I spoke with one of my former students the other day. She is now going to university to achieve a professional medical degree. She remarked, in passing, that her fellow students were very good at science and math but seemed to lack the capacity to think critically about philosophical issues. Her statement is actually borne out by numerous studies that suggest that a STEM degree (science, technology, engineering, and math) must be buttressed with critical thinking skills, some literature, and a dose of history. (1)
The capacity to think is our one and only gift to the self. A person is an empty vessel at the beginning of consciousness and must slowly fill their “spiritual bottle” with the knowledge of a lifetime to have any chance at life fulfillment and peace. This aspect of life is available to everyone, though few choose it. We live overwhelmingly in a civilization that requests, through its advertising and its values, to not think, to not seek — why?
The straightforward answer, as many, many historical figures have noted, is that it is easier to be anesthetized throughout life, both figuratively and physically, than to face the tough questions that every thinking human being comes to at twenty or so. “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose in life?” “What will happen when I die?” One of the most notable qualities of human beings is that we are innately curious and naturally searching. We seek to explore, we seek to accomplish, and we seek to achieve serenity — both metaphysically and corporeally.
Life presents us, however, with the ultimate dilemma. From John Stuart Mill (1806-1873): “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.” (2)
Interestingly, post-Millennials are part of a generation that is greatly thoughtful when it comes to these issues, especially as they relate to employment and to life. (3) How do we begin this quest – how do I commence my self-exploration? This is a question that is often asked. The answer is action. Any action or inaction, for the matter, produces a result. The former you can manage – failure, for example. The latter – sameness – you must just accept, and be responsible for.
Few people in their waning years lament the things they did and the consequences they suffered. The elderly grieve at the chances not taken, the relationships passed by, and the opportunities not accessed. It behooves all of us, therefore, to take action in life, to get out and do the things we want to do, learn the skills we desire to master, and “sail the seas” on the greatest of all adventures – my life.
Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) leaves us with a thought: Man has throughout the ages been seeking something beyond himself, beyond material welfare – something we call truth or God or reality, a timeless state – something that cannot be disturbed by circumstances, by thought or by human corruption.
A closing thought: In today’s busy life, it is relatively easy to bypass life and get focused on its more inane aspects: work, money, the future, etc. The truth is that I only know “the now.” Where I am at this moment is the only reality, I live in the now, to paraphrase Eckhart Tolle (b. 1948). Given that this is true, and I believe it to be so, then I am always safe.
It is unnecessary to worry about any action (and I probably will, anyway) because whatever the consequence, I will always be moving somewhere – to a resolution of the problem or the creation of a new one. I will never be stationary in my pain. The moment, the immediate, the now, will be my moment of peace before I am off in whatever direction. It is an interesting, and comforting, way to view life. (Parts of this essay were first published in 2019)
To sum up: this week, we spoke about exploring life and what are the consequences if I decide not to.
A philosophical question: Why do so many people hate the rain when, without water, all life dies in a very short period of time?
Just for fun –
This week, on your thoughtful walk, please ponder your own search in life, your own great adventure.
Every day look for something magical and beautiful.
Don’t be a wage slave – critical thinking is great!
Quote: I must believe that, in my lifetime, I can uncover the answer to me.
1)The Emerging Crisis in Critical Thinking