How Do You Explain Metaphysics in Simple Terms?
Last week my friend and I were talking about metaphysics. Particularly we were talking about how to explain metaphysics in simple terms. We both admitted, we had a hard time talking about this vast topic because it can can get pretty deep.
How do you explain metaphysics in simple terms?
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that covers 6 broad topics. These topics include:
- free will
- mind and matter
- religion and spirituality
Metaphysics is so interesting when you can dive deep into the subject. In fact, the more details I learn about this topic, the more it fascinates me.
Unfortunately, one of the major challenges is the language used and how deep you can get within the subject. The vocabulary and concepts can be hard to grasp, and often cause people to mentally shut down.
Let me explain the 6 broad areas listed above in a little more detail. I’m going to strip it down to the basics and give you a high level understanding.
Of course, this article will only touch the surface of such a huge topic. But, at least it will help you explain metaphysics in simple terms to anyone who asks you.
Here are the 6 broad topics to explain metaphysics in simple terms:
Ontology is the study of being. And, anything that exists is a being.
Keeping it super simple, let’s use the example of the table in your kitchen. It’s all about the table as a being. Ontology is all about studying the table and everything about that table – in all scenarios.
Questions that would relate to ontology would be something like these:
What the table is?
How the table is?
How much the table is?
Where the table is (relating to other ‘beings”)
We could go even further and talk about the essential features of the table. As opposed to the accidental attributes of the table.
The table is solid, durable, straight. has 3-4 legs (essential features). It’s square, 3 feet high and brown (accidental features)
Are there any fundamental entities of the table?
Yes, the table must have a straight level edge so things don’t slip off of it. One could say a table would have to have some form of legs or pillars to hold it up.
I’m over simplifying this by using a table as an example, but you get the point.
Cosmology is the study of the creation and development of the universe and humanity’s place in it.
Humanity’s place in the universe is the key question I had many years ago. The why was I here, what was my purpose – even more what is humanity’s purpose on this earth – in this universe. These questions gnawed at my being. Which only led me to dig deeper.
Some people confuse cosmology and astronomy. Cosmology talks about the universe as a whole. This includes origin, evolution and the ultimate fate of the universe. Where as astronomy talks about celestial objects and phenomena. Which includes stars, galaxies gamma ray bursts etc.
Things like the Big Bang is an example of cosmology and one of the many theories of how the universe started.
This topic can get pretty deep as there are different terms for a variety of different types of identity. But if we keep it at the at the philosophical level we are looking at the relation each thing bears only to itself.
Let’s continue with the table example we used above. Now, imagine we had two of the same tables. When looking at the identity of the table itself – a metaphysician might ask something like this:
If table 1 and table 2 share all the same properties (X = Y), does this mean it is one and the same thing or identical to each other?
This whole question brings up the topic of uniqueness and the fact that we all have our own identity. Of course with humans, we add in perspective and experience.
Look at identical twins – two human beings who share the identical DNA. They are even labeled “identical” and sometimes you can’t tell them apart looking at them. But, they are not identical once you add in their experience and perspective with life.
4. Free Will
This is the term most of us will know. It is the ability to act at one own’s discretion. The ability to choose, think and act voluntarily. To have free will is to believe that we as human beings are the authors of our own actions.
What an amazing outlook in life that is full of hope. The idea of free will is that the choices we make lead to opportunities and possibilities.
We have the ability to take action and determine the future we desire.
5. Mind and Matter
An easy way to think about this topic is to recall the common saying “mind over matter”. The mind is a powerful thing, and metaphysics looks at how the mind relates and affects matter.
Years ago I worked for this company, where the owner would tell us “you are what you think about all day long”. This was his mantra and he would tell us this all the time. If we thought about negative things in minds, then negative things would show up in our lives. He pushed us put positive things in our minds.
This concept of how thoughts become things is not a new concept. You may have read about it in books like Think and Grow Rich, or the Law of Attraction. Even many of the authors in the Bible remind us to think and focus only on good things and good things will happen.
One of the main thread of this blog Becoming Faithful is all about being intentional about life. Questions about the outcome of living with intentionality would fit here.
Why is it when we are intentional about something we see results? And, when we are not intentional we don’t see results (or at least the results we were aiming for)
Some simple mind and matter questions most people will understand are:
What is consciousness?
What is intentionality?
What is it for a mental state to be ‘about’ something?
They may not know the answer to these questions, but their eyes won’t glaze over when you talk about them.
Furthermore, things like the subconscious mind, the universal mind would fit here. All vast topics.
6. Religion and Spirituality
This broad topic of religion and spirituality is what lead me to learn all about metaphysics.
The area of topics within religion and spirituality and metaphysics are quite common. People should know what you’re talking about when you talk about things like:
is there an afterlife
arguments for or against the existence of God.
the problem of evil
all religions are one
There are many more areas under religion and spirituality. But, these are the key ones that people would have either asked themselves or have heard before.
I’m confident at one point or another, someone has asked if there is an afterlife. Or, questioned the existence of God.
Now, to clarify I’m not a metaphysician and do not have a degree in metaphysics. But, this topic always interested me because of how much it covers about life.
What so fascinating is the role questions have in philosophy. You could lists hundreds of philosophical questions.
Everything I wrote in the article above, someone could say: “Yes, but you missed this” or “Well, that’s not it entirely“. And they would be right because, that’s what philosophy does. You can continue to dig deeper into a vast amount of topics.
Who termed metaphysics? Metaphysics is a term from philosophy, dating back over 2,000 years to Aristotle. His book “Metaphysics” was designed to be read after his “Physics” book. “Meta” actually means “after”
What’s the relationship between Science and Metaphysics? Metaphysics is what happens before science. Which means means metaphysics does not tell us what “is” but what “is possible.” It is the job of science to discover which one among all possibilities is the actual one.
What is a metaphysician? A metaphysician is an expert or a student of the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, being and knowing. Some professions considered to be metaphysicians are broad. They include but are not limited to: Chuch pastors, psychologists, energy healer etc