Are We Intelligent Matter or Incarnate Spirit?

Jeff Carreira Blog Posts, Philosophical Inquiry 11 Comments

One of the most confounding philosophical questions involves our understanding of who we really are. Are we intelligent matter – stuff that got smart – or are we incarnate spirit – smarts that grew stuff around it? This question is inherent in the very nature of our experience of being human. We have bodies and we have the experience of consciousness – mind and matter, body and soul. Which one is more us, which came first, and which is really running the show?

The great religious traditions of the west have tended towards the outlook that we are spiritual beings who became flesh. First there was God, pure spirit and from God came us. Our more recent scientific understanding of reality has lead many to believe that we are matter that evolved into life and intelligence. Now, of course, there are always those who land somewhere in between these extremes – probably most people reading this blog for instance – still this is the divide that has generally separated science from religion and idealists from materialists.

If, in fact, we are essentially spirit that has taken form it would mean that in some significant way human beings are separate from the universe. We have some source of intelligence and will that is free from the rest of nature, that acts in nature while maintaining a foothold in some transcendent outside reference point. In this view, the core of our being stands apart from and above the laws of nature and we are therefore uniquely autonomous and responsible as the source of our own action in the universe.

If, on the other hand, we are a phenomenal product of complex interactions of matter, then there is a different set of implications to contend with. In this case we are an outgrowth of nature and her natural laws. Our actions and thoughts are not sourced from some outside reference point they are a necessary consequence of an intricate chain of cause and effect. Our actions are the result of natural interactions in the same way that the movement of a tree blowing in the wind is the result of the laws of force, energy and friction. And our concept of ourselves as autonomous, willful and responsible beings would need to be re-examined.

 In 1825 Samuel Taylor Coleridge published “Aids to Reflection” and put forth a combined view. Most of us know Coleridge as the English Romantic poet and author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. We may not be aware that he was also an important English theologian – a Unitarian minister who had significantly influence the New England Transcendentalist movement in America.

Coleridge – in what was perhaps a misreading of Immanuel Kant – identified two distinctly different kinds of consciousness or knowing. Coleridge refers to one of these ways of knowing as ‘understanding.’ This he described as “an abstraction which the human mind forms by reflecting on its own thoughts and forms of thinking.” This knowing is a natural product of the process of mind, it is limited by and bound up in language and requires no existent “self” to enact it.

The other form of knowing Coleridge refers to as ‘reason.’ He describes this as  a direct product of the reasoning faculty. It is an “accident” of reason he says, meaning that it is not an understanding that is constructed through the lawful interaction of the thought process, but rather a direct recognition of truth that is compulsively self authenticating. This implies that there is some part of us that simply knows the truth. Coleridge talks about this knowing faculty in terms of our experience of conscience. Ralph Waldo Emerson a decade or so later would pick up this idea and speak about it as intuition. Emerson identified the source of this knowing as “the Over-Soul.”

The question of who we are – intelligent matter or incarnate spirit – lies at the heart of what it means to be human and as I continue to write about what it means to know and think I want to keep the question open.

Image

The Mystery School for a New Paradigm

Members Circle
Ongoing guidance and support for those who feel called to share their deepest wisdom and live a vibrant and profoundly inspired spiritual life.
Become a member
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
11 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anna Kelly
Anna Kelly
9 years ago

My experience tells me that being human reflects Spirit incarnate, as not all things that matter are measurable or countable. And all of my growth, development and change that resulted in shifts in consciousness came when I surrendered to that which is higher or of a different order than matter–difficult to explain, recreate at will, or know by measuring–that which is beyond the telling of it.

And I am open to exploring other ideas about it.

Catherine
Catherine
9 years ago

I would say we are both at the same time : Intelligent Matter and Spirit Incarnate. Both aspects seem to be valid for me. Well, I don’t have lots of arguments, except that it is probably the only way to reconcile Science and Spirit. I remember the first time I read Teilhard de Chardin, it is when this idea that Consciousness already exists in matter struck me. Before Teilhard put it in his unique way, it was completely alien to my materialistic mind. When I discuss with my Dad, from whom I get basically my scientific heritage, it is one… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
9 years ago

Coleridge’s understanding: If we see the rational process as putting pieces of dead knowledge (concepts, forms and structures) behind each other. Coleridge’s reason: not an understanding that is constructed through the lawful interaction of the thought process’, it would be seeing without concepts. Than experience is alive, one with nature. Seeing without concepts, so we look at reality ‘fresh, always new, as if you see your wife for the first time (Krisnamurti). An example is drawing: we do not draw an eye or a mouth anymore, from that we are 8-10 years on we learn to draw concepts, this is… Read more »

Moo Briddell
Moo Briddell
9 years ago

According to the ancient science of Yoga and eastern philosophy of Vedanta, we are incarnations of spirit, individual souls inhabiting bodies, which are cast off at the end of one lifetime and according to one’s karmic pattern, further bodies are inhabited for the evolution of the spirit. The knowing comes from the fact that we are spirit, the soul being made of the same stuff as God, ie. Consciousness, present everywhere in the cosmos, animate and inanimate. So, matter is only intelligent, because it is permeated by Consciousness. Even rocks have a certain vibration, plants and animals even higher. In… Read more »

Brian
Brian
9 years ago

Intelligent Matter

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
9 years ago

I looked a bit in the Fabric of the Cosmos from Brian Green, to see if I could back-up a bit what Catherine is saying, it seems good what she says. Green says that combining information of Supernova’s with theoretical insights of Inflation theory cosmological evolution -from the start on- can be explained. A complete description follows in technical detail. Also the direction of time starts at this moment; so evolution is explained. Within this story I would say that ‘matter with the potential to become conscious’ seems to fit in this all. As a total lay-person I would say… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
9 years ago

I read again about the origin of mind according to philosopher Christian de Quincey. It gave me some idea about the connection mind/matter, I do not know if it is all according to the latest insights.. De Quincey describes (Deep spirit, page143) the start of evolution, the ‘zero point energy’ as a ‘vast, infinite sea of quantum potential -emptiness brimming with creativity. He describes a quantum as ‘a package of energy, a bundle of pure energy’ –it is the smallest possible unit of physical existence. One can think of it as the source of everything- an inexhaustible well of potential… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
9 years ago

Deepak Chopra is touring Europe and writes on twitter: Energy and matter are symbolic representations of consciousness. We confuse the symbols for reality. A separate “me” and the perception that there are “others” are both subjective qualia. In reality there is only the infinite consciousness Synaptic firings in neural networks are electromagnetic signatures of thought, consciousness appearing as energy and information and matter. Unman fest to manifest sequence: consciousness=potentiality thought-subjectivity (qualia) Synaptic firings=electromagnetic signature Neurotransmitters-material representation. Waves of potential that have no physical unit of mass or energy appear as particles that have mass-energy (so far no one knows how)… Read more »

trackback

[…] from theSource here. This entry was posted in Idea Soup and tagged meaningfulness, philosophy. Bookmark the […]

Spencer Littlewood
7 years ago

As usual, Man makes the Mistake of Assuming that consciousness is the same as Intelligence, and that Consciousness inhabits Matter. The experience of perception, including that of perceiving that which one holds to be ‘one’s own reflection in the mirror’ leads to the3 false assumption of being inside, looking out at a world. In Truth, the concepts (assumptions) of within and without, are false, and therefore, all subsequent investigations based on these false assumptions, can only result in erroneous conclusions about the experience of Being. Being is also not a state that exists, rather, we are only ever ‘Becoming’ changing… Read more »

Kovacs Kovacs
Kovacs Kovacs
7 years ago

This is the best blog I have ever read! Every reply left here is just fantastic.

Thanks to everybody here.

Curious reader.