“There exists a passion for comprehension, just as there exists a passion for music. That passion is rather common in children, but gets lost in most people later on” (Albert Einstein).
MOST NORMAL HUMAN BEINGS WANT TO COMPREHEND THE WORLD. That is, we want to understand ourselves and our surroundings. In particular, we are curious about two questions: how things got to be the way they are and how they work now that they’re here. So most folks have some interest in history and in science. These two disciplines add to our comprehension of the world. They help us understand where things came from and how they operate.
Children have an obvious interest in these things, of course, as Einstein observed. Children naturally ask questions about both history (“Where did we live before we lived in this house?”) and science (“What makes the grass grow?”). They want to figure things out. They want to understand how and why. They want to comprehend.
Adults are curious also, but with a significant difference. When we grow up, we begin asking how and why for a different reason. It is no longer a childlike sense of awe and wonder that makes us curious about the world; now we’re interested in fixing the parts of the world that aren’t what we want them to be. The only things we want to comprehend are those we wish to control and bend to our will. As adults, we’ve become “practical.” We’re not curious about anything that won’t help us solve the problems that interfere with our “happiness.”
I see this as a sad state of affairs. For one thing, it’s sad that we lose the pure fascination children enjoy. Not yet into fixing the world, they revel in the mystery of life. They want to comprehend not for utilitarian purposes, but simply for the amazement of it all. But second, our “comprehension and control” mentality is sad because of its pride. We’ve figured out so many things, we now believe everything is controllable. And in our pride, we’re bored. As Thomas à Kempis said, “If the works of God were of such sort that they might easily be comprehended by human reason, they should no longer be called wonderful or unspeakable.” We’d comprehend more (and enjoy more) if we bowed in awe before some things that can’t be comprehended.
“A finite creature can never fully comprehend that which is infinite” (Thomas Manton).