Saturday, November 22, 2008

There Is No Spoon

In the sci-fi classic The Matrix, the post-modern Messiah figure Neo pays a visit to an Oracle. The waiting room if you will is filled wish a variety of interesting characters including a little boy with a bald head who starts talking about trying to bend a spoon with his thoughts. The boy explains that trying to bend a spoon with his thoughts would be impossible until he recognizes the truth that "there is no spoon". This phrase then becomes a kind of symbol for freeing one's mind from preconceived notions about reality that limit our imagination of what is possible and therefore our actions. One of the things that I've become increasingly aware as a doctoral student is how many fundamental assumptions about reality, even in an intellectual environment go completely unexamined and unchallenged. They sit like the proverbial elephant in the middle of the discourse yet remain invisible. One example of this is the discourse surrounding the various pretexts for which human beings mistreat each other (the "identities" I've mentioned previously). A dimension of this discourse is the "other" that is being oppressed in this way or that. While some recognize that the way we perceive the "other" is socially constructed what is not recognized is the possibility that there is no "other" in the first place. "Cleanse ye your eyes, so that ye behold no man as different from yourselves. See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness. "(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 24)

Two selections from Baha'i scripture come to mind as I ponder this question. One involves the human body as a metaphor for "organic unity" or the oneness of humankind:

"This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man's sovereign soul, and the soul's power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for co-ordination." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 291)

Does the ear see the toe as "other"? Does the toe see the nose as "other"?

Another selection is a somewhat obscure but I think very powerful statement made by Baha'u'llah in the Kitab-i-Ahd (The Book of the Covenant), "A mighty force, a consummate power lieth concealed in the world of being. Fix your gaze upon it and upon its unifying influence, and not upon the differences which appear from it." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 220)

I think that among other things, Baha'u'llah is telling us that we can and should "fix our gaze" upon the "unifying influence" and "not upon the differences". "Otherness", to use 'Abdu'l-Baha's phrase is a way of seeing, a habit of the mind and like any habit, it can be broken. Breaking this habit may be critical for, like bending a spoon with your mind, uniting the human race may appear impossible unless we reconsider who we really are. We are one. Once we fully grasp this and begin to act accordingly, unity will not only be possible but inevitable.

There is no spoon.


  1. The Matrix was once compared with the Bahá'í Faith. Some Bahá'ís saw lot's of parallels and even some non-Bahá'ís who know of the religion.

    I am also much taken with that quote of the mysterious unifying force. I'd never equated it with the unity of the elements of the body, or humanity though I see where you could. I tend to think of humanity as a poor reflections of that universal spirit which could have a reflection alittle closer to us. As I recall this mystery is connected perhaps with the perception of Socrates....:"He it is who perceived a unique, a tempered, and a pervasive nature in things, bearing the closest likeness to the human spirit, and he discovered this nature to be distinct from the substance of things in their refined form." at least to my thoughts....

  2. Thanks SMK for being the first to weigh in. I like what you are saying about Socrates. That quote from the Kitab-i-Ahd is so interesting and profound. Well worth pondering.

  3. I realized that my comment may have been overly negative. I didn't mean it that way so much. I meant that while the spirit of unity, whatever it is, is profound while the human reality struggles ever about it. That's not to say there isn't progress. Look at our jokes after-all. There have been periods of progress. Humanity has made undreamed of progress in unity really. But the progress has been far from perfect and you rightly draw attention to the fundamental capacity in us for making that progress that the future is calling to us with.

  4. Chris8:32 PM

    Loved this post. I look forward to the day when this mystical unifying force, which is the central feature of the Faith according to Baha'u'llah, is explored with vigorous enthusiasm. There will be a true paradigm shift in human consciousness when we successfully indwell that 'alternate' yet truer reality.

    "How much the organs, the members and the parts of the body of
    man are intermingled and connected for mutual aid and help, and
    how much they influence one another! In the same way, the parts
    of this infinite universe have their members and elements
    connected with one another, and influence one another spiritually
    and materially.
    What a connection and what an agreement is this!
    Since this connection, this spiritual effect and this
    influence, exists between the members of the body of man, who is
    only one of many finite beings, certainly between these universal
    and infinite beings there will also be a spiritual and material
    connection. Although by existing rules and actual science these
    connections cannot be discovered, nevertheless, their existence
    between all beings is certain and absolute.
    To conclude: the beings, whether great or small, are connected
    with one another by the perfect wisdom of God, and affect and
    influence one another. If it were not so, in the universal system
    and the general arrangement of existence, there would be disorder
    and imperfection. But as beings are connected one with another
    with the greatest strength, they are in order in their places and
    This subject is worthy of examination."
    Abdu'l-Baha: Some Answered Questions, pages 246-24)

  5. Anonymous11:11 AM

    A note on Socrates:
    In, I believe, Secret of Divine Civilization, Abdu'l-Baha sheds light on the teachings and significance of Socrates, and the manner in which Socrates' life and teachings relate to the penetrative influence of Divine Teachings.

    'Abdu'l-Baha writes that Socrates traveled to the Holy Land and met with "Jewish Divines", where he became aware of the One True God, and for teaching this monotheism among the Greeks, he was forced to sacrifice his life.
    Judith w.