I often marvel at the certainty with which we progress through life. Whether watching the news, reading articles, or listening to casual conversations, I find no shortage of unyielding conviction and self-assurance that seemingly must accompany every person’s beliefs. Regardless of the topic, the exchange of ideas so often and so easily becomes a battle. In such cases our reputations, and often our identities, become interwoven with our opinions. We soon become hesitant to amend our minds regardless of what new evidence or method of thinking is introduced. A short descent from here leads us to the point at which we are fighting for the survival of our sentiments as if they were our very lives.
Have we forgotten how we came into this world? Born not of our will, our thought, or even by our own consent, we each awoke to discover a universe far exceeding our limited cognition and understanding. We were “thrown into existence," as Martin Heidegger has described it, and involuntarily flung into the process of encountering all the joys and sorrows of life. This feeling of being thrown, of geworfen, forces within us an instinctive recognition that life has found us and conscripted us into a particular place and time.
But this awareness is fragile. As we progress through life and trek towards adulthood, we too easily discard it along with our immaturity. In doing so we turn our backs on the nature and experience of the past even as we may dimly recall certain details and times. Shadows fall over our peculiar origins, and soon boundaries are erected to confine our imagination within a prison of assumed certainty. In doing so we mistakenly reconstitute ourselves as creatures of our own making, powerful individuals who determine their own destiny by way of strength and intention. Descartes summarized this perspective well in declaring, “I think therefore I am.” Existence, now conceived, submits as a product of our own design.
And yet, as Hannah Arendt and others have recognized, we remain fundamentally bound within the same reality that we seek to dominate. Being and appearance irrevocably coincide for us, and as a result we must at all times make use of our sensory perception to partake of reality. As such, we each assume or rely on a “perceptual faith,” an unverifiable conviction that everything we perceive has an existence independent of the act of perception. Descartes’ statement, as Maurice Merleau-Ponty has demonstrated, ignores this precondition and detrimentally assumes its own validity. In order to think and declare his own existence, Descartes must have already existed or assumed as much.
Reminding us of the formidable nature of reality, such solipsism should restrict our certainty and reacquaint us with humility. Rather than self-assurance, we are left with faith as a sustaining principle for life. It is faith, with its tacit humility and recognition of an inherited reality greater than ourselves, which more accurately describes our continual and constant reliance upon perception to live. It is faith too that ascribes equal status to fellow explorers and unites us all in a respect that rests not on assumption but on curiosity and hypothesis. In rediscovering our curiosity and imagination through faith, perhaps we may again make use of these tools as our most valuable means of navigating this curious existence.