June 2009

If 'the spiritual' actually exists, then it must be a part of reality, and therefore operate by the rules of reality. In particular, internal logical incoherence is a pretty good sign that something cannot actually exist. Natural systems don't tend to be so good at "just ignore that gap there."

I'm a materialist, I guess, in that I don't believe in a second, independent set of rules and laws for 'the spiritual realm.'

Jody commented:

"Anything could happen."

That's my motto.

Doesn't require special spiritual realm rules or whatnot does it? I just don't know if we can rule much out, when we get down to it.

Nato commented:

Three points. One is just rambling about definitions, the other two are one sided, but on opposite sides. I'm not sure whether it's at all productive. :D

1) What do you think about using the word supernatural, as opposed to spiritual? It's just that spirituality, a connection with the transcendent is conceivable in a naturalist's world view. Richard Dawkins writes in his book about a transcendent experience he had as a child, which I interpret as a spiritual event. For a naturalist, spiritual is an emergent property of our psyche, while for a theist, spiritual is connected with the supernatural. I think supernatural is a cleaner word, and more appropriate here?

On the other hand, that is kinda rigging the argument, because supernatural means outside of natural, which means not following the laws of nature. Hmmm... Maybe I'll stick with spiritual until I work out what better word to use?

2) I'd differentiate between labelling the spiritual incoherent, and labelling explanations of the spiritual incoherent. It's entirely possible that the supernatural is coherent, but people are crap at coming up with explanations.

3) On the other hand, if we're going for one set of laws that describe reality (And liberally apply occam's razor), we're probably going to rule out the supernatural, because events that lend themselves to the supernatural explanation are fairly rare. However, maybe it's a bit like the whole newtonian vs. relativitistic vs. quantum physics? Newtonian physics are great for most of us, but if you're going to take a look at really big things, you need to take relativity into account, whereas if you're going to look at really small things, you need to take quantum effects into account. So, maybe the spirituality exists, but the effects of it are relatively small, and so most of us don't need to worry about it to get on with our every day lives.

Matt commented:

Jody, I like that idea. I am quite certain that the world is truly far stranger than we can imagine. It just seems far more satisfying to me if that strangeness can eventually be explained well enough to reveal another layer of strangeness.

Nato: that's a good distinction between 'the spiritual' and 'our explanations of the spiritual.' I think that may even be what I'm getting at; I don't ask anything in particular of reality, but if you expect me to be on board with your worldview then your worldview really needs to make sense.

Also, I am still a fan of science that – rather than try to nail everything down and prove that things aren't possible – pokes at the edges to find the really strange things.

Mr Mo commented:

If you rely totally on rules then the super (above, beyond or outside) natural can't exist, however once you include an independent entity the rules go out the proverbial window. It's a bit like the cat waiting at the door - natural rules say the lock is holding the door closed so it won't open, but if an independent entity comes along and opens the door then the rules change so natural rules go out the window(or door) and super or outside natural rules apply. I guess cats have trouble explaining some of the things we do as well - although they also seem to consider themselves as God because they can make us feed them and open doors for them.

Matt commented:

…except that (unless we have perfect knowledge of the rules) there is still plenty of room for movement. To extend your analogy, if a strong wind blows the door open because natural decay has caused the lock to become weak, the 'rules' haven't been broken or stepped outside of at all – but that's what it looks like.

I would argue (tentatively) that all of the things we call super- or extra- natural are just things we cannot yet fit into our rules – the map is not the territory.

Nato commented:

...even if we had perfect knowledge of all the rules there would still be plenty of room for movement

This is because our knowledge is still constrained by the rules of the universe we live in - from physics, the uncertainty principle, and the limit to the speed of information flow. There's also the idea that it's pretty improbable that you could understand the thing that you're using to understand with (our minds).