“Could it be that wisdom appears on earth as a raven, attracted by a little whiff of carrion?” – Nietzsche
As I grow older I realize just how little I know or will ever know now that time grows short in the cycle of days remaining. With all my vast learning I am still a beginner, a questioner, a creature who realizes that time alone does not give us answers or wisdom. When we are young we feel the world is ours to grasp, to hold onto, to make into our image; but, as we grow older we realize the foolishness of such things and begin each day with more questions than answers.
What is the one thing that I have learned in all my years of struggle? I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times. Oh sure I’ve made friendships, loved, and been loved, raised children, inhabited the world of life with gusto and resilience, but in the end I come back to the one thing that keeps me going: I want understand why, why all this magnificence? Why does this particular universe exists? Was it chance? Was it design? Science explicates it’s reasonable facts in a pattern of math and commentary for laymen. Are we accidents of time, just particles of matter spilled into the lucky mold of a planetary evolutionary niche that, too, will go the way of all things into oblivion. Or is there something else? Honestly we have no real answers to that question unless one subscribes to the atheist faith that this is all randomness, a happy accident with nothing more to say; or, if one is a religionist then it is the God, the Maker, who has formed and shaped us according to his own mysterious designs; or, if one follows the new feminist mythographers, we’re all children of the Great Goddess’s dance of particles, members of a magical dance of light and shadow that will never end but is the dance of life itself. Or, maybe one follows the Vedanta, Taoist, Shinto, Buddhist, etc. paths and has other answers… maybe religion is for those who need some final answer, some absolute answer and justification for all things. Maybe science is for those who realize there is no ultimate answer or justification for this universe. Is the war between religion and science to be forever?
But what of us who abide in the unknown, who seek neither some ultimate answer, nor subscribe to either atheism or religion in their recorded extremes? What of us? What of the questions, the endless abiding spirit of enquiry that realizes the human animal may have limits to its mental and physical abilities to know even the smallest or greatest details of the universe or itself? Why do we need some ultimate answer to things, why can’t we just abide in our pure ignorance and wonder? We tinker, we build, we battle each other over ideas and religious and political ideologies… we seem to be unable to enjoy each other, but continuously war with each other over territory, mental or real. With every child born the process starts anew with no end in site. Even our illusions that books and historical knowledge will help us remember the great defeats of humanity become deaf tones to those in a younger generation. The great culture of learning has become the dance of a minority, an elite that debates endlessly over the minutiae of details of our philosophical blight. Where is the wisdom in that?
Day by day I throw off the old illusions that I will ever come to a conclusion to the matter. I realize now that there is one thing that abides: my ignorance, my unknowing. Socrates! You old goat, you knew it all along, you told us the truth but we would not accept it. I hate you, you old frog! Yet, I cannot escape you! It was Nietzsche in a memorable moment of clarity said of this Goat Man from Athens:
“Socrates, the dialectical hero of the Platonic drama, reminds us of the kindred nature of the Euripidean hero who must defend his actions with arguments and counterarguments and in the process often risks the loss of our tragic pity; for who could mistake the optimistic element in the nature of the dialectic, which celebrates a triumph with every conclusion and can breathe only in cool clarity and consciousness.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy/The Case of Wagner
Was Socrates just a little too optimistic? Have we lost the insight into the ancient view of the tragic world… have we all become a little too optimistic for our own good? One always remembers that on the great shield of the ancient Athenian warriors was the dark face of the Medusa, that dark queen of the earth cults with her serpentine hair and flaming eyes gazing into the stone eyes of all those who would presume to uncover her deep secrets. Is the universe in the end our Medusan Queen? Do not stare into the abyss too long, my friends, or it will stare back at you!