Einstein On The Mysterious


The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man… I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence — as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.”

Einstein, in a brief essay on his philosophy of life, claims the mysterious is the most beautiful thing we finite beings can experience. And there is plenty mysterious around us to observe. It has been said that man fears what he does not understand, but this cannot be completely true. The sense of the mysterious is not a sense of fear but of smallness, of incompletion. It is a longing for that which is larger, fairer, truer.

Many people study to diminish the impact of the mysterious because they do not appreciate the feeling of being small, utterly insignificant. They become scientists and they observe the mysterious until to them it no longer seems mysterious. It is the hopeless dream of those who hate dreams that they can understand the infinite, or even the colossally finite. I believe that many of the crack-pot claims by egotistical scientists setting dates on the doom of the world, whether the destruction is to be by heat or cold, or wind or rain, or shaking, or melting, are based on their dismissal of the mysterious, their idea that by stint of study and expansion of knowledge they can predict the unpredictable.

The largest computer cannot compute even simple predictions of weather over just one local area with any accuracy at any distance of time or space, yet there are those who believe we can predict such monstrous disasters as planet-wide fatal warming trends at the distance of hundreds of years. We cannot observe a single case of documented cross species evolution, but there are those who know that all organic life has come from single-celled bacteria in some ancient primordial soup. We cannot understand the complexities of life at the bottom of the oceans of the planet some say we’ve inhabited for millions and billions of years, but there are those who claim to have grasped the intricacies of the planetary system and the entire universe.

Every scientist must keep rein on his own ego with a healthy dose of the mysterious. There are things we already understand, thanks to the toil and work of our predecessors. There are things we can understand, by the sweat of our own brows. There are things our children will understand, by standing on our shoulders. And there are things that will never be understood, because we are limited finite creatures.

Instead of chafing over our inability to understand the amazing or plumb the depths of the esoteric, let us be grateful to simply bask in the glow of the mysterious. Look up to the stars and think how small you still are and revel in the fact that you will never run out of things to learn.

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