The Scientist Who Wants to Know Nothing
by Terence Im
“I WANT TO KNOW NOTHING, so I can be like a child every day, learning something new about the world. Only then, can I appreciate its beauty,” Eric said. His words struck a chord in Jeff. The two were walking in Central Park after enjoying coffee at a cafe near the Museum of Natural History. Their surroundings were quiet. Barely anyone was around, and in this silence far away from the chatter of the city, Eric felt as if he could truly focus on what his friend was saying.
“What makes you say that? As a physicist, you’ve spent your whole life studying the nature of the universe. I imagine that if an alien or a god were to tell you, I can enhance your brainpower so as to know all the equations underlying the universe’s secrets, you would jump at the opportunity.”
“Absolutely not. I’d probably be scared shitless possessing the knowledge of a god. Let the gods worry about all the intricacies of the known universe. To know everything is not why I became a physicist in the first place but just simply to marvel in bewilderment every day over the immense complexities of our reality, from the way our moon influences the tides of the earth to how many billions of neurons are responsible for experiencing joy and love. If you look in any direction, there is always something fascinating and beautiful to behold if you keep your mind clear.”
Jeff wished he could have Eric’s optimistic view of the universe. Through the lens of science, Eric could find himself astonished on a daily basis over the countless different elements of our universe, from the mathematical equations governing the motion of planets to the godly mystery of black holes and supernovae.
“I wonder how I can be as optimistic as you Eric,” Jeff said. He hoped Eric would have something to tell him to get him out of his cyclical gloom.
Jeff hated being such a stereotypical artist, but that’s how he was up until then; an artist who always felt discontent with the limited nature of our reality. In his art, he could illustrate such marvelous pictures of other fantasy worlds, from floating cities in the sky to futuristic, cyberpunk worlds where cybernetic enhancements could turn the regular person into a hyper-intelligent superhuman comparable to autonomous A.I.. Yet, even in those fantasy worlds, he realized just now, rarely did he ever draw a happy person. Though his cities and architecture were styled with incredibly aesthetic lighting and colors, quite often their noir-inspired shadows and dark shades were deeply influenced by the gloom he saw in other people.
“When I draw, I feel as if I am far away from the world I know, and I want to have nothing to do with the troubles that I find in it. Still, even in my art where I should feel as if I’ve escaped from this world, my sacred visions are poisoned by my discontent for this world. I want to keep the gateway between these two worlds clean, and I don’t want my worlds to be tainted by the miseries of this one. Why can’t I say, ‘I love this world?’ Do you think it’s just because I am an artist?”
“No. On the contrary, artists are the ones who can show other people how beautiful humanity is, how precious is our earth and all the animals inhabiting it or how joyous it is to look at a mountain. Your problem isn’t your art but one which is universal to many people. We feel as if we were born in a world which is constantly against us. Maybe we didn’t feel this as children, but the longer we’ve lived and the more troubles we’ve seen, the more we’ve found our minds caught in a cycle of despair. We keep asking questions such as, ‘What is the world,’ ‘why is it this way?’, or ‘at what point will all the fruits of my labor finally make me happy?’
“When one is caught in a cycle of asking questions, that’s all one can do, and one cannot see the immediate, surrounding world. One could play the guitar and sing with their loved ones by the shore while marveling at the beauty of the ocean’s tidal waves, but as soon as one is alone and stands before the immense ocean, instead of seeing and listening to the tidal waves, anxieties cloud the immediate moment. Put another way, anxiety blinds. We’ve all been habituated by the conditioning of our minds to think about everyone and everything around us instead of actually experiencing it all.”
The two continued their walk through Central Park. As time passed, they came across more and more people and eventually found themselves surrounded by an energetic crowd. Out of everyone around him, one person stuck out in Eric’s eyes immediately. It even felt as if some telepathic energy were emanating from her and grabbed his mind’s attention with its mysterious essence.
Eric saw an old lady sit by herself at a bench, closing her eyes and smiling while seeming to inhale and exhale deeply. She was like a smiling Buddhist monk in a marvelous, centuries-old painting, almost levitating. Eric wanted to know what made the old lady seem so happy. He’d never seen someone smile so brightly in so long, and the sunlight shining on her seemed to be the universe’s synchronized expression of love and harmony for all human beings.
I want my art to be filled with joy like the image of that old lady… but wait… it can be. Immediately! I see her right now as she is. Without my thoughts clouding my image of her. Without any questions. Instead of keeping the door between the two worlds shut, I’m going to let the beauty of both my realities blend together into something new and undiscovered, something impossibly beautiful and unknowable.
Published: November 16, 2022
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Copyright © 2022 by Terence Im (born Tae Joon Kim)