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Bubble-gum Pink Porous Blobs
Bubble-gum Pink Porous Blobs
When we’re little our brains are like sponges: bubble-gum pink, porous blobs that suck up whatever random knowledge is thrown at us. We probe a beehive with a stick, get chased by a swarm of twenty vicious wasps and learn that bees are mean, don’t go near them. We sing the alphabet song in kindergarten and learn there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet. In math class we learn that 2+2=4 and that the first derivative of sin is cos.
And so went my childhood, my brain constantly absorbing and storing away. By the time I was three, my brain had already formed 1000 trillion connections between neurons (Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy). I could walk, talk, run, laugh and do other amazing things three-year-olds can do. So my brain’s absorbent nature was a good thing- mostly. My subconscious absorbing methods only became problematic when I extended them to bigger things.
My spongy brain didn’t distinguish opinion from fact- it accepted everything as truth. Thus, whenever anyone made a statement about God’s existence or the impossibility of life after death I adopted it: not only as my own, but also as a universal, obvious truth that couldn’t be refuted by any logical person. But now I realize I was the illogical one to believe, with full certainty, that greater truths exist absolutely. How naïve.
I shouldn’t be too hard on myself, though: blind faith is in our nature. We often cling to our beliefs despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Gatsby believes that one can relive the past. Willy Loman believes that he made the right choice in becoming a salesman. We find comfort in the idea of one absolute truth. And if only one version of the “truth” is actually true, as long as we accept the widely-believed truth, we will never be wrong. Or at least that’s the idea. We avoid ridicule and embarrassment, and progress.
Rubashov from Arthur Koestler’s Darkness At Noon warns us of the consequences of a society that conforms to one universal view of truth. Koestler holds that such a society would be ruthlessly totalitarian, and thus sets his novel in Russia during the Moscow Trials of the 1930’s. In this Communist society, “whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth," and if anyone even slightly deviates from this vision of truth, they must pay (Orwell). Thus, when Rubashov, a devout member of the old Communist guard, clashes with the new guard, he is taken as a political prisoner and placed on death row. Rubashov is then interrogated mercilessly until he chooses to submit to the beliefs of the new Guard. While in his cell awaiting execution, Rubashov experiences a crisis of conscience. Painful memories of the executions of his lover and secretary Arlova, and his friends Richard and Little Lowe, strike Rubashov, and he is forced to ask himself “For what actually are you dying?” but “ he [finds] no answer” (Koestler 301).
Since Rubashov (and millions of people under totalitarian regimes) died for something he didn’t believe in, my faith in the certainty of absolute truth has been irretrievably shaken. Rubashov dissented from the party’s view of truth, but what would make the party’s truth any more valid than Rubashov’s beliefs? Koestler seems to suggest that power gives one the right to define truth. But power is transient. No one can hold onto it forever. Someone else will take the throne. And then what? Suddenly the new leader decides what is true and what isn’t? It’s extremely likely that his idea of truth will clash with the previous leader’s conception in at least some small regard. Thus, if leaders decide the absolute truth, the truth will contradict itself as the reins of power are passed from generation to generation. At the very least, this proves that truth changes with time, and is only absolute, if absolute at all, for a finite amount of time.
If the apperception of the protean nature of truth is positively correlated with time, then perhaps I’m not old enough or experienced enough to write this essay. But this is exactly my point. No one is ever old enough or experienced enough to know the absolute truth. And they never will be. The truths of our day expire with the next generation. But even given an infinite amount of time, we will never discover absolute truth because it’s subjective. Protorgas, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, voiced this sentiment perfectly, “What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me, is true for me. Truth is subjective.”
Some members of my own family, however, would maintain the opposite: that truth is objective, certain and unwavering. While I can’t condemn that belief, I am irritated by their failure to recognize even the existence of other possible truths. I feel that we must recognize that there are other possibilities, because if we don’t, we will end up like Rubashov.
It’s mainly my dad’s mom, or as I affectionately call her, Nana Darlene. She is absolutely certain that any religious denomination that does not accept Jesus Christ as their savior is immoral. But not only does she believe religions other than Christianity to be immoral, but also that the followers of these religions, who pray to other Gods or do not partake in Easter festivities to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, will burn in hell.
Aside from the offense I take because I am not of the Christian faith, I find her conviction illogical. She is stuck in the spongy state; she still accepts what she was taught as a little girl (kneeling on a church pew and bowing her pigtailed head) as absolute truth. But what I grapple with the most is how someone never exposed to Christianity might be doomed. How could someone who grew up in an isolated area as a devout Buddhist be punished for lack of exposure to what Darlene Haas, of all people, deems the “only and proper” faith? How could primitive humans, in the absence of organized religion, be doomed to rot in hell when the Bible hadn’t even been created yet? A full 67% of the world’s population either follows a different religion or is completely nonreligious. Just as in Darkness At Noon, “There [is] somewhere an error in the calculation; the equation [does] not work out” (Koestler 264).
Nana Darlene’s view of truth is stagnant. Her lenses are fogged and smeared with greasy fingerprints but she won’t wipe them clean. She has stopped absorbing because she has convinced herself she is supersaturated. But our view of truth should not be the same at age seventy as at age seven. That would mean we die just as naïve as when we were born. How depressing.
Unfortunately my Nana Florence is no better. She too refuses to acknowledge perceptions of truth other than her own. In contrast to Nana Darlene, Florence denies the possibility of life after death. Last week, as we were having a heated debate, she dryly quipped, “When you’re dead you’re dead. That’s it.”
The truth is, Nana Florence might be right. So might Nana Darlene. But I know that if they just widened their perspectives even a nanometer and allowed themselves to think, for just an instant, that their versions of the truth may not be the only ones, they would be exponentially happier. The thought of 67% of the earth’s population roasting in flames in a demonic realm cannot be a comforting one, nor can the thought that our coffins are our final destination.
I used to think (even as recently as a few days ago when I began writing this paper) that comfort was an excuse to conform to one version of truth. People cling to a belief in absolute truth so they don’t have to face the daunting uncertainty that is the acknowledgement of expanded possibility. I still think this, but I have discovered a better use for comfort: a reason to consider other points of view, to consider other truths at least as slim possibilities. An expansion of our perspective, an acclimatization to possibilities we have not ourselves conceived, while initially disconcerting, may be, in the end, the only way to find comfort in our highly uncertain universe.