Bits of knowing


Knowing is considered good. Not knowing is considered bad.


What do kids know? When some kids have a hard time understanding what to do to learn the basics of algebra, some teachers tell them to look it up on the internet, because clearly the internet is an extraordinary teacher. In fact, the internet is such a good teacher that one day it will replace brick-and-mortar classrooms thereby eliminating face-to-face, direct human interaction and the need for real, living breathing human being teachers. Which is fine when you consider that students are either hauling guns to school or working just enough to know what they have to know to pass standardized tests to get the grades, to get the MBA, to pass the Ph.D dissertation — all of which they think prepares them for a world that no longer exists.


Do you know someone who has CAS (Compulsive Answer Syndrome)? It used to be called MAS (Male Answer Syndrome) but the name was changed because women are equally prone to it. Its tell-tale symptom is a pathological inability to say I don’t know under any circumstance, including the circumstance of not actually knowing the topic of discussion. Answers provided by someone with CAS may or may not be accurate — the information might be patched together from bits of unrelated data or worse, totally fabricated. This can be a dangerous disease, found in the tribes of puffed up experts, pontificating academics, run-of-the-mouth know-it-alls, most MBAs, pathological liars, and people who have undiagnosed social disorders. It’s also contagious. Lately, the media has caught it and is reporting all the stuff that the people with CAS belch out, proving once and for all that sometimes there is a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing, and all of it way past its best before date.


Then there’s the movement against knowing anything. The icons of this movement are the Template and the Checklist. Now these can be useful tools in the hands and minds of thinking people, however, people who belong to this anti-knowing movement are not thinking people. Their first question when assigned work is, “Where’s the template for that?” Curiously, when they get the template, they run around and get other people to fill it in lest they catch something to know and start to sneeze.


People only know what they want to know, seek out information that supports what they know and often disregard everything else. The thing is most people don’t know the things they think they know.


The cafe was small and crowded and they were sitting beside me, all of two centimetres separating us, and it wasn’t possible to close my ears. I heard everything. It was the kind of conversation that a stranger should never overhear. Full of secrets –the kind that become somatic burdens. What I heard followed me when I left the cafe, out the door, onto the street. What I heard bounced around in my brain all day. What caught my ear wasn’t so much the content of what I heard as it was the whole lot puffery of knowing and know-it-all-ness.

Perhaps being on the wrong side of any kind of right incites a need for control, making people hunker down into a special kind of stupid and ignorant behaviours. Not that I’m making a judgment.


Perhaps the trinity of know, knowing, known — of saying I know, I’ve always known, I have this sense of knowing when that’s not the case is an attempt to assert a sense of certainty, control, oversight and predictability. Maybe. Maybe in the same way that Mme. Tussaud’s wax figures of famous people, which is to say it gives a likeness, a facsimile, a manufactured, photo-op billboard facade sense of the real thing, but not the real thing at all.

We seem to need something to know with all our might, something that gives us a sense of certainty. Bertrand Russell suggested that it’s natural for humans to demand certainty, and that our demand (for certainty) is an intellectual vice. Not to argue with Russell, but, with today’s understanding of the mind-body relationship let’s just say that demand for certainty — know, knowing, known — is more than intellectual. In some people, it’s instinctual.


Maybe the people in the cafe were not kind people. Maybe they were typical people who didn’t think about the things that they think, or wonder about the things they think they know, or care about much beyond themselves. I wondered about them and their secrets and their knowing. I fell asleep wondering and as the dream gods would have it, I dreamt that the cafe people were visited by a talking field mouse. When the mouse finished talking, I woke up and immediately wrote down what I could remember:

“You think you know and then something comes along and it clouds the clarity of your knowing. Rather than look at the clouds you hang more tightly to what you think you know.

You confuse facts with knowing and knowing for understanding, not understanding that much of what you think you know is assumption or inherited belief or institutionalized knowledge and you have not stopped to check if what you believe is valid in the world today.  

Understand what your ancestors knew: so little is certain. We can not know. You secret keepers, know your self.


I don’t know much about much of anything. When I start to feel like I know something, I go off in search of things I do not know to remind me — I do not know and cannot know. But this I do know: sitting in a cafe where the tables are placed this >  < close to each other can lead to hearing things you don’t want to hear and knowing things about people you don’t want to know.

found on


About FS

Toronto, Canada. Writing about slices of life, the moments and minor details of which come into awareness or out of imagination and the spaces inbetween.
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6 Responses to Bits of knowing

  1. DD says:

    Superb piece of writing (again).

    Gosh, I didn’t KNOW field mice could speak with such eloquence!
    I dunno…. Is this superior intellect only found in oneiric rodents, or have you encountered such wisdom in flesh and bloods critters as well?

    In your study of the question, have you have observed an association between CAS and HAMS (Hyper Active Mouth Syndrome)? HAMS are those subjects who cannot refrain from taking up the floor and talking for hours about all the things they think they know, WITHOUT any actual question having been asked.

    This is only an anecdotal comment on my part (I am NO expert on knowing syndromes), but I have often observed the two syndromes in the same individual. I suspect these syndrome may be closely related, and part of a spectrum of knowing diseases. Perhaps these render sensory receptors impervious to external data (i.e the actual world, which is ever changing)? This might explain their propensity to fabricate facts without an actual basis to support them. This could also shed light on the fact that they appear unaware of other’s presence in a cafe, even when they are close. Alternatively, people with CAS and HAMS may have different synaptic response to uploaded information. In most humans, it appears as if memory in competitively stored and retrieved, with the most current and pertinent taking up most of the (rapidly retrievable) space. Thus most humans retain the ability to learn (some) new stuff, well into old age, by moving stuff around in their minds. Could it be that in CAS and HAMS patients, memory is not competitively stored but rather irreversibly imprinted in a specific location, thereby rendering them incapable of altering the stored information with new data?

    I dunno. It puzzles me…

  2. terrisitagg says:

    One really doesn’t ever really know, does one?? I DO know, for certain, that once again, in your knowing way, you have once again imparted a bit of knowlege, and knowing you, you have once again done that in your inimitable, succinct and wry style. Albert Einstein (who knew a lot, if you believe his press) paraphrased Bacon’s claim that “a little learning” is a dangerous thing, to “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, as is too much”. I don’t know…would that be considered “Too much of a good thing?”. I digress, another thought provoking bit of expresson that entertains, educates, informs and enlightens. Thank you!! (you know who!!)

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