The other night a student asked me, “don’t you ever get tired of dealing with stuff that doesn’t have answers?” This question deserves some consideration.
The first thing you might think is that just because we don’t know the answer doesn’t mean that there’s not an answer. Another way to say it is that though it’s not clear there is an answer, it’s also not clear that there’s not one. Sometimes just recognizing that there’s not an easy answer improves our thinking about the question.
The second thing we may think is just because we don’t know the answer doesn’t mean we can’t know what the answer couldn’t be. The history of ideas informs us that we’ve often come to some of our most brilliant insights by shutting the door on ways the world couldn’t be. Questions such as our spatio-temporal place in the universe improved considerably once we figured out that we weren’t the center of the universe. Knowing that closes the door on those options and makes us focus harder on the hypotheses that are still on the table.
Of course, we may think we know the answer, but the healthiest position, about anything and especially the most important things, is that we don’t know if we’re right but make the jump anyways. We can’t spend our entire life withholding belief in the substantive questions that plague us – we have to fix the ship while we’re at sail, as it were. We don’t get this on the cheap, and we have an obligation to consider our position in the cognitive landscape as we jump and while we’re falling. Kierkegaard’s true insight was that genuineness comes not from being so absolutely sure that we don’t consider the possibility of us being wrong, but rather from being sure while granting that we could be wrong. That uncertainty–that recognition that, though we leap with all we are, we could be wrong–is what separates the humanity within us from the mere machines that we use in our lives.
Imagine the world in which, for any emotional heartache, there’s one and only one song that soothes it; for every scrape, there’s a particular bandaid and a particular way to apply that bandaid; for every desire, there’s one and only way know to fulfill it; one way to express an idea as complicated and important as love.
For my lot, I’ll take the world of experimentation, of trial and error, of my own way to show Angela that I love her. So, don’t I ever get tired of dealing with stuff that doesn’t have answers? Sometimes. But, at the end of the day, I’d rather live in a world like our own that leaves the important stuff open than a world in which we all have the answers.