The Kennedy assassination. Jack the Ripper’s identity. The Black Dahlia killer. If Hitler really died, or if he fled to Brazil. Subconscious copying or alien interference leading to pyramids across the globe. The purpose of Stonehenge.
Those and about two million more make up the shared mythology of humanity. The things that keep us up at night wondering. The things individuals, clubs, gangs, schools, research teams and sometimes entire nations band together to pick at and pull apart, looking for the candy treat inside. The need to know the truth drives us, defines us. Some of the mysteries we solve. Others, like those above, we don’t. But it doesn’t stop us from trying, even when time, distance and death ensure that it’s almost impossible that we’ll ever figure it out.
But that’s the fun, isn’t it? The fun is in flexing the imagination, in contemplating the reasons, the background, the aftershocks. Coming up with our own theories – seriously or not, plausible or not – and exploring what they might mean. Some might object to calling these things “fun,” but other words could apply: engrossing. Fascinating. Obsession-inducing. They all come to the same.
People need a mystery to solve.
But the problem is that when the mystery is solved, the fun is gone. The drive is gone. And half the time, the answer is almost painfully mundane and dull compared to all the possibilities we’ve conjured that not only does it take the fun out of the quest, it leeches some of the zest for life out of other things around you. You finished the quest, but there were no grand revelations, no flash of light and angelic choirs, no pleasing “Level up!” noise. It’s just… Over.
Take Kennedy, for example, because he’s my favorite. From a realistic perspective, I tend to think Oswald did it. He probably was alone. He wasn’t anyone’s patsy, wasn’t being manipulated or used, wasn’t a grand conspirator. He was a nut with a gun and a god complex. That’s all. But from a creative perspective, I can conjure all kinds of theories, ranging from the plausible – the CIA and Johnson decided to get a little payback and used Oswald as either a patsy or their triggerman – to the utterly insane – Little Nikita wanted out of the public life and knew he wasn’t going to get away clean so long as his Western rival was around, so had Oswald brainwashed while he sent his top assassin to clear out the mess – and none of them are so dull and basic and realistic as one nut with a gun.
But because we don’t know for sure, those fantasies can exist, and have equal weight in my mind, or the minds of thousands of others. If somehow we ever know for absolute certain what happened and why, the magic is gone. Sure, you can still make up stories and theories and fiction about it… But they lose something. They’re a little less shiny, a little less interesting, because fantastic and fascinating as they may be, we know they’re not true or possible. Because we can prove it.
Mystery, mythology and fiction collide and make something wonderful… Because to the person hearing it for the first time, it might be true. When might becomes “certainly isn’t,” something dies inside. And I hate it.
That’s why I hope we never know what happened to Kennedy. Why, if I were a praying man, I’d pray we never uncover the real Ripper. Why I don’t want to take a time machine back to third century England and see what the druids were doing in Stonehenge.
The mystery gives me life. It gives meaning. The drive to understand isn’t satisfied by that understanding. It’s killed.
But that’s just my opinion.
What about you out there? What great mystery of the human race pushes your buttons, drives your curiosity to the brink of madness, if not beyond? What crazy answer to one of those long-standing questions do you cherish?