Forming Belief Systems in Contemporary World:
Seeking Wisdom in Contradictions

- Farhan Shaikh

Nestled somewhere in high altitude terrains of several thousand feet, the unbearable hydrothermal environment of volcanic lakes provides stirring clues to the eternal question of how life began on Earth. The synergistic possibilities of fire and water are endless. It has not only propelled our earliest origins on this planet but also ignited the power of steam to birth the modern civilization as we know it today. Two opposite elements, holding equal capacity for creation and destruction, make us revisit the fraught idea that perhaps everything worthy of observation is born of contradictions. And while philosophers, poets, and thinkers have accepted the idea of contradictions since the dawn of human society, one must recognise that reconciling with this fact has also remained the greatest challenge to the sanity of the human mind. A challenge equivalent to accepting death as the only certain destination of everything known.

Being a Studio Ghibli admirer, I recently had the opportunity to finally watch what arguably is the most personal film by Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises. A biographical story tracing the life of World War II engineer, Jiro Horikoshi, who ended up creating one of the most destructive airplane models during the bloodstained epoch of the early 20th century. Upon witnessing his
planes turning into nightmares for innocent lives, he said ‘all I wanted to do was make something beautiful’. This startling quote compelled Miyazaki to explore this idea of ‘cursed dreams’, churning out a tale that questions whether it is possible to ever separate beauty from consequences. Thereby, bringing into attention, this notion of false hope in a world that often seems to be riddled with hidden agendas and inevitable corruption. Our personal tragedies act
as fertile grounds for such a sentiment to oppressively exhaust our moralistic chests. And tragedies often stem from a loss of trust- in other people, in the future of the world, in ourselves. For trust is our stable foundation after all; in absence of it there is no love, companionship and hope. At the heart of the human condition, there lies this loss of a trustworthy anchor to protect our belief systems.

Of all the multifaceted stages in a human life, it is the early adolescence where we first begin to seek a foundation for the self. A period marked by intense physical, psychological and emotional changes. For the first time in our life, we begin to understand the world in new and mysterious ways even though our adolescent selves barely grasp the fathomless depths of reality. More than knowing what the world is about, adolescents become heavily concerned with who they are. Their identities are not just filled by socioeconomic background, family occupation, spoken language, colour of the skin and disposed gender. Instead, the matter of
identity begins a radical association with how one judges, values and integrates different things in his or her life. In other words, the need to distinguish oneself from the crowd emerges which inevitably also encourages adolescents to seek dependable belief systems. Thus making provocative ideas that may speak to our aspirations, deep-seated sentiments, and a sense of belonging as the most prominent gains of sociability and worldliness during this vulnerable age.
Whether those ideas make you a cautionary optimist or a fierce conservative, certain lived experiences that caught hold of you when your mind was still very much an open vessel rewires the brain, making your perception of the world a mere product of who you are.|

Our brain, the mindware behind our daily actions, relies on something called limbic attractors to rapidly interpret any perceived phenomenon into known and familiar patterns. These patterns are likely to get much ingrained during this transition phase between adolescence and adulthood. But the irony with limbic attractors is that while functioning as our mechanism to see the world, they act as our greatest source of blindness. Perhaps this inherent dependency on our neurons partly explains the cultural crisis of modern democracy, a polarised realm where opposing narratives continue to turbulently collide at the face of ethical bankruptcy. Our capacity for dialogue struggles to stay afloat amidst the debris of human biases. As Helen McDonald reflected on the movement of Brexit taking force in unfamiliar ways in one of her essays, she wondered “how we choose to see only the things that speak to us of the way we are told the world should be”. Her conclusion at the same time was on the lines of acknowledging that “there are always counter-narratives, hidden voices, lost lives and other ways of being”, and maybe there exists a possibility to still witness a more inclusive England. But here comes the necessity to know whether the implied maturity that comes as a result of navigating adulthood can help us survive any form of wisdom outside the war of narratives and worldviews?

In adulthood, our quest for wisdom is largely rooted in deepening our understanding of the world we live in. We possess this zeal to read the most insightful books, interact with a wide range of people, consistently engage with news and emerge as well informed as possible. And though it remains a meaningful endeavour by all conventional measures, one cannot deny that the passage to truth is punctuated by the potential conclusion that perhaps nothing is absolutely true. The inherent contradictions in human behaviour and the world overwhelm our fundamental beliefs and throw light on the inadequacy of our subjective knowledge. We realise that no matter how non-negotiable our bias towards reason, there is always a leap of faith involved in understanding the objective truth of the world and ourselves.

Seeking wisdom in contradictions demands us to not just resist cynicism but fight it actively through things you still find love in. It teaches us that progress is never permanent and giving ourselves the uncomfortable luxury to change our minds is far more important than having an opinion. As Miyazaki reminded us, “the wind is rising but we must try to live.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *