Probing into the why of it feels like jumping into a bottomless well of mystery. This is certainly the epitome of quixotic quests. However, there is the survival reward of seeing life as close to its actuality as humanly possible. Exploring the why of it promises a glimpse into nature’s secrets. This is one of the joys of science. Deeper down, from a symptoms point of view (p.141), all the answers we come across reflect more about us than about anything ‘out there’. In other words, we travel much of life’s journey looking ‘out there’ until we end up looking ‘in here’.
What is the Point?
I also feel a need to share with others what I notice, even though I assume very few people will be interested. The irony here is that many of those people probably know what I’m saying already… intuitively anyway. So, what is the point? Primarily, the need to share what we notice in life is a primary social instinct, serving either as gossip or as words of warning.
Coming home to instinct
Research at Yale’s Infant Cognition Center, a.k.a., The Baby Lab, offers some clues as to what’s ‘in here’. This is another step toward alleviating ourselves from our immense ignorance — the myths, misinformation, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations that we have hauled around throughout history. For video reports, YouTube: Born good? Babies help unlock the origins of morality. For still more, Google [The Moral Life of Babies, Are Babies Born Good?]
‘How’ vs. ‘Why’
Wondering what, when, why, who, or how are the ways we peer into life’s mystery. Of these, why and how are the most cognitively intense, and as such, the most uniquely human. Of these two, why is the innermost. Conversely, how is more active, practical, and closely tied to “just do it… here’s how”. Adults know how to deal with children’s how questions much easier than their endless why questions. “Why?” asks why do it. All my life I’ve noticed wide spread resistance to questioning why. Religion, politics, and other cultural institutions all emphasize how we should do life a certain way, not why. Moreover, if they address why, the answers are invariably shallow. Cultural institutions, whether mainstream or cultist, have a very low tolerance for why. Why?
Why easily sows the seeds of rebellion, heresy and anarchy. Why endangers the hierarchical social structure and threatens authority (1) at every level. Why challenges the status quo, whereas how helps sustain a status quo. How is mechanical, easy, habitual, routine—it shelters us from the void and the fear that the unknown why engenders. We educate people to know how, not why. We feel why just opens a can of worms, i.e., more questions. Despite any lip service to the contrary, educational infrastructure is almost by definition set up to discourage seeking out the why of it. Finally and most significantly, why is without end—there is no ultimate answer to the mystery of existence. Asking why takes courage.
Wondering why is the essence of childhood, not adulthood—adulthood clamors more for how to. Why is also the essence of science—pure science anyway. Life, in the realm of why, constantly evolves and adapts to changing facts on the ground. Keeping as closely connected to why as possible helps me to practice what I preach. I have known how for many decades, it is only through an unrelenting concern for why that I am able to walk-the-walk to any meaningful degree. Chapter 16 maps this journey…
Devote effort to emptiness, sincerely watch stillness.
Everything ‘out there’ rises up together, and I watch again.
Everything ‘out there’, one and all, return again to their root cause.
Returning to the root cause is called stillness,
…..this means answering to one’s destiny;
Answering to one’s destiny is called the constant,
…..knowing the constant is called honest.
Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results.
Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial,
Impartial therefore whole, whole therefore natural,
Natural therefore the way.
The way therefore long enduring, nearly rising beyond oneself.
(1) Note: I am not referring to any specific “authority” out there. It is not ‘they’; it is ‘us’. This dynamic applies to every human that has ever lived; it is social instinct. It plays out in varying degrees for each of us depending on our personal genetic makeup and on the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
In the wild, none of this would pose a problem; it is natural, or at least an emergent property (p.121) of what is natural for any social species. It is problematic for us because our clever innovative minds tend to favor the how side of inquiry because that is where immediate survival advantages lie (i.e., increases in comfort and security). This results in an out-of-balance situation, which we ironically attempt to correct with more how, and never seriously address the why.
Of course, that’s not the whole story. Many of us do begin asking why as we age. But the process begins late and we die off before having much influence on culture. A youthful culture will always be more interested in how to do it, than why to do it. Over all, age and experience are prerequisites for any serious inquiry into why.