Spinoza and the Spiritual Labyrinth

Spinoza’s philosophical monism structures a lot of how I think about our interactions with the world of spirits. The specifics of his work, his way of thinking and arguing as well as his assertions, are worth some attention in and of themselves, but this really isn’t the vest venue for that. Heck, I may not even be the best person for that anyway. Behind those specifics there is a monist sensibility (I’m big on that notion, aren’t I?) that is even more useful to me. That can be usefully described here, so let me see if I can get at that.

I’m going to do that by breaking the sensibility down into some grounding intuitions, that sense of how the world is ordered and how that order ought to shape how we think about it. I’m going to play a little loosely with Spinoza’s logic in order to get at this sensibility, in part because I draw different conclusions from it.

There is only one substance, or, if there is more than one substance, we can’t know about it. That is prety much the core of Spinoza (and my own) monism. The reasoning behind that is simple: to be receptive to something, you have to be like that thing in some way that allows you to interact with it. If another kind of thing existed, we would be too alien from each other to interact and so we would have no common being to ground interaction.

There are many ways that this substance can manifest. When Spinoza talks about thought and extension, ideas and matte, this is what he refers to. The key thing from my perspective is that there is no necessary limit on the number of modalities through which substance can manifest, even if we are only able to experience thought and extension.

Think about this. We share our being with the cosmos, but we may not share all of its modalities.

Spinoza makes some interesting observation while examining thought and extension. He notes that while they are both modalities of the same thing (substance), they behave quite differently. There are different rules that manifest in each modality. The way in which cause and effect operate in the modality of extension is different than the way thoughts and images develop in the modality of thought. Nonetheless, thought and and extension, idea and body, derive from and relate to the same substance.

Spinoza posits a parallelism and distinction of the two modalities, a sort of magisterium akin to Stephen Jay Gould’s effort to separate science and religion. What goes on in thought and what goes on in extension remain distinct and have no direct bearing on each other.

I don’t hold to that. That is where Spinoza and I differ to dramatic effect. You can probably blame or thank Gilles Deleuze for that. To my mind, if the modalities share a common substance, than they have an indeterminate but real relationship to each other. I do hold, though, that the modalities are real, that they reflect ontological variations within substance itself.

Which is why I suspect that the indeterminacy between thought and extension that occupies us on so many fronts these days (from magic to physics, medicine to spiritualism) won’t be resolved with new advances in knowledge. At the very best, the indeterminacy might be better clarified. To quote Mr. Monk, I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

When we get to the realm of spirited and/or spiritual encounters, this approach gives some helpful concepts with which to think about them. If there are other modalities of substance besides thought and extension, then they would likely have a similarly indeterminate but real relationship to the modalities through which we experience the world.

These indeterminicies would be even harder to clarify than that which holds between thought and extension, but would provide us with a point at which we are nonetheless able to interact with beings whose awareness operates across modalities alien to our own. Again, the thing to remember here is that all of these beings, including ourselves, share a common substance. The commonality is what makes our interaction, however vague and indirect, possible.

How we think (thought modality) and act (extension modality) have real results in substance and those real results impact those who operate in other modalities, even if we aren’t aware of them. And the reverse is true, too. Operations that transpire in other modalities have results in substance that we can experience through our own modalities, even if we can’t appreciate their sources clearly.

‘Indeterminacy’ is abstract, but when we are talking about spirit work, this is the visionary world that we place ourselves in. Whether it is dark or suffused with light, oceanic or flaming, it instills in us a sense of depth and mystery through and in which spiritual messages and images appear.

This post is fairly dense, so I won’t go too much farther with it right now. I just want to underline the importance of this indeterminate space for spiritual work and that, while it is necessary to clarify that material through thought and action, we must not hide from ourselves the many ways it cannot be resolved for us.

2 thoughts on “Spinoza and the Spiritual Labyrinth

  1. Pingback: Aeon and Modality | Disrupt & Repair

  2. Pingback: Asymmetrical Monism | Disrupt & Repair

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