The metaphysics of the ordinary

Our uniquely human existence is both physical and metaphysical. The physical includes matters such as eating and sleeping, cutting the grass and driving a car. The metaphysical is not doing, but thinking about eating, sleeping, cutting the grass and driving a car. If we examine our everyday existence, we can see that this combination of imagining and doing is the way we interact with the world.

We can intuitively and naturally interact with the natural world as events happen around us, an ability that does not require thinking and which is of the nature of a first-order level of experience. The time we spend thinking about what goes on around us is a second-order experience. There is little evidence that most animals other than humans think this way. Most animals seem to operate at the first-order level of experience, which is to say they react to input, and while habit structures can form associated with food, for example, it is unlikely that animals think about why food has or has not arrived.

Thinking, of course, requires a language of thought, a second-order abstraction of the first-order direct experience. Without words, we cannot form thoughts. Emotions can form without thinking, of course, and in that sense raw emotions are closer to a first-order experience than our thoughts. When we react to our thoughts about our feelings, we are becoming even more removed from the first- and second-order experience, and generating a third-order experience of emotional reactions to our own thoughts. Step by step, we spend increasing amounts of time in this third-order experience, an entirely metaphysical world of our own making. It is in this third-order world that matters of blame, projection of intentions, jealousy and envy arise as we build complex multi-layered thought-reactions to reactions.

The third-order metaphysical world is also where complex planning and predictions take place. We use our reactions to our ideas and thoughts in order to judge them. Anticipation of the future based upon assumptions and probabilities allows us to send probes to Jupiter, plan foreign policy and operate a business. Our metaphysical world can be laid over the physical world in a highly workable way, accordingly allowing us to use imagination to transform and bend physical reality to our liking. So powerful are they, we can even mistake our own thoughts for first-order experience itself. The world of the paranoid psychopath is frighteningly real.

An absence of making time to rest with a first-order experience – listening to the rain, feeling the spring breeze, watching children at play – deprives us of appreciation of the physical world upon which our metaphysical world sits. Without a regular opportunity for grounding within basic awareness, we can easily become lost in our metaphysical world of thought, and even begin to invest it with greater import than what is actually happening around us. When this happens, we stop paying attention and are prone to confusion; our metaphysical world is only as well ordered as we are, and one glance at human society reveals the great depth of our disorder. We fight and wage war based upon our metaphysics.

The physical world can be dangerous and may cause injury, but it never hates and never tortures. On the other hand, neither does it love.