What is Metaphysics?
Metaphysics translates into over and beyond (meta-) the knowledge of nature (-physika). Metaphysics deals with the philosophy of reality. As a branch of philosophy, Metaphysics aims at understanding the essence of the “being.” Metaphysics seeks to understand the first cause of life, the reason for existence, and the ultimate nature of consciousness. And it encompasses so many different fields, including religion, astrology, mysticism, philosophy, yoga, dreams, extrasensory perception, parapsychology, and life after death (while spirituality, to an extent, can be a part of Metaphysics, they are two very different concepts). All these seek to answer a lot of the same questions but with polar opposite viewpoints.
To understand the concepts within Metaphysics, we need to go back to ancient Greece, where all the questioning began. Greek philosophers like Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle strove to understand the basis of the Universe. An explanation for the happenings around them was necessary, and these great minds came up with theories to figure out the reality of literally everything. While Plato considered the existence of the Universe as a mere shadow of an ideal Realm of Forms, Aristotle maintained that the Universe exists within itself. Basically, Plato argued that a book has a universal form in the Realm of Forms, while Aristotle contradicted that by saying that the form of the book is within the book itself. These were the earliest interpretations of the world around us. Aristotle wrote a complete set of books examining three main questions- What is existence and what sort of things exist in the world? How can things continue to exist and still undergo changes? And, how can this world be understood? Aristotle called his works Ta Meta Ta Physika (after Physics). According to him, these were the first philosophies, and anyone who understood these was worthy of teaching them to others. Aristotle’s works became one of the earliest philosophical doctrines.
What kind of Questions do Meta-physicists deal with?
While exploring metaphysical subjects, you will come across the kind of questions Metaphysics deals with (and has been dealing with). One of the most important things that Metaphysics deals with is the existence of reality- what are the things that exist, and how are they related? 16th century English philosopher Francis Bacon argued that Reality is Absolute. Things exist, hence we perceive them. However, Indian Vedantas have long argued that everything around us is Maya- a creation of the mind. You will find many such theories. Does reality exist? If yes, then what is reality? You will find a lot of answers in Metaphysics.
Metaphysics also deals with the concepts of identity and change. What exactly is an identity? How do we relate to things? This also explores the mind-body conundrum- are they separate, or are they the same thing? Metaphysics seeks to look into the space-time issue as well- the past, present, and future. What are the laws controlling space and time? Are they objects or just plain simple concepts? Is time a single straight line of events? Aristotle considered it that way. But, several philosophers/ scientists (Einstein) viewed it as being relative to the observer. So many theories argue for and against the concept of time-travel. People who treat time like confetti (example: Stephen Hawking), view time-travel as something that is not only possible but in existence.
Time is just one of the many things the great philosophers worry about. The most important thing that everyone talks about is the origin, evolution, and future of the Universe i.e., cosmology. Scientists have their own theories. But, people dealing with concepts beyond physics have postulated certain amazing doctrines. It all boils down to different world-views. Religion views the origin of the Universe as mystical, God-made. Interestingly, some of these philosophies view the circle of creation, evolution, and destruction as something that keeps repeating itself (the Hindu and Greek philosophies are great examples). The others see it as one world with a definite end (see: some of the Norse mythology stories).
This brings us to another topic that Meta-physicists deal with- the concept of determinism. Determinism is the belief that everything that happens in the Universe is pre-planned, and we are all but pawns.
Another interesting concept that Meta-physicists deal with is the relationship between everything. Here, philosophers attempt to learn the way things correlate to each other, and the cause and effect of stuff. For instance, astrology explores the movements and positions of various celestial objects and their influence on human beings. These planetary movements signify tendencies, such as love, in our lives. For people who believe in this, the entire Universe is connected; the study of the Universe becomes the study of the relationship between the various objects in it. (even psychology can be considered a significant field of metaphysics)
Why is Metaphysics So Important?
For long, humans have been curious beings. To fuel our curiosity, we have time and again tried to build a basis for reality. Our basic instinct is to know what is happening and why is it happening. And if we do not feed that instinct, we won’t be able to attend to our other needs. It’s simple; if we can’t perceive reality, how will we live in this world? Every person has his/ her version of reality, which is completely fine. One cannot have one single explanation of the Universe. Besides, the base of an individual’s knowledge stems from his/ her understanding of reality. And that’s what meta-physicists aim to achieve. We don’t need to be great philosophers and go about unearthing the workings of the Universe. But, an average human will always desire a belief system which forms the basis of his/ her existence. One is free to choose from a vast array of metaphysical beliefs (religion, mysticism, astrology, meditation).
Note that not all philosophers will ask you to answer the metaphysical questions. Buddha, himself, did not believe wasting time asking questions about the Universe. He called them unnecessary (avyakta). However, modern Buddhists did come up with a theory of reality revolving around their understanding of dhammas (the ultimate physical and mental events).
In summation, if you choose to explore Metaphysics in any way, be informed that you will come across thousands (if not millions) of ideas. You need to pick and choose what appeals the most to you.
With Ganesha's Grace,
The GaneshaSpeaks.com Team
What is Metaphysics?