Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Secret of the Universe

Have you ever had this happen to you? A friend comes up, presses a book into your hands, and says something on the order of, "Read this. It changed my life." No? You're lucky. It happened to me last night, and, being a compliant sort (muffled laughter in the background) I took some time to read in it. I found an interesting heading: Incontrovertible proof of immortality. Now this struck me, as I've always had a secret hankering to be immortal, so I read on. The text was only about a hundred words, and the gist of it was something like, "There is no separation of the 'I' from life. You don't have a life; you are a life. So, you can't lose what you don't have." QED. I really haven't twisted the text at all. I came away realizing I had read nonsense in the purest use of the word: non-sense. The writer had strung words together and they made syntactic sense, but that was it. There was no data, no logical chain of reasoning (as you find in, for instance, Descartes's' exposition of cogito, ergo sum). Nothing except a sort of cryptic reference to the unity of existence.
There are two kinds of self-help books, I think. There are the practical ones (How to win friends and influence people kind of thing), and then there are those that promise you the totality of enlightenment. These are dangerous. They are flimsy strings of assertions parading as facts; they ignore all hard-gained knowledge in biology, physiology, evolutionary studies, physics, psychology, and economics; they offer no replicable studies, hard data, or even tight reasoning. Worst, they say that the scientists and thinkers of the world are wrong because "they don't have the secret."
I've got news. Nobody has the secret. There ain't no secret. It's best expressed in the koan, "Before enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water; after enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water."

1 comment:

bekkieann said...

Oh, one of my favorite subjects. As a friend of mine likes to say, religions have the easiest sales job in the world: you purchase a product they don't have to deliver until after you die.

Okay, that's a bit cynical. For myself, I like to pick and choose the things that make sense to me or that make my life seem a little more worthwhile.

P.S. Glad to see some new posts!