Tap to Read ➤

Relation Between Metaphysics and Physics

Arun Prabhu Jun 30, 2019
There seems to be an eternal gray area between the realms of what physics can explain and what spirituality terms as logic.
This land will always be dominated by the insatiable thirst for knowledge of how, or rather why, things are the way they are, and why do some acts in the universe leave us spellbound. Such is the concept of metaphysics.
Physics is what has been defined, disproved and restated through ages of human research of all things around us, the keyword being around. People concur or debate over everything under, inside and far away from the Sun. They will deduce theorems and when found logical, term them as axioms.
Then every once in a while, there comes along a thought or a phenomenon previously unaccounted for. It tinkers with the shackles with which we bind all happenings we know and understand. A classic example would be the statement on the earth being flat, later being evidently disproved and concluded with the new statement that the earth is indeed, round.
There are so many similar comments and theories that have been cemented as fact, waiting for a 'spirited' sprite to set release them, only to have a new one to be found out and bound down.

The Relationship Between Physics and Metaphysics

Understanding Metaphysics

When put in paradigm, physics is the understanding of what we see, while metaphysics is the attempt to understand what we don't. Physics tells you the 'How' of all that you see around you. Metaphysics deals with the 'Why' of all things, around you and within you.
Metaphysics aims to provide the definitive link between the apparent and the spiritual, without making concepts overly religious. Physics will define to the fullest, what can be observed and changed; anything beyond the observable, doesn't exist.
The answer to the exactness of metaphysics is not describable, but can be understood from the classic question: "If a tree falls deep within a forest with no one around, does it still make a sound?". Whenever something happens within our surrounding, we may notice it with our senses.
But when something happens outside this circle of knowledge, do we, or should we, believe that it has indeed happened? Now, if this occurrence from the unknown somehow affects the state of something within our circle of knowledge, how can we explain the chain of events? It is this that metaphysics wants to solve.
While physics rules the plane of all known, physically realized phenomenon, metaphysics and its branches sew together the universe of obscure and the phenomenon unexplained by physics. Physicist Stephen Hawking, who yearns to be in the know said, "My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all".
A point to be noted here is that metaphysics, or even ontology (the study of 'being') is not to be related or confused with the deviant sciences like occultism (the study of 'Forbidden knowledge') or esotericism (the study of alternative or secretive knowledge).

The Difference Between Physics and Metaphysics

  • So what would be the primary point of distinction between the two? The answer has already been previously mentioned, it is the difference between asking 'How' and 'Why'. Physics will always relate itself strictly to the functioning of a concept or a phenomenon, no matter its magnitude.
  • Metaphysics wraps itself around the reason of a concept's existence. It will keep asking, "What is the need of its creation?"; "What is its purpose?"; and "How will the matter affect other matter in the spiritual sense?". Or simply, thinking about the concept of thought itself. Metaphysics can be called the study of the relationship between mind and matter.
  • This point might be thought as ironic: religion. Ironic, because both physics and metaphysics refrain from going too close and actually fathom the deep end of religion. Religious discourses point to the existence of a Greater entity - God, and the purpose and reason of the existence of life - Creationism.
  • Physics will refuse to acknowledge (or simply be indifferent towards) theology (the rational study of religion) altogether, concentrating on simply the nature and existence of all things. Physics may even disbar religion from its inner sanctums.
  • Metaphysics will accept certain words from religion, in an attempt to explain what physics cannot. But even metaphysics will not accept the totality of God or the deviance from the theory of evolution.
  • While physics depends on reductionist laws and formulas, metaphysics depends on laws like, the law of control (where the level of self-esteem of a person is directly proportional to the person's level of control over something), or the law of accident (where self-esteem depends on whether we are the victim of an occurrence uncontrolled by us).
  • Physics will never jump outside a defined boundary of reason in search of a solution. Instead, it will make do with the things at hand and make the most of them, deriving a result agreeable by all within the boundary. But it's not that physics, by itself cannot expand its own boundaries. You can see breakthroughs that redefine classical physics everywhere
  • Metaphysics tends to push its boundaries in search of truth, establishing a new line of sight beyond what was initially imagined. This creates more questions about the new boundary, thereby requiring new answers. The cycle may never end and might encompass all aspects of knowledge, from the logical and subconscious unknown to the very ends of the universe.
  • The definitive nature of physics that we know today rarely allows much miscalculations, making some theorems absolute (until of course, we know better). Metaphysics may always fall into a state of constant revision, until a final answer is attained or a new question poses itself. Metaphysics will always be an ever changing field due to its nature.

Points of Convergence

Despite the differences, there are some angles from which physics and metaphysics do seem alike. Physics may be hard-and-fast, but it will still be growing and changing. There can only be so long till when the laws of Newtonian physics will suffice.
When you reach that point, you enter the world of modern physics. This is where all aspects of metaphysics that can be explained by physics fall under. Of course, the more things we try to prove something right, the more amendments we make. Modern physics too will fall against metaphysics at certain points.
This cannot be helped though, knowledge and wisdom will always be counterparts of a larger mechanism. Some will believe the truthfulness of the EPR paradox, while some won't. While one half will state that man possesses free will, the other half asks where in the process of evolution did we gain it (Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design).
Some will claim that there is an ultimate purpose of all life, while some will say there is nothing beyond matter. Stephen Hawking, in an interview, compared the human brain to a computer that will stop working when its components fail. He said: "There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."
Whatever be your point of view, it is important to keep moving forward. There are still many things we need to learn and understand about what goes on within us and around us. So, when Einstein can say, "The man of science is a poor philosopher", Aristotle might say, "The Gods too, are fond of a joke".