What exactly is metaphysics? If you are already a student or teacher of this philosophy, at first this introduction may be like “Cliff Notes” on Metaphysics, but your comments and contributions would be more than welcome below.
Metaphysics is not considered a science, but a branch of philosophy, tracing back to the works of Aristotle. His works were comprehensive and the title not his own, only later coined when his works were combined. In part, he studied the relationship between mind and matter and manifestation versus potential. At the time, natural sciences were a part of these philosophical works as well, later to branch off and evolve in the centuries that followed into the modern science as we know it today.
To put it a bit differently, the sciences became the study of how change occurs in the natural world based upon experimentation and observation. Metaphysics became the default for that which does not change but cannot be fully explained and a theoretical look into the nature of being and the nature of our thoughts, somewhat. Put another way, metaphysics is a logical explanation for how the universe behaves, yet which cannot be proven.
Once separated, science and metaphysics were viewed somewhat distinctly, yet the separation and the division between the two has been reuniting in the past century and they have always been interdependent to some degree. Metaphysics provides the theoretical and science sets out to prove or disprove what it can, in essence.
To explain what metaphysics is, it might be best to start out with that which separated from its philosophical origins; today, science has shifted into a harder look at many of the concepts once thought a bit “out there”. Einstein never did discount exploration of metaphysics of equal importance to scientific inquiry and was not alone.
What is Science?
The term science is derived from a Latin base word which translates to mean “knowledge”.
Prior to that, science was considered “natural philosophy”, although many of the works and explanations from ancient works were dusted off and reexamined as new rules for scientific study were proposed and adopted during the scientific revolution of the Renaissance period in Europe.
This scientific revolution was somewhat a reactionary development, as the Renaissance period followed the Middle Ages, when the population in Europe had been drastically reduced in the wake of three major disasters – famine, plague, and a mini ice-age.
Is it any wonder that a population struggling to reestablish itself would desperately seek knowledge and understanding of the universe for practical application?
It was not until the scientific revolution that humans began to cut a firm distinction between philosophy and science, during a period known (ironically) as “The Enlightenment”.
Science became our systematic way of framing our understanding of the physical world. The scientific method was introduced to classify this knowledge and increase it over time using theoretical explanations for phenomena that lent themselves to testable hypotheses. It was our human attempt to establish the rules of predictable behavior in matter, organisms, and societies.
What is the Scope
Modern science has three divisions – the nature sciences, social sciences and formal science. The offspring of these three divisions would encompass the applied sciences (medicine and engineering, for example).
- The natural sciences include chemistry, biology and physics.
- The social sciences study the behavior of individuals and societies in the divisions of economics, psychology and sociology.
- Formal sciences study mathematics, logic and theoretical computer science.
Extracting the laws from these three branches of science, merging them for functional use in practical applications, is what has fueled the sciences of medicine, engineering, aerospace, agriculture and so much more.
As our understanding and knowledge in the sciences has grown, so has the scope of the applications. What we are capable of accomplishing today, just compared to those capabilities 100 years ago, even 20 years ago, is sometimes overwhelming.
What is the Purpose of Applied Science?
While science developed out of a human desire to understand our universe and everything that changes within it, the application of this knowledge is a very human attempt to control the world we live in, for better or for worse.
In a remarkable way, from the primitive discovery of fire, use of our understanding of nature as a means to predict, control or use the environment has been a powerful driving force behind the further evolution of science and knowledge available to us today.
Unfortunately, as history demonstrates, some of our best applications of this knowledge have often led to our worst disasters or created new problems.
One need only to reflect upon the nuclear bombings of WWII and the capacity to destroy ourselves with nuclear warheads to see where the application of chemistry and physics may have gone wrong.
Understanding of sterile technique and the development of antibiotics most definitely improved longevity, yet the overuse of antibiotics led us to an era of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
We have a virus challenging our world population and are desperately seeking to contain it, yet know we are also taking risks by introducing medication regimens and vaccines to combat it as quickly as possible.
Who wants to give up their vehicle? What a wonderful invention and application of the sciences of chemical and mechanical engineering, yet one look at the dramatic improvement in air quality within one week of mandated lock-downs and it is difficult to ignore how much we are polluting our own environment in the desire to maintain the freedom of mobility that we possess.
Throw a pandemic in there and see how flimsy some of what we have come to rely upon as predictors of outcomes and our ability to control the environment really is.
In essence, we understand so much and yet really understand very little. If scientists are honest, and in general they are, we have continually adjusted our sails throughout history and must continue to do so as scientific knowledge continues to expand.
It may be the grandest irony of all that, in neglecting to seek to understand metaphysics along with evidence-based knowledge, we have set ourselves up for these and other crises by not understanding the natural laws of the Universe that cannot be studied as absolutes, but have been well known for centuries in the realms of metaphysics and spirituality.
Physics is the branch of natural sciences that studies the properties of matter, its behavior and movement in time and space and the energies and forces that act upon it, also seeking predictable explanations and rules of behavior.
Metaphysics really encompasses a unifying explanation for everything; that everything is connected and part of a whole, yet this is largely theoretical. Yet, ask any physicists if matter can attract or repel matter…the answer is yes based on empiric (or demonstrated) phenomena.
Metaphysics extends beyond physics, but also seeks to explore the very same thing, yet in many ways still beyond our understanding of the physical world. Metaphysics encompasses that which is not influenced by time and space, literally before, during and after the physics. It is also conceptually interested in just how our mind influences our reality.
When you search the term metaphysics, you will often find associated with it terms such as “the laws of attraction”, “karma”, “spirituality”, “duality”, “consciousness”, “yoga” and think of it as not so pertinent to the exact sciences, yet more and more, terms which once brought disdain to the scientific mind are inviting serious exploration.
Energetic transmission of information is emerging as a measurable truth; while a search of the term metaphysics would have once brought up more mystical interpretations, it is as common to see reference to “particle theory” and other very scientific relationships.
Metaphysics does attempt to find the first cause of all matter, in other words, the origin of matter and how it operates as a whole. The concept that all matter is interrelated and operates in Oneness…well…some could even surmise that metaphysics is an exploration into the nature of God.
As aspects of mysticism and metaphysics can become intertwined, teaching and seeking “enlightenment” and “a spiritual path” may seem to carry a non-scientific connotation, but truly may be the most important advancement of mankind in our current era as a means to make peace within ourselves, with our fellow man, communities and the world as a whole.
We have demonstrated our capacity to destroy ourselves, mother nature just might be responding in kind. Conversely, if we were able to better understand how our actions and thoughts influence the energy around us, we might be better equipped to make conscious choices as societies that are responses to our environments and not reactions or attempts to control it, per se.
As the development of the scientific method marked the Age of Enlightenment, it seems that in taking a divergent path from metaphysical philosophy, we were neglecting some of the laws of metaphysics that perhaps should be integrated into the applications of these sciences.
If the forces and energy contained within each living entity extend from within, between, and beyond us, then our responsibility is to foster understanding of the power of these metaphysical laws. Spiritual teachers are well aware of these energies which affect not only our internal well-being but the well-being of others, our communities, societies and ultimately impact our collective actions. It is by natural extension that our planet earth and our survival as a species depends upon sharing these laws as critically as we share knowledge obtained in a laboratory.
Perhaps it is our time to actively engage in the New Age of Enlightenment, merging metaphysical philosophy with natural philosophy (science) once again.