Every aspect of reality makes sense

There are aspects of this world that we live in that, on the surface of it, don’t make sense. Sometimes you hear people talk about it when they question why certain things are the way they are:

“How come women can’t just wear whatever they want without being judged? That doesn’t make any sense…”
“Why do you have to be super manly and do all those things considered manly in order to ‘be a man’, if the whole premise is that you already ‘are’ a man? That doesn’t make any sense…”
“Why is Islam being painted as some kind of global enemy even though the vast majority of muslims have nothing to do with terrorism? That doesn’t make any sense…”

But what does it mean for something to make sense?

I won’t be able to provide a universal definition, but for the purpose of this discussion let’s say that something makes sense if it can be related to other facts without contradictions, especially if those relations are causal, i.e. explain why it is the way it is.

For example, traffic lights make sense because human lives are seen as precious, and traffic lights contribute to their safety. (They lower the individual cost of trying to not die in a car accident by introducing a fairly reliable distinction between safe times and unsafe times.)

What’s an example of something that doesn’t make sense? An example might be religions that each claim to be the only true religion, which clearly can’t be true for all of them.

There is one way of applying the “makes sense” vs. “makes no sense” distinction that — I am sorry if this sounds funny — doesn’t make sense, and it applies to all the examples I gave in the introduction.

If you look at some aspect of the world as you experience it and you can’t come up with a good explanation for it, you might conclude that it doesn’t make sense. However, and this is the point I want to make, that conclusion will be faulty, in most cases, and the reason is this:

Assuming that what you are thinking about is a fact, there must be a non-contradictory explanation of it. What that means is that, given enough knowledge, you would be able to see how it actually does make sense.

As another example, here is a fact that may be hard to explain for some people: why is it that women aren’t allowed to show their nipples on social media, but men are? (This is probably mostly based on gender assignment and not necessarily people’s actual gender.) You might look at this fact and start wondering: yeah… why would that be? And maybe the next impulse would be to reject the whole issue as nonsensical and therefore not even worth thinking about. You might conclude that the rule should be changed, and that there is no reason for anyone to not just go ahead and do it.

However, your question started with a fact, it is a question about a fact, and that fact exists nonetheless. It doesn’t care whether you have an explanation for it or not. It exists and can be observed and confirmed by others. There is no way around it. There is probably some explanation for it, but that explanation is not necessarily obvious, simple, and interesting. It might be ugly, complex, and not very enlightening, but it’s hard to know that before asking the question and trying to learn enough about the issue for it to all make sense.

Statements can be nonsensical, but facts can’t. If you realize while asking “why is this so?” that the thing you were wondering about is actually not real, is not a fact, then you can stop looking for an explanation, but if it is indeed a fact, do ask the question and be persistent! Here are some more concrete questions to help you get started:

  • Who benefits from it being that way, directly or indirectly?
  • What is the history of it? What led to it being that way?
  • What prevents it from changing?
  • What would be likely consequences of it changing?
  • Can individuals break out of it? Why don’t most people do it then?

Those questions can lead to great insights into how the world works. The answers you get can greatly amplify your ability to navigate the world, communicate with others, and also learn more things more easily. They can elevate you to a new level of understanding. And sometimes they can enable you to see opportunities for change, not because you realized that it doesn’t make sense, but because you now understand exactly why it is the way it is.

There is another layer on top of all this: if a lot of people agree to certain statements that you have concluded actually do not make sense, that condition is itself a fact, and can be analyzed exactly the same way as any other fact.

The world is certainly complex and full of things that are more or less hard to understand. But encountering something that doesn’t seem to make sense on the surface of it is not a good point to end at — it is a starting point for the next few steps through this maze.