Satisfied with mystery

This is another archival repost originally written for the old blog in 2008.

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.

– Albert Einstein, The World As I See It (1949)

Oh my. I stumbled upon this:

But we are not satisfied with answers, because there are always more questions: we are satisfied with mystery.

How appalling. Such a depressing philosophy. People celebrate such a ghastly concept? People really believe that an unknowable world would be a good one to live in?

How thoroughly appalling. Is it comforting to be incurious? Is it safe being dull? Do you declare with pride your wilful ignorance?

Of course every new answer raises new questions — questions that were always there, but which we never knew to ask. The appreciation of beautiful mysteries is (alongside the appreciation of beautiful answers) exactly what drives scientists. Science is all about the explorer surveying exotic lands, full of strange phenomena, unfamiliar languages, bizarre biota, and even the occasional monster. Science is exploration at the frontiers: it is the very definition of curiosity; something to be nurtured in every child.

How absolutely appalling then, that somebody would celebrate the opposite. The child dulled; the explorer settled; the constant familiar; Einstein, satisfied just with marvelling at mystery, no interest in understanding his portion of it. Or worse — Carl Sagan’s truly unknowable and mysterious word, where events are random.

But wait one moment.

Who here is really trying to explain away mystery? Is science alone in trying to supply answers? Who is constantly trying to fill any (perceived) mysteries — lets call them gaps — that science has yet to succeed in exploring?

Oh wait, that’s right. Religion.

Religion is about being satisfied with mystery? . Religion is about being satisfied with an unsatisfactory answer.


  1. OK, confession time, the reason that I haven’t cited the source is that I’m actually being (slightly) unfair. I have taken the quote (slightly) out of context to illustrate a (slightly) different one to that which the author was trying to make. I had actually written the piece based on vague memory of an argument I heard, and Googled for something similar that I could quote, and this line was just too marvellous to not use. Plus, I would not like to feel responsible if, when you tried to read the original source, your head exploded.

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