Here in the West we tend to think that we largely have The World figured out — well enough to live comfortable, predictable and safe lives — that WE are in control. And that Mystery and Paradox are exceptions, outliers, ‘not the norm’. Anymore I wonder if we have that backwards, that Mystery and Paradox are the norm. And that our appearance of being in control, and of safe normalcy into the distant future is just that — an appearance.

In Math, ‘square roots’ have caused all sorts of problems down through history. The idea of a square root is that if you have a square with an area of, say, 4 square feet, how long is one side of the square? (Answer: 2). Ancient mathematicians assumed that every number — including square roots — could be expressed as a whole number/fraction. But the ancients were able to prove that the square root of 2 cannot be a fraction. This blew their mathematical minds. Now we think: no big deal, I’ll calculate the square root of 2 on my scientific calculator. But the answer it gives is a close fraction! The square root of 2 (and most square roots) is an infinitely long, statistically random series of digits after the decimal point. Math was finally able to move forward when mathematicians said, in essence, “well, it’s a Mystery”, shrugged their shoulders and pressed on.

They went through this process all over again with the square root of negative numbers. Turns out a class of relatively simple math problems can’t be solved without them. Yet there is no such thing as a square root of a negative number: positive times positive give you a positive, negative times negative gives you a positive, there just isn’t a number times itself that gives you a negative number. But in 1572 a mathematician named Bombelli decided to pretend that there was a mysterious ‘imaginary’ number’ — let’s cleverly call it ‘i’ — that is the square root of -1, and went on to develop an algebra using it. Electrical engineering in particular now depends heavily on ‘imaginary numbers’. All based on an ‘impossible number’ — if it really is a number!

And what is a mathematical ‘point’ or ‘line’ anyway? Such things don’t exist in Nature. They’re purely figments of human imagination — Mysteries — upon which all of Science depends.

My point is that even Math — the pinnacle of ‘logic’ and ‘reason’ — is riddled with Mystery.

And much has been made of “the survival of the fittest” as the main driver of Life on Earth. Equally important is the role that cooperation between species plays. For example, there is a species of E Coli bacteria that can only survive in the human gut — and we can’t digest our food without them. We are utterly dependent on each other for survival. Or, more broadly speaking, animals depend on plants for oxygen, and plants depend on animals for carbon dioxide. Both cooperation AND competition are necessary for the survival of all species.  It’s not just ‘survival of the fittest’, it’s also ‘survival of the friendliest!’ Strange.

This is important because ‘Social Darwinism’ — the idea that the ‘survival of the fittest’ applies to Society as well, that the wealthy are the ‘most fit’ and the poor deserve all the bad things that happens to them because they are ‘weak’ and ‘less fit’ is a recurring theme in current collective thinking. What if ‘survival by cooperation’ were the main subtext running through our collective minds instead? I’m thinking our society would look very different.

Or here’s one about the New Testament I’ve been mulling. In all of Paul’s epistles, he makes, maybe, one oblique reference to the Gospels. Mind you, Paul is credited with taking fledgling Christianity far beyond the narrow bounds of Judea and firmly establishing it in the larger Gentile world, thus founding Christianity as we know it. And yet he never quotes the Gospels! (Modern preachers quote the Gospels eight days a week!)  In the book of Acts it’s recorded that Paul rubbed shoulders with the original disciples, surely they would have swapped stories. Nevertheless, Paul ‘preached the Gospel without the Gospels’, without even quoting Jesus! What’s up with that?

My point is that every time I take a hard look at something, and probe just a little below the veneer of our consensus that we think we know what’s going on, I face plant right into Mystery.