Why the Why of the What is the Key

Here’s one that’s got on my nerves a lot recently – there’s no simpler way to express it than the ‘what versus why‘ conflict. It’s facts versus know-how. It’s assumption versus theory. Plot versus story – text versus subtext. It’s knowledge versus understanding. It’s human categorisation versus human progress. Acceptance versus examination. Memorizing versus learning. Passive versus active. And at it’s core (I would argue) it’s death versus life. Wow, that’s a lot of conflict… but I don’t understand all this waffle? Sound about right?

Here’s an example most people might empathise with showing this dichotomy in action. Remember learning sciences at school? Or maybe maths? Did you ever think at any point, “All these fancy words for made up things, I don’t see how it all fits together? What’s the point of this? WHO MADE THIS UP? WHY?!”. Maybe you didn’t and I was just a curious cynic (and not very bright), but if you ever did have this thought, that’s likely a result of only being told the what and not the why. Still not getting it? Bear with me.

Lets get fundamental. What can we know to be true? What can we sincerely put our faith in as being ‘a fact’ in our lives? A ‘what’? Perhaps that we are alive and that we perceive time as passing… but that’s really about it. Many of you might be screaming, “But I know my name and my birthday and my favourite musician!” (I’d argue that we can’t even be certain of these, but I’ll save that for another day). What about the shape of your country? What shape is the Earth? Our solar system? Our galaxy? The Universe? Do aliens exist? Did Jesus? Perhaps we are fairly confident in the shape of our country and planet based on trusting what we’re told and shown, but for the other questions for some reason we grow skeptical of other people’s answers… they’re too diverse. Who to believe? The further down that list you go the more and more you realise that to answer ANY question most of us rely completely on the answers – the whats – of other people. And it’s fine to trust other people’s whats if you know the why as well… but what’s a why you ask?

The why, dear reader, is everything. The why of the what is the key to learning itself. The why is the theory, the thought, the logic, the understanding, the hours spent considering and thinking to achieve something. The why is what we must all train ourselves to actively seek and create. Imagine a time before the first flight in to space and the first photograph of the Earth was taken: If we take our whats as being the shape of countries, the relative size of each and the shape of the Earth, then the whys are the years of dedication, of debate, of formulating theories, of proving and disproving, of measuring and combining facts, of using whats to calculate the previously incalculable, of perceiving the world and asking why things are as they are and drawing conclusions from it. But the why isn’t proof of a fact, it’s just a placeholder until someone comes along with a better why to replace it.

To name it ‘curiousity’ is an over-simplification of an absolutely essential process we all need to learn. It’s thinking independently. It’s not stubborness, it’s just checking other peoples math in case yours adds up better than their’s does. It’s seeking the progress of humanity by asking one simple question. To slightly twist Darwinian thought: survival is adaptation. And the quicker you learn the why of a thing, the quicker you can understand the thing and adapt to it to make it your own. Don’t be satisfied with just a what. You can spend a lifetime memorizing other people’s whats and walk out your front door and realise you’ve learnt nothing and disagree with everything you’ve been told. And who knows, you might be that special person that comes up with better whys and changes our understanding of the world.

Motivation or change?

So recently I’ve experienced something I initially coined ‘post-travel motivation’. Each time after travelling long distances I’ve had a boost of will-power, of spirit, and of confidence. I even get a tinge of frustration when this wears off days after settling down. So was this boost a result of travelling? Or was it something more primal? Was it change?

People don’t like change. The older I get the more obvious this seems. But what’s so bad about it? Ethan Klein once said, “how many times in your life and in mine too i’ve done it so many times where you would rather take the easy comfortable route than be confronted with some kind of change or friction or challenge to yourself? Always take it. Always take it. My life has changed completely and for the better one million times over”.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Ethan was talking about taking opportunities and not about change. But the thing is, they’re the same thing. Change is an opportunity to do whatever you please. The act itself is the opportunity. Yes, it can be difficult since there’s clearly something innate in the human mindset making us resist it, but by resisting change we’re CHOOSING to say no to everything we want to do and to be.

Every narrative we create and consume is built on change. Change IS drama itself. Think of your favourite film. I can almost guarantee the protagonist we fell in love with in the first 15 minutes is a different person by the time the credits are rolling. We relate to the hero’s struggles and go on the journey of change and growth with them and that’s why we feel emotionally invested in them. Imagine if time stopped and Harry Potter never grew up and Frodo never left the Shire. There’s a reason why as viewers we CRAVE change.

So I think it’s time we address this in our own lives. And here’s some advice from Mother Nature herself – time passes whether you want it to or not. Even if you try and avoid change it’ll happen. As we sit at home watching TV or browsing the internet (as you are right now) we’re constantly encountering new stimuli and enacting new thought processes that shape who we are. We are the sum total of what we take in and how we process it. Harry Potter will grow up, Frodo will leave the Shire, they’re inevitable. So if we can’t stop it, why not use it to our advantage and embrace it?

Blogs in 2017

I’ve been told endlessly throughout university to make a blog. But what do you write? “Anything”, they said. But I grew up in the twenty-first century: I’ve never even seen a blog. Blogs are outdated. No one my age reads blogs. Why make something for an employer to glance at but no one will actually read? So then why have I made one?

It’s become apparent to me during my creative projects that ignorance definitely isn’t bliss. The less up-to-date you are with the conventions of an artform the more you’re handicapping yourself from the get-go. Imagine writing a poem having never read one. What do you draw from? Where do you start?

The output may be interesting and even unique but it’s a step backwards for the artform as a whole. So yes, this is in many ways a suicide mission, but regardless one I’ve chosen to adopt. But why now? And why the obsession with rhetorical questions? What is this post building to?

And that’s when it hit me. Finally, a legitimate reason to have a blog other than a superficial construct to ‘showcase your creativity and English skills’ (aka boost the old employability). I was sat day-dreaming, wrapping my head around a thought, exploring it, trying to fully understand it and articulate it.

We all do it, lose ourselves in organising an idea that we never actually express to someone. It’s a human impulse to want to give order to chaos even when that chaos exists within our own minds. So I decided then and there that a blog was the perfect place for this. Form should marry content right? Be it philosophical, social, existential, or just complete trash that my mind has formulated when on standby, you’ll hear it all here in succint, easy to digest, fully-formed bursts of me.