First-year chemistry students often learn how scientific knowledge is applied, particularly around specifics such as the building blocks and phases of matter, the basics of thermodynamics, and the intricacies of organic chemistry.

Thus it often comes as a surprise to Columbia University students, in the midst of their first chemistry exam, to find a question like this: “How many piano tuners are there in NYC?”

What could that possibly have to do with chemistry?

Absolutely nothing.

And yet, it’s an exceptional question for a chemistry test.


Because it challenges students to think broadly and laterally. How many people might live in NYC? What percentage of them might own a piano? How many pianos might an average piano tuner service?

These aren’t questions that have an obvious nor exact answer. Memorizing Avogadro’s number or the chemical structure of Benzene won’t help you one bit.

But pondering these questions will help you develop abstract thinking. Which was why this advanced teacher inserted such thought-expanding inquiries into his exams.

The power of abstract thinking exponentially expands one’s ability to see the forest for the trees. And it helps with all subjects.

Including the spiritual pursuit of awakening.

Because it is the specifics of what we call “reality” that keep us rooted in the world and hooked on its drama.

Every question we ask, wish we desire, emotion we experience is a declaration of something specific.

As we read in A Course in Miracles:

The purpose of all seeing is to show you what you wish to see. All hearing but brings to your mind the sounds it wants to hear. Thus were specifics made. (W-pI.161)

Thus were specifics made.

Everything we experience - without exception - has one and only one purpose: to prove that we are here and that this is real.

All the specifics: bodies, society, history, war, peace, disease, prosperity, molecules, particles, space, time - all of it to “show you what you wish to see.”

Specifics bind us to form and identity. Yet we can use the specifics to transcend them. Through abstraction.

By understanding the purpose of specifics and its attention to detail, we begin to grasp the larger picture. Realizing detailed knowledge is less important than a way of thinking, we open the doors to true perception.

And by practicing the generalization of experience, we enter into the realm of infinite peace, Divine Abstraction.

Join me in Thursday’s class where we’ll explore the nature of specifics, and how their transcendence serves as a springboard to awakening. I look forward to seeing you then.