We know that the concept of “supernatural” doesn’t make sense. I think we need to replace it. Here’s why, and here’s my proposal for its replacement.

Hypernatural

Without the concept of supernatural, there is still this whole genre of “the unexplained” that falls outside of science-y things like theoretical dark matter or space travel; stuff that intrigues people, like magic spells and ghosts. Where does that fit?

Most skeptics would put it all in a bucket labeled “bullshit.” I won’t go that far.

Much of the supernatural that people believe in is demonstrably false, that’s true, but I think there are mysteries out there that have some physical underpinning, and I’d go so far as to call those things “magic,” for all the connotations it brings of child-like wonder.

I think about mundane experiences, like sight, for example, that evoke such majesty and emotion in us, and how it’s so limited. We see a tiny fraction of the radiation around us, and we call that the visible spectrum, but there’s no fundamental difference between the visible spectrum and an X-Ray, for instance. Yet, before we invented some fancy equipment to “see” X-Rays, we didn’t know they existed. I think being able to “see” the full range of energy would be totally magical. That we can detect the existence of these without being able to directly perceive them is inspirational, and it gives one pause.

The Realm of Magic

What other mysteries lie beyond our perception? We know, because we’ve studied these things, that our perception falls within a very narrow band of available inputs. That our eyes are dim, our ears are dull, our nose is weak. At least those organs, which we evolved just coincidentally, gave us a hint that such inputs exist. It gives us a mental platform to imagine what it might be like to perceive the full spectrum.

What about those inputs that our frail bodies do not even hint at us about?

What physical dimensions and energies lie outside our ability to perceive them, and even (so far) outside our calculations to predict that they exist at all?

To me, these things are totally magical… but they are not supernatural. They are part of our physical reality, subject to laws and observation just like we are. What we perceive in our daily experience is what we call “natural,” but our “natural” is actually a subset of “real reality” — nature as it truly is, in all its complex glory. That larger, unknown, untapped reality, is what I propose we call “Hypernatural”: more than our concept of natural; an overarching natural, that covers everything the universe is.

What strangeness like multiple universes, we find in this larger reality, we must remember: that is what is normal. What we perceive is wrong; it’s we who live in the dark closet, warped by our bizarre, arbitrary perceptions.

Why not just “Natural”?

There are at least two dangers in expelling “supernatural” from our vocabulary without replacing it:

  1. First, people who give up on the supernatural often give up on “magic” as well. When I say magic, I mean the sense of wonder and discovery that accompanies unenlightened observation. I want to have my gut wrenched by the thought of an atom, I want to visualize the possibilities of other dimensions. I want to do it in a way that captures and expands upon on the sense of wonder I feel when looking at sunrises, or watching kittens play. I’ve noticed a pattern among people who reject the supernatural of forgetting that the “merely real” is still mind blowing. I think having a term for the mind blowing portion of reality is important to retain the magic.
  2. Second, “supernatural” is a useful concept. It’s logically bankrupt, but it still describes a portion of our experience that isn’t otherwise labeled. If we get rid of the faulty label, and the fallacious reasoning that goes with it, but fail to replace it with a better label that comes with better reasoning, then our minds will default to what we already “know.” It will fill in the gaps when we come to a point in our experience that “supernatural” would have previously covered. We’d have no other label, so either we’d reject the experience or relapse into supernatural (i.e. wrong) thinking. Having a better label for these experiences provides our feeble brains with the tools they need to reflect on experiences outside of the ordinary, without spiraling out of control, and without losing our sense of wonder.

(Article image is by Alex Grey)