However, comparing the past with the present, some see completely different patterns. Things have gotten worse, they say. The development of technology resulted in environmental problems; science did not only make our lives comfortable but also produced nuclear weapons; modern art has degraded into something incomprehensive; the so-called fight for human rights caused the decay of traditional family; people don’t believe in the power of medicinal herbs and instead swallow pills with major side-effects; etc.
Who is seeing the right patterns? And are there the right patterns anyway? Things happen for a reason, but this reason might be entirely the product of our minds, and thus contestable, subjective.
Scientists believe that patterns comfort us. That’s because we are meaning-seeking beings. The idea that things happen for no reason whatsoever is deeply uncomfortable for us. That might explain why religion has played such a crucial role in people’s lives. Religion delivers us from the terrifying chaos of the world where seasons change, civilizations rise and fall, and people are born and die without any particular reason.
Seeking meaning leads to creating meaning. People have been described by anthropologists as meaning-making creatures, caught in “webs of significance” they themselves have produced (Clifford Geertz wrote a lot about that). Is it good or bad that we try to find sense in everything around us? I guess, it’s just the way we are. Sometimes our tendency to believe that things happen for a reason is the only thing that keeps us alive. But sometimes meanings that we make become so precious for us, that we are ready to kill for them: think the Crusades, think Ku Klux Klan.
I believe that, as with everything, we should search for a balance; we should learn how to be flexible with the angles we have chosen to observe the world. It might be impossible for a human mind to not see patterns or seek meanings. What we can do is accept that no meaning is absolute. As somebody said before me, every way of seeing is also a way of not seeing. Let us learn to balance between different points of view.
Patterns in our heads not only give us comfort. They can create obstacles for the dialogue, and for growth. So let us learn to challenge meaning and interpretations we have created. And once in a while, let us simply look at leaves, at waves, or clouds, seeing no patterns, just serenity.
(previously published by http://www.cultnoise.com)