I ask this puzzling question because I have just been reading David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and writer of fiction.
Eagleman rejects not only conventional religion but also the labels of agnostic and atheist. In their place, he has coined the term possibilian: a word to describe those who “celebrate the vastness of our ignorance, are unwilling to commit to any particular made-up story, and take pleasure in entertaining multiple hypotheses.”
The work of science, he says, is like building a pier out into the ocean. We excitedly add on to the pier little by little, but then we look around and say, “Wait a minute, I’m at the end of the pier, but there’s a lot more out there.” The ocean of what we don’t know always dwarfs what we do know. During our lifetimes, he adds, we will get further on that pier. We’ll understand more at the end of our lives than we do now, but it ain’t going to cover the ocean.
Our goal in some sense is to reduce the mystery, but that doesn’t reduce the awe, Eagleman insists. If scientists could produce a neural map that explains why chocolate ice cream tastes good, it would still taste just as good. The mystery would be gone, but the experience wouldn’t be diminished.
Eagleman makes a useful distinction between himself, a possibilian, and what he calls a mysterian (one who believes that there are things humans can’t understand, problems we can’t solve).