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I believe there are two primary concepts of “nature” that exist, the first being the incomplete conception of it that resides imperfectly in our limited minds, and the other—the metaphysical “nature” of ultimate and unknowable reality that philosophers once called the “thing in itself”—the “nature” that supersedes science, mathematics, reason, and experience. The essence of this omniscient “nature” has, in the past, been insufficiently defined by philosophers using words such as “being” or “will.” Therefore, I argue in “The Gospel of Dan,” first and foremost, for humility. Either of these concepts of “nature” leaves us awash in ignorance.

Science, especially physics and mathematics, continues to explore the first concept of “nature” as observable and measurable phenomena, presuming, in most if not all cases, that its theories approach, asymptotically through paradigms, the physical reality of that part of nature under investigation. Modern science ignores metaphysical “nature” as conveyed by the familiar quote of physicist Richard Feynman: “I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.” When and if imagination enters this objective side of “nature,” it is subject to testing by experimental reality and, when accepted, it is often called inspiration; and when rejected, it is often called “ongoing research.” Humility, in any event, is built into the scientific process.

Metaphysical “nature,” on the other hand, if it exists, is by definition beyond the reach of science. This does not mean that speculation about metaphysics should ever contradict science, but there is an implication that the power of imagination that leads to metaphysical speculations and conclusions, especially concerning spiritual truths, is not subject to experimental test. We can expect, therefore, a huge diversity of spiritual speculations about the ultimate and unknowable reality of metaphysical “nature.” Often these spiritual speculations are based on revelations of “inspired scriptures” received by particular individuals; when these beliefs are generally accepted by a culture, major religions may appear with specific dogmas. Unfortunately, because of the diversity of beliefs beyond the reach of testing by rigorous experiment, religious conflict can be deadly and extreme, primarily because often it is held that eternal existence is at stake in the mind of believers unless their spiritual beliefs triumph. Humility, in this case, exists when one’s faith is held simultaneously with one’s doubt; and when doubt is absent it is common for a believer to fall into a dangerous fanaticism. Proper use of imagination in a spiritual sense must result in enough doubt to avoid violence or antagonism against others. Secular government of a liberal persuasion is the primary modern means to hold all of these diverse beliefs together towards a positive result that we can normally call “the common good.” Unfortunately, such government can become its own perverse end when it demands the allegiance normally given to the spiritual side of life, or when it rejects and disallows such spiritual allegiance outright in public life.

Given the above discussion, and now returning to the original topic: “Nature and Imagination: Can They Ever Be the Same?”

Is it possible that imagination could result in the testable hypothesis: “Other Interest is Self Interest?” For example, in the limit, what could be the observable yet improbable source of an empathy that results in someone sacrificing his or her life for another? Can we imagine, subject to empirical testing, that such empathy, if not the expression of insanity, results from a total identification of oneself with another, to the extent that the extension of another’s life is identical with our own continued existence? And, if so, can we imagine further that this is possibly tapping into the ultimate reality of the unknowable, indescribable, and omniscient “Nature” of metaphysics? And can this hypothesis not be empirically tested by seeing the effects of performing “Other Interest is Self Interest” in our own experience and in the experience of others? Once again, humility is called for in this approach, and one treads both cautiously and meticulously into metaphysical spirituality.

Finally, is this not the essence of virtue?—that we sacrifice ourselves with no thought of any reward, now or in any other life, other than the welfare of another? Is this not the essence of motherhood? Empathy, empirically, only makes sense, I believe, if our own self-interest is involved, and this can be the case only if we and the other are, in fact, in some existential and indescribable way, one with ultimate reality.

In this way, an empirically testable way, a way that leads to true virtue and to ultimate meaning for ourselves in the universe—at least to the limit of our understanding of it— “Nature and Imagination Are the Same!”