This is a brilliant quote that I find applicable to myself in my own life.
Believe it or not, it comes from a skeptical scientist who is investigating the phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion on a Netflix show I was watching. He’s a bit of a nerd but stands out in that most of the scientists interviewed on the show are either these establishment authoritarians or these faith for the sake of being different cavaliers. He admits that he is a skeptic but he says that while his current understanding of how flame and the human body works leads him to be very doubtful that such a phenomenon exists, he must keep an open mind and examine the facts and go where the evidence leads him.
(For those of you who don’t know, Spontaneous Human Combustion if a term used to describe a mysterious form of death that is still not fully understood. It has never been witnessed by anyone who has ever survived, but it is characterized by the remains of bodies, usually the elderly, discovered in their homes, completely chard, leaving only the extremities of the legs behind. Usually the entire room is left untouched as if nothing happened, but the immediate surrounding of the incident are burned severely, seeming to rule out the occurrence of a ‘normal’ house fire. It’s as if the person suddenly and spontaneously burst into flames, leaving nothing but ashes of clothing and human remains.)
In the show he ends up being the only guy that doesn’t really get egg on his face. The, oh so sure of themselves, scientists try to conduct experiments to prove the invalidity of SHC but their experiments all go wrong and make them look like fools. The fringe scientists try to do the same and end up looking more like they simply want to believe than anything else.
They say that learning about history is much like jumping into a conversation midway that you weren’t there for in the beginning and won’t be there for the end either. And when you think about it, although we do have the potential to become quite learned and wise in our 70 some odd years on earth, in the scope of how long the world has been around, and how long people have been inventing and discovering, how long stars have been burning and cells have been dividing, what little we pick up during our brief time that we are allowed to engage in the conversation is quite small. Now like I said, there are many things we can learn, and many things we will contribute as well. There are even things that will be revealed to us despite our veiled view of the world. All that being said, we are still quite arrogant and foolish to pretend as though we know everything there is to know about a subject, no matter how small or limited the subject seems to be. It’s origins are too far back for us to reach, and its destiny is beyond the horizon of our vision. Even having studied something for your entire life does not mean you understand all the laws. Usually the more learned a person is in a subject, the more they will tell you just how much to don’t understand about it. And ironically, the less someone knows about a subject the more they will appear confident that they know it all.
But there in lies the heart of the quote for today. Scientists, Journalists, Theologians, just to name a few, are what we might call: Professional Truth Seekers. And that goes for the rest of us as well. We all seem to assert in one way or the other that we want to seek truth, and that we view it as noble and courageous to do so. But this quote is a warning to us all, that even in our elite Professional Truth Seeker classes we have two kinds of people. Those who truly live up to the name, and those who quite possibly deserve another name: Professional Self Seekers. The warning is that while being a scientist implies searching unbiasedly for the truth, the fact of the matter is that even a scientist is still human. And humans, by nature are self-seeking and self-promoting, and our egos are more into self-preservation than soul-searching. We come up with ideas about the world, and instead of earnestly seeking to prove that idea correct, we end up seeking to prove ourselves correct. While this is a close cousin, it has been met with great humiliation and tragedy throughout history. Being right becomes our aim, instead of finding the truth and so in turn, in stead of being set free we become slaves. Thinks of the problems with the psuedo-science we get shoved down our throats, or the disgust we have with journalism and politics, or our disillusionment with the church. All come from men and women, taking their eyes off the prize, and turning them inward. And once your ego gets a taste of the glory of being RIGHT, instead of the discovery of what is right, it takes more than a 12 step program to reverse the course, and whole societies get dragged down to the depths faster than if a millstone was tethered to our necks. For we pass on as truth, what we in our hearts know is not. For what? For the sake of appearing and feeling right today? When we know that even if it takes 10, 20, 100 years, the glory next to our names will be amended in the history books to reflect not one of genius and innovation but one of hubris and detriment. If you get too stuck on the idea that you know the truth, then you get blinded by your own self and will surely miss the truth though, it’s staring you in the face.
To fain a full knowledge of even ones self, let alone things outside of one’s self, is but only to prove one’s ignorance…every time. But that’s ok. The joy and beauty is that we do not know it all, but there is one who does and who allows us to know and grasp what we need to know in our day to push the story ahead.