“He who does not answer the questions has passed the test.” –Franz Kafka
What is the meaning of life? Better yet: what is the reason for discovering a meaning of life? Do we really need an answer? How far can I get into this without making a statement? Can any of these questions be answered? Perhaps (that answers the fourth question at least), but perhaps not.
The best answer I’ve discovered for the first question is this: Whatever you want your life to mean. Which begs another question: are answers as important as we give them credit for? Perhaps, but I think not.
Here’s the thing: if we rely too much on answers, we have a tendency to give up our search for better answers, let alone for better questions. When it comes down to it, everything can be questioned. Even the most certain things can be questioned. Like our own existence, for example. It’s highly probable that you exist, after all, you are reading this. Likewise, it’s highly probable that I exist, after all, I am writing this. But even as certain as we are in answering “yes” to the question “do I exist?” there’s no reason why we should completely rely on that answer. After all, there may be much more to this whole “existence” thing than even we know. And it will be through questions –not answers– that we will discover how deep the rabbit hole really goes.
Answers are fine as long as were using them as stepping-stones toward better questions. The problem is we too often use them as security blankets or buttressed comfort zones, and our journey comes to an anticlimactic and contented end. But there’s too much at stake to allow that to happen: self-individuation, self-emancipation, and self-actualization, to name a few. We must not rely on answers, for we might inadvertently evade the truth. Like Rumi said, “Be relentless in your looking, because you are the one you seek.”
Here are four powerful reasons why the only answer is to question.
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” –Rudyard Kipling
Perhaps the only thing we can be more certain of than the proposition that we exist, is the notion of impermanence. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. And yet, at the same time, all the energy in the universe has been present in different forms since the beginning of time, permanently going through the motions of impermanence. How wonderfully perplexing.
But even impermanence is not immune (or shouldn’t be) to the gauntlet of our questioning. It’s both a reason to keep questioning things and a thing that should be questioned. Just the fact that our perception of words change over time is a reason to keep questioning and not rely on answers. Words are powerful, but they only get us so far in explaining the way the universe works. Ultimately, our answers are made up of words. Ultimately, words fail. Even the words ‘answer,’ ‘question,’ and ‘impermanence’ fail to express what’s going on conceptually. Which is all the more reason to keep questioning. Like Pablo Picasso said, “The situation is hopeless. We must take the next step.” And the next step is always to question.
“For aren’t you and I gods? Let all of life be an unfettered howl. Release life’s rapture. Everything is blooming. Everything is flying. Everything is screaming. Laughing. Running.” –Vladimir Nabokov
Beyond notions of permanence and impermanence there is a third thing: vicissitude, unexpected change. Beyond choice, beyond free will, there is this interconnection of Jungian synchronicities that comprise our conceptualization of destiny, little twists of fate that cannot be explained. These vicissitudes are not without their tragedy and comedy, and they more often than not sprout new adventures we didn’t even realize we had in us. And they have the tendency to shatter everything we thought we knew.
It is precisely within the shattering of our intellection that we come to understand that the only answer is to question. When what came before no longer holds any water. When the answers we gleaned in our youth crumble against the unforgiving behemoth of the universal construct. When our tiny egos meet our gargantuan souls. When our innocence is forced to eat itself over the Existential Blackhole of the human condition. When our primal creatureliness must give way to our celestial sacredness, or vice versa. When we’re slammed with the notion of how, as Neils Bohr said, “the opposite of a profound truth may very well be another profound truth.” It is then, caught between worlds, on the edge of the seat of our soul, mesmerized by the Great Mystery, that we must admit: the only answer is to keep questioning, to keep discovering worlds, to keep ourselves on the edge of our seat, and to continue the shock and awe of being caught in the throes of being a finite-perceiving being in an infinitely fascinating capital-R Reality.
“The pupil of possibility receives infinity.” –Kierkegaard
Time is the insomnia of Infinity. Perceptually, we’re swimming in both. But it’s Time that we’re better able to wrap our heads around. And so we do. Usually at the detriment of Infinity. Within our perception of time we’re locked in a tug-of-war between the past, the present and the future. But it’s in this game of tug-of-war that we tend to lose the essence of the Meta-game that is infinity itself. This is typically because we rely on unfounded answers based on illusory data. Time does not exist, after all. It exists perceptually, mind you, but it doesn’t exist actually. And that’s the crux. That’s the proverbial fly in the proverbial ointment. Once we can allow that time is an illusion we’ll be less certain about the answers we’ve derived from our perception of time. What we’re left with, after admitting this, are questions. In fact, we’re left with the only answer possible: To keep questioning, ad infinitum. When we do so, it’s like magic. The entire world opens up. The interconnectedness of all things reveals itself like the Universe is pulling a rabbit out of a cosmic hat.
When it comes down to it, finitude says we’re individual, infinity says we’re interdependent with all things. Between the two, we flow. Interdependence is a way of feeling infinity, a way of being present with unity. We learn it in mediation. We learn it in solitude, listening to silence, away from the things of man. But it is through our individuality where we express ourselves. It is as individuals that we are able to converse. From these conversations, we inevitably discover answers. And we all too often become content with those answers. But answers tend to be perceptually-finite, despite an all-encompassing actual-infinity. Don’t rely on tiny answers that pigeonhole infinity into finite spaces. Become a student of probability instead, and receive infinity. As Nietzsche foresaw, “We, aeronauts of the spirit!… it was our fate to be wrecked against infinity.”
“Time makes ancient good uncouth.” –James Russell Lowell
And yet time is all we have to make sense out of a universe where time doesn’t even exist (except perceptually). Perplexing indeed. Just the fact that the passage of time makes what use to “matter” no longer “matter” anymore, or what use to make sense just seem downright silly now, points to the conclusion that the only answer is to keep questioning.
Time passes, and what once seemed so important is now decidedly petty, or even downright unhealthy. There are signs of it in our own lives. There are signs of it throughout human history; from bibles to Korans, from Tibetan Books of the Dead to Tao Te Chings. Some things still make sense, but some things simply do not make sense anymore. And it’s those things which we ought to let go of, for our own health as a species seeking progressive evolution.
The passage of time (whether it actually exists or not) is the ultimate regulator of truth. It puts things in perspective like nothing else except maybe death. It shows historically how we have acted both poorly and greatly, egotistically and selflessly, callously and compassionately, both as individuals and as a species. It is within the passage of time where giants stood, and still stand, as reminders of what to do and what not to do. Their shoulders hold compelling answers, sure, but even their answers should be questioned if we are to keep evolving ever-forward toward human providence. It was more than likely contemplating the passage of time that prompted Rumi to say: “Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”
Clinging to answers is the epitome of acting small. Creating better questions is the epitome of being in ecstatic motion. Unquestioned answers only stagnate infinite potential, whereas questioning all answers sustains infinite potential. Good unanswerable questions are like big carrots dangling just out of reach, keeping us on the move, compelling us to maintain our awe, our fascination, our utter transcendence of all answers, in order to always be in the ecstatic throes of becoming, and never complete. If constant fascination with Truth is what you seek. Close your eyes. Question everything. Stay there.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.