Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by reality. It is a world of million possibilities. I am lost in decisions, in choices, in a reality I do not understand. I just do not know what to do. I bet you know that feeling too.
What career should I choose? Which sport should I play? What foods should I eat? What should I read? Where should I live? Whom I should be around? Will I be happy? Will I get what want out of my life?
Big questions with no answer. What will be the best decision? Was the decision I made, the best? What is ‘best’ anyway?
I don’t know, and I will probably never know for sure. Sometimes there is just that feeling, you know? That it feels right. You probably have heard a friend saying that. You probably have experienced that feeling yourself, I certainly have.
I remember when I finished school and was about to choose what I wanted to study, I certainly know what I did not want to study, I could explain it logically.
But I did not know what I wanted to study. Politics? Neuroscience? Philosophy? Or better not to study but instead becoming a Chef? I mean, I am interested in all these subjects. I can see myself being fulfilled in all these careers. But what is the best for me? What will pay out for me in the future? It was a horrible time of uncertainty and left me almost passive, just waiting for a sign, just one, that would show me what to do.
My brother on the other hand always knew what he wanted to do in life. Study finance and work for a bank. That was his dream. Everything made sense in that light, all his actions and efforts were pointed at that goal. The overwhelming feeling I experienced, was unknow to him. I was jealous, I wanted to have the feeling of a clear direction in my life too. Eventually he did not get accepted for the finance course, and fell in the same hole I was stuck in, but for a different reason. What should he do? What else does he like? His structure fell apart and left him in ‘chaos’. I never had a structure, but I was looking for one. We both confronted the ‘ifs’, the question what would happen if I do this? What would have happened if I would have done that?
What do you know about the world?
We live in a world that is larger than what we can comprehend. It is impossible to describe it through our conventional means such as we describe physical objects or personal characters. Every attempt to isolate parts from it, by taking them out of their context or by trying to describe them as a sum of smaller parts therefore will automatically fail. That is the harsh truth of existing and leaves the mind in chaos. Unless you do not make peace with that circumstance you will suffer and live in anxiety of the unknown.
Yet you conceive the ‘flow’ of the world surrounding you, as the unity of experience, time, knowledge of reality and wisdom. The point of being is not to define what you known from the limitless universe or what you will or could know through science or philosophy or any other method in some future time, rather than defining a frontier between your knowledge and the realm that cannot be known by men.
Knowledge itself is always empirical and will therefore never reveal a true understanding, since it is a accumulation of information, gained by filtering bits out of the context, of the flow of the world. This very act is limiting our perception of the world. The more knowledge about a certain condition and its antecedents is accumulated the more difficult it gets to not think in terms of the knowledge and to conjecture what might have happened without the given conditions.
Once you know something, it is almost impossible to remove it from you knowledge and will therefore limit your imagination of what could have happened. The moment you live in is determined by its inherent characteristics, as well as your ability to imagine possible circumstances in the past or future, that might have or will occur given different characteristics. Thinking about an alternative way the world walks, e.g. in the future, is limited not just by imagination or calculation, but also by the fact that the terms under which our thoughts occur -namely the limits of words and pictures- are limited by the characteristics the world possesses. You cannot think of a world too different than your very own. Imagination has its limits.
Believing that a man is free, therefore imposes the thought that he would have been free to choose at any given point in the past to act differently than he did. That means to think of alternatives in which the flow of the world would have happened and how it and the results would be different from the now.
Even in a game like chess, which has a finite number of possible moves, resulting from clear and structured positions, the calculations for each move possible are almost impossible to grasp. If you are now trying to apply the same method to the complex world around you, try to think of the mights and their resulting realities, using your knowledge and logic, the more you will find yourself lost in the following consequences, of the consequences, of the consequences, of your unrealised plan, which are not defined, unlike chess, by a set of rules and a finite number of possibilities. You will soon discover the limitations of your symbols (e.g. language, mathematics, pictures) and hereby your ability to explain the alternative outcomes.
Consequently the more you know of facts and their connections, the more you limit your ability to imagine alternatives. The clearer you define the terms and categories you use to model your thinking about the world, the less free you are, the more fixed is your worldview. To accept these limits of your thinking and imaginations and to come to peace with the larger context of things is therefore true wisdom and one shall find peace in surrendering to it.
There is something bigger, that cannot be described as what it is rather than by what it is not. But in face of innumerable possibilities it can never be described fully. All you can do is point in some sort of direction searching for it like Moses for the Holy Land, knowing that it exists, but because of the limitations of mind and symbols, the realm of the deeper truth, the correlation of all the elements there are, the context in which one can say what really is true or false can, like the Holy Land, never be entered.
Therefore true knowledge about the world cannot be expressed. It is only possible to express what is not.
The trenches between these two kinds of knowledge -the one, as science does, describing the surface of the world and the other searching for the deeper truth, the wisdom and sense of reality expressed by poets and prophets as men’s moral, reason of the heart, the feeling of being one with the world – are deep. Scientific thinkers accuse the non-scientifics as irrational, in favour of emotion and in denial of public standards of empirical truth. The non-scientific knowledge community on the other hand complains about the notion of supremacy of science, the falsehood of the claim to be able to explain everything and their little understanding of who they are, when even in their experiments they do not take into account all the factors that influence the experiment but are unknown to the scientist and merely discoverable by science itself.
Therefore one should choose a method that, depending on the context of the situation, promises the best outcome.
Foxes and Hedhoges
There is danger in showing flag for either one of the both extremes. A too structured way of thinking often misses the creativity to see new alternatives, which e.g. having a problem leaves you in that bad situation because you cannot think of a way out outside your fixed mindset, which might not be the right one for your particular problem. Thinking always in a bigger context and trying to find the ‘Holy Land’ imposes the threat of leading a life in anxiety, because all there is, is chaos, unstructured reality.
You therefore must find your personal sweet spot between order and chaos.
An old greek saying goes as following: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
Foxes experience the world from many different, often unrelated or contradictory angles.
They follow a more or less unconscious intuition (for some psychological or physiological cause) of an unitary inner vision from which their pursuit of the experience of the many facets of the world derives. One may call them a centrifugal character.
Hedgehogs on the other hand have one central vision through which they experience and understand the world. Only according to that central vision the world has significance, it is the organising principle and so everything must be brought back to that principle. One may call them a centripetal character.
What should you do?
Humans, when born are the original Foxes, open to all possibilities, just limited by their imagination but not limited by symbols. Following their intuition they quickly learn through exploring what the world is not, thereby remaining open for all the mights. Human themselves are true generalists.
In the process of growing up one becomes a hedgehog, a specialists, as it is imposed and supported by society because it brought many advances e.g. food safety and population growth through specialist farmers developed during the agricultural revolution and more recently through industrialization. The enlightenment movement replaced the thinking of a deeper truth, symbolised by a god, with scientific thinking. In that process men lost the world of ‘what is not’ and replaced it with a world of ‘what is’.
The price for the certainty of what is, a fixed structure of the world, is a world less flexible and diverse.
That leaves us rather unequipped for the myriad of situations we encounter. In order to be able to choose a method that, depended on the context of the situation, promises the best outcome, you must first unlearn, or undo to think in terms of what is and to learn to listen to what is not. Relearn, like you did as a baby, to feel the world rather than to think it.
But do not neglect the other side of the coin. Learn from the collective knowledge of what is, learn from science as well as you learn through the search for deeper truth.
However you must find a point in life, and you will certainly do if you listen, when to decide which parts of that world resonate most with you, which parts do not and than finally you should add to the mixture what is uniquely yours otherwise you get lost on your search.
Only then you will find yourself equipped, flexible and relaxed, when encountering the infinite possibilities of life, because you can draw from the diverse knowledge of what is and summon up strength from the peace you made with the knowledge that there is more to the world. Be a collection of many things and through that you become a unique fingerprint.
So in the end I followed my intuition, because what else could I do? I will never know what would have happened if I took another way in life. I think that ultimately it is not that much about making the right decisions rather than making sure you give 100% in whatever situation you are in. That it is what we are left with.
What do you think about the deeper truth of the world?
What do you do to develope your personal fingerprint?
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