Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Mystery versus Problem

Originally posted on December 16, 2010

One of the ideas that deeply impressed me was the re-interpretation of the idea of mystery by Huston Smith, a scholar (1992, Essays on World Religion).

Our tendency is to turn mysteries into problems, or worse, problems into puzzles. Worse because we are inclined to use the same trick we use to solve one puzzle into the way we solve problems, and what we must consider is that neither these tricks nor the solutions to a given problem may give us a solution to our mysteries: This is because mystery refers to a different category, those events that offer for every “answer,” two or more further questions.

The point here is to resist over-simplification, to resist the temptation to give in to our desires for simplicity because it’s easier on our minds. Some things aren’t so because they’re pleasant or convenient for humans. They may be so in spite of their going against common sense, such as the idea that maybe the earth isn’t flat (when it obviously is) or that the earth moves around the sun (when it’s obvious—in the sense of readily apparent to the senses—that the earth stands still while the sun traverses the sky) or that there are invisible “micro-organisms” or “electro-magnetic waves” that are as invisible and obviously not real any more than ghosts or the spirits of the wind. But the obvious is often not what turns out to be true! Our lives are suffused with illusions—and this is not just a Buddhist concept!  Learning to become aware of the variety of illusions, of what seems plausible or real, is part of the advance of science and critical thinking—starting with what made Socrates so annoying to some of his peers.

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