I have done my best, in these pages, to try to lay out why I believe there are substantial reasons to doubt the claims of anyone or anything that claims to have discovered Truth. The last few posts have discussed how several thinkers over the last century or so have pointed out fundamental paradoxes in any attempt to develop a complete and consistent set of ideals, because once something is complex enough to be self-referential, it inevitably contains a self-nullifying paradox.
In simpler terms, as mere mortals, we don't have much to go on. There are people all over this world who would lead you to believe that they have the Perfect way to organize human society, or that they have the Perfect way to live your life, or that they Know Exactly what God wants. They are all full of shit.
However, most of us are more realistic. Most of us, on some level, recognize how much we know, but more importantly, how much we don't know. For most people, they are content to go about their daily lives viewing knowledge as a utility; when a certain set of ideals works, great, when it doesn't, fine, they'll just try something else. This isn't surprising, for this is precisely how evolution designed us to be. If everyone in your tribe believes that the shaman's Rain Dance brings the rain, it is generally much more practical to accept it, even "believe" it, than it is to be the one who points out that yes, it did rain a few hours after this dance, but the last sixteen times he did it, nothing happened. In ancient hunter-gatherer societies, social ostracism meant death, either directly or indirectly through banishment. We evolved a tendency towards looking at those around us and getting in line.
But like many other deviant traits, there is room for a certain percentage to sneak through the filter of natural selection, because there is often some advantage to be found in playing a different game than everyone else. For example, it is estimated that around 1% of human beings fit somewhere on the spectrum of "psychopath." (Among CEOs it's four times that. I'm not kidding.) In other words, you probably know at least one person who has some psychopathic tendencies. In evolutionary terms, this fits in almost exactly with how many "cheaters" game theory predicts a society as large as ours can sustain. (In game theory, a "cheater" is an individual who does not play by the same rules of tit-for-tat, or some version thereof.) If too many more individuals were cheaters, we would all be forced to be less trusting and altruistic than the average person generally is.
In the same way, there are some people whose natural curiosity is too strong to be subsumed by the commonly accepted beliefs of the culture around them. This curiosity, this desire to pursue truth, often at the expense of social acceptance, led to many of the most important ideas in history. Sadly, it also often led those individuals, if they pushed a bit too far, to a cup of hemlock or into the grasp of the Inquisition, or some equally unfitting end.
So there remain those among us who are not content to accept what everyone else believes simply because it is easier. And we are all better off because of it. But there is another sort. There are those who are born with the same deep curiosity, who pursue Truth with fervor, only to discover, inevitably, that it is not to be had. And that doesn't sit well with them.
For someone in this position, there aren't many choices left. It is impossible to go forward. It is impossible to go back. (Imagine, now, as an adult, deciding to believe in Santa Claus again. Impossible.) What alternatives remain?
One option is to put on a play.
When confronted with the fact that everything that used to give your life meaning, everything you used to believe which gave value and purpose to the world, is not made of sturdy stuff, it can be difficult to find a way to go on. The idea that our existence is a lucky accident, that there is no greater purpose or meaning for us, in this world or an imagined next, and that our Gods and Truths, Myths and Stories are just our own dull fictions, is simply too much to bear.
So some choose to put these cadavers back on stage, in costume and makeup, prance around them and call them by name, holding their nose against the rotten stench exuding from their decay. These would-be thespians can even manage to put on quite a show, from time to time, getting so into character that they seem to almost forget that they are, in the end, just on stage, paying homage to a corpse in lipstick and a wig.
Sadly though, this isn't even noble enough to qualify as a tragedy. It rather more neatly fits the bill as a farce. I am reminded of the second theater scene in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, the actors running around desperately trying to keep the cardboard props upright, as the set crashes down around them.
I have to admit, I don't understand it. As often as I have heard, "Well, yes, but I choose to believe this because it makes me happy," or "... it helps me make sense of the world," or "...I prefer my Myths," is as many times as I have bewilderedly shaken my head. It seems like an incredible amount of wasted effort, that could be much more enjoyably spent appreciating what we do have.
Nature is not a stage. It needs no props, no Director, no costumes, no Narrative. It simply is. And we are simply fortunate to be a part of it. Isn't that enough? Why would you place a cardboard cutout of a tree in front of the real thing?
It is human nature to Name things, to try to fit them into a Narrative that makes sense to us. First we observe, then we name, then we understand, then we control. This trait is what took us from the savannas of Africa to every inch of this planet and to begin to reach its satellite and its neighbors. But the universe is not a species of domesticatable flora or fauna, or an arable track of land. We can pointlessly struggle to bring it under our heel like we do with so much else, or we can simply let it be, appreciate our place it in, and enjoy the time we have in it.
And it is sooo much less work.
(But maybe I am just lazy. Who knows?)