He knew there were other’s who’d seen more than he, but not that they’d learned more from what they’d seen.
Beliefs effectively form the boundaries of our imagination and are therefore exclusive by nature (e.g., plant an acorn in a flower pot and you get a tiny oak tree). But while they serve to define thoughtful limits, the space contained within is not empirically understood. Instead, understanding is assumed. Religious beliefs are a particularly good example, yet the same can be said of scientific beliefs as well.
The Big Bang theory of the universe illustrates how beliefs inherently limit imagination, and tend to obviate the understanding that any perspective, no matter how narrow or broad the view, is always ‘perceived’ within a perceptual context (the ‘point’ of view). Expand the context and it becomes immediately clear that our universe, for example, could have been generated by any number of events, each just as unprovable as the big bang theory, yet also just as possible (e.g., The Smell of Light). Without understanding the role of context, that theory simply becomes another incontrovertible belief (like the world being flat) until someone looks beyond the belief, perceives a broader context, and imagines something that’s otherwise.
Consider another, closer-to-home example: The human eye responds to a very small segment of the electromagnetic spectrum, which we call “light;” i.e., roughly from 4000 (blue) to 7000 (red) angstroms.* In other words, the concept of “light” is defined by that small portion of the energy spectrum we can see. If that visible segment were to be extended a few angstroms in either direction, you would immediately see how absurd it is to define our physical world from such a narrow perspective. In fact, by expanding your vision, the world would instantly appear so bizarre that you would find it nearly impossible to hypothesize (or interpolate) what you see now from what you would see then. And yet, that extended view is always there–whether believed or not–and available to the first eye that dares to see it.
Basically, the most that we can wrap our minds around and embrace with relative certainty is that everything, physical or mental, virtual or real, tangible or imagined, this or that…can only be defined within a context. Take anything you want…a stone, the frequency of light, a Bach Fugue, pipe smoke, a diamond ring, the universe, your last love, the pyramids, a Shakespeare Sonnet, the size of a lady bug, your middle name…and define what it means.
The first thing you realize is that meaning is generally defined within the context of an implied belief. Enlarge the context, and the meaning becomes to that extent less clear, and thus less meaningful. Reduce the context, and the meaning becomes to that extent less comprehensive (i.e., less inclusive). Exactly the same can be said of importance…which is a notion that only has meaning within the same paradigm.
So what is meaningful, and what is important?
Imagine the relative meaning and importance of a a piece of music (“The Riddle,” by Five For Fighting, for example**) to a human being…one that perhaps lived and died 10,000 years ago (and a few actually did, or we wouldn’t be either reading or writing this stuff), and one alive today, who’s tuned in to our current culture. Then imagine the meaning and importance of that same piece of music to a bull frog, or a rock, or a cup of water in the ocean, or a planet orbiting a distant star, or the light bouncing off your face and reflecting your image in a bathroom mirror.
As many ways as you can imagine how the meaning and importance of that music might begin to change…depending on the perspective of an infinite variety of potential listeners…to that extent you will begin to understand the limits (beliefs notwithstanding) of one’s imagination. Just as you will also discover that ‘meaning’ is symptomatic of a dynamic process, rather than a static ‘truth.’
In short, questions and answers not only imply but effectively define the context within which they have meaning. Shift the boundaries of that perceptual matrix only a little, and both (questions and answers) will begin to fade into relative insignificance.
Given the above, how then might you answer one of those “universal” questions, like: What is the meaning of life?
Is there an answer? If so, does it have importance? Does it have an empirical basis?*** And how would you define the overall “context” of such a question?
** The Riddle – By Five For Fighting
(Video & Lyrics)
*** There is the story of a pragmatist and a sophist attending a dinner party at a friend’s apartment, which was twenty-one floors above street level. They inevitably became involved in an argument over which philosophical point of view was most grounded in reality. Eventually the pragmatist tired of the discussion and suggested that the sophist could resolve the dispute very simply…and not by carefully crafted words, but instead through thoughtful action. “We shall put your theories to the pragmatic test,” he suggested. “When we leave, my friend, let us see whether you shall choose to exit through the window, or the door.”