October 12

Only The Intangible Is Real

Nick Williams
Core Spirit member since Oct 8, 2021
Reading time 5 minutes

There are only two modes of being that are possible for us — the tangible and the intangible — and of these two only the intangible is real. This is odd of course because we always understand things exactly the other way around — we’re totally convinced that ‘only the tangible is real’ and we will scoff long and loud at anyone who says otherwise. ‘Intangible’ is simply another word for unreal as far as most of us are concerned!

If there is something that we can’t see or taste or smell or hear, or detect in any way, then — by definition — we say that it can’t exist. And even if we don’t say this, that’s what we assume. It’s as if we love to live life on the basis of assumptions because that’s exactly what we’re doing — we’re making the assumption that if something can’t be detected by our instruments (or our senses) then it can’t exist. This is the ‘positive world view’. Now this could perfectly well be the case — who’s to say, after all? It’s okay to assume things that we don’t absolutely know to be true — that’s a perfectly legitimate thing to do, of course. It’s when we forget that this is what we have done that the trouble begins…

What we are actually assuming here is that our instruments, or our senses, can tell us everything that there is to know about the world. We’re assuming that they have ‘universal applicability’, so to speak. We’re assuming that the description of the world that our senses are providing us with is ‘exhaustive’ (which is to say, that they tell us all there is to tell). There’s no way that we can actually know that of course — our instruments can’t tell us about what they can’t detect, after all. Neither can they inform us that there are limits to what they detect. A machine can never tell us about the limits of its own domain, the limits of its ‘legitimate authority’, so to speak. A machine can never know that — a machine can only know what it has been designed to know, it can only recognise or acknowledge what it has been equipped to recognise or acknowledge. Or to put this another way, the thinking mind can never tell us about what lies beyond thought — if it did this then it would be ‘bursting its own bubble’, big time.

We imagine that the world which we can know about via our everyday senses is 'the only world there is', therefore, even though there can be no basis for jumping to such a conclusion. We don’t have any way of guessing what else there could be, it’s true — we can’t extrapolate what else there could be on the basis of what we already know (or what we think we already know) but this cannot be taken as proof positive that there is nothing else! This is really just a restatement of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem; in rather non-mathematical terms we can explain this famous theorem by saying that ‘the part or fraction can never be used to infer (or prove) the existence or nature of the Whole’.

This isn’t true if we’re talking about a part or portion of the whole in ‘real world terms’, which is to say — a part or portion of the Whole such as a rock or a daisy or a grain of sand or a sandwich in someone’s lunch box. These aren’t really ‘fragments of the Whole’ at all since no portion of a real-world system is ever isolated or removed from everything else in that system. What we’re talking about is something very different; what we’re talking about are ‘mental fragments’ — ‘formal world fragments’, fragments or parts that have been created by the operation of the thinking mind. When we perceive the world we generally do so on the basis of mind-created fragments as David Bohm says, and because of this we mistakenly take the fragment to be the whole thing. We wrongly understand the fraction to be an integer. If it can’t be extrapolated on the basis of ‘the-fragment-which-we-can’t-recognise-to-be-a-fragment’ then it doesn’t exist, as far as we are concerned (or rather as far as rational thought is concerned). ,

If we were to be more poetical in our outlook then we would be able to see ‘a World In a Grain of Sand, and a Heaven in a Wild Flower’, as William Blake puts it in his Auguries of Innocence, but for the most part we’re not, for the most part we are hard-headed pragmatists — or what we would like to see as hard-headed pragmatists — and for this reason the intangible has no place in our world-view. It’s not that we feel that we don’t need the intangible, or that we feel it isn’t relevant to us; it’s simply that we don’t acknowledge it in the first place. Our conceptual apparatus won’t allow us to recognize it. The only mode of existence we recognise is the tangible one therefore, and this is very much to our detriment!

For one thing, we can say that to live solely on the basis of the thinking mind is to our detriment because when our perceptions are limited in this way then there is absolutely no poetry in our lives. We may of course not count this as being a particularly important consideration; ‘we can’t all be poets, we might say, ‘some of us have work to be getting on with after all…’ If we do say that, or believe that, then this is simply because we don’t understand what poetry is — poetry comes about every time we have some kind of inkling or intimation of the Whole, and the Whole is all there is! If there is no poetry in our lives then this indicates that we have become disconnected from reality itself, and there’s no way that this can be said to be a good thing…

Oddly — as it might seem to us — the Whole is a perfectly intangible thing — there’s nothing tangible about it at all. We can’t touch it, we can’t taste it or smell it or hear it; we can’t measure it in any way, we can’t detect its existence with any of our instrumentation (no matter how advanced that instrumentation might be) and — finally — we can in no way ‘prove its existence’. All the research in the world can’t prove the existence of the Whole, however incongruous or absurd this might sound to us! But should we — on this basis — declare that ‘the Whole does not exist’? Where would that leave us?

Actually, where this leaves us is where we almost always are — stuck in the pit of unmitigated literalism which is — because of its irredeemable literality — utterly devoid of any sense of the poetic whatsoever. The property of ‘tangibility’ (or ‘measurability’) belongs only to the thought-created fragment that can’t ever see beyond itself and which can’t on this account see itself to be a fragment. The thought-created fragment can’t ever infer the existence of anything else other than itself and it is this self-referentiality that gives rise to its ‘sure and certain’ character. Self-referentiality is how the mind-created fragment proves to it itself that it exists, in other words. This proof is — however — entirely spurious. It’s only a hollow trick. Were we to drop the conditioned viewpoint that thought provides us with, and thereby allow the poetry of Wholeness to resonate with us, we would see that nothing really is ‘measurable’, or ‘provable’. We would see that reality cannot in any way be grasped hold of, which is of course what the mystics have been saying all along.

Just because we can’t intellectually ‘grasp hold of something’ and say what it ‘is’ (like an accountant doing the accounts) this doesn’t in the least bit detract from the value of whatever it is that we are trying (and necessarily failing) to grasp — how could we possibly be this prejudiced, this narrow-minded? We are valuing our humourless system of accounting over what is being (supposedly) accounted for! We are valuing the tawdry ‘illusion of knowledge’ over the astounding and inexhaustible truth of intangibility…

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Nazish M.
Oct 10, 2021

Well-written