Meditation 117: Popular Practical Metaphysics
Knowing my interest in practical metaphysics, a friend suggested I search Google for it. Much to my surprise, I saw many sites devoted to the subject. There are differences, however, between my ‘philosophical’ approach and the more ‘spiritual’ approaches I saw on the web. What these sites have in common is a faith or belief in metaphysical principles as absolute truths. Possessing these truths, it is said, has beneficial practical consequences for a person’s life.
What will the practitioner receive by taking in metaphysical principles and letting them transform her or his life? Many benefits are claimed. They will help you become a vegetarian, stop smoking and never suffer another cold. It also enables you to visualize and affirm outcomes that you desire. The idea is that by a kind of sympathetic quantum magic, the world will provide what you need for an abundant life if you can just want it in the right way.
On the internet, practical metaphysics is identified with spiritual practice and truth. Spiritual “truths” are, in fact, metaphysical assertions that go beyond logic or mere sense perception. The sites express a connection between practical metaphysics and a Divine Mind, God, Universal Spirit or Cosmic Consciousness. In this view, prayer or meditation is a kind of metaphysical work. The sort of things one learns are like those taught by Swedenborg, the great spirit-seer of old. We will learn about unseen powers and how to commune with them. We will attain unity with God or Universal Spirit, overcoming the otherness that haunts our embodied existence. We will learn to program our minds to make the most of our lives. Practical metaphysics teaches that there is a reality that goes far beyond the world we experience in daily life. We come to know this reality more through spiritual practices than abstract teachings. We are to intuit or directly experience metaphysical “truths”, but such experiences cannot be described in mere words.
Popular practical metaphysics falls into the category of “self-help” strategies that have a spiritual component. The claims of the web sites take advantage of the second and third principles of “philosophical” practical metaphysics, but deny the first. The first principle is that we cannot prove or disprove the truth of metaphysical claims either through empirical research or logical demonstration. The second and third are that we have to adopt some metaphysical beliefs and that some of these will have practical consequences for our lives. These consequences play out by shaping attitudes, patterns of feelings and kinds of actions. They influence everyday behavior. How they do so will depend upon the theory one adopts.
For example, one approach is to distinguish a Higher and a Lower Self, access the Higher Self, leave the Lower Self behind and attain enlightenment. Another approach is to leave the Self altogether, both Higher and Lower, as as distraction from the Pure Light. Taking one path or the other will lead in different directions and arrive in difference places, or, mystically speaking, in the same place. Still, it is a choice whether to take one path or wander aimlessly about in life. A metaphysical stance can come from within or without. It can be refused altogether, but even a refusal to play the metaphysical game is itself a metaphysical stance. Perhaps one of the things that makes the human species unique is precisely the insatiable human appetite for metaphysical ideas.
Popular practical metaphysics has a wide ranging idea of what constitutes metaphysics. It includes occult magical practices, parapsychology, hypnosis, quantum physics, psychic contact with spirits and sympathetic magic. We can learn to experience the spirit world and influence the Universal or Cosmic Mind. These are heady thoughts that do not directly contradict Pure Reason. (They are not logically impossible.) Nevertheless, Kant was right to restrict Pure Reason to the world of sense perception and causal reasoning. There is no check upon our ideas once we leave behind all thought of the empirical world. From my “philosophical” point of view, what we find on the web about ‘Practical Metaphysics’ are assertions that metaphysical claims are knowable. On my view, we can adopt such claims but are unable to prove their truth conclusively.
Implicit in popular practical metaphysics is the idea there that we can have knowledge of metaphysical truths and principles and that they can be taught. Most of the sites invite the reader to sign up for a course that will make all things clear. Therefore, in the background is the thought that some people have a privileged knowledge of metaphysical reality, and that this knowledge can be conveyed to others who lack it. Yet the web sites do not all agree about the constitution of Metaphysical Reality. It seems to go unnoticed that one metaphysical system may totally contradict another and that there is no common yardstick by which to measure both. The appeal to experience is also an interesting feature of popular practical metaphysics. It is needed because when I impart metaphysical truths to another, I have to admit that they cannot be known in ordinary ways. The proof has to be in the experience. Does your life improve? Does a metaphysical belief put your heart at rest? Is your soul in less pain? Does it give you comfort regarding a loved one’s death or peace in the middle of the night? Does it help you find meaning in your suffering, in your unhappy childhood, in your troublesome marriage, etc.? Does it make your illness or loneliness or blindness more bearable? Does it help you to have compassion for others? Does it give you the courage to withstand multiple failures, and keep trying? There is no doubting the power of belief, but the honest thing to say here is “Your money back if you are not fully satisfied.”