The only mystery in life is why the kamikaze pilots wore helmets.
Al McGuire // Coach
I was at a meeting with some of the smartest people I had ever met—a bunch of lawyers knowledgeable about Integral Theory (a meta-theory developed by Ken Wilber, who is often seen as one of the greatest philosophers of this century).
That’s when it occurred to me that our discussion was missing something. Our current conversation felt the same way a soup without any salt tasted.
We were talking about maps upon maps upon maps of understanding the world, ways of fitting it all together, theories upon theories. It was complex and getting ever more complex, a suitable task for members of a profession that thrived on the intellect.
But right now, it felt like the intellect wasn’t getting anywhere. It was running around in circles, like a dog chasing her own tail.
Perhaps we simply hadn’t thought about this hard enough? Clearly, more layers, more distinctions, more complexity was necessary. But as we added to the conversation, it didn’t resolve anything for me. The soup still was missing some salt. I just had no idea what the “salt”-equivalent was.
Eventually, it occurred to me.
The missing ingredient in our conversation, the one that would spice it up and bring out its flavor… was something modernity had developed an aversion to. It’s something that modern people have gotten incredibly bad at. Something we try to banish, just like believers might have tried to banish demons in the past.
That something is… Mystery.
Life is full of Mystery that we'd rather not see
To the modern human, Mystery is as unpalatable as demons are to the traditional human.
It’s something that’s wild, that needs to be contained. Something that could endanger our purity, lead to dangerous thoughts, to our expulsion from a safe, comfortable paradise. That way lies madness.
One does not simply go looking for Mystery.
No no no no no. We’ve tried to hard to keep everything under the control of our minds. Map the world. Measure it. Make it ours.
(Except, of course, the world is not ours. We are its. As Ursula le Guin put it in her brilliant work The Dispossed: “To be whole is to be part. True voyage is return.”)
We're just pretending to have solved the mysteries of life
We’ve come so far by conquering Mystery. Banish it into the deepest recesses of our mind. Except what we don’t know forever overshadows that which we do know.
To give you an example: scientists have predicted that 86% of Earth’s species are still unknown. Of course, we don’t know if that number is accurate.
As scientists Tanya Latty and Timothy Lee described it:
Life is full or mystery. It exists everywhere.
We’re just pretending that it doesn't.
We’ve deliberately, conveniently, treacherously forgotten about Mystery. Mystery (with a small “m,” this time) is something that we’ve relegated to shows and books.
Of course, that doesn’t make it disappear. Mystery still all around us. It’s within us.
Who are you? Why are you here?
Can you really claim to have a full, satisfactory answer to these questions? If so, you’re either an Ascended Master or a Fool. Possibly both.
Why you should embrace the mysteries of life
Mystery bring new ideas. Insights. Freedom.
Mystery is to the mind what fresh air is to the body. It’s relieving. Reinvigorating. It’s just… right.
Life is basically us trying to solve a puzzle that consists of a sheer infinite number of pieces… and we only know about a dozen of them.
Worse, by trying to solve the whole puzzle (instead of satisfying ourselves with exploring just one of the puzzle pieces), we’re depriving life of its aliveness.
And it doesn't even work.
Mystery is like an ever-receding horizon.
"The more you know, the more you don’t know. Every new answer creates more and more questions, like an aggravating but ultimately benevolent Hydra."
Case in point: the Wikipedia page about unresolved issues in physics which contains a wonderfully honest disclaimer about its completeness (or rather, lack thereof):
Even a deus ex machina answer doesn’t help solve the mysteries of life:
Religions who bypass some of the hardest scientific questions by stating that a divine being (for instance, God in the Abrahamic religions) created the universe fail to come up with a good explanation of where that divine being came from.
It reminds me of something that the great legal philosopher Hans Kelsen developed—the concept of a Basic Norm.
To put it simply, in a perfect legal system you can explain the validity of every legal norm with another, higher-ranking legal norm… except for the one that forms the basis of the entire legal system.
"Why should this be obeyed?"
In other words, you can always ask: “Why should this be obeyed?” and a lawyer can point to a higher-ranking legal norm that says so.
For instance, the validity of Germany criminal law is ultimately based on the German Constitution so one could say: “You should obey German criminal law because the Constitution says so.”
However, this doesn’t answer the question why the Constitution itself should be obeyed. Ask a lawyer that question and you’ll either get a lengthy philosophical monologue that doesn’t actually answer the question—or a shoulder shrug and the words “Because it’s the Constitution!”
Of course, saying that the Constitution ought to be observed because it’s the Constitution is a circular argument, one that is not that different from a religious person stating that God always existed because God’s God.
"At some point, no matter what you investigate, you just run out of explanations. When you follow the stream up the river, at some point everything merges into the vast ocean. That’s when the Mind loses its plot and Mystery takes over."
In that situation, there are two things we can do:
1. try to conquer the Mystery with our puny human minds, or
2. embrace the Mystery, while still celebrating the few answers that we do have—and striving to find more of them.
I recommend you choose #2:
Let Mystery liberate your Mind with a shock and awe strategy that deserves its name.
When you do, you will realize that you haven’t lost your mind. You have found it.
Or, in other words: life is full of Mystery. Deal with it.
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It is always a delight to stop by your meditative corner, Bere, powered by your thirst for knowledge and wisdom!
Right now, I can not prevent my mind from recalling a recent documentary about the serious hunting of intelligent, distant civilizations.. following an intriguing formula called Drake Equation assessing numerous probabilities related to.. the apparition of life at all, the evolution of intelligent species who are, moreover, capable of transmitting like us, and most importantly, surviving hazards and themselves…
The equation was described in these exquisite words of Jill C. Tarter: “It is just a fantastic framework with which we can organize our ignorance.”
Oh wow, Khalil, thank you for this comment! As always, I enjoy reading your deep thoughts. What a great quote by Jill C. Tarter. Thanks for sharing!