The Horizons of The Soul: Metaphysical Thought
The modern Western world view is said to be founded almost entirely on materialistic notions that exclude or even deny the spiritual or metaphysical dimensions of existence. This is a controversial point, but many so-called Muslim intellectuals who blindly imitate and import what they see as Western, despise and reject their societies’ traditional modes of thinking and living. This is largely because they no longer have any awareness of the spiritual dimension of existence and life. Indeed, those who reduce existence to matter and think only in physical terms can hardly perceive and understand what is metaphysical and spiritual. Moreover, since those who can only imitate are more radical in their borrowed attitudes than the originators, and since imitation often obscures reality, those so-called intellectuals become more radical in rejecting what is spiritual and metaphysical, and lack adequate knowledge of matter and what is material.
Since the spiritual, metaphysical dimension requires us to go beyond our sensations and instincts into deep and vast horizons, materialists neither understand nor like it. In other words, they restrict their thinking only to what they can perceive and experience. Deceiving themselves and others that existence consists only of the material dimension, they present themselves as true intellectuals.
Despite their claims and the assertions of their Western counterparts, it is difficult to accept that Western scientific thought, although primarily materialistic, has always been separate from spirituality and metaphysics. Modern Western civilization is based on the trinity of Greek thought, Roman law, and Christianity. This latter, at least theoretically, contributes a spiritual dimension. The West never completely discarded Platonist thinking, although it failed to reconcile it with positivistic and rationalistic philosophy. It also does not pretend that such thinkers as Pascal and J. Jeans never existed, or exclude Bergson’s intuitivism. Bergson, Eddington, J. Jeans, Pascal, Bernhard Bavink, and Heisenberg are just as important in Western thought as Comte, Darwin, Molescholt, Czolba, and Lamarck. Indeed, it is hard to find an atheist scientist and philosopher before the mid-nineteenth century.
In contrast, metaphysical thought and spirituality have been almost entirely discarded by many Muslim intellectuals. In the name of certain notions that have been reduced to such simplistic slogans as “enlightenment, Westernization, civilization, modernity, and progress,” metaphysical thought and spiritual life have been denigrated and degraded. Such slogans have also been used to batter traditional Islamic values.
We use “the horizon of hope” to mean traveling beyond the visible dimension of existence, and considering existence as an interrelated whole in the absence of which things and events cannot be perceived as they really are. Nor can its essence and relation with the Creator, as well as the relation between Him and humanity, be grasped. Scientific disciplines that conduct their own discourse largely in isolation from one another and the prevailing materialistic nature of science that has compartmentalized existence and life cannot discover the reality of things, existence, or life.
When such investigations are seen in medicine, for example, people are viewed as being composed of many discrete mechanisms. The consequences are easy to see: Existence is stripped of its meaning and connectedness, and is presented as discrete elements consisting only of matter. However, the only way to fully comprehend and value life and existence is to experience existence through the prism of spirit and metaphysical thinking. Neglecting to do so means forcing reason to comment on things beyond its reach and imprisoning intellectual effort within the confines of sense-impressions. But when we heed the sound of our conscience, or inner world, we perceive that the mind is never content or satisfied with mere sense-impressions.
All the great, enduring, and inclusive modes of thinking developed upon the foundations of metaphysics and spirituality. The whole ancient world was founded and shaped by such sacred texts as the Qur’an, the Bible, the Vedas, and the Upanishads. Denying or forgetting such ant materialistic Western thinkers, scientists, and philosophers as Kant, Descartes, Pascal, Hegel, and Leibniz means ignoring an essential strand of Western thought.
We can only imagine a new, better world based on knowledge or science if we look at the concept of science through the prism of metaphysics. Muslims have not yet developed a concept of science in its true meaning, namely, one derived from the Qur’an and Islamic traditions primarily shaped by the Qur’an and the hadiths. The application of science or technology by an irresponsible, selfish minority has engendered more disasters than good.
If Muslims want to end their long humiliation and help establish a new, happy world at least on a par with the West, they must replace old-fashioned positivistic and materialistic theories with their own thoughts and inspirations. Aware of their past pains and troubles, they must exert great efforts to define these problems and cure them.
A true concept of science will join spirituality and metaphysics with a comprehensive, inclusive view that affirms the intrinsic and unbreakable relation between any scientific discipline and existence as a whole. Only a concept embracing the whole in its wholeness can be called truly scientific. Seeing existence as discrete elements and trying to reach the whole from these will end up getting swamped in multiplicity. By contrast, embracing the whole and then studying its parts in the light of the whole allows us to reach sound conclusions about the reality of existence.
Spirituality and metaphysics also provide art with their widest dimensions. It fact, art only attains its real identity through spirituality and metaphysics. An artist discovers the inner world of humanity, with all its feelings, excitement, expectations, frustration, and ambitions and discovers how it relates to the outer dimension of existence. The artist then presents these in forms suitable to the medium being used. Art expresses our inner essence, which is in continuous movement to return to its source. In other words, artists unite the inspirations flowing into their spirit from things and events, from all corners of existence. Bringing together all nomena and phenomena, they then present things to us in their wholeness.
Remember that the most important source of science, thinking, and art, even virtues and morality, is metaphysics. All of existence can be perceived with a sound mode of thinking based on pure metaphysics. This allows us to view all of existence as a whole, and to travel through its deeper dimensions. Without spirituality and metaphysics, we cannot build a community on sound foundations; such communities are forced to beg continuously from others. Communities that lack sound metaphysical concepts suffer identity crises.
To build a new, happy world wherein human virtues and values are given due prominence and are effective in shaping policies and aspirations, all people, regardless of religion, must rediscover and reaffirm the spirituality and metaphysics taught in the God-revealed religions.
By M. Fethullah Gulen
This article originally appeared in Yeseren Düsünceler, Kaynak, Izmir, pp. 155-58.