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November 1991 Wisdom of the West

The Hunger to Know as Insecurity (written 1986, age 45)

By Travis Hardin

(The columnist was reared in rural Alabama in the '40's and '50's. His parents and he were Southern Baptists. He now calls himself a Humanist.)

I feel I was born into an alien and confusing world, a world peopled not only by the logical, the sensible, the thinking and the sensitive, but by the fearful, the ignorant, and the demagogue--all trying to influence me. Since my infancy, people have been imparting their "wisdom" to me, possible with good intentions. Whatever their intentions, I experienced the first twenty years of my life as people imparting their folk wisdom and their prejudices to me.

Rarely has anyone ever explained how he has come by his knowledge and by what means or system of thinking the knowledge can be verified as true. Rarely has anyone, when imparting knowledge or information, realized the logical necessity of acknowledging that if his information is true, the conflicting "fact" must be flawed, AND the foundations of thinking and philosophy underneath it must be false to some degree.

And vice versa: No one has acknowledged to me that his own philosophical edifice stands or falls on the logic, consistency, and verity of the conclusions it produces.

As a youth, then, I hungered to know the underlying explanations and philosophical bases of the superficial facts that were presented to me. Perhaps so great a degree of skepticism , such insecurity about things I didn't know about were out of the ordinary, perhaps neurotic. I don't know. I do know that I have in common with every other person on this planet the inability to inherit knowledge, value systems, and philosophies. We are not born, like ants, imprinted with what we need to know to survive. We must all arrive individually at our own knowledge, value systems, and philosophies.

The challenge I have taken up is the one each individual who has ever lived has had to face: What part do I believe and what part do I dismiss out of all the conflicting babble that has been said to me by parents, teachers, preachers, newscasters, radio and TV programs, newspapers, magazines, books, films, friends, enemies, peers, and everyone else who thinks they've got a lock on the truth? This is how I advised my daughter on the matter: "Fortunately for the seeker, most things that are said or written, especially for mass consumption, are pure hogwash and can be dismissed. Unfortunately, pearls of truth are hidden in all this babble and all this print, and they are hard to find. The way pearls are found is by sifting all the babble and print through the filter of your own world view, or philosophy of life. You and every individual on this planet who thinks evolves for himself and herself what his world view is.

"One arrives at a world view by continually deciding what makes the most sense to him. You don't have to conform, inside your own mind, to anybody's world view or version of the truth. You simply decide, based on your own thinking and reading, what makes sense to you." (I know my daughter is rational.)

I conclude my thoughts on the motivation to know with a significant quotation from The History of Psychiatry, by Franz Alexander, M.D., and Sheldon Selesnick, M.D. They write, "[There exists an] eternal conflict between man's two fundamental psychological principles of attempting to master his insecurity--knowledge and faith." I chose knowledge over faith. At what age I can't say. It must have been early childhood, because I can't remember when I was not quick to distrust the many who asked me to accept what they said on faith.