The Mystery of the Never Ending Why
...living by guessing...
Here is a quote worth considering: “It’s hard to be human.” The thought first occurred to me shortly after birth. How often have you had the same thought? Probably many people have, and many have not. It is hard to be human.
Why is it so difficult to be human? What choice do we have? Think about it. The hardest thing about being human is that we have to live with our ignorance. We actually think we know what we are doing. Isn’t most of it just a guess, perhaps an act of faith of some kind or other?
I have a lot of education. I have been in school since birth. I kind of like learning. I like expanding the envelope of my mind. For example, how many “whys” can you ask before you get to nothing?
“This is the way it is.” “Why?”
“Because this is what happens.” “Why?”
“Because this is the way it is.” “Why.”
“Because it has always been done this way?” “Why?”
“Gee, I have never thought about it.” “Why?”
Sometimes we get to nothing with only one why and one reply: Because, I said so.” This kind of logic about sums it up for us. This was my greatest discovery in childhood: “Because, someone said so.” You can take it to the bank. Very early in life, I learned that whys eventually lead to silence. I call this the “Fallacy of Whys”.
Seriously though, here is a point worth contemplating: What do we really learn as we go through life? How much of it can we count on as truthful, not merely valid? What do we really know for sure that impacts the direction of our lives? More importantly, what do we not know for sure that impacts the direction of our lives?
My education has taught me that what I do know is always much less than what I do not know. No doubt about it: My ignorance is infinitely more expansive than my knowledge. No matter what! What I do not know is infinitely larger than what I do know. At least I know this much. Perhaps this is why it’s hard to be human?
As Goethe reminds us,
“Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action.”
Simone Weil was a noteworthy person. Her emergence as a spiritual person later in life, as a mystic really, left quite a legacy. Her life weaved an interesting tale passing through Marxism, progressivism, and agnosticism to eventually form a deep attachment to Christianity. Simone was an activist, a philosopher, writer, lecturer, and traveler at a time when women lived a different kind of life. She was a thinker’s thinker. She was trying to find out how to live a fully human life because being human was hard for people back then. As a thinking person who encountered much of what life throws at us, she came to see that:
“Imagination and fiction
make up more than three quarters of human life.”
Take a minute to contemplate her insight. So much of what we think, do, say and act or not act upon is merely opinion, most often uninformed opinion. We find ourselves with minds that can approach infinity but never span it. The horizons of “knowing” are forever retreating as we approach them. Pascal reminds us that:
Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.
Since I was a young child, I consistently bugged my teachers with the wonder of it all even before I had discovered Pascal. The defining questions of our being seem to remain forever unanswerable:
Why is there not nothing? Why am I not you but me?
Think about the intensity of the people around you. They do great things and terrible things. People think about the stuff of the world and react emotionally. Their minds form ideas of actions to be taken. We discuss great topics such as global warming without understanding the science behind it. Even if we do, we fail to realize that about 58% of all scientific experiments cannot be repeated. The world may indeed be warming, but so is the surface of Mars and even the moon. You see, the sun is warming. Not many people factor this into their thinking about climate change. One thing about it we know for sure: It is a vast challenge that no one yet understands fully. However, there are a lot of powerful opinions about it. What to do? We must tread carefully. Invincible ignorance slays the future. It is really hard to be human. We are the species with all the brains, but we just don’t use them very well. As Bronson Alcott reminds us:
To be ignorant of one’s ignorance is the malady of the ignorant.
The meta-problem of modern life is, of course, the unchecked cynicism that dominates human discourse. While a touch of cynicism may be a good thing strategically placed, it poisons human collaboration and halts the advancement of human progress. Cynics do not build monuments of good will because cynicism is the comfort of miserable people. As Joseph Russell Lynes, Jr. reminds us:
Cynicism is the intellectual cripple’s substitute for intelligence.
Human beings have to become better at being human. We are all mortal, parked on the same planet, and navigate our way through life fundamentally through imagination, fiction, and inadequate knowledge. We know just enough to progress some, and survive to this day, but our cynicism, interpersonal insufficiencies, and inconsistency in thought and action are taking its toll.
I am concerned because I know the limitations that constrain our power for “right reason” and “right action”. All over this world human beings are de-valued for reasons that destroy the human hope of a civilized world: Race, religion, education, wealth, language, customs, and even height, weight, age, sex, and health. Over the centuries, human beings have adopted this or that ideology to dominate the people that are generally defenseless. Such failure has transformed many people into people to be feared. This is the legacy of imagination, opinion, and fiction dominating the life of individual human beings.
We are simple people who just don’t know. We think we do, but we know we do not. So we join in and perpetuate the fiction, expand the imagination, and make life-altering decisions based on uninformed opinion. Today, people can even make a living doing this. They incite cynicism and reduce the potential for human love to heal the hurt. Cmdr. Spock once told Captain Kirk: “I will make a guess”. He was one smart alien. He saved the day. His guesses were very well-informed. We are not that smart. We can’t guess much.
Human Beings guess a lot; but we are not Spock. Life challenges us to find another way to adapt to our Infinite Ignorance and rise to the challenge of becoming fully human. Like I say, it is hard to be human.
Life is not a problem to be solving, but a mystery to be lived.
Adrian Van Kaam
Think about it.
Una vita e non basta!