Supernatural

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If you came here to read about "elves, fairies, gnomes, and pixies" then please see woo. If you came here to read about the TV show called Supernatural in which two brothers hunt the stuff on this page, you'd be better off checking out Supernatural Wiki.
The supernatural is the natural not yet understood.
—Elbert Hubbard[1]


Supernatural refers to phenomena that fit one of the following definitions:

  • Supernatural events as "beyond nature": Something presented as "supernatural" is by definition not real, at least not in the way that term is usually defined to mean "an identifiable part of observable reality". In exactly what sense such a thing can be said to exist at all is the central problem for anyone when talking of the supernatural. Without observable reality as a basis point, it's not clear at all how we define, measure, perceive or interact with the supernatural. Supernatural explanations are, by definition, outside the scope of the scientific method. It often refers to... well, hmm. What could possibly not be natural? Perhaps ghosts, angels, gods, and zombies. Probably Uri Geller, too. The problem with this definition is that none of the phenomena commonly described as supernatural fit the definition. Pagan gods were commonly described as having corporeal form, and even interbreeding with humans. The monotheistic God is described as being perceivable through His interactions with the physical world. Zombies are (of course) dead humans that have been raised to something resembling life. Virgin birth does not fit the definition, because it is a physical event. Thus no events commonly described as "supernatural" are "beyond nature," and this definition yields a null set.
  • Supernatural events as violating laws of nature: Supernatural phenomena are phenomena that violate the laws of nature. The problem with this definition is that it assumes we comprehensively know the laws of nature in order to identify violations. Thus an islander who has never seen an aircraft or a walky-talky would describe them as "supernatural" because they violate the laws of nature as he understands them -- despite the fact that they are consistent with the laws of nature as they really are.[2] Since we do not comprehensively understand the laws of nature, we cannot meaningfully determine which events truly violate the laws of nature. Something that we find completely and utterly inexplicable could still quite possibly be within the laws of nature, and it's not possible for us to definitively determine whether it is or not.
  • Mind as fundamental entity: Richard Carrier defines "supernatural" as meaning that at least some mental things cannot be reduced to nonmental things:[3] "mind" as a fundamental substance of the universe (along with quarks and leptons). He believes this to be a useful working definition for philosophers that captures the conventional meaning sufficiently.
  • Supernatural as a meaningless word: Others believe that the word "supernatural" carries no meaning. For something to be "beyond nature" it would have to have no interaction with nature -- and thus any events in that realm would be beyond our perception or meaningful knowledge. However, that does not exclude the possibility that events described as miracles -- which occur in the natural world, despite being unusual occurrences -- are possible. The key question with "supernatural" events, therefore, is not whether they are supernatural, but rather whether they occur. If they occur, they are not "supernatural," but rather "unexplained." If they do not occur, they are not "supernatural," but rather "fictional."

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. QuotationsBook
  2. To invert Clarke's Law, any sufficiently well-understood magic is indistinguishable from science.
  3. http://richardcarrier.blogspot.co.uk/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html
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