Okay, I’m getting more philosophical today than usual, but, hey, I’ll keep the prose understandable. Promise! After all, I’m an English major, not a Philosophy or Physics one. So, to quote our current President, here’s the deal. We Americans along with the rest of the Western World tend to think in opposing dualities: night vs. day, black vs. white, good vs. bad—what the French Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre referred to as Either/Or. But I guess the paired opposite of either/or is both/and, although the latter is harder to reach. Today as I write these words, Russia (I almost wrote “The Soviet Union”) has just invaded Ukraine. It’s easy for us to support one side, the Ukraine, versus the other, the invading bad guys. Praying for both sides is much more of a stretch. Still, it’s what Jesus called on his followers to do. But I digress...
My topic today is whether we live in a material- or a spirit-based universe. Materialists and some Atheists would argue that everything, from the smallest atom to the largest star are basically things. We humans like the hardest rocks are also mere objects with limited permanence. Rocks, to be sure, have longer “life” spans, but, as the song suggests, Gibraltar may tumble and the Rockies crumble. After all, “they’re only made of clay.” So, life itself is simply a higher level of thinginess, evolution having given us objects like plants, animals, and human beings that “live.” Spiritual people, meanwhile, will argue that everything is ultimately spirit, and that physical reality is an illusion. Hinduism and Buddhism tend to take this approach.
In the case of this disagreement, I think both/and is the better option. Quantum physics is helpful here with its Uncertainty Principle. The online Caltech Science Exchange explains the latter as follows: “Formulated by the German physicist and Nobel laureate Werner Heisenberg in 1927, the uncertainty principle states that we cannot know both the position and speed of a particle, such as a photon or electron, with perfect accuracy; the more we nail down the particle's position, the less we know about its speed and vice versa” (What Is the Uncertainty Principle? Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle Definition | Caltech Science Exchange). Put another way, as I learned back in freshman Physics, reality has the dual nature of both particle (i.e., thing) and wave (i.e., an emanation, or spirit). The uncertainty comes in because we can never pin down and thus identify a rapidly moving particle without denying its co-nature as a wave and vice-versa. Metaphorically, then, all life is both spirit and matter. As the saying goes, it’s either spirit having a material existence or matter having a spiritual one. Okay, if after all that you’re still uncertain, I’m sending you to the Principle’s [sic] office!