Thought-provoking essay on an NPR blog (Cosmos and Culture) by Adam Frank about the only constant in life being change, and how we hunger for certainty, solidity, knowing.
Religions try to provide certainty:
Scriptures are transformed into unwavering blueprints for an unchanging order.
Science might seem the antidote to the constrictions of religion:
Science, in the purest forms of its expression as a practice, holds to no doctrine other than that the world might be known.
When science as an idea is used to push away the tremulous reality of our lived existential uncertainty then it … becomes just another imaginary fixed point in a life without fixed points.
So how about “spiritual but not necessarily religious”?
The world’s history of spiritual endeavor contains many beautiful descriptions of authentic encounters with uncertainty. Ironically these often serve as gateways to the most compassionate experience of what can be called sacred in human life… Dig around in most of the world’s great religious traditions and you find people finding their sense of grace by embracing uncertainty rather than trying to bury it in codified dogmas.
For science, embracing uncertainty means…
… embracing the fuzzy boundaries of the very process of asking questions. It means embracing the frontiers of what explanations, for all their power, can do. It means understanding that a life of deepest inquiry requires all kinds of vehicles: from poetry to particle accelerators; from quiet reveries to abstract analysis.
So how can we live with so much uncertainty? We become patient, forgiving, generous, and inclusive. We find humor, good will, and compassion.
We embrace the mystery of ourselves and these lives we live. A little humility goes far.
I like knowing, or rather, believing I know. I’ve spent much of my life wanting to know, trying to know, believing if I just knew, then … I’d be protected from misfortune, or something like that.
Misfortune happened anyway.
Yet can I really know? Can I really know you? Can I really know truth? Can I even really know myself? No, I cannot.
I operate on assumptions that involve temporary (fictional) certainties. I cling to certainty from moment to moment as I go about my life, taking this-that-the other for granted, and it could all change in any given moment. Yes, tomorrow will come. Yes, I’m going to take that trip, do that thing in the future. I’m going to arrive safely on the other side of the street. I’m going to get home again. I’m going to be emotionally intact at the end of the day. I will see the people who have been important to me again.
And I don’t really know.
Knowing is a convenient truth that works better for me when I understand that it is always accompanied by something much bigger and more powerful, The Mystery. This is the sea of the Nagual.