Paradox of Understanding

Core Principle: All things are not understandable until we explain them, as soon as we explain, we don’t understand it.

A core part of a human’s life is in explaining their own life to themselves. A person’s life can be divided into two separate phenomena then:

1. What they experience (raw experience)
2. How they explain what they have experienced (explanation)

In general terms, this is called constructing a story. A start, middle, and end are joined in order to create a whole that when pieced together derive a greater meaning than each separate part alone. In other words, people’s lives can be categorized in large part by the respective stories that they tell themselves (their own explanation of their experiences).

Where do these explanations come from?

1. Cultural and biological influences (things we can’t change)
2. The depth of explanation we’re satisfied with (something we can change)

#2 is closely linked to curiosity, but is not necessarily the case. Regardless of how it comes about, I think it’s fair to say that a person chooses to be satisfied with certain answers, and if they are unsatisfied, to “dig for the Truth.”

Given 6 different males, each with a girlfriend.
One day each girlfriend disappears.
Each does various things to contact her, but there are no responses.
So… each person now has to cope with uncertainty:

Explanations to cope:
Male #1: She probably just went on vacation without telling me and doesn’t have signal now.
Male #2: She probably hates me and is doing this to get back at me in some way.
Male #3: This must be a sign from God/Fate/Karma/ something outside of my control and understanding that I must accept.
Male #4: Thank God, I can take a break from that terrible woman now.
Male #5: Did I do something wrong?
Male #6: What happened?

Male #1 uses a plausible concrete reality to cope.
Male #2 uses a reflective self-shaming to cope.
Male #3 uses a form of religious or spiritual energy (otherworldly) power to cope.
Male #4 uses a projection to cope.
Male #5 declines coping yet, and will consider Truth-seeking with his question.
Male #6 declines coping, and considers the information he has insufficient to declare an explanation.

For Males #1-#4, their job is done. They’ve explained the situation sufficiently for themselves and can in some way move on for the time being.

For Males #5-#6, they will cope with more uncertainty in order to “seek the Truth.”

“Seek the Truth” in quotes because there is no actual truth. If we go back to our first principle at the top, we understand that any explanation is inherently a partial, we don’t understand the entirety (and never will), but instead we’re engaging in a relative “depth of explanation” that that person will be satisfied with.

Even if the girlfriend came back and gave a reason as to why she left, the Truth is still unknown. Why? Because she’s also explaining the raw experience to herself and then explaining it to you. So if your explanations are partial Truths, then how will her telling you her explanation (a partial Truth) be a whole Truth?

The Truth is irrelevant in these cases, as our main focal point is the story. The depth of explanation then is what matters as that forms the building block for a different story based on the same raw experience (my girlfriend disappeared). This story then forms the building blocks of character.

How does story inform character? Take for example, Male #3 vs Male #5:

Male #3 will continually go through life using that same explanation where applicable; in other words, he will think nothing of regret and tend to accept all things as all things are explained as meant to be (otherworldly explanation). He’ll be delusional in some ways (as not all things are meant to be), but also justifiably happy (since he is capable of acceptance), but not more. When everything is “pre-fated”, he doesn’t hold much responsibility for his life, “things just happen” and because of this, he tends to travel light, in heart and spirit. All and all you can say this person will end their life not terribly reflective, but not terribly off from a decent life either. There is a possibility that the explanation will not hold in a more extreme case (take for example, a family member being murdered), then this may be grounds for an intense pain to arise from being unable to use the same explanation to this raw experience.

In comparison, Male #5 will take a different life pathing, one more closely centered on self-reflection and a “chipping away at oneself”: like a sculpture being refined through constant small chippings and a scrutinizing eye. This male takes a desire in controlling things and is at best knowledgeable of the areas in which he can and cannot correct (and therefore control), and at worst, lost to himself, terribly self-critcizing and never knowing the “proper” way to do things. The story constructed here amounts to an intense self-redemption (and therefore joy) at the culminating moments of his life if the “wrong” in his actions is redeemed with “right” in later actions. However, there also stands that chance that this male will not be able to take a corrective action later on, and therefore live with a gnawing sense of pain at the certainty of an unfulfilled resolution (What did I do wrong? –and not having the answer, or having the answer and not being able to redeem it).

In essence, how you choose to explain your life becomes your life. Not because the explanation itself is Truth, but because it was decided that this explanation was going to be your Truth. The raw experience itself is the closest point of Truth, but there is no understanding available there as there can be no explanation for a raw experience other than “this is the case.” The depth of explanation you choose to be satisfied with will in large part dictate the story, and it is also here that a person’s tolerance to uncertainty plays a role. How willing are you to explain things in a different way that also makes sense? Then based on your explanation, you can see which character you tend towards.

See Part 2: Uncertainty of Self

2 thoughts on “Paradox of Understanding

  1. Pingback: Past Understanding | Think and Do

  2. Pingback: Uncertainty of Self | Think and Do

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