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July 3, 2019 / Congau

Boring Matter

Bishop Berkeley, the 18th century Irish philosopher, will have us believe that matter doesn’t exist. It is all an illusion in our mind, he says. The physical world has no being and neither do our bodies. Well, none of us really believe in Berkeley. Of course the world exists, we don’t doubt it, but still we can’t prove him wrong. How do we know that what we see and touch is really there and not just our imagination? We don’t know; we just think so.

But even if we feel convinced that physical objects are really there, they don’t mean anything to us until we have consciously observed them and processed them in our mind. Matter as such is dull and shapeless. We can use it for our animal existence. We walk on the ground, we breathe the air, we sit on chairs, but until we are aware of what we are doing and interpret our experience, it is like nothing. Nature as such is not beautiful; a working machine is not interesting; a scream is not frightening. Sights are meaningless colors and sounds are pointless noise. There is no music until you recognize it.

We think matter exists, but while it remains mere matter to us, its existence is a trifle. We must make it interesting and lift it to a higher level; to a human level or, (to follow the bishop) to a divine level. We must transfer the physical world into the world of ideas and the more ideal the more real it will be.

A chair is really a chair the moment it is recognized as such, but even then, it is probably a rather prosaic object that doesn’t inspire much feeling of reality. On the other hand, the things that we can contemplate, what we feel and touch and attentively listen to, the things we cherish and let dwell in our mind, those things increase in reality. When matter becomes the highest idea, it transforms into art; it takes off from the physical world and becomes real reality.

It doesn’t matter if Berkeley was right or not. Matter may be real, but mind is more real.

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