Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Living In The Material World

Perceptions & Other Matters

“Without question, the material world and your everyday needs distract you from living meaningfully.”
Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 
Seventh Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch

Science is not marginal. Like art, it is a universal possession of humanity, and scientific knowledge has become a vital part of our species' repertory. It comprises what we know of the material world with reasonable certainty. . . . Thanks to science and technology, access to factual information of all kinds is rising exponentially.
E.O. Wilson, 
Scientist & Father of Sociobiology

Can both statements be correct? The Lubavitcher Rebbe essentially says that we could only find meaning residing in the spiritual realm; the American sociobiologist says that science provides us accurate and factual answers to our material world. The first statement does not negate the second, since the first is simply stating that the cares and concerns of the world "distract" you from the more important matters of the spiritual world unseen, at least by most of us, with human eyes. The second states that science is best equipped to answer and explain how the material world operates. 

So, I find myself agreeing with both statements, although I must add that I find myself spending an inordinate amount of energy focused on the material world—an expenditure that is necessary in the modern world, but not always resulting in great satisfaction or meaning. Most persons feel this way, but do not understand why this is so, thus they find other distractions to distract them from their unhappiness and lack of meaning. This leisure or entertainment often does provide the sought-for distraction, but it also moves individuals further away from the source of their problems. It also makes them less able to relate or connect to other individuals, and so on.

My friend, Prof. Gad Saad, a professor in evolutionary psychology and who teaches at Concordia University's business school, wrote a post recently on Psychology Today that examines the correlation between spirituality and the consumption of material goods or what scientists call conspicuous consumption. Prof. Saad writes that
the group that was primed to think about a spiritual experience was less inclined to engage in conspicuous consumption, and materialism had the same meditational effect as in the first study.
This finding is not surprising, since individuals spend their resources on acquiring what they consider important. If you consider the material world as all there is, as many persons do, including scientists and writers, then you will spend accordingly on acquiring material goods. If you place your importance on spiritual things, which billions of persons on the planet do, material acquisition becomes unimportant, or at least secondary.

What this post failed to address is the correlation between income and conspicuous consumption; I would suspect that many of the world's poor persons, numbering in the billions, do not have much of an opportunity for material acquisition or conspicuous consumption—a sole construct of wealthy nations, Thus, there is a high likelihood of spiritual belief among the poor. And it makes perfect sense; if your material options are limited, which is the case for many billions of individuals, then the spiritual world, namely, the after-life might be your only hope for a better life. No need to mock or make fun of such beliefs; it is the only thing that many of the world's poor can call their own, and the only way that they can maintain some level of dignity.

Only a cold-hearted uncompassionate rationalist would intimate that spiritualism is a fraud. The fact is that such individuals lack a certain understanding, having never faced the pangs of poverty or the need to connect with others on an emotional level; they fear such human things for the reason that they are messy and uncontrollable. To be sure, science is excellent in explaining the material world, since science operates on collecting facts, evidence and objective measurements. But science alone cannot explain every and all facets of human behaviour; it can only if you believe that humans are solely material beings, which I don't.

If you believe that humans are also spiritual beings then you must seek spiritual (i.e., religious) sources for guidance and answers for some universal questions. Science cannot answer such questions; when they do, and they continue to make attempts, they tend to reduce humans to material beings. Such brings with it deleterious consequences, many of which are evident today in our modern society including selfishness, lack of compassion, lack of understanding and ignorance.