Web Published on The Media Desk
[Note: For the purposes of this paper (which is not a Christian Apologetic piece but a non-religious examination of the topic 'metaphysics') the words 'divine' and 'supernatural' and so on will stand in for any and all variations and perambulations possible for any extra-natural, non-human, spiritual, or otherwise intelligence or entity with regards to its role in the mundane world. The author’s own definition of God is best defined as ‘the uncaused first cause’ alluded to in Aristotle’s works. Thank you]
[Further Note: No disrespect or slight of any named Deity is intended. Superior Beings of many faiths are named in this discussion and all are treated as they are presented by their followers at face value. No judgments by the author are made or intended to be inferred from this work.]
As an Academic Work In Progress-
portions of this paper may be revised at any time.
Some sections of this work deal with decidedly adult themes although those sections are intended as academic discussion, they may offend some persons who wish and are looking to be offended. You have been warned.
As with most fields of study, defining what is NOT under the scope of a discipline is at least equally important to the study as is burrowing into the meat of the subject. And it will take awhile to get from here to there, as there is a lot to cover, but if you have a little patience, we’ll get there, and this writer will try to keep it from becoming as dull as these types of works can be.
For this thesis this author was going to dive into the heart of the matter as put forward by such luminaries as St. John of the Cross and Aristotle among others. But as it was looked into the field it seemed to broaden to include Cosmology and Astronomy, Regular Philosophy, as well as at times some rather pedestrian subjects as standard Sociology and Psychology, and that old standby- Parapsychology as well. Metaphysics, the writer thought, was supposed to be a high level academic discussion of the relationship of the Supernatural (or Divine) depending on your take on the subject to the physical world. Not, as it were, the physical world's reaction to it, or with itself. No matter how self important human philosophers believe their ideas and webs of interaction to be, once you allow for the very existence of God or gods, the entire game changes.
Now instead of just what is happening Right Now on the basketball court as the subject you must take into account the fans, the TV crew, the guy selling pretzels on the mezzanine level and the cop in the parking lot. Indeed, you must now account for everything from the architect of the arena when it was being built to how the fan in seat G-14 paid for his family's General Admission seats. Everything affecting the game must be accounted for in the theory if it is to be conclusive. The temperature in the locker rooms and whether or not the visiting team's incoming flight was delayed. To have a complete overview of the game, we cannot just look at the forty eight minutes of actual playing time, we must account for why the power forward seemed a little distracted after halftime and why the commentator kept talking about the guy's mother. Was the forward thinking about something else or was the commentator just having a Howard Cosell moment? Why is the guy in seat G-14 booing when his team is ahead?
Yes we can just look at the final score and the paragraph in the morning paper about how the home team's defense faltered in the final period but managed to hang on to win and go on with our lives and never give it another thought. But then do we really understand that one game completely, and to a larger extent, the Home Team's entire season and the whole career of the forward? Of course not.
But if the Game is Life and the home team is Us then maybe we should wonder about the forward and what else is going on in his life.
To look at our lives in a vacuum is to delude ourselves.
It is a stretch to consider the scenario of the butterfly flapping in Japan causing tornados on the US Great Plains half a world away. But it is a possibility all the same. It must be taken into account if you are looking at the entire picture. In this case, storm patterns over Kansas.
Kansas does not exist in a bottle. Storms do not spring into existence at the Colorado border and then vanish when they come to the sign that says 'Welcome to Missouri'. The storm may have very well sprung up from a disturbance far out over the Pacific and then matured into what let loose its energy over the Jayhawk state.
If we are to go into full depth on it, we must ask 'where did that disturbance over the Pacific come from'. In the real world we will never know. But that butterfly in the garden of the Imperial Palace must be considered.
We do not live in a vacuum either. Events set in motion a century ago can affect your commute into work today. Small changes in your routine can trigger larger events later. And indeed. If you do not discount the influence of the divine as random chance, you do live your life in a world where someone or something is marking the flight of the sparrow and even moreso your commute.
It can indeed be made this simple: if you can scientifically prove whatever you are saying, if you can objectively observe the process and the results or devise a reasonable logic experiment for it, if your evidence can be trotted out on demand to be observed or re-created by anybody and their graduate assistant, then it is NOT metaphysics.
A multi-tester cannot be clipped onto The Great Spirit to test its electrical impedance.
Nobody has ever talked Brahma into submitting to a full physical complete with eye test on all four sets of eyes.
The Wiccans claim the evidence of the existence of the Earth Mother is all around us for everybody to see, if you have the right kind of vision. If not, oh well. Otherwise, she is not going to take a personality profile just to satisfy your curiosity.
Jehovah God has never filled out the forms for a work visa. Occupation: Father Creator of the Universe. Time in Occupation: From Eternity to Eternity. Alias: Ancient of Days.
That would give the US Immigration and Naturalization Service a pause wouldn't it?
To even suggest there is physical evidence of the existence of Allah would bring a fatwa from some fundamentalist in the Muslim faith.
No, the assumption of anything above this our 'mortal veil' requires what the Christian Bible would call 'Faith'. (This is not a Christian article by any stretch, we shall take our sources as they come and the reader will just have to deal with it.)
Hebrews 11 : 1 put it this way, and it is as good a definition as any:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Everyone who believes in anything from those that light fires and beat drums on hilltops to people kneeling in adoration of a cracker in the Roman Catholic practice known as Eucharist Worship are putting legs to their beliefs. They are acting on their faith that their interaction with something they cannot prove even exists will somehow work to their benefit either in this life or the next, or hopefully both. That this ritual or that song or whatever will give our lives more value and meaning, again, either here and now or into eternity than say the meaning of the life of a cockroach or a vulture or something.
Some of what used to be the strict realm of metaphysics has dropped into the laps of cosmologists and quantum physicists. Multiple universes and eternally curved space-time are now taught in high school physics classes (maybe not in public schools but at real teaching schools). At one time everything we now consider Astronomy and its cousins were under the auspices of the Church. Remember the small problems Galileo Galilei had when he made his claims about the Earth and Gravity and others things where the Church's teachings were a little different? Now popular TV shows bring out String Theorists and those trying to concoct a Theory of Everything without fear of thumbscrews and cats-o-nine tails.
Fortunately the Inquisition faced by academics today does not have the power to inflict lifelong house arrest on them (or worse), as the Inquisition of the seventeenth century did to Galileo for being a thorn in the side of the Jesuits as much as anything else.
Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these one is wandering in a dark labyrinth.
The Assayer Galileo, Accademia dei Lincei, 1623
Once those issues became the subject of mainstream inquiry and they quit prosecuting scientists, those topics then became open to "serious" academics at large and the philosophical side of them was all but forgotten. The ‘spiritual’ side of things was put out to pasture in favor of things that could be put under a microscope or cooked in a petri dish. The Theosophist part of the sciences was written out of the texts. As was the notion that a lot of what Western Science knew had been ‘borrowed’ from the Arabs.
Some of the topics and theories now being seriously investigated in heavily credentialed programs at universities like Wisconsin and Kansas’s group investigating the evolution of the basic structure of matter and the universe itself moments after the Big Bang would look very familiar to a group of scientists from just a few hundred years ago; The Alchemists.
Oh yes, Alchemy was a serious science and quasi-religion interested in far more than transmuting base metal into gold and finding the ‘Elixir of Life’. And was practiced by the likes of Sir Isaac Newton among others.
So has the field of the metaphysicist been narrowed as these subjects have migrated to the various sciences and of late into quantum physics and cosmology?
The answer is a resounding No, and a thoughtful Yes, depending on whose website you're reading at the time.
"Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead!"
Admiral Farragut USN, Battle of Mobile Bay, 1864
One thing that does seem to dictate whether or not an academic pursuit is labeled as metaphysics would seem to be the difficulty in being recognized as serious if the work is labeled as metaphysics. It is something which even today plagues Parapsychology and Cryptozoology. Scientific credibility is based on reproducible results and predictable outcomes. Even theoretical work such as in Quantum Mechanics can be rigorously tested mathematically and the final results verified against the predictions made.
This is something you cannot do with metaphysics.
We as mortal humans are in a poor position to make objective analysis of the deity and issue predictions based on those observations. The effect would be akin to Niels Bohr's rebuke of Einstein's comment about God playing dice: "Stop telling God what to do."
We must face it right off the bat. Everything, all of it, is speculation, opinion, guesses, dreams, ideas, whatever. If it CAN be proven in any way shape or form other than through the definition from Hebrews as quoted above, it is NOT Metaphysics.
The best writings of St. John of the Cross, while definitely mystical in nature, fall loosely under Metaphysics’ Theological wing in that they deal with the struggle of the natural man to attain the full recognition of the perfection accorded by the deity, as well as that deity’s relationship to the soul that is doing the seeking, are only very flowery speculations. His friend St. Teresa of Avila, who wrote extensively along the same lines, and this article will look at them in some detail later, she could be dismissed as having suffered from waking dreams and graphic delusions. And if you mention the sexual aspects of her raptures and ecstasies, you may find them reconvening the Inquisition with you on the guest list. Aquinas himself didn’t offer anything besides academic arguments and reasoning harkening as far back as Aristotle.
Thereby we come to another subject for this treatise to deal with. Is Metaphysics, by necessity, religious in nature, or is it happenstance that many of the classic works and trains of thought turn on axles of religion?
To that question the only answer is, Yes. Metaphysics IS Religion. But then again, that depends more on your definition of Religion than on your definition of Metaphysics.
How do you define: Religion?
The dictionary's definition ranging from 'service and worship of a supernatural force or being' to 'a belief system or cause adhered to with faith' rings rather hollow and very generic. And truthfully doesn't apply in the real world.
It is a clique that somebody has made something 'their religion'. Politics was as much USA President Richard Nixon's religion as anything was, except maybe professional football, yet neither is supernatural, nor did 'Tricky Dick' hold any special faith in them.
I would have made a good Pope.
Richard M. Nixon (1913 - 1994)
[Note: Nixon was raised a Quaker and remained one, albeit somewhat nominally, through his adult life.]
Some recognized, organized, tax exempt religions deny there is a supernatural anything anywhere. Others claim that is all there is and deny the existence of the real world. Some worship almost anything, others worship nothing. According to how you read Thomas Aquinas, worshiping nothing in particular may be closer to the mark than those that ascribe particular aspects to the godhead and focus on those exclusively.
There are writers on this subject that get all tied up in defining, and un-defining or re-defining every word in one of Aquinas's arguments. They argue about what he meant by disputing the usage of the verbs used to define current real existence: 'is', and 'to be'.
Shakespeare wasn't the first one to question existence with 'to be or not to be' although his characters self-argument may be among the most widely known and misquoted.
This quote is a little long… but you'll be all right…
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Hamlet, Act II scene 3.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd.
To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.-- Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.
[For the record: 'quietus' refers to death, a 'bodkin' (as used here) is a short sword or dagger. And a 'fardel' is an oppressive weight or burden. An 'orison' is a prayer to God.]
Hamlet, Act II scene 3.
If you haven't ever actually read Hamlet's soliloquy, go back and read through it now. Actually READ it.
The Bard in this his single most famous character speech is walking through the entire argument of exactly what is Man's purpose and meaning. In Act 2 Scene 2 Hamlet compares mortal man to angels and gods and 'the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!', and then in the next act, in his Soliloquy he is contemplating suicide as a fair escape yet his conscious forbids him. Life is unbearable, yet death by one's own hand is unthinkable.
Several years later, OK, several Centuries later, Tom T. Hall's character in his song, 'Faster Horses' comes to a different revelation, and for very different reasons- the old cowboy philosopher pulled a gun on him.
"… I told him I was a poet, I was lookin' for the truth I do not care for horses, whiskey, women or the loot I said I was a writer, my soul was all on fire He looked at me an' he said, "You are a liar." "It's faster horses, younger women, Older whiskey, and more money" "
FASTER HORSES (THE COWBOY AND THE POET)
Tom T. Hall. Album: Faster Horses, 1976
Evidently the burning self examination Hamlet went through doesn't make a very good country folk song.
Could it be that the Meaning of Life which is as close to the soul of Metaphysics as anything else is dependant on the personal views and values of the enquiring individual? That there is no one overall philosophy that defines our relationship to Life and the Universe it exists in.
Aquinas defined our essence as essentially a continuing effort to define our essence. Shakespeare, through Hamlet and in the Tempest with Prospero, evaluates his purpose in life and comes up with the following worthy goal …
"… release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free."
Tempest, Act V scene 1,
Tempest, Act V scene 1,
Shakespeare's finale states that his aim through his work, in what is regarded as his own resignation to private life at the end of his career, was simply to please his audience. If he had succeeded, he could now be free.
The others we have looked at, and those yet to come, had either loftier or more noble ideals in mind, or in the case of Mr. Hall's cowboy, earthier ones (to be polite).
Which is the other side of the coin isn’t it?
Without Mr. Hyde good Doctor Jekyll would have been a rather dull character. Without Jekyll's reputation to defend him against accusation, Hyde would have been executed as a criminal sociopath early on.
One of the criticisms of Albert Arnold Gore Jr. is that the former vice-president was, and is, incredibly dull. Whatever former president Clinton’s other personality shortcomings may have been, that was one thing nobody ever said of him.
Many of the celebrity-grade TV evangelists of the eighties and nineties saw their ministries come crashing down around them in flames from various personal problems ranging from sexual escapades to accepting dirty money to, in at least one case, both.
It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.
Is Mr. Lincoln’s quote actually true?
Well. With the clear exceptions of someone like St Francis of Assisi or Mahatma Gandhi, it could well be. (we will not include those of divine countenance in this discussion)
Right about now the reader should be wondering how we got from defining what Metaphysics is Not, to Shakespeare, Nixon, and Mr. Hyde? What has an American folk ballad singer got to do with the Indian Sage of Non-Violent Resistance? Honest Abe and Galileo?
Very well. We shall tie these loose ends up and then move on to Saint Teresa Availa and others.
Metaphysics could rightly be called a scientific investigation of the concept of existence itself. Theories and hypotheses are advanced and scrutinized. Ideas are evaluated in the light of other ideas. Some are advanced, others are dismissed. And later, those ideas that were dismissed may be revived and the others fall by the wayside.
This author’s understanding of the subject could be explained as this: Metaphysics is what you get when you crossbreed one dog called Science with another dog called Philosophy and/or Theology. But then again, it is more than either, and in some ways, less than both.
Ontology. Straight up Aquinas.
The examination of Hamlet’s phrase: 'To be or not to be.'
Is it within the person to decide they could have made a good pope, except for that small matter of not being Catholic to begin with, or instead, become a political Mr. Hyde?
Are virtues an end in themselves when considered against the backdrop of the Universe? And what’s more, is that Universe as comprehensible as our old friend said it is with his triangles and circles?
Again. It depends more on your working definition of words like Meaning and Worth than anything else.
Some people seem to exist only to smoke cigarettes and watch TV sit-coms. Others strive to feed the starving and work to cure heinous diseases. Is one life more worthy than the other in the measure of the Eternal?
True enough every human infant is a bundle of potential. Some manage to overcome incredible odds and before they leave this world they reach a level the rest of us can only marvel at. Stephen Hawking’s deteriorating body left him twisted and helpless in a wheelchair. Yet his mind left the bounds of this world and danced among the stars tracing the face of God in the dust of Creation.
Others lift themselves to excellence in athletics, or politics, or religion.
The man that was to become Pope John Paul the Second was once left for dead alongside a road in World War Two Poland after having been hit by a German army truck. His family and many of his friends had been killed by the Nazis. His school and church were in ruins. Yet he studied and lived and, excelled. One of his interests as a student was the writings of Saint John of the Cross. Perhaps there, in those mystical stanzas, he found something to cling to.
Jackie Robinson just wanted to be a good baseball player and tolerated brutal harassment to become a great baseball player.
They all had slightly more of something we are all born with.
It is doubtful Shakespeare could have stolen bases like Jackie Robinson. And most likely nobody would ever suggest Tom T. Hall could write on quantum mechanics like Hawking. Yet when they were infants there is no doubt their mother’s thought them quite special. As did the mother of the person we mentioned who gets up in the morning with the goal of smoking cigarettes and watching TV and nothing more.
Call it talent, ambition, a gift. The aforementioned couch potato may have musical talent to rival James Brown, yet if they never pick up an instrument, they will never know. Perhaps they have a special insight into political economy to rival the best of the US Senate, but if they don’t read on the subject and develop their argument, their ideas will never come to fruition. Maybe they could be a great religious leader, or a Golden Glove winning shortstop, or …. Well, if they stay on the couch, it won’t matter.
It has been said that every person has their own gift, it’s just they need to discover it.
OK, we’ll run with that for awhile.
If our example baby is born with the ‘gift’ for playing the piano and happens to attend a school with such an instrument in a classroom, there is a good chance somebody may notice. But if the baby is born into a fishing village on some island most of us can’t even pronounce where the nearest piano is two hundred miles away, that talent will most likely never be realized and the next Liverace will never wear a rhinestone.
But if every child is born with a special gift, what would our world be like if they were all developed?
If you put three excellent chefs in the same kitchen you end up with an argument and no dinner. Most ballclubs can stand three or four very good players, as long and one is a pitcher and the other a fielder and the other maybe a catcher or third baseman. If all three are top level catchers, something is wrong. One Stephen Hawking is enough for any university, even Cambridge. One Ghandi per generation is probably about right. More of either would detract from their effect on the rest of us.
In Plato’s ideal Republic, there seems to be a surplus of Philosophers. OK, then who bakes the rolls and installs the carpet if everybody is sitting around debating the meaning of Truth and Beauty?
Too much of anything is seldom a good thing. For evidence we shall hold up the Flying Elvi. Ten Elvis Presley impersonators who skydive in full regalia is enough to make you wonder if the universe really is about to implode due to its own internal contradictions.
It could very well be that in the Grand Plan of the universe there is a need for a certain number of couch potatoes with their unrealized potential to balance out the occasional Mark Twain and Thomas Edison.
And even the Flying Elvi…
But who, or what, is it that determines that ratio. Is it something innate in the ether of the cosmos or maybe blind happenstance, or Fate, or maybe a happy combination of all of them.
Even our friends in their sequined jumpsuits and sunglasses have an essence of being that puts each in a unique position (pun intended) in relation to the rest of the universe versus by simply existing. Just as Ivan the Terrible and Marilyn Monroe had.
Then all they needed from birth was the opportunity to develop their ‘gift’ which they had in them to achieve their unique place in the universe. One as one of the most oppressive rulers in history, the other as a sex symbol and movie star.
There is something to be said for the combination of inborn gift and opportunity, and maybe a good dose of personal ambition as well, for taking that child to their ultimate place in the scheme of things where our piano playing baby grows up to perform before 110,000 people in a stadium. As the original Mr. Showmanship did in the 1950's.
But does that child have a choice as to whether he would become a musician, the Pope or Mr. Hyde as we said of President Nixon? Or even that couch potato.
Is there something that guides and maybe even grooms that person’s essence to become what they become? What role, if any, does actual chance and personal choice play in it? And can we, as mere mortals caught up in this drama (the Physical side of people), even hope to discern something of a pattern or plan or Will in it all?
John had studied medicine shortly after the US War Between the States. He fulfilled his studies at the medical school in Philadelphia and then entered practice in Atlanta. Dr. John couldn’t continue his practice however, and moved out of town not long afterward.
Had this been the end of the story nobody today would have heard of Doctor John more than a hundred years after his death.
However, be it Fate, or Divine Intervention, or simply Dumb Luck, Dr. John changed professions once he was out of his home state. And he acquired a new nickname as well.
Doctor John Henry Holliday was now ‘Doc’. Doc Holliday. One of the most famous, infamous, best known at any rate, figures of the Old West. The truth of his life, and the legend thereof, are almost interchangeable. Nobody knows how many gunmen and drunken loosers he killed, including Doc himself if the stories are to be even half believed.
What quirk of the Mind of the Universe would take a fairly good Dentist from a leading family in the post war South and turn him into:
“the most skillful gambler, and the nerviest, fastest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever saw."
The answer to that question is one of the main reasons Metaphysics is studied.
Was there something in the being that was Doc Holliday that made him what he became that wasn’t in however many others that had that potential? There were twenty-odd other dentists in his class in Philadelphia. Was he the only natural gambler and gunfighter of the bunch?
How much choice did Dr. John have in becoming the Doc Holliday of song and story?
The question is far more than academic.
If he had no choice, if it was his Fate, his destiny, his role in the Cosmos, to quit helping people with bad teeth and give lead poisoning to cowboys who were sore losers at cards, then there is no point in us even discussing continuing this discussion.
Continued In part two
Ideas presented: "Hobson's Choice or Destiny?" "Hockey and Vaudeville" "Saint Teresa's visions" "Mystics and Seers and Prophets Of Old" and more
[NOTE: Full attributions of quoted material will be made when the thesis is completed. All quotes are available from sources on the Web or in the Public Domain. No infringement of copyrighted work is intended. If the owner or originator of something used herein so desires any material cited from them will be removed and replaced by material from another source. See The Media Desk Copyright Page for more information. Thank you ]