Knowledge and Knowing

If I were to tell you that there was a monster in the water that glows in the dark, you might not believe me. Until I showed you a picture along with taxonomy and a plethora of scientific documentation. That monster, by the way, is called an Anglerfish. Creepy fact, the male latches onto the female and slowly fuses with her until he’s nothing left but testes; talk about a clingy, codependent partner.

We often scoff at anything outside our immediate environment with which we have a daily familiarity with. Especially since the rise of modern science, and the immediacy with which information can be transmitted via the internet. We’ve become skeptical to the point of arrogance. Ironically, disproving misinformation has remained as difficult as ever. For example, despite the commonly held belief, unless you are severely deficient in Vitamin-A carrots will do nothing to improve your vision.

Looking retrospectively on books like On Monsters and Marvels (1573) by Ambroise Paré, a French surgeon who wrote the treatise as a way to explain the various causes of monsters, it’s easy to think of ourselves are more enlightened. Especially when reading chapter 20 “An example of the mixture or mingling of seed”, which gives the example of “a child conceived and engendered of a woman and of a dog, having from the navel up, upper parts similar in form and shape to the mother, and it was very complete, without Nature’s having omitted anything; and, from the navel down, all its lower parts were also similar in form and shape to the animal, that was the father” (67). However, I challenge you to use the search terms “half human, half dog” or “dog child” online and ponder just how “enlightened” the human race as a whole really is.

There are limits to knowing, which we’ve seem to have forgotten in our post-modern world where we can get a false sense of knowing from immediate online gratification, whether or not the information is actually true or we really process it. I propose the following:

1) That we can’t possibly know all there is to know because of the sheer quantity of information.
2) That we can’t possibly know all there is to know because we lack the brain capacity.
3) That what we do know is not all there is to know.
4) That what knowledge we do acquire, we might not actual know. For example, you may be able to say a sentence in a foreign language, but it doesn’t follow that you know its full significance or the language itself.
5) That some things we just don’t want to know.

Herein lies the monstrosity of knowing. Knowledge and knowing are too distinct concepts, and each are limited in various respects. We as humans are limited in our ability to acquire knowledge, and in our capacity to know. Knowledge therefore becomes somewhat threatening. It’s always just out of our reach, yet always present and circling. For each small tendril we see and perhaps grasp, there is a million tentacles undulating in the darkness just beyond our periphery; and what we do have may not be what we think it is. Perhaps a bit of humility and judicious caution is in order.

Works Cited

“Anglerfish.” National Geographic. <http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/anglerfish/&gt;

Maron, Dina Fine. “Fact or Ficton?: Carrots Improve Your Vision.” Scientific American. Web. 23 June 2014. <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-carrots-improve-your-vision/&gt;

Paré, Ambroise. On Monsters and Marvels. Trans. Janis L. Pallister. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. Print.