Only Answer? - Part 2
Before we worry about deciding on The Answer, let us worry a little bit about the nature of the questions themselves.
To begin with, where do these questions originate? Possibly in the conscious brain which is trained to think, feel, store memories, analyze, react .... And the questions are related to and supported by past memories/experiences which are stored out there as neural connections. The difference between the questions asked by any two individuals are ultimately traceable to the differences in the stored knowledge base. In short, it is one's intellect which is asking these questions.
Secondly, what is the system of thought on which these questions are based? Or, what are the limits of acceptability for answers? The intellect, by normal training, resorts to an Aristotelian logic for interpretation. To begin with, it sets up broad linguistic perimeters for the answers; e.g. ``What is God?'' cannot be answered by ``arfghhhhhsttttt yyyy'' which does not make sense within the stored knowledge base. But what is more important, it sets up a logical perimeter to the acceptability of the answer; e.g.: ``What is God?'' cannot be answered by ``Kellogg is a good breakfast cereal'' or ``1267'' -- both the answers make perfect sense to the stored-knowledge-base but will be rejected as unacceptable by the logical system which is adopted.
Thirdly, there are also limitations on the acceptability of answers based on predefined convictions. For example, ``What is the purpose of life?'' cannot be answered by either ``Kill as many people as possible'' or ``Produce as many children as possible''. These may not be acceptable purely because they contradict [in the Aristotelian logical sense] certain other assumptions which were not explicitly stated. In other words, the questions are accompanied by some subtle expectations vis-a-vis the answers: (1) The questions-answer session should take place at the level of the intellect and (2) The answers must conform to some ill-defined but nontrivial limitations of acceptability both from the point of view of logic and from the point of view of previously accepted [often unstated] postulates.
These considerations are the major difficulties in answering the questions. In fact, any number of answers can be given -- all mutually contradictory but acceptable! -- but for the restrictions imposed by (1) and (2). [We have not even addressed the question of whether the answers are expected to be ``true'' or ``verifiable''; even without that, the set of acceptable answers is very limited]. The non-answers listed above satisfy these restrictions to varying extent. To begin with, they are all verbalisable and operate at the intellectual level. They differ only in the nature of postulates originally held true in the neural data base and cater to different perimeters of logical acceptability. Other questions like verifiability can be answered within each system of thought in an appropriate manner. For this reason, the eight type of answers given above are not fundamentally different from each other! Change the set of Postulates, the perimeters of logical acceptability and any one system can be replaced by the other. The Atheist and the Believer are not different from each other in any fundamental sense -- they both are right or wrong if one of them is right or wrong!
The crucial point is the basic limitation of human intellect -- it works within the perimeters of a system of thought based on certain rules of logic; even the so called illogical beliefs are very much dependent on the logical system--in fact, without the presupposition of a logical system one wouldn't be able to know what is illogical. The human brain is pre-formatted with a system of logic and entertains ideas which are logical or illogical, consistent or contradictory, acceptable or unacceptable based on this format. When the atheist stamps the belief of a God-in-the-heaven as ``illogical'' or when the theist affirms the existence of God based on his own beliefs, they both are trapped by the rules-of-the-game existing in the conscious brain.
Once this is realised, it is clear why all the answers given above are correct or why all of them are incorrect and -- most importantly -- why it does not matter. In fact, all those answers -- and millions more which can be constructed -- are all the same answer in different disguises. In a way, they are not even different from the questions! The success and popularity enjoyed by these answers [which, as I said, are all the same] merely reaffirms the fear of the conscious brain to leave the secure terrain and leap into the Unknown; its fear to change the rules-of-the-game to no-rules-of-no-game; its inability to accept the limits of systems of thought including the one which preaches the limits of systems of thought!
From a practical point of view these limitations translate into the following: The guy who asks the questions is scared to give up the security of the system-of-thought and logic which appears to be so successful in the day-to-day life. So he is looking for answers which will not demolish this structure in which he is cosily wrapped up. And therein lies the trouble. Within the framework of the intellect any number of answers can be given; all apparently different but fundamentally the same. They do not force you to come out into the open shedding your armour -- and hence cannot lead you to a new adventure fundamentally different from what you are accustomed to.
This situation has led to an interesting symbiotic relationship between a set of people who can sell Nirvana [sometimes in 6 easy installments] and the confused seeker who wants to buy it. The entire history of ``religions'' arising from the eight types described above illustrates how this predator-prey relationship works in practice. Remember that there is no fundamental difference between Buddhist, Christian, Marxist and the Hindu thoughts -- they are all the same. They all provide non-answers to non-questions at an intellectual level based on different sets of postulates and perimeters of acceptability. The historical evolution of any of these systems of thought shows the key elements in all of them: a social situation throwing out the questions, a pre-conditioning which sets up the limits of acceptability, an attempt by an individual to communicate something within these limitations, the formation of Predator group which sees an opportunity for interpreting, the Preys who prefer the cosy comfort of obtaining acceptable answers without letting go off the pre-conditioning, gradual shifting of paradigms within the predator group and consequent disintegration, yet another social situation ripe for the next Messiah .....It goes on!
The only possible true adventure, therefore lies outside perimeters of all systems of thought and this is what we shall seek. Begin with a beautiful fact : Nothing precludes the existence of experiences which cannot be communicated, verbalized, transmitted... within the honest-to-God system of Aristotelian logic! Nothing precludes the existence of concepts which cannot be communicated by any system of thought, within any broad based systems of thought. Limitations of logical inference can always be postulated within any logical structure. This is probably the highest peak a logical intellect, a sufficiently well-developed sharp intellect can take you. And that is enough, in a way. Once the existence of the possibility is recognised, intellect self-destructs and something else, --- which, for the lack of a better name, I will call Direct Experience --- takes over.
There is, however, an irony in the situation: One needs a reasonably sharp brain [in the conventional sense of the word] to realize the beauty of this possibility and take advantage of it. But yet, sharpness alone is not sufficient -- and in fact, it can be a hindrance in most cases. It is rather amusing to note that many of the people who have attempted the non-answers missed this point mainly because they were very intelligent and smart in the normal, conventional, sense of the word -- the guy who can solve brain teasers, think clever repartees, get couple of Nobel prizes all that sort of stuff. Their intellect was so well developed that they simply did not have the stamina to push the standard Aristotelian logic to its logical end -- where it has the glimpse of the Land beyond Systems of Thought and Logic and causes the intellect to self-destruct. The reason for this reluctance is the primordial Fear of the Unknown, the fear to push to the limit where one is scared of the possibility of (literally) losing ones mind -- and such a well-stuffed, nurtured mind at that! Quite understandably, the guys who did it are the ones who did not have much of intellect to boast of -- fairly dumb sort of guys like princes, camel drivers, carpenters ...What is really needed is a reasonable brain which is reckless and adventurous!