People ask me how I could believe in an afterlife when I am a huge and daily fan of science; and the reason is, because I want to. Call it cowardice or pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die and I can take it, but know that I have spent my entire adult life studying and I am still such a complete idiot I’m waking up to the fact that I may not be qualified to discount the supernatural, just because it seems ridiculous to my puny ADHD brain. I have, of late, begun to understand how completely little I know about existence. One thing that happens when your drug of choice is learning is that many and varied worlds begin to open up in areas you didn’t even know existed. The more I learn, the less I know.
I had no idea I was this ignorant. There were five or ten ideas I convinced myself I had my head around, and life was predictable. I liked to believe I was an expert at something, but then I started reading and listening to audiobooks. Don’t get me started about audiobooks. It felt as though everyday I was hearing about things I had no idea even existed. Philosophy and history and literature that blew my mind. I started to collect books and didn’t need cocaine. It sounds ridiculous to even write about this without a few shots of tequila, but I had no idea how fascinating String Theory was. My wife may call me a geek but some of that crap is seriously cool. Universes of the very small and books about the profound expanse and majesty of the profoundly large.
How can I dismiss things which may be beyond my capacity for comprehension when I cannot begin to understand something so obvious as the expanse of the universe or the fact that if you move a photon in Boston its partner will know instantaneously in Los Angeles? That may not rot your socks off but it may just disprove Einstein and prove that you can travel faster than the speed of light. Exceeding the speed of light is impossible. Gene Roddenberry was apparently a very smart dude.
Maybe there is a god.
I gave up trying to fit in a long time ago, but one thing you learn when you have 190 gigs of audiobooks is that it is perfectly fine for philosophers and eggheads and earnest seekers to talk about the meaning of life. Many people smoke weed or cut or stay depressed because life can lack meaning; and if someone or something takes away your hope then it’s pretty hard to cope with the day-to-day crap that is foisted upon us endlessly without a reward or a gold watch to look forward to at the end of this god-forsaken grocery line.
At the end of the day it’s important to talk about the end of the day. Philosophy was my first love and like all first loves it’s very hard to shake that first kiss. I have watched clients transform once they had hope and a purpose and a reason to wake up every morning. It always takes far longer than we can imagine, and it doesn’t sound like an inspirational meme on Facebook, but opening your mind to experiences and stories outside of your well-worn mindset can be incredibly enriching.
No one knows, at least at first, when they go insane. I have sat across from dozens and dozens of people who were slowly succumbing to the demented hell they are forced to endure; and you can watch people deteriorate, almost before your eyes. Counselors are paid to help people get better and it is a maddening thing to watch someone who is looking to you for hope begin to unravel. I recently confessed in this forum that I have, because of a once-in-a-lifetime random seizure, been gifted a brain injury which shows up primary through memory loss and brief moments of confusion. It is a fascinating journey to watch yourself learn to deal with this curveball from a clinical perspective. I find the phenomenon interesting enough that I study it… myself. As soon as I know it has happened I journal and think and research exactly how, why, and what just happened. It is almost enjoyable. Almost. But we digress, as usual.
Here’s the thing – it’s very difficult, at first, to know when you are losing it. I have a forthcoming article on this, whenever I feel like finishing it. It takes a while before you know what is happening. Nothing seemed different. It was not as though you suddenly knew your melon was wonky. Life continued on as before until someone or something or somehow it begins to dawn on you that you are not making any sense and that person is looking at you funny and you have absolutely no clue what you were talking about. For those who suffer with such things this can scare the shit out of you if you let it. How do you realize something is wrong when it is your entire reality? Now that is an important question.
People who leave cults have difficulty explaining how they could be so fooled because it happens gradually and in tiny increments. No one stands up on the first day and confesses that you are about to worship an intergalactic warlord named Xenu who imprisoned souls in a mountain in Hawaii. Little by little we have our truths altered until what was once deemed crazy now, for some reason, appears perfectly reasonable. Desirable, even.
Reality is malleable.
So when I think about alternate universes or quantum mechanics or cosmology or god, it has become apparent that I do not yet possess all the information that I will need to prove conclusively that I am meaningless. I am cognizant, as a therapist, how incredibly self-indulgent and subjective that may sound, but I don’t care. I want a cake and I want to eat it too. So there.
I find atheism, like fundamentalism, a tad arrogant. Perhaps I am jealous of someone who is convinced that they possess all the information available about reality and know enough to prove something which has, thus far, not been conclusively rendered. I’m just not that smart.
Bill Bryson (read Bill Bryson) relates the story of the incident wherein Max Plank asked his professor whether he should go into Physics or Mathematics. He was advised to pursue Mathematics because all the great scientific breakthroughs in Physics had already been made. This conversation took place before Einstein even took a job as a patent clerk. Physics was still in its terrible teens and academia was already warming up the funeral durge. To be so sure, this astounds me. Even Christians talk about faith as belief in something you hope for, not necessarily something you never question.
I’m not really interested in a religious debate, those days are long over for me. What interests me is the power of hope and the realization that the pursuit of wisdom can be a powerful part of my toolbox when I am stressed by a life which is long on commitments and short on happy buttons. Change your mind and your butt will follow.
Is there life after death? Few of us live to tell. In this moment perhaps we can at least entertain the possibility that mental health and wisdom may be cousins. Hope and understanding can be profoundly empowering. As that counseling cliché says, “you either hurt enough you have to, or learn enough you want to”.
I’m sick of hurting.
(Creds to the amazing Tony Ortega for that photo)
6 thoughts on “I More I Learn The Less I Know”
We were just talking in your office about your last post and I have some comments and thoughts.
To quote you, ‘ I have spent my entire adult life studying and I am still such a complete idiot I’m waking up to the fact that I may not be qualified to discount the supernatural, just because it seems ridiculous to my puny ADHD brain.’
Scott, I love this blog. My mind has been moving in this direction lately, the search for meaning in the meaningless. My success rate sucks magnificently though. Believing in a reality beyond this earthy one is part of my value system. However, right now I feel like I keep trying but I am painfully aware of my lack of ability to overcome my faults and feel any hope and awareness or greater understanding of my situation at all. How do I hang in there until I get past these feelings? Is it ever going to happen at all?
Your quote – ‘So when I think about alternate universes or quantum mechanics or cosmology or god, it has become apparent that I do not yet possess all the information that I will need to prove conclusively that I am meaningless.’
I love this. How elegant. Yet I still feel I am meaningless, lack of info to the contrary or not. All and any info to the contrary doesn’t guarantee acceptance and understanding. There are days I just feel lost and alone in the universe and I don’t know where I’m ever going to find meaning, and what that might look like. Boo hoo, It is entirely self indulgent, but I have no idea how to ‘fix’ myself.
You have said to me that you wrote this stuff to provoke thought and interest, and indeed you have in me. But it just makes me sad and lonely.
You said ,’ I’m not really interested in a religious debate, those days are long over for me. What interests me is the power of hope and the realization that the pursuit of wisdom can be a powerful part of my toolbox…’
Where do you look for hope or wisdom – or maybe I should ask how should I try to look for wisdom? I don’t even think I would recognize it if it were staring me directly in the face right now. Sometimes aren’t the awareness of these things a matter of timing, where you are in your life? I may totally get what you mean one day and be completely baffled when I’m in the middle of a giant funk. How do I get by that bad time so I can find hope and wisdom and meaning in the world around me?
How can I learn to be a better person when I feel so alienated from that kind of knowledge.
‘Is there life after death? Few of us live to tell. In this moment perhaps we can at least entertain the possibility that mental health and wisdom may be cousins. Hope and understanding can be profoundly empowering. As that counseling cliché says, “you either hurt enough you have to, or learn enough you want to”.’
What if Life after death is a distinct possibility? How do we look at suicide then? What does it mean to take your life beyond hurting other people? Sometimes the thread that keeps me here seems awfully thin and I’m not even sure if it’s worth clinging to. It’s just one of those days, and I’m trying to be honest Instead of pasting on a smile and trying to push myself through a meaningless day. Sometimes life just sucks.
Thanks Candace, your honest is compelling. I have to believe in hope… someday. Let’s talk again sometime.
Reblogged this on RidicuRyder and commented:
Scott is a cheesy, half thumbless bastard.
I really like him.
Mr Reality Wrangler,
You’ve been looking outwards a lot…and this is fine. Inner journeys still wander quite a bit, when you take your hands off the handlebars you sometimes slip into a parallel universe. 🙂
Alongside of seeking knowledge it’s interesting to look down at your left foot, then swing over to your right foot and notice this is where I’m at…and it’s everywhere.
I’ve always liked your “because I want to’ (believe) creed. It’s honest, doesn’t boast and is a long ways from the (much more than a tad!) arrogance of fundamental religion or atheism. The jury’s still out for me on believing. I am however, open to the idea that we have limited understanding of the possibilities that may exist. I read this morning that after years of research, the Large Haldron Collider has finally verified the existence of a new class of sub atomic particle called the Pentaquark. Another little in-road to understanding the nature of this vast, incomprehensibly layered universe we live within. Could there be more than my measly understanding of what is? Sure.
I’m looking forward to your article about knowing when we’re losing it. I lose perspective around certain things so significantly at times, it makes me doubt my sanity. The downward spiral is usually only obvious in retrospect and I work at this shit doggedly.
Anyways, kudos to your honesty and transparency in broaching the topics of wisdom, hope and spirituality. It ‘s good to wrest the conversation back from the fundamentalists and look at the larger picture.