We know this: we live and breathe and sleep and love and cuddle and laugh and cry and create and eat and sing and dance and scream on a planet in a galaxy with a sun and a moon and oceans and swamps and trees and deserts and forests and rivers and mountains and rocks and plains and grasses and streams and birds and beasts and fish and insects and reptiles and microscopic critters and lots and lots of other people. We also know that some birds, fish and beasts and plants and people are having a hard go of it on this planet. Some are perishing. What we don’t know is why or how to stop or change what’s making it hard for all those critters (humans are critters too) some of them who are even self-aware critters, like dolphins. But not knowing doesn’t mean there isn’t a facade of delusional knowing by people who say they have the answer, the parade of pretenders with their prognostications and predictions who are only too happy to answer, to share it and sell it and be voted into office with it.
But there are limits to answers and limits to knowledge, or rather, limits to what we can see and verify and know with absolute certainty. However, that hasn’t prevented intellectual gang wars from breaking out about the state and use of science, method acting and method writing, human trafficking, how much to charge for water, how to get smart people back into politics, the lack of leadership everywhere, what best brand of GPS to direct us to the last remaining ethical company, the benefits of shipping violent religious fundamentalists of all strips off to some remote corner of a poisonous planet far, far away, and, how to stabilize an economy. How’s that for grumpy, meandering thoughts about knowing and not knowing?
Some of what we know and some of what we don’t
Sometimes, what people say they know is nothing more than an opinion. Increasingly our news, and all the noise and information that comes at us and what we choose to pay attention to — the soundbites we hear and the headlines we read — are little more than infotainment, opinions, and name-calling rants all wrapped around specific beliefs, with little connection reality or any credible body of knowledge or evidence or (let it be said) facts, which is not to say facts and evidence can’t be distorted: they can and are all the time. We know this. We also know that critical thinking skills are most helpful to discern what’s what; however, critical thinking is not very popular these days.
We know other things: french fries are fattening. Pop (soda) is one of the worst things you can put into your body. Sitting hunched over a computer is unhealthy and the question of whether organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown/produced food is and remains the wrong question to research. (Who funded that study??) We know that meditation helps calm and clear the mind, exercise helps the body and the brain and that if you fall in love, if you give your heart to someone, there is a risk that your heart might get broken, if only by your own expectations and limitations. There is the other risk that you will fall in love with a wonderful person with whom you can have a wonderful, contented life for the rest of your days — except those days of PMS — of which we know but will not discuss.
We know lots of science principles too, some of which manifest in our everyday world in the form of cupcakes, microwaves, baking soda and paper airplanes, just to name a few. We know that talking on the phone and driving or texting is stupid but do it anyway, and we know that some of today’s TV reality shows are not that different from the shows that Roman emperors put on at the Coliseum to entertain the masses.
We also know how to make babies, those little human beings. We know that some of those little beings will be wonderful, creative, energetic, engaging individuals with hearts and souls that light up a room from the moment they are born until they go back to being stardust. Some will be ignored and hurt and used by the very people who brought them to into this world. Others will be sentenced from the moment they are born to be (gag me!) trophy children. Some will grow up and never leave home and some will never ever grow up. Others will be (uh-oh) criminals or assholes or bullies, even as children, even girl children. Some will be different — limited by by physical and/or mental illness and disease. Perhaps a few will grow up to contribute to society by being good people, setting good examples and perhaps a few will grow up and make the world a better place. When we think about it, and look at historical records, we know that most will grow up to be (in Penelope Pussycat’s immortal words, Le Gasp!) simply ordinary people, living simple and fulfilling lives, working, paying bills, eating food, and being loved and valued deeply by friends and family. Seems that while we know lots about making babies, we know a lot less about good, healthy parenting except what the latest trends and opinions might be.
Speaking of people who are parents and children, we don’t know with any great certainty why people behave they way they do. Oh, there are lots of theories and speculations and ideas ranging from ones that are based in myth and religion and various fields within academia — and even some rogue beliefs — but we don’t really know why we behave the way we do. What we do know now is this: we humans are not, in any way, shape or form, rational. We are actually rationalizers. Now that it’s been proven that we are not the only tool making and tool using critters on the planet, perhaps we can consider that what makes us human and therefore distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom is our amazing and creative capacity to rationalize our actions and behaviours. That, and the capacity for self-delusion and cruelty.
Not knowing is okay until it isn’t
I want to know everything there is to know. I also know that not possible or practical. Besides, I am quite squeamish about some things, so maybe I don’t want to know everything. Nevertheless, I accept not knowing the future of the world, or my future. I accept not knowing if I’ll actually ever get the guts to do a triathlon, or come up with some ideas about how to end religious, political and economic insanity across all spectrums and beliefs, or how to reign in my own biases. I even accept that there aren’t answers to many of my questions. Maybe life is its own answer to life and in some ways, at the level of why and how, unknowable in any pure sense, because when it comes to why, the answer, in whatever form it is received, can only be filtered by an enculturated mind. Even so, it’s exhilarating and wonderful to think about and live with, this not knowing because of the opportunity to explore and ponder and share and learn and grow and not stay the same.
But not always.
Sometimes not knowing is maddening. Like now. In spite of tests and science and kind well-intentioned people who have had lots and lots of training — we do not know what’s wrong with my dog. It might be three things or one thing. It might be a passing thing or a life-ending thing: we just don’t know. And after antibiotics and other tests that reveal nothing except an exhausted, frightened and even sicker dog, I am reminded of what I know: medicine is imprecise, more art than science and there is so much we do not know. I accept that.
However, I can’t, won’t, don’t accept not knowing what to do to help my dog walk and have as normal a life as possible because here’s what I know in my heart and mind: a dog whose life was all about being outside and running and being social and active who now is unable to walk, in pain and unable to do dog things, has no quality of life. I was wondering about next steps: acupuncture? Hydrotherapy?
As I was pondering next steps, Parker had another episode. He collapsed in the park.
Inside the office on the desk were dog cookies. Rubber mats on the floor. The doctor was kind and gentle as he conducted his examination. Parker looked at me questioningly, no doubt wondering what was happening as the doctor made some spinal adjustments. We were with a chiropractor who also does chiropractic treatments for dogs..
Perhaps not knowing drives our curiosity and creativity and new ways of doing things. Perhaps we can’t know everything, like how and why we fall in love or how it’s possible to feel so connected to all of life while standing at the ocean’s shore and yet feel so alone while standing in the middle of a mall. Perhaps not knowing is as helpful and healthy as beginner’s mind. Who really knows?
My dog walked out of that office with his tail wagging, prancing like he hasn’t done in nearly a month. I don’t know if his improved mobility was the result of an unknown canine placebo effect or my projected hope for a positive outcome or if he was simply super happy to leave a strange place and mustered up all of his inner strength to move like his old self.
For now, I will live with not knowing how or why a chiropractic treatment seemed to relieve Parker’s symptoms. And I will continue to live with not knowing, albeit with fingers crossed, as we go for a few more treatments. Even though I know it’s silly, I will hope that the invisible goddess of dogs is looking kindly at Parker poodle and sending him some of that doggy goddess goodness. And when he’s better, I am going to do what I know I should not do: have a super workout at the gym and then head across the city to Chippy’s to get some amazing fries and a ginger ale in celebration of his getting better. I know, I know: a pear would be so much more healthy. But you know how it goes sometimes, don’t you?