Open Spaces, Ignorance and the Pursuit of Knowledge

Over the holiday break, I went to visit my mom and the whole Loomis gang up in the beautiful central coast of California. It’s really quite a peaceful place, slowly-paced and enough open space to lose yourself (which I certainly recommend).

The House Amidst the Open Spaces

My mother lives out in this open space, on the land my grandfather had purchased- and continued to acquire up until 15 or so years ago- back in the 60s. In this space, there isn’t a neighborhood, nor is there another house to be seen. In this space, landscape overwhelms the senses. The oak trees. The poison oak (of which I always manage to contract!). The quail, with their intermittent bursts of speed, their momentary flights, or jumps, of fancy. The mountain lions. The rattlesnakes. The deer. The latter two species my mother skins and makes a stew of, respectively.

Seriously. My mom is like a less violent, less angry and less drunk Calamity Jane. Okay, she’s like a Doris Day Calamity Jane. And she’d take the comparison with happy, open arms.

In this open space, on the day after Christmas, my mom, brother Tannen and I went for a hike. We didn’t see any rattlesnakes or deer, but we did get to talking about philosophy and religion. The end result, as I pondered later, was to ask the question: at what point is one considered ignorant?

You see, in the grand spectrum of things, in regards to this great, big world of ours, no one- not a one- is going to find that they know everything. Considering the context of a human’s place in this world, for instance, a Christian would say that it’s all about living according to God’s will; that one lives in accordance with the gifts that He has bestowed, and in tune with the virtues and morals He has established, as it is written in His word, the Bible.

Conversely, an atheist or humanist (my type of atheist/humanist; the type that is skeptical of the altruism of “non-religions” of today) would say that it’s all about living life according to one’s own will, in accordance with the independent pursuit of one’s own happiness; to do so productively and dutifully. To them, there is no more living after death. One lives, and one dies.

Which way of living is accurate, which way is right? Can one really know?

At this point, in regards to my life, I can say that I think that there is no all-powerful, all-knowing creator. I can say this with the backing of experiences as a believer, with introspection as both a non-believer and believer, with the studies and books and philosophies. But I can’t really know for sure. what I do know, however, is this: one weighs their choices, considers the evidence, and makes a decision. During my journey, along the way, I’ve decided that a world without a god is one that makes the most sense.

Yet, upon that realization, do I cease from learning, studying, seeking? Heck no.

And I suppose this is the point I’ve been trying to reach: that one should never – not ever – give up that search and thirst for knowledge. But I see this all of the time, and it irks me. On one side, I see the believers, unwilling participants in the quest for clarity and knowledge. To them, it has already been decided. And why not? They have a good thing going, with an eternal life of joy at the end of it all. To them, just knowing that is enough.

On the other side, I see the atheists in a way doing the same thing. They know too, and refuse to know more.

So I ask you this: at what point is one considered ignorant?

I say that it’s at the point you stop caring to learn more. It’s at the point you stop yearning for knowledge. It’s at the point you live your life with your mind transfixed by a proposed afterlife, or at the point you live your life with your mind transfixed by carelessness.

Two quotes from Ayn Rand come to mind when I think about this:

Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man—in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life.

My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists—and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these. To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-esteem. Reason, as his only tool of knowledge—Purpose, as his choice of the happiness which that tool must proceed to achieve—Self-esteem, as his inviolate certainty that his mind is competent to think and his person is worthy of happiness, which means: is worthy of living. These three values imply and require all of man’s virtues, and all his virtues pertain to the relation of existence and consciousness: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride.

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