I’m wondering… When was the last time you’ve measured the hertz of the joy you felt while gaining a new insight?
I’m wondering… Have you recently written down the mass density of your deepest friendships or the miles of your biggest loves?
I’m wondering… How many pounds of beauty have you experienced already this week?
Agreed, these are strange questions about truth, goodness and beauty, impossible to answer. Maybe that tells us something. Let’s take a look at the facts first.
FIRST CLUSTER OF FACTS
Human beings are gifted with a rational ability to discover truth.
We did not create this ability ourselves. Already in this sense, truth and the rational ability to discover it transcend us.
Although knowledge can be useful, truth does not necessarily answer to our needs or demands. Thus truth cannot be reduced to a merely human construct at the service of, for instance, our survival instinct. Also in this sense, the revelation of truth before our rational minds transcends us.
Science might explain how our rational ability came into being, but it cannot explain the fact that we live in a universe where truth can be found. Once again, truth and the ability to find it transcend us.
SECOND CLUSTER OF FACTS
Human beings are gifted with the ability to develop goodness – respect, friendship and love for fellow human beings.
We did not create this ability ourselves. It transcends us.
Although relationships can be useful, goodness does not necessarily answer to our needs or demands. Happiness or sadness because of the happiness or sadness of others are possible consequences of the loving connection we can make with others. As with goodness itself, the others we meet cannot be reduced to mere means at the service of our needs and desires, nor to products of our imagination. Again, goodness, respecting others, transcends us.
Science might explain how our ability to develop goodness came into being, but it cannot explain the fact that we live in a universe where goodness can be found and developed. Once again, goodness and the ability to develop it transcend us.
THIRD CLUSTER OF FACTS
Human beings are gifted with the ability to experience beauty.
We did not create this ability ourselves. It transcends us.
Although there can be cultural differences concerning the things that trigger the experience of beauty, the ability itself to experience beauty cannot be reduced to an individual or particular cultural taste or style. Again, the ability to experience beauty precedes and transcends our eventually developed preferences or cultural needs.
Science might explain how our ability to experience beauty came into being, but it cannot explain the fact that we live in a universe where beauty can be experienced. Indeed, once again, beauty and the ability to experience it transcend us.
A REFLECTION FROM RENÉ GIRARD’S MIMETIC THEORY
We can be the most destructive of beings, as our mimetic faculty can move us beyond the things we need from a merely biological point of view. For instance, we can develop eating disorders like anorexia. Or we can go so far as to kill ourselves while (mimetically) competing with others, because of a so-called heroic cause. Every time we do such a thing we of course picture ourselves in a certain way. This ability to picture ourselves in a certain way, to be self-conscious, is nothing else than the ability to duplicate ourselves, which rests on our highly mimetic faculties (a duplication is a form of mimesis, a form of imitation).
On the other hand, we can also be the most creative of beings, as, well yes, our mimetic faculty can move us beyond the things we need from a merely biological point of view. It allows us to develop an interest in or love for the world (which leads to the experience of truth), our fellow human beings (which leads to the experience of goodness), and the value of life (which is the experience of beauty).
Although our love for the world, our fellow human beings, and the value of life is itself invisible and immeasurable (we indeed cannot measure its “hertz, mass density, miles or pounds”), it is nevertheless very real. It is a reality that can be noticed indirectly. The love that carries us and inspires us may be invisible, its effects are not. Love for the world becomes visible, for instance, in the work of scientists who discover gravitational waves. Love for others might become visible in kind words, a warm embrace, a tender kiss. Finally, the creation and experience of beauty in nature, culture and art are visible expressions of the grateful realization that life is valuable, so valuable it’s priceless.
MEANINGLESS OR MEANINGFUL FACTS? A MATTER OF INTERPRETATION
Some atheists might interpret the fact that we live in a universe that allows for the ability to discover and develop truth, goodness and beauty as something meaningless.
I don’t know. Maybe our notions of truth, goodness and beauty are gateways to an awareness of a more complete Reality of Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Maybe our notions of truth, goodness and beauty are ever incomplete and anticipating mimetic models of an eventually fulfilling Understanding, Love and Joy. Just maybe.
In any case, we are living this great mystery (‘magnum mysterium’) of a reality that gracefully allows for the experience of truth, goodness and beauty. And sometimes, just sometimes, all the distracting noise disappears, and we find ourselves in tune with those transcending forces which connect us to an immensely fertile ‘cosmos’… and to ourselves. In the words of Tom, a treble from the world-famous choir of King’s College, Cambridge:
“When I sing in the choir, sometimes, there are moments when everything seems to go away, and you’re just there, which is an amazing feeling…”
Enjoy these particles of the spiritual life. From a documentary on Carols from King’s:
O Magnum Mysterium (Morten Lauridsen):
“The public has a distorted view of science because children are taught in school that science is a collection of firmly established truths. In fact, science is not a collection of truths. It is a continuing exploration of mysteries.”
Freeman John Dyson (born 1923).