Discovery can be a strange and mystifying endeavor. That which we hope to discover is often not what we actually come to discover.
I can think of three illustrations in history that illustrate this truth.
- Christopher Columbus was commissioned to find a shortcut to the “Orient” (and all the valued trade goods that came from Asia) by sailing west. He never made that discovery but instead came upon what we now call North America.
- Lewis and Clark were searching for a waterway west when they set out on their journey in 1803. Thomas Jefferson’s dream was to find a river route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Such a route was never discovered, but instead they found hundreds of new animal and plant species and a continent brimming with life.
- Charles Barrow, as Secretary of the Admiralty, financed many British explorations of the Arctic in search of a “northwest passage” that would allow them to lay claim to the the North Pole. There was no such passage but they came to discover the ice that performs the vital job of keeping Britain above sea level.
- Isn’t it true that you have ventured in search of one thing only to make a startling and altogether different discovery?
- Haven’t you found yourself wondering “How on earth did I ever end up here?”
- Do you on occasion look in the direction of your significant other and ask yourself, “Just how is it that I happened to end up with you?”
I remember boarding a plane in Seattle bound for Chicago in February of 1971. Like many in my generation, I was out to discover a revolutionary way to change the world. I was unaware as a 22 year old how desperately ignorant I was.
It’s a fact—everyone is ignorant in some way or another. Perhaps we are best off when we know that every journey of discovery begins with a measure of ignorance. This actually seems like a good way to begin each day.
“God is dead.” (Nietzsche, 1882). “Nietzsche is dead.” (God, 1900).
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