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The Dialogic Imperative
Jay B. Gaskill
I. OUR INNATE COMMITMENT TO THE INTEGRATION OF THOUGHT
Here’s the core idea. Metaphysics is our species’ pet project. For those of us who are persuaded that “We are here for a reason”, metaphysics is our “assigned” project.
Metaphysics is the task of putting it all together, finding the grand reality model that works. Set aside all that New Age mental and spiritual fuzziness for a moment. Metaphysics is not about candles and crystals. It is the Ultimate Knowledge Project. I believe that we humans have demonstrated over time that we are hell bent (or heaven bent) on using all we can know to successfully model all that is.
We call our really comprehensive reality models “metaphysical” because our species discovered long ago that not all that is can be seen, smelled or touched: An important part of reality is beyond physics.
We humans yearn to integrate the mundane and the sublime, to integrate the laboratory world (with its measurable weights, energies, qualities and properties) with the equally real world of meanings, beauties and portents. So we begin and propagate our Ultimate Knowledge Project by asking questions.
It started with the child’s first, “Why?”
We feel deeply called to acquire deep understanding of the world and our place in it. Why not? We humans arrived on scene as the carriers of meaning. We are the universe “come awake” and full of questions.
We are hard wired to find the deepest most coherent integration of all knowledge -- although most of us, most of the time don’t think of it in those terms. But this very quest drives us to explore our interactions with the material world and within our minds. This very quest drives scientists, explorers, poets, philosophers and theologians. We seek to knit together the world inside our heads with the outside world that can bite us, feed us, annoy us, scare us and enthrall us. Why do we seek this integration? We an endowed – or cursed, some would say - with an insatiable thirst, for answers, for explanations. We have been implanted with a built-in “Why?”
All of the deep and satisfying explanations involve discovered and rediscovered connections. We are willing to stay in the quest because keep finding new connections. We are driven to continue that quest, because we thirst for meaning, and because, on a deep level, we know that, somehow, some day we will find it.
That very confidence is sometimes shaken, but never extinguished. It is the faith that drives scientists who seek “the Theory of Everything” and the theologians who seek “the Maker of Everything”. All of their efforts rest on a single foundation: the conscious or unconscious a priori conviction that reality really is an integrated whole without arbitrary breaks and discontinuities. We may or may not be the product of an original sin, but we inherited the enduring belief that all things are deeply and mutually integrated and that we came into the universe equipped sufficient powers of reason to uncover that integration; that inheritance is our species’ original faith.
And it is a reasonable faith, because it is powerfully heuristic:[i] Without such a heuristic faith, we would lack sufficient confidence in our own cognitive powers, and we would more readily abandon the long quest towards the ‘great attractor”, the goal towards which those cognitive powers are leading us. So our project demands faith-as-fuel: the core belief that we will discover the hidden connections, correlations and unities of all reality powered the scientific revolution of the 18th century and it continues.
The scientific mind and the spiritual mind share that same faith.
When we take the intuition of ultimate integration seriously, we are no longer willing to sharply bifurcate our methods of acquiring and evaluating knowledge, as some thinkers have attempted to do. The ancient, now mostly discredited “idealists” (using the term in its technical, philosophical sense), believed that all knowledge is “in our heads”. The latter-day arch “materialists” (again using the term in its technical sense) advocate (though, most secretly don’t really believe) that all knowledge is discovered by testing the material world, that there is nothing more to “life, the universe and everything” than matter, energy and the patterns that they tend to take in space-time.
The lowly possum has a bifurcated brain, one in which the huge bandwidth connections between left and right hemispheres (that we smart humans take for granted) are missing. You can show something to a possum’s left side without the right side “knowing” anything about it.
The artificial bifurcation between the material and spiritual, between the real of the measurable physical and that of un-measurable meaning is a mental disability. It is as if we humans had decided to emulate the lowly possum. This dualistic fracture is particularly disabling in our ‘assigned” project (using all we can know to model all that is). To go forward, we no longer dissociate epistemology (about the art of discovering reality) and metaphysics (about the grand reality picture we seek). Instead, we need to pursue a mutually correcting dialogue between the two. We continue to build, test and refine our comprehensive world picture. We allow our philosophy of knowledge to be informed by that larger world view and empowered by the faith of ultimate integration that drives it.
Yes our goal is audacious: We seek to understand all reality, physical and non-physical, on the deepest and most comprehensive scale possible. Of course we do metaphysics. Of course the ‘big picture’ embraces meaning, value and spirit as well as waveforms, quanta and matter/energy. But an incomplete city still in the process of rising up is better than an empty desert.
Living organisms emerged on this
world roughly half a billion years ago.
The dinosaurs were forced to yield to the mammals about 66 million years
ago. Tool making, erect proto-humans
stepped on stage within the last million years.
Recognizably human creatures, gifted with the power of love, speech and
the beginnings of social cooperation, arrived roughly 100,000 years ago. Stable pre-literate civilizations were
functioning 10,000 years ago. In just the
last 3,000 years, our species has made immense progress in the quest to understand
deep reality. The first major breakthroughs were recorded in the little city of
We owe this to the powers of reason, our capacity for creative innovation, to our ability to preserve the memories and discourses of those who came before us and our powerful thinking tools multiplied ten thousand fold due to the amplification effects of civilization, literacy, institutional memory and information technology. Collectively these are discoveries that amounts to a virtual heuristic engine...and it drives ever more powerfully our ongoing dialogic with each other and nature.
Along the path we’ve been aided by the principle of parsimony of explanation, Occam’s razor, that posits that the simplest, most elegant theory or explanation that fits all the facts is more likely to be true than the untidy, over complicated ones.[iii]. In the last two centuries or so we humans have added one element to Occam’s razor, and produced a new heuristic principle, something that has succeeded brilliantly in illuminating the Nature of Reality and the Reality within Nature.
All other things being equal, the simplest, coherent explanation of the greatest integrative explanatory power is more likely to be true or valid. This is a powerful heuristic principle, and it can still force some of our most fundamental questions to yield up their secrets.
Consider the problem of our time-sensitive mortality vs. the time insensitive durability of the underlying order of things. Can conscious being exist apart from our own space-time bound versions of it? Our inner sense, carried deep within the architecture of our consciousness, tells us yes, that somehow conscious lasts outside our space-time bound versions. This insight has persisted despite the spell cast by the arch-materialists (increasingly discredited) who told us not to trust that inner sense or anything else that can’t be measured in a laboratory.
As we recover from that arch-materialist spell, we know intellectually that the extant order manifest within nature is real, that latent form and design is real even before it emerges into the world, and that the deep order mirrored within our “mind space” captures a reality resident outside of “material” space and time.
Yet we fear death.
This is a deeply plausible fear, partly because we are wired that way, and partly because our individual conscious world lines are fragile. We may grasp that our separate conscious experiences somehow represent the “localization” of a general, timeless conscious “beingness”, much as last night’s sunset was an instance of some archetypal experience. But our life stories are precious, finite tales with a beginning, middle, and end.
We stubbornly fear that we are alone and will be at the end. It is our primordial fear. It continues to warn our species never to give up on our eternal dialogue with reality or to surrender the faith that all is connected, all is part of an integrated whole.
II. OUR INGRAINED ALIGNMENTS
I submit that our most fundamental dialogue, the one we’ve been engaged in for more than 2,600 years, is profoundly shaped by a deep alignment of our basic motivations, one shared by all intelligent, living creatures. I see this as a modern clarification, of something that has always formed the underlying fundamental schema of human moral normative assumptions, however dimly or superficially they were recognized as such in earlier times.
As we humans emerged from the raw state of nature, the underlying alignment of our basic motivations became increasingly visible to us.
Given a sufficiently deep introspection, that alignment resolves into the first three affirmations of all living conscious beings who have acquired a critical level of self and situation consciousness. They are explicit or implicit in all our discourse about what “ought” to be:
(1) THE AFFIRMATION OF LIFE (especially our own life, then human life, and life generally);
(2) THE AFFIRMATION OF CONSCIOUS INTELLIGENCE – our own, that of our fellow humans and in general;
(3) THE AFFIRMATION OF CREATION (both in nature and as a specifically human endeavor).
These three affirmations form a correlated triad, in that no element is separable from the rest, and each separately exists only in a context framed by the other two. They are the universals that shape the context for our particular affirmations and injunctions (as in “Do not murder!” or “Do not lie!).
A breach in the integration of these affirmations or the overt denial of any of these affirmations is the beginning of True Evil. For example, using this moral framework, we might encounter someone who exalts all “natural” life as an absolute value, as against the “artificial” life-actions of humans. Bacteria can be seen as “Gaia’s revenge” and humanity demonized as an “echophage”[iv] - a world-infecting pathology to be eliminated. This malevolent view represents a profound breach of the integration of the three axes of moral affirmation, one in which mindless, non-creative life is exalted over conscious, rational, creative life (in the form of individuals living together in a state of civilization). In a different, but related example, we might imagine one of those science fiction nightmares, a technological creativity run amok, disconnected from the affirmation of life and humanity, the Frankenstein’s monster that turns on the human species.
These three integrated meta-values scan be sees as forming the three dimensions of “value space”, the three-in-one “normative architecture” of conscious choice. They are the three axes along which all our species’ conscious decisions can be mapped. They can only temporarily be ignored. For convenience, I’ll sometimes refer to this triad of core values as the V3 (love of life, reason and creation)
III. OUR ONGOING DIALOGUE
The human condition is driven by an overall Dialogic Imperative. Let me unpack this notion a bit. I’m using the term, dialogic, to describe something more fundamental than, say, our ongoing political discourse or marital conversations about “issues”. But I don’t want to get into something as systematically grandiose as Hegel’s “dialectic”[v] either. This about the way we acquire and refine our core knowledge base. Think of it as signal and response, or a question followed by an answer that includes more questions. A scientific experiment is part of a dialogic with nature, a structured question that requires nature to respond. Our personal discoveries of other souls (anthropologists describe this more clinically as the capacity to detect other minds) are done via a dialogic in which we are innately equipped (hint: Empathy is a cognitive faculty essential to our humanness) to “detect” and understand the inner life of other persons. Indeed the miracle of civilization depends on our ability to detect that they ARE persons and to adapt our dialogue and interactions with them accordingly. Our autistic brothers and sisters have “wiring issues” that make this particularly difficult for them. Scientific materialists who tend to reduce mind (read soul here) to brain (read matter/energy here) have taken autism to a new level.
By identifying the class of “I to “I” dialogues, I’, referring to those dialogic situations in which we humans are in a heuristic exchange of information and meaning with others (living or once living) who are capable (or by virtue of their artistic, spiritual or intellectual legacy) were capable of the same exchange. Sometimes the other side of an I2I dialogue is nominally silent.
Here are the three most significant “I-2-I” dialogues:
III. (a) The Related Practical Imperatives.
Once we members of Tribe Homo Sapiens advanced sufficiently in the Darwinian struggle for planetary dominance to achieve a measure of security from fear (one of the perks for the eco-system’s supreme predator is that the other predators run from us, not the converse), three “new” imperatives began to emerge in our lives.
In the value context of the triad, they are seen as necessities, hence the term imperative:
(1) The scientific imperative, the dialogic impulse to query all Nature, is the developed, systematic form of our species’ food-threat dialogic.
(2) The civilization imperative is our dialogue with civilization and its tenders, especially when civilization is recognized as our primary social technology, the preservation of which is necessary to maintain the working venue for social exchange, the human-to-human dialogue, and without which our individual lives would indeed be ‘nasty, brutish and short”.
(3) The creation imperative is the latest dialogic, representing the creative person’s dialogue with inspiration and with the larger community, a dialogic that yields inspiration, revelation and innovation.
Naturally, all of our species affirmations and dialogues are deeply entangled with each other.
III. (b) Consciousness as OUR Link Between Realms
Here is my core insight: Biological, space-time consciousness (i.e., our minds/souls) represent a bridge state or living interface between the physical/material and non-physical/ethereal realms. I think of us as ontological amphibians. Each individual conscious being, including the “mind space” that you or I “live in”, overlaps the physical space occupied by our material bodies and brains. In this way, our conscious mind/brains are like frogs in a pond, partly submerged in the ‘wet” physical “stuff”, yet partly emerged into the “airy” ethereal realm. But when our bodily support systems fail for the last time, we (that is the unique coherent living patterns that define our person-ness or our selfness, if you will), can no longer be located. At the moment of death, we longer occupy either the wet or the airy realms. Yet both realms go on.
This takes on theological implications once we reflect on the prospect that the non physical realm contains the archetype of conscious being itself, the meta-design which is also meta-designer.
III (c) Enter the Numinous
The internal evidence of our own conscious states necessarily includes our discovery of the “numinous”[vii] level of experience, whose ontological status is self validating. When we take the Integration Principle seriously (that all reality, physical and non-physical, including the contents and essence of conscious being, are part of one fully integrated reality) we are justified in concluding that the numinous level of experience represents the apprehension of a numinous level of reality. This reality need not be named, though it is often seen as the presence of God or Ultimate Being or Ultimate Self. Many mystics adhere to the tradition that no name can capture this Reality without distortion. Whether the Presence is named or not, the insight that the human relationship with Ultimate Being is a dialogue is a central one. The overall dialogic I am describing is not just a spiritual nexus, but one that takes the form of scientific inquiry, creative activity, or humanitarian engagement, support for these things, or any combination. All of these activities are potentially holy.
III. (d) Human Creative Exploration as a Dialogic
All science, art, ethics and spirituality can be understood as products of the Dialogic Imperative. I note here (but develop separately) a powerful, emerging normative model, the ideal of the Creative Civilization, in which the civilized order explicitly and effectively protects and nurtures the conditions for human creative activities. These conditions include zones of safety from predation and zones of protected freedom where creative activities are kept safe even from internal oppression.
Before the “modern” era, creative civilizations appeared in history as special nodes within a larger civilization. One thinks of the ancient city states like the Athens of 600-200 BCE and of Renaissance Florence under the protection of the Medici family. The modern efflorescence of scientific inquiry and exploration are all part of the human creative endeavor, broadly construed.
Some civilizations are doing a far better job in nurturing and protecting human creative activities with their respective boundaries. None, to date, have self consciously organized to perform this function. The advent of large scale, self consciously creation-engendering civilizations will be a signal event in our species development. Finally, the “liberty-friendly” civilizations will confidently answer the question, “Freedom for what?” This is a favorite topic of mine. A couple of articles are posed:
We will also find that each dialogue is an aspect of the human moral response to the extent that it represents a step toward the integration of life with “Value space”. This can be understood as the contextual matrix formed by the V3, the three axes of affirmation (life affirmation, the promotion of conscious intelligence and the reverence for creation); these axes form the ordinal contours of the realm within which all moral dialogic processes can be mapped.
IV. MORAL PRECEPTS AND THEIR ATTENDANT VIRTUES
Each of the “I-2-I” dialogues can be correlated to a corresponding set of virtues.
All virtues (and the contrary anti-virtue inclinations) naturally emerge from the “real world” interface that is constantly presented to each conscious, living being. This is a result of the defining property of the “real world” (we might call it event space to distinguish it from mind space): Exchange processes pervade Nature. Because exchange processes permeate the domain of event space, exchange relationships form the architectural framework of all being-in-the-world.
But the rules of “real world” exchange relationships often seem ruthless and heartless. Something for something seems always to trump something for nothing. Every action provokes a reaction of equal strength because, in the end, nature’s books must balance.
But the real trump card of exchange in the “real world” is creation. We living, conscious beings are the innovation that promotes innovation. As long as creation processes (of which we are the principal exemplars) remain aligned with the V3, there remains the prospect that life will trump all of its opponents in nature. I suspect this idea was captured in the Biblical image that light overcomes darkness.
Moral precepts are the maxims of application that are employed by moral agents. These are the morally aware persons who understand that “event space” and “value space” (home of the V3) always intersect and overlap with each other. Moral agents are those who employ that understanding to guide their decisions.
Moral precepts sort into three groups:
All virtues flow from their generating values and affirmations. These consist of the dialogic imperatives, the V3 and the Integration Principle. Virtues are intensified exemplars of moral agents whose lives are well aligned with the V3. Put another way, virtues are incarnated moral precepts. Consider these examples:
(1) The virtue of integrity flows directly from the integrating principle.
(2) The virtues of prudence and forbearance are empirically derived value-enhancing strategies based primarily on risk assessment.
(3) The virtues of courage and loyalty are value-enhancing character traits (that potentially can be enlisted in the service of the non-moral). When these virtues are enlisted in the service of moral action, they sometimes can conflict with prudence and forbearance.
These virtues are correlated to the V3, either: (a) as directly implied; (b) as value enhancing character traits; (c) or as strategies.
Conflicts among virtues are common to the human condition. They are resolvable by mutual optimization adjustments among reasonable moral agents (i.e., those willing to accept realistic optimization). These are the reasonable minds, the morally aware people willing to engage in a “messy” world, but are committed to veracity and to acting within the moral context framed by V3.
IV. (a) Evil Intrudes
Actors with an evil orientation (evil defined here as those who are purposefully opposed to the V3 and their integration) have placed themselves outside this dialogue. For these predators, discussion is just another prey opportunity. This is why veracity is a prime virtue for all who would be moral agents in the world.
Let me expand briefly on the topic of Evil, one I’ve addressed elsewhere in more detail. I’ve just defined evil as the action of a purposeful agent, an active, intelligent agency that opposes the V3 and/or their mutual integration.
For example, to enlist creative innovation against the interests of life and conscious intelligence (as the Nazi’s did with medical technology in the death camps) is evil. Those who indiscriminately promote all life forms as “equal” and act against conscious, intelligent life (think of cultists for whom microbes and rats are somehow equal to human babies) represent another evil mindset. And so on.
In my earlier career, I interviewed and represented thousands of criminals. They were on the whole a sorry lot, but they were ordinary people for whom the natural good in almost all of us was strongly overbalanced by moral failure and grossly narcissistic thinking. True evil (in the narrow but highly dangerous sense used here) was startling to encounter, but thankfully it was extremely rare among the criminal subpopulation.
V. THE “GREAT ATTRACTOR” TO WHICH OUR DIALOGUE POINTS
The atheist philosopher, Daniel Dennett has famously attempted to ‘explain” consciousness. It was a failure because true explanation eludes the “right-brained possums” among us. Maybe that’s a cruel metaphor, but it was drawn from my integration-of-thinking discussion. Consciousness cannot be “explained” – let alone accurately described - without taking into account its amphibian nature.
Our state of conscious being is at once a biological faculty, and much more than that. As I indicated earlier, I have come to the view/insight that consciousness is the interface or bridge state between what we call the physical realm and that of the non physical: that consciousness co-inhabits the domains of event space and of the ethereal realm we might call form space. In this way, our “Mind Space” enjoys a dual ontology. Within the physical realm, biological conscious being is an emergent property of certain high level biological organization. Within the non-physical realm it represents the multi-localization along various time-space world lines of the universal archetype of conscious being of extraordinary power. We represent an incomplete expression within that space-time world line of archetypal being many of us are comfortable calling the Creator. Our brain-minds are ontological amphibians, made ‘in the image” of the original Being.
V. (a) Yes, Evolution Reveals Direction.
Any observer from a sufficient remove can detect an apparent directionality in physical/biological evolution (from “Big Bang to Big Civilization”). This apparent progressive directionality always shows over itself sufficiently large time frames, measured by the evolved sense of purpose and value that accompanies biological consciousness. Such a “boot strap” measurement is allowed because consciousness is self referential, and represents the emergence, in the universe, of value and a normative reference frame. The progressive evolution vector originates in the non-physical realm and plays out in the physical one because the most supremely adaptive biological designs are conscious ones.
Biological consciousness is an emergent venue of purpose and value that links the non-physical realm of Form Space to the physical realm of Event Space. Its appearance in the universe opens the possibility of a dialogic relationship between the realms. Think of a reciprocal exchange relationship: Local Consciousness appears as an emergent being-state within the physical realm endowed with uniquely intensified creative power -- the design that is also a designer. Local consciousness operates by integrating the form-nature of both aspects of reality and thereby introduces novel form and design into Event Space. Non-local Consciousness represents the pre-emergent meta-being-state within the non-physical realm that converges as distributed nodes of Local Consciousness in Event Space. Non-local consciousness remains in relationship with the physical realm as a whole and with local, individual conscious being in particular.
V. (b) My Personal Conclusions
The theological or philosophical implications of all this depend on whether you are inclined to see non-local being (the design of our being vs. the designer of our being) as a non-living archetype, as a remote detached being, or as a present, involved being.
Within theology, the “Deist” perspective recognizes this archetype of being as Supreme Being, seen as the Ultimate Architect, if you will, but locates “The World” as a separate, created realm, rolling forward without further divine involvement, except as implicit in that First Push.
In the “Theist” perspective (with which I am personally comfortable) deity is alive and present in Creation. Of course, theists differ as to the nature of the creation (as whether it is finished or ongoing) and on the nature of divine involvement.
One of my favorite writers is the physicist, turned Anglican priest, the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, who wrote, “As embodied beings, humans may be expected to act both energetically and informationally. As pure Spirit, God might be expected to act solely through information input. One could summarize the novel aspect of this proposal by saying that it advocates the idea of a top down causality through “active information.” Belief in God in an Age of Science, “Does God Act in the Physical World?” by John Polkinghorne (Yale 1998) at p 63
I personally accept as true that local space time consciousness (i.e., you and me, I and thou) and its non-physical meta-form (i.e., G-d, Creator, Ultimate Being) are in relationship. This has immediately taken me to a broadened scientific perspective that opens to include the spiritual one. I am no longer persuaded by a strict parsimony of belief stance that requires me to ignore, marginalize of deny the evidence presented within my own mind or to ignore or marginalize the numinous field reports of others. I accept that our experience of the numinous is not just something both relevant and real, but the apprehension of the very presence of ultimate being.
Human life is, at its very best, in dialogue with Universal Being in the very largest sense, (whether seen as an interactive relationship with deity, with universal “beingness,” with the vital archetype of being, or with the unnamed “other”).
In my personal world view, this
is the dialogue into which all of us are called because we are individual
mortal conscious beings. Science,
ethics, and esthetics are mutually integrated because they are essential
aspects of our dialogue with that being, the Creator whose nature is ultimate
integration. This sense animated the
work of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.
The tendency to generate novelty, the “creation tendency” that suffuses
the physical universe can be seen as the divine impulse within space-time. This is the insight that might have reassured
The love of deity (or loving connection with the center of all being and creation, if you will) is the enlarged love of self. But is is love of “self” as an actualized universal that gives our participation in ongoing creation an independent moral significance.
Internalized, this universal alignment transforms the dialogic imperative into the creation imperative, the highest expression of the life impulse, and the Great Attractor towards which the Architect of the Universe, the loving G-d has pointed all human life.
[i] Heuristic is one of my favorite words these days. A Greek borrowing, its modern usage describes cognitive systems – including human constructed algorithms – capable of learning from experience. Come to think about it, the “faith” embedded in an algorithm consists in the hard wired (or soft wired, if you prefer) directive, “seek, learn and adapt” which necessarily assumes there is something for the seeker to learn. I am persuaded that the notion of heuristic faith was prefigured in the biblical injunction, “Seek and you will find” (Mat 7:7-8), which is probably a Christian Midrash on the Torah passage (Deut. ), “Then you will begin to seek God your Lord, and if you pursue Him ... you will eventually find Him”.
[iii] Occam’s razor, or the principle of parsimony of explanation, is attributed to the 14th century Franciscan friar, William of Oakham. Isaac Newton adapted it in the 17th &18th centuries: “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances”. The classic example is the Ptolemaic model of the skies, in which stars and planets were attached to rotating spheres, the movements of which could be tracked closely by an overly complicated system of ‘epicycles’. Deeper and simpler explanations followed, first by Copernicus and Galileo, then by modern astronomers.
[iv]Echophage! Gaia’s Revenge! Oh how I wish these terms were just some sick joke, but they have surfaced among the intellectuals of the environmental community. Oh how much dark mischief may follow!
[v] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel? Don’t get me started. His conception of the dialectic process, where thesis generates antithesis leading to synthesis which becomes a new thesis, was a brilliant insight into our core cognitive “wiring”, but (as his degraded follower Karl Marx so catastrophically demonstrated in the “real world”), practical events don’t neatly follow philosophical theory.
[vi] Martin Buber was arguably the most
famous Jewish religious philosopher of the 20th century. His
masterwork, “I and Thou” (Ich and du), published in 1923, first reached the English
speaking world a 1937 translation. In Buber’s view, all our person-to-person relationships are
either “I to Thou” or “I to it”. But
only our meaningful relationships confer the status of “I” to ourselves, and
this can happen only when we confer the status of “Thou” to the other
person. Buber was a relational theist
(my term). For him, G-d is the
omnipresent (though not always noticed) Thou.
As he put it, “The extended lines of [our meaningful] relations meet in
the eternal Thou. Every particular Thou
is a glimpse though to the eternal Thou....” (“I and Thou”, Scribners,
[vii] Numinous is another favorite term, one I first encountered when reading Karen Armstrong’s, A History of God. The various definitions converge in describing an apprehension of something ineffable, with great sublimity, beauty, an encounter freighted with spiritual implications and even a Presence. Our atheist friends might describe it somewhat dismissively as a mere esthetic state, like Carl Sagan’s rapture when contemplating the earth as a Pale Blue Dot in space. But Sagan’s experience was unmistakably spiritual. It comes down to this: Does the numinous experience evidence a numinous reality? Thousands of saints and mystics have reported the latter. I find it hardly coincidental, (nor particularly surprising), that the many recorded accounts of human encounters with the numinous level of experience over the last five millennia (from Moses, the Buddha, the Hasadim, the Christ, the saints, seers, shamans, mystics, artists, musicians, and scientists, the skeptics during unguarded moments, the ordinary people in their “mountaintop experiences”, and most children during their thoughtful innocence) are deeply consistent with the insights that describe two overlapping realms of reality, the material world of space-time events and an eternal realm suffused with meaning and value. Can we dismiss this body of evidence as “unscientific?” Can we ignore the data, disregard the consistent, repeating nature of the human numinous experience, or marginalize the wisdom of five millennia? We can at our peril. I submit that we need to accept this large body of information for what it is: the witnessed accounts of the contact by intelligent conscious beings with a transcendent reality level revealed directly to cognition. The seminal and life-changing experience of contact with the numinous level of reality is primary evidence of the existence and relevance of a supreme Presence who is resident in both realms.
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