Saturday, March 20, 2010

Screen doors

How does one learn to not know and shut up about not knowing?

Shouldn't I have acquired these skills much earlier in my life?  But no!  All along, I've bought into the notion that things were knowable and explainable.

At least things that we "needed" to know.

What a lot of suffering I've caused myself--by refusing to acknowledge (funny word) that almost everything of any real importance is incomprehensible and therefore inexplicable.

I'm ready to admit this now.  But the admission leaves a very big hole in my life.  What should I rely on if, as now seems incontrovertible, my rational powers are inadequate to deal with anything beyond immediate, concrete problems (e.g., how to restart the garbage disposal).

I'm acutely embarrassed that I clung so long to the delusions of academia:  the arrogant conviction that either reason or science or cognition of some sort would provide--if not ultimate answers (I've always recognized that SOME portion of reality would lie beyond the ken of a finite being)--at least all the information NECESSARY for meaningful human existence.  All we "need," as I said before.

Such a crock.  An outright lie--that I espoused and taught to my students!

Now, the emptiness and the horror.  Knowing leads only to not knowing.  And, unlike the mystics, I cannot find this kenosis either comforting or satisfying.  Yes, maybe I'm suffering less, since I'm expecting less--but I'm also feeling less "myself"--more unhinged, more ajar.  A squeaky, flailing screen door in the wind.

But still making way too much noise, huh?


  1. Depends on what you mean by a "meaningful human existence." Consider: Having the ultimate answers robs your life of any further meaning. There's nothing left to explore or discover. What's the point of existing if there's nothing left to do? Parading around your now-ossified mentality of being the "omniscient one" might amuse/satisfy you for a week, maybe even a few years, before you get lonely and the act gets old. Having all the answers won't make life meaningful--just boring. I prefer the emptiness and horror to abject boredom.

  2. Yes, I agree that there's a great excitement in the quest for knowledge. I have felt that way for most of my life--and I'm still delighted when I learn some new thing. Still, as I grow old and become more and more aware of my mental and physical limits, I nonetheless yearn for that which I know I can never achieve: an intellectual "grasp" of the ultimate. I do NOT find this yearning/quest particularly exciting or comforting (since I know it is futile). I DO find it lonely and frightening. And also, sometimes, awful (in the original sense of that word).