The non-physical world, or the spiritual world, is revealed to us through cognitive functions that act like our five physical senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing). Our physical senses are processes through which external data is transmitted to a person’s consciousness and decoded to present an experience of what the external world is like. Our spiritual senses are very much the same thing. I’m not talking about ESP or intuition or “the sixth sense” – I am outlining the processes by which our minds download and decode information about the immaterial world.
For me, the spiritual realm consists of all that is not physical. People and other forms of consciousness that have passed on from the physical world reside here, but the spiritual realm also contains things as simple as thoughts – because I believe that the experience of having thoughts cannot be reduced to a purely physical event in the brain. Philosophically speaking, I am a mind-body dualist.
What else is in the spiritual realm? It can be easy in a materialistic society to overlook the many examples of non-physical phenomena that surround us. My brief and currently incomplete list is as follows:
- Phenomena of consciousness (i.e., our thoughts and inner experiences, as mentioned above)
- Potential (things that can exist or happen, but aren’t presently experienced)
- The past (things that did exist or happen at one time, but aren’t presently happening or existing anymore)
- Pure concepts (such as love, or archetypes)
Each of these immaterial things is understood by us through a spiritual sense, the same way that physical things are known to us through the physical senses.
It’s an interesting aside that, as far as I can tell, spiritual senses are all direct whereas the physical senses are all indirect. That is, what we see and hear and taste and touch and smell are experiences that have been mitigated and constructed by the brain’s process of gathering that data in the first place. There is no way of proving that if we see a tree, the tree must ultimately exist the way we see it, or even exist at all. This is because we could always be dreaming or hallucinating, or we could actually be mere “brains in a jar” being fed false experiences by some mad scientist. Meanwhile, the spiritual senses sense non-physical things, so there is less worry about whether the immaterial thing itself and our idea of it match up. The philosopher Descartes was getting to this when he said “I think, therefore I am.” He meant that you can only know for sure that you yourself exist because you directly sense your existence when you exert yourself by thinking. If “you” are “thinking”, there must be a “you” that really exists in order to do that thinking.
These are the four spiritual senses that correspond to the four types of immaterial things I listed above:
- What we call consciousness is actually a direct sense of our inner experience and thoughts.
- Our capacity to imagine actually functions as a direct sense of potential. Everything that is possible to imagine is contained in potential, because there’s always a way to assert that our imaginings could potentially manifest into reality (you need simply posit that parallel universes or infinite space are possible, and then literally anything can happen). Potential and the imagination are directly connected — though I think more things exist in potential than anyone could ever imagine.
- The past is sensed through our memory. (In order for this to be a “direct” sense, it is better to say that what we experienced in the past can continue to be sensed through our memories of those experiences.)
- Concepts and archetypes, such as love or light or heroism, are sensed through the process of abstraction. We abstract from a multitude of examples of the act of love to get an idea of what love itself actually is. We experience love the feeling, love the action – love the verb, but the noun form of love is only ever sensed through abstraction. It cannot even be well-imagined. Ask yourself, what is pure love? You might have some ideas about it, but no clue if you’re right, and it likely will all seem hazy or unclear – precisely because you are trying to put something which is abstract into concrete terms in your mind.
I am still working on the “so what?” portion of this analysis, to figure out what conclusions follow from my argument. But I have written before about the liberation of knowing that our imagination is a sense, that it is a way of knowing the spiritual world and not merely meaningless self-entertainment. I think the idea of immaterial senses could lead to some exciting things, and will hopefully help us better integrate the physical and spiritual aspects of our existence.