The Unknown- A look at our inability to allow the unrevealed to remain a mystery
Consider your life from this moment on “The Unknown.” That’s easy to do. We can’t anticipate every single outcome of the day that lies before us so it’s safe to suggest that every second is another moment that could present an unanticipated event. One could argue that someone could describe what was going to happen during the day about to unfold by drawing on the small amount of empirical data they have as soon as they look out their window upon waking up. “Looks cloudy. Might rain.” “Looks sunny, bet it’s going to be hot.” But these deductions are not in fact ways to describe “The Unknown.” Making an inference about today based on days we’ve had prior is simply; recalling empirical data we’ve had before, applying it to our current scenario, making an educated guess, and hoping it holds up. When we wake up and draw a conclusion about the day we are merely saying, “I remember a day not too long ago that looked like this. Bet it’s going to turn out the same way.” Some might argue that this is an obvious inference, however it is fallacious to logical thinkers and is called a “Temporal Continuity Flaw.” Most base their entire lives, or what we will now call “The Unknown,” on what they already know. If people are constantly trying to make “The Unknown” known, “The Unknown” is never really allowed to exist. Due to this logical paradox people are left stagnant, living in fear, delusional, and worst of all unimaginative.
If I was to ask someone to draw an alien they would probably draw a little bi-pedal green humanoid with a light bulb shaped head, huge almond eyes, and E.T. fingers. Regardless of the fact that most have not seen an alien from outer space they would describe, or in this case draw, a creature they believe looks like an alien based on the depictions of that creature presented to them most likely through media. The same would happen if I was to ask someone to draw a creature they have never seen before. The creature would have to look like something they had seen before because the mind needs a frame of reference.
The importance of a frame of reference can be seen in feral children who are discovered after a certain age. With no frame of reference, in regards to social norms, feral children are often unable to change what we would call primitive behaviors even after being introduced to societal standards. They will eat their food in a corner, refuse to use the toilet, and struggle using language to articulate their desires all because the frame of reference we have had imprinted on to our brains through socialization is absent.
This is particularly interesting because if someone needs to have a frame of reference to develop a new thought, when as a species did we first develop “original” thoughts and are there any “original” thoughts after those thoughts? If we think of outer space along the same lines we might ask, where does space start and end if it does in fact have a beginning and end? Where did space come from? Similarly, if matter cannot be created or destroyed then where did matter come from? A pressing question we can draw from all these and other similar questions is, “What difference will it make to know all the mysteries of the world?”
Knowing everything there is to know about everything will in actuality accomplish next to nothing. An obvious illustration of this point is when every single one of us has pointed out the obvious flaw in someone’s seemingly infallible way of life or reasoning and regardless of how correct the evidence we were presenting was, and how true we knew it to be, the individual disregarded our sermon and continued to think and do the same things they had always done. When people are told the planets resources are being depleted at a non-replenish able rate, they often change their lifestyle very little if at all. When people are told the answer to losing weight is eating less and exercising more, they numb their worries with a meatball sub. The mind craves an answer to “The Unknown,” but if the answer is undesirable or unfathomable, the mind will either make something up that for the time being will suffice, or continue searching. Even if we had all the answers, by themselves they would change very little.
Science is incredibly interesting in this regard. Some will spend their entire lives trying to explain something they don’t understand. For example, finally knowing how it is the speed of light remains the same does nothing to change the fact that we are left clinging to the same spinning rock in outer space, most likely millions of miles away from anything else capable of thinking along the same lines. Some would argue that unlocking the mysteries of the universe will further our civilization or maybe even allow us to travel to distant planets.
Traveling to another planet that has life would be great if we had already unlocked all the answers to our species and planets existing problems. The idea that traveling to another planet to find other species capable of communicating and articulating their ideas the same way we do is a legitimate worthwhile enterprise is strange when we consider the fact that many of our species hate or can’t stand the opinions, phenotypes, or ways of life that already exist on this planet.
As for science aiding in the advancement of our civilization, one would have to clearly define what “advancing our civilization,” means. If the plan is to find a way to continue consuming the resources the way we have so that we can continue living the way we do, one might consider that perhaps we should simply change the way we are living to avoid the hours of time necessary to develop the technology to have luxurious commodities like Mangos year round. Most of the answers science will divulge do nothing to change what it is they explain. Most of the technologies science has afforded us are designed to counteract the consequences of earlier technologies.
Our minds try to explain everything around us yet we already have most of the answers we need. This is where embracing “The Unknown” becomes something worthwhile. Understanding “The Unknown” is not explaining it but simply saying, “I don’t know the reason for this outcome or perhaps what a particular outcome might be. I will live my life with that in mind.” Another problem with trying to solve all of life’s mysteries is that we don’t have all the answers so we’ll often make them up. We come to spurious or fallacious conclusions that make it easier to sleep at night disregarding any kind of negative consequences the conclusions might entail. For example: “She didn’t call me back. She must hate me.” Leads us to isolate and exacerbates the feeling of being alone. “Most college students are young, I’m too old to go back to school.” Avoids failure but perpetuates our inadequacy. “That channel has had bad programming every time I’ve watched it. It’s new show we’ll probably also be terrible.” Keeps us from being exposed to new things that might be undesirable, but without taking risk we fail to explore new things. Explaining “The Unknown” before we truly know it, may allow us some comfort. However, being comfortable is not synonymous with being satisfied.
We live in a world where these conclusions become fact and those facts are rarely questioned. We characterize entire groups of people based on skin color and gender. We deny the existence of a higher power based on our disdain for so called “sacred texts.” When we are wronged by someone we elaborate on their thoughts and feelings as if we were in fact inside the perpetrators mind. Allowing “The Unknown” to exist often leaves us feeling empty and without purpose. We are unable to embrace that we will never know everything. Even if we did it might not change anything. The idea that all our answers are out there gives us hope. We then spend our whole lives trying to solve a riddle that has no answer.
God Is a Man
The most popular way people explain “The Unknown” is with religion. Ironically and understandably, the most popular way a person explains their understanding of God, is with religion even if that person isn’t religious. To say, “There is no God because religion is stupid.” Is kind of like saying, “There is no such thing as a good hamburger because Mc. Donald’s is gross.” People once again cannot conceptualize “The Unknown” without help from what they know. Automatically, God is no longer possible because the most popular idea of what God must be, due to religious texts, is in their eyes wrong. No one ever stops to think that “God” could mean something different or exist in a different way.
Just because the Judea Christian idea of God as a large white man in the clouds who gets mad when you eat certain types of meat and loves it when before you speak to Him you say, “Blessed art you lord our God,” is to some stupid, does not mean God cannot exist in any other form. Some are quick to assume there is no God because you can’t prove there is one, never once thinking you can’t prove there isn’t. Some might think that because bad things happen to good people there can’t be a God which once again stems from the idea that God is a person with magic who helps nice people.
In the fore mentioned scenario, the idea of God is negated because if bad things happen to good people God is either not doing his job or non-existent. The funny thing is, if God is capable of love and hate and therefore can’t exist because he hates when he is supposed to love, why in this scenario can he not also be forgetful, tired, truant, absent, on vacation, relaxing, being lazy, or taking a bath? If you are going to argue that God doesn’t exist because he doesn’t do what a religious texts you don’t believe in tells you he is supposed to do, expect some incredibly far-fetched reasoning for or against God’s existence because you are starting with circular logic to begin with.
The idea of God becomes even more diluted due to one’s surrounding ideologies. God is most often referred to as “Him” or “He,” which stems from our living in a patrilineal patriarchy. Even those who do not believe in God or believe God isn’t a person will automatically refer to the Lord as “He,” or “Him.” Some argue that because of the male dominated ideologies that persist in America, God should be a woman and to assume God is a man is sexist and stupid. Ironically it would seem that assuming God is a woman simply because you feel men have too much power in the U.S. is just as stupid and sexist. That’s not fair to say, it is really more stupid than it is sexist.
A regions particular Ideology stems from a way of life and that way of life will dictate what religion flourishes. Take for example capitalism. Emile Durkheim’s “The Protestant Work Ethic,” explained that capitalism thrived due to the fact that the Protestant idea of “Predestination” was a prevalent ideology. Those living in the time of the Reformation were under the assumption that some people were predestined to be “saved.” Some thought the only way to tell you were in fact selected to spend eternity in heaven was if you were prospering on Earth. With that in mind, some went out of their way to save their capital and then reinvest it into their endeavors. The latent outcome of people trying to prove to themselves that they were not going to burn in hell for the rest of eternity eventually led to the capitalist system we have today.
In the east where governments became far more totalitarian and rigid, Buddhism was the prevalent religion. Buddhism, which stresses a minimalist perspective, coincides perfectly with cleptocratic and totalitarian empires. Explaining “The Unknown” influences what anthropologists call balancing mechanisms, reciprocity, and other systematic behaviors that shape the method of control that is culture. People, in an effort to sleep easier at night, create a way to live comfortably during the day.
When someone sets out to explain “The Unknown” the goal is to do so in a way that is accommodating. In regards to religion we see that not only does this way of explaining “The Unknown” add purpose to one’s life, it coincides with it. A religion not only flourishes because it goes hand in hand with the surrounding culture, it does so when it also negates the undesired effects of one’s culture. In a capitalist democracy the focus is on the individual. It only makes sense then that services in Christianity and other Christian denominations focus on community. Prayers are done together and are done so systematically the same way nearly every time.
Buddhism is an incredibly individual faith and exists in a culture where the importance of community is emphasized. In the west a child will be sent to his room while in Japan for example, a child will be sent outside. The practitioners of the Buddhist faith are left to their own understanding of texts when it comes to meditation and prayer. Enlightenment is of course the desired outcome, but the path to Nirvana is left up to the individual. There is no coaching during meditation. No song to sing together in unison. No one telling you when to sit and when to stand. The individual is allowed to thrive. Mysticism in eastern philosophy is essential because in a community it is lacking, while asceticism in western faiths is encouraged because decadence and splurging are everyday occurrences. Life will naturally gravitate toward balance.
The Subconscious Does Not Allow the Unknown to Exist
When we are approached by someone who reminds us of someone who hurt us, we may cringe. When we see someone whose company we enjoy after a long time of being away, we smile. We immediately react to stimuli based on our previous knowledge of that stimuli. It is what Pavlov called conditioning and is to some degree unavoidable. Part of conditioning is your subconscious telling your conscious what it doesn’t have time to remember. Imagine for example if we had to tell ourselves to salivate when we see food we enjoy. If we had to tell our hearts to beat, pupils to dilate, and bodies to sweat we would cease to function at a speed that was compatible with life.
The previously described reactions are not necessarily conditioned responses, unless of course they are triggered by outside stimuli. When we become anxious and scared, our hearts beat faster, our palms may sweat, and our breathing gets heavier. Certain societies might dictate a different response to certain stimuli, but very little trumps personal experience. If society tells us it’s common for a young man to meet a woman at a bar we might set out to do just that. However, if the last time you spoke with a young man at a bar they ended up stealing your purse you might from then on be reluctant to meet someone at your local watering hole. Conditioning is our sub conscious refusing to let “The Unknown” remain uncharted territory.
A great example of our perception of “The Unknown” being disenchanted by what we already know is how we define trust. Some characterize trust as something we either have or don’t have. We often refer to someone as, “Very trusting,” if we believe them to be very loyal. Trust is not a trait. Trust is how we predict others will act based on previous knowledge of that person or similar people. Take for example crossing the street in front of cars stopped at a red light.
When we cross in front of traffic waiting at a red light, we don’t trust every person in those cars waiting at that light. We often rarely glance to see who is driving the vehicles. In America we walk in front of cars when they are stopped because they have always remained stopped. The minute a car speeds off after idling at a red light, hitting us and countless others, is the day those victims no longer feel comfortable crossing in front of idle cars. When people who were living in a periphery country, where cars do not stop for pedestrians, come to the states they are very hesitant to cross the street when cars are stopped and do so very cautiously. They are not less trusting. They are simply applying what they know about the world to their present situation. Our minds need an answer to every question.
While standing in line at a grocery store you will find that most people have to move forward as those in front of them make their purchases. If you were to stand idle as the line in front of you pressed on, the individuals behind you would become irate. They have not lost their place in line, or become further from their objective but movement forward equals knowing that one is leaving the store sooner. That’s how we know a cue to work and any change in what we know creates an unknown situation.
People will check traffic updates before leaving for work regardless if they have another way to get to their job. Knowing you are going to be in traffic for 45 minutes doesn’t change the time spent on the road one iota. Regardless, knowing the traffic conditions is still compelling because at least we know traffic will be terrible. People will stare down at their watch every other minute when running late as if though knowing how many seconds have passed since you last looked at your watch will magically slow down time. We constantly search for a way to make life more comfortable never realizing the answers we are looking for do not solve the ailments we are suffering from. The problem we have with the three scenarios just described is that we are not in control. Controlling everything is impossible, but knowing everything seems to be the best place to start.
I was reflecting on my own experience and remembered when I was living in India. I would take a bus through New Delhi from school to my house and every road the bus passed that we didn’t go down would make me feel less whole. I would think, “I’ll never know what’s down that road.” I have since seen a great deal of the world, lived in Israel, and been to war in Iraq, all to quench a thirst for personal authenticity. I know now that the process of individuation is better resolved by understanding myself and helping others. However, the drive to authenticate our existence has pushed us to discover new worlds, explore space and unintentionally explain the unexplainable. Today however, let us not forget; on our journey to find a way to love ourselves and explain “The Unknown”, let’s also find a way to love others while accepting we will always know very little.