One of the most pressing philosophical questions I have been working through in the back of my head is the origin of metaphysics. The curse or blessing (depending on how you look at it) of being a person who likes to put mental puzzles together while also being intentionally interdisciplinarian in one’s approach is that my mind is swirling around with sometimes upwards of 10 different ideas from different interconnection domains of thinking that is going on in the back of my head. Yet each of these different ideas are connected to a specific task I have before me, although the connections may not always been immediately apparent on the surface. Metaphysics is one of those problems. It’s immediate application is to thinking about the doctrine of the Trinity and the emergence of the Nicene doctrine.
However, I am left with one difficult point that a theological thinker like Barth had to struggle with. The degree to which metaphysics is used in Christian theology there is a corresponding risk of replacing God’s revelation with an abstracted metaphysical scheme. However, it certainly seems like metaphysics is somehow necessary to some degree to make sense of the theology of Christian faith. However, I don’t think a clear understanding of metaphysics is contained within the beginnings of faith; there may be some shadowy notions such as God, oneness, etc., but these rudimentary metaphysics are not conceptual systems with a clear, fixed
Consequently, to provide a metaphysics for Christian faith entails a notion of emergence, where some novel concept or premise emerges from what is already there. In other words, the domain of metaphysics is a domain of creative expression. Granted, it is not a form of creativity we would typically think of as creative, as we associate creativity with things such as art, technological innovation, or maybe even in some academic fields like Biblical Studies, theology, and some fields of philosophy like ethics. But metaphysics creative? For the vast majority of people, it would seem like a dull, lifeless field.
But sitting in on lectures from Peter van Inwagen at the Logos Institute last year taught me something. Firstly, I am a neophyte of neophytes when it comes to the philosophical field of metaphysics. However, as I am not a neophyte when it comes to language and thinking, I saw something else: it is a domain of thinking that requires intense focus and clarity on a special domain of concepts. This matches the phenomenon of “flow” talked about by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (I will never try to type that name again: he will henceforth be known as
When we direct our
Now, if I am doing the philosophy about ethics, I will think about my ethical reasoning. But at the end of the day, I have something to compare my thinking
But there are a
But in metaphysics, this is not the case. Because metaphysics focuses on concepts that we can not place anywhere within our domain of existence, we can never directly compare the products of metacognitive activity about metaphysics with the products of metaphysics itself, as there is nothing within our experience that we can actually point our metaphysical concepts to except when we use the concepts. But it is different from metacognition about
However, that there is nothing I can directly compare my
However, at this point, I have to accept the judgment on Kant on one thing. I am not an empiricist in that I think all knowledge emerges solely from the seedbed experience. Rather, as I ascribe to the idea of embodiment cognition by authors written about by scholars such as Eleanor Rosch and George Lakoff, I think our biology structures our cognition. Consequently, there are certain cognitive structures/concepts that emerge not from sensory inputs, but from the way our biology structures our thinking, including even our neurobiology. The consequence is that our biology repeatedly structures our perception and thinking over time; there is an emergence of cognitive concepts that come from how we function in our various experience, but is not definable to any experience within the domain of our conscious attention. Put differently, there are certain set of concepts that are basic, primitives of human speech and thinking (See Anna Wierzbicka’s Semantics: Primes and Universals for more information about semantic primes) that we only know of because of the effects they have upon our thinking but not direct perception of what causes these cognitive effects. Whereas I can build a link between my concept of an apple and a direct perception of an apple or my concept of my emotion of anger and the direct perception of my own physiological state, certain cognitive concepts can only be known by the effects and not observation of their causes (unless the cause is thinking about the concept). At best, the cause of these cognitive conceptions are left to be inferred.
What this means is that there are certain concepts that emerge from our experience of the world. I would contend that through repeated activation of these concepts over the course of time, then they begin to become cognitively entrenched and becomes an automatic part of our thinking. Ronald Langacker describes the process as follows:
Automatization is the process observed in learning to tie a shoe or recite the alphabet: through repetition or rehearsal, a complex structure is thoroughly mastered, to the point that using it is virtually automatic and requires little conscious monitoring. In CG parlance, a structure undergoes progressive entrenchment and eventually becomes established as a unit.3
In other words, when a concept becomes automatized and entrenched, it becomes a default way we think about something. For instance, we by default make a connection between two events that we automatically think of a relationship between them as causal.4 We don’t reflect on two events and think “we need the concept of causation.” We just employ the concept of causation automatically. And we readily employ this same concept again and again in a variety of different domains (such as physical causation of a pool ball hitting another pool ball and social causation in one person’s speech motivating another person to act) meaning it operates as a unit.
What is especially significant about this definition is that entrenchment occurs however now just in unconscious thinking, but can also emerge from more conscious thinking of more complex structures and processes. In other words, the very act of metacognitive reflection on metaphysical concepts itself serves to reinforce the automatization and entrenchment of the cognitive schema within the thinker. Entrenchment is not just a low-level process of perception and construal of the world, but it also operates at higher-level processes of critical thinking, interpretation, and reflection. In fact, I would hypothesize that all concepts of higher ordered thinking go through entrenchment at two levels: the unconscious implicit level and then once it becomes solidified there, it can become entrenched at the conscious, explicit level of thinking also.
Hence, where the conscious focus of cognitive flow comes into this. By thinkers engaging in a flow-like state about metaphysical concepts that entails repetitive thinking about such concepts, their thoughts about the concept becomes entrenched such that they become automated patterns of thinking. Now here is where the real trick comes in. Because it becomes more automated, it means that the metaphysical concept becomes more apparent and intuitive to them without any real need to verify its existence. This sense of intuition cannot be readily connected to any specific thing in their experience, so it appears more and more to not be empirical but just a given about the world. But this is an illusion generated from the combination of biological structuring of human thought and the cognitive processes of entrenchment, neither of which we directly perceive but can only infer.
However, because such thinking is a form of creativity, the thinker about metaphysics will bring their own idiosyncratic views to the metaphysical concepts they think about. The end result is that for ever N metaphysics, there are N+1 metaphysical systems out there. Metaphysics as a heightened focused sense of creativity that does not emerge from shared experience, but only from the creative analysis of a metaphysical concept means that there is little common ground between the concepts of
However, these biological structures are expressed in and mediated through the usage of language. I am not a Chomskian who believes that language is a special module that is separate from other forms of human cognition. In line with my subscription to the field of cognitive linguistics, I think the processes of language
However, once that language begins to become an object of study and thinking itself, then we proceed to move toward the possibility of these concepts becoming entrenched at a higher level. This is William Charlton’s thesis in Metaphysics and Grammar. Charlton proposes that Western metaphysics emerges in connection with the emphasis upon thinking about the grammar of the Greek language as exemplified in Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, among others. By consciously conceptualizing the grammatical structure of Greek, the possibility of Western metaphysics began.
The implication of this is that metaphysics emerges from the repetition of certain cognitive concepts that we can not clearly point to anywhere within our fields of experience, including through the usage of language.
However, if my hypothesis about the origin of metaphysics is right up to this point, this means that while entrenchment of higher cognitive processes through the conscious deliberation of language is a sufficient condition for the emergence of metaphysics, it is not a necessary condition for such. Any repetition of any form of complex, higher level cognitive process can lead to the emerge of metaphysical concepts, although without language the existence of such metaphysical concepts may not be as clear as it is with language. Metaphysics can also emerge from complex behaviors, such as complex thinking about behaviors, such as rituals7 and ethical deliberations.
Which FINALLY leads me to my hypothesis about the New Testament. N.T. provocatively proposes the idea that writer of the Gospel of John was writing a theology of Temple.8 However, the notion of Temple is more widespread than simply in John. Paul uses it to describe the reality of believers as a result of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 4.16 and 6.19; also Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 13.12 and 2 Corinthians 3.17-4.6 resembles the temple language that Seneca attaches to Pythagoras in Epistles 94.42.9 Hebrews describe a heavenly temple that the earthly Jewish temple resembled but was not exactly equivalent to, reminiscent of a (middle) Platonic metaphysical thinking about forms. Temple seems to be a pervasive phenomenon in the New Testament in such a way that we might think that Temple operates as a metaphysical category.
If this is indeed the case, where would it emerge? More broadly, it could emerge by a combination of the reading of the OT Scriptures that make repeated references to the tabernacle and temple and engage in careful, deliberate reasoning about how things are to be there. Secondly, the ritualistic praxis of worship of God at the Temple would certainly bestow a sense of gravity to the Temple. And since the concept of there being one God entails the metaphysical concept of divinity (however that is construed by Israel), the Temple by association with God would take on a metaphysical significance. Thus, through
However, there is a third possible source here for the NT usage of Temple in a seemingly metaphysical way. Jesus’ own discourse. In John 2.19-22, Jesus says a sign of his authority to act as he does in the Temple at Jerusalem is that he will “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Here, Jesus uses the Temple not to refer to the physical Temple as others thought, but his own body.10 At this point, Jesus is referring to his own sense of identity as he is as a person. If metaphysical categories can emerge as a result of creative, focused thinking on a certain concept (and Jesus justification for acting in purifying the Temple certainly do suggest Jesus had thought about Temple), then we who believe that Jesus is the Logos from God could suggest that Jesus’ own metaphysical characterization of his body as a Temple comes from his own idiosyncratic thinking as the Logos, the unique Son of God. Thus, the metaphysics of Temple in connection to the body for Jesus could be said to emerge from His own being as lived out.
Consequently, the significance that the Temple had in John, in Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, and Revelation could be explained as coming from Jesus own’ statements (hence, John includes it in his Gospel). If the function of Temple in the NT emerges from Jesus,11 then it can explain why these three sources which employ the idea of Temple in their discourses are also the most explicit parts in the NT about the exalted (and I would say divine) role that they assign to Jesus (as the presence of God as represented by Temple language).
In short, if my hypothesis and ruminations about the emergence of metaphysical concepts is true, then I would contend the metaphysical role of Temple is the most feasible and parsimonious explanation of Christology in the New Testament and is the conceptual seedbed that other concepts, such as the equality of Jesus with God, Jesus as Logos/Wisdom, etc. emerge from.
- For instance, David Hume’s work on causation is a good example of this.
- as in not something that posited to operate independently of our cognitive activity
- Langacker, Ronald W.. Cognitive Grammar: A Basic Introduction (p. 16). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
- I want to observe here for a moment that I had to use another metaphysical term to try to describe what happens when we think about causation. While merely speculative from a simple example, this suggests to me the possibility that metaphysical concepts operate as a system and are never really cognitively understood as separate concepts in isolation.
- This then proceeds to become a prototype for other types of verbs that do not speak about change, such as “is,” which I would hypothesize is the conceptual blend of the verbal concept with the conceptualization of cognitive comparative process by which we compare two schemas and observe some sort of match between them, which I think is the origins of the metaphysical concept of identity.
- Consequently, I do subscribe to a weaker version of linguistic determinism. While rejecting the stronger versions of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, I do think that language does impact how we think about things. However, I accept that it is still possible to construe the world in ways that diverge from the way a language system impacts thinking. However, this becomes increasingly less likely and harder to do the more one become entrenched in the cognitive structures of the language, as entrenchment has a way of constraining the cognitive possibilities.
- While I have yet to read any of Dru Johnson’s books on ritual, I am inspired by the idea of the role of rituals in knowledge that his books Human Rites and Knowledge by Rituals are about.
- Seneca writes that Pythagoras’ teaching “declares that our souls experience a change when we enter a temple and behold the images of the gods face to face, and await the utterances of an oracle.” While in drawing this observation, I am not proposing that Paul is a Stoic or a Pythagorean, but only that he was using language in those passages that could have been associated with Temple.
- While I don’t want to overstate the connection if metaphysical categories ultimate originates from our biology and if Temple has taken on a metaphysical concept for Jesus, it may be significant that Temple and body are connected here. But I am not sure what the connection would be. It may just be a coincidence that I should not force any further.
- Or, if skeptical about such attributions to Jesus, a very early Jesus tradition