Sitting around the dinner table one night, our family had an illuminating conversation about data influences and ChatGPT on our current life and work. While tearing through some tater tot hotdish, we argued about the benefits and unforeseen consequences of AI use. One of the consequences being that fear around technology unleashes armageddon or at the very least, close-mindedness to curiosity.
Our world revolves around data. Every keystroke we type, website we visit, and ad where we take a pause, create a goldmine of predictions about our choices. But these predictions are not the truth about us. At best, it’s a generalized and categorized algorithm about our habits. A judgment about how we do, what we do. In the larger category of ideas, data saves our lives and saves us time. What data and machine learning cannot do is answer our thoughts and concerns around the mysterious things in life.
In her New Yorker article, “Data-Driven” Jill Lepore expounds on the four categories of knowledge. Mystery, facts, numbers, and data all have a space where we can input and withdraw knowledge we use every day. Mysteries, Lepore writes, are the things that only God knows. Like, what is the meaning of life, or what happens when we die. The point of collecting mysteries is salvation; you learn about them by way of revelation. When we study mysteries, mystification, or theocracy, we are practicing the discipline of theology.
For me, mystery has been my salvation because she feeds me questions and experiences for which I never asked. They are usually unshaped by facts or data, but prompt curiosity, fearfulness, or a wild blend of both. Mystery confounds me because she is uncontrollable and boundaryless. No matter how I try to contain her, she does what she wants and is unencumbered by my numbers and facts and data. I have unanswered questions, more lingering doubts, and unknown outcomes when I’m living in mystery. I have more things that only God knows and more waiting for a revelation. Mystery is extremely difficult when all you want are the facts. And facts, numbers, and data fall cold on our souls without the mirage of mystery.
We need to explore the full range of knowledge– not eliminate it.
No matter where you find your mystery meter this Holy week, I hope she peaks your curiosity and gives you hope. As we look at a snow-filled spring landscape, may mystery guide our thoughts while we lean into the facts that heat and light will melt it all, eventually. When fear overwhelms, know that mystery is preserved deep in your being, filling you with joy, gentleness, love, gratitude from her unencumbered, and uncontainable well.