A Fight for Knowledge
In college I took a sailing class. I had sailed a few times with my grandfather on his boat but I hadn’t really understood it. Slowly I began to grasp the subtleties of maneuvering a sailboat over the water. It’s actually quite complex. Learning how to correctly trim and use the sail is difficult and counterintuitive. There’s a great deal of anticipation involved, and I had to feel the correct amount of tension in the sail. This meant I needed an intuitive understanding of how exactly the wind interacted with the sail. Soon, this thing called wind, as I understood it, redefined itself. It hadn’t actually changed from before I went sailing — wind is wind — but as an intelligible force, it had an entirely new dimension. I had a new paradigm from which to understand it: piloting a sailboat.
As I later learned, wind can carry quite a bit of power. Enough to capsize the boat, and throw me into the Charles river on a cold April day. That’s a wake-up. That power — its potential is something I could have only learned through such an experience. I might watch a boat capsize, but until I’m the recipient of such a disaster I won’t understand it.
Our human lens, by which we render the world intelligible, is in a state of continual transformation. How we perceive the world, and how we think the world should be, are evolving. We calibrate theory against our ever-expanding memory of experience. Quite simply, we learn. And so what can we say defines our true principles and nature? How can we cling to a notion of “self” if that self is always in motion? The understanding of reality is always changing. Values always change. What is real? What is life?
Take a bird. A bird — I imagine — has a certain conception of how the world works, and it doesn’t change much. A bird’s reality is complete, concrete and final. Wind is wind from the moment its wings have matured. Can we say we are more knowledgeable than the bird? This may seem a silly question, but a bird appears to understand perfectly his world. There is no faltering, no doubt, and no misunderstanding.
So with us humans, something isn’t quite complete; something is flawed. We’re struggling, arguing, going to war, killing one another, in order to feel we’ve achieved some kind of final, cataphatic knowledge — that only becomes more obfuscated as we seek it out.
We should be aware of this ‘flux’ we are in; our values are not written in stone. While nature may move along happily, without a second thought, we humans have to perpetually check ourselves, react to complicated situations, and from time to time values do bump up against each other. And this is a good thing, because we aren’t perfect, and we get into trouble when we think we are.