The problem of not-knowing, or knot-knowing

Life and experience are rich with opacities. Nietzsche and Dewey are some of my favorite guys who stated that simple explanations which claim to report on the reality of the world will always be falsifications. Nothing is ever clear, easy, and evident. There will always be mysteries, gaps, disconnects…Donna Haraway also referred to the idea of the world as a trickster-coyote, a subject-world with which we must converse in order to understand, but that has its own ability to deceive, to mislead, to play tricks. The world is not an object-thing that we can study thoroughly and know everything, or increasingly more about. The world and our experiences in it are elusive, partial, and decidedly unclear. Furthermore, following Nietzsche, why would we want to know truths? Why not errors? Why not deception? Why not falsity? Well, he’s quick to say that we may not be able to handle it if we realized that the “truths” we hold on to so dearly are precisely that – errors.

As of late, I’ve been in a position of not-knowing. Not just failing to know everything, but really not knowing much at all. Not just partially understanding things, but seriously considering the possibility that I have completely misunderstood some very important things, that my perceptions have been delusional, that whatever I do “know” is misshapen, misinformed, and very, very confused. When it comes to knowing oneself, a standard reason for engaging in philosophy, an awareness to one’s not-knowing is a bit treacherous. And when it comes to knowing others, not-knowing presents a very precarious place to find oneself. Especially if we are to trust others, depend on others, befriend others, and become their lovers.

What is one to do? Trust in what you thought you knew? Trust in what others tell you? Trust your “instincts,” whatever says your gut?

The problem with all of this trusting and feeling, is that they are not pure and untainted either. I have a conflicted relationship with what the feelings deep down in our gut can tell us. (This is a project that I will be pursuing for many years of dissertation writing. Stay tuned.) Sometimes you get a “vibe” about a person and you are right, but other times, your “intuition” is completely off, even hurtful to others. So, I can’t trust my gut. But my gut isn’t clear anyway. The only thing my gut gives me is even more of a sense of tight, queasy, yucky, icky, nauseating not-knowing. It feels like a knot in my tummy that can’t tell me anything but simply that I don’t know. Hence, it’s a knot-knowing. And it’s not very helpful when I am trying to figure what to make of all this “life” and the experiences that I am having.

So then what?

We crave to know the truth about things, and once we feel like we have a handle on it, we *feel* better. One of my heroes, Ladelle McWhorter, wrote that the need to know, the urgency with which we want to know, is a bodily thing. We feel the need to know deep in our quivering bones, our shallow lungs, and our tense stomachs.  And for me, if I can’t get a handle on what is going on with me, others, or me with others, I feel it in my body as a bad consequence. I get inflammation in my wrist, an infection in my lungs, scars on my skin, and acid in my stomach.

From what I can tell right now, I have two options:

1) I can tell myself a simple, easy, coherent story about the truth of what is going on. I may feel better, but it comes from a simplification, and hence, a falsification of reality.

2) I can sit with the knot-knowing and try to transform it from nausea (and illness) to a patient bodily presence. This means that I may not (ever) settle on the truth, but it frustrates the bodily need to know “everything” (or anything, for that matter).

Regarding 1), I could side with Nietzsche and ask, “Well,whoever decided that truth was better than error anyway? Maybe there is something more to be said about error.” And as for 2), I’ve been sitting with this tense knot in my gut for months now trying to make it a calm, attentive bodily presence. If health isn’t at risk, maybe I can continue on with it for a bit longer.

3 thoughts on “The problem of not-knowing, or knot-knowing

  1. Pingback: Activist Journeys zine – a call out for radical writers submissions – activistjourneys

  2. Pingback: Activist Journeys – a call out for radical writer’s submissions to a new zine project | Tolerated Identity

  3. Pingback: Why I Fear a “Fear of the Unknown” | Cori Wong

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