My Fundamental Dilemma: Physical vs. Metaphysical

What is human life? Is it merely an ongoing chemical reaction? Are we simply biological machines whose thoughts are the movement of sodium and potassium ions throughout our brain? Or is there something deeper to human life, something that the physical sciences cannot explain?

I lean towards the latter argument, that humans possess some quality, yet to be discovered and explained, that transcends the physical realm. I don’t believe human consciousness is totally governed by the biological processes of the brain. I am not religious, nor do I believe in the traditional idea of “god.” Rather, I consider myself a metaphysical spiritualist. I believe human consciousness possesses the ability to operate in a realm separate from the world we see around us. How do we classify thoughts? It is true that our brain gives rise to thoughts, but the thoughts themselves are not physical. I believe they exist in a separate sphere I call the “metaphysical” realm.

Having expounded my theory many times to a variety of people, I understand the myriad arguments against it. The strongest counter argument is that we simply have not proven the existence of a metaphysical realm, whereas millenia of scientific discoveries have served to illuminate the existence and the processes of the physical realm. Of course the physical realm must exist, it’s everything we see, hear, feel, smell, and taste around us. But this conclusion, I think, is too easy. Although we cannot connect with the metaphysical world in a tangible sense, we do get in contact with it through our minds.

Consider the thought experiment offered by my friend Garrett Lam. Imagine if scientists were able to recreate an individual’s nervous system, brain and all, exact down to each and every atom. That brain was then transferred to a body and allowed to function. Would the consciousnesses of the two brains be the same? If each brain received precisely the same stimuli, would they have the same thoughts and responses? The physical believers would say yes, the metaphysical would say no.

For some odd reason, I came up with this next thought experiment when I was very young, maybe around first or second grade. Imagine time was turned back to the time before an individual’s conception. His parents are married, but the mother is not yet pregnant. Time then proceeds normally, and the couple conceive the baby, which is eventually born. Would this baby be the same individual? Or would it be someone else, occupying the baby’s body? I have often wondered how it came to be me controlling this body, why I happened to be born into this particular life, with thousands of other babies, or vessels of existences, being produced daily.

Another pro-metaphysical argument lies in the existence of art. When examined by the lens of a scientific pragmatist, it seems odd that art should hold such a prominent place in all human civilizations. What is the value of art? It certainly does not help us survive. In fact, art diverts enormous amounts of manpower and time that could be applied to more useful activities, like growing crops and constructing shelter. Yet, from the earliest cave paintings to contemporary pieces of music, art has remained. I view it as a physical manifestation of humans’ metaphysical processes. Perhaps art serves as a way to maintain and protect the metaphysical side of humans, to keep us from turning into practical, biological robots.

Despite this idea, I do not ignore the importance of the human body and its neurological functions. I am very interested in neuroscience as a way to perhaps reconcile the studies of science and philosophy. Science serves as the indispensable tool in lending credibility to human ideas, by revealing certain objective truths about the universe. Maybe one day science will prove the existence of such a metaphysical realm. Until then, we can only imagine.

Tagged under Philosophy