The most basic definition of metaphysics is the “branch of speculation which deals with the first causes of things.” The word is derived from the Greek word, metaphysica, which itself is a derivative of ta meta ta physika (the works after the Physics). Such a definition is too simplistic for the work at hand, namely, the question (best parsed by Heidegger), “why are there beings at all instead of nothing?” It is a question that has plagued mankind since he first looked to the stars. Searching for his role in the world has been the raison d'etre of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, and has been the driving force, the libido, behind religion, science, theosophy, and any other form of speculative endeavour (whether practical or theoretical, applied, or contemplative) upon which mankind has embarked.
What makes this definition unfit? Or, rather, why is it too simplistic? The masses of humanity, as an aggregate of men, donkeys, and dogs, form a compound unity which is unable to accept the exoteric. The questioning nature demands an esoteric meaning to life. Exotericism lost all relevance when mankind lost his innocence. The point at which the species ceased to follow the existential life of beasts, the fall from Eden, is the point at which the composition of man's inner self mutated to a thing which innately longs for the esoteric. No longer satisfied to live his time and go quietly into the tranquil sea of death, mankind opens the gate to eternity via his newly found speculation.
Instead of remaining with the “dictionary definition,” as it were, let us instead turn to two sources from which two diverging, yet identical definitions may me drawn: Archie Baum, whose work, Metaphysics an Introduction shall provide us with a broad overview of the discipline; and Aristotle, whose Metaphysics shall open the doors to the classical model which underlies all modern metaphysical enquiry.
Baum's initial premise regarding metaphysics is that it consists of “an inquiry into existence” (Baum, pg 6). While this initially mirrors our “dictionary definition,” Baum sees fit to elucidate, stating, “metaphysics becomes an inquiry into the nature of existence” (ibid). The concentric rings expand from there: “Thus metaphysics tends to become an inquiry into the universal characteristics of existence” (ibid). It is this outermost ring that illuminates the foundation of mankind's wonder. Is there a universal characteristic of existence? Is there one source of all, or are there many sources? By what right or virtue does existence exist? Though the earliest tribal religions seem primitive to modern man, they mark the first attempt to systematize the reason for existence.
Archie Baum does offer his reader one caution – that he avoid confusing metaphysics with ontology or cosmology. Ontology, the study of being, may only be considered synonymous with metaphysics insofar as one equates being with existence. The error with carrying this postulation too far is that it does not allow for the disassociation of being with its attributes, and thus removes the ability to speculate on the (necessary) archetypes of being from which existence is copied. Cosmology, on the other hand, does not create this problem when it is (erroneously) used as a sobriquet for metaphysics. The difficulty presented with the confusion of Cosmology with metaphysics is directly related to the limited scope of Cosmological discourse. As the “science of the structure of the universe” (Baum, pg 16), Cosmology may only purport to hold some of the answers: the “how” of the universe. It can never answer the “why,” to which metaphysics aspires.
Aristotle, however, opts to open his treatise on metaphysics in a manner different from Baum. Whereas Baum leaps directly into the query, Aristotle prefers the approach of preface: “All men by nature desire to know” (Barnes, pg 1552). After lauding the senses, and their refinement in man (including the “sense” which is the faculty of reason), he states that which is obvious, namely that “they do not tell us the 'why' of anything – e.g. why fire is hot; they only say that it is hot. This knowledge, Aristotle argues, must be gained within the context of cause, especially that of original (first) cause. In this manner he equates the “why” with the initial cause, thus (to answer Heidegger's question), the “why” of “being instead of nothing” is the first cause (the “One” of the Neoplatonists and Pythagoreans).
Again, unlike Baum (who prefers to address categories and questions), Aristotle simply calls to mind those who have gone before him, as well as those contemporary with him. The Pythagoreans are of interest to Aristotle, with their mathematical approach to the “why.” Of interest to the modern reader should be the Pythagorean view that the number ten was an indication of perfection, as this view appears again in the Kabbalah (the concept of ten sefirot, or emanations from God), and thus influencing the Western Mystery Tradition, which shall be revisited later in this work. Having discussed the Pythagoreans, Aristotle then addresses Plato, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Eudoxus, and others – referring again to Plato (this time by arguing from Phaedo).
Let us not assume, however, that Baum and Aristotle differ to a great degree. While their approach is different, Aristotle's influence as one of the first and greatest philosophers is evident in Baum's work. Metaphysics an Introduction cleanly divides the subject at hand (in true Aristotelean fashion) into neat categories and sub-categories: Process (things, differences, change, etc), Causation (cause, effect, etc), and Dialectic.
“What is the relevance of this today?” one might ask, and with good reason. “Doesn't science answer all our questions?” In the face of scientific achievement, the purpose of what appears to be pre-Enlightenment attempts to grasp a scientific understanding of the universe is somewhat lost. However, if one were to take a deeper look at metaphysics and the world around him, the relevance of such a science becomes painfully clear.
“A spark of impenetrable darkness flashed within the concealed of the concealed, from the head of infinity... Deep within that spark gushed a flow, splaying colors below, concealed within the mystery of Ein Sof [Without Limit]. It split and did not split its aura, was not known at all until under the impact of splitting, a single, concealed, supernal point shone. Beyond that point, nothing is known, so it is called Reshit, Beginning, first command of all... With this beginning, the unknown concealed one created the place. This place is called Elohim, God. The secret is: Berashit bara Elohim, With beginning __ created God (Genesis 1:1)” (Zohar, 1:15a).
This rather poetic and esoteric understanding of the creation account in Genesis is taken from Sefer haZohar (Book of Splendour – commonly referred to as “the Zohar”), a mystical commentary on the Torah, which is part of the corpus of Jewish metaphysical enquiry known as the Kabbalah. An aggregate of oral traditions, the Zohar, penned in the 14th century, provides quite the description of modern, scientific cosmology. The Big Bang and String Theories suggest a quantum event – a singularity – sparked out of the pre-existent void gave birth to our universe.
This is not the only instance of past Kabbalistic speculation offering precognition of modern science. Earlier, it was mentioned that the Pythagoreans considered ten the perfect number. The Sefer Yetsirah (Book of Formation) takes this concept a step further when discussing the “sefirot,” or emanations from God, stating, “Ten sefirot of nothingness. Ten and not nine. Ten and not eleven” (Sefer Yetsirah 2:1), as if to indicate that the esoteric meanings behind contemplation of the relationship between the One and creation would be nullified with any other number. Interestingly enough, the String Theory of cosmology indicates the mathematical existence of exactly ten dimensions: four which are revealed (three-dimensional space plus time), and six which are concealed (their existence supported by the option of either accepting the existence of six hidden dimensions or the existence of particles with negative probability).
In a time where even the word, “aether” (quintessence) is finding a new home and life within the scientific community, the importance of words and language is being underscored. With this focus, two concepts – one ancient and one modern – may be united within the sphere of metaphysics. These are the concepts of logos and of memes.
Logos, or word, is more than simply a means of referring to a sound or arrangement of images (letters) associated with an object. It is the power of God: “The Logos existed in the very beginning, the Logos was with God, the Logos was divine” (John 1:1). Referring to the Torah (part of which was believed to have been spoken directly to the Israelites at Mt Sinai), the Hebrew Bible states, “The LORD created me as the beginning of his way, the first of his works of old” (Prov 8:23). Compare this with the opening of the Bible “With the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 – note: the Hebrew word berashit can be understood either as “with” or “in” the beginning) and the interpretation provided earlier from the Zohar.
The power of words extends beyond religious and metaphysical contemplation, however. It does so through the use of the meme. A meme is a unit of information that replicates within the mind much in the manner that a virus replicates within its host. The study of memes, known as memetics, approaches the idea of ideas with this in mind. Religion, philosophies, concepts, word associations – all these things are considered memes. Memetic associations are what conjure images of ferality, romance, and sexuality when one thinks of a vampire; and are what the mass media manipulates (whether consciously or unconsciously).
Is it possible that memes are today's logos? Indeed, it is, and what is more, memes may arguably have always been the logos. What is real? What is reality? How do we know something is real? For Descartes, the assurance of his own reality was surmised in the phrase, cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore, I am. I think, therefore I am. I think, therefore, I am! This meme has been most successful in its life. Replicated billions of times, it lives forever in the collective mind of humanity. We think, therefore, we exist. The memetic that we are thinking things is the logos of our existence.
Logos is not the only concept of the essence of a thing. Platonists have held to the idea of the perfect form of an object. The quintessence of that thing which denies corruption, exists without flaw, and from which the imperfect things which exist are copied. In Phaedo, one reads, “Then would [the grasping of an object] be achieved most purely by one who approached each object with his intellect alone as far as possible... using his intellect alone by itself and unsullied” (pg 11). Given the nature of memetics, grasping the form of something through the approach of objective intellect is an apprehension of the memetic identity, the purest and most eternal form of that object!
Even memes have their limits. Supposedly. Regardless of their limits or lack thereof, memes and memetics fall short of approaching the inner nature, or dasein, of man. However, Jungian psychology does not.
Whereas previous examples of the relevance of Metaphysics have relied on the secant lines of philosophy and science, the nature of dasein and its relationship to Jungian psychology cannot be viewed as separate, but relative streams of thought. The nature of Carl Gustav Jung's work synonymizes it with Heidegger's dasein. Jung writes, “Although at first this process [the shift of something from the conscious to the unconscious] continues in the unconscious as though it were conscious, it seems, with increasing dissociation, to sink back to a more primitive (archaic-mythological) level” (Jung, pg 73). What could be more “archaic-mythological” than the legendary dasein of a people?
Taken a step further, Jung's psychological understanding of the nature of man, and thus, his dasein, can readily be attributed to his studies of alchemy and other bodies of esoteric knowledge. Foremost among these ideas, and most relevant, is the unconscious as a multiplicity of consciousness. If the dasein of the individual is directly related to the dasein of his people, the dasein of the people is directly related to the dasein of the species. As humans possess the rational faculty, and stand imagio Dei, the dasein of the species is correlated to a universal principle. Jung illustrates this through the use of alchemical language. The human mind is a spark of the anima catholica, or world soul.
If the dasein of man is ultimately derived from the anima catholica, and the art and science of metaphysics indeed does possess relevance to the world to day, by what means may it be integrated into humanity's rapidly shifting paradigm? By first dividing said paradigm into two aspects, this question may be answered with clarity. The objective aspect of society, as manifest in scientific enquiry, may be easily addressed by the work of the French philosopher, Henri Bergson. The yang of society, man's subjective questioning, will find fulfillment in the teachings preserved in the writings of Dr Francis Israel Regardie.
Henri Bergson, author of Introduction to Metaphysics, Creative Evolution, and Matter and Memory, is best known for his critique of the analytical approach towards knowledge. His proposed solution was the approach of intuition, which he described as an intellectual sympathy with the nature of an object. Bergson's holistic view and postulations have often been considered mystical (a point of interest to the reader would be that Introduction to Metaphysics is currently printed by a publisher who specializes in esoteric texts), and there may be good reason for this. Bergson's sister was married to a member, and herself was a member, of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a Western Mystery School.
The man considered the last living adept of the original Hermetic Order of the Golden dawn was none other than Dr. Francis Israel Regardie. A student of psychology as well as mysticism, Regardie understood the goal of ceremonial magic. Named by some as the knowledge and conversation of the holy guardian angel, the end result of the ceremonial path is a complete integration of the self. To assist others towards this end, and to preserve the teachings of the Golden Dawn and ceremonial magic, Israel Regardie published three books, along with the rituals of the Golden Dawn: The Middle Pillar, A Garden of Pomegranates, and The Tree of Life.
Intuition has already been defined as an intellectual sympathy. Yet, if Bergson is said to be the answer to integrating the relevance of metaphysics with science, the quandary of how to attain an intellectual sympathy with (for example) a chemical reaction, is left to leave the scientist nonplussed. The very problem is that such a question is being contemplated! In asking instead of doing, one neglects the very purpose of Bergson's diatribe against analysis and lack of a holistic approach towards intellectual pursuits.
Bergson answers this in Creative Evolution: “We must get beyond both points of view, both mechanism and finalism being, at bottom, only standpoints to which the human mind has been led by considering the work of man... We have said that in analyzing the structure of an organ, we can go on decomposing for ever, although the function of the whole is a simple thing” (pg 89, emphasis mine).
While there is a danger in deconstructing something ad nauseum, intuition does possess intellect. In fact, the means of intuiting the scientific enquiry is through the use of a holistic paradigm which considers the following, that “intelligence and instinct, having originally been interpenetrating, retain something of their common origin” (ibid, pg 135). Thus, the race for scientific truth and achievement is best won through the intuitive application of the human intellect.
Perhaps it is one of Bergson's parting thoughts in Matter and Memory that bridge the gap between intuitive science and metaphysical psychology: “To sum up: if we suppose an extended continuum, and in this continuum, the center of real action which is represented by our body, its activity will appear to illuminate all those parts of matter which at each successive moment it can deal” (Bergson, pg 232).
It is precisely this memory which ceremonial magic uses to integrate the psyche and awaken one's higher self. Regardie states it thusly: “In short, magical ritual is a mnemonic process so arranged as to result in the deliberate exhilaration of the Will and the exaltation of the Imagination, the end being the purification of the personality and the attainment of a spiritual state of consciousness, in which the ego enters into a union with... its own Higher Self” (Regardie, The Tree of Life, pg 150). Regardie, perhaps influenced by Bergson, attempts to retain a holistic view of psychology - “Analytical psychology and magic comprise in my estimation two halves or aspects of a single technical system” (Regardie, The Middle Pillar, pg 5).
Israel Regardie expresses strong feelings towards psychology, as did Bergson, although he avoids the scathing attacks on the practice. Regardie's concern is for the lack of integrative ability in psychological work that discounts man's spiritual nature. The sum of his work leans towards the opposite and utilizes the inverse. The spiritual work presented as ceremonial magic is the tool by which mental demons (neurosis) may be expunged from the mind, and the many components of the psyche brought into line with each other and subjected to the higher self of the individual.
From the first day mankind observed the world around him and asked “why,” standing not as a creature within the cycle of nature, but as a creature apart, free to carve its own destiny, metaphysics has been both art and science. Its relevance perseveres, undiminished, and the manners, means, and methods by which it may be integrated into the modern mind, limitless. Whether into the cyberpunk future of William Gibson or the utopia of Asimov metaphysics will allow humanity to guide itself and to continue seeking the answer it so desperately needs. Whether the answer is met in the metamorphosis from human to transhuman to post human, or whether there will actually be a Kweisatz Haderach as envisioned by Frank Herbert's Dune, man will find his answer. Even if that answer leaves man holding (as Douglas' Adam's posthumous book is aptly named) “the Last Salmon of Doubt,” he will never be able to say that metaphysics ceased to be an important tool of his enlightenment and ultimate fulfillment.