AnEcologyOfUnknowability

Unknowability
Cecil Collins, The Quest, 1938
"Our limitations denote the depth of our wisdom, not the breadth of our stupidity."

The unknowable seems to bedevil me. I do okay with the Known Knows, the Known Unknowns, and even with the Unknown Unknowns, for each of these categories still contain a presumption of potential knowability. My demons inhabit an orthogonal space which I cannot quite place on any known continuum, those defined by their tenacious unknowability. My ability to know serves no purpose there, for I could not possibly compare Unknowability's content to anything known or even anything distantly suspected, otherwise it might slip into some ultimately knowable classification. Some questions are nothing more than questions, posed, perhaps, not for answering resolution but to simply endlessly resonate. Who or what created the universe and when? What will next Tuesday bring? How many angels could actually dance on the head of this-here pin? We cannot even begin to know.

I can certainly pare down some mysteries, carve along margins to come to know a few details without ever actually addressing any fundamentally unknowable.
I'm using the wrong tool, it seems, a spoon when only a sky hook might do, Unknowability infers an underlying inability, an absent sense. How might one make sense of any nonsense? It possesses no scent, no surface texture, no physical instantiation. It probably exists only beyond imagination, inhabiting uncharted and, indeed, unchartable territory. We as a species cope poorly with any Unknowable we focus upon. We employ techniques incapable of capturing these without suspecting our misuse. We repeat the same techniques, expecting different results, not really noticing how crazy this must seem to anyone genuinely observing.

I feel delinquent when I finally choose to just let a sleeping dog snooze, to walk away from some potentially knowable without an answer. I cannot quite comprehend where my range of knowability might reach. I first conclude just how stupid I must seem, before finally accepting a backhanded wisdom and simply letting that mystery be. Others might well see through that veil, but I accept my conclusive failure and the necessity of moving on again lest this one unanswered question forever hobble my future. Dirty Harry didn't seem to understand that while a man's got to understand his limitations, no man can actually ever understand his limitations. He engages in perhaps protracted negotiations before simply, humbly, accepting a limitation, negating some of his former hubris in the transaction. I live immersed in seemingly utter ignorance, thinking myself uniquely cursed rather than curiously blessed. Some things seem to lurk in the bottom of this universe's sock drawer and might not bear inquiry, best left as abiding mysteries.

I hold deep suspicions about them Unknowables. I know, or believe that I do, that if they exist, they exist beyond some veil, a dimension I cannot sense and which, consequently, of which I could never make sense. Not sensory, not imaginary, probably not mere progressions into or beyond any knowable thing, these might be the pond to my fish, a context so damned rich that I cannot ever directly experience it. I might, as has been my specie's want, store it in the Unknown drawer and continue searching for more evidence of its existence. A hundred years from now, someone will easily reference the date and manner of my death, but holding zero predictive value then, it won't quite qualify as an Unknowable. Unknowables seem to carry a relevant range. They spoil without revealing their mystery, revealing it only after it could no longer seem mysterious in any way. Perhaps Unknowability moves in waves, effectively playing keep-away until it simply goes away moribund.

Back when I worked managing projects, my work life seemed deeply influenced by what I could not quite manage to know just yet. I still took great pains to at least try to predict, for this effort comprised my job's baseline expectation. The exhaulted Executive Committee expected much of me, and neither them nor me ever understood the limits of my actual capability. Their questions came as challenges—or I interpreted them that way—to my skill and my integrity. When would this project be done, they always wanted to know? I would then dutifully go and perform what certainly seemed like the requisite Chis-An-Bop to derive what I firmly believed to be an at least semi-scientific response, which was inevitably wrong. This dance went on long after I moved on, with successive generations feeling the same limitations I experienced, evolving methods, deriving precisely the same responses. Unknowables seem to always work like this. Since we cannot know our limitations and could never possibly recognize any actual unknowable, we apply what we know as if.

Father, continue to forgive us, for we truly do not know what in the heck to do. We cannot see through that Unknowability veil. We cannot ask the questioner to simply go to Hell with their inquiry, that it lies beyond the human range of knowability, so we simply treat it as an unknown, plug in an assumption or two, then proceed to reprove an ancient postulate. We might Know What We Know, Know What We Do Not Know, even become aware of Not Knowing What We Do Not Know, all presuming some underlying sense of eventually coming to know. We do not know the Unknowable, and could never come to know it or even confirm its existence in any way absolutely, beyond lingering doubt. We might come to recognize shadowy absent spaces where a question becomes absurd without ever being able to explain the merest why we cannot meaningfully inquire there. Our limitations denote the depth of our wisdom, not the breadth of our stupidity. 'I cannot know' sometimes qualifies as more than mere acquiescence, but an unlikely present never to be unwrapped.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved















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