Spirit, Matter, Life, thought the Story of Everything.The plot: it's how you arrange Matter, Life, and Spirit when you tell a Story of Everything. It's the order in which you put them. The order will tell you what the words mean. Which comes first? Which comes last?
"Matter, Life, Spirit," said the man.
The Story winced. That was it--the very thing he would never get used to. Not the words, but the order of the words. It was what the man put first: Matter, not Spirit. (from The Story of Everything, Ch. 24)
We associate stories in which Spirit comes first with the Book of Genesis, but that's not exactly correct. In the opening verses of that book, Matter co-exists with Spirit. The earth is already present, although "without form"--literally a "trackless waste and emptiness." Water is present too, and a divine wind, sometimes translated as the "Spirit of God," is described as moving over it. It is only much later, in an obscure verse, that the Bible refers to God as making heaven and earth "of things that were not" (2 Maccabees 7:28).
In the Old Story of Everything, Spirit comes first. It assumes the role of creator, designer, unmoved mover, primal cause. The material universe comes out of its action. So does the living universe. First Spirit, then Matter, then Life.
In the New Story, it's almost the inverse. Matter comes first and Spirit comes at the end, with Life as the intermediary. The appearance of Spirit is so sudden and so recent that we're still not sure what to make of it. Part of the problem is that it's come out in us! We are the locus of its emergence and the only locus that we know of.
So what do Matter, Life, and Spirit mean? Philosophy, religion, and science have spent millennia on that question, but my attention span is minutes. So in the next three blogs I'll simply try to grasp their meaning in the New Story. Matter will be tough. It has a lot to account for now that it's in the lead-off position. Spirit will be tougher. It moves two positions, not one, from opener to closer. That's twice the work of redefinition. The definition of Life should be easy by comparison. It's Matter-plus. And there's the rub, of course: plus what exactly?
Make no mistake: a Story of Everything has to cover Matter, Life, and Spirit even if it chooses to call them something else. Make your story linear and put the three in whatever order you choose. Make your story circular and put whichever at the point of origin and return. Make your story hierarchical and stack the three of them up. But you've got to touch all the bases and you've got to say how you did it. Stay tuned.
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COPYRIGHT © 2007 JOHN N. KOTRE