(and why it’s okay)
One day a few years back, I was thinking about a girl, which should come as no surprise. She had been a close friend, and I had known her better than most. I knew that she didn’t like that I smoked but liked the smell of smoke. I knew that she didn’t have to be right but needed to be listened to. I knew that she feared for her future but was sure all her friends would be successful. I knew all that and much more. But on this day, for no specific reason, I realized I didn’t know her at all. This inevitably led me to reconsider all of my relationships, whether I knew any of my closest friends or family, whether I knew myself, whether I knew anything at all. This in turn resulted in one of those pseudo-out-of-body experience where you’re not sure whether anything is real.
Once I moved past that unpleasantness, I realized that, minus the mild panic attack, I was right. I didn’t really know her, I didn’t really know me, I didn’t really know anything. We all like to post things like “the more you know, the more you know how little you know,” on our facebook walls, but not many of us really believe it. We’re just echoing what we think are truisms. The problem (and I don’t mean THE problem, just the problem here) is that we think of knowledge merely as the accumulation of facts. About history, about math, about literature, about people, about relationships. To us, everything is just a mess of facts, and the more we know quantitatively, the more we know qualitatively and ideologically. It seems to me that this is either a ridiculous assumption about the nature of knowledge, or it is such an abhorrent degradation of the word itself, it renders it almost meaningless. I didn’t know this girl because, while I knew a lot of facts about her, none of them actually translated into real, substantive knowledge. The sum of their entirety amounted to nothing.