Thank you for trying to explain to me something about the laws of thermodynamics. That matter and energy are essentially the same, and that neither matter nor energy “can be created or destroyed” would be important parts of the scientific understanding of physical reality.
Despite his scientific mind, I do not think that Aristotle knew or experienced the world as modern science does; he did not live in the universe of modern physics. As I read Aristotle, the Kosmos about which he writes is “to Pan,” the All. When I used the word “world” for Aristotle’s cosmos, I did not mean our planet, the Earth, but the mysterious Whole. Words have changed their meanings over time, and experiences of reality have changed. As I read Aristotle, he experiences the cosmos as both natural and divine. His conception of the divine includes both the God as Intellect that moves the cosmos, and orders it, as well as the gods who dwell within the Kosmos. And perhaps that is one of the reasons why he considers the Kosmos to be eternal—it is not a mere creation of gods, but in some sense, the work of God and gods. Plato, Aristotle’s long-time teacher, did not call the Kosmos eternal, to the best of my knowledge. In one of his late writings, the Timaeus, Plato introduces a Demiurge, a kind of creator-god, that does not bring forth all out of nothing, but rather by intellect imposes form on matter. The creation story or cosmogony that opens the Hebrew scriptures does not explicitly say that God created “the heavens and the earth” out of nothing, although that interpretation has been read into the creation story of Genesis for centuries. The priest or priests who wrote that magnificent creation story that editors placed at the opening of their sacred writings had not raised the question, “Did God create out of nothing, or did God impose form on matter?” Apparently it was a Jew living not long before Christ, the author of the books of Maccabees, who first described what came to be called “creatio ex nihilo,” creation out of nothing. It is this conception of creation that became standard teaching in Christianity over the centuries: the non-cosmic God brought forth the world as we experience it out of nothing by his own creative word; indeed, creation can be understood as an ongoing story of God, told by God.
The ancients (Jews, Greeks, Babylonians, Chinese, and so on) were highly conscious of living in a Kosmos in which all beings share, a Kosmos itself which at times was experienced as a living being, not as a lifeless thing or collection of things. The cosmic Whole is surely more than the sum of its parts, the being-things that inhabit It. At times a fear arose, probably in response to major social-political upheavals, that not only everything, but that the All could cease to exist. Just as individual being-things come into being and cease to exist, so could everything and All, apparently. Still, the underlying experience of the Kosmos was of a beautiful home that is good, and divine, and full of gods and living beings.
As I understand it, this experience contrasts with the “universe of physics,” the universe as described and studied through modern physical science. The ancients, whether Greeks with their gods, or philosophers with exploratory Nous, or Jews with the I AM WHO AM, or Christians (an amalgam of Jewish faith and Greek philosophy, with other ancient beliefs and rituals thrown in), did not experience the universe of physics, but the mysterious cosmic Whole. As noted, the ancients lived in a cosmos experienced as home, as good, as meaningful, even though one could at times experience the wrath of a god in a powerful storm, or earthquake, or a Zeus-thrown lightning bolt. Ancient Gnostics, arising mainly in the wake of the epiphany of Christ, experienced the cosmos as “alien,” even as evil, a prison for the divine spirit, the Pneuma, which they experienced intensely in themselves. The Gnostics were the main characters who experienced divinity solely within themselves, and not in and through the cosmos. For Aristotle, the divine Nous (Intellect) illuminating his mind (nous) could also be known through studying reality in all of its parts, for the work of the intellect is to order things, and Aristotle experienced divine intelligence as he studied parts of animals, for example, or the heavenly bodies. This awareness shows up in his writings. And he chastises those who recoil at a worm, or spider, for example, and fail to see the divine intellect through the ordered being-thing.
How do you experience “the world,” the cosmos? Is it only the “universe of physics” you see, or something else at the same time? My experience of the cosmos has undoubtedly been influenced somewhat by teachings of modern science (about which I know very little), but for the most part, I am probably closer to ancient Greeks, Jews, or Christians, whose experience of the world was filled not only with wonder and “scientific questioning,” but with awe. What provokes awe is mysterious, and divine in more ways than one can know or grasp. Surely I sense divine presence not only in the soul, but in and through the cosmos. I do not know what you see in the sky, but I do not see just “things” or “planets,” and so on; nor do I feel imprisoned in the cosmos, although when suffering a fever, I may feel trapped in the sick body or at least in the fever. When I look at the night-time sky, for example, I see heavenly bodies, and simply assume that they are not merely “matter in motion,” or forms of energy; I am conscious of the heavenly bodies as being in some ways divine beings, or at the very least, fellow creatures.
Concrete question: Do you ever bow to what you see? Sometimes I spontaneously bow to the moon, or to the sun, or to a beautiful tree that caught my attention, and as I bow, I am aware of bowing to the divine presence in and through all things. (And yes, I have bowed to my dogs, carrying as they do, divine presence.) Sometimes I have found myself greeting the moon, or the sun, with a few words or a little song. Such actions would seem strange, perhaps, to a man or woman living in “the universe of physics,” although I am not sure, because I do not inhabit the universe of physics (nor does anyone, in truth). Would a scientist bow to the sun, or kiss a rock, or lovingly touch a tree, or kiss a little animal? If not as scientist, would he do so as a human being? I do not know, because I am not a scientist, but a human being living in a mysterious and wonder-filled cosmos. I expect that my experiences are not well grounded within a “scientific world view.” They are, I think, more cosmic, perhaps, and closer to mythical understanding. My guess is that more people feel this way than we often imagine, even after centuries of Christianity, followed by the discoveries and theories of modern science. As I see it, showing some reverence for fellow beings (including “heavenly bodies”) in the cosmos is more “natural” and true to the primary experience of mutual interpenetration and connectedness, of consubstantiality between human beings, “the heavens and the earth,” and God or gods.
For example, we say that the sun moves across the sky, and many take that commonsensical assumption to be true, not integrating into their experience the notional awareness that the earth is rotating on a hypothetical axis, and revolving around the sun in a hypothetical orbit. By appearance and hence common sense, it is the sun who moves across the sky, whether a god itself, or driven by a god, or a fiery ball moved by some mysterious and divine force. Even the breakthrough of the non-cosmic I AM to Moses does not keep one from experiencing the cosmos as "full of gods" as the ancients believed (and the experience of gods and a living, divine cosmos shows up not infrequently in biblical writings, even with faith in Yahweh (“He who is”). The all-too-modern experience and treatment of the earth as a lifeless thing to exploit is closer to Gnostic antagonism to matter than to cosmic consciousness of every being and being-thing (such as Earth) sharing in divinity. The earth, Mother Earth, is to be respected and lovingly tended, for She brings forth life. Or as another example, I long to see and feel the ocean, to be submerged in it, because doing so returns me, if I allow it, to pre-scientific awareness, to an experience of immersion in cosmic divinity, and to being part of the Whole. Longing for this grounding in cosmic reality, I desire to experience the ocean again. There are other ways, of course, to experience the Whole in a cosmic way. Taking a good walk, feeling the cold wind on my skin, perhaps with rain or snow, or sunlight, returns me to an awareness of the Whole that includes divine presence, being-things, physical forces, and human consciousness, all together. How common this pre-scientific awareness is, I do not know, but when I allude to these experiences, ranch and farm folks seem to understand what I mean. This experience is closer to the cosmos experienced by the ancients. If it is just a world of matter, one feels cold and wet; if it is more, and mysterious, then one may be wet, but one also feels alive, connected to the mysterious Whole, and in contact with what we call “God.”
Now a few appended thoughts, or corollaries of what I have just written.
First, the God of the church’s creeds is too fixed, too abstract, too remote from human experience to satisfy the heart or mind, because this God does not correspond well to the divine as experienced. The God of creeds and dogmas has been intellectually, even rationalistically, sanitized. The creedal God was drained of blood. Analytically separated from the truth of experience, this “God” becomes experientially; and if that is one’s sole conception of God, it may well wither and die, leaving one floundering in a world devoid of meaning.
Second, fortunately for me, daily experiences of divine presence, both within consciousness and in the mysterious cosmos, outweigh in consciousness both the universe of physics and the God of the creeds. When I want to nourish my understanding of the divine, I may look with gratitude at the world around me, even feeling the icy cold; or study philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Voegelin; or read good poetry, with its mythical-imaginative awareness of the Whole shining in and through each momentary experience. A rose is not essentially a certain species of plant with a fancy scientific name. It is far more. And a rose may be the womb of the heart, waiting to open up. When I light a fire in the morning, I do so not only for warmth, but for companionship, because, as Herakleitos wrote, “Come near the fire, for there are gods in it.” I am still able to feel divine presence reaching me through the fire’s warmth. And for such an awareness, I am truly thankful. For flatter souls, fire is just physical processes at work.
Third, a former student and friend told me that I do not like myth. I am not sure what he bases that claim on; it may have been a non-nuanced statement I made out of frustration with some contemporary myths, as in movies. Some of these myths are foolish, some destructive, some truer to reality. A good story, a good myth, is often far truer than “non-fiction.” I love myth when it communicates the truth of pre-scientific, pre-rational reality, the truth of the Whole breaking through. I love myth, or story, that makes me more aware of the goodness, beauty, and truth of reality, including the divine within. Myth that has stripped out divinity is neither wholesome nor true to reality. In the hands of anti-theistic positivists, science is used as an anti-divine myth, a “truth” that rinses a sense of divine presence out of human consciousness. In such a case, human beings become as bloodless as the God of the creeds, as the God of “Theism” which they reject. There is nothing wrong with physical sciences; they surely enhance one’s understanding of the world, and often bring beneficial results to daily living. (And more: science is well worth pursuing for its own sake, as a search for truth about various realms of being.) But science can be abused when the universe of physics is allowed to replace the primary experience of the mysterious cosmos, in which all being-things share, in which one thing can become another, a reality which is alive, fluid, and largely uncontrollable. Awareness of the Whole, and of being part of the Whole, precedes self-consciousness. I do not say, “I think; therefore, I am,” but I am aware that I think because I am being moved to think from the beyond of consciousness. And that, I submit, is a more philosophical and wholesome experience than Descartes’ self-entombment. Once one begins with self, it is difficult to escape.
The moon was veiled when I looked for her early this morning, an hour after midnight. An army of clouds had moved in while I slept, obscuring my beloved moon from wondering sight. And yet, she shines behind the veil that serves to remind me of her sacred beauty, which mortal eyes may not fully behold, nor fully understand. And snow was falling, sent by a god, or by clouds, I do not know. I wonder if Father Zeus is being playful? In any case, the snow is a gift from the heavens above, refreshing, chilling, watering dry earth, reflecting the beauty of the barely seen moon.