Why timeless wisdom is cryptic

What are some of the wisest words you have heard? Here are the ones that come to my mind as I type this out:

“Man is condemned to be free…” – Juan Paul Sartre

“To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour” – William Blake

“We suffer more in our imagination than in reality.” – Seneca

“Arjuna, there are two paths, one of return and the other of no return. The wise, the connected, know the difference and choose the one of no return.” – The Bhagavad Gita

Knowledge is discovered by all of us, each adding to the whole. Wisdom is rediscovered by each of us, one at a time. – Naval Ravikant

Most wisdom is poetic. As profound as it gets, it is also profoundly cryptic. But why does it have to be so?

Ever since the enlightened eras of scientific progress, we have been taught to think critically and concretely. Any scientific hypothesis is an assertion that can be challenged and disproved by conducting the right experiments. And these experiments are replicable. Science is a map that explains the intricate workings of the world, and our education steeps this training into our blood – of creating and seeking concrete maps.

However, the workings of our inner selves are more complicated. We understand several facets of the external world, such as the trajectory of a cannonball, far more precisely than the inner workings of our brain. Every one of us is differently wired and has to follow different paths for inner discovery. Past a point, concrete maps break down. One person’s map would simply make no sense to another.

Contrast maps with a compass. A compass merely points us in in a certain direction. Navigating with a compass alone is much harder than using it with a map. And philosophical truth, which unlike science has remained fundamentally unchanged for several thousands of years, works like a compass. It favours poetic subtlety over the concrete lines and markings we see on a map – poetry that resonates with us, inspires us and serves as our compass.

Maybe a day would come where we understand the workings of the human mind as precisely as we understand the flight of a cannonball. But until we get there, it is up to each one of us to dig deeper to find our own way, using the subtle discoveries of other wise persons as our guiding posts.

By doing so every one of us turns into an explorer, discovering a new land. Tellingly, the earliest explorers set out on their discoveries using compasses, and not maps.

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