How many of us are on a quest for answers!
We want to know WHY this is such and so, and why THAT is allowed by our self-conceived Supreme Being, WHEN our life’s purpose will be known (ladies, I’ve known few of you who don’t ask for that one).
The mentally lazy and indolent are not a part of this discussion, except to point out that many of them are satisfied that things are set up in a semi-sane way and that all they have to do is deal with what is in front of them. In that they are actually correct: Yes, the universe is set up well. Yes, if they deal with what is in front of them, they are accomplishing much of why they are here in the first place.
SOME of us are not satisfied with that approach, though. We have to ASK questions; we have to know WHY, we have to inquire, we see mysteries and we want to tackle them! Hells yeah! as my son would say. Every inquirer, I love you all.
Whether it is in research into technological machining in ancient Egypt (however they managed to do it), or a Starchild skull, or the existence or not of the human soul, or what the f___ crop circles are, inquiring people are my kind of people: people looking for answers.
I am writing this to point out something I’ve found over the years, though – that it is all really about asking the right questions…
From 1st grade on, in our learning environment we have all been exposed to the one question – one answer mentality. We had mimeographed or Xeroxed quizzes and tests laid before us, on our school desks, and it was our duty to pronounce one single answer the one that was correct. Most who are reading this will have been pretty adept at such square-peg-in-the-square=hole question-answer symmetry – in other words, we were pretty good at taking tests, written tests. And for many of us, that kind of task fulfillment has been the way of our careers, too: someone would put folders or forms on our desks, and each one would have certain information to be filled in by us, before we passed it all on to the next in-filler (shades of Gary Cooper’s observation in “John Doe”). There is much satisfaction in that one-to-one correspondence of filling in that one perfect and expected bit of noun-entity-term or adverb/adjective-value-quantity. Our whole world now seems to revolve around information in those discrete quanta called data. And data, by definition, is an answer to the question of “What proper value goes in here, at the juncture of this column and row, or in this blank?”
That is the state of the world, but only from the perspective of participating in a quantified universe. Scientists – of whom programmers are a subset – exist in a universe of quantifiable values, which, of course require quantifiable questions. Your name, your income, your address, your age – all these are wet dreams to scientists and information techies. It is somewhat that anal people, obsessive-compulsives have found a niche, and in that niche they are as happy as plums in your grandma’s pies, all snuggly warm and cozy and secure, under their security blankets. And they have dragged all the rest of us in there with them.
How one can manage a planet with 6.5 billion souls without such manipulation of information, I can hardly imagine. It is indeed serendipitous that potential and capability occurred at such a time, to meet need. How that equation came about is a question for another day, but in one way, it helps to explain what this post is all about. One can, in a very real sense, equate a need with a question – a one-to-one correspondence:
I feel hunger, and the answer to that need is an answer: food. Or my car needs a proper energy source, and the answer is gasoline. My bank account needs more potential to pay my bills, and the answer to that need is a deposit. In the 1970s Paul Ehrlich wrote a monumentally wrong book called “The Population Bomb.” It missed on all its predictions, solely because Ehrlich had not counted on mankind’s capacity to find an answer for supplying goods – especially food – to a larger population than then existed. The food question – the need – was answered by an improved capacity to grow and distribute food. The capacity to answer the need grew along with then question of need.
Does this equivalence display some sort of clue as to how reality works? Will there always be some equivalent to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” – perhaps in the ability for SOMEONE out there to find a way for an increase in ability in his immediate realm of influence, such that grown need causes increases in ability to fill the need? Is there cause-and-effect, therefore, between question and answer, in which asking the question – in itself – allows for some unseen underlying mechanism to find its way into the world through some channel somewhere? If so, does this mechanism always work, or is it a hit-or-miss, random connection? (This post has actually gone in a direction not intended, but a fruitful one, nevertheless! Let’s take that up later, perhaps in another post…)
All the world does not function as a quick quiz, however. There are, in school, oral exams (not in the U.S, though), and certainly essay exams and reports and term papers, which will be graded on (at most) semi-quantifiable values, such as erudition, breadth of knowledge exhibited, cleverness, writing skill, originality, degree of organizing of thoughts and arguments – qualitative characteristics, rather than quantifiable ones.
Much of life is like that. Much of inquiry is also like that. In noetics, in alternative research, inquiry is not quantifiable, at least not obviously so. Answers are gestalts, because very often that is what the questions are asking for. The question of “Do humans have souls?” is a scientist’s – a quantifier’s -question, with the possible answers even being able to be listed for the database as yes/no/possibly so/probably not. And yet, as an answer, it gives no answer. The question being posed like a scientist in a lab would do, with pipettes and galvanometers and spectroscopes and beakers and micro-gram scales – this is not the real question. The real question is, “How can we prove that the human individual has a soul?” And that is only the starting point.
This post is not an inquiry into the human soul, though, but is about the progression or connection (possibly both) from initial qualitative question and . . . and what? I do not want to say “final answer,” because I know there is something slightly more important than that final answer. In between those two is a step-ladder of sorts, from quantum leap to quantum leap – but all of them do not progress from the direction of the initial (and basically ignorant) question. How do I make that assertion? What other direction, you may ask, could the progression come from?
Let me try to illustrate:
- Imagine yourself on a ridge, looking across a mostly wooded valley.
- At your feet there is a trail wending its way, downhill, toward the stream at the bottom which you know is there.
- You can see across the way that a trail comes out on the ridge beyond the valley.
- So, now you know there are two trails, and you want to cross the valley and get to the other side
- Are the trails connected? That is one question.
- If so, can you find the connection and follow it to your destination somewhere beyond the valley?
- It is possible that down below there is no connection. The stream may be impassable, with high walls or a raging torrent. Or perhaps leeches and you HATE leeches!
- It is also possible that hidden in the valley’s woods there are several trails that criss-cross. If so, how do you know which path to take at each of the trail intersections?
- You can only see about 150 feet along the trail ahead of you, where there already is a fork.
- How do you get to the other side?
- We will not put a time limit on this, like sundown is approaching or anything like that. All we want is to connect the beginning and the end somehow.
In this question, there is no answer to fill in. Scientists would declare that the certain way is to map the valley, following each path (and probably use GPS to record all the intersections and your progress). That is how they would solve it – in a quantifiable way. So, in effect, they add blanks with which to fill their ever-enlarging accumulation of answers, ending up with a table from which they will build that map. That will do, won’t it?
But let’s try to approach it another way, to build that map as we can in your head, and not on a GIS database somewhere. What information do we have? We have a bit more than just the bit on our side of the valley, actually, don’t we? We also have the bit we can see on the far side. So, in essence, we are not connecting this crest to each other as much as we are connecting the near portion to the far portion. The answer – the place the trail crosses the next ridge – has already reached back across the valley somewhat, to you. The unknown portion is thus somewhat shorter, though not even close to being complete.
At this point, the following bit has a good potential for bearing fruit, both in general and regarding this navigation problem:
Does the act of searching for something in some magical underlying way access a mechanism that makes the sought for item reach back to the seeker, making it more likely to be found? Or is this merely re-stating that when one searches for something, the effort itself makes discovery of its location more inevitable? After all, a non-Piltdown artifact lying in the earth can’t exactly scrunch up closer to the surface and start mumbling through the remaining dirt, “Hey! I’m over here!” If anything I am suggesting that in some subliminal way the artifact is, indeed, able to magnetize the searcher to that particular location – a gravity creation, as it were. Is this the way serendipity works? If so, what are the mechanisms by which it is enabled, and are there discoverable particulars to the larger mechanism?
Now, back to our problem. The bit of the trail visible on the far side is like that artifact. It is yelling to you, in a sense, and in doing so it is shortening the gap between discoverer and discoveree. This makes the discovery process easier, but does not in itself solve the problem. But you may be quibbling, arguing that the two circumstances are not the same, since the artifact is in the ground, and that there are no paths in under the dirt. A point well taken, but there are some ways that, indeed, there is a path back from the artifact toward you, the searcher. How?
Every inquirer has a certain knowledge; he/she is not a 100% ignorant bump on a log. Whatever amount less than 100% you are is part of how that artifact is able to scream at you and thus shorten the distance to the discovery. If you have learned that that type of artifact is found in washed-out stream beds, that is a clue, yes? Or if it usually appears on ridge crests, that also would help. If it appears at the K-T boundary, oh how much that helps! If it is found at the mouths of caves, in layers 11,000 years old, that is a big help, too, since you know how to recognize when you have dug down past that age of sediments or accrued overburden.
In other words,” knowing your prey” – experience and knowledge, as well as (in the case of the trail into the valley) just plain paying attention, all these will make the journey not one from Point A to Point B, but a journey from Point A” to Point B’. The answer reaches back to help the questioner.
Now, let’s go back to tests. You may have noticed that I did not include the most common test question type of all, the multiple-choice question. With what we just learned about answers sometimes being able to reach back to the questioner, it is obvious that this method is most useful on multiple-choice questions. You are given usually four choices. The last is usually none of the above, which usually means you need to analyze all of the choices before selecting that answer. Some advisors on test taking actually advocate to simply pop the answers into the question and see if it fits. That is an extreme form of what I am talking about here. They are letting the artifact jump out of the ground, so the searcher can look it over and see if it is the kind he is looking for. Ones he can’t use, he can toss to the side (if he is a sloppy arkie), or possibly mark it and then replace it the way he found it, for future researchers to find and know someone has been here before.
HOW THIS WORKS WHEN TAKING A TEST
In taking tests I often let the answers guide me, but I always ran the question 100% all the way through. After a quick read of the question, I could usually eliminate one or two of the possible answers, before beginning, and then the answers meant something to me. At some point in solving the problem, I could see that there was a direct path to one of the answers, even while I was till writing/calculating. The thing then was to not muck up the last stages. But knowing the likely outcomes, shortened the exercise immensely. Working it out 100% before comparing my calculated answer with the available choices was too time-consuming, plus if none of them matched my calculated answer, then I was in for it! I would have to then start analyzing my work! Or worse yet, I might have to begin again! If I knew the probable answers, then when I got close to the end and it didn’t lead to one of the probables, I would have less to review, so it shortened the process.
One other method that worked for me was to jump to a conclusion and then test it. This is analogous to the advice of the test-taking experts, except that it entails reading the question and then letting your experience and your subconscious mind aim your eyes onto one answer or another. This might sound stupid, but I can assure you it has worked for me over the years. I will say this, though: The more you intimately know your subject, the more reliable this is. Somehow, something in the mind works with the subconsious mind and the eyes to help the eyes land on the right answer. Do I know how each step works? No. Does it actually work and I am just bullshitting myself? While it is possible, I have certainly asked that question myself, and I can only report back that somehow it continued to work, even though my conscious mind was doing all sorts of things that would normally get one out of a receptive/subconsious-y mode.
One might also be tempted to equate this method
The trail problem above will not have a clean, magical, solution for you, I am sorry to say. It will still be necessary to flounder or map or take a ball of string or use one’s compass or GPS to find your way – but the distance to be dealt with will be less. The point is two-fold: The answer itself can help you to find it AS the answer, plus you have more ways than just trodding out from Point A, in a technician’s plodding way. The latter is how science often works. Yet if one looks at the history of discovery, many were found because of serendipity. I see that serendipity as not an accident, but as something else.
Ouspensky talked about unitive knowledge, where the observer is not separated from the object observed, but is in a sense one with it. I read that almost 40 years ago and recall clearly understanding how that helps researchers/inventors/scientists. The more intimately one knows the subject, has immersed deeply into it, the more one identifies with it, and – in a very real sense I think the person is able to say with a straight face, “If I was this object, how would I feel, or how would I co-exist in/with the world?” Being able to ask that question means crossing over a barrier, to go beyond a threshold. Until that question can be asked, real knowledge of the observed object is not possible. The answer to the question?… read on a bit more. . .
My description above of taking tests is still replete with logic. There is a method and one follows it to expedite finding quantitative answers. But now I will tell you two things: In mathematics (which I won the school’s Math Award for), I considered it to be an intuitive thing. In engineering, the same thing has held true most of my career. The two differed mostly in that the engineering problems were usually much larger and more complex, but essentially the approach was much the same. Something connected me to the problems, at some deeper level, at a level where the distance between observer/questioner and answer was a very short distance. Answers or approaches would come to me, would direct my attention in one direction instead of another, and almost always it gave me the right approach. Now that I don’t use math as much anymore, when I take tests, this does not happen, and I have to actually work them all out.
So what is this other level? I believe it is that level Ouspensky talked about, unitive knowledge, where the observer and the observed merge, where you are no longer asking, “What is going on with this object?” but are simply experiencing it because you are inside its world, inside its head. There is no question anymore. There is only being it.
Now, in our world if you tell someone you are one with that steel bar, I assure you everyone in the room will slide to the fa-a-a-a-a-r end of the bench. Slo-o-o-o-wly, and carefully, so as to not upset you. But I can also tell you that inch by inch, the more you immerse yourself into what you are working on, the more – and better – questions you will be able to ask.
I worked in R&D for almost 7 years. I got to work with several PhD types, and it was a revelation for me, not so much learning from them as it was the projects I got to work on. There was one who I still recall learning about some of the mental processes scientists use, and I am indebted to him for that. But the main thing I learned was that at the start of looking at a problem, the questions available to the minds of the inquirers was quite limited, but as we learned more and more, then deeper questions began to appear, allowing us to move deeper yet, and most times we were able to stay with it and ask more probing questions, which led to deeper and more intimate understandings, which fed back into even better questions. Eventually, we were able to arrive at the question – THE question – the one we were really looking for.
And you know what? Every time, when we were able to ask that question, the answer was staring us in the face. The question answered itself. Inevitably, THE question was s simple question, too. Go figure!
The important thing was our evolution to the point where that question would actually mean something to us – THE something. It was a matter of advancing us to a certain point. Several times I looked back and saw that even if we’d asked that last question earlier, the answer would not have meant enough to us.
I am convinced that in science and areas science does not touch on yet or never will (political disputes comes to mind) this approach will allow for finding answers to the most intimate secrets of the universe, to unsolved mysteries, to new capacities for energy and travel. I would love to have the chance to spread this approach.
I believe it is a matter of working as much on the people as it does working on the problems.
The current scientific paradigm for solving problems is to throw lots of scientists at the problem.
It is the model of the Manhattan Project: assign great minds to tackle what amount to engineering and techie bits and pieces, and because of the collective brilliance, monumental brilliance will be achieved. But that approach has not worked. Even on the Manhattan Project, as of June 1945, they had less than half the nuclear material they needed, and the war was already over in Europe. Read Dr. Joseph Farrell to see what happened. We got the remaining fissile material from the Germans, it seems, according to Dr. Farrell. If so – and he absolutely asserts it is true – then the Manhattan Project was essentially a failure. It would be instructive to see if we imported any German nuclear scientists immediately after the war.
Big Science began then, and it has been the model ever since: more brains equals more brilliance. Yet, where are the promised fusion power plants? Where is the free energy? Most techie developments since then have come from small, focused groups, or from individuals. PCR – essentially the Biochemical equivalent of the splitting of the atom – came from Kerry Mullis, working for a large company, but seeing something others didn’t see; a single person gave us genetic testing and made possible the human genome project. The personal computer? Now that was made possible by some mix of the two, some large and some small. Xerox Park had the first desktop in 1975, but they forced their own people to abandon it. Those people saw the value in it and GAVE all of it to Apple. The operating system that IBM did not see as very important in principle fell into the lap of someone named Bill Gates at some small garage operation named MicroSoft, who essentially stole the thing almost lock-stock-and-barrel from another small company, which would have gotten all those untold billions except the top guy was out of the office and his underlings didn’t want to sign a non-disclosure agreement with IBM. The underlying commonality here is small, small, small – intimate knowledge being the driver.
If we are to some day have teleportation and hyper drives and replicators, it will not come from the mega-science projects Hollywood assails our senses with. It will not come from megalomaniacal billionaires like Iron Man. It will come from researchers who get all cozied-up to and intimately familiar with their projects. Star Trek’s Zephren Cochrane is more the model we will find who leads us past the limitations of Einstein’s Relativity (which 100% of scientists are 100% certain prevents and fast-than-light-travel).
We need someone to prove that Einstein is one of those really monumentally wrong scientists. If we don’t, we will never go to the stars. We need Einstein to be wrong, which means someone has to find a hole in Relativity and run with it. Everyone who is enamored of Big Al is too star struck to do it. We need someone young enough and foolish enough to think he is the next Einstein or next Newton.
Will someone step up, or are we constrained to this small but beautiful planet forever?