On Spinoza’s Natura Naturans
Nature naturing they say, or more colloquially, nature doing its thing. Baruch Spinoza, one of the most important yet forgotten philosophers of the age of rationalism was born sometime in the 1630s in the Portuguese-Jewish society of Amsterdam. In his great opus Ethics he took on the formidable task of applying the method of Euclid to philosophy .
Now, why am I talking about this guy?
… Sitting in the Imperial central library trying to do some work, out of the blue I found myself thinking about “the god of the gaps”. Why this happened, don’t even ask,I don’t know, I was actually trying to polish a business proposal.
Anyway, in Ethics, Spinoza audaciously sought to prove that God is infinite, uncaused, a unique substance of the universe, and there is only one substance in the universe, that is God; and everything else that is, is in God. Meaning, we are all God, the trees, the stars, the dogs etc. are all a manifestation of nature which is God doing it’s thing.
Spinoza makes his case mathematically, he begins with definitions then proceeds to axioms, to corollaries and then scholium. He begins like this:
“By substance I understand what is in itself and is conceived through itself”
“By attribute I understand what the intellect perceives of a substance, as constituting its essence”
“By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite, that is to say, a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence.”
He continues and then goes on to list about 14 propositions which am afraid I am not going to list here , for fear of prolonging this post . Spinoza’s Ethics is a great read, I highly recommend you find a free copy online and just go through a few pages.
Alright, for this to make sense I will have to share some of the propositions. His proves that God is infinite, uncaused and necessary starts in three steps. Spinzo posits that two substances can share the same attribute or essence. Then he proves that there exist a substance with infinite attributes. As you may tell, by concluding the existence of this infinite substance precludes the existence of any other substance. (Purely mathematical, say… if a river is infinitely water, it cannot have anything else but water, no fish, no sea weed but water and only water.) For if there should be a second substance, there should be an attribute and a cause, but since God has all possible attributes, there can’t be any other substance but God. If God is the only substance,then all other substances are existing in God.
Where does this mode of thought lead us?
God as presented by Spinoza is an inherent being, a universal cause which extends into all that exists.You may be starting to get the hint at this point ; Spinoza is completely disproving the Judeo-Christian God who is anthropomorphized and is thought of as a being that created a universe distinct from himself by his own free will. Baruch Spinoza believes accepting the Judeo-Christian view of God limits human freedom and locks us in superstitious believes because we will only hope for God’s rewards and fear his punishments. Because of this, despite the multifaceted nature of his opus; encompassing a great deal of anthropology, physics, metaphysics and psychology, Spinoza believes his work is for the greater part Ethical in nature. Showing that we could be free from passion and motivated to act from reason rather than superstition.
“Natura naturans we must understand what is in itself and is conceived through itself, or such attributes of substance as express an eternal and infinite essence, that is … God, insofar as he is considered as a free cause.”
I should point out that I do find some inconsistencies in Spinoza judgement but still hats off to the man for attempting such a Herculean endeavor; explaining God with Euclidean geometry.
Right!!! I remember what got be thinking about Spinoza this evening, I suspect it was because of something I read in a physics magazine sometime ago about the origins of Dark Energy and Dark Matter.
Just a quick aside, Dark Energy is a placeholder name given to the energy permeating through all of space causing the universe to accelerate, it constitute about 68% of all energy in the observable universe,
Just a quick aside within the aside, we say observable universe because light has a constant speed as proven by James Clerk Maxwell , 3x10⁸ m/s. To put this in perspective, let me see … say, if you are flying from New York to Tokyo at this rate, you will arrive in a second divided by thirty. whoosh… how fast is that?
So, say there exist two stars X and Y and star X is 5 billion light years away from earth and star Y is 20billion light years away, it will take the light of star X 5 billion years to reach earth and the light of star Y 20 billion years to reach earth. In other words,the light we see from the stars are literally old light,the light from our star i.e. the Sun we see here on earth is always the light that was emitted by the sun 8 minutes 20 seconds ago and the light we see in the night sky from our nearest neighboring star Proxima Centauri is always the light that was was emitted by the star 4.2 years ago. So with our example stars X and Y it will take 5 billion years and 20 billion years respectively for their light i.e. existence to be made known to us therefore at this stage they exist in the unobservable part of the universe.
Right. So as I was saying Dark Energy constitutes about 68% of all energy in the observable universe. Dark Matter which is another placeholder name given to a different type of energy distinct from Dark Energy, is the energy that glues everything together and it constitutes 26% of all energy in the observable universe. Dark Energy and Dark Matter together constitutes about 95% of the total mass-energy content of the universe, the other 5% is what constitutes you, I, the trees, all the planets and everything else observable in the universe.
Like i said before, scientist today don’t know what Dark Matter and Dark Energy are. Real zinger right. ..?? Yeah I know. Why they gave them both names starting with ‘dark’, i do not know, don’t even try asking me.
How is all of this connected to Baruch Spinoza and the other thing I left hanging; “the god of the gaps” ? There are some theoretical physicists with some strange yet interesting theories on the origins of Dark Matter. They claim the Dark Matter is gravity leaking from another universe outside of our own pulling on our universe. Like the sun pulls on all the planets in our solar system to hold us in orbit. First and foremost, this is possible given the laws of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
Einstein describes gravity as a curve in space which wraps around an object e.g. a planet or a star and causes other objects e.g. a planet or a star to move according to this curve. This curve is caused by the presence of any object with enormous mass e.g. the planets or the stars and the greater the mass of the object the greater the pull its curve has on neighboring objects.
You can visualize it this way, say you have an elastic fabric, say a trampoline, say you drop a heavy metallic basketball sized ball in the center. You will observe that the ball will press down into the fabric, causing it to dimple. Now, if you take a tennis ball and roll it around the edge, you will realize that the tennis ball will spiral inward towards the the heavy metallic basketball sized ball. This is the same way the Sun pulls our planet, all other planets and bodies in our solar system. This is Einstein’s theory of General Relativity which is often summarized as- mass tells space how to curve, space tells mass how to move. This theory of gravity is different from Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity which holds for two body analysis only.
So by extension if there exist a universe outside of our own with a mass of say that of a typical universe, its gravitational pull (i.e. Dark Matter) will be strong enough to hold our universe in place against the accelerating force of Dark Energy. This is what those theorists were proposing. It is a temping theory, but they provided neither equations nor coherent theories to back this up.
It got me thinking, how is this different from superstition, it seems those theorist have invented their own superstition to reject the god of the gaps- which is essentially a logical fallacy that occurs when “God-did-it” is invoked to explain some natural phenomena that science cannot explain. Believers of intelligent design often ascribe all inexplicable phenomena to the omnipotence of God.
So we have threes containers, Spinoza’s God in one, the god of the gaps in another and the non-coherent theory in the third, which do I take ?
SCIENCE!, a theory is no science unless it can be tested, in fact not just tested, it has to be tested numerously by opposing factions and then it becomes an emerging truth until it is finally accepted as an established truth. This is how all of our great laws were derived. How do we test the existence of another universe? Is human life long enough to afford us the time to do this? Is the human mind evolved enough to grant us the imagination to postulate theories on phenomena occurring trillions of light years away? Are our current laws massively lacking? Or perhaps just one more Einstein is needed? I don’t know, maybe you do.
I guess at this point, we will both agree that this post hasn’t got much to do with Spinoza, but well, lets keep the title, lets pay one last tribute to Spinoza, one should be rewarded for genuinely trying also.
Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated from the Jewish community in sometime around 1665 for his bold ideas, after his excommunication he latinized his name to Benedict De Spinoza and spent the rest of his life grinding lenses. He was well loved by his friends;who supported him throughout the rest of his life until his untimely death at the age of 44. History is full of bad jokes they say.