A strange word; knowing. Both in English and in Dutch (my native tongue) there is no word for the opposite of knowing. We just make due with something like “not-knowing,” immediately identifying it as in inferior to knowledge. It’s a simple fact of the Western world, we highly regard people with knowledge. So you’re constantly hiding the gaps in your knowledge, the things you do not know. Other words for not-knowing that are commonly used are dumb, stupid, ignorant and the list keeps going on. Not one word in the list is a simple flat “not-knowing” without the negative bias. You’re going to get one of those labels as soon as the word gets out that you don’t know. We value knowledge, not the absence of it. It’s of no use to us so there is no word for it. How stupid is that?!
The only thing I know is that I don’t know anything – Socrates
Where does knowledge come from? What is the source of knowledge, did you ever care to think about that one? Where does a painting come from, how did it start? How about this blogpost. Before it came to be, there was nothing there. A blank canvas, an empty screen with no words on it. That is what not-knowing is, total freedom to go in whatever direction you want. Once I start typing a blogpost it’s slowly taking form and the screen is getting filled. With each and every word committed to screen the possibilities become less and less. I’d have a hard time writing about speedreading in this blogpost now wouldn’t I, it would seem out of place. Now if only I had a blank screen.
Ode to the blank canvas
Freedom of thought can only be had with the blank canvas. Once you start adding stuff you’re committed and bound. These bonds are a part of every day life, you even treasure them, boasting with everything you know and keeping quiet about what you don’t. People would most certainly shun you if you confessed about not knowing. It’s a terrible state of mind to be in. Right?
By design, the modern human mind craves knowledge, especially in places where we can find none. When faced with an absence of information, we’ll make up something – we will believe and assume. This tendency appears to be universal – in every culture, some form of belief arises to fill in the lack of absolute “knowledge.” Every subculture with a set of beliefs clamors to have the last word on the subject, claiming themselves the guardians of the Truth. Many of the different factions are willing to go to war over their inventions, but none is willing to confess that they simply don’t know what the truth is.
- Peter Ralston, The book of not knowing, 3:11
Not knowing definitely is a problem in the world these days, but why is that? Why is it that if you already filled your cup you’re applauded but if you offer an empty cup, than you’re looked down upon.
Believing or knowing, empty your cup
I’m going to give you an assignment to do:
- Take a quiet seat somewhere and let anything and everything come to mind. There’s is a lot in your mind so expect a flood of things.
- For all those things, ask yourself if those things are just beliefs or something you actually personally experienced. You’ll quickly discover that a lot of things you “know” are nothing more that beliefs.
Two very simple examples: The North Pole is cold and it’s hard to breathe on the summit Mt. Everest. Have you personally experienced these? No you haven’t, and still you claim to know these two statements to be true. For that matter, did you ever experience the earth not being as flat as was common belief in the Middle Ages?
These two are extremes and you can quickly recognize the belief factor. Accepting these two isn’t to hard, but getting to grips with not-knowing a lot of the things you belief is very frightening indeed. Suddenly the earth on which you built your life starts sliding, it’s not even sliding, it’s simply no longer there. *POOF* It’s hard to build a house on no-ground so the gaping hole is filled with beliefs.
A single exposed belief can cause a cascade effect that shatters your beliefs and your house falls down. Not-knowing is frightening isn’t it? But not-knowing does have one huge benefit over believing: It’s always the same, always true. It’s not going to go anywhere. And it’s your blank canvas! Shattering beliefs leaves you with the possibility to actually start experiencing and knowing. What’s worse, believing or not-knowing?
Admit it, you don’t know a fraction of what you believe you know! Empty your cup and enjoy.