There are questions we can ask and there are questions we cannot ask because we cannot even contemplate them.
For example, imagine you were living a thousand years ago in the year 1,000 AD. There are questions you can ask such as: why do we have earthquakes, floods, famines? Why does the sun sometimes disappear behind the moon in an eclipse? Why are sometimes boys born and sometimes girls? Why do children look like their parents? Why is there evil in the world? What is the world for? Why am I here?
These are all questions that could be asked by someone living in the year 1,000 AD. These questions are not beyond the ability of such a person to ask. But what about the following questions: How common is life in the universe? Once life reaches a certain complexity on any planet are consciousness, self-awareness and high-intelligence inevitable? How did the Dinosaurs die out? Should we not be conserving the species on earth? How long will the sun last for? What causes cancer?
The reason these questions cannot be contemplated is because the minds of the questioners would lack the prerequisite knowledge and understanding or whatever, to even begin even thinking about asking such questions.
My question about complexity above could not even be contemplated 200 years ago, because the question itself’ though not explicitly but implicitly, assumes the universe to be vast and to be populated with hundreds of billions of stars and planets. In addition, the question assumes an understanding of the history of life on earth, its evolution from simple Prokaryotic beginnings to the multi-cellular complexity we see teeming around us today. The question pre-assumes the knwoledge that life started off as simple and over aeons acquired complexity in morphology and brains and nervous systems.
So the question I have asked can only be asked by a being who lives at a time in history where certain ground work has already been done in our understanding of life, the universe and everything!
So – since I am the Mad Man, are there questions that I cannot even contemplate asking today?
Of course there are – but naturally, as I cannot contemplate them there’s no point in trying to guess what they might be!
I can imagine my imaginary self that lives a thousand years in the future looking back at my self now and thinking how cloistered and dark and shut-off my world is! And this simply because there must be profound questions that I cannot even think about asking because I live at a time where the world lacks the requisite knowledge and understanding. But I, and I am sure you, don’t feel cloistered or living in darkness. Indeed, I feel like the epitome of light and understanding! As some wise man must have said: ‘what you don’t know can never hurt or bother you’ or to put it in another form ‘ignorance doesn’t hurt’. It only hurts insofar once you had knowledge and now you don’t. Similarly ‘we never miss the pleasures we cannot contemplate’.
My mind seems to be awash this morning with these quotations. I seem to be able to just pluck them from the ripe air!
We live inside our heads, our brains – and these brains are completely enclosed in a skull, and our brains are in darkness – yet we experience light and dark, we experience sunrise and sunsets, we experience love and love-lost, we experience the pleasures of understanding, and we peer into the very depth of the universe and peek into our very selves – and we think we understand so much, yet as Isaac Newton once said we are merely like little children, playing on the beach of the cosmic shore, picking up one pebble here, and another pebble there, totally oblivious to what lies beyond the horizon.
There are questions you can ask
And there are questions you cannot ask because you can’t even contemplate them.
Now that’s a thought!