“But Why?”


The act of discovery is an act of destruction. Think about that sentence for a moment. Every time we discover something, we end up destroying something in the process. The discovery of fossil fuels is destroying our environment. The discovery of a new idea about something destroys the old idea. Human’s insatiable need to know has brought us flush toilets, garage door openers, and this computer I’m typing on. It has also brought us the atomic bomb. The “discovery” of the American continent brought the destruction of millions of lives. The insatiable need to know. It has brought us many wonderful things, and some not so wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, I like my flush toilet. But I can’t help but ask what drives us to continue to ask why? Asking why drives us to discover the answer, and thus to the destruction of discovery in the process. Why do we ask why?

I watch my dog a lot. She has curiosity just like most humans. She hears a noise and perks up her ears. As she walks her nose is sometimes to the ground to discover new smells. But when I ask her about the origin of her species, she doesn’t care. So why are humans so driven to know? I did an internet search with “Why ask why?” It yielded up all kinds of things about the human condition and such but nothing very satisfactory on why humans need to know. Ironically in my search to know why we ask why all the time, I too am asking why.

Why couldn’t we have just been satisfied that the Sun is in the sky providing warmth every day? Why did we have to know how it does it? As a species, our need to know is so strong it’s like a drug. We are absolutely driven to know new things, to discover how everything works and how the things that make everything work, work. Why couldn’t we have been satisfied with knowing how to provide food, clothing and shelter for ourselves?

I wonder about the satisfaction derived from finding an answer. We feel better about doing things like going to work, saving money, etc. if we know the reason why, if there is a purpose to what we’re doing. In this light, the reason for a flush toilet becomes obvious. But what about other discoveries? Like climbing a mountain. On May 29th, 1953 Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed to the top of Mount Everest. What was the purpose in doing that? Did they expect to find something there? This may seen strange but I’ve never understood the idea of doing something just to do it. Like running a marathon. Nope. I’m perfectly happy never knowing whether or not I could do that. But some people aren’t happy with that. They are driven to find out. To push themselves to their limits. Why? I guess if people didn’t want to push themselves to their limits we wouldn’t have the Olympics. And I like the Olympics. So maybe I should stop wondering why and just not worry about it. But….why?

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I Don’t Know


There are many things, that I don’t know. Which candidate will make a good president? I don’t know. When will this Winter end? I don’t know. What will my life be like a year from now? I don’t know. Will there be peace on Earth? Will there be war? Is there life on other planets? Is there a god? What will this summer bring? What will…. well, you get the idea. As a matter of fact, I don’t know most things. Our world is full on knowledge that I don’t know. Throughout my entire life, I have loved learning. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge. I want to know. Why, you ask? I don’t know. Seems like a paradox, doesn’t it? If I love to learn, shouldn’t I know why? But I honestly can’t answer that question. I’m curious. I want to know how things work. Why things work. But I don’t know why.

I’ve studied philosophy off and on for years. I’m curious about the mind. But is it necessary to know how and why the mind works? Can’t I just be satisfied knowing that it does? Apparently not. Many people go through their entire lives not wondering about these things. For them, it doesn’t matter how the mind works, as long as you can think with it. And they’re just fine with that. But I can’t do it. My insatiable curiosity pushes me to know. And you’d think there would be some kind of reward for my learning new things. Some reason for doing it. If there is, once again, I don’t know what it is. Unless it’s a chemical thing that pumps endorphins into the pleasure centers of my brain. That could be it. But I don’t know.

It seems that there are many people like me. We have to have answers. It’s the main reason why civilization has advanced to this point. People need to know. To discover. Even though discovery is a violent act that destroys as much if not more than it discovers, We as a species still seem pushed to do it. Lately we seem to have a renewed interest in space travel. Private companies are now getting involved with NASA and we will probably know more about space in the near future than we have learned so far. Why? Curiosity. Drive. Ambition. We have a desire to know. There are days however, when I just don’t care to know anything. I can float through my day reading a good novel, watching television, or writing poetry and not have a single care about the world around me. On those days, I don’t leave the house. I spend all day in my sweat pants. I drink tea and I’m lazy all day. And then there are the days that I devour a philosophy text book or spend hours on the computer looking things up, feeding the curiosity monster within.

I have always had a sense of wonder. That childlike quality of bliss upon discovering something new. I remember being young and looking up at the night sky and wondering what was out there, squatting at the rivers edge, turning over rocks to look for crayfish, or seeing how many times I could skip a flat stone across the water. I loved those days as a child, when the world was new and waiting for me to jump in. And jump in, I did. Funny enough, I’ve never lost that quality. I still look up at the night sky and wonder. I still want to go tromping through the woods just to see what’s there. I still want to know.

So I’m glad for that. I’m happy that I still want to know. And I’m happy that some days I don’t. As this Winter winds down to a close I have a renewed sense of wonder. New beginnings. Spring won’t be long now I feel. A time for coming out of my cocoon. Getting outside with my camera and capturing new life brought by warm sunlight and longer days. Walks in the woods without all the heavy gear of Winter. And I think about my wife. She loved Springtime. Curious like me, she loved to learn. Time to learn something new.