Everything I Needed to Know About Life I Learned in Geometry,
Semi-Abstract Ramblings of a Pre-Midlife Crisis
How does one tackle a column in which one wishes to discuss the fluctuations of belief in a person's life? With a mathematical analogy of course! You can blame it on the Matrix, really. I finally dragged my butt to see the Matrix Revolutions at a cheap theater a little while ago. Like many, I felt obligated to see how the whole thing ended. Even though the end was more like a beginning, I have to hand it to the Wachowski brothers; they got me thinking.
The idea of circles in life, events or situations that keep coming back over time, was prevalent in the Matrix series. Perhaps the easiest example is how Neo is the 6th installment of “the One.” Every so often, the Matrix world needs another One and so one appears. Also, cycles of peace and hostility between humans and machines have come and gone. But there are also stages between war and peace, for example. More to the point, in our lives there are stages between sets of beliefs and worldviews. I’ve been thinking about these in-between stages, the unknown and unclear stretches of our lives-- post college but pre long-term career; post marriage but pre-kids; post devout conservative-Christian upbringing but pre another firmly-realized set of beliefs.
Hopefully that isn't too big of a jump. Basically, to get from Belief A to Belief D, one most often passes through B and C. After a little more thinking I realized that a circle analogy doesn't do justice to this progression. A more useful analogy, and here is where I drop some wicked math on y'all, is a sine wave. You know what it looks like even if, like me, you don't actually remember what it is. It moves "forward" but continues to modulate up and down, coming back to a center point. It signifies solid positions or stable places in life, where the line intersects the X axis, but also acknowledges the wavering path taken to get there.
A psycho analysis of this rambling might yield something like "the subject is searching to define his current, self-described confusion and ambiguity over his changing world views." Well, maybe he is. I know where I started from, and I know where I am, but I'm not sure where I'm going. My views are chiseled by experience. Traveling to other countries has provided insight into other ways of looking at things like food and fuel consumption, transportation, pace of life, and energy usage. Cultural differences are going to exist and that is fine. We don’t have to be like them and vice versa. But with new experiences our current worldview might need to be altered.
The philosopher Hegel discussed this process of change and used the terms thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. I have read this process simplified like this: the mind generally moves from one side of an opposition to another, finally discovering a deeper unity from which the two sides are derived (see first weblink below). Hegel might roll in his grave but perhaps a simple example could be given. Thesis- God will punish you with eternal torment unless you obey his commands. Antithesis- God is love and will peacefully embrace everyone for all eternity. Synthesis- well, this would be an example of something I'm still working on! In general, though, this process feels familiar to me. I can appreciate this idea of being aware of my current or past view while attempting to reconcile it with new experiences and thoughts. Out of this, a synthesis is formed, and the game goes on.
Syntheses are sometimes hard fought. We have our views of how life should be and we don't always want to change. You could say that some people never seem to get past the thesis. They develop a way of thinking as a youth, accept it, and, no matter what evidence or experience might present itself, stick to it. Some of these people are less inclined to expose themselves to new experiences anyway. But, God love them. They seem perfectly happy and hopefully remain fairly harmless.
For the rest of us, the sine wave continues to go up and down. Maybe our view of God got smaller. Maybe it got bigger. If we're open to an honest pursuit of what is true, at least we'll always be moving forward.
Links used in writing this column: