A man goes into a cave, alone, with a question. After a period of time in solitude, the man emerges from the cave with an answer.
Question: if the man went into the cave alone, spent his time alone in the cave, and emerged alone, by what means did the answer to the man’s question become realized?
In this post, I hope to teach myself a lesson, and perhaps share what I learn with you, dear reader, as you read along. One thing you might ask yourself, is, what kind of lesson could I be possibly trying to teach myself with such a seemingly simple question? After all, isn’t it obvious that the only source of an answer in a cave with a single man in it, is the man himself? Well, let’s find out.
Let’s call the cave that the man goes into “the cave of answers”, simply because the man goes in with a question and comes out with an answer. What magical property of the cave gave the man the answer? What was the question – and was it so simple that the man simply figured out the answer within the cave? Was the cave what gave the man the answer, or was it the man himself who materialized the answer within the cave?
The cave is an ordinary, quiet cave, with a sandy, packed-dirt floor and solid, rocky walls. Inside the cave, only a small amount of yellow-white sunlight pours in during the day, and pale moonlight by night, through a small opening in the roof of the cave. No life makes itself present in the cave – no plants, no animals, and no insects. It is nothing more than rock, stone, sand and dirt.
The man enters the cave alone. In a way, the man in the cave alone is much like the question in the man’s head – a lone question in a cave seeking an answer. Of course, in the man’s head are all kinds of things that might provide an answer, but, sometimes the answer is not there. The answer is not in the man’s head, just like the answer is not in the cave.
Or is it? In the end, does the answer come from the fact that when the man entered the cave, the swath of light cut out of the dirt floor formed a shape that the man recognized as familiar, a shape that would later turn out to be part of the answer to his question of geometry?
Or could the color of the sand be the answer to the question about the shade of brown with which to paint?
Could it very well be that entering such a quiet ordinary cave as this could in fact provide an answer to any question? Well, it might be difficult, but the neat thing about the “cave of answers” is that it always has an answer, even if one is not obvious. The “cave of answers” always provides an answer dependent on he who enters it.
We know this – a cave, such as the one described above, does not itself provide the answer to the question. The cave simply exists and it is the man’s experience within the cave, whether prompted by the man himself or his presence in the cave, which provides the answer. Sometimes, the cave may not even provide the answer at all – which is, annoyingly, kind of an answer in and of itself.
I think we are all very much like this man in the cave. We have one or many questions locked away in our heads, and the only answers we will ever truly know come from ourselves and our experiences. We can fill our caves with knowledge from study, exposure, discussion. But ultimately, perhaps, the answers we seek come from ourselves. We may receive input and stimulus from people, or things, but the answers we find are like the decisions we make – generated from understanding which is formed within.
So the man goes into the cave, and it does not matter whether the man answers his own question or the “cave of answers” provides it to him. He goes in with a question, and emerges with an answer, or an answer in the lacking of a specific answer.
It was the experience of going into the cave with a question that leads the man to the next step – to the next question or to the answer he sought. Without going into the “cave of answers” seeking one, the question might never have been asked, the experience never had, the progress never made.
To end, I have heard it said before that “the answer is the question”. Perhaps the lesson that I learned from this thought exercise tonight is, to not ask the question – to not, in fact, live the question by entering the cave and seeking the answer – to not, in fact, have the experience – is not to live at all.
Better that we should ask the question and seek the answer by living the experience. We must take care not to enter the cave and never be heard from again. Better that we should enter the cave with care with our question than to persist with the question unanswered in our heads for eternity. No question that enters the “cave of answers” ever goes unanswered. Remember – even the lack of a specific answer is a kind of answer too.
Our head is like that cave – we fill it with questions, and the answers are in there somewhere. Sometimes we need to look inwards to find the answer. Sometimes, we can’t answer our own questions directly – so we keep looking and keep living.
Free association and open-mindedness are truly gifts, and pretty fun!
This morning’s personal revelation (perhaps not novel to the reader, but certainly to the author): intelligence is adaptability.
Human adaptability – the ability to consciously (and unconsciously) change and adapt in relation to external and internal stimuli. In other words, our ability to change in response to the world, our ability to be changed by the world, and our ability to change the world.
This idea is an extension to the famous quote by George Bernard Shaw from 1903: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”. I’d extend – progress depends on us, and we are all a little unreasonable, and we all adapt in different degrees.
When I considered who, as a society, we praise as a true genius or an intelligent person, we think of (in no particular order) great scientists, philosophers, artists, leaders, and even family, friends, loved ones… people who we respect for their accomplishments and/or possibly their relative importance to us.
And the one thing I see in common with all those people who came to my mind, when I tried to imagine who exactly those people were, is that each of them in one way or another somehow adapted something in some meaningful and important way that affected my thinking, and possibly my life.
I have so much more to say on this topic, and I hope to have more time to explore it later. It just felt to me that this idea was worth sharing immediately, to be recorded (again) in this written “history” called the Internet. Every time I have pondered what it meant to be truly adaptable, I have felt like I entered an entirely new plane of understanding.
For future thinking, then, I leave this – if true intelligence is adaptability, what is the relationship between intelligence and evolution? And, what types of self-chosen, productive tasks, experiences or learning can be done which would hone and challenge our adaptability, beyond the experience of simply living life itself?
And what about those who do not adapt or refuse to adapt, are they not also intelligent? Of course they are. As odd as it sounds, it makes sense – not adapting, ignoring adaptation, or refusing to adapt in itself is still a form of adaptability. We adapt without even realizing we do it. But maybe, just maybe, we can reach a higher plane the more we practice adapting.
Perhaps recognizing the value of adaptability is just part of self-actualization, but I’m not sure.
Among recent events, you may have heard the suggestion that the end of days was near, and the rapture would begin/had begun. While it is useful to understand or try to define what these concepts (the end of times/rapture) mean, I feel hardly qualified to do so for the reader. I feel that the exact, precise understanding of these concepts is not for me to know, nor fear. The exact definition (religious and or non-religious) of these events, in the end, makes no difference for what I want to say here now, anyway.
I feel it is worth recognizing that the conceptual end of days/rapture can seem quite believable and possible, most especially at times when the spirit of humanity, and the spirit of the human good is diminished.
With all the recent challenges we have faced as humans, things that have threatened our very survival (weather, disasters, wars, emotional/physical stresses), it is no surprise that our spirit has been diminished.
You know, I don’t like to take a stance that one religion, or another, is the “right” one, and it is not my place to be able to state that others may be right or wrong in what they believe. I try to search, as I am sure you will hear me say many more times, for that which is clearly universal to us all.
It is with that sentiment that I put forth the following ideas (and they are most certainly not my own, but things I personally believe are true).
It is said, in many religions and beliefs, that we are all united by the fact that we share a common source. Some call this source a “creator”. Some belief systems will say that God created us in his image, or that God or “a god” lives on inside us, or that we are all governed by such an entity. Yet others may say that to compare ourselves to one or more “gods” is blasphemous.
Some of us believe that we all unified by being made of the same matter (atoms and molecules) that comprise the universe. You may have heard the saying, “from dust you were made, and to dust you shall return”. Truthfully, I would venture a guess that no human alive would deny the concept that, generally speaking, we’re all made of pretty much the same stuff: blood, flesh and bone.
While humans have a myriad of genetic differences, and my atoms and molecules might be mostly from one region of the Earth as contrasted with the reader, who might be made up of similar atoms and molecules but from totally different genetics, from a totally different place, let us make the following argument: we are, for most intents and purposes, the same kind of being – a human being.
It is not a leap of faith (pardon the pun), then, to think that our similarities can extend beyond the physical ones. There are very few people in the world, I believe, who do not “feel” what it is to be a living human. There may be cases where a human’s ability to “feel” is inhibited by a physical malfunction in their body – but most humans do. In the most basic sense of the word “feeling”, I think most would agree that they have felt “experiences” with the real world from one of their physical senses, if not other senses (including emotional, mental or spiritual ones).
This “feeling” of living, of being human – that is what I like to think of as the human spirit. And it’s that feeling, when fatally diminished, that leads us ever closer to the concept defined by the “end of days”.
Have you ever had a day where you personally felt like your world was ending? We often use that saying as an expression of frustration. Other times, for example, in the aftermath of a horrible disaster, emotional turmoil, or, say, returning from the horrors of war, we may very truly believe and feel like the end is right there – like we can’t go any further.
I believe that when humans have given up on, well, being human – then in a way, we have temporarily forgotten our basic design. In reality, in our basic design, we have been given the will to live, to succeed, to survive, to thrive, to grow, to learn, and to go on.
If you believe in evolution, look no further. Most religions have some concept of continuity, whether in human form, or some other. If you’re a physicist, time still only moves in one direction no matter how much you might try to figure out how it may move in other directions (and who knows, it might!).
In Christian beliefs, it is said God is in each and every one of us, Jesus was a man (a human man!) who died for our sins, and we are linked together through the Holy Spirit.
Howsoever you see what it is that makes you human, I choose to think of the human spirit (which is within all of us) something like an old song I learned growing up. Preferably, you would read its lyrics in a completely religion-agnostic manner and focus on the human value of the words. You can learn more about this song by clicking the excerpt from that song below:
Dear reader, it is not my place to tell you I have the answer, or even to think that I do. But, I will tell you that if nothing else, I have faith in humanity. For all that is wrong, for all the suffering we bear as people, and for all that is to come, humanity is our common thread. Being human/the human spirit is undoubtedly one of many possible links we share with each other. The decisions we make shape our world, our lives, and ourselves. Try as we might, we might not get it right.
We can always strive to live our lives as good humans, to the best of our abilities. We can, we are, and we will, remain as one humanity among all of our differences. Whether we are judged as a whole, or one by one, it will be as humans.
I pray that our collective human spirit is consistently replenished by the comfort and goodness you feel when you remember that that little light of yours (your own humanity), links you to everyone and everything else, and maybe even the great beyond. No matter what tomorrow brings, may peace be with you all, and always.
EDIT 5/25/2011: It was nice to see noted poet Maya Angelou interviewed on CNN.com, talking in a similar way about our shared humanity, and how the strength of our basic design/humanity comes through, especially in tough times.
NOTE: The following text was originally written on September 17th, 2001, to record and comment on the significant feeling of global unity that was experienced in response to the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks on the United States of America. Many have noted that, if just for a moment, the majority of people with access to the news cried out in unison against this terrible act (and other negative events that preceded it, even in other countries). In light of recent events, it seemed relevant to bring the text out again, as a reminder of the possibilities for unity, fleeting as they are. Perhaps, someday, or maybe even from this day forward, the world will be even more united, especially for the good.
Peace be to the people of the world. Now is the time to unite, all nations – different people, yet all the same. Bring forth your children and your family, help us to build a new world. Look across the world, this tiny planet in a massive universe that is our home. See the faces of people just like you. We may believe different things, but just a single belief can bring together the people of this modern Babylon. May we overcome together and build a future together, not apart. Humanity deserves no less; we all deserve no less. This world is not a dream – it is real, people are real, death is real and certain. America will not forget its lost family as any nation would not forget their own families. If it be so, let this be the action that brings the world together, and if it shall be, it will only be because we can make it so.
Stand by your leaders. Leaders – unite around a common table. People of this great world, stand united.
September 17th, 2001