Human history is filled with examples of institutions built upon a faulty premise of how the world is, how it exists to serve us. It can seems that human’s favourite way of dealing with uncertainty is to build up an illusion of knowing. That’s fine but it does become problematic when we forget that we are kidding ourselves and we cling to tightly to the story we created and can’t let go.
It becomes problematic when we can see clearly that the old, best explanation we could come up with at the time is something we cannot possibly let go of because that would show that , well, we were wrong. Institutions we build tend to have a hard time admitting they are, or have been wrong – since their whole purpose is to project certainty – they’re usually built to build up an image that they couldn’t possibly be wrong.
Science was intended to get us away from the powerful few telling us all what is correct to believe and persecuting those who hold a differing ideas. Yet we insist on building new institutions that keep trying to claim for themselves the right of ownership over ruth.
Well, some scientists are true to the spirit of not knowing that science is really not about knwing but about not knowing – and some are able to use their imagination too, to remind us of what we remain a long journey away from knowing.
David Eaglemann is one such scientist and in his book SUM – forty tales from the afterlife offers us handfuls of wonderfully imagined, beautifully written glimpses from different worlds of knowing. We can continue to kid ourselves that we are on the brink of unlocking the vital secrets tha prove we are the masters of the universe. Or we can remind oursleves to be humble, a mere a tiny part of the universe; and that really, despite everything that we have learned, really we know very, very little, and that what we have forgotten may just be as important than as what we are about to discover.
This one is my favourite…
David Eaglemanfrom: SUM forty tales from the afterlives
In the afterlife, you are treated to a generous opportunity: you can choose whatever you would like to be in the next life. Would you like to be a member of the opposite sex? Born into royalty? A philosopher with bottomless profundity? A soldier facing triumphant battles? But perhaps you’ve just returned here from a hard life. Perhaps you were tortured by the enormity of the decisions and responsibilities that surrounded you, and now there’s only one thing you yearn for: Simplicity. That’s permissible. So for the next round, you choose to be a horse. You covet the bliss of that simple life: afternoons of grazing in grassy fields, the handsome angles of your skeleton and the prominence of your muscles, the peace of the slow-flicking tail or the steam rifling through your nostrils as you lope across snow-blanketed plains.
You announce your decision. Incantations are muttered, a wand is waved, and your body begins to metamorphose into a horse. Your muscles start to bulge; a mat of strong hair erupts to cover you like a comfortable blanket in winter. The thickening and lengthening of your neck immediately feels normal as it comes about. Your carotid arteries grow, in diameter, your fingers blend hoofward, your knees stiffen, your hips strengthen, and meanwhile, as your skull lengthens into its new shape, your brain races in its changes: your cortex retreats as your cerebellum grows, the homunculus melts man to horse, neurons redirect, synapses unplug and re-plug on their way to equestrian patterns, and your dream of understanding what it is like to be a horse gallops toward you from the distance, Your concern about human affairs begins to slip away, your cynicism about human behavior melts, and even your human way of thinking begins to drift away from you, Suddenly, for just a moment, you are aware of the problem you overlooked. The more you become a horse, the more you forget the original wish. You forget what it was like to be a human wondering what it was like to be a horse.
This moment of lucidity does not last long. But it serves as the punishment for your sins, a Promethean entrails-pecking moment, crouching half-horse half-man, with the knowledge that you cannot appreciate the destination without knowing the starting point; you cannot revel in the simplicity unless you remember the alternatives.
And that’s not the worst of your revelation. You realize that the next time you return here, with your thick horse brain, you won’t have the capacity to ask to become a human again. You won’t understand what a human is. Your choice to slide down the intelligence ladder is irreversible. And just before you lose your final human faculties, you, painfully ponder what magnificent extraterrestrial creature, enthralled with the idea of fin ding a simpler life, chose in the last round to become a human.