Read

Is There More to Life Than What We Can See?

Published:
May 20, 2024
March 28, 2021
Is there more to life than what we can see?|Is there more to life than what we can see?|Is there more to life than what we can see?

Is there more to this world than meets the eye?

One way to answer this question is with the tools of philosophical materialism, which would clearly say “no” — what you see is what you get. The totality of reality can be measured scientifically. That is all there is. Plain and simple.

There is something appealing about this view. It is worthwhile to pay close attention to the world around us. After all, that is how gravity was discovered, how the car was invented, and how we sent astronauts to the moon. That’s even how a vaccine to COVID-19 was created.

To be sure, a scientific attentiveness to the world around us contributes to human flourishing. But the view that the material world is all there is seems incomplete. Here’s an analogy to help me explain why.

In high school, my brother helped construct the sets and props for the school plays. This work was essential for the productions, but no one would argue that the set and props were the fullness or totality of the play. Rather, the set and props are merely the backdrop or setting where the meaning and fullness of the play unfolded.

The material world isn’t everything, just like sets and props for a play aren’t everything. In life, the physical and material world is merely the stage upon which the meaning of life unfolds. As it turns out, there is more to the world than meets the eye.

Is there more to life than what we can see?

There are two important ideas to pursue here. The first is to unpack this question: If the totality of reality is not just about atoms and molecules, then what else is there? Speaking about meaning is one way to describe what we’re missing with a materialist view.

The second idea follows the first: If we can look at reality as a combination of matter and meaning, then what is the best way to find our way in this world? How should we engage reality thoughtfully?

Our guide through these two questions will be a Canadian Jesuit priest, philosopher, and theologian named Bernard Lonergan. His work is really helpful for clarifying these ideas.

Idea 1: We live in a world of meaning

The human story includes achieving remarkable feats of scientific innovation. But that’s not the whole story. In fact, human achievement has a wide-ranging story: the work of a mathematician, chemist, biologist, or physicist is very different from the work of an artist, baker, musician, or poet. These are all important disciplines, but if we are tempted to conclude that the totality of reality is scientifically measurable, then we would be missing out on the beauty of a symphony or the stirring words of poets like Amanda Gorman. These kinds of beauty are truly real and stir something within us.

Here’s where Lonergan comes in. His central claim is that we live in a world mediated by meaning. There is the world of immediacy: what can be tasted, touched, smelled, seen, and heard. This is the world of things that can be measured by science. But there is more to the world than what we can sense or deduce. We experience the world through meaning.

For example, my grandmother’s homemade apple pie has a very real meaning to me in the context of family gatherings. But let’s imagine that this same apple pie was taken out of this context and sold at a grocery store. There’s no doubt that it would still be delicious. But here’s the thing — the full range of meaning associated with the apple pie would be different, and maybe even lost.

We move about our day in a reality mediated by meaning. This meaning is nourished by our relationships and the communities we belong to. Meaning is inherited, created, and discovered — sometimes we find joy in the places we least expect it. We are also stewards of meaning as we pass it along. But how can we do this well?

Idea 2: How we should engage the world of meaning

When a car mechanic fixes a car, he or she will: 1) assess what is wrong with the car; 2) seek to understand the various solutions that can address the problem; 3) make a judgment about which solution is most likely to fix the problem; and then 4) attempt to fix the car based on this judgment.

Lonergan pointed out that no matter what activity or discipline we are engaged in — whether it’s fixing a car or deciding on a job offer — we move through a consistent and repetitive pattern: 1) experience; 2) understanding; 3) judgment; and 4) decision. These levels map perfectly onto the pattern a car mechanic follows. An artist, baker, lawyer, doctor, musician — and everybody in between — follows this pattern, too.

With this repetitive pattern in mind, we can tease out some guidelines that will keep us on track: Be attentive to your experience; be intelligent in your understanding; be reasonable in your judgment; be responsible in your decision. This is what it means to engage reality, or the world of meaning, well.

Be in love

The totality of reality is not merely the world we can see and measure. Rather, it is made up of the most important things in life, and these are very, very real: our family and friends, our hopes and dreams are good examples. These meaningful connections are what drive us onward. To be fully faithful to the meaning life presents to us, Lonergan gives us one last insight: Be in love. Love is the truest and fullest ground of reality. Be swept away by it. Be taken up into it. Then give it to the people who need it.

Creators:
Patrick Schmadeke
Published:
May 20, 2024
March 28, 2021
On a related note...
Finding Conviction with St. Joan of Arc | #GrottoMusic

Finding Conviction with St. Joan of Arc | #GrottoMusic

Grotto

Make Community Mean Something in this Pandemic

Make Community Mean Something in this Pandemic

Ben Wilson

Cocktail Recipes for the Bud Light Drinker

Cocktail Recipes for the Bud Light Drinker

Isaac Huss

Abstract Artist Creates Fresh Take on Religious Art

Abstract Artist Creates Fresh Take on Religious Art

Grotto

The Magic of Mythical Storytelling

The Magic of Mythical Storytelling

Jacqueline Rose

St. Padre Pio Spotify Playlist | #GrottoMusic

St. Padre Pio Spotify Playlist | #GrottoMusic

Grotto

This 5-Second Prayer Gets Me Through My Day

This 5-Second Prayer Gets Me Through My Day

Molly Gettinger

Facing the Pandemic as a Single Person

Facing the Pandemic as a Single Person

Grace Carroll

Lost Motivation to Hit the Gym? Here’s How to Get Back

Lost Motivation to Hit the Gym? Here’s How to Get Back

Makaela Douglas

I Didn’t Think I Could Be Happy Without a Pregnancy

I Didn’t Think I Could Be Happy Without a Pregnancy

Stacey Huneck

Meditating on the Magic of Belonging

Meditating on the Magic of Belonging

Hanna Van Elk

Free Flying Lessons for Kids from Marginalized Communities

Free Flying Lessons for Kids from Marginalized Communities

Grotto

What to Know About Getting an Annulment after Divorce

What to Know About Getting an Annulment after Divorce

Patty Breen

A New Mindset for Times of Uncertainty

A New Mindset for Times of Uncertainty

Grotto Shares

3 Ways 'This Is Us' Helps Me Be a Better Man

3 Ways 'This Is Us' Helps Me Be a Better Man

Mike Tenney

Why Thomas Merton's Example is Worth Your Attention

Why Thomas Merton's Example is Worth Your Attention

Gregory K. Hillis

Why You Should Be Reading Outside

Why You Should Be Reading Outside

LuElla D'Amico

This 28-Year-Old Shows Us How to Bear Suffering with Hope

This 28-Year-Old Shows Us How to Bear Suffering with Hope

Grace Carroll

10 Charities That Need Your Online Advocacy

10 Charities That Need Your Online Advocacy

Maria Walley

Why We Need to Get Comfortable with Death

Why We Need to Get Comfortable with Death

Sophie Caldecott

newsletter

We’d love to be pals.

Sign up for our newsletter, and we’ll meet you in your inbox each week.