Posted by honestpoet on January 2, 2007
Keats, in his letters, wrote about something he called “negative capability.” It’s what makes some poets, some people, able to intuit some things that otherwise remain opaque to those whose certainty blinds them to reality. Negative capability is that awareness that one doesn’t know, that ability to admit that one doesn’t have the complete picture.
A lot of atheists lack this ability, so they can’t admit that life might have an aspect to it that can’t be reduced to simple, quantifiable matter. These are the atheists who deny the reality of free will, insist that it’s some sort of useful illusion. And most theists lack negative capability as well; these are those who are so certain that scripture covers it all that they can’t admit to the truth of evolution and the lack of a daddy-in-the-sky.
Myself, I’ve done my best to nurture my negative capability, and with it I’ve embraced a mystical atheism. Seems contradictory, and it should. I’m pretty sure that any deeper truth will carry with it some sort of contradiction; that our dualistic minds can’t understand the mixed-up nature of reality without embracing paradox. (In a discussion with any theist, pretty much all you have to do to get them to blow a gasket is bring up the fact that the existence of evil, ultimately, has to be laid at God’s door.)
Here’s some background. I’m an artsy-fartsy type, as you might have gathered. I’m a poet (and a published one, with awards under my belt); I majored in art before switching to creative writing. I garden. The beauty of the world holds me in thrall. I’ve long loved the work of Joseph Campbell. But I’m married to a scientist of the mind. He’s not only a biologically oriented psychiatrist, but a math whiz (and I mean really…the year he took his MCAT, he also took the test that math students take to get into grad school, just to see how he’d do, at the request of the math prof he used to hang out with to solve problems for fun, and he got the 3rd highest score in the nation.) He’s been explaining physics to me since we were engaged, back in college. And he’s continued to do so, as new things have been discovered. He’s also explained the work of Churchland and Dennett. (He’s an excellent teacher, able to grasp the pedagogy and explain it succinctly.) So our pillow talk often involves concepts that, well, most couples don’t get into. It’s been a real privilege. And it’s not one sided. I’ve taught him a lot about creativity, and about embracing mystery, and finding beauty all around.
So. A mystical materialism? Sure. A materialism that admits that there’s more here than what we can see. Modern physics bears this out. M-theory, which posits the existence of 11 dimensions to the multi-verse, holds that the universe is actually a single membrane, and that the 11th dimension is confluent with it in its entirety, i.e., that right next to every atom, embracing every particle, is this 11th dimension. And it’s this, in my mind, that allows for the existence of what, for lack of a better word, could be called magic. What if there’s stuff in the 11th dimension? It seems to me more than possible that something, not necessarily what we would recognize as a biological neural net, but something that, like a super-computer, could act like one, might unify the whole shebang. And as our universe has evolved, so has this entity that co-exists with us. Its nature is of course mysterious. But it could be intellegent. The universe, or the multi-verse, rather, could have some single intelligence.
If the universe is truly one, then every bit of it can communicate with every other bit, like cells in a single body. A well cast spell, then, would act like a neurological signal from your brain, say, to your hand. Quantum witchcraft.
But the idea that this great mysterious entity, this multi-verse, would have a human personality, jealous like Jehovah, wanting to be worshipped, is, for lack of a better word, silly. Mythologies are just stories. All of them. Some of them aren’t even good stories. But reality, now that’s pretty fantastic.