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Special relativity theory in early 20th century included an “ether”- an invisible medium occupying what we now think of as ‘space’ in our universe. Physicists had to account for the effects of this medium in calculations describing other forces, such as magnetism and electricity.
Einstein’s mentor, Hedrik Lorenz, was able to mathematically explain away all the effects of ether, excepting motion. Einstein’s contribution to Special Relativity theory did away with the motion effect of ether. Subsequently, the idea of space being filled with ether lost its power as an explanation of reality.
In pre-modern human civilizations, the notion of spirituality referred to a transcendent, often unseen, reality. Over time, spirituality took on a more personalized meaning. A spiritual person was one who comprehended the true nature of life in light of the unseen reality, and lived by this realization.
As went the ether, so the unseen realm has gradually been exorcised from a contemporary understanding of reality. Although the notion of spirituality has evolved to accommodate this new view of reality, many humans continue to believe in such ideas as karma, soul, reincarnation, angels, & horoscopes. More recent versions of spirituality replace some antiquated terms with words like intentions, states of consciousness, & energies.
So, for some humans, the original meaning of spiritual has not completely lost it’s explanatory power. Nor are pre-modern ideas limited to the topic of spirituality. They pervade human culture, even in the 21st century.
Historically, sensations in our abdomen led to the deduction that feelings originate in our “gut.” The notion of chakras similarly attributes neurological functions to specific “centers” in the human body. Educated people still speak of the heart as the center of intuition and affect, as distinct from the brain, to which logic and reason are attributed. Some people view blood types as indicative of personality traits. The notion of humors is resurrected in some “ancient medical systems.”
Clearly, pre-modern ideas persist among contemporary humans. But as an explanation of reality, the power of these ideas has diminished considerably (just as the idea of an ether is no longer part of the Standard Model of physics). The discovery of dark energy might have revived discussion of ether as way of bridging 19th & 20th century physics. Yet, science seems content with letting discarded ideas go. There are a variety of reasons for this practice, mathematics, for one. But for the purpose of defining ultimativity, the practice is instructive.
Spirituality has long been associated with the notion of finding purpose or meaning in a larger, usually hidden, reality. Contemporary usage dilutes this notion to pursuing something “beyond yourself.” The West’s aging population has reached that point in later life when introspection and concern for future generations make contribution attractive. It is not difficult to understand such people embracing traditions which have brought meaning and satisfaction to the lives of others before them.
Spirituality has also been equated with ethical practice. The younger generations of the youth bulge countries have been stunted by poverty and unemployment. They have lost faith in the institutions they were raised to rely on. It takes no leap of imagination to see them embracing prominent authorities promoting a return to a universal ethic.
The problem is, these ancient ways come with a lot of baggage. And, we cannot recreate the conditions which gave rise to the old ways, even if we wanted to. Lastly, many of the assumptions on which the ancient wisdom is based, we now know to be false.For example, saying, “bless you,” when someone sneezes was popularized by a 6th century religious leader as a defense against bubonic plague.
As a realist, it conflicts me to use the term ‘spirituality’ when we know there is no such thing as a spirit. Much like listening to philosophers discuss substances rather than quarks, or free will rather than the neo-cortex.
I can accept that humans, as a species, maintain a psychological need to contribute to something beyond themselves. But, as a realist, I don’t believe this need has anything to do with spirits. I understand that humans can expand their altruistic concern beyond their individual lives, and even beyond their species. But, as a realist, I don’t believe this ability is “enlightenment.”
Just as we have the ability to run scenarios in our minds before making a decision, we humans are able to forecast the ultimate consequences of our choices and actions. Our forecasts may not be accurate. But we can and do adjust our behavior based on a concern for each other, for succeeding generations, and for our planet. Some call this form of ultimate concern spirituality. Others label it altruism.
I like to think of it as Ultimativity.
Like many children, he was fascinated with the planets of our solar system. His favorite was Jupiter. But that day he couldn’t get Mongolia out of his mind. His composition is titled The Planets Jupiter & Outer Mongolia.
Jupiter is represented on the left. Alex’s impression of Outer Mongolia is on the right.
At the time he attended primary school, Pluto was still considered a planet. Therefore, the 9 cyan circles orbiting around a large green circle may represent the solar system. At one time, Mongolia’s national emblem featured a sun sending its rays off into the horizon.
We use part of his painting as an logo for Ultimativity. Alex’s painting illustrates how symbols like nation or territory can make parts of our own world seem as foreign to us as the outer planets of our solar system. It reminds us that, as humans, we live in a virtual world of language and culture.
What We Have In Common
Long, long ago, before there was life or humans to wonder about life, there was reality. There were no constellations, only stars. No karma, just broken symmetries. No destiny but the Big Bang.
Eventually, life became a part of reality. Single cell organisms helped convert the atmosphere to oxygen, and no one protested. Trees fell in the forest with no one hearing them. Species flourished, then went extinct, with no one mourning them.
As our ancestors founded civilizations, they had more time to observe reality. The constellations were created in the human mind, enhancing navigation. The season were named around agriculture and celebrated. But our ancestors also created explanations of reality to support their civilizations.They developed notions like divine right, caste, and slavery. They censored practical observations about reality that threatened the dominant paradigm. Our ancestors’ explanations of reality justified oppression and displacement of other peoples. Civilizations battled each other over competing explanations of reality.
Three centuries ago, after a series of religious wars, European thinkers began an examination of reality independent of political, cultural and religious meanings. The Enlightenment intended to provide a picture of reality available to everyone.
This approach to understanding reality transformed humanity. The open method of observing and explaining reality improved human living standards, longevity and productivity. This empirical outlook led humanity into a technological revolution. Innovation flourished, often achieved by ordinary people, who had increasing access to ideas about reality which they could use in their daily lives.
This contemporary view of reality overturned may political, cultural, and religious myths. Privileged institutions resisted the new open approach to reality through repression and isolation. But such reactions are becoming less effective in our global human civilization. While notions like royalty, theocracy and exceptionalism survive, billions of humans now have the voice to challenge these myths.
The digital communications revolution has democratized everything; including the observation and explanation of reality. Even better, ordinary people can contribute observations and explanations of reality that actually work in real life. Imagine humans everywhere applying a contemporary view of reality to the challenges and opportunities they face. Picture us sharing solutions and innovations with other humans globally – unfiltered by political, religious or commercial interests.
IT’S ALREADY HAPPENING & WE CAN ALL PARTICIPATE
All people confront problems with relationships, parenting, justice, and the economy. We develop solutions that work in our cultural and environmental contexts. Many of the solutions other societies develop are hidden from us by political, cultural and commercial filters. Social media allow each of us to tap into the ideas flowing from nearly all human civilizations.
Once we are aware of alternatives, many of us are free to try out new ideas in our lives and societies. While commercial and political institutions may oppose such experimentation, global social connections allow us to transcend their attempts to censor reality. It’s no surprise commercial cultural and political interests attack the internet and other social communication channels. When the legal system fails elites resort to force to protect the policies which benefit them.
WILL WE OVERCOME THE INSTITUTIONAL FILTERS WHICH DIVIDE AND LIMIT US?
It’s difficult to know, but the path we are following looks promising. If the Enlightenment in an indicator, adopting an open, empirical approach to reality and sharing it with others will yield great rewards.
Perhaps that’s because reality is what we all have in common.
Meet The Cast
For over two decades, Nathan Slater worked with people in need. In Kenya, he ran an extension education service for community leaders. In the American private sector, he helped injured workers return to the labor force. In the public sector, investigated child abuse.
His experience yielded an important insight. People who were able to adapt to a new reality routinely overcame their circumstances. This idea inspired his blog (ultimativity.net) and the the #practicalreality book series.
Nathan lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife, Jette.
Before you begin changing the world, you must accept the world as it is.
Reverend RA preaches the merits of adapting to life. He hosts Reverend RA’s Reality Review. Warning: the Rev will make you a believer (in reality).
Chief Observation Officer
I hear lots of people demanding their rights. I guess I’m like the fast food chains. I ask them, “you want a side of responsibility with those rights?”
Nate Nathan is a master of the obvious. He hosts Ontolo-Gee! A little humor, some sarcasm, with a side of practical insight. Disclaimer – you can’t make this *%# up.
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