The human mind is incredibly powerful and one of its most unique characteristics is the ability to ask questions. A popular motto of mine is that questions are more important than answers. However, what may have greater urgency for inquisitive minds are the answers to those inquires. Some psychologists have theorized that the need for explanations is a natural impulse similar to hunger and thirst. Perhaps this is why we hunger for solutions or thirst for knowledge.
Observing young children, one quickly realizes curiosity seems to be a normal and prodigious human trait. From a 4-month-old waving her hand in front of her face to a 5-year-old incessantly asking “why,” the questions start being asked the moment we learn to speak in short phrases.
Curiosity alone rarely leaves one satisfied. A reasonable explanation brings gratification or approval and conversely, a bad explanation leaves us discontented. Sometimes we deem them “bad” explanations simply because they don’t align with our current beliefs. Does this justify dismissing their value? Can receiving a rational explanation be detrimental in some situations? Does every uncertainty require some degree of clarity?
Through the lens
Whether asking questions or needing an explanation, answering a child’s “why” doesn’t stop the onslaught of more questions. Thankfully, as they grow older and are better able to form logical conclusions, they soon formulate their own hypotheses and answer their own questions. The explanations satisfying their curiosity become the lens through which they perceive everything around them, creating order out of chaos and hope in desperate situations. While questions are often destabilizing, explanations bring us more stability.
As children, most of our answers come from our parents, teachers, or caretakers. At times, these explanations are biased, prejudiced, or are flat-out incorrect. Since we learned to trust them, we have no inclination they are providing tainted answers.
While growing up, we can also face situations which force us to accept erroneous truths. Whether it is our culture, religion, or family traditions, we are strong-armed, ridiculed, or shamed into accepting something as factual when there is no merit behind them. These are the most difficult conclusions to reverse because they’ve been a part of our perceived truth for so long, changing them feels as though we are believing a lie.
A satisfactory conclusion
Inquisitiveness is greater in some than in others, and curiosity is to scientists as creativity is to artists. Frequently, artists feel their work is never done. Something can always be changed to produce a better outcome. Leonardo da Vinci had a different way of stating it, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
Curiosity is often satisfied with a good explanation or a logical conclusion. When the answers align with rationality, reason, and common sense, it satisfies the need to keep searching. However, this can be a trap, especially for those with preconceived notions, hidden biases, and those with inflexible opinions.
When scientists seek to prove a theory, they also look for reasons which may contradict their hypothesis. An investigator searches for every possible motive and an objective journalist presents both sides of the story. Yet how many times do we only accept facts which already align with our predetermined and typically biased beliefs?
A suitable explanation may not always provide a complete understanding of how something works. There is a phenomenon known as the self-explanation effect. It is the process by which we learn more about something by explaining it. It is utilized in teaching by having students describe to others the concepts they are learning. There is no added knowledge from doing this, only a better way of intellectually grasping what they already know.
One of the most troubling circumstances are those for which no explanation is possible. Being in this predicament feels like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces or recurring nightmares haunting us every time we close our eyes. The agony often associated with these quandaries initiates confusion or worse, becomes a roadblock, stopping them dead in their tracks, often unleashing rash or imprudent beliefs on how to wriggle around the difficulty.
Learning to maneuver through these inexplicable and bewildering conditions is not easy and it would be insensitive and obtuse to advise someone to “just get over it.” The emotional trauma some have suffered from not having an answer can lead to severe depression or even more dire, irrational thoughts.
I have heard some people state they can never move forward until they get an answer or understand why. I wish there were a simple remedy to comfort any person facing this dilemma but for many, at least during their life on this planet, it will never happen. Even though a single explanation may never come to pass, there might be a way to battle through this predicament.
Searching for a solution begins with being open to possibilities and new ways of overcoming challenges. The alternative is being stuck in a place frequently overwhelmed by sadness, confusion, or despair. This is not the life you deserve.
One possible remedy is to accept there will never be an answer. This may sound overly simple but there is a clear distinction. It’s the difference in asking “why” and admitting, “I’ll never know.” By acknowledging no answer will ever come to fruition, it decreases the severe control the “why” creates. Continually asking why when no answer is available leaves you discouraged and in a continual downward spiral.
Conceding there is no explanation alleviates that burden and also won’t tempt you to blame your condition on an unknown. By no means is this a simple task and it may require help from a counselor or therapist, but it is a step in trying to regain a purpose-filled life.