A Sacramental Universe: Being a Study in the Metaphysics of Experience

A Sacramental Universe: Being a Study in the Metaphysics of Experience

A Sacramental Universe: Being a Study in the Metaphysics of Experience

A Sacramental Universe: Being a Study in the Metaphysics of Experience

Excerpt

The Problem: to Read the Nature of the Universe in the Light of the
Fact That "Spirit" Exists

1. The age in which we live is notable for two things, man's progressive triumph over nature in the sphere of theoretical and applied science, and his tragic inability to order his own life. Every year adds appreciably to our knowledge of the physical world: every year brings home to us the baffling inscrutability of human nature as revealed in our disordered civilization. We have learned to deal with objects and events unimaginably remote in space and time, with magnitudes so great and so small that the very units in which we compute them are beyond the range of our perceptual experience. The geologist can reconstruct for us the scenery of the Jurassic age, and the astronomer can predict with mathematical exactitude and perfect confidence the configuration of the heavenly bodies for centuries to come. In the face of all this intellectual penetration man remains a mystery to himself. There is no consensus of opinion as to what he is, or how he came to be, or what is ultimately in store for him; and it is significant of the obscurity in which the problem is involved that if we were asked to designate the principle of being that gives us our identity as conscious subjects, we should be unable to agree upon its name. We speak of mind, of soul, of personality, of spirit; but there is about each of these terms a vagueness which, as often as we have recourse to any one of them, lays us open to the charge of obscurantism.

This astonishing contrast between man's failure in one sphere and his achievement in another reveals itself mainly in two ways.

(a) A scientific knowledge of the world is characterized by a certain explicitness, exactitude and communicability. The propositions in which it expresses itself, the terms of which it makes use, are definite and unambiguous. An extreme instance is that of pure mathematics, the science of rational implication. Of course the mathematician enjoys the privilege of defining his terms in advance. When he speaks of a point, a straight line, a parabola, the series , he tells us how these concepts are to be understood. With the physicist, the chemist and the biologist the procedure is necessarily different, and different in varying degrees; but the up-

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