There’s a rational explanation for everything, but we are not open minded creatures. We cannot do away with what we think we know. To bravely embrace the complex and the unknown, we have to first accept that some explanations are bigger than our capacity for understanding them. We may have to shed identities and associations as a result. Changing our minds can be scary.
I’ll illustrate my point with an interesting conversation I had last Saturday about an episode of House, MD (3.23 The Jerk). I wrote down the chemical formula for nitrogen, NO2, which someone said was “water”. I tried again with, seventy eight percent of the air’s composition? Ahhh… That. Nitrogen is the building block of protein molecules. Surely you learned this in tenth grade chemistry? No. Since I don’t have the chemical structure of a typical protein stored in memory, not that it would make a difference, I stated my point simply: some people’s bodies cannot break down nitrogen. As a result, they suffer liver damage. Therefore, those people cannot eat lean protein, or meat. They can have a small amount of protein from a vegetarian diet. Ahhhhh.
There are things I can’t understand, like Big Data. Even Big Data experts don’t get it. Because, it’s too big. Or SEO. Or Ariana Grande’s baby hairs. I will happily exchange a twenty minute overview or a five second glimpse for a four hour particle physics lecture or rewatch that five hour final between Nadal and Federer. I try to draw those comparisons when people tell me they can’t wrap their mind around something.
Ancient man had access to Big Data, but being free of bias, having recently emerged from the soup, he may have been more open to creating comfort and stability for his community. However, it might have been difficult for him to explain how he came by his information on social engineering, scholarship, exploration, geology, art and philosophy. So, he invented a Holiness to explain the source of his inspiration to build civilisations.
We are still limited in our understanding of the universe, so we will plod along in our absurd and often lethal interpretations of our predecessors’ methods of preserving their data for us. We don’t speak the same languages. Furthermore, subsequent civilisations destroyed, suppressed or distorted data that was not amenable to their political agendas.
To some degree, untruths have prevented us from devolving into a complete state of chaos, out of which we would need to work hard to recreate stable societies. Gomorrah was the centre of a civilisation more advanced than ours is today, and its destruction after an unforeseen seismic event illustrates what happens when we do not listen to learned counsel. In its aftermath, it was necessary to construct meaningless totems, and use these as reminders that we are not alone in the universe. In other words, ancient man made up something that we would understand just from the sight of it.
Sadly, we suck at interpreting information presented to us. We drive cars and talk to smart phones. We are closed minded because we believe our handling of gadgets makes us superior to those who have not. In truth, our attention to them is distracting us from turning on each other.
Let’s say that the boy on the savannah represents humans one hundred million years after we crawled out of the primordial soup. We were literally fish out of water. The boy grew up to be a man. He has no idea where his guidance came from just before the Deluge, as the sequence of events was presented to him as images.
But, the moon loomed large in his eyes as testament to his deliverance from cataclysmic changes in Earth’s climatology. The moon appears shortly before this change. It became a symbol of survival. The boy’s journey upward, to higher ground, was the first purposeful form of exploration ever undertaken. It is not moon worship that we are looking at, but a timeless commemoration of that moment of deliverance.
The Earth is a living breathing organism that shifts under our feet. It is a perfect living thing and boundless in its beauty. In a way, we are still fish out of water. It doesn’t matter what paleoclimatologists, geologists or biblical scholars tell you. No amount of digging or incanting can change how we got here, or help us truly know what happened in the past. We dig and we pray to escape the weight of a most pressing responsibility: We alone hold the future in our hands.
Update: February 2, 2015
Illustrating my point about “moon worship” is a recent article about Norse worship in Iceland. Örn Hilmarsson, high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, said “I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet. We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology.” Membership in Ásatrúarfélagið is currently at 2,400 members.