Man: The Inquisitive Creature

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“What we call visible nature or this world must be but a veil and surface-show whose full meaning resides in a supplementary unseen or other world”. (William James) (1)

Man never gives up the habit of posing critical questions about himself and life. Because man is endowed with a unique faculty of reasoning that is exclusively characteristic of him, it stands to reason that man has a legitimate right in posing such questions.

Astonishingly, this involuntary and irresistible habit to question things has treated all people on an equal basis, because all various parties develop a natural tendency to put forward the same basic, but significant, questions. Most – if not all – of us seem to arrive at the same cul-de-sac when it comes to answering questions about life such as: why am I here? And, what will happen to me after death?

Through the ages, these questions have been asked by great philosophers, scientists, thinkers, and at the same time, simple villagers, uneducated people and children alike. These are the kind of questions which force parents to evade answering their child’s curiosity by saying, It‘s a good idea not to ask these questions my dear, or just stand there perplexed and openmouthed.

Although, it is true that man has instituted vast and complex organizations to administer his affairs and seems to have reached the pinnacle of material progress, he fails to fathom the mystery of existence, the mystery of infinity and eternity, the mystery of birth and death (2). This situation has encouraged man to adopt different approaches towards comprehending reality; approaches that involved various schools of study and research ranging from the science of philosophy, with all its ramifications, to that of natural science and natural theology. Brian Greene, a contemporary scientist, assesses the true value of all scientific undertakings achieved so far by saying:

“Progress in physics, such as understanding the number of space dimensions; or progress in neuropsychology, such as understanding all the organizational structures in the brain; or, for that matter, progress in any number of other scientific undertakings may fill in important details, but their impact on our evaluation of life and reality would be minimal. Surely, reality is what we think it is; reality is revealed to us by our experiences” (3).

Before Greene, Erwin Schrodinger, the German physicist and Nobel Prize winner, wrote with dismay:

“The scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient…It [science[ cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously” (4).

Out of this frustration came a dire need to question the validity of man‘s approaches towards understanding reality.

Would it be reasonable to continue pursuing the answer through materialistic methods in order to unravel mysteries of a metaphysical nature? Questions like these have revived human interest in practices once discredited as mythical, superstitious, and out-dated, practices such as magic, pseudospiritualism, mysticism, voodoo-like rituality, and occult religiosity. These too only worsened the human predicament and turned life into an illusion, unworthy of any appreciation.

Regrettably, the problem at hand appears to be a cyclic one (5). When man reaches the climax of his efforts to identify his state of being, there is the possibility of getting entangled in the fallacies of another man-made conceptualization or being veered off by the miscalculations of human conjecture.

Is there a way out? Will there be a time when man begins to acquire a strong distaste for his pompous theorizations and come to realize the misleading aftermaths of human speculation?

At this critical stage, religion has a word to say. But before we listen to it, let us pose these starter questions to guide our discussion:

What is religion? Is it a man-made conception? If not, then in what way can it answer our questions and dismiss our longstanding uncertainties?

Author : Abdullah S. Al-Shehri  

(1) James, Williams (1895) Is Life Worth Living? International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 6, No. 1, (Oct.), p. 10.

(2) Ahmad, Khurshid (1988) Islam: its Meaning and Message, edited by Khurshid Ahmad, United Kingdom, p. 11-12.

(3) Greene is stressing the problem of having to rely on our subjective experiences, where reality is most likely distorted and incomplete (Greene, B. (2004) The Fabric of the Cosmos, Vintage Books, p. 4-5).

(4) Schrodinger, Erwin (2001) Why Not Talk Physics? In Wilber, Ken (Ed.) Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World’s Greatest Physicists, p.83, Shambhala, Boston & London.

(5) The great philosophers of antiquity such as Socrates, Democritus, Plato, Aristotle, and their successors were more efficient generating questions than giving satisfactory answers. Their intellectual legacy, although rich and diverse, remains the source of many unresolved problems.

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