Curiosity: The Young and the Intellectually Restless

(continuing in the vein of my previous post)

A couple months ago, I listened to a podcast in which an 8-year-old asked how numbers exist as a universal framework. I’m paraphrasing, but only barely; that truly was the gist of it. How can the number two—not the written numeral, but the quantity itself, the quantity of two that is what it is independently of whether we write it as “2″ in a standard system or whether we write it as “10″ in binary—how does the number two exist as an intangible entity that transcends spacetime?

Right on! This is exactly the sort of question that people should be asking, not because we know the answer but because we don’t. Few people are willing to deny that mathematical abstracts are an objective aspect of reality, but why? How? Inevitably the answer must be “they just do.” Or, if not that, then the answer must be God and then the followup is “how does God exist?” and the answer must be “God just does.”

“Brute fact” explanations can’t satisfy a curious mind, yet sometimes they’re the best we have.

Logic is in a similar boat as mathematics. During an ethics class in college, one of the girls asked who invented logic and said that it must have been guys. The professor—also female—answered that we (humans) didn’t invent logic so much as discover it. While I agree with my professor, that doesn’t mean that our position makes any sense. How does one discover logic? Certainly not in the same way as discovering a new plant species with the five senses. Are we sure that we didn’t merely invent it? How could we possibly prove that we didn’t?

Philosophers are like kids who never stop asking why except that we never “grow out of it” because we’re never satisfied with the answers. Who could be?

Even so, people go astray if they fear the limits of knowledge. There is nothing to be ashamed nor afraid of in admitting “I don’t know.” I often ponder and rarely conclude—and I fear those who often conclude and rarely ponder. I’m not singling out majority views here; an unconventional belief system isn’t synonymous with a thoroughly-examined one. Thorough examination itself isn’t synonymous with certainty. Many mysteries remain in this universe, and perhaps in all universes.

Never let go of curiosity. I say so not only regarding the truths of reality, but also curiosity about people. Some may be deeper than you imagine. They may even be an 8-year-old kid contemplating Platonism and metaphysics. Before you ask, assume nothing about a person’s beliefs—and when you know their beliefs, still assume nothing about why they hold them. Open the floor for discussion. You may be surprised.


One Comment

Leave a Reply