...You knew I was going to follow up the last post with this one, didn't you?
There is a general belief that I know things. I know this, I know that. I know what I am doing today, I know how people ought to behave, I know what ought to be done to fix the mess this country is in, and so on.
The difficulty with the known is that it all relies on associations. Knowing is a subjective assignment of relativity. Given the astronomically high number of associations even a single human being can generate (after all, our neural network creates trillions of electrical signals in relationship to one another every second) I have to confess that things in me could be quite different. I can know things one way, or I can know them another way. Knowing changes. It changes, in fact, according to the moment that is known.
When one states this in such a way, it seems so obvious as to eclipse the fact that I more or less insist that my knowing is a static thing. Like everyone else I know, I believe that my knowing is fixed, intelligent, and applicable under a wide range of circumstances. It isn't. No matter how much knowing I do, it applies to a very narrow range of experience within a very brief lifetime. Every human being is stuck in the middle of this dilemma, believing that their own knowing is somehow universal; that it applies to everything, when in fact the opposite is true. We are all, in the end, idiots, in the sense of the original Greek root idios, meaning, private—that is, something belonging only to that particular individual, and no one else... ahem... you suspected that already anyway, didn't you?
Knowing, in other words, as I know it, is the collapse of an infinite number of probabilities and actualities into a tiny black hole (me) where they circle around, trying to draw more material into their gravity pool. The ego is what forms this black hole—light goes in, but it doesn't come out, and the ego is constantly spinning at a very rapid rate, attempting to suck everything of the world it can into itself so that it can grow.
The analogy may be colorful, but our hunger for knowledge is legion. Yesterday, while perusing material in preparation for the upcoming issue of Parabola on Science and Spirit, I (inevitably) came across Christopher Marlowe's Faustus, a classic story where a man's (idiot's) lust for knowledge leads to perdition.
The story seems to be about someone else, but in a certain sense, it's about all of us. It may well be that the story's excessive reliance on images of hell and heaven, consequent to the fact that it is firmly placed in a Christian universe, are wholly inadequate to the present day, but the message is universal. I want to know everything; and primarily, I want this because I want power—I want to feed my ego. It's a matter of wanting to be superior not only to others, but to the world itself... ah, yes, and then comes the noble wish for repentance. Cilices don't necessarily rid people of this impulse, although I hear they certainly create a lot of itching.
There are any number of religious practices and cosmologies which see man as a miniature model of the cosmos. Assuming we sign on to this idea, it's not surprising to find that there is a black hole at the center of us driving the galaxy we live in... it's absolutely consistent. And perhaps it's not surprising to see that it feeds on what we think we know— on information. (That, in point of fact, is exactly what black holes subsist on—information, in the form of organized matter.) Earth's surface, poor thing, is covered with 6 or more billion tiny little human vortexes, each one of which is sucking in all of the impressions it can of life, all of whom believe they know what is best. If one wrote up a plan on how to produce chaos, this one would work exceedingly well. And it does.
Nature has produced some societies that don't work in this way. Beehives are a great example. I'm a beekeeper, and I'm always amazed at the dedication of every individual bee to cooperation and the health of the community. How unlike us they are! No wonder they have been admired by philosophers, friars, and farmers alike for so many generations. (Funny how we never hear politicians mention them, isn't it?)
Bees know few things, but they put them to exceedingly intelligent use.
It's fair to say that human beings, with our much more complicated brains, are doomed, whether we like it or not, to know far more than bees. It suggests that I ought to put what I know to even better use than bees do, but I'm nowhere near as cooperative or a social as they are.
Why? If I know so much, how come mere insects do so much a better job of this than I do?
I wish I knew.