1. At this point on my road of life, which I estimate to be somewhere between the mid-point and the end-point, I have paused to think about that road and my travels on it. I can piece together some patterns that I can see from the past which give me a picture of the overall geography of where I've been in addition to some of the details of the various stops along the way.
2. In this essay I will describe what I now realize has been a lifelong search for truth. This is not the time to describe what I have found, except to say that I have not found the "truth". Nor do I expect to find it before the road ends. Horace Greeley did not say, "Go to LA, young man!", but he simply said "Go West,....". He advised a direction and not a destination. In the same way, I realize that my own search has not been for a final answer, but instead has been simply trying to find a direction which aims toward the truth.
3. In a short essay, "Roadmap to Happiness", I have described why I invest energy into this search, and in yet another essay, "How Should I Know?", I have described how I do this. Some of my other essays have been preliminary attempts at describing what I have found, or at least my guesses as to what might be going on.
4. In this essay, I want to describe only where this search for truth has taken me. I want to describe the geography of that road in the hopes that it might be nostalgically interesting to others who have traveled the same road, or that it might be interesting to someone who has not been there, but who wonders what it was like anyway.
5. There are many roads traversing the landscape of life. Each of us travels a different path. Sometimes our path intersects with another's, sometimes we are even on the same path as another for some distance, but in its entirety, each of our paths is completely unique. Moreover, even if our paths coincide with another's for a time, we may be interested in completely different scenes and activities as we go along.
6. But, regardless of our path, or our interest, each of us continues to build a picture in our mind as to what is real and what is really going on in the world. And, because our paths and interests are different, each of these "world views" is unique and different as well. It is easy and natural for any of us to relax into the complacent opinion that our particular "world view" represents the "true world". After all, we have been there, and seen it, and that's the way we saw it; that must be the way it is. It is only when we follow Socrates' advice, examine ourselves, and discover that our particular version might not be consistent with some other peoples' versions, and that we don't have any better argument for our position than they do, that we realize that we just might be mistaken. It is at this point that we have a choice to make between stubbornly holding to our previous view and shutting out any contrary evidence, or opening ourselves up to the possibility of changing our "world view", uncomfortable as that might be.
7. From what I can see looking down on this vast geography, there is a well-traveled road that a great many people have taken. That road takes the traveler through a college education, the pursuit of a career, and the raising of a family. The traveler on that road starts out by accepting the notion that there are authorities who know the truth and are in a position to teach you that truth. These are not only the parents, teachers, and preachers the traveler knows, but also the authors of traditionally accepted books who might have written their "truths" long ago. Some people, after having accepted some form of this authoritarian truth choose a path for the rest of their lives which shuts out any challenges to this world view. Others, at various points along the way, choose a path which presents challenges and alternatives to the previously held authoritarian view. On this typical broad path, the traveler is exposed to science, history, philosophy, and other religions in college classes and these new ideas partially, or completely erode the earlier confidence in the previously held view. From here, the path breaks into many less-traveled roads along which the traveler's world view changes, or stabilizes, or oscillates between the two, for the rest of the journey.
8. Although it seems, in some respects, that I, too, have taken this well-traveled road, looking back I see that I have really taken a "frontage road" that runs alongside but isn't quite the same as the well-traveled highway. I left the main highway when I was only four or five years old. At that time, I began pondering questions about my own consciousness and my own identity which I was incapable of expressing to anyone. These questions impinged on every notion which later authorities would have me accept. I say I was on a "frontage road" because I was unaware of any of my peers being on that side road with me. They never talked about the questions that so bothered and captivated me so I saw them as being on the broad road focusing their interest instead on other more mundane things. Being young and powerless, I played the role of one who accepted the authority, and from my outward behavior, you wouldn't have known that my world view was not traditional or "standard". I behaved as though I were traveling the main road.
9. There seems little doubt to me that my early religious training conditioned me to accept the notion that the world is more than it seems to be. I accepted the possibility that a part of reality transcends the familiar and accessible universe described by Science. Even though those religious notions have long since been deemed false, if not ridiculous, by me, my mind is still open to the possibility of a transcendent component of reality.
10. As a child, I always had a boundless interest in understanding how everything worked and what was really going on at every level. I credit my dad for encouraging that curiosity by attempting to answer all of my questions. I just couldn't understand why everyone else wasn't just as curious. It baffled me that people could watch TV (which had just come out when I was a kid) without showing any interest in how the TV worked. I found myself among the few "Nerds" who "actually care how technology works".
11. So when the main highway took me and many of my peers to college, I was already harboring many doubts, not only about the traditional Christian world view, with which I was brought up, but I had serious doubts about all human authority on any subject including Science. It was here that my frontage road peeled away from the main highway. And, looking back down at the geography, I can see that the main highway itself also split into quite a few different paths depending on what each individual did with those new challenges to authoritative views.
12. One thing that set me apart from many college graduates was that I did not get much exposure to previous thinkers. I took only one course in Humanities which was only the briefest introduction. Even though that course fascinated me and gave me a strong thirst for the wisdom embodied in thinkers from Thales to Nietzsche, the combination of other choices I made, together with my difficulty in reading, kept these ideas from me for most of my life. So, for the next three or four decades, I followed a path where I mostly made up my own world view, picking and choosing ideas from casual and disparate sources which I happened across. I accepted those which seemed to make sense to me and rejected or strongly doubted the others. By the time I began articulating some of those ideas, in the first of the essays I have written, I realized that my views were not only very different from most people's views, but they seem downright crazy to most.
13. That was not a problem for me. Quite the contrary. Since I am open to changing my views any time evidence shows that some other idea makes more sense, I am eager to hear other ideas in order to compare mine and make any necessary adjustments. So, I began discussing my "crazy" ideas with anyone who would discuss them with me. Most of these people were more-or-less anonymous participants in Internet forums. That activity has cooled considerably lately. As of this writing, it seems that most (but not all) of those who will still converse with me are of the opinion that, not only am I "wrong", but I am either stupid or crazy as well. Of the ones who have stopped conversing with me, I can only guess that they were bored, baffled, or threatened by my ideas. The net result is that no one has yet presented me with any ideas that to me make any more sense than the world view I have so far developed on my own. I don't know if I am now stuck and my mind has closed against new ideas, or if there might be a branch in the road for me a little ways ahead yet. We'll see.
14. But, sort of coincident with my essay-Internet-discussion experience, I have slowly begun to go back and discover what the great philosophers and thinkers have said. Even though reading is still a difficult chore for me, I have begun reading some of the standard definitive works, as well as various modern works discussing the same ideas. In addition to reading, I have taken, and continue to take, many college level courses on tape on the subjects of philosophy, history, science, and religion. These have been a great way for me to catch up with those of my peers who took degrees in liberal arts when they were young.
15. The main benefit as I see it between my path and most other people's is that by forming my world-view before I learned about the ideas presented in the classic and traditional "great" literature I am able to make sense of those ideas in ways in which I think most all previous readers have missed.
16. One such way of making sense of old ideas is to recognize that altered state experiences, e.g. NDE, have probably happened throughout history. If the revelations during such an experience represent any truth, and if, as it seems, they are completely indescribable in language, then it is inevitable that the reports of such experiences would not only be a source of wonder and awe, but they would also be distorted and misinterpreted as they were passed on to others. It seems easy to interpret many historical texts in this way and thus understand the basis of many traditional religious and philosophical precepts.
17. In spite of my plan in this essay to avoid talking about what I have learned, I will cite one example to make the point: In reading part of what is attributed to Parmenides, I can make an obvious interpretation that is consistent with my own world view, but which I think was overlooked or mis-interpreted, not only by Plato later on, but by most thinkers ever since. (Schopenhauer seems to be a rare exception in that, from what little of his I have read so far, he seems to interpret the pre-Socratics along lines similar to my own interpretation. This is exciting to me, and I am eagerly burrowing deeper into Schopenhauer's work.) In a course I took on the Platonic Dialogs, the professor cautioned us not to take Plato's dialog "The Parmenides" literally or seriously. He said that we should interpret the last line, which reads, "Most True!", as a hilarious punch line to a complex joke. Against his advice, I intend to read "The Parmenides" with the objective of interpreting it literally and seriously. I think the ideas expressed will fit in nicely with my world view.
18. So, turning around, at this juncture and looking forward on my road instead of backward, I can only imagine what awaits me. I am excited to continue pursuing the course I am on to discover the ideas from the great thinkers and to see how they influence my own views at the moment. If my ideas are changed, I will be delighted, for I will only change them if I think they steer me closer toward the truth. If, on the other hand, my ideas stand and I find that the great thinkers give them support, I will also be delighted to find that support. Either way, I am eager to continue along my road and I have no regrets for having traversed the particular path I have taken to get to this point. It is, and has been, exciting.Please send me an email with your comments.
©2003 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.