It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg question: which is primary, experiences or explanations?
Each of us is actively engaged in both realms. We directly experience reality; we also seek explanations of what is being experienced.
Sometimes to an excessive degree.
I have reached explanatory overload with the current incessant speculating about what happened to a Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared on a flight to China. Radio and television news outlets are barely talking about anything else.
[Update: Today NBC's Chuck Todd criticized CNN for relentlessly characterizing finding NOTHING as being "breaking news" about the plane's disappearance. This reminds me of the daily religious non-news, which also is all about the non-finding of any evidence for God's existence or supernatural realities.]
There’s no doubt about what has been experienced: knowledge about the disappearance of a large airplane. However, an explanation for the event is lacking as I write this. So lots of people are speculating about what might have happened.
This is a great example of the human drive for explanations.
“Why?” early on becomes a favorite word of Homo sapiens young. Mysteries nag at us. Not-knowing why’s and wherefore’s becomes an itch that demands scratching. Any explanation, even if based on exceedingly flimsy evidence or arguments, feels more satisfying than no explanation at all.
Religions thrive on our lust for knowing why. Why does the universe exist? Why is there evil in the world? Why can’t we live forever? Why do good things happen to bad people, and bad things to good people?
There’s nothing wrong with seeking answers to such questions. But believable explanations need to be founded on something more than mere belief.
So we come back to experience. In fact, we always do. Without experience, there are no explanations. It takes someone who is experiencing life to put forth an explanation of what is being experienced
The older I get, the more I’m OK with experiences that lack explanations.
Or at least, explanations requiring a minimal amount of conjecture. For example, I used to look upon seemingly chance events as having some hidden meaning. Why did I run into this long-forgotten person, at this time, at this place?
Was God or the universe sending me some message? Or was this simply an experience requiring no explanation?
Whichever (though I’m much more inclined now to the second option), experience is the first — and often also last — link in the chain of experience and explanation.
Yet as the proponents of mindfulness remind us, often we are so distracted by the why? and what next? voices in our head we aren’t really experiencing the present moment that supposedly requires all that explaining.
Like most everything else in life, the key is balance.
Experiences without explanations would make us akin to non-human animals. Explanations without experiences would make us akin to an advanced computer lacking consciousness.
We need to honor both sides of our complex Homo sapiens psyches. Nobody can tell any individual what the proper balance is between his/her need for direct, intuitive, private, unthinking experience, and his/her need for derivative, reasoned, public, thoughtful explanations.
I’d suggest, though, that unnecessary, unbelievable explanations should be avoided as much as possible. Which means, avoid religion. And similar ways of misunderstanding and misexperiencing reality.
There’s nothing wrong, and much that is right, with simply experiencing life as it is.
Mysterious. Unpredictable. Mystifying. Confusing. Surprising. Awe-inspiring. Ever-changing.
There’s also nothing wrong, and much that is right, with seeking explanations for experiences. Such is the goal of the scientific method, whether applied in a formal way or as common sense.
By and large, I’d say that most people, including me, are over-explainers and under-experiencers. We need to get more in touch with the raw sensual experience of life’s sights, sounds, smells, and other sensations.
That way, I’ve found, leads to a feeling of being grounded that is lacking when excessive explanations crowd our mind.