Well, I would say the universe is ultimately made up of matter and energy — or whatever words you want to use to describe the stuff that give shape to our experiences. Whatever words you choose, the stuff being referred to will function the same way. Nothing in my original response should be taken to indicate I think otherwise.

No one has yet described what gives shape to our experiences without referring to matter and energy in some fashion. If you can do so, be my guest. I would be curious to see how you would make a coherent argument for existence without them.

I am, to be honest, rather dismissive of arguments that attempt to force people to choose between materialism and some sort of spiritual life. These arguments can be found among scientists as well as among dogmatic believers. We have this tendency to consistently try to split the world into diametrically opposed camps (materialism vs. spirituality, humanities vs. the “hard” sciences, etc.) With very few exceptions these splits are extremely counterproductive. Spiritual experiences are necessarily defined by the person having them, and are therefore subjective. That this is so in no way diminishes their value. Even the subjective/objective split represents a false choice. Likewise, that these experiences should be the product of a material world has no impact on the meaning they are capable of bringing to someone’s life. After all, what about matter and/or energy is either inherently meaningful or unmeaningful?

It is only when these or other highly personal experiences are interpreted as a means of confirming facts about our universe that people get into trouble. Truly spiritual or transcendent experiences are, according to virtually all the great teachers who have ever discussed them or spoken of their importance, intended to help get us beyond the common day-to-day dualities. They are not about either confirming or disconfirming facts about the physical world. They do not describe the world in either physical or non-physical terms. They don’t truly describe it at all. They are ineffable.

So, any scientist who claims that the big bang theory or describing the human genome is a substitute for or somehow adequately describes a personal spiritual experience is missing the point of the experience. That’s like saying that all one needs to understand what a rainstorm is like is a good satellite or radar image of the storm. Likewise, anyone talking about spiritual experiences as though they have anything to tell us about the physical universe is really not having anything I would consider a spiritual experience. One does not meditate or pray to answer questions about the physical laws of the universe any more than one conducts lab experiments to determine the meaning of their life. I really am not sure why anyone would think a universe made up of matter and energy — as well as the various emergent properties that arise from them — would feel this somehow necessarily diminishes their spiritual experiences.

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