I have always been driven by a burning hunger to understand all of existence. When I was a young boy, I actually believed that I would grow up to be the one to find the Grand Unified Theory of Physics: the final single answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything. As I grew older and learned more physics, I realized what a titan of a problem it really was, and that I had been so naïvely arrogant: I could never learn enough and solve enough to find the answer. But the hunger to understand All of This persisted in me. And so driven by curiosity, I have learned more and more over the years, and did get many answers about the different parts of Everything: physics answered much of why is the world out there, evolution answered much of why we are here seeing it. But something still felt off. This is difficult for me to articulate, but I feel like understanding each separate part of existence piecemeal did not get at my one big question: why and how any and all of this at all? There is a particular quality to this question that for me is non-verbal, which is why it is difficult to talk about. I can feel it sometimes, as a subtle, pre-verbal, visceral sense of confusion, yearning and restlessness, of not being settled in knowing, but falling through space in uncertainty, mixed in with a sense of miraculousness, awe and wonder. It is the feeling you get as a child at the moment you see an amazing magic trick, but before you have processed and verbalized it into questions. It seems to me in fact that by the time I do process it into words and concepts, I have already lost touch with that primordial, non-verbal question. So by the time I can pose any question to be answered (which is the domain of science), it is not that question any more, so the answers are really answers to other questions than that, and they fail to quench the hungry fire in me that keeps burning, about how come all of this at all.
And this was so until some years ago, when I found the message of non-duality, and dove deeply into it like a moth to a flame. Night after night I lay awake, watching recordings of people sharing the message, feeling a curious mix of confusion and realization at the same time. And over this time, the fire of ‘why this all’ has finally been quieting in me, as an encompassing resolution dawns.
The answer that appeared was strange and unanticipated: it was not that ‘X is why and how everything exists’, and I finally found the X. Rather, it was that life is a cocktail of appearances undirected by the self, and the very processes of reasoning and chains of causation that answer questions are also part of these appearances. There is no substantial reason, no substantial cause, in fact no substance at all behind the physical world, or the person who asks. This all is insubstantial, an utter, irreducible, insoluble mystery, to which, in fact, there cannot be an ultimate explanation. The self that arises to ask questions, the process of ‘science’ that arises to answer them, the ‘explanations’ that appear, and the feeling of ‘making sense’ that accepts the explanations, are all apparent phenomena of the one everything, all inexplicably mysterious. None of it is authored or controlled by an autonomous, deciding and answering ‘self’ that is separate from the mystery, and so the questions and answers are all part of the utterly mysterious happening which they appear to explain.
Yes, it may seem like a major discomforting cop-out, especially for a non-theistic scientist such as myself, to say: ‘this all is an utter mystery. Not just parts of it for now, pending further study, but the whole of it, always, unconditionally.’ But see, that’s what it is, a feeling of discomfort. And it is this feeling of discomfort, dissatisfaction and questioning, and the feeling of sense-making and satisfaction that follows when apparent answers are ‘found’, that drives science. But the sense of discomfort with the unknowing is ebbing in me. Every day the utter insoluble mystery of This becomes increasingly acceptable, as it is seen as the self-evident truth. The need for an ultimate explanation for it is giving itself up. It is okay to be falling forever through space and never land.
The wonderful thing though, is that my appetite for curiosity about this strange and wonderful universe has not ebbed at all. I feel that my scientific thirst is wholly compatible with an acceptance of the universal mystery, and in fact, in harmonious partnership with it. Without the sense of awe and magic at this curious world, I would not be doing science. It is my act of being in love with the miraculous world. The scientific study of what is, can go hand-in-hand with the delight and awe that it is at all. As I see that nothing ‘makes sense’ in the ultimate, it is seen that the questioning and answering can still carry on as part of the utterly curious phenomena of This, and then it is suffused with a spirit of magical playfulness. If the mystery is a dance or poem without explanation, then science is a delightful gesture and movement that accentuates it.
For is it not more magical that there is questioning and answering in and of this universe, by the universe, without the question, answer, asker and answerer being separate? What could be more curious than that?