Several entries ago, I mentioned a book on learning to think like Leonardo da Vinci. Well, I am slowly working my way through the exercises (very slowly indeed, as I am mired somewhat at the first one), which is to come up with a list of 100 questions – the focus being on curiosity, to see what it is you are naturally curious about. The point is to write down 100 questions without stopping, coming up with the first 20 or so rather easily, but then really having to stretch to come up with the latter 80. Well, some of my questions are rather banal, and a few are indeed interesting. But that’s not the point. The point is that I noticed that while in my teens, twenties and even early thirties, a lot of my questions probably would have begun with “why”, a lot of my questions now start with “what” or “how”. Not that I have become more practical or experiential, nor do I think I have become less philosophical. In fact, I’m probably a lot more “big picture” oriented at this juncture in my life than I have ever been. But it is interesting to note how the “big” questions didn’t seem to make it on my list. As an idealist, this level of pragmatism seems odd to me — but more troubling is that coming up with 100 things I wanted to know seemed extremely difficult. It’s not so much that the depth of my curiosity has lessened, but rather than the scope of my inquiry seems to have gained a sharper, more narrow focus.
Of course, that’s the purpose of the exercise, I suppose, to identify these kinds of things. But it got me thinking — perhaps stopping the asking “why”, looking elsewhere for the justification or purpose of things (i.e., “why is the world the way it is?”) and starting to focus on the “what” and “how” (i.e., “what can I do to apply what I know” or “how does what I know relate to what I don’t know”), is the result of my spiritual wandering, my questing for “Truth” (of course, ultimately one learns that Truth, in order to be universal, must at first be discovered to be absolutely and indelibly personal). But as I reviewed my list of questions to categorize them (and do some kind of preliminary prioritization, which is the second exercise in the book), I realized that I’m not looking so much for the answers to the big questions anymore. It doesn’t really make much difference to me at this point, for example, why the world was formed, or why human beings learned to swim, or found religions. I suppose the bottom line is that I’m not so much concerned with why things are the way they are, but rather with what I can do within the framework of what is. And that reminds me of several different things: the first being that simply realizing the way things are changes them (because based on a coagulation of Martin Buber and R. D. Laing, changing your experience of something in fact changes the thing being experienced, because now you are also experiencing your experience of a thing which is now an integral part of that thing’s existence), and also that the mingling of the observer and the observed (well, not so much a mingling, but a blurring of the line between the two, which eliminates the confines of duality to some respect) changes both the experimenter and the experiment. Krishnamurti proposed that to understand the answer, it is necessary to understand the question. Kabir said the destination is part of the first step of the journey. So few things are not related in that way.
On a separate note, I guess: Knowledge is power. That’s a common phrase, much quoted and bandied about. But I recently read a quotation from Emerson (that doubtless is based on the original source to some degree) that stated it a different way: “There is no knowledge that is not power.” Not quite as diametrically opposed as “those who are not with us, are against us” versus “those who are not against us, are with us”, but a slightly different shift in perspective, nonetheless.