I came across this quote a few weeks ago in the book, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick. It made me stop and think:
I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here. I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.In reflecting on it I thought also of another somewhat related and quite famous bit of philosophy known as Pascal's Wager:
― Richard Feynman
a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas they stand to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. It all has to do with mystery and wonder and awe. When you make a wager like Pascal's you are potentially closing the possibility to finding new ways to relate to the spiritual. One of the reasons I often have problems with the fundamentalist mindset is that it is so rigid, so fixed, as if all the answers are right there in front of you. All you have to do is believe the right way and it will all fall into place.
In some ways that is what Pascal's wager leads us to. You just have to stick with the rigid and clear beliefs. Of course, whose explanation of those beliefs do you stick with? In Pascal's time- even more so than ours- it would have been The Belief as explained by The Church. Today we would have to ask which church or even which branch of which church in which country?
I like Feynman's insight. He is not looking to make sure he gets to heaven or stays out of hell. He is, in essence, taking the second part of Pascal's wager- and betting that will be okay. As an intuitive person of amazing depth and insight, Feynman could look at what was happening around him- and be okay with what he didn't know.
So here's that closing piece from Feynman, one more time. It might be fun to ponder and meditate on this one for a while.
I don't have to know an answer.
I don't feel frightened not knowing things,
by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose,
which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.