Can We Ever Find All The Answers We Are Looking For?
I remember one time in class my professor said that scientists develop theories to simplify complex phenomena and make it understandable. As we discussed one theory after another, we all agreed that none provided all the answers, only bits and pieces. I raised my hand to express my unsatisfied curiosity and asked my professor why the theories didn’t reflect the complexity of the phenomena. They said: “scientists are not philosophers; scientists simplify things and philosophers make them complicated”. My mind went on a trip. I began thinking about the relationship between the complexity of the world we live in and our ability to conceptualize it in Academia.
In almost all of my social science classes (I study Psychology and Political Science), I always leave lectures with many question marks in my head. The more I learn, the more questions I come up with. Is it because it’s impossible to translate the great complexity of the world we live in into any one or a series of theories? I asked myself and others. A number of my professors said that it is indeed difficult to come up with any complete factual theories (or find all the answers) because the world is too complex and knowledge is continuously evolving. In addition, the scientific method is designed in a way that reflects such complexity as it demands rigorous skepticism and falsifiability. I eventually learned to accept the fact that I will never find all the answers to my endless questions and that is in fact both inevitable and important for the continuous expansion of human knowledge.
Although many studies and theories will not provide “all the answers”, they provide insight; direction; and a degree of clarity. I came across many theories and experiments during my studies that had a common theme. They provided clarity and answers that, although require further development, have increased knowledge of both the complex world inside of us and the one we inhabit. Even the absurd ones that are termed unscientific provided direction to how we can avoid the flawed approaches they adopted, by shedding light on natural inconsistencies in human thinking like our cognitive tendency to be biased and take mental shortcuts.
I learned to view knowledge as non-linear in its entirety. For example, a step-by-step explanation can be found in some studies but they are usually followed by a section that covers the limitations of that explanation for other scientists to further develop as part of the scientific method. I can also find concrete answers in some books, only to later understand that the concreteness is articulated by the author as such and that it’s in fact only a perspective, not an absolute truth. Yet there’s some truth in all studies and books making available knowledge a perfect reflection of our human condition; complex and evolving.
Perhaps, the next step in our collective evolution is recognizing the great complexity of our human nature and our world both in Academia and in normal everyday settings. Despite the great uncertainty and the complexity of both the world we live in and our ability to understand it, there’s still pressure to be right, clear, and concise when developing a study, an argument, or writing an essay. Likewise, there’s pressure outside academic circles to defend our opinions and have a clear or consistent worldview. Many of us become super self-conscious if our work is criticized or if our opinions are deemed invalid because we fear being wrong and we oftentimes fail to recognize that “wrong” and “right” are socially constructed. It’s not that anything we produce or any opinion we have is lacking, but it’s the fact that they are not set in stone and are always subject to the evolution of knowledge.
To recognize the complex ambiguous layers that make up knowledge is not to stop trying to be right and concise and it’s not to stop having opinions, rather it’s to become a little less judgmental towards those with different opinions, and a little more open to learning new things even if they completely shatter our worldviews. It is to become a little more flexible in our approaches, and a little less attached to our opinions. Perhaps when we encourage a culture of openness and intellectual humility, more of us will become encouraged to both express our minds and watch others express theirs without negative judgement; only the type of judgement that contributes to human learning and the evolution of knowledge.
We don’t have all the answers, but we have something much greater; that is our ability to think, learn, create, and conceptualize evolving knowledge. And who said that being knowledgeable equals to having “answers”?