Rethinking Our Imagined Reality: Illusory Separation from Nature

In Featured, Reasoned Spirituality by Dave Gaddis

Allow me to begin this article with a declaration. This is a no woo zone. What I share here is rooted in science. However, scientific knowledge of the universe can sometimes lead to a mystical experience of the same.

As I said in the introduction, this article series is based on one assumption: There is one Absolute Reality. We may not have the capacity to fully grasp Absolute Reality, but we can gain a partial understanding of it. I offer the following operating premise: The secret to understanding Absolute Reality is contemplation of the universe as it actually exists.

Nature “Peoples”

Suppose you are strolling along a pathway in a beautiful park, admiring the deeply green grass, flowering bushes, and blossoming trees. You feel a tug on your hand and your young child looks up at you and asks “Who made the trees?”

Most of you would smile and say that nobody made the trees, adding that they are simply part of nature. How are human beings any different? Are we not another aspect of nature? To paraphrase Allan Watts, if nature “trees” then it also “peoples.” Why do we understand this fundamental aspect of reality, but then use language that pits us against nature as if we are something separate?

The Oxford English dictionary provides the following definitions of nature.

The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.
The physical force regarded as causing and regulating the phenomena of the world.

Would you consider monkeys to be part of nature? Of course you would. That is what the first definition states. Do you see the fundamental flaw in this definition, though? Human beings and monkeys are descended from a common ancestor. We used to inhabit those same jungles. What happened? It appears we moved out of the jungle and stopped thinking we were part of nature.


The second definition is much more appropriate. Nature is the force that causes and regulates the phenomena of the world, which includes trees, monkeys, and human beings. Each is a unique expression of nature, but all are nature nonetheless.

Going Further Down the Rabbit Hole

Unless we have spent some time contemplating the issue, most of us would say that cars and cities are not part of nature. However, we just addressed the fact that we are a distinct aspect of nature. Does it not stand to reason that whatever we do is by association an act of nature? From this perspective, we could say that nature also “cars” and “cities” through us.

Visualize this scene. In front of you are several items, let’s say there is a rock, a cat, a baby, and a car. Let’s suppose you had hyper-microscopic vision. I know, just go with it. Magnifying your vision you look at all four at ever-increasing depths. At what point would they cease to become distinct entities, alive or inanimate, and simply merge into a sea of fields and particles? The deeper we go, the less distinct every aspect of the universe becomes, reinforcing the fact that distinctness does not equal separateness.screen_shot_2015-07-04_at_4-56-10_pm-thumb-b44b91d4bdf2ebc0564d022ca278661f

At its most fundamental, you would see one grand process in which the rock, cat, baby, and car are just parts of a greater whole. The same would be true if we were able to look at all of existence from the outside. One process. One whole. Nearly infinite constituents.

Imagine it is a dark, moonless night. The sky is clear and you are lying on a blanket in an open field. You stare in awe at the wondrous symphony of stars above you. You contemplate the fact that the light, photon, from the most distant star began its journey before the Earth was even formed. You are literally looking back billions of years into history. That is amazing, but your mind doesn’t stop there.

Leveraging Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, you realize that the time and place the photon was emitted from the star and the time and place it hit your eye are the same from the photon’s perspective. It happened instantaneously!

The star that emitted that light may have died, gone supernova, millions of years ago. When it exploded, it spewed carbon, oxygen, and iron into the universe. These are the same elements that make up your body.

Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. – Neil deGrasse Tyson

As you continue staring up at the stars, it is like the universe is staring back at you, poking its cosmic finger in your chest. A voice booms in your head. “Do you understand what I am?”

Images stream through your mind. The cosmos appears from nowhere and begins rapidly expanding. Quarks and other particles appear all around, later clumping into protons and neutrons. After 300,000 years, hydrogen and helium form. After a billion years, stars begin to shine. You see their multi-billion year lives pass in a second and end in a massive supernova, dispersing their atoms through space. Those atoms coalesce and form planets and water. The tiniest life forms appear. Each evolving and adapting to its conditions, yet remaining connected to the same underlying reality. Increasingly complex life emerges, eventually evolving through Pierolapithecus catalaunicus through Homo gautengensis and on to Homo sapiens, which means wise man. While the form is new and unique, the material that forms your body is as old as the universe.

“Do you understand what I am?”

The answer is clear. “You are me.”


Reasoned Insight #1: Human beings are an inseparable and unique aspect of Absolute Reality.

“We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.” – Carl Sagan

Our knowledge of the universe is, ultimately, self-knowledge. We are the universe expressing and experiencing itself as Abraham Lincoln, Siddhartha Gautama, Dave Gaddis, and you. This is not woo. It is scientific fact. Its awe inspiring.

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