Clearly Stating the Obvious Inscrutability of Existence

 

Everything should be as simple as it can be but not simpler!” Albert Einstein

 


 

This short essay takes serious the advice of Albert Einstein and will satisfactorily clarify the title in a couple of paragraphs. One of the topics that I discussed in my book, The Teachings of the Buddha: Seeing Without Illusion is that we – all living beings- are confronted with the fact that because of our evolutionary biological constitution we are like the men of the well known 'Blind Men and Elephant' parable. The story goes that a long time ago a raja gather together all the men of a town who were congenitally blind. He presented to each man different parts of the elephant: to one the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant. Then he asked each to describe the elephant. The men who were presented with the head answered, 'Sire, an elephant is like a pot.' And the men who had inspected the ear replied, 'An elephant is like a winnowing basket.' Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a plowshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a granary; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, etc. Then they began to quarrel, shouting, 'Yes it is!' 'No, it is not!' 'An elephant is not that!' 'Yes, it's like that!' and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.

 



 

Now this parable has two lessons: one is that of the nature of dogmatic points of view and more for this essay the nature of knowledge. For if the elephant represents existence in the sense of the external environment, human beings are like the blind men of the story when it comes to comprehending the nature of existence. We can't understand yet we keep thinking we can. Also for some this has the consequence of domatic thinking.

 

The reason we can't know the veiled nature of existence is really quite obvious and depends on only two factors. The first and primary factor is that we are physical beings and as physical beings we interact and input the sense data from the external environment through a highly selective physical apparatus – our body. We, and by the nature of it, all physical beings, have by necessity certain senses which have adapted over our evolutionary history to be sensitive to only a very restricted range of available sense data. It is through this highly limited input of the overall possible data that we then construct with our cognitive apparatus our 'world' or our personal ideosyncratic significance and meaning of the external world. In fact this construction is an illusion of the veiled reality of existence and is dependent on our particular species nervous system and brain structure.

 

Therefore, we see that existence which is our 'grounding' is inscrutible and unknowable. Just to give a few examples of our very limited range of the known frequencies in the universe - we might not be aware of many other existent manifestations - what we call visible light is just one ten-billionth of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum. So, we’re only seeing a very tiny sliver of that, because we have biological receptors that are tuned into that little part of the spectrum. Radio signals, mobile phone signals, television signals, and many other signals are going right through our body without our awareness, because we do not have biological receptors for that part of the spectrum. Also, while the human ear is capable of hearing many sounds produced in nature, certainly not all. The normal range of hearing for a healthy young person is 20 to 20,000 Hz so a heart beat of 1 or 2 Hz can not be heard and neither can we detect frequencies as high as 100,000 Hz as most bats can.

 

Then after receiving the various available sense inputs, our brain processes these inputs and then constructs an interpretation of that information so we can make sense out of the raw data we receive. This construction becomes our 'world' or our sphere or scene of our inner life. While in an evolutionary way this process has been successful to allow survival and adaption; in the larger sense living creatures are embedded and encapsulated in their own worlds unable to fully comprehend the larger universe because it is impossible to input all the possible information and then create a model about it. In fact, even the type or form of thoughts we can think are constrained by our biology and even more surprising Space and Time is manufactured by our brain too! So we live in a veiled universe and we will never totally be able to see beyond the veil.

 



 



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