Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The lure of the Unknown By Sikander Salahuddin

Man has always, since his beginning, been haunted by the phenomenon of unknown. Then, there was much in his life that was mysterious, dark and strange, there were things which forced him to think and enquire .Time and again he had to grapple with the forces of unknown and to reduce them to an intelligible pattern. Most of the time his efforts were thwarted and foiled, but he didn’t deter. Unlike the rest of animals he had an irresistible curiosity and sense of speculation; and he continued with his crude efforts to decipher the nature of reality all way down from the prehistoric times till the history began

This was humanity’s dream time and element of mystery gave the world beauty. There was mystery in not knowing what lay across the mountains, the seas and vast oceans, mystery remained in the unexplained riddle of the sun, the moon and the cosmos and mystery surrounded man’s every day existence, in things happening around him in the natural world. He, in short, stood face to face with the vast region of unknown which he couldn’t probe and penetrate at this stage of his mental development. But here came imagination to assist man in his endeavors and it lent him help in conjuring up images of his own contraction, peopling the earth and the cosmos with mythological figures. In his own life he also saw things defying his thinking ability, he saw diseases and sickness and again he couldn’t solve the riddle of how diseases were caused and he came up with theories of demons and other supernatural agencies causing the diseases.

On physical level man’s experiences were restricted to his own surroundings or regions of closer proximity and he led mostly an isolated existence. And this remained true not only in ancient times but also in past not too distant when humanity saw the birth of civilizations. For pretty much longer period of time he didn’t know if the earth was round or flat. There were few who ventured on long journeys to distant places. And vast majority made a faint picture of these far off lands. The picture was made more romantic and given more mystiques owing to vast distances involved .Even the people shaping great civilizations in Asia and Europe didn’t travel much. For the Greeks the world ended beyond the Pillars of Hercules, modern day Straits of Gibraltar, and their traveling experiences led them to some parts of Asia and North Africa only. And the Romans of 2nd century too knew only Europe, the North African coastline, Arabia and the Indian Ocean.
But then came the Renaissance, a time when man began to make serious inroads into the vast inaccessible domain of the unknown. It was Renaissance that vastly increased the threshold of human knowledge and paved the way for clearing up man’s ideas and conceptions about things hitherto unknown and indefinite. And exploration of the physical world was one of the dominant concerns of Renaissance. In the 12th and 13th centuries in Europe there were many false travel stories about the fabled and exotic East. Account of many of these travels was fabulous and work of pure fiction, Like those of Sir John Mandeville published between 1357 -1371, highly fantastically and in accurate. Still these accounts showed a desire to explore the unknown, fulfilling a natural craving in human heart to make the unknown familiar. There was also Marco polo who gave an account of his journeys throughout Asia from 1271 to 1295 in which he described being a guest at the court of Kublai khan, the Mongol king of China.
During the Renaissance quests and expeditions were launched for discovering the world. In the process, Europeans met people and saw lands previously unknown to them. Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas, the land virtually unknown to man till this time. The dark continent of Africa and its interior were explored till the late 19th century. Europeans launched themselves into the region of Asia pacific. Lieutenant James cook led and expedition in HM Endeavour and reached New Zealand and then reached the south eastern corner of Australia. The discovery of the world wasn’t yet complete, till the expeditions were launched to the South Pole and it was finally conquered and reached at the start of the 20th century.
A moment arrived in human history when the veils of mystery were finally uplifted and the physical world stood in naked reality, all explored, all discovered. At the speedy onrush of real exploration, myths and romance began to recede. The beauty of the unknown and unseen which excited human imagination to new heights, the sense which gave birth to the stories of Sindhbad and Gulliver, all begin to vanish and cease to exist.
And high on heels of exploration in physical world came newer and newer discoveries in the realm of science explaining the natural causes of things happening around. There was no longer any need of any intricate web of mythology to explain the working of natural phenomenon. Science replaced myths and gods and goddess went tumbling down. Man’s imaginative attempt at explaining the unknown, what he couldn’t understand in the natural world received a crushing blow at the hands of science. Unraveling mysteries, of making unknown familiar, science started its unchallenged march and shaped the world as we see it today.
Shorn of mystery and its deep romance and mystique, the world today doesn’t look as much beautiful as it did in the past. It is all because science and geographical exploration have landed us in the broad day light of naked reality, and left no scope for human imagination to work on. But all is not lost; there is still some consolation left.
Man’s voyages of discovery in the physical world, his splendid achievements in the field of science in unearthing the secrets of the heaven and earth are major milestone. But still even today there is much that remains unknown and undiscovered, and many mysteries that stand yet to be unraveled. These are the mysteries of life and death, the mystery of God and the mystery of the Cosmos.
At the tail end of the Milky Way we live on planet earth, in a universe so vast which human mind fails to encompass. We are only intelligent and self conscious specie sharing planet earth along with other millions of life forms. Humans haven’t yet found any other intelligence anywhere else in the universe. No scientist can give explanation of why we are here or make clear the purpose of life. Except devoutly religious no one can tell what happens after death or truly penetrate the phenomenon of death.
Looking more imaginatively and bit more poetically we find the mists of the forces of unknown enveloping man, his earth and his entire universe. Human mind has led man to achieve great wonders. From the dense jungles of ignorance and superstitions he came and erected the grand edifice of human civilization and intellect, but there is a limit to every thing and there is limit to the power of human intellect. And some mysteries will for ever remain mysteries, and there will be much there will remain unknown for all times and for ever.

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