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Posting 100

Tags: philosophy, humanism, spirituality, transcendence, thinking, time metaphysics, social pragmatism, religion, science, equality, enlightenment

An Unheralded Rivalry

There is a long history of rivalry between alternative conceptions of human spirituality, which may come as a surprise to anyone who takes for granted that religion owns the patents on spirituality. From ancient times philosophy was an alternative discourse of spirituality that tended toward emphasizing the primacy of the embodied individual, the thinker of questions. Humanist rationalism was (and can be) a guide to transcendent spirituality in startling contrast to religious conceptions. Perhaps especially as conceived by Epicureans, it was a personal, and so bottom-up spirituality, recognizing spirituality as an individual power.

In this age of science, spirituality is an elephant in the room. Most scientists as individuals have to put up with a certain discourse of spirituality because it is deeply entangled with conceptions of respectability, of morality and conventional respect for law and the social order, involving a degree of peer pressure to practice some antique religion as a personal declaration of social orthodoxy, of pragmatic support for the social contract. Spirituality is supposed to be the heart of the antique religions, but any discourse of spirituality is strictly incompatible with science. (There are large cash prizes on offer for people who help reduce this awkwardness by making plausible suggestions for reconciling science and religion.) Personal spirituality is identified as a sense of wonder and connection with the awesome scale of the cosmos, somehow connected to moral debt, guilt, and moral sentiment, and is commonly thought of as a portal to acquaintance with higher reality, deity, the awesomely sacred, first and divine things, at least to the extent that such acquaintance is possible for us flawed and meagre humans. Perhaps it is surprising that the discourse of spirituality can be separated from its entanglement with grand scale divinity, morality, law, and social order, without disappearing, but it can be, even though for both science and the great antique religions, such a metaphysics is inconceivable.

What is Thinking?

The fundamental question of the relevant philosophy here is “What is thinking?” from an intuition that personal thinking operations are the whole reality of spirituality. Such philosophy is an exploration of the spirituality of thinking, both in getting from moment to moment in life and in questioning assumptions that pave the familiar thought-paths of socially pragmatic life and expectation. The most ordinary orientation or bearing from this moment to the next is a thinking operation. It is a spiritual creation of freedom through the personal construction of a temporal path into a mutable future of possibilities and increasingly remote probabilities that have no actual existence as such. Past and future do not exist in the brute actuality of nature. They exist only, but emphatically, within the orientation of individual persons. There is an ongoing accumulation of complexity in a person’s bearing or vector of orientation, as curiosity, questioning, and inspiration engage and grapple with nature, culture, and other intelligences. There is always the inward quest to sustain a life, holding and modifying a bearing of flight in building that life. Re-orienting toward the next moment is done, therefore, with reference to the whole past of an embodied life, which does not exist in the actuality of nature, and so with reference to much more than outward markers.

The way-of-being of the spiritual self is to evade a final particularity of itself (evading thingness), to project self-creation continually into a not-yet of futurity. In that way spirituality is inseparable from time, and both have the same immateriality or ‘metaphysical’ quality, without appearance. The self is a no-thing-ness, neither a thing nor a structure of things, but instead is a flight expressive of an interiority of non-actuality, time, and creative freedom. What time as a personal past and future shows is exactly spirituality. The immateriality of the spiritual is precisely the same as the immateriality of time in lessons learned, aspirations, and anticipations. Time is not an appearance (does not appear), but instead is the orientation (spirituality) of an intelligence engaging with, intervening in, brute actuality, living its particular life and imposing that life onto brute actuality. An individual’s aspirations and lessons learned are present as shaping forces in this moment of engagement with the surroundings, but they are not perceived or perceivable. They are not “backstage” as images or symbols somehow pushing. They are present only in the non-appearing directionality (orientation) itself.

So what is Spiritual about Thinking? Is it Transcendent enough?

The essential identity of everyone as an individual is an active process of creative orientation, a personal interiority of spiritual non-actuality, as just described, intervening continuously in brute actuality as a particular embodiment. The non-actuality of the particular temporal depth in which any individual is oriented, what has often been called inwardness or interiority, grounds the meaning of spirituality here, but there is much more. The crucial spiritual reality is the freedom-within-an-unfinished-world which is created by that play of non-actuality, and the personally fulfilling creative power it manifests. So, these features, non-actuality, creative power creating a life, freedom, and mutability within an otherwise determined and determinate nature, cash out as transcendent spirituality. Even though this spirituality is separated from entanglements with grand scale divinity, and divinely dictated morality, law, guilt, and social order, the transcendence does not disappear.

Elemental Embodiment and Spirituality

In our spirituality we have: the subjective non-actualities of anticipation, aspiration, and evaluation, modelling futurity as an openness; a personal force of aspirational directionality, bearing, or ever-rebuilding orientation; the freedom of newness and incompleteness; empathic recognition of separate spiritual beings and a resulting sociability. We have the gusher of questions, curiosity, impulses to mark the environment and construct interconnections with others.

In the sociability of spirituality we have: empathy, recognition of the opportunity to multiply the openness of spirituality by co-operative bonding, community, conversation, the comfort of companionship and sharing.

In our experience of elemental embodiment we have: the personal identity of individual shape and placement; mobility, mobilization and shaping of other objects; gesturing, posturing and vocalizing, often in exchanges with other embodied spiritualities; ingestion, experience of kinaesthetic-metabolic energy depletion and restoration which models nature as a cost-shape of effortful and effective work.

Thinking Off-Grid: Leaving the Metaphysics of Social Pragmatism

What normally stands in the way of discovering this reality of spirituality in personal thinking operations is a certain culturally supplied roadmap of thinking, a trained orientation into social pragmatism, which effectively prevents us from questioning much of anything. Social pragmatism, into which every child is trained in school, is a roadmap of thinking, packaged in a judgment from crypto-metaphysics that you, as an individual, are incapable of thinking critically about the justifications or origins of social authority because you are flawed by unworthy intentions, and also low on nature’s food chain due to inherently limited competence. (“Who do you think you are?”) At the boundary of the socially pragmatic roadmap of thinking is the warning: “Here be Dragons”. The message is that questioning the framework of social authority is pure futility because there is no coherent alternative to arrangements as you find them, so that nothing can come of such thinking but an abyss of nihilism and despair. Part of social pragmatism is the assertion that “the good” is conferred entirely by the social arrangements of the status quo: you merit the amount of goods (including freedom) you win in competitions within the economic system, and so no good can come of thinking critically about the justifications of social and cultural authority. With that context, social pragmatism is not only a roadmap of thinking, but also a restricting conception of thinking itself as pragmatic logic, collecting data for solving the menu of problems intrinsic to the place you occupy on the economic food chain. However, from the initial condition of social pragmatism, there are experiences which occasion the discovery of the creative thinking involved with re-conceptualization, questioning fundamental assumptions, a kind of thinking more often identified as philosophical. A person goes from ordinary thinking within a socially pragmatic framework, designing and executing interventions into social actuality, to questioning the fundamental metaphysics of the framework itself. Somehow a line is crossed, the line formed by assumptions of not being competent to think and of belonging at a certain place on the hierarchical food chain. Somehow the metaphysics of inherent human flaw and inevitable cosmic chain becomes questionable and inoperative. This metaphysics of being flawed and chained is left behind and there is a crossing out into a condition of thinking which is not even supposed to be there, where the metaphysics of flaw and chain is completely absent, but where discovering creative freedom in the personal spirituality of thinking refutes entirely the prediction of nihilism and incoherence. The whole reality of spirituality and metaphysics is in this thinking. There is a fountain of good here, the spontaneous creation from within of curiosity, questioning, and inspiration, the gusher of impulses to shape the environment and construct interconnections with others.

Oddly then, the only way to truly or fully embrace spirituality is to recognize the strict and inescapable individuality of subjective embodiment. The non-particularity of the thinking self is the non-particularity of freedom. Spirituality is nothing other than freedom and freedom is actualized in gestures of the body.


Thinking as creative re-conceptualization was described in two previous postings:

97, July 19, 2016, What is Thinking?

98, August 17, 2016, Philosophy with a Whiff of Mysticism

Other relevant postings include:

32, May 17, 2012, Subjective Embodiment: Intelligence as a Particular

54, February 6, 2013, Freedom and Time

Some passages in the present posting were iterated in:

88, December 15, 2015, Philosophical Liberation: Sociability, Embodiment, Spirituality

89, January 9, 2016, Basics of a Liberation Philosophy

Copyright © 2016 Sandy MacDonald.