As I read The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and a draft of Joshua Ramo's new book, I notice a common theme in many of the good books that I'm reading. Most significant events are not predictable. "Education" and at the notion that we actually understand the world causes us to be unprepared for the unpredictable. Science, which makes a great attempt at trying to make the world appear predictable, is really a rough approximation of things so that our simple minds can try to grasp the complex world around us. It also remind me of Science in Action by Bruno Latour which I wrote about years ago which argues that scientific facts are really a product of a very social and political process and isn't really a kind of channeling of mother nature as it might appear to be.
In The Way of Zen, Alan Watts has a wonderful explanation of how western science and philosophy and words themselves take the unknowable "void" and turn them into "rigorous" and "understandable" abstractions of the world which can't really be described by science or words. In a way, everything we write or argue is a version of the "assume a frictionless surface" or as Joshua says in his book, "imagine a spherical cow" jokes about physicists failing at describing solutions to real-world problems. All of our theories are very incomplete models of the real world and the only way to really get close to understanding the real world requires a kind of "unlearning" and a connection with the real world at an intuitive and an "uneducated" level.
Immersion and mindfulness are really important ways to see things that you normally don't see. I think it was Thich Nhat Hanh who said that a monastery is not a good place to learn to meditate because anyone can meditate in a monastery. (This might have been the Dalai Lama... I can't find the reference right now.) It is through learning mindfulness and meditation when there is chaos, suffering and pressure, that we really learn.
In a way, part of the reason for my moving to the Middle East was that while I continue to learn in any environment, days that I spend in the US or Japan tend to be mostly similar to previous days and relatively predictable, pushing me towards the somewhat typical mode of feeling in control or knowledgeable about what's going on.
What I find fascinating (and stressful) is that every day I spend in the Middle East is completely full of surprises and pushes me closer and closer to the understanding that I really don't understand anything. Sort of the pure idiot mode. In a way, I've become more aware and much more mindful of everything. One effect of this is that I less and less fear of the unpredictable and the unknown and unknowable.
I'm still really at the beginning of my immersion process, but chatting with everyone about my experiences in Dubai and reading some of the books that I brought with me helped me tie together some of these thoughts and reflect so I though I'd share. ;-)