For philosophers, the matter is not simply objectivity. It is also the first expression of cosmic Thought, the first step of externalization of this Thought as nature. Such a way of speaking looks pretty odd today. However, we must remind ourselves that at this ontological level, metaphorical language is unavoidable.
The archetype of every such ontological and metaphorical understanding is Plato’s myth of the Demiurge. This is the everlasting model of the active entity that creates the concrete, material world by copying the ideal pure Forms into every concrete thing in this world.
The Demiurge is similar to an artist who – while creating his work of art – brings to the light, by means of his artistic work, his internal vision of beauty. That vision would have disappeared forever if the artist had not been able to externalize it through the work of art.
God Himself is, in every religion, the supreme Demiurge that makes reality what it is. Religion is the emotional attitude of man toward this necessary metaphor of human understanding. Without this metaphor, the world cannot be thought of as a unity.
Nietzsche, in his way of speaking, said once in this respect that everything becomes a tragedy around the hero, whereas, around God, everything transforms into a world.
Philosophers like Hegel thought of the relationship between God and the world, similar to the relationship between an artist and his work of art: God has His own eternal understanding and vision. The Creation is His work of art; it is the externalization into concrete matter of God’s thoughts which would have remained eternally unknown without that materialization.
Thus when Hegel says, in his philosophy of nature, that matter is the first form of externalization of the Notion he means that matter is the simplest expression of the eternal thought of God. If we were to use the metaphor of a painter, we could compare matter, in this understanding, with the color of the background in a painting.
This color is very simple compared to everything else contained in that painting because it has no form. It is only a background color that makes everything else possible in the realm of visibility. In the same way, matter, as the first moment of externalization of the Notion, is the background that allows everything else to embody into more and more complex material shapes.
Now, indeed, such metaphorical language seems to be inadequate because it has features that are lacking in the ‘Grand Design.’ The artist has a canvas on which the painter unfolds his internal vision. The artistic work has a starting moment and an ending one. And so forth.
By contrast, God’s artistic, creative work is infinite. In order to use metaphorical language with respect to God, you need a shortcut; you must raise yourself to the bird’s-eye-view of infinity (indeed a true salto mortale when you confront critical spirits who smile sarcastically at talk of explaining the unfolding of infinity) and tell the story as if you were yourself the artist.
But you must take into consideration that you must create a world out of nothing. Thus, matter as the first externalization of the Notion appears in the snap of a finger: it is an externalization that is suddenly there, without any mediation of previously visible activity. God said, ‘Let there be matter!’ and the Matter – of course, magically – was there.
However, the matter is not pure passivity. If it were that way, the matter could not develop or transform into something else. The matter is carrying within itself the features of the Idea, in the same way in which the painting carries within itself the artist’s personality.
The universal matter as the first externalization of the Notion is an expression of that power that keeps everything together, i.e., of the divine providence.
A philosopher sees everything in the world as being connected to everything else and also as lying under the power of an iron necessity. The natural laws connecting things together are the expressions of this iron necessity from which nothing can detach itself.
For example, we constantly see that the positive pole of the magnet attracts the negative pole and rejects another positive pole. This happens consistently, and we have never seen any violation of this law in nature.
It is as if someone decided with absolute power that poles behave that way and that they cannot escape that decision. Or, take any individual causal relationship: if you do not let any other causal influence interfere with an existing causal relationship, the original causal relationship will endlessly keep its form and power.
But connections happen at all levels of reality: not only are such inanimate things connected but organic beings also. Within the bodies of the organic beings, there are connections between all kinds of organs, as well as chemical reactions (which are the connections between the chemical substances).
Then there exists a connection between living beings too, either between the living beings of the same species – in reproduction, for example – or between living beings of different species.
In this regard, it is enough to say that animals eat each other and cannot survive without food. Living beings have a constant exchange with their environment while they eat, drink, or just breathe the surrounding air.
Let’s climb higher in the hierarchy of living beings, reaching now the human level. We see that the human being, in order to become a human being, needs the care of other human beings. Then all its activity means participating in others’ activity. And every community strives to preserve itself, therefore rejecting any influence threatening its identity.
Providence, if you are willing to see it, has thus countless forms. It is the style of this world, the mark of Creation. However, it is not so easily acceptable to identify material magnetism with the loving care of humans for their peers.
You could counter-argue that material magnetism acts necessarily and inevitably, whereas human care can exist or be lacking. And, what is more, care implies consciousness and feeling, and it would be nonsense to attribute such traits to a magnet.
Still, the core feature of attraction is there in both cases. The participating entities are drawn to each other. Be it a metaphor or not, we simply cannot understand those circumstances without that concept of attraction. In whatever way we explain the interaction between the positive charge of the atomic nucleus and the positive charge of the electronic layers, the image of attraction is there, and we cannot avoid it.
The atom is a unity, and unities cannot be comprehended otherwise than as unifying actions. They happen either through a spontaneous attraction between things or by putting things together and then grasping them as known unities.
Knowledge is, for Hegel, such an act of bringing things together. It is the conceptual expression of natural attraction. What deters us from recognizing this is that, in our minds, schemes have no active force or real energy. When we draw the blueprint of a future house, apparently the pieces simply stick together.
However, they stay there in an order based on how we think of each piece’s place. Our thought plays here the role of the attractive force, but it does not display it to make us see how things move towards each other, as happens with real magnetism. Things are drawn to each other only in reality; in knowledge, they only point or allude to each other.
This is why for Hegel, the matter must already manifest this cosmic feature of providence. And it does this through gravitation, which is the basic property of matter, the property which enables matter to build all kinds of bodies able to keep the unity of the parts from which they result.