Is There Nothing But Matter?

There is something more” risks becoming about consumerism – if not consumerism of things then consumerism of experiences. Experience this, go there, do that -- as if life were about collecting special experiences, as if everything you did were part of a bucket list.

Kick the Bucket List

You might remember the 2007 film, “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman which further popularized the idea of having a list of things to do or places to go before dying – before "kicking the bucket." Dear friends, this is a bad idea. Don’t do it. Don’t make that list, and if you have one, throw it away. The measure of a life is not the length of the list of things done once, but the integrity of things done over and over, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, until they radiate with beauty and grow fresher with each repetition.

Too often have I myself said, and too often heard, “been there, done that” -- as if everything in the whole possible conceivable world was worth paying attention to once, at most, and never again. Go back to that place you have been and that thing you have done because last time you were there you didn’t stay. Go back to what you do know, but live as if you’ve forgotten. Touch that familiar cloth, and the electric jolt of mad implication: This is it. All of it. All of it right here.

There is nowhere to go except here. When Ecclesiastes says there is no new thing under the sun, it means that that's because all things are always new beneath this sun. So hanker not for the fresh and new but open your eyes to the wonder that is always before you.

Let us be a countercultural people, standing counter to the consumer culture exerting all its might to entice us to buy new experiences, a consumer culture that would sell water to a fish if it could, for we are as immersed in constantly shifting new experience as a fish in the ocean. Nothing could be more abundant than brand-new, fresh, never-before experience. Forget about making a list of the ones you want, and notice the amazing ones you have.

If religion is a way of living, an approach to life, the film “The Bucket List” is bad religion. For good religion in film, I would mention “Ground Hog Day.” Presented with the exact same circumstances every morning, Bill Murray makes each day different by how he responds to it. He learns at last to live in the moment and finds that when he does, his life becomes one of compassion and joy – right there in the same old small town, day after day. There's not anything more.

Nothing but Matter?

Is there something more than the world science describes? I know many of us feel it’s too reductive to say there is nothing but matter. Surely there is something more profound and mysterious than matter, mere lumps of stuff. Life has got to be more than just clods bumping into each other -- even in New York!

I understand. But have you looked at how profound and mysterious matter is? For one thing, matter actually is energy. How weird is that? Chairs, tables, my body, stones, lakes, this wide earth -- they are all congealed energy. Sounds like woo-woo spirituality, and maybe it is. It's also basic physics. Every gram of matter is 90 trillion joules of energy. One paper clip is the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. One five-pound bag of flour is the electrical energy that New York City's five boroughs plus Westchester consume in a year.

Consider that:
  • Everything with mass warps spacetime -- that warping is how gravity happens.
  • The faster you move through space the slower you move through time.
  • Observing a wave, without exerting any force or influence on it, merely observing it, makes it collapse into a particle.
  • You can determine the velocity of a particle, and you can determine the location of a particle, but not both because the very act of determining one renders the other indeterminate.
  • Right now you are spinning faster than the speed of sound; you're being bombarded by electromagnetic beams flying through your body, a hundred million signals are racing through your brain; and there’s a blueprint of your bones in every single cell of you.
  • Certain quantum phenomena defy causality.
  • Reality extends through 11 dimensions (maybe; maybe more) and, according to our current best guess, is made of superstrings.
  • Black holes, of which there are about 100 million in our galaxy, are surrounded by event horizons nothing inside of which can ever be seen or detected in any way by anyone outside of which.
  • Most of the matter in the universe is dark matter, which no one has ever seen or detected, but it's gotta be there (well, somewhere).
That's some deeply weird stuff! Far from being reductive, matter turns out to be expansive beyond our capacity to comprehend. For me, I’m seeing mystery and wonder in science, not beyond it.

And it seems to me that if I experience it, then it’s in my neurons, and my neurons are physical, and any force that influences physical things is a physical force because that’s what "physical force" means.

But I do agree that there’s something beyond science in this sense: there is the poetic.

T.S. Eliot says,
“I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”
Shakespeare says,
“life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour on the stage and then is heard no more.”
Walt Whitman says,
“I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”
Jacob Trapp says that worship
"is the window of the moment open to the sky of the eternal." (Singing the Living Tradition #441)
These are important claims. They express vital truth, but they are not claims for science to assess. So, yes, there is something more than science – in the sense that there are important ways of talking beyond scientific ways of talking. There are insights that are not scientific insights.

* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "Direct Experience of Transcending Mystery and Wonder"
Part 1: This Is It
Part 3: What To Transcend

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