Friday, May 1, 2009

Contemplating Contemplation

I recently had an epiphany of sorts. I was in discussion with someone who made the interesting if unusual claim that if peoples life experiences influenced their religious leanings then those who contemplated life deeply would logically become Christians whereas those who only focused on daily life would not. I handily refuted such argument by pointing out that deep thinkers such as scientists, philosophers, and artists often reject superstition while simpleminded folk embrace it. Yes this was a bit insulting on my part but I am sometimes prone to that. His argument however did get me thinking about the role of contemplation in life, particularly my life.

I am greatly prone to contemplation, regardless of whether I am discussing physics, biology or a walk in the park I am always seeking the meaning behind it. My initial post to this blog, a half drunken ramble about a meal I prepared has proven defining for me. Contemplating that has as much value as anything else.

A virtual acquaintance of mine who may well be reading this has begun espousing a philosophy of love being the basis of all morality and anything other than love is contrary to morality. I don't precisely agree with this but it is as good as anything else. All that is required for truth to be found is contemplation itself. It doesn't matter if you begin with love, hate, science, fantasy, a walk in the park, the night sky, or a good dinner, as long as you contemplate. Truth isn't in the details it is in finding the meaning behind the details.

Stephen Hawkings is no doubt a brilliant astronomer but I believe he is also a brilliant philosopher. While he supplements his philosophy with evidence and mathematics his true brilliance is his ability to envision the meaning of things. This is equally true of Albert Einstein or Richard Dawkins or any other scientific mind.

Contemplation is not however the exclusive realm of the brilliant. A genius may find conclusions more swiftly and with less struggle than the simple minded but he will reach the same place. Anyone can contemplate reality. No expertise or instrumentation is needed beyond the human mind and the human senses. Look in to the night sky, observe the stars. Now think of the very human assumption that this expanse must have an end. Then compare this with the equally human assumption that it can not end. Now try to reconcile the two. All of the truths of physics will come spinning through your mind. You may lack the terminology or the calculation but you will be contemplating the same truths as Dr. Hawkings.

I have discovered a simple fact about myself. I don't want knowledge so much as meaning. I want to understand how I see things as much if not more than what things are. I have also discovered that the two are not incompatible. Seeking after meaning leads to seeking after knowledge and finding knowledge leads to finding meaning. Human beings are all both scientist and philosopher. We are creatures of contemplation. A Buddhist monk on a mountain, a hermit in a cave, a scientist in a lab, or a man talking about a walk in the park are all doing the same thing. Looking beyond what is and finding what it means.


Whateverman said...

There's a lot in this post I agree/identify with. My life is primarily internal; I have friends and family and we do fun stuff, but I'm much more complex on the inside. Philosophy, introspection, empathy, etc - it's a constant tangle of thoughts.

Before coming to SMRT, my blog was really active, and I think that's because I like writing about what I'm thinking. So in this sense, I can relate to some part of what you're writing about and why you're doing so.

On the other hand, I disagree slightly with something you wrote in your last paragraph:

Seeking after meaning leads to seeking after knowledge and finding knowledge leads to finding meaning.I think this is true only in "enlightened" individuals. It's not the default condition. Most of the people I've met on teh internetz and in real life generally stick to only one of the two. There may be hints of the other, but it seems to me people choose one and then avoid the other.

Maybe you're right, or at least, maybe your experience is different than mine.

I think about it some more :)

Ryk said...


I think those who don't find meaning in seeking knowledge fail to find it because they are not contemplating they are being dogmatic and only seeking facts that support their preconceived notions.

Of course this is simple opinion on my part there is no objective standard to measure it against,

Kerri Love said...

I agree with what you're saying. I seem to live most of my life in my own mind. I don't just try to understand my own feelings but I love to put myself in the shoes of others and try and understand what they are thinking and why. How do they look at their own actions or beliefs, what is their motivation? So I try to do things with love AND understanding. I like to look at situations not just from my side, but from all sides. Why would someone believe what they believe or say what they say… for example (I’ve used this before) I recently read that Jackie Chan said he didn’t think freedom was right for China. This made some people quite angry, but I tried to think of why he might feel that way. I may not agree with his statement, but I want to understand his reason. Perhaps he believes that having such a structured life is actually good for the country. Or that this structure helps keeps away immorality. I may not agree with his reasons, but I want to understand why he feels the way he does. If I don’t understand, how can I argue against it… It’s easy to just condemn someone, but if you try to understand without judgment, then you are better off when trying to bring about change. I think that in order to do this, you have to do what you are talking about. That knowledge and meaning go hand in hand and to truly have one, you have to have the other.

Kerri Love said...

sorry for the lack of paragraphs, my writing skills are not stellar