The Contentment of the Discontented State

Guys, space is so cool.

I have been (slowly) reading “Pale Blue Dot” by Carl Sagan, a book that purposefully makes you feel very small, but in a very good, very enlightening way. It’s amazing how a little space talk can get you lost in a world of awe in mere seconds; and sometimes, it’s not just space talk, but… um… people-talk? Talk about the people who like space talk, that is, and their interactions with others. Which leads me to a fascinating passage in the first chapters of the book that was all about “Copernicans”.

Before the world had completely conceded that the Earth was not, in fact, the center of the universe, there was a heavy divide between the religious and the scientists who followed Copernicus’ studies: scientists basically had to say, “Well, of course we don’t believe the Earth revolves around the Sun — but if it did, then this is how it would work.” Every new bit of information that they discovered had to be framed within the concept that this wasn’t actually the truth, just a crazy idea that would be really cool if it was the truth.  It had to have been incredibly difficult to live side by side with people who wouldn’t listen to any new version of the truth.

Ah, the concession that there are just some things that we cannot prove… yet. But the world shrugged it off as a feeble excuse for being wrong.

It’s funny how the tides have turned. Back then, religion was the lens that the world looked through; and so anything contradicting what was seen through that lens was disregarded because it was not cut-and-dry: there’s no visible proof of your theory, so it’s not true. Today, science has made giant leaps, and it is now the predominant lens that we look through; so when someone says they believe in God, there always seems to be that backlash: well, you can’t see God, so you have no proof. People always take sides, making the issue about being right, not about discovery and education.

If I had been alive during the sixteenth century, I probably would have thought that the scientists were grasping at straws. This is not because I would have seen the geocentrists’ truth as concrete, but because I would have been satisfied by the first piece of information that came to me. This was what I did growing up: I grew up in a Christian household — not that I’m saying this is strictly a Christian practice — and questioned evolution (and the validity of non-Christians’ beliefs) because of what I learned first. Fortunately, since my childhood I have been pressed to look past the information before me and seek more; like a scientist, I discovered that maybe there was more to life than what I was initially taught. Does that invalidate the beliefs that I had and the journey that I took up until that discovery? Not at all. But there is now certainly a hunger for more information, to learn about something on every level, if possible.

 I’ve probably mentioned “Seven Blind Mice” on this blog before; but just in case I haven’t, I will relate it now. This was a children’s book that I adored as a kid, based off of an old folk’s tale about seven blind mice who discover a strange object. The first mouse, bold and brave, investigates the object. After a few moments he returns, saying, “It is a pillar! It has a thick, sturdy base that reaches to the sky.” The second mouse goes to check, but returns and says, “No, it is long and thin, like a snake!” The third sets out and, upon returning, says, “You are both wrong. It is a rope; I swung from its tassel.” The fourth mouse conducts its investigation and decides the object is a large fan, vast and thin, and swaying in the wind. The fifth mouse says it is a spear, sharp and strong; the sixth: a rock, large and lumpy.

The seventh mouse, pretty fed up at its companions’ contradictory answers, goes and investigates the object itself. It runs up and down the object, scampering over every inch of its surface, and after a few moments, returns, saying, “It is not a tree, or a snake, or a rope, or a spear — it is not any of those things, it is an elephant!” Each mouse only concerned itself with one part of the elephant — the foot, the trunk, tail, the ears, the tusks, the back — and therefore were not able to discover its true identity.

While to me, the story has always mostly closely related to the wars of religion, in this case it also illustrates another point: there is always something more to discover. If people had been content to believe that the universe revolved around the Earth, or if scientists had given up after a few pitfalls, then our world would be very different today. But instead, the human race loves to learn; and each day it discovers a new part of the elephant.

This may inspire a frustration that we may never know truly everything. But I challenge you to think about it this way: do not be content with the knowledge that you have. Never find satisfaction with only knowing part of the story. Instead, find contentment in the discontented state; rather than lamenting that you still don’t see the whole picture, be encouraged that there is always more to discover. Be it the universe, the people around you, or yourself, the world is bristling with discovery. And damn it, if that isn’t half the fun of living life.

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