Gnosis and knowing how little you know

Feeling somewhat exasperated talking to people who pretend to know something significant, when in fact they know just enough to know something, but don’t really know enough for it to matter, I can’t help but think of Socrates’ idea: Wisdom is knowing how little we know. If sounds a bit too abstract, I’ll give a few examples like people reviling Russia’s president Putin simply because that’s how the Western media has told them to think, and an internet journalist (who is sympathetic to Russia) telling he knows better than the Russian leadership how Russia should handle it’s foreign policy and get rid of ISIS in Syria.

I genuinely don’t know enough to make a definite judgement, and I get the same impression from most of these other people don’t know either, except they fool themselves into thinking they do. I’m not trying to be witty or make myself seem smart by being intentionally evasive or anything like that. It’s just that I don’t understand the big picture of global politics, although I’d like to. I don’t know what how I should view Russia and Putin, is it fair in any sense to call them the good guys. Maybe, maybe not. I just don’t trust them. But I can say I “know” the European and American leadership are the bad guys. You can use Socrates against me on this one, if I’m wrong. I still don’t know what ISIS is. It seems it’s a creation Mossad and CIA, but then again maybe it’s just the convenient explanation. Social commentator and world-traveler Morris has said several times the media wants everybody to hate ISIS so maybe there’s something we’re not seeing.

But I don’t wanna get bogged down by politics. Let’s just end it by saying no-one, or very few, know what’s going on, although many like to think they do.

The beginning of wisdom is acknowledging the limits of one’s knowledge. It is sometimes called the Socratic paradox: “I know that I know nothing”. However, from the original mental blank slate you can begin to know “something”, but there is a different between knowing and knowing that you know. That is the dilemma behind all knowledge. We all know “something”. Be a fisherman who knows how to catch enough fish to make a living, a basketball player who understands the physics behind the bouncing ball, and a historian studying ancient history. They all know something about their trade, what they’ve devoted their lives to, but they don’t know everything. The results of their work is proof enough that they have some knowledge behind their actions: catching fish, scoring points, and understanding history. But no fisherman can catch all the fish in the world, no basketball player can score of the points in a match, and no historian can know all of history.

The problem with claiming “I know that I know nothing”, or claiming that “Nothing can be known”, is an assumption that you know something that you do not know. If you know nothing, how could you know claim to know something (i.e. that you know nothing)? It is not truly a paradox, but a logical fallacy, especially since everyone of us knows “something”. Be it your own name, how strawberry tastes like or that Paris is in France. Likewise, saying “Nothing can be known” is nonsense, not a paradox. If you think nothing can be known, how can you claim to know it?

The dilemma with knowledge and ignorance is being able to distinguish between what you really know, and what you think you know. I think we can agree that I know English, since I’m writing this, and anyone reading this also knows the English language. It does not mean I know the meaning of every word in the English language, it does not mean I do not make mistakes or misunderstand some things (especially since English is not my mother tongue), but I know “something” about English. I guess that is the key to true gnosis.

The ancient gnostics had the audacity to claim something can be known, not only of the external, physical world, but also of the metaphysical realm around us. I cannot help but agree with their sentiments. I do believe something can be known, not only of the banal facts like “fire burns” and “ice is cold”, but of the meaning of life, our purpose, of truth and lies, of God and the devil, or Aeons and Archons, of beauty and ugliness, of nobility, of love and other of these concepts our digital age of ones and zeros find difficult to comprehend.

But I’d like everyone to make clear that we can know “something”, but I am very skeptical that we ever know everything. That we can have 100% proof of anything. There’s the distinction. Distinction between a “holy” book or “scientific” consensus on a matter, and actual practical knowledge and understanding of how things really work.

 

 

Links:

Who Was Socrates? – 8-Bit Philosophy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJUuOnsRcvc

Morris’ channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/108morris108/videos

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