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Another World’s Hell

There are three schools of thought about the foundation of knowledge:

  1. Clean slate (‘tabula rasa’ in Latin): The mind is blank at birth.
  2. Innatism: The mind at birth already holds formed ideas, knowledge, and beliefs.
  3. The Socratic view: All knowledge that has ever been known and will ever be known is already pre-existent in memory. Therefore, all inquiries and learning are but recollections (Ref. Plato’s Meno).

As an engineer, I have little training in philosophical arguments. All I can do is share some anecdotes from my life’s journey.

When my brother and I were kids, we went to visit a farm. The most exciting sight was about a dozen adorable chicks, probably only a few days old, toddling behind their mother. We wanted to hold them in our hands, but as we approached them, the chicks ran away from us.

At the time, I thought this was a reasonable reaction. It is natural for any bird to fly away when a man approaches it. But as I grew up, I began to see chicks comfortably walking past other farm animals like cows and goats. Why then does a newborn chick fear humans? In another occasion I was watching Sir David Attenborough’s documentary on TV where some newborn-chicks were running away from a fox.  How did the chicks distinguish between a goat and a fox? How did they distinguish between a ‘harmless’ and a ‘predator’?

As a father one of my favorite roles has been to carry the little ones to help them get to sleep. On one occasion I was carrying our youngest son, who was then just a few months old. As I leaned over to place him in his bed, I noticed that even in sleep he was clutching my shirt with one hand. I was puzzled. Over time, I noticed the same behavior, where infants were clutching their mother’s clothing. Why do infants have a fear of falling?

When I was young, I sowed a mango seed in our backyard. In time, the seed sprouted and began to grow. I was excited at the thought that someday the tree would blossom with fragrant flowers and in time would produce the same sweet-tasting mangoes whose seed I sowed.

How did I know this would happen? This is because no one has ever seen a mango seed producing an orange tree. Seeds carry life’s essential ingredients: information, instructions, knowledge, code, and memory. A seed dictates the plant’s birth, growth, decay, death and reproduction of seeds.

Rabindranath Tagore in his story ‘Bolai’ writes that the first life on Earth must have been a plant that sprouted from a primal seed in the depths of murky water on a rocky, muddy sea floor. This first-born was our original ancestor. The plants feed us, nurture us and even sustain the environment. Without plants, all living species would not only become orphans but die, as if deprived of their mother’s milk.

According to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, the plants are the true lords of life. Life could get along without animals and fungi, but abolish the plants, and life would rapidly cease. Plants sit, indispensably, at the base – the very foundation – of nearly every food chain.

As it turns out, seeds are the perfect examples of the Socratic idea of innate knowledge. Like Socrates, I also believe, humans too possess complete knowledge and that the realization of that knowledge is contingent upon discovering it, as the Platonic doctrine of recollection or anamnesis suggests.

When I was in grade three our teacher once asked the class, “What is the deepest thing on Earth?” I replied, “The bottom of an ocean, Sir.” The teacher said, “No, it is the mind.”

Isn’t it time we delve down the depths of the mind to find out who we really are? Are we Adam’s children, descendants from the primal seed, eternal prisoners of hate or dwellers from another world’s hell?

About the Author
Tohon is the author of 'My Awakened Soul', New Generation Publishing, London, 2023.