Metaphysical vs Metaphenomenal

One of the most contentious areas in philosophy revolves around what I consider to be a misconception about the relation between the physical and phenomenal. In particular, the term ‘metaphysical’ forces supernatural connotations onto what would otherwise be non-ordinary but natural experiences and states of mind. I think that the problem is in failing to recognize the physical and phenomenal as each having their own ranges which both overlap and oppose each other. What I mean is, synchronicity and precognition are not metaphysical, they are metaphenomenal. The surprising part is that this means that the ordering of events in which we participate is actually a subjective experience nested within many other subjective and perhaps trans-subjective subjective experiences on different scales. Einstein talked about the relativity of simultaneity, and the metaphenomenal (aka collective unconscious) works in a similar way.

When we make time physical without acknowledging the role that phenomenology has in producing both the form and content of “time”, we introduce a false universal voyeur which effectively flattens all aesthetic qualities and participation into a one dimensional vector in one direction. By taking the term metaphysical, we unintentionally validate this flattened view of the universe in which physics is nature, and phenomenology, particularly deep or non-ordinary phenomenology, can only be non- or meta- physical and therefore supernatural, aka superstitious, aka illusory. If we look at how physics treats its own non-ordinary phenomena, such as quantum entanglement, quasars, and dark energy, we do not see the term ‘illusion’ or ‘folk astronomy’ being thrown around. Their strangeness is acknowledged in a way which invites curiosity rather than fear. The mystery is safely projected into the impersonal realm of physics and the super-impersonal realm of theoretical physics. By contrast, the metaphenomenal range is super-personal or transpersonal, containing experiences which challenge our conventional expectations about the realism of physical bodies, locality, and time.

It is not incorrect to say that for these reasons the metaphenomenal can be considered metaphysical, however I think that is where we are placing the emphasis on the wrong set of properties. Instead of using experiences such as intuition, synchronicity, and even divination as scientific clues to a super-personal range of awareness, we are distracted by the apparent contradiction to physics (as if ordinary awareness did not contradict physics already). To rehabilitate our perspective, I suggest considering the relation between the different ranges of physical (ontic) and phenomenal (telic) phenomena in this way:

The term ‘paranormal’ is, like supernatural and metaphysical, the same kind of misnomer. If we see physics as a product of more primitive phenomenal sense, then it is consciousness itself which is doing the normalizing, so that it cannot be considered ‘normal’ itself. In another sense, since it is our consciousness which is defining normalcy, it does indeed identify its own regularity and meta-regularities and challenges those definitions as well. The metaphenomenal serves not only as an extension of the personal psyche into the collective unconscious, but also as a line in the sand beyond which sanity is not guaranteed.

Microphysical and Microphenomenal

The same thing occurs in another way, in an opposite way, on the bottom end of my chart. The sub-personal roots of microphenomenology and the sub-impersonal seeds of microphysics are the bottom up layers of causality and are more directly related than the top layers. The sub-personal (sub-conscious, id) urges and the microphysical (binary, semaphore-digital) are low level signs which are used to literally motivate and control. It is a common language of pushing things around.

To be able to exercise control it is necessary first to be able to see that which is to be controlled as separate in some sense from that which controls. There must be a way to sense them as ‘things’ or as a kind of inertial field which resists your intentions to cause a sensible effect. This experience of ‘things outside the self’ is the beginning of motivation, desire, intelligence, etc. In this way, motive and mechanism are born. The teeth in your mouth and the teeth of a gear exploit the same mechanical power to physically endure and prevail.

In the schema I propose, the fabric of the universe is tessellated or braided into these levels of nested counterpoint. The higher level objectifies the lower level into things because the higher level enjoys a more complete, but distanced panoramic view. The predator’s perspective engulfs the prey’s perspective. Biological organisms also objectify other living things and their own living body as higher than non-living things. Organisms with nervous systems take it one step beyond, seeing their own lives as a kind of meta-thing to direct as separate from the body. The human brain corresponds to a further, and perhaps ultimate mutation on the theme of self-reflection. There are physical implications for all of this but they have to do with time more than materials and structure. The expansion of time gives us more raw experiential material, more moments and more awareness of past and future within each moment. Technology and leisure make a virtuous cycle, bringing innovations which give us more things to do with our minds and bodies, and with the world.

Robert Anton Wilson wrote about the Jumping Jesus phenomenon – that it took X number of years for the first person to be born who had the impact of a Jesus or a Buddha, and how we now have several of them living at any particular moment. Buckminster Fuller and Terrence McKenna are among those who had this hyper-enthusiasm for the future which underlies today’s Singularity ethos. The ever ‘tightening gyre’, the transcendental object at the end of history, etc. It would seem, however, that at the same time, this enthusiasm is somehow perpetually deluded, and forever producing time wasting, leisure robbing coercions as well. As the acceleration increases, so does the mass, and a kind of stalemate plus or minus is maintained.


By shifting from the ad hoc, monolithic model of phenomenology as a kind of malfunctioning folk physics, or as physics belonging to an illusion that must be overcome spiritually, I propose a sense-based, multivalent view in which the metaphenomenal is understood to be both less than and more than physically real with high orthogonality, and the microphysical is understood to be less than and more than cosmologically meaningful with high isomrophism. The (one) mistake that David Chalmers made, in my opinion, is in accidentally introducing the idea of a zombie rather than a doll to the discussion of AI. Similar to error of the terms metaphysical and supernatural, the zombie specifies an expectation of personal level consciousness which is absent, rather than sub-personal level consciousness which is present on the microphysical levels. We can understand more clearly that a doll is not conscious on a personal level, no matter how many things it can say, or how many ways its limbs can be articulated. On the micro-physical level however, the material which makes up the doll expresses some sensory experience. It can be melted or frozen, broken or burned, etc. The material knows how to react to its environment sensibly and appropriately, and this is how material is in fact defined – by its sensible relations to material conditions. Just as we can assemble a 3D image on a 2D screen out of dumb pixels, so too can be automate a 5D human impostor on a 4D behavior stream of a doll.

By properly locating the micro-level physics beneath the personal-level phenomenology, we can see that beneath the micro-level physics there can be an even more primitive micro-phenomenology. On the top end as well, beyond the ontological truths of mathematics and logic, there are teleological apprehensions of aesthetics and meaning – without necessarily invoking a God personality (although that can work too, I just don’t see it as making as much sense as transpersonal Absolute).


*the super-impersonal is similar to the metaphenomenal in that it is difficult and esoteric, but opposite in that it is extrinsic rather than intrinsic. Where the metaphenomenal uses symbols as archetypes, loaded with metaphor and occult mystery, the superimpersonal (which would be more correct to call metaphysical) uses arcane mathematical and logical expressions. These are a kind of anti-metaphor as they relate to precisely defined, universally understood public information. The whole point is to expose the theory and completely, so that anyone is welcome to try to learn how to understand and use them, without any initiation rituals or strange pictures.

  1. April 28, 2014 at 8:45 am

    I like it.

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