I believe in getting high on powerful ideas.
My first step on the road to this belief occurred just before I turned 7, the age of discretion in the Roman Catholic tradition in which I was raised. It was during my sixth year in this world that I first asked myself a simple, yet powerful question about its Creation: “Why did God bother?” The basis of this question was not some prepubescent nihilism but innocent curiosity.
Three elements of Roman Catholic doctrine, as related to me by the nuns at my elementary school led me to ask this question. The first was the nuns’ insistence that God is perfect. Secondly, they taught me that as the Creator of everything, God existed before everything in Creation. Finally, the nuns regularly expounded on the flawed nature of virtually everything in Creation, starting with me and my classmates.
Connecting these ideas led my precocious young mind to ask, if everything before Creation (i.e., God) was perfect, but practically everything that God created is imperfect, why didn’t God just leave well enough alone? The Roman Catholic Church being what is was back in the 1960s, I kept this question to myself to avoid the corporal punishment that such an impertinent question might have triggered.
Once I formed this potent metaphysical question, I began to reflect on its implications, such as how evidently easy it would be for me to not exist at all; it would merely have required that God not choose to act. These weighty thoughts actually made my youthful head spin. For years afterwards I would simply contemplate the various implications of this question and something about their sheer immensity would invariably make me feel pleasantly lightheaded. It was never important to me to actually answer the question.
In retrospect I realize that the power of these thoughts took me outside of myself, to a state that the ancient Greeks referred to as ‘ekstasis’. Experiencing this ecstasy at such a young age had some profound effects on me. One of them was that I became addicted to this sensation. As a result, I have spent much of my life since then seeking out and exploring other such mind-reeling concepts.
I have since gotten high on “the sound of one hand clapping”, Special Relativity, fractals, non-Euclidean geometry, quantum mechanics, the Bhagavad Gita and a host of other dizzying ideas from the spiritual, philosophical and scientific arenas. The primary hangover that I experience after each “trip” is an expanded perspective that leaves me arguably a little more knowledgeable, more patient and more compassionate. At the risk of sounding like a pusher, what other drug can promise you that?
Fortunately we live in a world in which there is an endless supply of my drug of choice and, but for a few intensely repressive regimes, there are no laws against it. As such, I hope to be getting high on new powerful ideas for the rest of my life.
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