Some readers feel compelled to remind me that I’m twenty-six. Within that group, a subset tells me (as often as they get the chance) that I do not know everything. But telling an intelligent and ambitious twenty-six year old that he does not have the capacity to understand everything is like telling a teenager that he is not immortal:
He will agree with you because of course you’re right. He might even understand that what you really mean is not that the teenager can die but that actions have consequences some of which he is not prepared for and others which he is totally incapable of handling. But of course the teenager can die, and he knows this. And of course actions have consequences, and he knows this. It’s what he doesn’t know that matters most: He does not know the horrible threshold consequences can elevate to. He does not know the terrible burden consequences sometimes aspire to. He does not know just how quickly his life can turn from seeming security to irresistable loss. He does not even know that some things in life are irresistable.
What I understand from readers of this type, when I take them at their best critique, is that I am not capable of understanding everything in the world. But of course I know this. I am a student of Socrates, where all knowledge is vain, and I have no faith in the things I know. I am a student of Ptolemy, where when I see two systems side by side that work just as well, I consider one as good as another and arbitrarily choose one with which to move forward (I must move forward.). I am a student of Galileo, where when I come to see that one system surpasses the other I had arbitrarily chosen, I hold no qualms in switching systems. I am a student of Einstein, where even as systems become more complicated they become simpler, and yet even as I abstract out of my perspective, these systems can never grow outside my perspective. I am a student of Kuhn, where the system of switching systems is itself a science, for all the paradoxes that entails.
I know, as well as the teenager knows that he is not immortal, that my knowledge is vain. What matters is what I do not know.
I do not know that knowledge has negative consequences beyond the fickle: peoples’ jealousy, peoples’ annoyance, peoples’ opinion of my arrogance. I do not know that loneliness matters in the grand scheme of things; isolation is the birthplace of human genius, but loneliness is so wearisome. I do not know how difficult it will be to unsubscribe from all the human systems I have digested, should my spiritual growth ever attain that level. What more consequences I do not know, I do not know.
In college I told friends that my vision of entering afterlife was a process where you receive one opportunity to let go the burden of your accumulated knowledge such that, should you choose to accept his offer, God fills you with Truth and Knowledge, fulfilling all the desires you ever had to know him and his gifts. Should you not except, you remain stuck with yourself. I imagined a white light, a time-eclipsed experience of floating in his essence. I suppose in some small way I still cling to that fantasy, that all my effort and knowledge are moot, accumulating inevitably as I wait for the opportunity to cast them aside. And yet the longer I hold them—for I cannot let them go—the more tempting assuming them becomes.
I also believe that self-knowledge is a system that shall one day require letting go. I believe that despite the deception of relativity, we learn about ourselves through a third-person perspective. Our only benefit is that we are so much closer to ourselves than others are: every waking moment can be spent on self-reflection. But one comes to know oneself as one comes to know any other self, and one can never know oneself as it is promised that God knows one. But perhaps there is no omniscience who knows you as you do not know yourself: I cannot promise it is so; only in the void of my impressionable imagination do I see anything of the kind. Therefore, even concerning self-knowledge, as it is with all other forms of knowledge, I am aware that either all is vain or all is moot: either way, it makes no difference. And yet I cannot help myself.
So, please, take me at my word: I know I do not know everything. I know I lack the capacity of wholly knowing the world or human knowledge or myself. I persevere in my authorial attempt and poetic displays not because I think I am some messiah sent to set the world straight but because, so long as I suffer life, I suffer human capacities, most specifically the being dragged along by the unflinching juggernaut of everincrementing time.