The Future of a Marriage

Part 3: The Problem of the Black Dot

Nathan Lopes Cardozo

vrijdag 1 september 2023

Words spoken at the festive meal (“Sheva Berachot”) on the occasion of the marriage of our grandson and his bride, Lakewood, USA, 24th of June.

Here is a piece of advice that may help you in your future lives.

It is a known fact that human beings have a tendency to look for the bad and emphasize what goes wrong in life. Just have a look at the newspapers and other media – bad news is news, whereas good news rarely is.

Somebody once said that “peace is that part of history no history book has anything to say about”! Why is this the case? I think that it has something to do with the “black dot phenomenon.”

Imagine a black dot on a large sheet of white paper. Display the sheet to an audience and ask them what they see. In almost all such instances, people will respond that they see a black dot.

This is inaccurate. They see a white sheet with a tiny black dot in the middle. There is far more white than black. And yet, they only see the black dot! They have been conditioned to do so; why?

I believe that this has a lot to do with the secularization of our world. The good and the beauty of this world reminds us of that which is greater than we can ever attain or fully understand. The rising of the sun in the morning, the baffling ability of the human brain to think (and think about thinking!), the splendor of music and so many more phenomena extract us from our ordinary world. They confront us with the mystery of all existence. For many, this is unsettling.

It reminds them that there may be more to the world than meets the eye. It invokes in us something we cannot place in a secular setting. It asks us to be amazed and stand in wonder before the unknown. However, this wonder makes us highly uncomfortable because we do not know what it is nor what to do with it.

This amazement and wonderment not only result in having to admit that life, the universe and its components are all expressions of ultimate mystery, but this amazement and wonderment invoke deep emotions and feelings in us. They make us search for a higher meaning. They make us realize there are more things existing in heaven than we are prepared to accept. They teach us that there is an unexplainable dimension to our lives.

Just think of the universe: we have never explained why the universe exists. Stephen Hawking (1942-2018), the famous English theoretical physicist, who did not ascribe to any religious philosophy asked: “Why does the universe go to all the effort of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence? Or does it need a creator and, if so, does he have any other effect on the universe?” (Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, Bantam Books, 2nd ed. (1996), p. 170; see also: More Things in Heaven and Earth, God and the Scientists, Dutch, Professor A. van den Breukel, SCM Press (1991), p. 28.)

Indeed, this is the most painful question for those who do not want to admit that there may be far-reaching consequences, such as the question of how to live one’s life. What if life has a higher meaning that surpasses all our day-to-day issues?

Even more disturbing is the fact that science does not answer any of these questions. After all, science never answered the existential question of why things are the way they are. Or what the purpose of this universe is. Science can only determine what is, but not what should be. It only answers the question of what is happening; science describes but it never explains. (See Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership, God, Science and the Search for Meaning, Hodder & Stoughton, London (2011).)

Science has become extremely advanced in its discovery and theorization of what happens. With theories such as quantum mechanics it has become highly sophisticated. And no doubt more discoveries will be made and theories proposed. However, the question as to why these discovered and theorized phenomena exist is not answered. All we can do is stand in amazement and be silent. It seems that the more we know about physics, the less we understand the physical world (see ibid., p. 46: “God and the Scientists”).

For many, this is not easy to acknowledge. Such acceptance amounts to admission that we do not know the answer to the most fundamental question of all: Why is there existence? Why do humans exist, why does the earth revolve around the sun? And so on.

Again, we know what happens, which theories describe the phenomena, but we do not know why these laws exist and why they do what they do. Nor do we know why music is of great beauty. We only know it is! Colorful flowers move us to great heights. Love is felt as the greatest experience we can have. Neuroscientists know a lot about the effects of emotions on our brains etc., but they do not know why this must be.

It is a mistake to believe that what happens explains why it happens.

Our ignorance is quite embarrassing. It leaves us vulnerable to the question of what this all means: if the universe bears meaning, there is purpose; and if there is such purpose, it is quite likely that man has a purpose that is larger than his physical existence and day-to-day life. Indeed, a universe with meaning has consequences.

Many people turn their back on this kind of questions. It is easier to run from them than to appreciate the consequences. Man looks for that which does not confront him with existential beauty. While he will no doubt utilize this beauty, he does not want to pose the question: Why beauty?

Instead, man seeks proofs that the world is a bad place, how many things go wrong, how many people are evil, corrupt etc.

He does not realize that the reason he is disturbed by evil is due to the fact that there is far more good in this world and that most people are decent.

It is far easier to accept that there is evil than to stand in amazement and admit we are ignorant. It is easier to contemplate the black dot, for it does not force us to ask the ultimate questions about all of existence.

However, the black dot does not give us joy, does not offer a moment of amazement, does not give us a feeling of why our lives are worth living. After all, we are not just sophisticated computers, but beings with emotions and the capacity for amazement and searching for ultimate meaning.

True, there are many black dots in our lives – but with all its beauty, life is not one black dot. If we were to count all the white in our lives, we would see that the black dots are mostly small compared to the nearly infinite white. Even in the Holocaust, interns in the concentration camps were able to keep themselves alive by focusing on the white, as described by Victor Frankl in his famous work Man’s Search of Meaning.

So, my advice is that on encountering a black dot in your lives – look for the immense white encompassing the black and you will see that there is so much to be happy about. Count your blessings!

This way, you will be able to deal with any black dot with far more ease. Furthermore, may we never forget that there is even white paper behind the black dot.

To be continued.

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