Considering the Material, the Spiritual, and Another Place

Considering the Material, the Spiritual, and Another Place August 11, 2023


(by Jen Norton)


















It’s true. I’m pretty relentlessly a fan of the scientific method as it has evolved over the years. I really like what can be found in double blind testing. Certainly by testing claims about what presents, decisions can be made that are vastly more likely to be useful than not.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb saying this. Anything that appears in the world is subject to such testing. Everything.

Also, at the very same time, as part of the deal, all the “truths” we find through this process are provisional. What we know is subject to change with more information. That’s why gravity is a theory. And evolution.

Shifting from the matter of science I think we can say everything we know is provisional. And something else. Something very important to notice. It’s all moving targets. Everything is in motion, changing with every encounter in smaller and larger ways. This includes you and me.

So, a question.

Should this perspective be called material or spiritual?

The truth be told in the life I live I find the division between spiritual and material a false dichotomy. Not that I believe in a world of ghosts acting at odds with the physics of the world. Mostly. I don’t.

Nor am I impressed with trying to find justifications for things like ghosts by appeal to the physics of the very large or the very small. And particularly not by going for the wildest of possibilities about that very large and very small.

The rules of the road for our corner of the universe are actually sufficient for living a life that matters. All claims that touch upon life or health need to be tested against this place. You know, the Newtonian universe as a metaphor for what I mean. Not that place where matter and energy cannot actually be disentangled one from the other and things seem on occasion to happen before they’re caused. Or not. All I read about these things is the popular press badly interpreting the moments of scientific investigation.

Still. As our teacher Henry Thoreau said, one world at a time.

I’m all about this world, the one where we see and hear and taste and touch and think can be mapped.

And while the map is constantly being redrawn sometimes in very important ways, as of today, a lot of it is also pretty obviously correct. Newton’s world, for instance. We follow the map and we get places.

We wander pretty far from it, and we are lost. And lost we do a lot of damage to ourselves and to others.

So, people say, see James, you’re a materialist.

But, no, no…

Because. Well. There is that whole matter of finding meaning in life.

Of course, meaning and purpose are human things. Meaning and meaninglessness don’t exist in either the worlds of the very big or the very small. Actually not in Mr Newton’ universe, either. Although he had complicated views regarding that matter.

In those directions all words fall away in the not so simple “is” of things. Where even that “is,” of course, falls away. And with that, what I see, the world I live in, most of the time, anyway, the one that can be touched and heard and smelled and tasted and thought about is, when taken together as my lived life, a mysterious dance, where every encounter changes things.

Yes, it all takes place against the background reality where everything has burned away, where meaning and meaninglessness have exploded and even “is” is forgotten.

But, again, in our corner of the universe, where what we do counts, where our very lives hang in the balance, then of course there is direction, and there is meaning, and meaninglessness.

Not for the science of things. That’s a different project. A project that rules out the need for going many places, but not ultimately the place to go on the quest of our heart’s longing.

This is my heart’s calling. It’s where we go, where I go for the meaning of things. Taking us, taking me on a journey that touches the very large, and the very small in ways the human heart and human mind can go.

To confrontations with that place that knocked Job’s socks off, and shut up Arjuna.

But, always, then, returning us to our home.

Right here. The world where you can scratch your nose. Where you can sip a cup of coffee. Where you can caress a loved one. Where what you do counts.

You know, this place.

Material. Spiritual.

Not material. Not spiritual.

Just this.

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