Portrait of David Hume (Scottish Enlightenment philosopher 7 May 1711 - 25 Aug 1776) by artist Allan RamsayIn our everyday existence we live in several different areas of experience. Firstly there is the world of objects – things with mass, length, density, hardness etc., i.e., having measurable properties. This is the physical world.

Another world consists of thoughts, ideas, plans, memories and hopes. It also involves reasoning, logic, critical evaluation and the making of judgments and decisions. We must also include feelings, emotions, empathy, sympathy, affinity with others, kindliness, love, generosity, goodwill, self-discipline, persistence and creativity. These outlooks and behaviours result from activities going on in the brain. This is the mental world.

It is claimed by ‘true believers’ that there is yet another world. They claim that this is the spiritual or supernatural world. A dispassionate examination of this claim leads me to suspect that gods, devils, angels, heaven, hell, the afterlife, prayer and miracles are all part of the second category, i.e., the mental world, because all of the alleged manifestations of this ‘spiritual world’ may be no more than the hopeful or fantastic creations of human minds. To many, if not most, believers the sense of comfort and security produced by a mindless faith in a probably non-existent being is better that the feared emptiness of an otherwise godless world. Their lack of mental and psychological fortitude cannot accept this (to them) terrifying prospect.

For example, faith healing by which belief and prayer are supposed to produce helpful intervention from the supposed divine being. Any positive effect, i.e., remission of symptoms, healing or cure, is attributed to divine intervention and is claimed to be evidence of his love and concern for our well-being. A more realistic evaluation of this result would be to acknowledge the existence of the placebo effect, thereby freeing a situation like this from the unnecessary baggage of supernatural belief.

So, are there two or three ‘worlds’ or zones of experience? I am suggesting that there exists most probably only two, i.e., the physical world and the mental world. The purported third world – the spiritual – may be nothing more than a creation (or invention) of activities going on in the brain, i.e., in the mental world.

This outlook does not deny that there are noble feelings, altruism, aesthetics and appreciation of beauty. These are again all products of the intricate workings of the brain (source of the mental world) and are part and parcel of being human. It is but shallow and fatuous thinking to claim that they are evidence of some other-worldly super being.

Copyright © 2016 Don Allison

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2 Responses to Three worlds?

  1. Marina Jung says:

    Clearly this article is written by someone who does not have a spiritual practice such as meditation or yoga.
    There is a “spiritual world “inside each of us, waiting to be discovered.
    It is not an intellectual concept or has anything to do with “belief”.
    I have been practicing Yoga for the last 35 years, developing a bodily intelligence connected to the breath and the mind that takes one deeper to a place that can not be described but realized.
    C.G Jung talks about it too and he was not a believer nor a religious man and neither am I.

    • Rod Bower says:

      Words can be a problem sometimes, and ‘spiritual’ is one that we seem to stumble over a lot in humanist circles. It seems to me that when the author of the original post uses it he is talking about supernatural concepts such as gods, angels and devils, whereas in your reply you are talking about an aspect of being human that transcends intellectual thought and is experienced in a way that is hard to put into words.

      Compared to you I am an amateur in the world of meditation but have done enough, I think, to understand where you are coming from. I would say that my own ‘sunrise on a mountain top’ experiences are something similar, and so are occasional moments of bliss listening to a superbly performed piece of choral singing. I am quite comfortable with describing all of those as ‘spiritual’ experiences, and at the same time recognising that they are happening in my brain, not in some ‘deeper place of the mind’. All of the mind is brain activity as far as we can tell, and accepting that has not reduced at all my appreciation of such ‘spiritual’ moments.

      I suspect the original author may feel the same as me, and as you have said you’re not a believer nor a religious man I suspect we are actually all in agreement and are just once again being caught by the different ways a single word is sometimes used in the English language.

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