But the more interesting definition was that from Gnosticism: “A material being, belonging to the lowest of the three classes into which mankind was divided.” Gnosticism is a form of early Christianity, though it is often condemned as a heresy by the established church.
Gnosticism divided humans into three groups: pneumatic, psychic, and hylic. The Gnostics apparently looked down on the hylics and found them incapable of understanding the truth because they were so invested in the material world.
My first inclination was to do the same, to use the term hylic to refer to those who value gold bathroom fixtures and other gaudy symbols of extravagant wealth. Certainly one way to look at the word – which comes from Greek – is to apply it to the kind of materialism that values things and money over anything else.
But as I got to thinking about it, I had different ideas. For one thing, materialism in philosophy (and in modern science) has come to mean a doctrine that nothing exists except matter – a concept I might argue with, but not an unreasonable place to begin an examination of what is and isn’t.
While I agree with the idea that overvaluation of things and money is not particularly enlightened, the fact that corporeal (which means, among other things, relating to the body) is a synonym made me think hylic could also be used to mean a person in touch with or aware of their body.
And that, I submit, is a good thing.
Western philosophy has for many years preached the separation of mind and body, and emphasized that the mind is superior. But one of the things I’ve figured out over years of martial arts is that “mind” does not mean just the brain. We learn things with our whole selves, not just with the seven or so pounds of neurons in our heads.
I figured out a long time ago that to truly understand something, I had to move with it, not just think about it. Doing things provides a different understanding than just thinking about them or memorizing a list of facts.
Descartes said “Cogito ergo sum.” Me, I hold with “I move therefore I am.”
Not that I want to toss out the intellectual side of things, or even the spiritual (I don’t believe in any gods, but I do find value in meditation and similar practices). Rather, I’m in favor of an integrated whole: a person who thinks about things, moves with them, and meditates upon them.
Also, maybe it’s time to stop dividing people into groups with the express goal of condemning them.