“Sh’ma Yisrael …”

Friends, This is a long piece (about 3800 words) that resulted from a recent conversation with Pete Hinde and Leon Krier.  It attempts to break new ground.  I am counting on your observations to help me clarify and emend its shortcomings.  I am sorry for the length, but I think it is worth a patient reading. 

Sh’ma Yisrael …”

At the base of all our spiritualities there is the ancient belief rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures and inherited by all the religions of the book that “God” is a “person.”  Everything else is derived from that — the doctrines of creation, providence and prayer, theories of sin, suffering and death, incarnation, redemption, reward and punishment after death, etc.  It is all in function of a personal “God.”

Many simply assume that our intersubjective relationship with “God” depends upon “God” being literally a “person” in human terms.  To sustain belief in that kind of “God” you cannot affirm evolution as it really is:  a self-originating, self-elaborating, autonomous material development.  You have to imagine a “God”-person intentionally choosing to create the material universe — either by direct action or through the agency of evolution, considered as a material tool selected by a spiritual “God.”

Many Catholics, inspired by Teilhard de Chardin, believe that a personal humanoid “God” chose (designed?) evolution to do his creating for him.  Their “God” is separate from evolution which they think of as “his” created agent, like Plato’s demiourgos.  They think this means that science and religion are reconciled, just as Philo, Paul, Justin, Clement, Origen and Arius thought Moses and Plato were reconciled through the mediation of a “subordinate” Logos, the Christian upgrade of Plato’s intermediary between a spiritual “God” and a material creation.  But the “solution” in all these cases is a superficial revisionism that is not only internally incoherent (by claiming that evolution, a non-rational process, has been set in place by rational choice for rational ends) but also keeps the essence of an untenable theism intact, leaving true immanence shattered and in ruins.

I want to emphasize: it’s this element of rational intention, so essential to our definition of human “persons,” that militates against the accep­tance of evolution as it really is.  Evolution is not an intentional  process.  It extrudes new things from the material substrate of the universe spontaneously — without rational design.  It is driven by no other factor than survival.  The insistence that “God” is a humanoid “person” who chooses — does things for reasons — demands that evolution either be rejected outright or rendered meaningless.


At this point I want to introduce the notion of intentionality as a contrast with “intention.” It is similar to the way that personality contrasts with “person.”  In each case the abstractness denotes something broader and more fundamental than the very specific rationalized human version evoked by the concrete words.  Intention is rational and limited to human beings, intentionality is not.   We have arbitrarily limited subjective intentionality to what we humans experience as intention and hence we have limited personality to persons.

The kind of thing I am referring to is really nothing new.  We experience intentionality that is not intention in other life forms and even in ourselves all the time.  The gregariousness of animals (even at low levels of biological complexity), their survival drives to feed themselves and avoid predators, their urge to reproduce and care for their offspring, are all examples of intentionalities that are not intentional for they are not rational­ And, if we look carefully and objectively at ourselves we will frankly admit that much of what we pursue in life, what we like to call our choices and preferences in all areas, are often no more rationally intentional than the reactions of the animals.   Historically speaking, it was this penchant of ours to follow our intentionalities rather than our intentions that gave rise to the classic “spirituality” of the past — a program dedicated to providing the “spirit” with the resources necessary to dominate and control “the flesh.”  This is a clue to where intentionality as opposed to intention lies: in our bodies.  It is a function of material energy.  It is the  expression of the respective conatus proportionate to each kind of thing.

Since the end of the middle ages, our dualist Cartesian mindset, invested in making the sharpest possible contrast with human rationality, avoided associating these “animal” proclivities with intention in any form and so defined them rather as “instincts,” by which was meant pavlovian reflexes not distinguishable in any way from mechanical reactions.  But we realize in our own case, our non-rational intentionalities function integrally with our intentions; our urges are not separate and opposed to our rationality.  I believe that fact together with the direct observation of the phenomenon as it functions in other life forms justifies the affirmation that the same is true of all things, proportionate to their level of evolutionary emergence.  This represents a sea change in our view of the world; for prior to this we thought of evolution — like all material processes — in strictly mechanistic terms.  Evolution is intentionless, and on that basis we denied it any intentionality at allA mechanistic evolution (devoid of intentionality) while contrary to the rational nature of a “personal” “God,” ironically allowed that “he” might use evolution as a tool, but “from a distance,” i.e., not be identified with it.   But the solution doesn’t work; for to claim a rational, intentional “God” selected a non-rational intentionless tool in order to create the universe, is incoherent.

Further down, at the fundamentalist level, some dispute the universal validity of evolution on scientific grounds.   While there is, in fact, a “data gap” with regard to the evolution of species (no one has actually observed the emergence of a new species) it is merely an academic glitch.  But it is being exploited by these people to draw the entirely unwarranted conclusion that evolution is “only a theory” — a conjecture.  It is not.  Evolution is an established fact.  The focus on the “data gap” is intended to provide justification for those who want to deny evolution altogether.

The rejection of evolution, like its reduction to a lifeless mechanism used by a living “God,” is all about preserving the image of “God” as a rational humanoid “person” who functions intentionally.   It prevents us from appreciating the real depth and breadth of “participation in being” — the true immanence that obtains between us and “God.”  What I am saying is that by denying the real autonomous reality of evolutionary self-extrusion, which is driven by an intentionless non-rational intentionality, we are actually undermining the true significance of our relationship to “that in which we live and move and have our being.”

Evolution and our sense of the sacred 

So how does this work?  How can I reconcile my insistence on the unintended (non-per­son­al) necessities of the evolutionary process as observed and confirmed by science, with the equally insistent demands of my sense of the sacred which loves existence and therefore is spontaneously drawn to a relationship of love with its source and matrix?   This is the heart of the issue, and I refuse to deny or downgrade either side.  These two realities, evolution as it really is and the sense of the sacred, both exist, and without them I cease being human.  How can this be understood?

(1)  Relationship.  I begin by saying I know nothing except “my side” of this relationship that is constitutive of my very self.  All I know of the other side (my source and matrix) are the “material” elements that comprise it, and those material elements are as observed and measured by science at all levels.  I call it matter’s energy.  As in the case of any two entities that may relate to one another, science can describe them, it can break them down into their components, it can determine their compatibility for relationship, and it can even observe and measure how they react when they actually do relate to one another, but science does not … cannot … know when, how or even whether these composites should inter-relate subjectively.

I am human and so I choose intentionally.  From my side, that I recognize an unmistakable intentionality and choose to relate (to have an affective bearing) to the “source and matrix” of my self, cannot be judged much less impugned by science.  If I choose to “love” that matrix, for example, science has nothing to say about it, for “love” (except for its measurable physical reverberations) is an exclusively intersubjective phenomenon.  Where science does have competence is over the “facts” of the observable, measurable behavior and structure of “that in which we live and move and have our being” — i.e., over the object, what I choose to love, matter’s energy — not that or why or how I choose to love it or what it means to me to do so, for science cannot interpret what this intentionality means to me.

First conclusion:  All things are exclusively made of material energyMaterial energy is not just as physics and chemistry observe, study and measure it, but as it is displayed in all its composite forms throughout all levels of emergence.  There exists at all levels a proportionate intentionality that renders material energy the potential object (and subject) of an intersubjective relationship because of its constitutive connection to the multi-graded intentionalities of the organisms that emerge from it.

(2) Subjectivity.  Subjectivity is what makes something capable of relationship.  A synonym is personality.  Parallel and corollary to what we have done with intention, we have also improperly restricted our traditional definition of subjectivitypersonality — to “persons.”  That is inaccurate both positively and negatively.  Positively, we actually do have intersubjective relationships with entities that traditionally are not considered persons, like our pets, farm, zoo and wild animals (including even birds and insects which are not of the higher orders of intelligence) where an experienced mutuality is operative on both sides of the valence.  Negatively, we have no right to decide a priori that true “subjects” who can “relate” must think and choose as we do.  This was the scholastic error and Thomas was part of it.  They arbitrarily declared that a “person” was an entity with the faculties of intellect and will.  Intellect and will are the components of human rational intentionality and therefore constant features of human intersubjective experience.  It is an entirely gratuitous over-generaliza­tion to insist that all relational subjectivities must function likewise.  With such an anthropocentric definition of subjectivity there is no room left for the kind of intentionality that may be so boundless as to be incapable of the limited episodic activity required by a human interchange.  There is nothing to prevent me from imagining an intentionality so universal in its reach and so changeless in its operation as to be indistinguishable in every way from a force of nature.  We have arbitrarily defined such invariable uniformity as the exclusive characteristic of inert, lifeless matter, mechanistically devoid of any resident vitality or intentionality and incapable of being either the subject or object of “love.”

Second conclusion:  the invariability of natural forces and processes does not preclude the possibility that they are the expressions of a non-“personal” subjective intentionality and therefore the valid interface for a relationship.

(3) benevolence and love.  We have been inconsistent within our own philosophical tradition by preferentially defining love and benevolence as transactional functions that mediate between separate needy “selves” necessarily involving the transfer of desiderata.  They are imagined, in other words, from the perspective of “give and take,” or “need and provision.”  It reveals their anthropocentric origins.  I love someone and so I give them something they need, or I am the recipient of something they see that I need.  Even affection, in this view, falls under the category of “need and provision” and so “love” becomes an “act of charity.”

The glaring inconsistency I’m referring to is that we know quite well that we also experience “love” as a simple state of contemplative admiration which results in the supremely quiet pleasure of basking in the presence of the beloved … an attitude that gives rise to a different kind of affection altogether … one that bypasses “need and provision.”  That my ultimate satisfaction consists in my awareness that the beloved exists and is here with me is a universal human experience (if not its very apex, as Aristotle claimed).  A love of this type does nothing, gives nothing, needs nothing, asks nothing, wants nothing, except what it already has: co-existence, co-presence, being-with the belovedThe assumption that religion necessarily brokers a quid pro quo relationship with “God” is challenged by this fact.  For just as we can “love” our source and matrix in an act that is coextensive with our own self embrace without asking for anything further, our source can also make existence available to us without it being a “gift” to “another.”  It can extrude it from itself the way a bud or a branch is extruded from a tree.  The extrusion always remains a part of itself, and yet it exists as “something new.”  This metaphor evokes pan-entheism.  Love of the beloved and love of self are the same thing, for the realities, while distinct, are not different, separate and other.  In this sense, there is no “creation,” there is only evolution.

When we talk about our relationship to “that in which we live and move and have our being,” I can easily imagine a “God” whose self-possession is so bottomless and changeless that it uncontrollably extrudes (exudes or “oozes”) an abundance of existential offshoots from its own substance unintentionally, purposelessly … as a necessary effluence of its own fullness, endlessly generating other co-existents that emerge from it like branches on a tree.  It “can’t help it,” in other words, and the end result is that all things remain an integral part of itself.  There is no “other” and yet all things emerge into existence as a function of a non-rational creative intentionality in which all participate because they are all the emergent forms of the same substrate.

My “personal” relationship to the source and matrix of my “self” need not be focused on a desideratum like my well-being or eternal life.  There is nothing to prevent me from sitting in sheer contemplative delight, passively and endlessly enjoying the palpable co-presence within my own body — as my own body — of my source and matrix.  Like the leaf and the tree, I and my source are one and the same thing.  But don’t misunderstand.  While the leaf is not separate it is distinct from the tree; the leaf emerges from the tree, the tree does not emerge from the leaf.  I am here integrally but distinguishably at one with my source and matrix, and I love it!  “Sh’ma Yisrael!

Third conclusion:  “religion,” as a love relationship with our source and matrix, does not require that there ever be anything other than the natural order exactly as it is, or that I and those that I love ever be or get anything more than what we have received, now or after our death.

(4) metaphor.  The traditional Christian metaphors and images, especially the ones that Jesus used or created or acted out … “God” as loving father … the lilies and the sparrows of the field … the sun shining on the just and unjust the prodigal son … the sermon on the mount … the woman taken in adultery … the good samaritan … feeding the multitude … etc., etc., all serve to illustrate the unwavering universal benevolence of “God” and what imitating that benevolence would look like among us.  Those metaphors can be applied to any factual configuration that is found to exist in nature.  The ersatz dualist Platonic “science” of the ancient world, used for more than a thousand years in an effort to “scientifically” ground the love relationships that Jesus declared to be the leitmotif of his Jewish vision, was in fact not a part of his message nor is it necessary to sustain his vision.  For my part I would claim Jesus’ vision was ill-served by it.  His vision stands on its own.  It needs no philosophy or theology to justify it.  Love, in every direction, works for us.  We all know it.  It is self-evident.  End of story.   Whether universal reality is all matter, or all spirit, or a combination of the two is irrelevant.  The existence of an immortal soul or a parallel “spirit-world” is not essential to that vision.  That “God’s” benevolence might come from a material subjectivity which creates by an intentionality expressed as an invariable evolutionary self-extrusion — however unimaginable and foreign to our experience — is also completely compatible with Jesus’ message.  Going a step further, if we want science and philosophy as they exist in our times to conflate with Jesus’ vision of love, then we have to stop insisting on the ancient obsolete scientific view of “spirit” as opposed to “flesh” (the ground of “person” and its conscious rational intentionality) that has resulted in the rejection of evolution and the establishment of traditional doctrines like creation, providence, original sin, incarnation, redemption, the indispensable church, etc. most of which were never part of Jesus’ message.

Fourth conclusion:  those traditional dualist religious doctrines that have been rendered untenable by a theology informed by science and shown to be incompatible with the message of Jesus, can and should be transformed into metaphors, given a new meaning by the parables, and used for the promotion of Jesus’ vision of love.


11 comments on ““Sh’ma Yisrael …”

  1. Christina Hebert says:

    Tony, you are plucking at strings that are about to break. Your language is straining to handle the chords/beat/vibration/melody/hertz that you are trying to express (I think of it as humming).

    Intentionality is NOTHING without intention; personality draws its essence from our notion of person! Your descriptors want to destroy the words from which they draw their very meaning.
    I do understand your meaning (I hope) but I worry that your vehicle of expression (english language, written) is limiting you and what you could convey. To be provocative; it is limiting to your own understanding of what you FEEL.

    Your other readers will, again, become aghast, but here I am.


    “How can I reconcile my insistence on the unintended (non-per­son­al) necessities of the evolutionary process


    “While there is, in fact, a “DATA GAP” with regard to the EVOLUTION of species”


    “….exploited by these people to draw the entirely unwarranted conclusion that evolution is “only a theory” — a conjecture. It is not. EVOLUTION IS AN ESTABLISHED FACT. The focus on the “data gap” is intended to provide justification for those who want to deny evolution altogether.”


    “The rejection of evolution, like its reduction to a lifeless mechanism used by a living “God,” is all about preserving the image of “God” as a rational humanoid “person” who functions intentionally ….”
    I have to wonder (aghast). Where does such an assertion leave me and most of my generation?

    Rejection of evolutionary theory is not irrational because it follows the very dictates of science as we DEFINED IT … a data gap is no small thing! Only a strongly held BELIEF can fill this gap. Science and religion are blurred, our thinking processes have boxed us into a corner.

    Changing direction, a bit … I don’t define LIFE by DEATH. I see the energy in and of which we exist. This energy is you and me and everyone else, that is how magnificent it is. It can be wrong and right, north and south, in and out, but without it, neither extreme exists.

    I see you straining against the powers that have defined what you, so bravely, seek to re-define; I am in awe of this struggle. But, I am outside. You are inside. We see the same things. Oftentimes, we have different names for these things; yet, we share a language. ?Plato’s cave, taken to a new dimension?

    Ironic or just LIFE expressing her multitude of ways? Especially, when I feel so strongly attached to your words, (more than worth it, as usual) such as this, “While the leaf is not separate it is distinct from the tree; the leaf emerges from the tree, the tree does not emerge from the leaf. I am here integrally but distinguishably at one with my source and matrix, and I love it! “Sh’ma Yisrael … !”

    I know I have been a thorn in your side; I thank you. I have found that by contemplating and (then usually) disagreeing with your ‘approach’ that I have found my own thoughts previously ‘unexpressible’ expressible. You are a treasure to all us wondering wanderers ….

    Respectfully and hopefully helpful,

    • tonyequale says:


      As usual I am grateful for your interest and energized by your zest for engagement. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify.

      Yes, semantically speaking the word “intention” is the original and its abstracted cognate “intentionality” derived its meaning from there. But I emphasize, that is the semantic relationship … the plane of the origin of the words. But once the word is coined and applied to an object as chosen and defined as I have done, it moves to the metaphysical plane and is no longer defined by its semantic originator. I have given it a new definition. There it can denote something that is not dependent upon but rather precedes its semantic source and provides the guiding base from which the first takes its meaning-in-context. You may not be very happy with my neologisms, but by admitting, as you do, that you understand what I am driving at, you must also admit that “intentionality” (however barbarous it may sound to your ears) is the broader and less specific phenomenon, with the word “intention” understood as rational choice logically subaltern to it. “Intention” is only one type of “intentionality.”

      Similarly with “person.” Everybody remarks how my puppy “Grizzy” (Griselda, of course) has “a lot of personality.” Everyone understands perfectly what that means and it does not deter them from asserting quite vociferously at the same time that she is absolutely not a “person.” This is common usage and it betrays the fact that we actually experience an intersubjective relationship with our animals that is undeniable and not a metaphoric projection, even while it is clearly not rational, and human only on my side.

      Yes I am pushing these words over the edge of the conventional meaning they are generally used for. But I give suffficient grounds and examples for my usage and, their barbarity notwithstanding, I have a perfect right to do so. I may lose readers to an insuperable nausea, but I cannot be accused of distortion or incoherence, and I dare say of unclarity either. I believe what I am saying is perfectly clear. Your objection is a matter of taste, then, not substance.

      On the question of the evolution of species, no one has ever observed the emergence of a species. But we must understand this in context. The “observations” they actually do make of genetic drift and the modification of sub-species traits are in lab controlled environments where the kind of geographical isolation and deep time needed to achieve the “non-reproductivity” that defines species has not been replicated. It may not be possible. Outside of that, the evidence for evolution is absolutely overwhelming. No serious scientist doubts it. And even those who claim that Darwin’s Galapagos finches were only intra-species “modifications” responding to environmental pressures and that that is the limit of evolution, have left themselves no choice but to then claim that it is “God” who “bumps” a specimen already substantially modified by evolution to “new species” status by direct divine intervention. Absurd. Is that what you are claiming? If not, what other factors are responsible for the “origin of species.”?

      My last point would be to chide you to provide your own explanation for these things. If you acknowledge my sincerity in trying to find “answers” to the questions about existence, discrediting my solutions is not in itself an answer. Without a vision of your own, all that’s left by default is the status quo. Is that where “you are at”?


      • Christina says:


        Aloha, I am in Hawaii. Physically, I moved from Virginia to Hawaii in October. Intellectually (or metaphysically?, I have been figuring out where “I am at” …. you chided me (quite rightly) … it was well received and I hope to state my own “position” when replying to yours in the future. I have not yet caught up on your recent posts; so, forgive my late replies. You have to realize that your posts are so full of information that it takes a while for my mind to assimilate it all. Of course, raising 3 children has a way of interfering with the deep thinking needed; practical matters tend to use up my ‘thinking’ time. If words were food, yours would be a feast and those take days to digest!

        This is where I am:

        Intellectual bullying … for example, your dismissal of those who do not agree with Darwinian evolution. I ‘believe’ in hybridization theories or more accurately, along the line of the saltationists from Darwin’s time. Darwin continued with the old ‘scholars’ (like Aquinas) he did not separate from them. It was scary to think of ‘evolution’ happening so suddenly … more importantly, out of our control. I would love to pick your brain about such things. Could we email each other? This would give me more room to explain ‘where I am at’ and cover more intricate ‘thoughts’ … you requested ‘my take’ and I plan on delivering!

        I think that your generous use of terms is admirable, even necessary in the evolution of our thoughts (and creation of ‘new’ traditions.) However, how do we convey such thoughts to the ‘masses’ or everyday people? A new theology is useless if it is not understood and infused into everyday life. I think Spinoza had worries about this, as well, as Nietzsche noticed. But, I take this even further … I disagree with your use of the word instinct (stemming from Darwin) and ‘life’ was some great accident. I distinguish human from animal; not that we aren’t creatures but that we have a spark … we know good because we know evil. Both are within us; holding these two poles together (like an electro-magnetic field) forms gravity (our balance) and is our ultimate challenge. Instinct, we share with the ‘animals’ and equating it with ‘survival of the fittest’ is, in my opinion, misleading. Animals are not evil, they kill each other out of instinct not to be mean or greedy.

        Then we agree on this; human relationships are the key to this balance of ourselves (nature). Love is the only emotion that matters, along with fear. Alexis Carrell makes a major point about this, love and fear are the only two causal emotions ‘worthy’ of us. We survive (fear acting) then we LIVE (love acting) … he wrote something in his Reflections on Life that made me think of you. It is a long quote but I realized when reading this that I continued to argue (I call it a vibrant exchange) with you because I thought of you in this way. He begins with this question. “How can we contribute to the spiritual progress of our children and our children’s children?” He ends with this. ” … we need guides who combine a knowledge of the modern world with the science of the doctor, the wisdom of the philosopher and the conscience of the priest … qualified to serve as guides to the vast flock of those who wander in universal confusion.”

        Back to intellectually bullying — science is better than religion was. Modern science is founded on Darwin’s evolutionary theory and Pasteur’s germ theory. Both had contemporary ‘enemy’ theories founded on ‘good’ science. Monomorphism (Pasteur) is the fundamental basis of chemistry and biology … pleomorphism is considered ridiculous, even when ‘they’ witness a bacteria changing form because it lies outside ‘their’ belief system. Darwin’s contemporaries who argued his theory were considered ‘religious fanatics’ although the evidence (fossil records) they pointed to were clear as day! In our own time, Luc Montaigne (I have that last name wrong) found that dna could be re-created in pure water through vibrations! There is a force that forms life (I believe a conscious one) from ‘memory’ … back to that electromagnetic field! Have you read this study? He discovered (isolated) the HIV virus and won a nobel prize for this but had to ‘escape’ to a Chinese university to continue his amazing work! He used the term intellectual bullying … as the reason why he left his position. If we allow our ‘institutions’ to define what is ‘real’ we are the losers. Part of my vision is this: all theories are valid, but the ones I doubt the most are the ones which our current science is based on. This may be a shaky foundation for a vision but it is where I am.

        Always with respect,
        Happy New Year,


        PS I really do like your puppy’s name … does it fit her?

  2. Bob Willis says:

    I have read closely, twice indeed, your recent post. I also have read Hebert’s comment and your reply. I may add the following obsrevations.

    Forty-five years ago I sat for my “ad grad” examination prior to receiving my S.T. M (Masters in Sacred Theology). I got into hot water only twice in that three-hour oral.

    I was asked what i thought about “creatio extra deum.” I said that it was impossible if one holds that God is All Being. “But doesn’t that make you a pantheist?” “No, it makes me a pan-en-theist. Given that one holds that God is All Being, then there cannot be beings outside of God. If God is to create beings that are not God, they can only be created in God.”

    Later I was asked whether saying that God is the creator is naming an essential and true quality of God, or whether it is rather an attribute; that is, a teaching metaphor. I knew they wanted me to say the latter, for the former would mean, given that creatures exist, that God had to create beings in order to be God. That would, of course, mean that God needed creatures just as much as creatures need God. I bit the bullet and said that, given that creatures exist, which they do, then God is essentially and really creator. If one does not maintain that, then God would have to be changeable, which, by definition, God cannot be. A massive argument broke about among the examiners. I listened, relieved. They took up much of my time! In the end the dogma professor exclaimed in exasperation, “I must think more about that.”

    You say that “person” has been arbitrarily confined to beings that have the exercise of intellect and will. Hebert appears to disagree. I don’t. From a psychological point of view, I would maintain that we experience four levels of being, each separate, each that are shared “mutatis mutandis” with other non intellectual/non will exercising beings.

    All beings have a “public face,” what the Middle Ages called a “mask” or a “persona.” It is simply the outward presentation which is fairly consistent and readily recognized. (“Behold yon Cassius. He has a lean and hungrry look.” “What a friendly dog! He thinks everyone simply loves him!”)

    When threatened, the “persona” gives way to the attempt to handle, control, or ward off the threat. In humans, we designate this as an activity of the ego. (“Watch out. He’ll bite your head off!” “At the least sudden move, she’s off and running. What a scaredy cat!”) A being does not have to have an ego to react defensively, with fight or flight, when presented with a threat.

    At a deeper level yet, we experience what I would call “person.” It is the habitual structure by which we recognize our self as being stable and consistent, as being different from other beings. This structure forms over time through directions pursued and taken, goals routinely sought, powerful and long-lasting experiences, persistent likes and dislikes, companions sought after or beings distanced. By intellect and will we humans can be self-reflective about this, knowing ourselves knowing and choosing. But that does not mean that other beings lack this habitual structure, or that they don’t recognize what fits or does not fit their own peculiar structure. So, for example, dogs as pack animals readily recognize not only other dogs but dogs from their own pack. Yet dogs raised from prior to four month’s in age with cats accept the cats into their pack and don’t treat them as anything other than one of their own. And anyone who has a dog attach himself to him or her such that the “dog dogs my steps” know how the human is readily recognized as a member, and even leader, of that dog’s pack! Yet let an “outsider” (human or non-human) invade the dog’s territory, a terrible flurry of barking and howling and jumping around occurs. They obviously know their own! Which means they obviously know themselves, at least as different from the outsiders.

    Finally, we experience the level which I would call “self” or “relation.” It is the experience of reaching out, of directing oneself toward, of sharing, of being connected to or loving. For human beings, this happens sometimes by intention, other times it happens as if being taken over. For example, sometimes I love another slowly and intentionally; other times I am just swept away and drawn into the other: intention has nothing to do with it. And this happens with non-humans as well. (“I got lost in the vibrant colors.” “I lost all sense of time as I listened to the symphony.” “This place in the forest, above all, speaks to me of peace.” I think this conforms to your distinction between “intention” and “intentionality.” just as it also conforms to your distinction between “person” and “personality.”

    In the strict sense of a being having intellect and will, I would say that we human have it and, as far as we know, nothing else does, including”God.” But that does not mean that non-humans including “god” do not have the four levels I have described above. They do. We know this through our own experience, if only we pay attention to it.

    My best regards, Bob Willis

    • tonyequale says:


      Thanks very much for this deepening perspective on non-rational subjective life especially your inclusion of “God” on display as the living substrate from which all levels of life emerge. I have always been afraid that readers would equate all non-human affect with animal life alone, since it is the only example that is readily perceived and appreciated. We tend to forget that what we are studying is the totality of material energy which must include both the composites it has evolved and the forces of composition that brought them forth. To study material energy only as sub-atomic particles, as physics does, is an abstraction. That’s not the way reality comes; reality comes composed all the way up the ladder. In fact the components are never found alone or on their own; we have to employ our most powerful colliders to break apart what the substrate has put together to even get a nano-second’s glimpse at the ultimate components. To describe and define reality as exclusively seen and studied by physics is like a plant biologist who minutely examines an acorn and then myopically declares that that is the essence of oak, mistaking the seed for the tree.

      Of course, it was the Cartesian penchant for breaking everything apart into its components that dominates “modernism” and it’s the attempt to put humpty-dumpty back together again that characterizes our “post-modernism.” Your encounter with the auditors of scholastic philosophy revealed the difficulty that the modern mind — even for the experts — has in wrapping itself around metaphysical “participation” and its epistemological dilemmas. Our inability to think “holistically” accounts for much of what we miss in ourselves and our universe, and we are impoverished for it.

      Thanks again for your insights. This is a communal project and I am grateful for all the contributions that further it.


  3. Leon Krier says:



    As always, your blogs keep clarifying and expanding the vision we pursue with you. I’m not sure exactly what the “new ground” is you refer to; these reflections seem continuous with everything you’ve been writing. So, I would find it helpful if you clarified further what the “new ground” is.

    I would suggest that the recent announcements from CERN regarding the Higgs Boson may challenge us to add a new metaphor to our understanding of the universe and evolution. Yes, I certainly resonate with the “self-extruding” metaphor; however, the following excerpt from an article by Clive Cookson provides a different orientation. This image highlights how mass GATHERS rather than EXTRUDES. I’m copying Clive’s comments; I couldn’t summarize it any more succinctly.

    Therefore, it is not a question of “either/or” but rather “both/and” which is so typical of a quantum view of the universe.

    Thanks for the gathering!!



    Clive Cookson:

    A common shorthand description of Higgs is that it confers mass on other subatomic particles – and therefore on everything in the universe. Without it, nothing could exist. But the reality is far more complicated and explicable only through mathematics.
    In fact, what gives mass is the Higgs field, which permeates the universe. The more resistance a particle feels as it passes through the field, the more massive it is.
    You can think of the Higgs particle as something that transmits the field, like the photon (light particle) transmitting the electromagnetic field but this is misleading. The photon has a permanent existence travelling in a specific direction, whereas the Higgs is more like a ripple or quantum fluctuation in the field.

    To bring the Higgs into existence as an independent particle requires the stupendous energy of Cern’s Large Hadron Collider collisions. Even then it disintegrates within an infinitesimal fraction of a second into a cascade of secondary particles.

    Although the Cern physicists would not offer a simple metaphor, Professor Heuer did give a longer analogy for aspects of the Higgs mechanism. Here is an edited version: imagine the Higgs field as a large number of journalists evenly distributed through a room. Someone unknown, of no interest to the media, would pass through the room without any interaction – analogous to a massless particle such as a photon moving through space. Someone famous would be slowed down by questioning, with the amount of resistance depending on their level of celebrity – analogous to a particle acquiring mass.

    Now imagine that there is a rumour that a celebrity will soon make an appearance in the room. This is like the Higgs boson, creating a clustering effect like a real celebrity as people gather to discuss the rumour and pass it on.


    • tonyequale says:


      Thanks for the Cookson quote and the imagery. I like the image of “gathering.” The metaphors I use are symbols for the existential relationships that rule the entire process by which new forms and combinations emerge from one another as spawn of the material substrate. They are not meant to explain an actual physical occurrence especially at the subatomic level. That latter task belongs to the science teacher who looks for ways to explain what is happening “in other words.” “Extrusion” is a relational metaphor not a physical one. “Gathering” and Cookson’s imagery of the jounalists help explain the Higgs.

      The “new ground” I spoke of is my attempt to provide concrete justification (with examples) for the possibility of really loving “that in which we live and move and have our being” with our “whole heart, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourself” — the core foundational thread of our religious tradition. I am also trying to reclaim Aristotle’s insight into contemplative admiration as a source of disinterested love to get away from the “obedience” quid pro quo (reward and punishment) mentality that has dominated western Christianity despite its disregard for the basic message of its founder. Quid pro quo might be appropriate to a “two world” universe, but not to the one we are trying to discern and describe.

      I deeply appreciate that you, among others, have taken on the pursuit of the expression of this common vision … searching for ways to speak about this new understanding of reality that we share.


  4. rjjwillis says:

    Tony–and Leon,

    I think I might be able to add something from a psychological perspective to the comments you have shared.

    From my own experience, as well as from the writings of contemplative humans, I have come to the conclusion that attention may lead to union. When that union occurs, there is no experience except that of uniting, of being together, of relating. At that instant both subject and object, relator and related, disappear. All that is left is the relating.

    For me, this is the experience of the conversion of matter and energy, just as this is claimed by observers of the sub-atomic. I would, therefore, say with many of those physicists that there is no ultimate particle, no ultimate matter, but only the actual conversion of matter that is energy and energy that is matter. Thus the ultimate ground of existence is the eternal conversion.

    I have often wondered why and how it is that some places become “sacred.” Usually these places are self-contained–like a huge rock, a mountain, a grove in the depths of the woods, a waterfall, a towering tree or pillar, a deep canyon. I imagine it first was a matter of discovery and of coming upon the starkly and impressively different. That creates wonder. But what turns wonder into presence?– indeed, that is what the sacred is all about. I would understand this in three ways. In the first, the energy of the place is self-contained, like the mass of matter/energy that is a mountain, or the cascading of energy of the matter/energy of a waterfall, or the massive silence of a secluded grove.

    As that energy is felt, human beings tend to pay attention to it, to turn toward it, to contemplate it, to share their life with it. This is the second component of moving wonder to the sacred.

    Like all material being, the attended to matter now feels/perceives/notices the attention and the attraction. Just like animals that sense a friend or a companion or a source of life, or the call towardgrowth, over time and repeated episodes the matter of these places responds. It’s energy reaches out toward and to and to make contact with the human that is paying attention As that enhanced contact happens, wonder changes to sacred. The sacred happens when matter knows its own.

    • tonyequale says:

      Bob, your comments are truly beautiful. They evoke the esthetic dimension — the supra-rational that lies at the core of an embrace of reality that is uniquely human. It seems this is what Leon and Maureen are always calling for — what art in all its forms is unparalleled in providing. It suggests that there is a world of work ahead of us … of finding ways to express in art, music, dance, ritual … our sense of the sacredness of that in which “we live and move and have our being.” Thank you for that.


  5. Leon Krier says:

    Bob…and Tony,

    Your question why and how it is that some places become “sacred” is truly provocative. I consider this question as part of the intersecting complex of art, science and religion. Edmund Burke’s 1757 A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful addresses the distinction between “beauty” and the “sublime.” This distinction is, indeed, a distinction that truly makes a difference. Furthermore, one might consider the “sublime” akin to the “sacred.” The experience of the sacred, the sublime and the beautiful, are qualities that define the rich capabilities of human consciousness and its response to being human in a disturbing universe.

    I appreciate very much your analysis to your own question and would only make a few comments to possibly add to the discussion.

    The argument can be made that a sensitivity to “beauty” is possessed by other species and is an essential quality of the drive to survive. We are certainly familiar with the birds and the bees… “color,” “pattern,” “composition,” and the like can be found in the attraction mechanisms of male and female birds vis-à-vis their feathers and nests. Bees gather pollen based upon similar characteristics.

    As biological organisms that eat, drink, breathe, urinate and defecate, it is not sufficient for our survival to function at this level alone and be constantly aware of our biological nature. As someone who works in an acute hospital, our biological nature is, indeed, ever present and if it drifts in the background, it is there only momentarily. Many times as I’ve walked the halls of the hospital I’ve said “When you’re healthy, the body follows the mind, but when you’re sick, the mind follows the body.” Thus, there is the “human” demand to exist, to function, in other dimensions to give our lives meaning, purpose, pleasure, texture, resonance. Science is always working to give us a few extra days to live and hopefully enjoy health and well-being. But it is art and even religion (“religion” as define by Tony) that creates these further dimensions of being “human.”

    Our biologically developed consciousness possesses an amazing power of imagination and creativity combined with hand-eye-coordination to transform our biological existence and its environment into different realm(s), i.e., temporarily enabling us to forget our biological nature and engage life in terms more “transcendent.” This is culture and culture is essential to our survival. Art and religion are products of culture as has been discussed previously in Tony’s blog. However, these products are temporary, provisional and hold the beautiful, the sublime, and the sacred for the moment only. Art, particularly in western culture, has generally been engaged in the ongoing changing process of imagination and creativity; there have been attempts at dogmaticism but these have been successfully resisted (see the Ecole des Beaux Arts). Traditional religion has clearly given in to such dogmaticism. All this is to say that what is beautiful, sublime and even sacred today may not be tomorrow. Even where there are enduring works of culture that still project these qualities, they are always being reinterpreted in light of any given historical and cultural moment.

    So, in summary, why does the sacred, the sublime, and the beautiful emerge? It is essential to our survival and is as natural a function as any of our other biological functions.

    • tonyequale says:

      Leon, hi! Thanks for this. I have a few short observations.

      Everything in the universe is apprehended by us in and through our categories of interchange which mediate between our organisms and the world around us. There is nothing that we see, hear, touch, taste, that is apprehended outside of these virtual “pincers” created by our specifically human consciousness to help us navigate our way through life.

      The scholastics defined beauty as “quod visum placet” — that which is pleasing to look at. (“Look” stands for all modes of perception.) Here “beauty” is definitely of subjective biological origin. I look at something, I hear it, I touch it, I taste it and if it pleases me, it is beautiful.

      Years ago, walking single-file with Mayan-speaking indigenous men on a steep and rocky path in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, I stopped, overwhelmed by the rugged vista splayed out before our eyes — the awesome uplift of geotechtonic forces as old as the continent itself. I exclaimed. “Que bello!” — how beautiful! My remark was greeted by my companions, peasants trying to grow enough food on those rocky cliffs to keep their families alive, with howls of laughter. Apparently what each of us considered “beautiful” was vastly different. What was beautiful to them was deep loamy bottomland that grew food!

      “Quod visum placet” may be considered to define the “beautiful” … but what about the “sublime” or as you suggest, the “sacred.” I might concur that it refers to something connected with existence itself, the creative source, the horizon beyond which we cannot see. It is the source and matrix of all things bright and beautiful, so doesn’t that imply some “objective” stand alone, “out there” thing … and “awe” its unique evocation? No, not necessarily. I perceive everything through the eyes of an existential poverty that is so profound that, like the men on the mountain, I cannot see anything, even this potentially independent source from whose particles I have been “gathered,” except in the light of my need. Everything that sustains and enhances my existence is “sacred.” I cannot appreciate “value” of any kind outside the context of my need for (and tenuous grasp on) existence …

      … with one exception … and that is my choice to rest in its presence and my immersion/possession of it. But this is hardly distinguishable from embracing myself … and you.


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