April 29, 2004

It ain't what folks know that's the problem, it's what they know that ain't so.
- Josh Billings

Today dawned bright and clear and warm, after two days of snow and trying to snow and something that was trying to resemble thunder. The wind was blowing warmly, with the smell of bog and earth and growing things. Across the road the construction was adding a significant amount of dust to the air -- but the operator of the backhoe was so very skilled at his job that there seemed no time at all waiting for the bus, watching him smoothly working through all the small complicated details of scoop and tilt which transferred soil to truck, a series of linked actions become second nature.

It has been an interesting week. For me, at least, it has been a week of learning -- but then I knew I was completely ignorant in this, and even now I have only just scratched the surface. For others, it seems to have been a week of reinforcing what was already "known". When knowledge is absolute and consequently unyielding, complete absence of corroborating evidence only suggests that the appropriate evidence is yet to be found. Complete certainty can never be shaken by external evidence. Preconceptions, entrenched, are not easily uprooted.

Knowledge kills perception. As an article of faith, knowledge alters new perceptions to fit the existing mould: one can only ever perceive what one expects to find. The more one "knows", the less one is capable of learning.

The ability to perceive something not already known, to learn, requires an admission that there are new things that can be learned, that something is not already known to perfection, that what is known can only ever be an ever smaller fraction against the shores of the unknown. Call it relative ignorance: a constant real awareness that any knowledge, however extensive, can only ever represent a "best fit" empirical pattern explaining cumulative experience to date, be it one's own or that heard -- and itself interpreted -- second- or third-hand from others.

Around late afternoon yesterday the snow ended and the clouds began to clear away; and the local amateur astronomers, who had been waiting for a clear night, began to roll out and align their telescopes. Jupiter, Venus, Saturn were clearly visible. I laughed and said to the woman beside me that finally they had gotten a good night for it, even if the surrounding light pollution would limit what we could see. She apologised for not understanding what I had said -- she had not yet learned well the local language. But she found our clear shimmering night with its few bright stars dark and empty. She missed seeing stars.

She was Irani. Originally, she was from Afghanistan.


Smile of the day

A Brit, a Frenchman, and a homeless person are viewing a painting of Adam and Eve frolicking nude in the Garden of Eden.

"Look at their reserve, their calm," muses the Brit. "They must be British."

"Nonsense," says the Frenchman. "They are naked, and so beautiful. Clearly, they are French."

"No clothes, no shelter, only an apple to eat, and being told by the dominant infochannel that what they have now is paradise? Well, now ..."

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