Once again I find myself exinspirated by reader Copithorne, who mocks the need for metaphysics by asking,
--Do you have an explicit or implicit metaphysical framework when you are not talking?
--Do you have one when you are sleeping?
--Do you need one to shoot a gun?
--Does a plant require an implicit metaphysic to grow towards the sun?
--Does a dog require an implicit metaphysic to make puppies?
--Do you have one when you are talking about cooking or chores? Or is it just when you are making non-trivial statements about reality?
--At what age or developmental level do humans require an explicit or implicit metaphysical framework? And before that, it isn't necessary?
Copithorne was responding to my statement that “It is not actually possible to make any nontrivial statement about reality without an implicit or explicit metaphysical framework." If nothing else, Copithorne proves the corollary of this, that in the absence of sound metaphysics, one can only make trivial and/or incoherent statements about reality.
Religion often involves implicit metaphysics without explicit knowledge. What I mean by that is that embedded in any religious tradition are all sorts of metaphysical insights that are expressed in an obscure, ambiguous, symbolic, or mythological way. Thus, they have to be unpacked and understood.
Metaphysics, according to Schuon, is the science of the Absolute and of the true nature of things. It is that which allows us to discriminate between the Real and the apparent, between Atma and Maya. Metaphysics transcends philosophy because it transcends mere reason. Rather, metaphysics proceeds directly from the divine intellect, the part of us that may know absolute truth absolutely. For if we can know anything at all, we can potentially know everything. Once we acknowledge that it is possible to know truth, any limit we set on that capacity is entirely arbitrary.
In what follows, I attempted to bring together some fragments of past posts that touch on metaphysical questions. However, I ended up not having enough time this morning to truly bring them together into a coherent unity, so there is some repetition and some awkward editing. It would have been shorter and snappier if I had had more time. Oh well. I’ll let you figure it out.
When we say that something is "real," are we talking about the atoms and molecules of which it is composed? Or the physical forms that we perceive with the senses? Or the thought that is able to register and comprehend the perception? If only the subatomic or the physical are ultimately real, then there is no valid knowledge at all, for knowledge would be purely epiphenomenal.
"Exist" is not the right word for higher realities known by the intellect. "In-sist," perhaps. That is, higher and more subtle realities do not "stand out" except to those who "stand in" them. How do you stand in a higher world? It has no physical existence, and yet, it can only manifest in the physical. Furthermore, it can only do so with your coupperation--if you act as midwife and give birth to it. Which is difficult to do if you are a hyper-rational soul in a midwife crisis.
All exteriors have an interior, however attenuated. Consciousness is the interior of the cosmos. It has been co-evolving along with the exterior for the past 13.7 billion years. Our self-consciousness lives in the dialectical, generative space between the nonlocal, noumenal ground of consciousness-as-such and our evolved nervous system.
In the West, it is said that God operates through the Word. In the East, they say that the world is God's play, or lila. Thus, reality from God's perspective is a lot of extraordinarily clever wordplay. The world is actually made of language, but the language is not of this world. Nor is our ability to comprehend language. Both arise from the nonlocal Word--the world is intelligible because we are an image of the linguistic process that made it so.
The deeper meaning of the "fall" involves our entrance into the dimension of time. Time is not actually possible without eternity, but evolution is not possible without time. Therefore, we need to be saved from our apparent separation from the eternal, as we engage in our evolutionary sprint from monkey mind to divine mind.
For example, it is quite easy to fit Jesus into this paradigm. Adam's fall is the fall from timeless communion with God into the separative consciousness of duality and strife. Jesus represents the Universal Principle--the abstract absolute outside time and space--taking on particular form, the "concrete absolute." Thus, Jesus is the Ultimate made Particular, or word made flesh.
However, the Bible clearly teaches that we may share in this process--that it didn't just happen once upin a timeless to one person. Rather, it perennially occurs in the eternal ground in which we participate at the deepest level. We may be sons of God "through adoption," and thereby be saved from the ravages of time, here and now. We may make the eternal present in us. But it must be "realized," because it is anterior to our surface being.
The Upanishads discuss the problem in a slightly different way, but I think it's the same idea: to disidentify with the local personality and see that Atman and Brahman are not-two.
The fully realized person has reversed the fall, or turned figure and ground inside out. He has reversed the vector flow that misleadingly draws consciousness downstream to the objects of the senses. In short, he has realized that the cosmos is tree with its roots aloft, its branches down here below. It's a Tree of Life for those whose wood beleaf.
Let's begin with two stipulations, treating them not as religious statements per se but metaphysical ones:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,
In the beginning was the the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
In the spirit of multiculturalism, and in the effort to increase our depth of vision with an extra I, let's toss another bon mot into the mix, this from the opening of the Isha Upanishad: In the heart of all things, of whatever there is in the universe, dwells the Lord.
What does it mean, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth"? As I have mentioned before, I believe that it has to do with the creation of the most fundamental duality of the cosmos. This duality can be viewed from many angles, but it can be summarized by saying that "in the beginning God created the vertical and the horizontal," for this duality subsumes the irreducible (irreducible in terms that can be thought about) categories of quality and quantity, interior and exterior, eternity and time, whole and part, implicate and explicate, subject and object. In each instance we are dealing with a "limit case" beyond which thought cannot traverse. In fact, the one side of the dualism necessitates the other and represents the conditions of thought. Nothing "mental" can be made without the vertical/horizontal duality as a precondition.
With the second statement we introduce an unexpected twist: In the beginning was the Word, or Logos. Moreover, this Word was with God, implying that it was there "before the beginning," before the great dualistic creative activity of the first statement. Indeed, if the Word is God, this can be the only logical conclusion.
This then apparently raises language to a most exalted status. But clearly not if we merely look at it in the usual way. It's so easy to take language for granted, when in reality we are dealing with something that is frankly magic. In fact, the very same Biblical passage cautions us about this, pointing out that the light of the Word "shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it." Or, to put it in the slightly saltier terms expressed in the Book of Petey, "the weird light shines in the dark, but the dorks don't get it. For truly, the weirdness was spread all through the world, and yet, the world basically kept behaving as if this were just your ordinary, standard-issue cosmos."
One additional point would appear relevant. From Genesis 1:26 and 27 we read "Then God said 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness'.... So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them." We are particularly interested in how our capacity for creativity might mirror the primordial creative activity of the Divine Mind.
So, what is language, anyway? What is a word? As a matter of fact, a word is a very special thing, because only it has the capacity of bridging the dualistic worlds introduced by primordial creation. Apparently words can do this because they are somehow prior to the great duality and therefore partake of both heaven and earth, above and below, vertical and horizontal.
The literal meaning of the word "symbol" is to "throw together" or across, as if words are exterior agents that join together two disparate things. But the Biblical view would suggest that language actually has this "throwing together" capacity because it somehow subtends the world on an interior level: language is what the world is made of, so it shouldn't surprise us that with it we can see all kinds of deep unities in the cosmos. The unities are there just waiting to be discovered, and language is our tool for doing that.
"In the beginning" of human consciousness there is also a fundamental duality--or dialectic--between the conscious (horizontal) and unconscious (vertical) minds. It is incorrect to visualize the mind in spatial terms as a sort of unconscious space below, with a line separating it from the conscious mind above. In reality, each moment of consciousness involves a generative, ceaselessly flowing "translation," or unfolding, of multidimensional, nonlocal mental space that cannot be thought about, into a local, linear, and particularized expression that can be thought about.
Again, in a healthy person there is a fluid and generative dialectic between these two realms. But many things can go wrong with that process--in fact, most forms of psychopathology have to do with the person being caught up and entangled on one end or the other. There are some people--let's call them the obsessive-compulsives--who live their lives wading in the shallow, rocky shoreline of the conscious side, while others--let's call them hysterics and borderlines--get lost in the storm-tossed sea of the unconscious side. Again, the key is a dialectical rapport between the two dimensions. That's where you are really "alive." And much of that aliveness has to do with language, that secret key to the universe.
For what is a word? What is so special about language? Again, a word easily serves as an emissary between the two worlds. On the one hand, a word refers to something particular in space and time--a cup, a tree, a dog. On the other hand, a word is by definition an abstraction with no localized or localizable being: we only recognize cup or tree or dog because they are a function of cupness, treeness or dogginess. Therefore, words are the local tools of the translating function of vertical into horizontal being, of infinite into finite, of eternity into time and back again--if we know how to use them. If we do not live in the dark.
There are objects and there is motion. Religions are like intellectual cathedrals that endeavor to mirror the father shore of the vertical hierarchy on this side of mamafestation--they are "heaven on earth," so to speak. But spiritual growth is not an object. Rather, it is a "motion" or movement--an expansion. As a matter of fact, it is the leading edge of the cosmos.
In my book, I attempted to describe the algorithm of this movement with a set of abstract symbols that apply to any spiritual practice and all spiritual growth. To a large extent those symbols are descriptive rather than prescriptive, providing some hints but leaving the exact "how to" to the individual aspirant.
The universe is a nonlocal whole that is thoroughly entangled with itself. Let's suppose that I am not me. Rather, I am you. I am the higher you, speaking to you from your future, bidding you to join me. It's frustrating for me, because I'd like you to be here with me. Actually, I'd like to be down there with you. To you, your life looks like a bewildering panorama of free choices. But to me, looking down on the scene, I see that your life is actually on a train track. It doesn't really have much freedom, except to move forward and backward in one line. Unfortunately, if you stay on that line, you will inevitably end up where you are headed.
So to arrive at me, you have to derail your life. You have to repent, which literally means to "turn around" or change course. Now, many people who come to a spiritual practice do so because their life has been derailed for them. They are probably the lucky ones. They have achieved a state of spiritual blankruptcy. They are no longer moving, but at least they have stopped moving in the wrong direction. Now, instead of pushing themselves toward the wrong destination, they will have the opportunity to be lured into the heart of the right one.
For others, their catastrophe has to be self-willed. I remember when undergoing my training, when I was in psychoanalytic therapy. I said something to the effect of, "I don't know if I'm cut out for this. I might be too neurotic," or something like that. My analyst quickly corrected me: "No, no--we don't exclude a treatable neurosis. We demand one. It's a prerequisite." You see, psychoanalytic therapy is a sort of self-willed crisis, as you dismantle your surface personality, dive into the unconscious, and try to reconstruct things on more stable footing. Only by doing so are you qualified to be a psychopomp for others, ushering them along the tortuous trails of their hidden self.
Likewise, there is no question that a spiritual practice will involve facing some catastrophic truths--catastrophic not to your true self, but to your surface ego. In fact, spiritual growth is nothing but the assimilation of truth. At first, the truth can be unpleasant. To many people it is positively toxic. For them there is no hope.
Our minds are chaotic systems with different basins of attraction. Our surface personality is one such basin. If you have a lot of conflicts and fixations, you may think of those as basins of attraction as well. Each basin within our personality is an open system with a life force and agenda all its own, drawing relationships and experiences it needs in order to go on being. These are the instruments of our destruction, at least as they pertain to ever escaping the closed circle of the horizontal and setting up shop in the vertical.
In psychotherapy there is something called "resistance," and it is ubiquitous. No matter how much a person comes into therapy wishing to change, there are parts of the personality that will resist this change and try to sabotage the treatment. Why is this? For the same reason that any living entity has a life instinct and wishes to go on being. These resistant parts of the personality are much more like quasi-independent organisms than "objects." This is why in my book I refer to them as "mind parasites." If they are not parasites, they might as well be. For, just like parasites, they take over the machinery of the host--you--and reproduce themselves, bringing about the very conditions that allow them to flourish.
The mind parasites don't really care if you go spiritual on them, so long as you don't leave them behind. A moment's glance at the history of religion shows this to be true. Religion has almost been ruined by mind parasites, and it is perfectly understandable if a sophisticated modern person were to reject it on that basis alone.
However, this would be wrong and ultimately self-defeating. For it is not just religion that has been ruined by mind parasites, but almost every other instrument or institution devised by human beings. For example, until quite recently, the history of medicine was the history of error. It consisted not only of beliefs that were untrue, but could not possibly be true. Should one therefore toss out medicine because its history is so riddled with kooky beliefs?
Why does religion always come pouring back in, despite the best efforts of secularists to do away with it? It seems that religion is just like nature, which, as we know, can be driven out with a pitchfork, and yet will always hurry back. It will return for the same reason that the unconscious will always return in a neurotic individual who tries to repress it. You cannot cut off a part of yourself and pretend it doesn't exist. This is the source of a great deal of comedy--the tension involved in pretending to be hyper-rational while the unconscious is leaking in everywhere--like George Costanza or Basil Fawlty.
Science, as we have mentioned in the past, deals with a particular aspect of reality, the quantitative, the outwardly extended universe. Religion, on the other hand, deals precisely with other aspects of reality that are excluded by science--the qualitative and internally extended universe, those inscapes known as the soul.
Traditional cosmologies posit a three-tiered cosmos of matter, life and spirit. Science studies the lowest order, matter, and concludes that only it is ultimately real, a self-negating philosophy that appeals only to the intellectually uncurious and metaphysically blind. Instead of "in the beginning was the word," secular science has its own creation myth that says, "in the beginning was a single blind substance, mighty matter, mother of all, both visible and invisible. All things were made through it, and without it nothing was made. Out of it comes life and the light of the mind. But the material darkness fully comprehends the light, which is just an illusory side effect of whirling matter."
It is said that there is a form of madness that consists of losing everything but one's reason. What does Petey say about materialism and positivism? "If you believe that, you'll believe anything." Which is it? Do we comprehend matter? Or does matter comprehend us? Or does matter comprehend itself? If so, how? That's pretty impressive for mere matter.
In order to study the physical universe, western science drew the distinction between res cogitans and res extensa--between matter and mind. So successful was the enterprise that it eventually reified this methodological distinction into a metaphysical absolute, and then concluded that only the material side was ultimately real. This has led to a host of unnecessary philosophical conundrums since then. To paraphrase Whitehead, the universe was reduced on one side to conjecture, the other side to a dream.
But if reality is nothing else, it is One. It is One prior to our bifurcation of it into subject and object, and it will always be One. We can throw out the Oneness with a pitchfork, but it will always rush back in through the walls, up through the floor boards, and down from the ceiling. In other words, the wholeness of the cosmos is ontologically prior to anything else we can say about it. In fact, it is precisely because of its wholeness that we can say anything about it at all. In the miracle of knowing, subject and object become one, but the oneness of matter and mind undergirds this process. In reality there is just the one world that knows itself in the act of knowledge.
When science sets its compass on the face of the deep, the depth disappears. Science tries to confine the universe to its own derivative categories of space, time and motion, but the real uncontainable universe always returns. Life--much less consciousness--will never be reduced to physics. In fact, physics will never be reduced to physics either. This is the real lesson of the quantum world, which leaks like water through any attempt describe what occurs there with the porous equations of linear reason.
Although I am sympathetic to the efforts of intelligent design theorists, ultimately they are looking for God in all the wrong places. Of course the universe is intelligently designed. God has always been self-evident to uncorrupted natural reason. Everywhere you look you will find irreducible information, complexity, and beauty betraying the light of the divine mind. So what? You can study a human brain, but it will tell you nothing about the consciousness of the person to whom the brain belongs--it is not as if you can "know" someone by looking at a CT scan of their skull. You will know a brain, not a person. Knowledge of a person is "inside information"--as is knowledge of God. But you have to be an insider to know that.
There is another kind of truth in the universe that can only be known from the inside, from the within. This within operates along very different lines from the without, and cannot be comprehended by applying the same principles used by science. Religions are very special languages that we employ in order to talk about, understand, and deepen our experience of the greater within of the cosmos.
If we try to talk about this within using the methods and language of science, we will get nowhere. For example, eternity cannot be discussed by reducing it to something within time. If we are going to discuss eternity at all--one of the prime characteristics of God--then we will have to use language in a very special way so as to convey the feeling without reducing it to something merely rational and temporal.
Look at it this way. We live on the shoreline between two worlds, one extending infinitely within, the other extending infinitely without. But actually, we are more like an island surrounded on all sides by the watery deep. Science, you might say, studies the island. The non-dual mystic dives into the ocean and disappears into oneness. But metaphysics plays along the shoreline where waves of the infinite are constantly lapping onto the conscious shore. Religions are ways of talking about what it is like to live on that shoreline between the finite and infinite--which is where we live anyway, crucified, so to speak, on the cross of vertical and horizontal energies.
It is here that we find the meta-cosmic and trans-historical source of time, being and self. As best as I can describe it visually, the cosmos is somewhat like a Klein bottle, which has an inside and an outside but only one surface. However, this Klein bottle is in the shape of a toroid, similar to a donut, except that the hole in the middle is our solid world, while the donut is a whirling process that tosses up temporary forms that arise and pass away, like so many grains of sand on the shore. As such, the conventional world of the senses looks real and solid, but it really is an empty hole. The real action is taking place where the hole meets the Whole and partakes something of its abiding reality.
Or as one wag put it:
In the deep there is a greater deep, in the heights a greater height. Sooner shall man arrive at the borders of infinity than at the fulness of his own being. For that being is infinity, is God. --Sri Aurobindo