“I’m always willing to share my current level of ignorance.” Thus spoke a wise dude I used to hang with. His quip has come back to tickle me many times over the years, and I’ve come to see it as an eternal truth regarding human nature, but also a reminder that life’s most valuable gifts are not words, ideas, beliefs, or even achievements.
No matter how learned or opinionated we become, there will always be more that we don’t know than that we do know. This is our lot as humans, and is reflected constantly in the revolving door of new scientific discoveries about our world and our universe, in our evolving understanding of our own bodies and minds, and in the endless twists in the internal debate on “what really matters”.
Yet, given the impressive elasticity of our ability to process new information, there is also a stubborn tendency to latch on to an old idea and literally defend it to the death. This conflicted meeting of new and old has clearly been a sticking point for our species over time, since in every historical era we find visionaries being punished for thinking innovative thoughts or glimpsing divergent patterns in the fabric of reality.
In my own life, I’m aware of a mantric drumbeat echoing in my head: “I’m almost there! I’ve almost got it!” This conceit is balanced by a nagging counter-intuition that I am merely trudging through one phase on an endless spectrum of human potential, and that my subliminal hype is simply a necessary delusion to keep me trudging. This need to pump myself up is understandable: an endless spectrum sounds kinda long.
In the communal sense, every generation accepts without question that it exists at the pinnacle of knowledge and accomplishment. While such self-satisfaction may be technically correct, it studiously ignores the fact that everyone a hundred years back felt exactly the same way.
These existential conundrums can elicit reactions ranging from mild nausea to abject terror, to feelings of wandering dangerously off any known map, of having one’s very presence in the world muffled and swallowed in the gaping maw of unsentimental and absolute infinity, where no one is ahead and no one is behind, and my precious moment in time is barely a blip.
But let’s look at the bright side! We can welcome the moment of disorientation and doubt as a junction, a crossroad, a tipping point where I can choose to be either a spittle-spewing madman or a laughing Buddha. Graceful humor in the face of my very real conundrum is the key to maintaining a workable sanity. Recognizing that I am at the vanguard of humanity’s march, that it is a march along an endless evolutionary progression, but that I can actually opt not to evolve if that’s what floats my boat, can really take the pressure off. I may never get “there”, but I am most definitely here.
“We all enter the theater in the middle of the movie and go out the same way” to loosely quote Louise Hay. This is not a disadvantage, if we learn how to dig it. Enjoying and pondering the wonders of existence can keep a person pretty busy for the duration of an existence, regardless of theories formulated, questions answered, or “enduring” legacy, if any.