Why can’t people say I’m metasmart or metafast or even, metahungry? Because attaching the prefix “meta” to any of these adjectives would render them unintelligible and ridiculous. This is quite obvious.
Yet, most of us have heard theists talk about metaphysics and heard them use the term to be something opposed to physical reality, as if this makes some kind of sense (Note that the term metaphysics actually carries many meanings — this is the meaning that I am concerned with here) . Although this, as far as I am aware, is not a proper use of the term metaphysics, it has become one of those buzzwords that many people just generally accept without thinking deeply about it.
So, let’s try to break down the word, shall we? The prefix “meta” is usually defined as being “beyond” or “above” or some such preposition. Fine, this makes sense. Physical, in the sense that this is being used in the aforementioned use of “metaphysical”, refers to everything within the known universe — that is, everything that can be examined. Fine, separately, these two words seem to make sense.
However, it doesn’t seem to make sense to put these together. Why? Consider this:
All of our collective knowledge comes from the universe in which we live. Nothing can come from outside our physical reality because that “outside thing” would immediately become inside if we learned about it. It is nonsensical to think of anything beyond our physical world because our physical world is everything we know and everything we can know. Thus, as soon as we utter the word “metaphysical” we have made it physical: the word metaphysical exists within the physical universe since we are discussing it within our universe. Anything that is truly metaphysical (assuming that that’s even possible) would be beyond our ability to consider, let alone talk about!
In this way, the prefix “meta” can be only applied to things that we know the limits of, and know what is on the outside. For example, metaphysics is also used to describe abstract concepts (in this sense, things that we cannot physically touch), such as existence, truth, ethics and so on. This is fine. We have clearly delineated between touchable and untouchable things. Everyone can distinguish the physical and the metaphysical in this instance.
However, when a theist tells you something like “God is metaphysical” or some other nonsense like that, ensure that they explain two things: what does “metaphysical” mean exactly and how could they possibly know that God is metaphysical if they reside within the physical realm. In all likelihood, they will be unable to respond to either question intelligibly — but this is not the purpose, of course. The purpose? Metaconfusion.
- Physics vs Metaphysics (lightsonthemoon.wordpress.com)
Post Script: Another blogger, debilis, has suggested to me that since there are things that are not physical that exist in this universe (such as ideas) then this is evidence that there is something beyond the physical (notice that this still doesn’t indicate that any form of God exists). Yet, careful examination of what I’ve said in this post will reveal a conflation of two concepts of “metaphysical”: one which I think is nonsense, one which makes sense. Yes, there are things that can be sensed and things that cannot be sensed (ie, ideas). This is the acceptable concept of metaphysics. Then there is the this universe verses that which is beyond this universe (Universe meaning everything we know and can know about. In that way, a multiverse would be included in this notion of a universe). This is the unacceptable version.
Here is where I will assert something that may be controversial: ideas are physical things, in the sense that they physically exist within this universe. How? All information is real. All information is not magically floating through the ether. Therefore, it must exist somewhere — and it does. It exists in the neural connections that host the idea in our brains or in the 1s and 0s that host the idea on a hard drive. Although it is hard to imagine information being transformed into raw data of 1s and 0s, we know this to be true. I would contend that the same is true within our brains. It may not be easy, but I think that there is definitely physical locations where the data of any idea is stored in our brains. Ergo, ideas are physical.