this; the first
of a three part essay dealing with mysteries, faith and wisdom; I will look at the proposition that "The
more we learn, the less we know;" a metaphysical idea first
espoused by Socrates 2400 years ago in pre-scientific Athens
During primitive humanity's beginnings, natural events surely had to be explained in terms of magic and mystery, if they were explained at all. Archaeological evidence suggests misfortunes that befell people were blamed on angry gods or evil spirits, at least before the dawn of the most rudimentary observations of natural cause and effect. Little by little, people using scientific methods have discovered the natural causes for most common "mysterious" events. So fewer ordinary occurrences in our lives need to be attributed to magic. As Bertrand Russell put it: "The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."
Building on discoveries of successive generations, each using increasingly sophisticated methods of research, humankind has slowly banished ignorance and ordinary mystery from the shadows of human awareness. The qualifier "ordinary" is needed because our growing knowledge has made us more aware of enormous non ordinary mysteries. Superstition, magic and their associated minor mysteries are mere child's play compared to the truly mind numbing implications of scientific discoveries made in the 20th century, the most extraordinary of which we will examine later.
What has our relentless search for truth revealed about the natural
universe and our relationships to it? What is real and what is
imaginary? To answer these questions I must begin by
examining the fundamental nature
of reality itself. Of course, I am not the first to do this.
However, I have found it impossible to lump all of the various views on
the subject into one meaningful definition. I see at least four different ways
of considering reality which I will call Ordinary, Personal,
Extraordinary, and Ultimate. Each calls for a different way
of trying to know what is real. Each makes different philosophical assumptions
about how to approach the question.