Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Simplicities to Complexities: Seeking the Absolute Truth

When I was a kid, I was told that I could have the answers to most of my questions if I got myself a solid education. I somehow believed that theory, that as one grows old, one acquires more skills and knowledge, gets more experience in doing things, and life becomes less complex. I believed it at age 10 perhaps, but not anymore.

I wonder if the purpose of knowledge and education is meant to reduce, or increase ambiguity. As a kid, the answers to my questions were simple and absolute. There was no ambiguity about it. I learned that 2 plus 2 is always going to be 4. I believed that the harder you worked, the better your grades were. I believed that good behavior always earned you appreciation. I knew that no one dies before old age hits them. These were the absolute truths that I had verified with my little experience with the world. I had very set ideas about things, and those made complete sense to me. I knew that you could never fall in love with a man if he was younger to you or shorter in height (those were my theories then). In between grades 3rd and 7th, I was absolutely certain that I had found the right person for me (a classmate I had a crush on for years), and would marry him someday. I studied Moral Science as a subject and was absolutely certain about the presence of God (I knew he lived everywhere, but his favorite place was the church behind our school building). I knew students who worked hard studied science, and went to America. Another absolute truth for me then.

However, as I learned more and gained more experience, I realized that there is perhaps nothing called an absolute truth. Sure not working hard doesn’t get you anywhere, but working hard might also not get you anywhere. My inherent programming makes me want to believe in God, but honestly, I am not so sure of his existence anymore. I know that love can go unreciprocated and totally haywire. I also know that it is totally possible to fall in love with a man younger to you, or shorter than you are. The research papers I read usually end with “it is more likely that this is associated with that”, instead of a “we are absolutely certain that this combined with this leads to this”. I have vigilantly presided over my cookery and ended up with unpalatable food, but I fell asleep after setting something to bake, and it ended up being a crispy golden brown dessert that was totally worth eating. I now know that working the hardest doesn’t necessarily make you the smartest, and you could study everything and still flunk. The guy who got lower grades than you in school could be making ten times more money than you are, and not every good deed goes appreciated. Someone with almost no publications could get into Harvard, while someone with many publications could end up in a local small university.

As a kid, I always thought there is an absolute answer that fits everyone’s questions. Not anymore. When I ask myself a basic question like, “Should I get married?”, I honestly don’t know the answer to it, even with all my knowledge and wisdom. On one hand, it sounds like a wonderful idea, companionship and all, but on the other hand, I am not so sure if it is that much of a value addition in my life. The honest answer is, “I don’t know”. Yet if you asked me the same question as a kid, I would have said, “Of course. Everyone should be married before they grow old and have white hair.” Then, there are other existential questions I struggle with, I have no direct answer to. Even in an experiment, the atoms and molecules all do not behave as predicted, and I hear that there is a certain probability of observing a difference or variation due to chance. There is nothing called the absolute reality, and our realities differ, and even exist in multiple dimensions. How else would you explain Dabang being a super hit, and Andaz Apna Apna being a flop?

With time, I see a major rift in the philosophy of my life. The assumptions of physical sciences do not translate to the assumptions of the human sciences. How humans make meaning of a particular phenomenon varies. I always thought science was singular, convergent, and fragmented, as opposed to being multiple, divergent, and inter-related. I always thought that if you can replicate a process and get the same answer, you have achieved the truth. But then you make errors, both type I and type II, where you can either wrongly agree to something which is wrong, or wrongly disagree to something which is right. Not everyone is free, liberated, and happy, even if they have access to similar resources or luxuries. Some people eat a lot and never put on a pound, while some hapless souls like me could live on oxygen alone, and still keep expanding. I once used to have a constellation of values and beliefs about the way the world works. I knew that as you add more to the database of knowledge, problems became clearer and solutions come up, leading to a less complicated and more simplistic world overall. However, the truth is neither generalized, nor can be triangulated upon. The best one can do is achieve the nearest approximation. Now if this is what my philosophy after 25 years of being in school (I discount the first 3 years of my life, and the 2 years in between when I worked), I wonder if my education is worth anything at all. I also question this after the adviser recently read something I wrote and said, “With these ideas of yours, you will never find a job.” If I cannot find a job after being in school for more than 25 years, I question the value and validity of all that I have learned so far.



cringe-all said...

Yes this is what "growing up" is all about. Oh yes, and this also has to do with "overeducation". Now you have to decide whether this scares you, or makes you feel better about yourself. If the former then delude yourself into being very assertive. If the latter, you can be an "antel" and delight in ambiguities. I belong to the latter category, and I think kids are stupid, neurotic, hypermoralistic little things, and a majority of the people around us delude themselves into being perennial kids thinking that this is what makes them happy. I maintain that a sense of absurdity of life is one of the most valuable realisations one can make.

Kunal said...

There are no absolute answers..I think..its better to realize this sooner than later...But may be..that is the fun and beauty of it...knowing that..same situations in life for different people will lead to different results and also different situations for different people may lead to same results. We have got to live with this ambiguity and unpredictability and also find our way to thrive in it and seek satisfaction and happiness.


Nidhi said...

Your posts are always a delight to read! And for one ambiguity of yours, no, marriage is not an end to the loneliness and search of companionship. Not always.

rt said...

Sometimes your posts make me realize that we are all not unique human beings. I could have written more than half of what you wrote in the same way and maybe same words.
Anyways about your post - I wonder about the same questions so many times. But may be people like us or may be in same social situations - single/30/Indian female think the same way ;)[kidding]
Keep writing - i can see my thoughts in words when i read your post- saves me the effort of typing over and btw i like them too[ur posts]

Badri said...

I think the biggest learning of life is to have a open mind and accept things as they unravel.

Only when your mind is fixed and rigid, learning stops and things become complicated.

Even with your advisor saying such things, things would turn out well if you keep your mind open.

M said...

I'm at a point where my graduation date is closer that I want it to be. And I'm dealing with the same questions. All those hitch-hikers and world travellers that I've had the fortune of meeting tempt to throw all caution to wind and go on an adventure. Figure stuff out on the way. But my innate Indian-ness tells me I should settle down, marry, have a family and so on. I want to do it all, and which way is right (for me), I don't know. :)

Express said...

Ah! I'm in a worse phase than you are, if that seems possible to you.

All I can say is that, I usually dont read long posts, but this one was VERY well written.

I wonder about similar things, ask similar questions.. all ideas in the head are vague.. and all things we know for sure are always a blur.

This is turning out to be one of my favorite blogs! *no exaggerations*

and all you need is a little change in perspective maybe? I'm choosing to try and do a PhD. whether it is a good idea or not, time will tell :)

Biddu said...

Nothing else is Absolute Truth apart from the individual self...and knowledge of the self is the absolute try knowing yourself every moment of your fact I find this post to be a reflection of your knowing yourself...which will continue and you will keep posting the results in the form of this blog and we will keep getting delighted reading this :)

onlymandars said...

A good post, as always :)
In short, life is not always fair .... however, I think life is "eventually" fair!

onlymandars said...

Nice post, as always :)
In short, life isn't always fair .... do believe though that life is "eventually" fair!

silcador said...

Very well written!

In the zen style:"True knowledge is the knowledge of ignorance"

Arnab Majumdar said...

Someone rightly said that truth is a fickle minded soul. Truth is what you see in your own eyes - much like beauty, or morality.

Arnab Majumdar on