Seeing The World As It Is
A Lament On Our Lack Of Curiosity
Good Lord, Jeeves! Is there anything you don’t know?’ ‘I couldn’t say, sir-P.G. Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves
When there are no pictures, words are all we have. Words can shine a light in the darkest corners of your heart-a place which is hard for a picture to reach. Life provides us a daily opportunity to look at the world around us, use the best language to capture what we see and then pass it on to the next generation to string together into an infinite set of beads across the continuum of time. It could be a beautiful set of beads or it could be a traumatic experience stringed together for eternity. It could certainly be the latter if we forget how beautiful the world is. Think about it — we have no looming threat of a conventional war. All we have are serious economic issues which can be overcome if we stand together. Yet, we continue to miss out the beauty in life only because the electronic screens around us create more darkness than light. They convince us into thinking there is no hope. Imagine what would those very same screens say in the middle of World War II? That the world is literally blowing itself to bits. Imagine the irony, we aren’t in the middle of a conventional war. We are in the middle of a war for the soul of humanity. All we have to do is look into our hearts past the darkness cast by the news outside. Yet, we abandon our curiosity and stop asking ‘why not?’ Why can’t we work together to fix ourselves. This article laments our abandonment of a lifelong quest for the truth. The only way out is a collective, scientific approach which is truly apolitical. We can only find that way if we are curious and ask the right questions.
There are some truths I learnt the hard way and then there are some that were handed down to me. Many of my lessons are a result of learning from failing. Some of them are a result of an idiotic cycle of not changing my ways. I have learnt very few lessons from others’ mistakes. I don’t know if it is true for you. I hope you were wiser and learnt from other people’s experience. In my limited time, I have come to realize that the best way for me to learn is through my own experience. Irrespective of how I learn, one technique is indispensable. It has been my reliance on the scientific approach. An approach that teaches me that my beliefs and world view must change in the light of new evidence and that the quest for the truth is often not linear. It is chaotic, draws from a variety of sources-both young and old and is unwaveringly dipped in curiosity. Even today, it takes the deepest of sleep to keep the cacophony of incessant questions outside my subconscious mind. My dreams are a manifestation of my misunderstandings about the world. I am nowhere close to the curiosity displayed by Leonardo Da Vinci or Benjamin Franklin for example although I try hard.
If I could use an example to explain my curiosity , it would be that of Einstein as a child. Again, I have no misgivings. I am extremely insignificant compared to a giant like Einstein. As I read more about Einsteins’ childhood, I found many striking similarities to mine. I would sit on the edge of a river lost in thought with brooding eyes while my friends would be busy playing and enjoying their childhood. I was not a lost cause. I was just incessantly curious. I felt as if god would appear out of the nothingness and relieve me of my plight by answering my questions. Somewhere between that childhood and my first job, I began to lose my curiosity. I just took the world as it is and pretended my insignificant self could never change the world. In other words, I could never be Einstein. Sounds familiar ?? It might because many of us have stopped asking the most important question : why not?
However, I have come a long way since then. Let me share three of my findings along the way.
There Is Dignity In All Problems
Koichi Mano, a scientist who earned his doctorate (Ph.d) for a dissertation titled “The Self -Energy Of The Scalar Nucleon” wrote a letter to his tutor Richard Feynman in 1966 where he described his current job to be “the studying the Coherence theory with some applications to the propagation of electromagnetic waves through turbulent atmosphere […] a humble and down-to-earth type of problem”
Richard Feynman, in his own inimitable way, replied
“….. No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it.
You say you are a nameless man. You are not to your wife and to your child. You will not long remain so to your immediate colleagues if you can answer their simple questions when they come into your office”
So, yes. We are not Einstein’s yet. But then Rome wasn’t built in a day and every day you spend making someone else’s life easier, they look upon you as their Einstein.
In doing so, perhaps everyone may end up looking at you as a brilliant scientist. From business to charity and from science to philosophy, living for others is the only higher purpose. So, please don’t stop asking questions that could help solve someone else’s problems.
The Us vs. Them Fallacy
I am the only son to my parents. I don’t have a sibling to squabble with everyday. I did not have the displeasure and privilege of someone contradicting my point of view every day. For the most part, I thought my view of the world is all there is. Beyond that, everyone else’s viewpoint is just a figment of their ignorance. For the most of my life, I enjoyed being a naive, spoilt child who did not understand the meaning of the word “share” until fairly recently. Therefore, I think I am uniquely qualified to understand the us vs. them fallacy because for the most of my life, I thought the world was out to get me. Little did I realize that my existence is so minuscule in the grand scheme of things that nobody cares. Give it a few more years and perhaps nobody will even remember. Yet, I feel like I am gods’ blessing to the world. What if everyone thought about themselves the same way?
The ancient philosophy of Jainism is based on two fundamental principles ie ‘Anekantvada’ (acceptance of multiple and diverse perspectives) and Ahimsa (non-violence).
It goes without saying if you accept that there will always be different perspectives of which some may be completely opposite to your world view, there will always be non-violence. You are simply at peace with the fact that the world will always be composed of people with a different world view. If not, there will always be a scope for violence to creep in. There is no us vs them then. There is just differing world views. From this acceptance, a middle path can emerge. If parents can have children who are so different they have a hard time understanding why they are so different, is it possible that gods children can coexist despite diametrically opposite views?
My father is a voracious reader. Ever since I was born, the first toy I touched was a book. Every birthday, I was gifted a book. Every night, we would switch off the television and all three of us would read a book. Today, reading is an inextricable habit. I understand that it is such an oft repeated advice that it’s almost like beating a dead horse. Believe me, I cannot repeat it enough.
Andrew Carnegie once said: “I choose free libraries as the best agencies for improving the masses of the people, because they give nothing for nothing. They only help those who help themselves. They never pauperize. A taste for reading drives out lower tastes”
Even before I began my first journey, I had taken countless journeys by reading literature from all around the world. Each time, I couldn’t help but marvel how similar humans were across the world despite the differences we keep harping upon. Every parent has the same emotions for their children. Every human clings to hope similarly.
When I did finally take my first trip outside India, my physical self experienced what my readings had already taught me — empathy is very powerful. Since then, I have sincerely listened to people’s life stories, imbibed some of their pain and tried hard to find solutions by constantly asking questions.
Genuine curiosity is very hard to find. Over time , we lose it trying to be what the world wants us to be.
We stop imagining the world as it should be and stick to looking at the world as it is. I can tell you that is the recipe for inertia. The simplest way to becoming a zombie. There should be no end to our curiosity. Despite all the noise outside, the world will not blow itself to bits if we can help it. It’s not all negative.
Therefore, the biggest question for us today is: “how do we reclaim our humanity?” In the answer to that question lies our hope for a better future.