere sex machines, gays as AIDS carriers, nursing home patients as vegetables, and homeless alcoholics as nothing more than trash. By regarding their victims as subhuman elements of society, the killers can delude themselves into believing that they are doing something positive rather than negative. They are, in their minds, ridding the world of filth and evil. (Serial Murder and the Psychology of Violent Crimes, 2008)
Dehumanization of victims was something the writers of the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs incorporated into the character of the killer, who was based on several real serial killers, when he referred to his victims as "it."

Likewise, proponents of abortion avoid confronting the humanity of the enwombed victim. As made well-known by the 2019 film Unplanned, when the enwombed infant is dismembered, he/she is "reassembled" for inventory in a room referencing not "human" remains, but rather, "products of conception."

A defender of her days as an abortion counselor declared, "fetuses are not people," and "It is not a baby. It is medical waste." and
While it was shaped like a baby, what I was looking at was not a person. It was a fetus. A fetus my patient had chosen not to make into a baby." (Rewire News)
Activists at abortion rallies have been seen with signage referring to the enwombed as "parasites," paralleling the serial killer's reframing of their victims as some type of "filth and evil."

EUPHEMISMS
Related to dehumanization is euphemistic language. I reviewed a number of other euphemisms used by supporters of abortion in my review of Unplanned. Though euphemisms are common to political issues of all sorts, these are specifically designed to avoid confronting the humanity of the victim. Not one of the abortion industry's euphemisms, such as:
  • Planned Parenthood
  • Anti-choice
  • Tissue
  • Products of conception
  • Reproductive health
  • Her body
or a host of other diversionary terms directly confront the humanity of the enwombed.

Notice also how referring to the baby as "waste" and abortion as "healthcare" aligns with the serial killer's delusion that he is "ridding the world of filth and evil."

In March, Georgia House member Stacey Abrams used the euphemism "forced pregnancy" to describe a bill against abortion. Notice how the term avoids the humanity of the victim, as does the language of the serial killer. Diverting the matter to a "pregnancy," something the mother undergoes, or calling abortion "healthcare," etc., is to use "sanitizing language," which makes the idea of abortion more easily digestible for its proponents. (And, nevermind that the women in question are already pregnant. Saying "forced pregnancy" is like saying that the prohibition of all murder is "forced parenthood" to the victim's parents.)

Kermit Gosnell, the now-imprisoned abortionist featured in the 2018 Gosnell film, said in the 1960s, he pushed for "the liberalization of the performance of therapeutic abortions." He likewise touted  his work in abortion, saying, "I provide the same care I would want my daughter to receive and I feel I fulfill that standard." And, a reporter quoted him as saying, "my work to the community is of value."

Like the attitude of the serial killer thinking he is "doing something positive," phrases that describe abortion as "healthcare," or as "therapeutic," or as opposition to "forced pregnancy," are all euphemisms designed to delude one to believe he is committing some act of heroism by killing the enwombed.

HIDING/OBSCURING THE VICTIM'S IDENTITY
Related to both of the prior categories is the serial killer's and the pro-abortionist's desire to conceal the identity of the victim. Some serial killers conceal the face of the victim:
[D]epersonalization of the body...refers to actions taken to obscure the identity of the victim, as through mutilation or covering of the face. (Handbook of Psychological Approaches with Violent Offenders, 1999) 
However, in cases of sexual or lust murder, the victim's face may be covered in order to dehumanize or depersonalize the victim. (Serial Murder and the Psychology of Violent Crimes, 2008)
The notorious "Jack the Ripper" was famously known to target faces in his attacks, especially disfiguring the faces of his last two victims.


Planned Parenthood openly decries the notion that a mother should see her baby via a "mandatory ultrasound." Young women have been denied by Planned Parenthood their request to see their baby in an ultrasound. Planned Parenthood has also refused to even perform an ultrasound unless the mother is "terminating"—per another of their euphemisms.

This aversion to ultrasounds is confirmed by former employees. For example, ex-Planned Parenthood worker Patricia Sandoval described how she was taught the following:
So the most important thing here [at Planned Parenthood] is that when we do the ultrasounds before their abortions, you never ever let the woman see the screen. If she wants to see that ultrasound, that screen has to face the doctor, never the patient. I don’t care if she cries. I don't care if she’s screaming. [She] never sees that ultrasound. (Patricia Sandoval - Testimony on Abortion)
The ACLU also fights regularly against women seeing their ultrasounds prior to abortion.

Pro-life campaigns like "Face the Truth", which show photos of aborted babies to the public, have likewise been met with hostility by abortion supporters. It is another attempt to conceal the identity of the victim.

Among serial killers and pro-abortionists, there exists a psychology that avoids looking upon the victim.

SELLING THE BODIES FOR SCIENCE
Selling the bodies and body parts of victims is more common among abortionists, but known to happen among serial killers. We learned of the abortion industry's body part sales in recent years via first-hand video conducted by the Center for Medical Progress. In harmony with the serial killer's delusion that they are "doing something positive" when killing, we see another mental justification used by abortionists—that the body parts will go toward medical studies. Consider the following serial killer cases involving sale of body parts and using victims for medical study.
  • Notorious Chicago serial killer H.H. Holmes "sold several of his victims' skeletons and organs to medical schools."
  • Victims of the Burke and Hare murders were sold to physician Robert Knox for use in anatomy lectures.
  • Nazi scientists testified that their murder was justified because they derived use by medically studying the victims.
CONCLUSIONS
The preceding parallels are not merely ordinary characteristics native to ordinary folk. The characteristics described are, in a sense, essential to the psychological justifications of both serial killers and pro-abortionists.

For those whose hearts may be stung by the pain of abortion, there are many resources available, such as at AbbyJohnsonLiveAction, or Waterleaf.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Is Judas in hell?

In Dante's epic poem, Judas is depicted in the deepest pit of hell as the devil devours him. It brings to mind a common question: Is Judas in hell? Ultimately, we do not know for certain.

But, we can deduce under what conditions Judas may have escaped damnation. Let's examine the words of the popes, theologians, and Early Church Fathers on the matter.

WHAT ABOUT THE SCRIPTURE THAT SAYS JUDAS "REPENTED"?
When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)
Although the text says Judas repented, he obviously followed that by hanging himself. Thus, either he repented only momentarily but fell back into despair, or his repentance was not of the complete sort to which the Christian is called.
  • St. John Chrysostom suggests the repentance might have borne fruit, if the devil had not quickly lured him back into despair: 
    • "[T]he devil led him out of his repentance too soon, so that he should reap no fruit from thence." (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 85 on Matthew, 2.6, ca. 389 A.D.)
  • And elsewhere: 
    • "For this reason also the wicked one dragged Judas out of this world lest he should make a fair beginning, and so return by means of repentance to the point from which he fell." (St. John Chrysostom, Exhortation to Theodore, 1.9)
  • St. Leo suggests the same: 
    • "even [Judas] might have found salvation if he had not hastened to hang himself." (Pope St. Leo, Sermon 62.4, ca. 450 A.D.) 
  • St. Augustine deduces that Judas's repentance was not the sort that asked for pardon and mercy, for it produced no hope: 
    • For after [Judas] betrayed Him, and repented of it, if he prayed through Christ, he would ask for pardon; if he asked for pardon, he would have hope; if he had hope, he would hope for mercy; if he hoped for mercy, he would not have hanged himself in despair.... (Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 109. 8)
  • Cornelius Lapide, the 16th-17th century exegete, describes the falsity of the repentance:
    • Repented himself. Not with true and genuine repentance, for this includes the hope of pardon, which Judas had not; but with a forced, torturing, and despairing repentance, the fruit of an evil and remorseful conscience, like the torments of the lost.
  • The Navarre Bible Commentary
    • "Judas' remorse does not lead him to repent his sins and be converted." (The Navarre Bible, St. Matthew, on v.27:3-5, p. 174, 2005)
  • Haydock's Commentary similarly suggests Judas originally repented, but the devil talked him out of it, leading him to "eternal destruction": 
    • To his first repentance succeeded fell despair, which the devil pursued to his eternal destruction. If the unhappy man had sought true repentance, and observed due moderation in it, (by avoiding both extremes, presumption and despair) he might have heard a forgiving Master speaking to him these consoling words: I will not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may be converted and still live. Origen. (Haydock Commentary, Matthew 27, 1859)

Le Portement de Croix by Jean Fouquet, ca 1452-1460 (acquired from Wikimedia Commons)

WHAT ABOUT WHEN CHRIST SAID "WOE TO THAT MAN BY WHOM THE SON OF MAN IS BETRAYED! IT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER FOR THAT MAN IF HE HAD NOT BEEN BORN."
  • On this verse, Lapide seems to suggest the words are more of a corrective warning: 
    • "For “far better is it not to exist at all, than to exist in evil. The punishment is foretold, that him whom shame had not conquered, the denunciation of punishment might correct,” says S. Jerome. He threatens him with the woe of damnation." (Lapide, Commentary on Matthew 26)
  • St. John Chrysostom likewise suggests the context is corrective: 
    • This He said to comfort His disciples, that they might not think that it was through weakness that He suffered; and at the same time for the correction of His betrayer. (St. John Chrysostom, quoted in Catena Aura on Matthew 26:20-25)
  • Remigius, the sixth century monk, interprets the words as "emphasis": 
  • Origen extends the meaning to refer to anyone who betrays Christ or his disciples: 

DID JUDAS BELIEVE HE COULD REPENT IN THE AFTERLIFE?
Let's take a short segue to look at a strange thought regarding Judas and his hanging. There is an interesting sentiment that Judas may have believed he could repent in the afterlife.
  • Origen says:
    • Or, perhaps, he desired to die before his Master on His way to death, and to meet Him with a disembodied spirit, that by confession and deprecation he might obtain mercy; and did not see that it is not fitting that a servant of God should dismiss himself from life, but should wait God's sentence. (Origen, quoted in Catena Aura, on Matthew 27:1-5, d.253 A.D.)
  • And Blessed Theophylact: 
    • [H]e hanged himself thinking to precede Jesus into hades and there to plead for his own salvation. (Bl. Theophylact, Commentary on Matthew 27, ca 1100)
Of course, if Judas did hang himself with the intent to plead with Christ in the afterlife, he failed to understand the nature of temporal life as the time of repentance, as Origen suggests above.

WHAT HOPE IS THERE FOR JUDAS IF HE DID NOT TRULY REPENT AND DESPAIRED BY HANGING?
First, let's examine two texts from recent Popes, confirming the uncertainty of Judas's fate:
Even when Jesus says of Judas, the traitor, "It would be better for that man if he had never been born" (Mt 26:24), His words do not allude for certain to eternal damnation. (St. John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 186, 1994) 
What is more, it darkens the mystery around his eternal fate, knowing that Judas "repented and brought back the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood'" (Mt 27: 3-4). Even though he went to hang himself (cf. Mt 27:5), it is not up to us to judge his gesture, substituting ourselves for the infinitely merciful and just God. (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Oct. 18, 2006)
Origen also suggests there was some inkling of hope in Judas's behavior:
[T]he instructions of Jesus had been able to produce some feeling of repentance in his mind, and were not altogether despised and loathed by this traitor. (Origen, Contra Celsium, 2.11)
St. John Chrysostom, although he believed the devil dragged Judas from life to prevent repentance, understood even Judas's sin was not beyond forgiveness:
For although it may seem a strange thing to say, I will not admit even that sin [of Judas] to be too great for the succour which is brought to us from repentance. (St. John Chrysostom, Exhortation to Theodore, 1.9)
Some might argue Judas was entirely possessed by the devil, and thus excused, however, this is not the understanding of the Church, nor does it account for his acknowledgement of guilt. Some might also argue he had gone mad. St. John Chrysostom (Homily 81, On Matthew, 3.4) and St. Leo I (Sermon 62.4) reference "madness," however, both refer to it in the sense of a madness of sin.

If we take the comments of Popes, theologians, and the Early Church Fathers as a totality, it seems the following might be 5 reasonable conclusions:
  1. Judas fell into grave sin in betraying Christ and handing him over to be condemned.
  2. When Judas repented by trying to return the silver, his repentance was fleeting or inauthentic.
  3. Judas's act of hanging indicates he did not trust in God's mercy and remained in a state of grave sin.
  4. His only remaining opportunity for repentance was his final moment during the hanging.*
  5. Conclusion: If Judas authentically repented in his final moment, he could possibly have found salvation.
Certainly, if Judas indeed repented in his final moment, his path is not a safe one to follow. None of us know their hour, and it is foolish to plan for a deathbed confession. Judas's example amplifies our need to repent and seek refuge in the sacrament of confession regularly, and especially when we commit a grave sin.

*There is a thought that Judas did not die by hanging, rather that he plunged from a cliff (cf. Acts 1:18), or that he hung himself and the rope broke, thus spilling him on the rock. But, for the purposes of this thought exercise, whether Judas's final moments came at the rope or on the rocks, the point remains the same—his last chance for repentance was his final moment.