When I was a kid, I would ask the repeated “why” question as most other kids.
My father would give an answer. I would ask why. He would give another answer. And so on.
I assume I did this partly from a genuine curiosity and interest in learning, and partly to see the limits of my father’s – and the adult’s – understanding and knowledge about the world.
At some point, I would also ask: Are you sure? Are you sure it’s like that?
He answered: I don’t know anything for certain.
I must have taken it to heart. It’s been one of the guidelines in my life.
I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING FOR CERTAIN
Here is how I came to see it a few years later and still see it:
Thoughts are questions about the world. There is always a question mark after each thought, even if we don’t notice it.
They are here to help me orient and function in the world. They are maps. They help me communicate with myself and others.
They have different degrees of validity in a conventional sense. And they each have validity in one form or another. (At the very least, as a mirror for something in us.)
They are always provisional in a conventional sense. They are always up for revision.
They can be pointers. They can point to certain things we can explore for ourselves.
They cannot hold any final, full, or absolute truth. Why? Because they are different in kind from what they refer to. (Unless they happen to refer to thoughts.) They are simplifications. Reality is always more than and different from any map. And reality, as it appears to us, is also simpler in its essence.
This applies to any kind of mental representation, whether it’s a mental image or words (visual or auditory). And it applies whatever the thought apparently is about, whether it’s ourselves, others, a situation, the world, science, philosophy, God, or whatever it may be.
I love that we have thoughts. And I also want to be sober about their limits.
HOW I HAVE EXPLORED THIS
As I mentioned, I must have taken this to heart when I heard it from my father when I was four or five (?) years old.
When there was a shift into oneness at age sixteen, I also saw this directly. I could easily see the limits of thought.
In my teens and early twenties, I also delved into the philosophy of science and I loved and devoured the writings of people like Fritjof Capra, Arne Næss, Gregory Bateson, and David Bohm.
And later, I got into The Work of Byron Katie, Buddhist inquiry, and modern versions of Buddhist inquiry like the Living / Kiloby Inquiries.
Photo: An image of my father when he was young, perhaps a few years before I was born.