This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The corporeal state

The term ‘corporeal’ refers to the bodily dimension of things, and more specifically here, the world of material, tangible objects. This is also called the ‘gross state’ as opposed to the ‘subtle state’, which we will discuss next.

This is a good starting point because the corporeal world corresponds to what, for most modern people, is imagined to be the whole of reality. We will see, however, that the traditional doctrine regarding the corporeal world is actual much more comprehensive than the popular image, the latter of which goes something like this:

The world is composed of ‘matter’, and this matter, if one examines it closely enough, is made of so many tiny, indivisible particles, originally called ‘atoms’, and these atoms come together in various combinations to form everything that is. The mechanistic interaction between these particles or particle-bodies, which also involves the accumulation and dissipation of heat, etc., goes to explain all phenomena and is even responsible, via ‘chance or accident’, for the production of the biological phenomenon we call ‘life’.

This oversimplified summary is not actually what is taught by science today, and, in truth, materialistic scientism has been mostly demolished by contemporary physics, which has for the most part given up on the possibility of finding a particle that is so small that it is indivisible, as atoms were once imagined to be. However, it is still the version of the world that is entertained in the popular mind, and so it is still ‘formative’ for anthropology. In fact, even religious people who would insist on a spiritual dimension do so only as an add-on to material reality described above, and we have already mentioned how this deforms the final product.

So much for the popular view, but where do the leading physicists stand? For the most part, the whole idea of ‘matter’ has dissolved: the movement was from molecule to atom, then atom to electron and its components. The effort to finally discover the particle that underlies all other particles eventually resulted in the realization that there is no such thing as an indivisible and therefore ‘subsistent’ matter, with its spatial combinations and interactions going on to explain literally everything else. In the light of quantum physics, we are finally ‘discovering’ what has always been taught by traditional doctrines from the Vedas to Aristotle: that stuff that underlies all of our reality is not ‘material’ at all. If we can speak of ‘particles’ that compose everything, they do not seem to be subject to the conditions of matter as we have always envisioned it. For example, these ‘primary’ particles are not actually locatable, they have no set configuration, with the eventual conclusion that it is not the particles but the electromagnetic fields in which we find them that are primary, and the fields themselves have no observable material cause.

In the words of physicist Jacov Frenkel:

“…it is not enough to say that it is impossible to know the exact position and velocity of a particle simultaneously. It must be maintained that, in general, there is no such thing as a well-determined position or velocity. Matter and light become fugitive indeed, and any hope of representing the world in terms of pictures and motions becomes nothing more than an empty dream.”[1]

In short, the underlying principle of unity of the material world is not situated in the material world, and this means that the ‘models’ such as the Niels Bohr image of a planetary atomic structure, with nucleus orbited by electrons, is perhaps useful as a representation but does not correspond to any real structure.

We have been discussing atoms and the breakdown of conventional materialist thinking at these miniscule extremes, but we encounter similar difficulties moving the opposite direction, taking molecules and the more complex bodies they go to form. The most basic question that arises is how these bodies actually hold together? How is it that a body actually ‘congeals’ into a body in the first place? What, ultimately, holds things together, including the human body and its flesh and organs? Based on the discussion we’ve been having, we are left with no real explanation, or at least no explanation that can be situated in the corporeal dimension. We would have to imagine or observe some kind of molecular hooks that fasten molecules to one another, but we can find nothing that serves this function.

The problem can be summarized by saying that since we now know that there is no particle that is not divisible, then we cannot even theoretically hope to find something that hooks things together, since the hook itself would be divisible and would need hooks to hold together the hooks, and so on without end.

Here we may touch on space, which is like matter (or whatever reality is mistakenly called ‘matter’) in that it is one of the conditions of the corporeal world. Space is extension, and is composed of the distances between points (with the point itself having no extension and therefore not actually manifest in space). In order for space to present itself, we need at least two points between which a line can be drawn, which becomes the first extension.

Within the context of what has already been said, we can say that space, like matter, is not as easy to pin down as once imagined, for space itself is not ‘stable’ at all. As physics teaches, the universe is in a state of expansion and has been since the beginning of time. It is an incomplete explosion, and is therefore in a state of flux and always will be, since the completion of the explosion (and the expansion of space) will at the same time be the destruction of everything for which that explosion provided the context. Lastly, this persistent flux, which provides the ambience for the universe, also provides the context for time, which would end with everything else once the potentialities of the expanding universe are exhausted.

Having remarked on the breakdown of materialism, where does this leave us, and what has this to do with the traditional doctrine? Aside from the fact that all of these developments bring modern science closer and closer to agreement with what the religions have always taught about matter (namely, that there is no such thing), it also brings us to the point where we can situation the corporeal within the context of a greater cosmology, and through this cosmology, an authentic anthropology.

What we find in traditional doctrines is that the corporeal is not so much a subsistent reality, a kind of sphere separate from and independent from those beyond it, but rather acts as a point of termination on a hierarchical spectrum emanating from the divine. The corporeal is a kind of crystallization—a limit—between an interior reality and an exterior unreality. It is a barrier of solidification that stands between the inward principle of all things and exterior dispersion and nothingness.

To illustrate using the language of myth, we can say that Adam was ‘clothed in animal skins’ (representing the material body) after having fallen from intimate contact with God, and so we can see our embodied state as a ‘saving grace’ that acts as a stop for our ‘fall’, prevents our descent into the obliteration which is the logical result of having rejected the Real.

What, then, is the principle of unity of corporeal bodies, since that is what we have been asking all this time? In answer, we borrow the words of Jean Borella:

“Real unity requires the actuality of a non-spatial form that is therefore psychic (or subtle) in nature, self-binding, in which a multiplicity of elements are immanent to one another. This mutual and trans-spatial immanence, which is the internal binding of corporeal elements and which makes a being of it, constitutes as it were a kind of brake which, from within, (relatively) slows and stops the process of centrifugal ‘dispersion’ according to which the physical world is manifested. Preventing the corporeal forms from lapsing into nothingness, it is indeed this—the formal unity itself, the individual form—that accounts for the substantiality of bodies, that is for their objective reality.”[2]

We can see then that the principle of unity could never have been found by examining particles, but is situated on a different plane that transcends the conditions (hence trans-spatial) of the corporeal. This leads us to the ‘formal’ state, where we find the ‘forms’ of beings, which is called in traditional cosmology the ‘subtle’ or ‘psychic’ world.

[1] J. Frenkel, Wave Mechanics, vol. 2, Advanced General Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934), 517.

[2] Jean Borella, Love and Truth, p. 82.

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