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Metaphysical vs supernatural

  1. Aug 20, 2006 #1
    Their etymology seems similar, but how would you differentiate between their meanings? Is their disparity that the former applies mostly to philosophy, and the latter mostly to religion?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 20, 2006 #2
    IMO, the metaphysical derives from laws of nature, the supernatural derives from outside laws of nature. Thus, for example, one cannot use gravity or electromagnetic fields or strong force to study the attributes of the supernatural. The metaphysical examines "what exists", the physical "how it exists", the supernatural "what exists outside existence". I do not see this as a dualism between philosophy vs religion but between existence vs nonexistence.
  4. Aug 20, 2006 #3
    Metaphysics is open to critical examination, whereas supernatural ideas are not, and that seems to be because of their relation to philosophy and religion respectively.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2006
  5. Aug 21, 2006 #4
    Someone explain how supernatural was ever conceived to be a conception of merit. All things that exist in this universe are natural. Things that don't exist, don't exist!
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2006
  6. Aug 21, 2006 #5
    Sure. Take the notions of dreams and death. It is entirely likely that people will dream of loved ones after they have passed away. Losing them was already a powerful emotional experience so seeing them in a dream is also powerful. One could be tempted to think that they are still alive in a "supernatural" state, meaning a state that cannot be observed in nature, but only in dreams.

    This is just one example, but it's the most plausible one I can think of for the introduction of shamanism. It follows that if people survive death and can be observed in dreams, then all of us have a seemingly supernatural attribute that not only allows us to communicate with the dead but also to survive death ourselves. And perhaps other beings observed in dreams are of a similar nature, and can influence our bodies and our health the way our own supernatural attribute does.

    It has a very simple logic to it. The notion of empirical science really does not exist if you consider that dreams are legitimate means for observing reality, because anything is possible in dreams.

    I am actually more puzzled why scientists do not consider dreams another means of observing nature. Sure, dreams may a "different nature," highly attached to the self, but nature nonetheless, right?

    Perhaps they just don't have very many interesting dreams. That would also seem to work against their making discoveries in dreams, like the lucid dreaming state. Lucid dreams clearly show that dreams are worthy of personal investigation.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2006
  7. Aug 22, 2006 #6
    Do you think the traditional name for a physical scientist, "natural philosopher," has any bearing on the possible similarity of the definitions for metaphysical and supernatural?
  8. Aug 22, 2006 #7
    Yeah, definitely. Metaphysical objects seem to be in a class of unobservables and supernatural phenomena seem to be in a class of unreasonables. The natural philosopher combines both observation and reason. Perhaps this is where confusion on the two terms originates!
  9. Aug 22, 2006 #8
    Fantastic observation and reasoning, Mickey!
  10. Aug 25, 2006 #9
    My thought on the subject is this. Supernatural phenomena is merely metephysical phenomena that currently remains outside of our cumulative understanding of the universe, as human beings. In reaction, a witness to new or uncommon phenomena, whether the instance valid or hallucinatory, spreads a deteriorating account of the event and becomes a negative agent impeding our progress in the discovering and understanding of the particles or strands that weave together the fabric of our existance. Well, simply put, even though there may be things that exist outside of our current understanding, we may not yet want to identify them as supernatural. Our world, and understanding are still considerably elementary, and we have a fairly slow learning curve. 75%+ of ones life is spent just trying to figure out ones self, let alone the nature of the universe.
  11. Aug 25, 2006 #10
    There is not and cannot be "supernatural" if we take the term to mean outside of nature. Everything that exists is natural, even that which is man made is made of natural materials and made by a natural entity using natural processes and the laws of nature. If we take the term to mean more natural than nature it becomes meaningless. If we use the term to mean that part of nature that is in a higher state than material or objective nature then it may have some meaning and purpose.

    Metaphysics simply means beyond physics or beyond science and would include "supernatural" and every thing else that cannot be explained nor addressed by science, at least yet.
  12. Aug 25, 2006 #11
    Please give some examples, Royce.
  13. Aug 25, 2006 #12


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    A little remark here. Just as meta-physics and super-natural have pretty much the same meaning with Greek and Latin roots, so sci-ent-ist and wiz-ard have similar meanings with Latin and Germanic roots. Sci = Wit: knowledge, ist=ard: person characterized by or engaged in.
  14. Aug 25, 2006 #13

    Well noted. Science must have seemed like wizardry to those who lived in times when the old languages were also alive. Perhaps those that couldn't part with concept of supernatural existance ultimately defined the character of the wizard as it is seen to day, a conqueror of magical or spiritual elements. I suppose those that finally accepted the exploration of metaphysical or supernatural phenomena as science would then call the wizard a scientist. A very interesting connection.
  15. Aug 26, 2006 #14


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    During a middle period, like the 16th and 17th century in England, it could be dangerous to be a knowledge worker. Arithmatician and geometer meant sorcerer, and sorcery was a capital offense.
  16. Aug 26, 2006 #15
    The most obvious are religion and spirituality. Others, in my opinion, include life, consciousness, the mind, inner knowledge or knowledge itself.

    In one way of thinking, even though they are different branches of philosophy, ethics, morals, logic, mathematics are all beyond physics and or science and therefore part of metaphysics, but they are not usually thought of as such.
  17. Aug 26, 2006 #16
    I agree with Royce, but it might be a bit too general of a definition.
    Take ghosts, a typical ghost is a soul that has arisen from the grave and is now floating around in some astral plane of the world.

    Technically, we cannot prove that this is false, at least yet, we may be able to prove that we are unable to prove it, but nothing else.
    Thus it doesn't become strictly metaphysical, nor supernatural because it can still be a part of the universe only we can't reach or see that "plane."

    What this means to me is that there may exist things that are possible simply because of lack of knowledge, aka the imaginative things.
  18. Aug 26, 2006 #17
    I don't know much about cosmology or atoms, etc.., but I am under the impression that we are all made of of several different kinds of atoms. I wonder if ghosts are made up of atoms as well, and how they would be tied to the original host. I'm reaching, I know, and probably way off, but there must be some explanation for this phenomena.

    When I was in indonesia recently I experienced something strange in a room I was staying in. The first night, nothing happened, except that I woke up around 3:00 am. The next night I had trouble sleeping. I kept feeling like I was being watched the whole time. I tried to close my eyes, but kept feeling something wierd. My wife was with me too. She felt the same thing. She finally fell asleep though, and I stayed awake for awhile until sleep overtook me as well. We then both woke up at 3:00 again. I couldn't get back to sleep after that. The next day again, no sleep, my wife fell a sleep, and the I was finally so tired that I had too. Note that all the lights were on. I was having weird dreams, very weird and disturbing. All of a sudden I woke up, and guess what time it was. So, at the same time, my wife woke up too. I asked her, did she turn off all of the lights. There was the bathroom light, and two others. As sat up for a moment and put my foot on the floor, all of the lights just flickered on. The next day, I asked if there was some kind of motion sensor or something, and there was not. We switched rooms. I slept just fine after that, and through the night as well. How does one explain it.
  19. Aug 30, 2006 #18
    I prefer to think that metaphysics is concerned with first principles, not with supernatural phenomena, even if there are such things. Thus metaphysics would be before physics and not just beyond it, whereas the supernatural would be beyond physics but not before it. (Where 'before' means something like epistemilogically prior).
  20. Aug 30, 2006 #19
    A simple, perhaps mathematical definition, Canute. (Was not King Canute a founder of wave theory?):rofl:
  21. Aug 31, 2006 #20
    Historically, long before physics, even long before before natural philosophy, supernatural phenomena and spirituality as well as religion were known and contemplated. Some, including myself, would say that these studies are the essence of first principles.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "epistemologically prior." If you are referring to epistemology theory in that prior would mean more basic or a prerequisite, I know so little about it that I can't comment on it. ( yes, there are some thing that I don't feel qualified to hold and opinion on much less comment on it.) However, wouldn't virtually all other knowledge and learning be prior to physics as it is studied today?
  22. Sep 12, 2006 #21

    Best Regards
  23. Oct 10, 2006 #22
    Sorry to walk into this discussion late, but could we not consider "supernatural" to mean anything real that cannot be described with mathematics? If something cannot be quantified or reduced to mathematics, does that mean it must be considered unreasonable or impossible?
  24. Oct 11, 2006 #23


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    I don't think mathematical description is a good test. It is more or less a historical accident (driven by Galilieo, Descartes and Newton) that physics came to be identified with mathematical description, and physicists have come up with things that eluded mathematical description for a while (e.g. the Dirac Delta "function"). I'd say beyond objective checkable empirical study.
  25. Oct 11, 2006 #24
    What if we were to say that something is supernatural if it cannot be mathematically represented in principle, as opposed to something that cannot be mathematically represented yet?

    I can't think of a reason to object to that. It seems to be largely compatible with my proposal. Afterall, empirical study requires measurement, and objective measurement needs to be reducible to numeric representation.
  26. Nov 3, 2010 #25
    How about this...

    Metaphysical: Beyond the physical by reason

    Supernatural: Beyond the physical by faith
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