Wednesday, March 7, 2007


I had an epiphanous (no, it’s a not a real word...not yet anyway) moment today while writing a grammar test. I have great difficulty explaining the “why” of things. I write incredibly well, intuitively. But as soon as you ask me to break down the sentence and explain why it’s correct or incorrect to be written a certain way, my brain begins to shut down.

It’s the same thing that happened way back in Grade 12 Math class. Once we entered the section on proving triangles, I was done for. I couldn’t get my head around how to explain why angle ABC was equal to angle DEF and how it all went together to prove that triangle ABD is 90 degrees. (I know this is probably a mathematical improbability. It’s just an example. Don’t send me an email.)

And it’s the same thing that happens when I attempt to analyze my own behavior or responses to certain stimuli. I think it’s what happened the other day at the psychiatrist’s office when he began barraging me with questions about why certain situations make me anxious as opposed to others.

When I’m asked “why” my stomach starts to churn and I literally feel the hairs on my neck begin to bristle. Most of the time, I don’t know why. And to be asked to explain things feels like the person asking me is judging me. It feels like they will think I’m stupid unless I can explain my reasons, in detail, for something I think or feel. And I don’t like being judged. I want to be accepted, not judged.

And yet, the funny contradiction is, (as evidenced by every piece of writing I’ve ever done) I am filled with “why” questions. I am always wanting to know the why of things. But really, it’s the existential “whys” I want to know. I couldn’t care less about why my computer works when I turn it on or why triangle ABD is 90 degrees or why it’s improper grammar to say “I feel badly that your mom died.” (It is, by the way. The proper grammar is “I feel bad that your mom died.”) I just don’t see that the answers to these “whys” impact my life in any significant way.

The other “whys” though are the ones that keep me up at night. Why are we here? Why will I die one day? Why do birds suddenly appear…? You get the point.

I remember a story that my High School History teacher told the class one day. According to it’s an urban legend, but it’s a fun example of the “why” dilemma. In the version we were told, a University Philosophy class was given a final exam with only one question: “Why?” One student received the top mark on the exam with the reply: “Why not?”

I’m that student.

tall penguin


james said...

Perhaps, capturing a satisfactory answer to Why?, is the mind's attempts at finality; and ultimately, finality, is an impossibility.

The mind wants to put everything in a box that it may have a sense of understanding. To facilitate this the mind conceives an edge, a cut-off point, a boarder, a why this is, that helps define and separate this thing from that thing -- and this works OK in most practical everyday thing-ness.

However, when it comes to what is not a thing, what can not be divided and broken: Life itself, Love itself, Existence itself, Reality itself, (all words that I feel the word G-O-D points to), all attempts at fragmentation, division and separation -- fail completely.

The mind can not know the ultimate Reality and Truth, because the mind can not reduce it to an understandable commodity.....and so all attempts to reduce and understand it, only distract and blind consciousness to it.

The ultimate truth is not know, so much as lived. Perhaps it is wise to come to a place of not-knowing, because here, what we seek: the reality of unbreakable wholeness -- is found.

Socrates, was not that dumb a guy, and what was it he said: "All I know is that I know nothing".

who doesn't know anything either

tall penguin said...

"Perhaps, capturing a satisfactory answer to Why?, is the mind's attempts at finality; and ultimately, finality, is an impossibility."

Indeed James. The search for finality. It seems more and more futile every day.

"The mind wants to put everything in a box that it may have a sense of understanding."

Oh, so many boxes. There was once a sense of comfort for me in putting everything away in neat little packages. But not so anymore. As you say, it is OK for the everyday stuff but not for the larger questions in life, they "whys" that really matter to me. They are not so easily defined. And the more I try, the harder it becomes. I find words fail me.

And I too, don't know anything.

tall penguin

Eva Kopie said...

Actually, my fiance's father, who has never lied to me in my experience, says he was given that philosophy final, answered 'why not?' and received an A.