Maybe it doesn’t matter…maybe it’s the same thing.

May 3, 2011 Comments Off on Maybe it doesn’t matter…maybe it’s the same thing.

I have always been of the subversive school of thought that seeks to pervert or circumvent the question rather than answer it. I’m sure I was the bane of my History of Western Cultures class in high school, where I artfully avoided the knotty questions posed by Descartes and Hume with clever semi-useless responses (although what is philosophy if not clever and semi-useless?). It wasn’t long after that I realized what a smart-ass position that is. But as I get older and I think more and begin to become an adult, I’m finding myself sticking to my guns. A major reason why is that I believe in multiple simultaneous realities à la American Gods, but many philosophical, moral, existential, ontological, or spiritual questions are best answered (in my opinion) by the phrase “maybe it doesn’t matter…maybe it’s the same thing.”

At Seder this year, Avi recounted a conversation he’d had with a friend, where he’d observed that it is possible to explain the story of the ten plagues of Egypt with natural causes: if there’d been flooding that year, the river would be full of red mud, and that would make the frogs jump out of the river, and so on. And his friend replied, “Or it could be divine.” Well, maybe it doesn’t matter…maybe it’s the same thing.

In Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders, two people considered the story of the stink ant. One said that highly (even ridiculously) specialized organisms really make you think twice about God—how could they not have been deliberately created? The other said that highly specialized organisms really make you think twice about God—how could all this possibly have been created in six days? And as the lovely Rachael pointed out, those two viewpoints may not be contradictory. Maybe evolution is intelligent design. Maybe it doesn’t matter…maybe it’s the same thing.

The other day, Simon asked me whether I thought the mind was the product of the brain or of the soul. My eventual answer was that the mind is part of the soul, but the brain is an inextricable part of the mind. But maybe it doesn’t matter…maybe it’s all the same thing. We discussed how people are always looking for the extra mysterious boost given by consciousness that can’t be explained by science, and how philosophy is always very concerned with the body: with whether it flaws our observations and relations with the world around us or is a reliable interface that furthers our understanding. Well, maybe it doesn’t matter…maybe it’s the same thing.

Perhaps the most important tool in a mind’s repertoire is how to be comfortable with multiple realities, ambiguities, and paradoxes. It keeps your opinions and thoughts balanced and well-founded, and it makes you think about your opinions before you decide on them. At the very least, it will keep you open to new ideas, because it means you can’t be threatened by them. It doesn’t work with everything, but you’d be surprised how much it does work with. The next time you approach a weighty, complicated issue, especially one that people have been arguing over for centuries, experiment with what it would mean to answer it with “Both.” It might turn out to mean something completely nonsensical, or it might give you a kind of mad insight into the inner workings of the universe. And maybe it doesn’t matter which…maybe they’re the same thing.

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