Parker Malenke

Of Mollusks & Men

Scientists tell us that what we can observe with our five senses—the familiar touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell—compose the whole of reality, or at least the whole of relevant reality. Theologians tell us that our observations are just the beginning of reality. They say our physical existence on earth comprises a short second in comparison to the eternal pleasures or punishments that await us on the other side of this material world. At the heart of this disagreement lies the competing ideas of natural and supernatural, physical and metaphysical. Many people view the supernatural as something wholly alien to human experience, even if they believe in it’s existence. Words like ‘supernatural’ and ‘metaphysics’ conjure up images of ghosts, witches, omens, and other mysticisms since discredited as primitive superstitions. Only the natural things that we can observe are universally accepted as a part of reality. But does that mean that atoms did not exist before we could observe them (still only possible through indirect means)? Of course not.

Consider a mollusk. Typical sensory organs for members of class Gastropoda include olfaction (smell), sight (greatly simplified from the human version, sensing simply changes from light to dark), balance, and touch. With such a limited palette of perception, the reality apparent to a mollusk is, quite obviously, much narrower and simplistic compared to a human. It would seem quite impossible for a mollusk to conceive of the world as humans know it. Homo sapiens actually possesses at least 10 different senses, and up to 16 depending on the definition of ‘sense’ used. A mollusk, with limited or no ability to receive and process information in these other senses (the most obvious being that of sound) could have no conception of the greater world around them that we know exists.

Beyond the human senses, certain animals possess various faculties foreign to us including electroreception, pressure detection, and polarized light detection. This begs the question: are there additional senses that we have no conception of? More specifically, do parts of reality exist that are simply beyond our powers of observation? Pridefully imposing our own anthropomorphized perception of reality upon the whole of what actually might compose reality simply reflects a willful ignorance. While science, based by definition upon our observational capabilities, could not answer these questions definitively, that does not mean the questions do not have answers.

I propose a new way of thinking about the natural/supernatural division. Instead of referring to things outside of reality, supernatural should refer to things beyond our ability of observing reality. In other words, there is no such thing as the supernatural. Everything is a part of nature, just not necessarily a part that we can observe. Imagine a number line that measures reality. Occupying the area from, say, 2–4 is a mollusk’s conception of reality. Humans take up 3.5–9, perhaps. Rose bushes reside around 0.5. Anything outside of our portion of reality would compose what we typically refer to as the supernatural/metaphysical. Of course, it’s easy to approximate or at least conceptualize the experiences of organisms and objects below our range of existence. Just like we would represent a supernatural being to a mullusk, anything above our range could possibly correspond to a god-like creature. A Christian God would theoretically occupy the entirety of an infinitely long line. This God is quite natural, a part of reality, just not wholly available to human capability.