5 May 2007

On Not Knowing

Filed under: Language, Psychology — ktismatics @ 3:00 pm

We don’t really know what we want. We want what our genes tell us to want. We want what the marketplace wants to sell us. We want only what other people want. We want to be what other people want. We want to have sex with our mothers and to kill our fathers. We want what God wants through us. We want to be repressed. We don’t want anything. We want nothing. One thing’s for sure: what we want isn’t what we think we want.

We don’t really know who we are. We don’t know who anyone else is. We don’t know the world. We don’t know what we mean. We don’t know what anyone else means. We don’t know the point. We don’t know what we don’t know.

There are new gnostics among us, speaking the secret languages of hidden realms. They can translate what our subconscious is saying through us, or what our genes are saying, or what our society is saying. The gnostics can interpret what the war is really about, or the movie, or the empty spaces between the buildings. The way they speak, with facility and assurance but without obvious references to anything we already understand: is it truth or delirium? It’s another thing we don’t know.

We read that truths are propositions spoken in languages that float free of the world, and we wonder how such truths can be relied on. We read that truths are unveilings of the things themselves, but we find that even a thing fully exposed is just a thing. We read that truths are created and not discovered, and we wonder how this is any different from someone saying that the Holocaust never happened. We read that truth has been subsumed under interpretation, but we wonder what to call that thing that must be interpreted. We read that truths contain their own falsifications, and find ourselves wanting to take the easy way out.

These doubts don’t come naturally to us, and they certainly don’t help us concentrate our energies. Let’s step back into the world we left behind — it’s still there, full of people who speak a language we understand, doing things we know how to do. We’ve got skills: let’s go make some money.

There are more truths than we’re prepared to acknowledge.



  1. There are more truths than we’re prepared to acknowledge.

    Boy, I wish I knew what makes that so true. Why do we shut down on truths that we don’t want to see? Can’t make ourselves see?

    Meilleurs voeux!!


    Comment by bluevicar — 5 May 2007 @ 8:31 pm

  2. bluevicar –

    I just wrote a response but somehow it disappeared. I’ll try again.

    I think some truths we repress, but some we aren’t aware of. It makes me paranoid when somebody else is aware of a truth that I’m not. As a practitioner do you think you’ll induce paranoia in your clients in this way? Somebody knowing a truth about myself that I’m not aware of — that really makes me paranoid.

    Plus people are afraid of complexity. Instrumental rationality suggests that you can be a better-aimed projectile if you allow only one motive force to push you along. Shut down all the other truths because they’re too distracting, potentially immobilizing, keep you from hitting the preset target.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 May 2007 @ 9:28 pm

  3. There is no gnosis only agnosis. We are uncertain of anything but we are certain that we are uncertain. There is something that we are uncertain of. Certainty is not a gift, it is a curse.

    Sensing the other is pertly a function of the self. Is there not impingement? The other that reaches out to make us reach in? Is otherness not the only basis of reality?


    Comment by samlcarr — 6 May 2007 @ 9:07 pm

  4. But we do know something. One way of knowing is through the other, but I think there are others. “Certainty is a curse” — does that imply you think that the full truth will turn out to be something terrible? Or because it imposes an unfulfillable responsibility on the knower?


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 May 2007 @ 9:34 pm

  5. And we have an interesting paradox of on the one hand feeling like we continue to know more and more, while on the other hand becoming more aware that there are many, many things of which we do not know. So, the more we know the more we realize we don’t know.

    We go through our lives accumulating knowledge and information and life experience and carve out a little niche of know-how that earns us respect, admiration, and love from some of our peers. But in the vast scheme of things it really only amounts to jack squat.


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 7 May 2007 @ 1:56 pm

  6. Dude, cheer up! Maybe oblivion isn’t so bad. What’s your take on eternal life these days? And what’s its relation to the temporal jack-squat existence, do you think?

    So, the more we know the more we realize we don’t know. It’s like the surface of an expanding object: the bigger it gets, the more emptiness it touches at the outer boundaries. Is the ever-expanding realm of knowledge and ignorance worth anything in the Christian long-term scenario, do you think?


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 May 2007 @ 2:31 pm

  7. Certainty means the end of enquiry, exploration, learning, seeking, doubting. Certainty is the beginning of stagnation and that’s just another way of saying death.

    I’m not at all sure where knowledge fits in in Christianity. “you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free” to find more truth?


    Comment by samlcarr — 7 May 2007 @ 7:38 pm

  8. You ask me to cheer up on a Monday morning? Well, I guess a conservative did win in France and vow to build strong relations with the U.S…….so, I guess I can take cheer!


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 7 May 2007 @ 7:42 pm

  9. I’m not at all sure where knowledge fits in in Christianity.

    This may be the million dollar question.


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 7 May 2007 @ 7:43 pm

  10. I tend to think that the postmodern skepticism about absolute knowledge is a mid-course correction in the ongoing human search for understanding, rather than an abandonment of that particular quest.


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 May 2007 @ 10:47 pm

  11. Are you suggesting that knowledge/understanding is the highest pursuit? Or are you making the more mild suggestion that the knowledge-quest has not been completely abandoned?


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 8 May 2007 @ 1:24 pm

  12. I’m saying that the knowledge quest continues, abandoning certain arrogances along the way. Science increases its knowledge even while acknowledging that it can never prove any theory and that probability and randomness might be irreducible components of the universe. Psychologists continue trying to help people understand themselves and their world even while acknowledging that much of the information may never make itself available for scrutiny. Exegetes continue parsing texts even while acknowledging that they may never completely understand exactly what the writer was trying to say. Artists continue revealing the world even while asserting that some understandings are entirely subjective and personal and idiosyncratic.

    Is knowledge/understanding the highest pursuit? If I had to commit myself, I’d say the pursuits I’m most committed to, for myself and for others, are: discovery, creation, love. How about you?


    Comment by ktismatics — 8 May 2007 @ 1:48 pm

  13. My highest pursuit is indeed knowledge. And at this moment my creativity is often related to my childrens development. As they develop I develop. I never want to stop learning.
    I made the mistake to think that creation is tactile. Now I enjoy creating thoughts.
    I am starting to pull off the protective celluloid. I’m finding out who I am and well, Í’m pretty satisfied.

    That’s also because I’ve met amazing people in my life, also through books. This makes me feel very fortunate.


    Comment by Odile — 9 May 2007 @ 8:21 am

  14. Odile –

    The idea of creating thoughts is to explore the overlap between knowing and creating. This realm I too find congenial. As you say, pursuing knowledge also results in self-knowledge. Perhaps pursuing creation also leads to self-creation. In recent months I’ve benefited greatly through meeting people on the internet — including you!


    Comment by ktismatics — 9 May 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  15. :)


    Comment by Odile — 10 May 2007 @ 1:45 pm

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