I’m not the first to wonder if our quest for knowledge is getting us anywhere. For centuries, as a specie, we’ve scrambled around the universe trying to get to know it and, as a consequence, discover ourselves. The result of our accumulated knowledge has been to raise more questions, and I begin to wonder if we are any deeper in our understanding of existence than that of early man’s. We can describe more of the universe because we have measured more of it. But do we understand the reason for its being?
Adam Phillips’ new book , Missing Out: In Praise of an Unlived Life suggests that an endless examination of ourselves might be a destructive process. The quest, he argues, directs us away from an appreciation of the present. (“Book of the week,” The Week, pg. 22) Adams uses Othello to illustrate the folly of seeking absolute certainty in a fluid and changing world. Even more foolish than our desire for certainty about our universe is our lust to know ourselves or someone else. (Ibid, pg. 22)
Having worked my way through two books on science recently, I have to agree that the universe is a messy place similar to the inside of our brains, the tools we use to perceive it. For several hundred years, we thought Isaac Newton had given us solid answers about the world in which we live. Now we know quantum mechanics, a fluid, soupy structure, underlies the illusions of permanence and natural law. Still, science continues to pursue the holy grail of a unified theory which can explain the universe — the underlying law which governs matter and non-matter. If they succeed, will we discover another structure beneath the quantum world? As long as we forever ask questions, then we are compelled to search for answers.
I do wonder at the hubris which allows us humans to believe we can arrive at truth. Does truth exists? Or is it a noun without a counterpart in the reality outside our brains? Phillips is right to raise the question about the search for meaning, which ironically, is a question about questions — the one I raise in my latest novel, Trompe l’Oeil (to trick the eye).
(Courtesy of Amazon.com)