What is the curse of Pandora’s box?
Speaking of the laws of fairyland in Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton explains that in all fairy tales “the vision always hangs upon a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden.”
In all fairy tales known to mankind, an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.
But why? Why should something be withheld?
If Cinderella says, “How is it that I must leave the ball at twelve?” her godmother might answer, “How is it that you are going there till twelve?”
It is magic. In fairy tales, the condition is just as incomprehensible as the fairyland itself. The fairy godmother is working magic before your very eyes, which is just as incomprehensible as the condition she lays down. Just like Mary Poppins, she doesn’t explain anything. She is magical enough to silence all our questions.
And yet we want to look. We want to know. What we feel is Pandora’s itch as she gazed upon that strange gift of Zeus – the “magical” box she was forbidden to open. Pandora received her name from Hermes himself – her name means “all-gifted.” She received from the gods every possible gift, but Zeus gave her the strangest gift of all.
He gave her curiosity and a box that she wasn’t allowed to open. What an irony!
When I read this myth to my son, his eyes grew large,
“What?” he cringed. “Isn’t it cruel?”
“Hm… I guess it may seem so at first,” I answered after a pause. “But think about it. To trust means to accept not knowing. If you must know, you cannot trust. And if you can’t trust, you cannot be happy.”
“Ah…” he nodded and went about his business, leaving me alone as I sat there pondering Pandora’s dilemma.
You have been granted every gift in the world, and yet you are told to accept one small condition. You must not look into the box.
No explanation is given. The only feasible “explanation” is to trust that it’s better. But Pandora’s desire for knowledge gets the better of her. “What if there’s something there that will make me happier?” she muses.
The moment she opened the box, all the miseries and evils imaginable were unleashed into the world including sickness and death. She tries to push them back inside but can’t. It’s irreversible.
Exhausted, she looks inside the empty box and sees a simple ray of light – a comforting gift from Zeus. When she looks away from her troubles and onto the ray of light, she feels hope and relief.
Pandora’s dilemma is a human dilemma. By trying to get knowledge at all costs, we let loose unthinkable evils into the world. Not everything should be done that can be done. Sometimes it’s best not to look under the lid. Some things, if let out, can’t be undone.
Knowledge is good. Our craving for knowledge is bad. When we can’t trust and accept a “no,” we are ignorant because we cannot attain true knowledge, which is a relationship.
When Adam and Eve were told not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it wasn’t because God was holding out on them. He was inviting them to a deeper knowledge – the knowledge that comes from “not knowing.” The knowledge of unknowing is always based on trust!
To unknow means you accept the idea that you are not god. We cannot know everything. We cannot predict everything. When we leave the role of God to God, we become divine.
There’s no true knowledge without accepting one little “no.” Knowledge only works when there’s room for trust – not knowing. There must be this happy tension between knowing and not knowing for knowledge to work.
Without this essential paradox, knowledge becomes a curse. So, what is the curse of Pandora’s box?
What is the main point of The Question Concerning Technology?
Martin Heidegger’s essay “The Question Concerning Technology” might be a case in point. According to Heidegger, we don’t seem to notice when we cross the line between using technology for our purposes and when technology starts using us. To make his point, he described what happened to water mills along the Rhine River.
Before the 20th century, there were many individual water mills along the Rhine. They were all “built into” the river. In the 20th century, a huge power plant was built at that spot, interlocking the river entirely. The river is now built into the power plant, not the other way around!
This is a fine illustration of what is happening with technology in our time – a slow and gradual change from “using a tool” to “being used by the tool.” Just as the Rhine is now built into technology and serves it, we are building our lives around the “instrument-defined reality.”
A tool must be a tool. It should help us get things done, but it cannot take up the entire space of our lives. When technology becomes the overarching reality, we build everything into it.
When technology has become the overarching principle of life, it’s no longer a tool but an artificial reality. The rhetoric “but it helps us get things done faster and more efficiently” no longer applies. This rhetoric works only in the case of a tool that we use for a while and then put down to do something else. With modern technology, we rarely do “something else.”
In J.R.R. Tolkien, the One Ring is the ultimate technology. It promises us the world but always takes away what it promises to give.
What is the name of Annatar?
The One Ring was wrought by Sauron himself who was called Annatar, “the gift giver.” It is said that since Sauron was behind the “technology” used in creating the magical rings, he had full control over them. The one who creates technology holds the power.
The Elves were deceived by him – they thought the technology Sauron offered was “neutral,” and they could use it for a good purpose. Eventually, they realized that Sauron knew their minds every time they put them on.
He was the Master of all the rings – even those he didn’t forge – because his technology was used in making them. Some elves took off the rings realizing that otherwise they would be forfeiting their freedom.
There’s only one way not to be controlled by the ring – take it off. Using Martin Heidegger’s analogy, a tool must remain a tool. When it takes up the whole space of our lives, it’s no longer a tool. It has a different name. It’s an idol.