The Unknown (An Essay)

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the unknown.

Often, I don’t know what to expect, in life. I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t know what I should do. There is the known, which we understand pretty well, and it is helpful when we can predict what is going on around us. But there is also the complexity of the unknown, the things that we will never know, or that we don’t know at this point in time.

I like the idea of exploring the unknown, in whatever capacity we can, though it is not something that I’d want to do all the time, because of its demanding nature. I like my comforts. I don’t have to worry too much about my basic needs, and I am able to spend time with the people in my life who bring so much meaning. I am able to wrestle with the unknown when I am writing, but the unknown is not the only thing that I am engaging with when I am writing, because of the predictability of writing itself. Writing, then, is a more structured place to think about the unknown.

Jordan Peterson describes that our bodies are primed to prepare for the unknown. This is a very interesting idea and discovery, because it means that we unconsciously and biologically prepare for unknown encounters. It is really a remarkable thing to think about, and if true, it means that we have a deeper connection to the unknown then we would ever even realize. Being primed for this kind of experience means that it’s more accessible to us, and it allows us to explore.

Personally, I like discovering new things, and I often force myself to go into difficult intellectual territory. I do this, because I want to understand the world better, whether I am reading books, talking with other people, doing research, or just sitting in an armchair and thinking. This seems to be a good process to me for exploring the unknown, because it is structured, and relatively safe, even if I am challenging myself, too. But I like challenging myself, because I want to know what exists out there, I like getting out of my comfort zone. I don’t like getting out of my comfort zone with everything in life, but there are many things that I do like to do because it challenges me, and I’m always pushing my boundaries to see what new things I can explore.

But what does the unknown actually entail? According to psychoanalysts, the unknown would be the unconscious mind and unconscious processes, which perhaps might even include the id, because these parts are unknown to us, and are often submerged in mystery. This might also include, in Jungian terms, the shadow and the collective unconscious. There are parts to our mind that we aren’t even aware of, which is a very deep thing to keep in mind. We don’t always know why the mind operates the way that it does. I have heard for a long time that we really don’t even know that much about the brain, which means one of the very basic ways in which humans function, is completely unmapped territory. This means we don’t even understand most of who we are and the processes that influence us.

These are very interesting ideas, with very rich implications. Does this mean that I don’t understand the unknown in my own psyche? Does it mean that I don’t understand my own process, that I don’t understand myself? That I don’t have control over evolutionary processes and my own biology? Certainly that is what it seems sometimes, and that is a very interesting idea, to think that we are not in complete control of our existence, of our bodies and minds.

But the unknown is metaphorical as well. When we are charting unmapped intellectual territory, it isn’t like we are moving through a literal space, where we’re able to explore what is actually there. But it is still interesting to think about the intellectual world as possessing places that people don’t go to, where if you do go to them, it is a complicated process. It seems to me that this includes the big questions: what is the meaning of life, what is the divine, how should we live, what should we do, what is in the universe, what is death, what is life, what is the nature of evil, what are people capable of, what is possible, etc. Obviously people ask these questions in a variety of ways, but sometimes we limit ourselves from answering these questions, because we are afraid to know the truth. It seems to me that being afraid of the truth is an understandable response, because it is part of the unknown, and maybe there is a part of us that would rather not know what the truth is, because it protects us in some way. With all of the complicated processes of history, biology, evolution, and culture, we can’t easily know what all of this means and where we actually came from. It seems that there are a lot of unknown processes that are constantly shaping us, and this is a very powerful thing to realize. It doesn’t make immediate sense, and it takes quite a bit of exploration. And even when you explore it, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to find the truth. What I’ve mentioned, then, is really unmapped territory, it is the unknown.

I don’t how I feel about this process. On the one hand, it is pretty important that we still strive for the truth, even if it is difficult to understand and hard to attain. On the other hand, sometimes it is good to just go home after work and play video games or watch a show, and not think about everything. Why spend so much time searching for the answer to things that you can’t easily explain, and that are not immediately intuitive or known? Why spend so much time exploring something that may not even have a decent payoff, in the end? The unknown is a scary place, and asking difficult questions, is itself very difficult. And a lot of these questions that we ask ourselves, are not easy to answer. They are certainly worth exploring, but they are not easy to understand or to find the answer to, and this is important to keep in mind, because it means we may be searching for a long time. In that sense, maybe it is better to not expect any kind of immediate answer to things, and to realize that we don’t always have to explore, we can just allow ourselves to live.

But I really like the unknown, I like exploring, and I am usually okay with a little bit of ambiguity and difficulty, so long as it brings me closer to the truth. There are times where I wonder if I want to continually explore the world, or if I want to stop and give myself space, but I am always tilting towards exploration, because I find it so interesting. Because I like exploring, and because I like finding out new things, the unknown, and at least a certain capacity, the unknown does not intimidate me. I am looking for the truth, because the truth is important to me, and the truth is good for living the best life you can, and navigating through difficult terrain. So I have to keep in mind that there is an answer out there, for many things, and while there may not be an answer to everything, I can continue to explore.

Life is chaotic. There is no denying this. Life is a difficult thing to wrap your head around, because it doesn’t often follow your expectations. But there is a beauty in this, and it makes sense that life doesn’t usually conform to my expectations, because there is literally an entire universe out there that remains completely, or at least mostly, unexplored. I have a lot of respect for science and specifically astronomy in this way, because it is helping us understand the physical unknown, helping us understand the world around us, and the entire universe that swallows us up. It is a remarkable thing to think about.

Part of me is definitely okay with this chaos, although it doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with its implications. Chaos happens because we are experiencing a process that we can’t explain, and because there are things that we may not immediately know what to do with. Chaos is interlinked with the unknown, because there are aspects of our reality I can’t explain, but that still affects my life. Death is another one of those processes, of both chaos in the unknown, and it seems to be pretty unavoidable, even if it influences us all of the time. The part of me that doesn’t mind chaos, acknowledges that I don’t usually like the unknown when it is chaotic and unpredictable, though, that is, of course, by definition, what chaos is. But chaos can also be a catalyst to continually discovering the world, to try to understand how it works, even if you can only understand it on an abstract level. Chaos forces you into the unknown by forcing you out of your comfort zone.

The unknown is definitely not immediately accessible, and it is constantly challenging us. This is the way that it is, and it is kind of a remarkable thing. There are many answers that we will not discover, but that doesn’t mean that we can continue to try to map the unknown, the parts of our psyche and of our lives that don’t reveal themselves under scrutiny. Exploring the unknown allows for new things to be discovered, it allows for breakthroughs. I think all of that is very powerful, as well as very interesting. So I welcome the unknown, even if I still respond to it sometimes with fear. These things are worth exploring, in my estimation, and that makes me excited about the possibilities.

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