Peter Lucas Hulen
Any type of human development, physical, mental, spiritual, intellectual, psychological, emotional, cognitive—how ever one divides the whole—affects the whole. To develop any particular part is to develop the whole. Cognitive development results in a more subtle and complex apprehension of reality, and has implications for spiritual development (and vice versa). They are as interconnected as any other facets of the whole.
There is a dearth of research on cognitive development in adulthood; I believe we have a largely unmeasured capacity to continue developing cognitively (and thus spiritually) throughout the life cycle. I also think paying more attention to adult cognitive development might address some social and cultural problems.
To approach a peak understanding of reality as a great Unity, we ironically have to move past the illusion that it is unitary and break it down. To put it another way, one must understand parts before one can comprehend the whole.
Coming to understand reality as an interconnected set of differing partial functions was a significant step in my own cognitive/spiritual development. There are different kinds of reality that make up the whole. While these interrelate, confusing or conflating them hampers our ability to continue developing, both individually and collectively.
Reality as mediated, measured, observed, extended or repeated through neurosensory structures and functions. Though perceived as external, it is compiled between our ears along with other facets of reality that may affect its perception. It allows us to survive in the (apparently) physical world long enough to reproduce. Empirical reality is individual-objective in nature, but verified through collective comparison of experience.
The network of relationships connecting all entities into wholes, and smaller wholes into larger. Though the relationships themselves are invisible and immeasurable, what can be observed and measured (empirically) are material objects and influences that travel through them. An empirical angle allows us to examine and comprehend a systemic one. Systemic reality is collective-objective in nature, but verified through individual quantification and comparison.
The material and behavioral product of what a given social entity considers important, realized through its modes of reflection and expression. Cultural reality is collective-subjective in nature, but without practical connections to empirical, systemic and intra-subjective reality it becomes irrelevant to the rest of reality and dysfunctional.
Comprises personal experiences of what we experience as emotion, imagination, memory, and psychological states, including what we share through the process of evolution, and what may be considered "spiritual" in nature. Intra-subjective reality is individual-subjective in nature. Psychological wellbeing is sometimes measured by apparent coordination between intra-subjective and other facets of reality.
Implications of multifaceted reality
Fundamentalism, contrary to some notions, is not some kind of Medieval throwback; it is quintessentially Modern. As a reaction to Modernism it shares a symbiotic relationship with it. Prior to the Enlightenment there was no reaction to Modern thinking—and nothing identifiable as fundamentalist thinking.
A great gift of the Enlightenment (it has its curses) is the notion that we can separate facts from all that is purported by means of empirical verification. The implications have transformed human experience. An excess of the Enlightenment is the notion that only facts are real. This has left many in industrialized societies spiritually impoverished. Ironically, both fundamentalists and hard-core secularists operate according to the same excessive presupposition—that only facts are real.
A secularist says, "Only facts are real; as this creation myth cannot be empirically verified as fact, there is nothing real about it." A creationist (perhaps showing some spiritual sensitivity) says, "Only facts are real; as I know deep down this story of creation is real, it must be a fact." Creationists select extremely limited sets of facts and weave convoluted webs of junk science to try and empirically verify what is presupposed as fact, while secularists try to debunk a powerfully truthful metaphor with the mere observation that it cannot be factual.
Both miss the point because they are both literalistic and informed by a one-dimensional grasp of reality. The scientific theory of evolution describes empirical reality, while the ancient creation narratives point to an intra-subjective reality. Both can be honored as vehicles of truth, albeit of different kinds, and both can be integrated into overall reality. These tiresome disputes are the result of elevating empirical reality above all other types, and failing to distinguish between metaphor describing intra-subjective reality and material evidence supporting empirical reality, abusing both in the process. The implications for quality of education make for a critical social issue.
Another example of an insufficiently subtle grasp of reality can be found in political ideologies. These tend to be culturally mediated, enforced through group identification, and disconnected from an observable, measurable, traceable view of the material and social worlds. Political behavior becomes driven by what are essentially myths, fueled by frustration, fear, and belonging.
What people truly value can be dealt with empirically, but as long as people can be induced to elevate ideological belief above empirical reality they will conveniently deny or remain oblivious to critical problems that need to be collectively addressed. All that will matter is whether or not people who properly address a collection of myths are in public office.
Both of these examples touch on matters critical to culture and society in the USA, and both are the result of failure to comprehend reality in sufficiently developed ways. Conversely, both can be properly addressed if people grasp the differing components of reality inherent in them. What ties them together is belief, so they reflect not only social issues, but intellectual and spiritual issues as well. The better people can parse reality, the better they can understand how beliefs should function according to differing facets of reality itself.