Basic Orientation
Book1: R-E Living & "Homo Rationalis"
Book2: Mind-Body Problem
Book3: Humanianity
Introduction: Humanianity 2020
Philosophico-Religious Issues
01 Science And?/Versus? Religion
02 Dear God,...(And "To Jesus")
03 Are You Spiritual (Like I Am)?
04 Latest Bible Update
05 The Concept of the "Model"
06 Humanoblasts & Humanaoclasts
07 Definitions - Blah, Blah, Blah
Psycho-Socio-Cultural Issues
The Twelve Articles
Relevant Autobiography





(I posted this on the message board of the Charlotte Philosophy Discussion Board.)

The concept of "spirituality" is I think interesting. There are very few people who will openly state that they are not "spiritual." Some atheists regard themselves as "spiritual."

I actually believe the term has some useful potential meanings, consistent with how the word is generally used.

As you probably know, I do not think that I am being watched by an entity who may or may not alter the laws of nature in my behalf (if I am good), nor do I believe I will continue to exist after death. And I do not believe in spirits, good or evil. Yet, I do consider myself to manifest spirituality.

Let me try to identify the very basic meaning of the term, that component that is common to all the ways in which the word is usually used. I think that the ingredients are:

A basic way of looking at existence, a basic outlook, or set of beliefs, or model of the world (to be described)


causes the individual to feel a certain way, usually euphoric, sometimes less bad than the individual would otherwise feel, but occasionally (and unfortunately) actually bad. (I think that if the spirituality actually makes the person feel worse, this would be an example of spirituality gone bad.)

I also think that this phenomenon is a naturally occurring phenomenon that occurs to some extent in all humans who are not autistic (or severely brain impaired).

When I attend Watershed (a Christian "church"), I believe I see the operation of spirituality all around me, and I think that it is a good thing. There is a specific effort there to enhance spirituality. I believe it enhances mine some, even though I do not have the same belief system.

But now what is this set of beliefs, or model, that is productive of "spirituality"? I believe it is a set of beliefs, or model, that arises very, very early in our lives, and is based upon our subjective experience.

One of our most profound needs is a kind of experience of "encounter" with another human. The prototype is probably the experience of the mother by the infant. Out of a chaos of sensation, there gradually emerges an "I-Thou" experience, that is most experienced during eye contact. We all retain this capability of "I-Thou" experience as long as we don't have autism or brain damage. It is probably lost in the end stages of dementia. I believe it is approximately that which is talked about by Martin Buber.

This "I-Thou" experience (as I am using it here) is an interesting phenomenon. You will probably understand much more what I am trying to say if you read and study my posts about the "mind-body problem." Basically, however, I am talking about the subjective experience that there is a person there whose eyes I am looking into. There is a feeling of "contact" with that person, even though that person is perceived as separate from oneself. This feeling of being in the presence of the other, but also of being in the awareness of the other, such that there seems to be a "connection" between two "entities," the self and that "other," is a very basic experience for which there is a certain amount of need. The opposite feeling would probably be existential aloneness, an increasingly painful experience of loneliness. We humans interact with each other, having conversations about almost anything, just so that we can have that experience of "I-Thou." Eric Berne referred to this, I believe, when he talked about how we all need "strokes," and for that reason engage in rituals, pastimes, games, and (only infrequently) intimacy.

First let us look more closely at the "I" in "I-Thou."

We normally and naturally create a model for our own subjective experience that includes the assumption that all of our subjective experience is enclosed in a container, which is labeled the "mind." Other terms are also used, such as "soul" and "psyche" and "spirit" (hence, "spirituality"). Although we never can observe it, we come to feel very attached to this part of the model. It is this entity (the container) that we worry might disappear upon death. It is close to what we usually mean by the "self."

Next let us look more closely at the "Thou" in "I-Thou."

The model in which subjective experience is contained within a container is elaborated upon by the addition of other containers, the "minds" or "souls" or "spirits" of others. There is recognition that access to (awareness of), or at least complete access to, the contents of the other's mind is not possible. (In fact, this is what makes language such an amazing tool, in that we can obtain what we believe to be a fairly accurate picture of what is "in the other's mind" by the other telling us, language therefore making much more intensive empathy possible.) So the subjective model now allows for the "meeting of the minds," including the idea, or seeming experiencing, of contact with others' minds. We look into each others' eyes and become as one (or nearly so). Some can even look at the other and seem to see that the other has a good (or bad) soul.

There is an interesting elaboration of this model, called "intersubjective space." The model has minds (including one's own) floating around in a kind of space, with those minds having more or less, but never complete, contact with each other. A further elaboration would be that the intersubjective space, and the enclosed minds, are all one big mind, the mind of God. This leads to ideas about the desirability of leaving one's own mind and merging with the totality of intersubjective space (and perhaps other minds), and thus becoming one with God (or the universe).

Another elaboration of this model has to do with the subjective experience of our own "intention." We call it our "will power" or "free will" or "decision-making." Then there is an additional extension of the model that attributes "intention" to those other minds in the intersubjective space, and sometimes even to all of intersubjective space and its contents, "the will of God." (Free will, of course, is never observed or studied by the sciences, because the scientific model is deterministic. Again, I refer you to my post on the mind-body problem.)

Now let us look specifically at the "experiencing" of the "Thou."

If we use the scientific, or objective explanatory model, it is important to note that what we refer to as "subjective experience" is entirely dependent upon the brain of the individual. Thus, while the "I-Thou" experience "feels like" a kind of contact with another mind, in actuality, the other person is separated by space from the physical self, and whether, and to what extent, one feels this contact with the other, the phenomenon is produced only by processes within one's own brain. True, the experience is brought about (usually) by the presence of the other, but it is only light and sound (and perhaps smell, touch, and taste) that actually produce the experience of the other, and these processes are ultimately enclosed within one's own body (and brain) as neurological processes, totally separated from the other person.

And consistent with this fact is the additional fact that the presence, or even existence, of the other is actually not necessary for the feeling to occur. Many people experience the "presence" of another person who is actually nowhere near. This experience can be pathological, as in schizophrenia, in which the individual indeed feels watched, spied upon, etc., and in which the individual can sometimes see and hear beings not actually present, and even engage in (disturbing) eye contact with them. Such experiences are probably more "normal" when occurring during acute grief over the recent loss of a loved one. Many will maintain the feeling that the contact with the deceased other is still being maintained, and the individual may even spend routinely scheduled times of conversing with, or at least reporting to, the deceased, for instance, at the graveside.

The small child even manifests the phenomenon called "animism," in which inanimate objects are endowed with minds that are presumably aware of the child, and may have (good or evil) intentions. To the extent that animism persists in the adult, it makes it natural and normal to believe that the environment is inhabited by spirits. And even today adults can look into the eyes of their pets and feel that fairly specific communication is taking place, their pets thus presumably engaging in cognition well beyond what scientific study would be able to demonstrate.

So it is easy to see that it is normal for us to believe in spirits. We start out highly "spiritual" and only to a greater or lesser extent shed some of this spirituality. If we shed it completely, we are probably mentally ill. (But then if we don't shed much of it, we are also probably mentally ill.) We need to be able to look deeply into the eyes of the other and experience the feeling that we are not alone, that we are making contact. And romance can include the feeling that "we are really connected in another universe (or intersubjective space), even when apart."

Interestingly, we can also punish each other with our spirituality. We can refuse to make eye contact with another who feels the need for it. "Please! Look at me!!" And we can run away from such contact because it is too painful, perhaps eliciting from the parent "Look at me when I am speaking to you!"

So this feeling of contact with the other has much to do with how we feel.

And some religions advocate the feeling of being in contact with God, at least during prayer. This reduction in existential aloneness can be very valuable to an individual during bad times, and it can enhance the quality of life even further during good times.

So is spirituality a good thing? A bad thing? Can there be too little or too much? Where and how would we draw the line?

And, can a person be both spiritual and scientific? Am I?