Contemplation of the Unity that is the Person

Maybe we can get closer to the mystery of what it is to be human, a person, contemplating the nature of our experience in this moment.

The experience we are having here, right now is a whole: the monitor in front of us, thoughts, keyboard, words flow into one another within a single consciousness that cannot be defined, but contains various elements having different qualities.

Let’s focus on one system or structure: the physical. This monitor is physical as are the colors and letters it displays. The visual experience exists for us because of neural processes that communicate with one another – from the cells in our retinas to the neurons in our cerebral cortex. If any part of this is disturbed, we will be blind – the display as it exists in our visual world will disappear. Consider that the functioning nervous system that we can imagine out there, part of the physical world, is actually the phenomenon that is being experienced this moment. At the same time that this display is our nervous system, it is also the physical display itself. Within this experience there is a unity of what we are and what we are observing. 

This leads us to consider a second system of structure that constitutes this experience: that of mind. What is happening, although it relates to physical processes that can be chemically analyzed and otherwise measured and described, includes seeing, thinking and feeling. Through our senses, we enter into a relationship with the world around us. Mind brings our world into existence as the frame of reference giving us our particular understanding of the universe. The “information/data/input” is cognitively organized; the world we experience is shaped through learning that occurs through direct contact and societal teachings. So I am whomever, living wherever, working as whatever. (This is pretty amazing stuff.) The monitor in front of us is perceived and understood as an object having particular components, out there, being observed by us in here. The mind generally makes sense of things in terms of what it knows, but can see things afresh. We note that body and mind do not control one another – moving the physical entity that is the keyboard and the perception of its movement exist as a unity, they are a whole. Thinking also takes place as neurons fire in particular patterns. One person, two ways of understanding him/her.

This of course leads us to the spirit. We exist, understand, know beauty and goodness; we act and our actions/lives have meaning. The wholeness that is this experience that we each are experiencing individually, is situated in the now, a now which is finite, in that it does not encompass the All, but has no dimensions. It is ever still, as time, events and experiences pass through it. It is God’s breath, making this moment be. The tiny dot that skims the page and gives life to these words, gives them meaning, emerges from He whose Being is within all, encompassing all time and space, eternal. We can therefore love Him and love each other, perceive and participate in the creation of what is beautiful. We can exercise our will in accordance to His wish for us: the Good, Himself. We can also choose otherwise. 

An Existential Understanding of Matter

Matter exists; it is a form of being. An atom, itself exists as a whole, exhibiting specific properties that arise from its constituent parts, particularly protons and electrons, The number of protons define it as a specific element, having a place on the periodic table.

Science long ago separated compounds into elements that exhibit individual properties. Elements have been reduced to the smallest unit that exhibits the elements properties – the atom. Atoms and other forms of matter and energy have been broken down into quantum events. Subatomic events such as the photon, we have discovered, can exist as individual particles or merged, in this case as a light beam, where they behave as waves.

The simplest atom is that of Hydrogen, which fuses within the sun to form  heavier elements. Atoms come together as molecules. These forms of matter, atoms and molecules, interact by means of their electromagnetic properties, the electrons and protons of which they are constituted. These interactions have an associated shape. The Carbon atom has a tetrahedral shape. This allows for the complexity that is found in the myriad of different organic molecules.

Proteins are one type of organic molecule that provides for the structures and functions that make up living organisms. The role that a particular protein plays in a living organism has to do with the particular shape that is formed by its electrostatic forces. Proteins provide structure such as the toughness of skin or sturdiness in bones, allow for movement in muscles, carry out communication between organ systems, as hormones and transmitters, transport nutrients such as oxygen in red blood cells, assist in the balance of fluids by drawing and maintaining water in blood vessels, and protect the body from disease as antibodies.

The complexities of matter in time and space grow as the events, from the smallest to the largest, coalesce. The subatomic allows for existence of atoms, which join to form molecules, combining as intracellular organs, making possible cells, which are specialized to make possible organ systems, all of which together constitute the bodies of animals. Diverse animal species are possible as a result of their particular physical make up.

In addition to their material structure, living things exhibit behavioural characteristics, which are beyond the basic and elemental forces of nature. We can describe the over-all organization of matter as a particular soul that makes a cat, for example, a cat.

Even if catness were an illusion rather than a revelation of a kind of living thing, it would be a feature of mankind’s soul or existential being, an attribute that brings together the matter, which we are and to which we relate on the outside, through our senses. To varying degrees and in different ways we manifest the human capacity to understand the world’s physical and moral foundations, and act upon that knowledge. Our physical being includes that of matter at each level described above, subsumed by the human soul, which allows for all those processes to express that humanity in time and space.