Kerry Temple '74 | March 24, 2019
The world is a magical place. I believe this to be true, although many would quarrel with the meaning of “magical.”
It is surely a realm possessed of wonders. Many of these can be classified as natural. The Earth alone is an awesome, infinitely rich organism of astounding beauty, extravagance, eccentricity, diversity — and the meticulously harmonious precision of it all. And yet it is but a pocket-size gem in a lavish cosmos, with its millions and billions of stars, galaxies, nebulae, sink holes and dark matter — and unfathomably vast spaces. To gaze into a night sky, consider the workings of plate tectonics or evolution, or ponder the origins and very existence of the universe is to confront mysteries too profound to confine.
It’s more like a miracle. As is our being here, you and I.
We associate miracles, though, with the supernatural. They happen when the reality we can see, touch and measure gets cross-wired with something unseen, unprovable, beyond rational explanation. We sophisticated, scientific-thinking Westerners like to separate the world this way — matter and spirit. And we have become increasingly dismissive, if not scornful of supposed spiritual elements. The stuff of superstition and make-believe.
Yet, as far back as we can see, humans have populated their world with the spirits of things, believed in unseen forces, gods or angels, gremlins or goblins whose powers affected their lives. Most indigenous cultures have believed a spirit world coexisted with, was one with the material reality that provides the hard-edged appearance of things. But now we understand such notions come from a primitive knowledge of the world. Scientists these days speak instead of multidimensional universes; they reconfigure our sense of time and space, and suspect that the basic building blocks of matter do not consist of matter at all. Their theories, formulae and tests to divine the tracks of unseen things say it’s so. Science fiction gets real — as believable as a planet teeming with dinosaurs, and no people.
Human nature — the nature of humans — is a crucial border state in this boundary between matter and spirit. Long-held beliefs about the fusing of body and soul evaporate beneath the penetrating lens of modern science. Our clinical probing of anatomy and mind have taken us to a frontier that leaves almost no place for a soul to hide . . . or room for a self, or even free will in our driverless computer brains.
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