Tuesday 7 November 2017

What is The Spiritual?

It is difficult - I would say impossible - satisfactorily to define The Spiritual, except as a 'diagnosis of exclusion'.

In other words, the spiritual is that which is not material;

or, the spiritual is the immaterial.

This was, indeed, the definition of spiritual suggested by Owen Barfield (after are careful examination of the history of language); and while it is correct, it is not fully satisfactory - because the definition of 'the material' has been fluid through time, in a way that shows the reality of the spiritual as being (more or less)

that which contemporary modern culture regards as unreal.

For example - mathematics was, at one time, regarded as spiritual, mystical - and Mathematicians were if not theists (believers in a personal God) then at least deists (believers in an impersonal creating-deity). This was the case for many - perhaps all - of the great early scientists such as Newton. However, the development of modernity included mathematics within science, and excluded all non-scientific uses and functions of mathematics to the realm of pseudo-science or 'superstition'.

A more recent example is quantum theory. As Barfield remarks, this branch of physics has many spooky and immaterial aspects which would normally have made it a spiritual subject; however, it has been included in mainstream science and any consideration of the general implications of quantum theory for human life have been ruled-out and (as with mathematics) consigned to the realm of pseudo-science and ignorant superstition.

An example of personal relevance has been Rudolf Steiner's remarkable 1918 prophecy about which I have written recently. Steiner (I believe correctly) regards the recognition of 'the spiritual' as primary and essential task of our era - in Barfield's terms this corresponds to the next step in the evolution of consciousness to Final Participation.

However, putting so much weight upon the concept of The Spiritual is problematic when the definition is negative - and the same problem arises in the 'mission' of this Albion Awakening blog to promote a new and 'spiritual' kind of Christianity.

I think the correct formulation is that Western Man must become more spiritual by reunifying the material and immaterial - and this unification happens quite naturally and spontaneously as a consequence of the evolution of consciousness to Final Participation by means of what Steiner terms 'pure' thinking and I have termed 'primary' thinking: that is, the conscious, purposive, free-agent thinking of the divine-self in Man.

Primary thinking is also a kind of intuition - and in intuitive thinking there is no division between material and immaterial; because the thinking is (simply) assumed to be in the universal realm of reality, which contains all kinds of things; some that we would call material and others that we would not.

Therefore, a return to The Spiritual for modern Man actually involves the abolition of the category of Spiritual - we would (rightly) cease to be concerned with the categories of material and spiritual.

And that change and unification is precisely the necessary evolution which Steiner (in 1918) argued was our divine destiny.


William Wildblood said...

It's very hard to define the spiritual partly I believe because it is what is. Calling it consciousness or formless reality doesn't really get us very far. Perhaps the best we can do is say it is what is revealed by intuition. Perhaps the reason we can deny it is because we can't define it by any of the normal means at our disposal, words, thoughts and the like.

Anonymous said...

It does seem mathematics has some connection with spirituality, though I am not sure exactly what. Partly because mathematics certainly doesn't fit into the materialistic worldview since it deals with infinity and more than three dimensions. I suspect that is why there is so much effort towards trying to reduce mathematical proofs and mathematical thinking in general to a mechanistic process. If it could be shown that mathematics doesn't describe a reality but is just formal symbol manipulation, than the threat to materialism is gone. In fact, in volume 3 of his collected works, Godel (who believed in God, the mind (as opposed to the brain), and the reality of mathematics) wrote that he believed his discovery of his incompleteness theorems was due to the fact that he was looking for them, i.e. he did not have a conviction that mathematics *must* be reducible to the syntax of language.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - my point is that the 'boundary' between material and immaterial has shifted enormously through history. The spiritual is continuous-with the material: there is one creation.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NLR - Mathematics certainly has been linked with a spirituality - Pythagoras is perhaps the first named example, although probably many earlier instances were found in the civilisations that display geometric fascinations - eg. Ancient Egyptian or Neolithic British.

This has faded out, and mathematics has also declined massively in its social status and centrality to education (currently mathematics is, like all other institutional forms, being abolished in favour of the single linked-bureaucracy of 'converged' political correctness).

I believe that if future consciousness becomes established (i.e. Final Participation, divine consciousness); then systems of communication (language, symbolism, pictures, geometry, mathematics) will - as FP increases in strngth and sustainability - gradually lose their role as spiritual intermediaries; happening as direct knowing takes-over.

David Balfour said...

Fascinating post and discussion. Again, it is reassuring to know that my lifelong strong tendencies to intuit that the spiritual is really real, id not an idiosynchratic delusion - a perspective that the world seems desperate to impose on me, and largely successfully, where it not for the knowledge that others can also percieve the denied reality behind the material world! If I didnt have that knowledge, I suspect I would have given up my ideas as purely fanciful a long time ago. The erosive effects of living within nihilism as a cultural philosophy make me feel like I am lost in space and a long way from home, floating ever further into the darkness. But then, here we all are, and we seem to perceive what many cannot or will not.

As synchronicity might have it, only yesterday, I had been musing on a definition of how to define 'spiritual' and observed that I could apprehend it experientially as real as an act of thought, but attempting to adequately cloth such perceptions in words eluded me and also felt unneccessary or altering the character of the thing itself to constrain it with language. It had occurred to me to post here to ask you for an attempted definition, but then, your post today beat me to it...coincidence?!

I think poetry alone has the power to go someway towards revealing the transcendent but then that too is something modernity no longer understands or values.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David, as I recall, nearly 20 years ago you were a participant in some in-depth interviews I did in attempting to get a working-definition of The Spiritual for psychological research.

Our conclusion then was that we could not find any useful definition.

In the end, we just used self-evaluation along the lines of 'Are you spiritual? Yes or No...' But that was merely kicking the can further down the road...

Chiu ChunLing said...

The core problem with the definition of spirit in terms of what it is not is that it risks putting "spirit" into the general category of concepts that express the absence of something that definitely exists.

Dark, cold, crude, amorphous, empty, and of course all things modified by the prefix "in-" or the suffix "-less". These are concepts of holes or gaps, they describe the nothingness that is left behind when you remove the thing that is verifiable in principle. In computer lingo, we might refer to null or nil, a 'value' that indicates that no memory has been allocated to storing a value for the variable (or that it has been deallocated).

Spirit is not distinct from matter in this simple negative sense, it is not what is left behind when you remove matter. You don't become more spiritual by removing your brain, or any of the rest of your body. Mere matter is not spiritual, but matter does not exclude spirit. You become more spiritual to submitting to laws higher than those which affect mere matter, not by evading or negating physics.

An airplane flies not because it has no mass and thus is unaffected by the laws of gravity, but because the matter, with its physical property of mass, is arranged so as to allow the wings, engine, and control surfaces to derive lift, propulsion, and directed responses to overcome weight, drag, and inertial ballistics. Effective use of this refinement of cruder physical laws requires a pilot to fly the aircraft. The pilot is not simply another part of the plane (even in the case of "autonomous" aircraft, where much of the basic principles of piloting are built into the aircraft). The pilot is something apart from the aircraft itself, but not everything that is not the aircraft is the pilot.

Animal are organized from mere physical matter to carry out activity directed to some objective (survival and reproduction, chiefly). Spirituality is that quality that results from mere animals being further organized to allow them to effectively utilize higher laws to express volitional activity beyond the limitations of dead matter.

The difficulty is which volitions are effective in utilizing higher law, and which are not. An aircraft that has been shot down or lost its pilot is no less subject to the more refined laws of aerodynamics which are necessary to understanding the motion of an aircraft in flight, it is just easier to express its subsequent motion adequately in terms of the simpler laws...it is no longer flying, only falling. To understand spirituality, we must understand and identify the difference between that higher organization which allows controlled flight and that which, by those same laws, allows only spiritual falling.

All human attempts fall short because of the desire to carve out an exemption large enough to ignore that we ourselves tend to fall rather than fly. Yes, we are subject to all the same metaphysical laws that allow spiritual flight...but for the most part the calculation of our inevitable trajectory requires little more than those which describe falling.