True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.
This theme comes up over and over again in the great philosophic and spiritual traditions. There must be something to it. Something that most of us can’t actually do.
Those who assert that the mathematical sciences say nothing of the beautiful or the good are in error. For these sciences say and prove a great deal about them; if they do not expressly mention them, but prove attributes which are their results or definitions, it is not true that they tell us nothing about them. The chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness, which the mathematical sciences demonstrate in a special degree.
― Aristotle, Metaphysics
There are many who seem to feel that math and science are somehow “soulless” and either can not recognize beauty or elegance, even worse as destroying beauty. I have never agreed with that sentiment, and obviously am in pretty good company. The beauty in our universe is in what is seen and seeing, as they say is believing. In reading the writings of great scientists it is generally impossible to miss their sense of awe in what they see.
There was neither non-existence nor existence then.
There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.
In whose protection?
Was there water, bottlemlessly deep?
There was neither death nor immortality then.
There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day.
That One breathed, windless, by its own impulse.
Other than that there was nothing beyond.
Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning,
with no distinguishing sign, all this was water.
The life force that was covered with emptiness,
that One arose through the power of heat.
Desire came upon that One in the beginning,
that was the first seed of mind.
Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom
found the bond of existence and non-existence.
Their cord was extended across.
Was there below?
Was there above?
There were seed-placers, there were powers.
There was impulse beneath, there was giving forth above.
Who really knows?
Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced?
Whence is this creation?
The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?
Whence this creation has arisen
– perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not –
the One who looks down on it,
in the highest heaven, only He knows
or perhaps even He does not know.
Rig Veda, 10:129 Translated by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty. From the Book “The Rig Veda – Anthology”
The famous “Pillars of Creation” have been revisited by the Hubble Space Telescope in this more detailed view than the one taken in 1995. Scientists now theorize that not only are stars being created in this region, they are also being destroyed. And so it goes.
The assumption that we are infallible can we justify the suppression of opinions we think false. Ages are as fallible as individuals, every age having held many opinions which subsequent ages have deemed not only false but absurd.
― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
It is indeed the sense that we have infallible knowledge that leads to the suppression of human thought and ideas. One of the greatest sources of that feeling of infallibility is, of course, religion. How can it be wrong if God said it?
One of the great attributes of the scientific method is, in fact, humility, the idea that while we may be on the right track, any particular idea could be wrong in part or in whole. In science, one theory can refute another, so all theories have to be considered.
Political theorists such as Mill applied this to the public sphere and enthroned freedom of speech as a natural right so that everyone can have the opportunity to refute the “false and absurd” ideas of the age, even if those ideas are dearly and strongly held by a majority of people.