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?