The Transcendentals

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Is There Evidence for a Trans-material Soul?

Part Two – the Five Transcendentals

© Robert J. Spitzer, S.J. Ph.D./Magis Institute July 2011


The What and Why of Transcendentals

The following adds to the previous Units’ discussion of human trans-materiality by examining five transcendent desires (which reveal five kinds of transcendent awareness): the desire for perfect and unconditional truth, love, justice/goodness, beauty, and home. These five kinds of transcendent desire (and awareness) distinguish human consciousness from animal consciousness, and explain why humans have creative capacity beyond preset rules, algorithms, and programs (Gödel’s proof), and why human beings have a natural propensity toward the spiritual and transcendent.

So why do philosophers, scientists, and people of common sense assert that human beings have such a special value? The answer lies in several interrelated observations which will be discussed below. These observations are present in the works of many philosophers and scientists,[1] beginning with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, moving through St. Augustine, Moses Maimonides, Averroes, St. Thomas Aquinas, Francisco Suarez, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, John Henry Newman, and into the 20th and 21st centuries (e.g., Edmund Husserl, Edith Stein, Jacque Maritain, Henri Bergson, Emerich Coreth, Bernard Lonergan, and many others). This idea is also central to the works of many prominent physicists and biologists in the 20th and 21st centuries. Two examples of this will suffice to make our point. The first comes from the great physicist/astrophysicist, Sir Arthur Eddington, who observed, after detailing the equations of quantum physics and relativity physics:

We all know that there are regions of the human spirit untrammelled by the world of physics. In the mystic sense of the creation around us, in the expression of art, in a yearning towards God, the soul grows upward and finds the fulfillment of something implanted in its nature. The sanction for this development is within us, a striving born within our consciousness or an Inner Light proceeding from a greater power than ours. Science can scarcely question this sanction, for the pursuit of science springs from a striving which the mind is impelled to follow, a questioning that will not be suppressed. Whether in the intellectual pursuits of science or in the mystical pursuits of the spirit, the light beckons ahead and the purpose surging in our nature responds.[2]

The eminent geneticist Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project, expresses a similar insight:

As the director of the Human Genome Project, I have led a consortium of scientists to read out the 3.1 billion letters of the human genome, our own DNA instruction book. As a believer, I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God’s language, and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God’s plan. …Can you both pursue an understanding of how life works using the tools of genetics and molecular biology, and worship a creator God? Aren’t evolution and faith in God incompatible? Can a scientist believe in miracles like the resurrection? Actually, I find no conflict here, and neither apparently do the 40 percent of working scientists who claim to be believers.[3] I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God’s majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship.[4]

If the human genome can be viewed as the language of God, then human beings can be viewed as the consummate expression of that language, and it is not unwarranted to say, from a scientific and faith perspective, that human beings are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27 – “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them”).

So what is the philosophical and scientific origin of this belief in the specialness (and transcendence) of human beings? It is predominately grounded in a longstanding observation about nonhuman animals, which continues to be verified in recent empirical investigations. Bernard Lonergan expresses it as follows:

…[I]t is only when [animals’] functioning is disturbed that they enter into consciousness. Indeed, not only is a large part of animal living nonconscious, but the conscious part itself is intermittent. Animals sleep. It is as though the full-time business of living called forth consciousness as a part-time employee, occasionally to meet problems of malfunctioning, but regularly to deal rapidly, effectively, and economically with the external situations in which sustenance is to be won and into which offspring are to be born. … ¶ When the object fails to stimulate, the subject is indifferent; and when nonconscious vital process has no need of outer objects, the subject dozes and falls asleep.[5]

This might be summarized quite simply as follows. When animals run out of biological opportunities and dangers, they fall asleep. When you stop feeding your dog, or giving it affection and attention (biological opportunities), and introduce no biological dangers (such as a predator) into its sensorial purview, it will invariably and inevitably fall asleep.

In stark contrast to this, when human beings run out of biological opportunities and dangers, they frequently ask questions, seek purpose or meaning in life, contemplate beauty, think about the goodness (or imperfections) of their beloveds, think about unfairness or injustice and how to make their situation or the world better, and even think about mathematics, physics, philosophy, and theology – for their own sake.[6] When human beings run out of biological opportunities and dangers, they generally do not fall asleep; they engage in what Plato and his followers (the neo-Platonists) called “transcendental activities.” These activities reveal the specialness of human beings, which makes them deserving of special value.

The neo-Platonists identified five areas of transcendental activity (termed “the five transcendentals”): the awareness of and desire for truth, love, goodness/justice, beauty, and Being/home. They are called “transcendental” because they all seem to have a limitless horizon, and human beings seem to be aware of their limitless possibilities, and seem to desire their perfect (limitless) fulfillment. Thus, in the view of many philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists, human beings seem to have an awareness of and desire for perfect and unconditional truth, love, goodness/justice, beauty, and Being/home. Since these five transcendentals are necessarily beyond all algorithmically finite structures (which determine all physical realities and laws constituting subatomic particles, molecules, cells, and complex organic structures such as a brain), many philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists have held that human beings are more than mere matter. Human beings seem to have a transmaterial or spiritual power or dimension which enables them to move beyond every algorithmically finite structure (physical structure) and to be creative in ways that defy the possibilities of artificial intelligence.

Interestingly, this claim is corroborated in the domain of mathematics by Kurt Gödel (in the famous theorem named after him). He anticipated the limits of artificial intelligence which are defied by human intelligence on a regular basis. Essentially, Gödel showed that there will always be unprovable propositions within any set of axiomatic statements in mathematics. Human beings are able not only to show that consistent, unprovable statements exist, but also to prove that they are consistent by making recourse to axioms beyond those used to generate these statements. Artificial intelligence is incapable of doing this. This reveals that human thinking is not based on a set of prescribed axioms, rules, or programs, and is, by nature, beyond such prescribed rules and programs.[7]

If one is to deny this transmaterial dimension, one will simply have to ignore the stark differences between animal and human consciousness; to ignore human awareness of limitless horizons of truth, love, goodness/justice, beauty, and Being/home; to ignore the remarkable properties of human creativity explicated by Gödel; and to ignore the natural human capacity to seek a transcendent God. If one feels uncertain about writing off this body of evidence, then it is unjustifiable to rush into materialistic reductionism, naïve identifications of animal and human intelligence, and a denial of the human capacity for self-transcendence. But if one stops short of these simplistic positions, one remains open to the specialness of human beings, and therefore open to their special value.

I. The Desire for Perfect and Unconditional Truth

In his famous work Insight: A Study of Human Understanding,[8] Bernard Lonergan presents an argument substantiating the existence of our desire for (and awareness of) perfect and unconditional truth (which he terms “complete intelligibility”). The argument may be set out in seven steps:

(1) Lonergan begins with the frequently experienced phenomenon of asking further questions immediately upon arriving at answers. We may remember our childhood when we besieged our parents with questions such as: “Why is this?” And our parents would respond, “Oh, because of that,” and we would immediately ask, “Well, why is that?” And they would respond with yet another answer, to which we would ask another question. This ability to continuously ask questions reveals our awareness that an answer is incomplete, that is, that the answer is not completely intelligible; that it does not explain “everything about everything.” If we did not know that an answer was incompletely intelligible, we would not ask any further questions “What?” “Why?” “How?” etc. We would be very content to know our names, and to respond to biological opportunities and dangers – nothing more. It is the awareness of “something more to be known” at the very moment when something is known that drives the further question.

(2) Lonergan affirms that he has a pure unrestricted desire to know, that is, he desires to know all that is to be known; and that he has the capacity to ask further questions when he has not yet grasped “all that is to be known.”

(3) Now, the question arises, how could I have the power to ask a question every time I understand something that does not meet the expectation of “all that is to be known?” It would seem that I would have to have some awareness (at least a tacit awareness) of “all that is to be known” sufficient to know that whatever I have grasped has not yet met this objective. Thus, I might move from analytical geometry, to the calculus, to non-Euclidean geometries, to the tensor, and know that the tensor does not adequately describe the whole of mathematical intelligibility – and it truly does not. Similarly, I can attain an understanding of space-time fields, electromagnetic fields, quantum fields, the grand unified field, etc., and realize that the grand unified field still does not exhaust all that is to be known – and it truly doesn’t. This applies to every area of inquiry and every field of knowledge, and I would know if my idea did not explain everything about everything.

(4) The question again arises, how would I always know that there is more to be known when I have grasped even the highest ideas through the highest viewpoints? How would I know that those ideas and viewpoints did not explain everything about everything? How do I know what qualifies for an explanation of everything about everything? How can I have a “pre-knowledge” (an awareness) of the explanation of everything about everything sufficient to keep on asking questions, and to know what will fail to meet the objective of an explanation of everything about everything? This last question presents an essential clue to our transcendentality. How would I be able to continuously recognize incomplete intelligibility (even in the highest and most grandiose ideas) if I did not have some tacit awareness of those ideas failing to qualify for complete intelligibility? Wouldn’t I have to have some sense of what complete intelligibility is in order to recognize the limits of the intelligibility of the idea I have already grasped? Doesn’t the recognition of a limit mean that I have to be beyond the limit? If I weren’t beyond the limit, how could I recognize it to be a limit? A limit of what?

Therefore, it seems that I must have a tacit awareness of “what is sufficient to qualify for an explanation of everything about everything.” Obviously, I cannot explicitly know all the contents that I do not know; but I could have a tacit awareness of what would be sufficient for an explanation of everything about everything. This would explain how I could reach very high viewpoints of mathematics, physics, and metaphysics, and still know that I did not have an explanation of everything about everything – and even have a sense of where to turn to find such an explanation.

(5) What could be the origin of this awareness? It cannot be a physical or restricted source (empirical data, finite data, or the contents of restricted acts of understanding) because the tacit awareness of “what is sufficient for an explanation of everything about everything” is always beyond every “intelligible reality which leaves a question unanswered,” and every restricted intelligible always leaves a question unanswered. Why?

Any restricted intelligible must leave a question unanswered because the intelligibility (information) available to answer questions about it is restricted. Thus, there can always be more questions about a restricted reality than there will be intelligibility (information within the restricted reality) available to answer them. Why? Inasmuch as the answers from a restricted intelligible have an intrinsic limit (i.e., they do not keep on going indefinitely), they will eventually be open to further questions which cannot be answered by the restricted intelligible itself. Thus, we might say that every restricted intelligible is more questionable than answerable. There will always be a domain of answers which give rise to more questions than the intelligibility of the restricted reality can answer. Therefore, the tacit awareness of “what is sufficient for an explanation of everything about everything” is always beyond any restricted intelligible.

Therefore, the source of this “tacit awareness which is always beyond restricted intelligibility” must be unrestricted intelligibility. Lonergan asks himself what unrestricted intelligibility could be. He knows it cannot be a physical reality, because the intelligibility of physical reality is restricted by space, time, and other algorithmically finite structures. He therefore settles upon a trans-physical or transmaterial reality such as an unrestricted idea (within an unrestricted act of understanding). Needless to say, such an unrestricted act of understanding cannot be viewed as a brain (which is material and restricted by space, time, and other algorithmically finite structures); so Lonergan refers to it as a “spiritual” reality. This spiritual reality, this unrestricted act of understanding which is the ground of the idea of unrestricted intelligibility, would seem to be the source of my tacit awareness of “what is sufficient for an explanation of everything about everything.”

(6) Even though the idea of complete intelligibility is the source of my tacit awareness of “what is sufficient for an explanation of everything about everything,” I cannot say that I understand this idea, because it must be grounded in an unrestricted act of understanding, which I, evidently, do not have.

But how can this be? Lonergan uses the terminology of “notion” (“the notion of being,” or what I would term, “the notion of complete intelligibility”). What is a notion? It is a presence to consciousness – not a presence that is held or controlled by my consciousness, but one that is held or controlled outside of my consciousness while still being present to it. Now if I don’t understand this presence, then how am I aware of it? I must be aware of it as something on the horizon; as something beyond my understanding, but, nevertheless, something which can act as a backdrop over against which I compare the ideas which I have understood. This would explain how I would know that there is more to be known at the very moment I have understood something new, and would explain how I would know that the tensor is not the complete explanation of mathematics, and that mathematics is not the complete explanation of intelligibility itself. I am comparing it to a backdrop that is so much more than the highest possible viewpoints, so much more than any restricted intelligible, so much more than any content of a restricted act of understanding.[9]

Now, as I said, I do not understand, hold, or control this idea; it is, as it were, held and controlled for me as a backdrop to compare the intelligibility of the ideas that I have understood. But what is holding and controlling this idea for me as a backdrop? I must adduce that It would be Its source, namely, the unrestricted act of understanding.

(7) This would mean that the idea of complete intelligibility, that is, the content of an unrestricted act of understanding, that is, the divine essence, is present to me as a horizon, that is, as a backdrop which can be compared to every intelligible content I grasp through my restricted acts of understanding. The presence of the divine essence, therefore, must be the impetus for my awareness of incomplete intelligibility, the impetus for every question, the impetus for every act of creativity.

If the divine essence were not present to me, I would only be capable of recognizing objects of biological opportunity and danger, such as food, snakes, my name, affection, etc., but nothing more, for I would not ask questions about intelligibility (such as “What?” “Why?” “How? – which penetrate the nature of reality). My curiosity would be limited to biological opportunities and dangers, to discerning the mood of my master, to detecting whether an herb smells right, or a creature is dangerous. Intelligibility (the nature of things, heuristic contexts, “What?” “Why?” “How?”) would be quite beyond me – totally unrecognized by me. Therefore, I would not have a pure desire to understand – let alone a pure, unrestricted desire to understand. Without the notion of complete intelligibility (the presence of the idea of complete intelligibility, the presence of the divine essence), I would find fulfillment through a fine piece of meat and ignore the tensor.

The above argument for the existence of our transcendental awareness of complete intelligibility (and the presence of its trans-physical, unrestricted source to our consciousness) is remarkably probative. Regrettably, the cost we must pay for this probity is the nuance and complexity of the argument. The reader will be relieved to know that the other arguments for the existence of our desire for perfect and unconditional love, goodness/justice, beauty, and being/home are less nuanced and complex, but consequently have less probity. Perhaps it is best for the reader to use the above argument as a foundation for and a light through which to see the other four transcendental desires, which express the fullness of our communion with their trans-physical source.

II. The Desire for Perfect and Unconditional Love

Human beings also appear to have a “sense” of perfect and unconditional love. Not only do we have the power to love (i.e., the power to be naturally connected to another human being in profound empathy, emotion, care, self-gift, concern, and acceptance), we have a “sense” of what this profound interpersonal connection would be like if it were perfect. This sense of perfect love has the positive effect of inciting us to pursue ever more perfect forms of love. However, it has the drawback of inciting us to expect ever more perfect love from other human beings. This generally leads to frustrated expectations of others and consequently to a decline of relationships that can never grow fast enough to match this expectation of perfect and unconditional love.

This phenomenon gradually manifests itself. For example, as the first signs of imperfection, conditionedness, and finitude begin to emerge in one’s beloved, one may show slight irritation, but have hopes that the ideal will soon be recaptured (as if it were ever captured to begin with). But as the fallibility of the beloved begins to be more acutely manifest (the other is not perfectly humble, gentle, kind, forgiving, self-giving, and concerned with me in all my interests) the irritation becomes frustration, which, in turn, becomes dashed expectation: “I can’t believe I thought she was really the One.” Of course, she wasn’t the One, because she is not perfect and unconditioned. Nevertheless, the dashed expectation becomes either quiet hurt or overt demands, both aimed at extracting a higher level of performance from the beloved. When she does not comply, thoughts of terminating the relationship may arise.

The root problem was not with the authenticity of this couple’s love for one another. It did not arise out of a lack of concern, care, and responsiveness, or a lack of desire to be self-giving, responsible, self-disciplined, and true. Rather, it arose out of a false expectation that they could be perfect and unconditional love, truth, goodness, fairness, meaning, and home for one another.

Why do we fall prey to what seems to be such an obvious error? Because our desire for love and to love is unconditional, but our actuality is conditioned. Our desire is for the perfect, but our actuality is imperfect. We, as human beings, therefore, cannot satisfy one another’s desire for the unconditional and the perfect. If we do not have a real unconditional and perfect being to satisfy this desire, we start looking around us to find a surrogate. Other human beings at first seem like a very good surrogate, because they display qualities of self-transcendence. Hence, we confuse one another for the perfect and unconditioned, and undermine the very relationships which hold out opportunities for growth, depth, joy, common cause, and mutual bondedness.

What is the origin of this desire for unconditional love? Just as the unrestricted desire to know must include a notional awareness of complete intelligibility to give rise to an awareness of and dissatisfaction with every manifestation of incomplete intelligibility, so also the desire for unconditional love must include a notional awareness of unconditional love to give rise to the awareness of and dissatisfaction with every manifestation of conditioned and imperfect love. This notional awareness of unconditional love seems to be beyond any specifically known or concretely experienced love, for it seems to cause dissatisfaction with every conditioned love we have known or experienced. Thus, our dissatisfaction would seem to arise out of an ideal of unconditional love which has neither been experienced nor actualized. How can we have an awareness of love that we have neither known nor experienced? How can we even extrapolate to it if we do not know where we are going? The inability to give a logical answer to these questions has led some philosophers to associate the desire for unconditional love with “the notion of unconditional love within us,” which would seem to have its origin in unconditional love itself.

Lonergan believes that when we fulfill our desire for unconditional love by authentically loving God, we simultaneously fulfill our capacity for self-transcendence, which includes our desire for perfect truth, goodness, and beauty:

I have conceived being in love with God as an ultimate fulfillment of man’s capacity for self-transcendence; and this view of religion is sustained when God is conceived as the supreme fulfillment of the transcendental notions, as supreme intelligence, truth, reality, righteousness, goodness.[10]

Once again, the human awareness of and desire for the perfect and unconditional manifests a dimension which is not reducible to algorithmically finite (physical) structures; and so it seems that we have yet another trans-physical (spiritual), self-transcendent power.

III. The Desire for Perfect and Unconditional Goodness/Justice

As with the “sense” of perfect and unconditional truth and love, philosophers have long recognized the human desire for perfect goodness or justice. Not only do human beings have a sense of good and evil, a capacity for moral reflection, a profoundly negative felt awareness of cooperation with evil (guilt), and a profoundly positive felt awareness of cooperation with goodness (nobility); they also have a “sense” of what perfect, unconditioned goodness/justice would be like. Human beings are not content to simply act in accordance with their conscience now, they are constantly striving for ways to achieve the more noble, the greater good, the higher ideal. They even go so far as to pursue the perfectly good or just order.

A clue to this desire for perfect goodness/justice may be gleaned from children. An imperfect manifestation of justice from parents will get the immediate retort, “That’s not fair!” Adults do the same thing. We have a sense of what perfect justice ought to be, and we believe others ought to know this. When this sense of perfect justice has been violated, we are likely to respond with outrage. A violation of this sort always seems particularly acute. We seem to be in a state of shock. We really expect that perfect justice ought to happen, and when it doesn’t, it so profoundly disappoints us that it can consume us. We can feel the same outrage towards groups, social structures, and even God.

One need only look at last year’s newspapers to find a host of well-meaning, dedicated, and generous men and women who have tried to extract the perfect and unconditioned from the legal system, the ideals of social justice, and institutions dedicated to the common good. The despairing rhetoric of dashed idealism and cynicism does not belong solely to early Marxism; it can be found in public defenders who decry the legal system for prosecuting the innocent, and victims who vilify the very same system for letting the guilty go free. It can also be found in educators who criticize the educational system for not setting high enough standards, and in community advocates who tear down the very same system for making the standards too high and too exclusive. But our imperfect world will not allow either side to be perfectly correct.

As with our “sense” of perfect and unconditional love, our sense of perfect and unconditional goodness/justice has both a positive and negative side. The positive side is its ability to fuel all our strivings for an ever more perfect social order, a more just legal system, greater equity and equality, and even our promethean idealism to bring the justice of God to earth. The negative side of this “sense” of perfect or unconditional justice is that it incites our expectations for perfect justice in a finite and conditioned world, meaning that our promethean ideals are likely to be frustrated. This causes disappointments with the culture, the legal system, our organizations, and even our families. We seem to always expect more justice and goodness than the finite world can deliver, and it causes outrage, impatience, judgment of others, and even cynicism when it does not come to pass.

What is the source of this “sense” (notion) of perfect goodness/justice, even the promethean desire to save the world, and to be the “ultimate hero?” As with the desire for complete intelligibility and unconditional love, the desire for perfect goodness/justice seems to go beyond any experience or knowledge of justice we could possibly have. Our frustrated idealism reveals that we continually see the limits of any current manifestation of goodness and justice which, in turn, reveals that we are already beyond those limits. Given that our desire will only be satisfied when we reach perfect, unconditional goodness/justice, it would seem that our desire is guided by a notional awareness of perfect, unconditional goodness/justice; and, given that this notion cannot be obtained from a conditioned and imperfect world, it would seem that its origin is from perfect, unconditional goodness/justice itself. For this reason, philosophers have associated it with the presence of God to human consciousness. This presence of perfect and unconditional goodness/justice to human consciousness further reveals the transmaterial (spiritual), self-transcendent dimension of human beings.

IV. The Desire for Perfect and Unconditional Beauty

One need not read the nineteenth century Romantic poets or listen to the great Romantic composers, or view the works of Romantic artists to see the human capacity to idolize beauty. One only need look at the examples of simple dissatisfaction with beauty in our everyday lives. We don’t look good enough and neither do other people. The house is not perfect enough, the painting can never achieve perfection, and the musical composition, though beautiful beyond belief, could always be better. Once in a great while, we think we have arrived at consummate beauty. This might occur while looking at a scene of natural beauty: a sunset over the water, majestic green and brown mountains against a horizon of blue sky; but even there, despite our desire to elevate it to the quasi-divine, we get bored and strive for a different or an even more perfect manifestation of natural beauty – a little better sunset, another vantage point of the Alps that’s a little more perfect.

As with the desire for the other three transcendentals (perfect truth, perfect love, and perfect goodness/justice), human beings seem to have an awareness of what is more beautiful. It incites them to the desire for this more perfect ideal. This desire has both a positive and a negative effect. The positive effect is that it incites the continuous human striving for artistic, musical, and literary perfection. We do not passively desire to create, we passionately desire to create, to express in ever more beautiful forms, the perfection of beauty that we seem to carry within our consciousness. We do not simply want to say an idea, we want to express it beautifully, indeed, more beautifully, indeed, perfectly beautifully. We do not simply want to express a mood in music, we want to express it perfectly beautifully. This striving has left a legacy of architecture and art, music and drama, and every form of high culture.

The negative effect is that we will always grow bored or frustrated with any imperfect manifestation of beauty. This causes us to try to make perfectly beautiful what is imperfect by nature. It is true that a garden can achieve a certain perfection of beauty, but our continuous desire to improve it can make us grow terribly dissatisfied when we cannot perfect it indefinitely.

This is evidenced quite strongly in the artistic community. When one reads the biographies of great artists, musicians, and poets, one senses the tragedy with which art is frequently imbued. What causes these extraordinarily gifted men and women to abuse themselves, to judge themselves so harshly, to so totally pour themselves into their art? Perhaps it’s when art becomes a “god,” when one tries to extract perfect and unconditional beauty from imperfect and conditioned minds and forms.

Where does this sense of perfect beauty come from? As with the other three yearnings for the ultimate, we are led to the beautiful itself, for dissatisfaction with even the most beautiful objects of our experience reveals our ability to indefinitely perceive the limits of worldly beauty, which, in turn, reveals our ability to be beyond those limits, which, in turn, reveals a notional awareness of what perfect beauty might be (a notional awareness of a beauty without imperfection or limit). Therefore it is not surprising to see the divine associated with perfect beauty, majesty, splendor, magnificence, grandeur, and glory.

This notional presence of perfect and unconditional beauty to human consciousness further reveals the transmaterial (spiritual), self-transcendent dimension of human beings.

V. The Desire for Perfect and Unconditional Being/Home

Human beings also seek a perfect sense of harmony with all that is. They not only want to be at home in a particular environment, they want to be at home with the totality, at home in the cosmos. This is confirmed by Mircea Eliade’s exhaustive study of world religions,[11] which may be summarized as follows. Religion is grounded almost universally in a sense of the sacred which is not reducible to a mere subjective projection. Rather, the sacred is a source or cause of human striving to live in a spiritual and transcendent domain. This domain is not a sterile concept, but rather is filled with transcendent awareness and emotion frequently resembling what Rudolf Otto terms the sense of “creatureliness,” “mysterium tremendum,” “awesomeness,” “overpoweringness” (or “majesty”), “energy” (or “urgency”), “fascination,” and “transcendent otherness.”[12]

Exhaustive as Eliade’s (and others’) studies are, it is important to validate this conclusion for ourselves. Have you ever felt, either as a child or an adult, a sense of alienation or discord – a deep sense of not belonging? You ask yourself, “What could be the source?” and you look around and see that at this particular time you have a good relationship with your friends and your family. Your work relationships seem to be going fairly well, community involvements have produced some interesting friends and contexts in which to work. Yet, something’s missing. You don’t quite feel at home in a general sense. Yet you do feel at home with family, friends, organization, etc. You feel like you are out of kilter with, and don’t belong to, the totality. And yet, all the specific contexts you look at seem just fine. You feel an emptiness, a lack of peace, yet there is absolutely nothing you can put your finger on.

Many philosophers and theologians connect this feeling with a human being’s yearning to be at home with the totality; not merely at home with myself, my family, my friends, or even the world, but to be perfectly at home (without any hint of alienation). When the desire for perfect home is even partially fulfilled, philosophers, theologians, and mystics variously refer to it as joy–love–awe–unity–holiness–quiet.

What is the origin of our desire to be at home with all that is, to live in what Eliade termed the “sacred domain”? What gives us the capacity to experience what seems to be transcendent joy–love–awe–unity–holiness–quiet? Indeed, what enables us to sense transcendent otherness, and to be able to bridge the gap between ourselves and this transcendent Other? Does not the transcendent Other have to bridge the gap to us? If so, then our sense of perfect and unconditional home further reveals our connection and participation with a transmaterial (spiritual), self-transcendent domain.


If we examine our own desires and capacities in the domains of truth, love, goodness/justice, beauty, and being/home, it is difficult to deny the presence of transmaterial awareness and desire which seems to indicate a connection with a transmaterial source of that desire. This connection, in turn, reveals the transmaterial dimension of human beings.

If we wish to reduce humanity to mere materiality, to mere artificial intelligence, and to mere animalic consciousness, we will not only have to ignore Gödel’s proof for non-reductionistic human intelligence, we will also have to equate ourselves with beings that lapse into sleep without the stimulus of biological opportunities and dangers. More than this, we will have to deny the presence of all the above transcendental desires within ourselves (desires which cannot be explained through algorithmically finite – physical – structures). This seems a rather high price to pay, for it would mean condemning ourselves to ignore everything that matters – truth, love, goodness/justice, beauty, being/home – at its highest possible level. Do we really want to do this, all for the cause of defending materialism or justifying serious violations of the principle of non-maleficence? It would seem to be complete self-negation in the effort to negate the true dignity of every human being. This is probably not the best way to make the most of our lives.


  1. The origin of this idea precedes the advent of formal philosophy and science, and can be found in a large number of religions which are premised on the spiritual powers of human beings. Judaism formalized this belief (see Genesis 1-2), which was transmitted to Christianity, and later to Islam.
  2. Eddington 1928, pp. 327-28
  3. There is a much larger percentage of working scientists who are believers. Many prefer not to profess their faith in a public scientific setting.
  4. Collins 2007.
  5. Lonergan 1997, p. 108-109.
  6. “When an animal has nothing to do it goes to sleep. When a man has nothing to do he may ask questions. The first moment is an awakening to one’s intelligence. It is release from the dominance of biological drive and from the routines of everyday living. It is the effective emergence of wonder, of the desire to understand” (Lonergan 1997, p. 54).
  7. The theorem was published by Kurt Gödel in 1931 (1931, pp. 173-198), and was revised by John R. Lucas in 1961 (Lucas 1961, p. 120), and by the eminent physicist Roger Penrose in 1989 (Penrose 1989). An excellent summary of Lucas’ rendition of Gödel’s proof may be found in Barr 2003, p. 214.
  8. Lonergan 1992.
  9. Lonergan expresses it as follows: “[T]he notion of being penetrates all cognitional contents. It is the supreme heuristic notion. Prior to every content, it is the notion of the to-be-known through that content. As each content emerges, the ‘to-be-known through that content’ passes without residue into the ‘known through that content.’ Some blank in universal anticipation is filled in, not merely to end that element of anticipation, but also to make the filler a part of the anticipated. Hence, prior to all answers, the notion of being is the notion of the totality to be known through all answers” (Lonergan 1992, pp. 380-381).
  10. Lonergan 1972, p. 111
  11. Eliade was editor of the 16-volume Macmillan Encyclopedia of Religion. See Eliade 1987.
  12. See Otto 1958, chapters 3-6.

For more information on works cited, please see the reference page.

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