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Archive for March, 2021

What we don’t know always vastly exceeds what we do know. That’s the fun of figuring things out; there is always more to figure out!

The knowledge engine must work feverishly to expand the universe of knowns, but for every revelation there always remains a vast cloud of unknowns. Knowledge progresses by virtue of the quality of the questions we ask and the rigor we bring to examining them. If one’s head does not hurt from all the wondering, I wager we are merely wandering and not wondering at all.

There are many paths to knowing. Science pursues objective truth while the humanities explore wisdom: a higher-order understanding of what it means to be human. Both demand clarity of thought, and are valued to the degree that they evoke genuine insight. They are inseparable and coequal components of the “ knowledge machine”. One without the other is like having a head without a heart. This is the central virtue of a conjoined liberal arts and sciences education.

The 2020/2021 experience includes our witness of a rupture of the liberal arts virtue that traces itself back to Ancient Greek Society that laid the foundations of Western civilization. The Covid pandemic brought to light the continuing needless and uninformed warfare between the ways of knowing.

We watched as the uninformed purveyors of propaganda treated Science as the servant of ideology rather than an escape from it and the needed counterbalance to our natural tendency to fall in love with our own narratives. We saw ignorance touted as virtue and all the rest as “ fake news”.

As I write this, I am recalling a not very good movie but one with a title that aptly captures the continuing love affair with the idea of the primacy of easy belief over the harder acquisition of real knowledge. The movie was named “ Eyes Wide Shut”.

Only when knowledge and belief meaningfully intersect and interrogate each other are both elevated to what we call wisdom. To believe in what is patently and demonstrably false is folly and willful ignorance. To believe in things yet unexplored is the stuff of inspiration and a call to forge fresh hypotheses and launch thoughtful endeavors to unravel mystery.

This is the essence of curiosity the drives us to explore but it too must be soaked in humility. In other words, we must continuously subject belief to examination and then work diligently to prove ourselves wrong.

I am drawn to spending time with the scientist/ theologians who represent the blending of belief and clear-headed inquiry. One association of such inquisitive souls is the Faraday Society in London. They live on the razor’s edge between faith and science. They lead with unbridled fascination and fear no assault on their assumptions. On the contrary, they invite them and delight in them.

One such scientist/theologian is Sir John Polkinghorne, theoretical physicist, theologian and Anglican Priest. He refers to himself as a “ bottom-up” thinker who finds support for his faith in a meta-analysis of his sense of the world of elementary particles. While respecting the very different ways of knowing represented by theoretical physics and theology, he nonetheless dances joyfully at the point where they enter into a meaningful dialogue.

Polkinghorne, and others like him, approach mystery with the eagerness of youthful discovery and a humble mindset. They boldly speculate but always move swiftly to the question of veracity. They are models of intellectual honesty chasing after elusive wisdom.

Time is short in our brief time in the world. It is especially short when we are motivated each day with a sense of the enormous mass of unknowns relative to the glimmers of genuine understanding.

The true joy of inquiry rests in revealing not what it is we know, but what we can celebrate as persistent mystery teasing us to look harder and stretch our understanding with ever greater vigor and enthusiasm.

Let us embrace the vision of a life lived authentically with our “ eyes wide open”.

© The Harried Mystic, 2021 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized euse or distribution of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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