Tuesday 2 August 2016

Escape from physics metaphors!

I am trying to escape from physics meatphors in my fundamental understanding of things (also called metaphysics - get it? meta-physics!). But physics metaphors are everywhere in writings on spirituality, consciousness and Christianity.

Consciousness is described as having lower and higher frequencies, or vibrational levels. Classical Christian metaphysics is very physicsy, as I have previously described - when people think of Love they often think of a kind of force-field.

It is terribly difficult to get away from this impersonal, non-living based ways of talking about fundamental things. Another example, when we imagine the beginnings of everything, we tend to see it as a 'big bang' or a massive fusion/ explosion/ condensation etc.

When we think of a religious revival, we may suppose the Holy Ghost (nowadays more often named the Holy Spirit which again is more physicsy) streaming through the earth and the people on it like cosmic rays, or maybe wind.

No wonder that 'Eastern' religions seem more plausible to intellectual Westerners, and in their most abstract forms - because these envisage ultimate reality in physics-like terms, as forces, energies, balance, dynamics - and the like. 

Yet I think that deep down the way things work is personal - not physical. That Christian Love is a personal thing, rather than a physical force - or rather than the physical force conception is merely an abstract model of what is truly personal; and indeed that physics itself is a simplified abstraction of complex personal attributes.

We recur to physics because it is grossly simplified, to the point where we feel we can use the concepts as tools, means to an end - but on the other hand we don't deeply understand physics concepts, because they are alien.

Therefore, I do try not to regard physics as descriptive of underlying reality but only as a radically-incomplete half-way-house kind of explanation - until I can re-frame my understanding at the highest level - which is persons, their character, their motivations.


AdamW said...

Our physics teacher would explain that electrons move to the lowest energy level 'because they're lazy'. Everyone would understand. And then he'd tell us (with a wink) not to put that on the exam.
I keep returning to the beginning of Genesis. In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth - or, is it better translated as 'space and matter'? The earth was formless and without content - or is it better translated as 'inane and vacuous' (sticking to the letter of the Vulgate) implying a thought-form? And the spirit of God moved above the waters - or is it better translated as 'breath of God'? The next thing God does, after all, is speak.

William Wildblood said...

The desire to reduce spirituality to impersonal forces is based on the desire to take God out of the equation because then we, human beings, are in charge. It's part of the age old rebellion against God by Man.

As a matter of fact I think it more than possible that, spiritually speaking, everything is persons. I mean that behind everything we think of as an impersonal energy there is a being, perhaps an angel, of some sort.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - I was prone to that kind of physics thinking!

@William - True. But it is still difficult to avoid. For example, a lot of discussion of the Holy Trinity falls into it.