There was a time in my life when knowledge was vitally important to me. A time when nothing was more important than learning new facts that would help me understand my universe. I wanted to be smart and being smart meant knowing lots of stuff.
This belief lasted decades. Kept my shelves full of books. Kept me glued to documentaries. And in many circles, made me “that” guy.
More recently, however, I have come to decide that knowledge isn’t all that important in my life. That its pursuit, while never a waste of time, can never be an end unto itself. And as much as anything else, I have decided this because I have learned that knowledge is transitory.
I don’t mean transitory in the sense that I will ultimately forget the very facts I spent all that time learning, although this is true. You can’t believe how much stuff I don’t remember. Rather, it is the malleability of the knowledge itself to which I refer.
Facts are not absolute and unchanging. Facts are incredibly well supported theories given what we know right now. Tomorrow, those thoughts I considered facts today may no longer hold.
I look at the book I received from my great-grandmother decades ago—a very trusting woman who understood a young child’s thirst for knowledge. When this natural history was published in 1886, its contents were fact. In the intervening 127 years between now and then, however, many of the “facts” have changed or been significantly reinterpreted.
The same is true for the science I studied and practiced only 20 years ago. In many ways, I might as well have been chipping rocks to make spears as measuring compounds on scales and in Erlenmeyer flasks.
Knowledge doesn’t just expand—more true for some than others, sadly—but it also morphs into new and wondrous things, like so much quicksilver. Grasp knowledge too tightly and it runs everywhere, and again like quicksilver, may poison you and the people around you.
I no longer feel the need to know anything but merely to allow knowledge to wash back and forth over me like a tide, and with each arc of the moon, taking what I need to function that day and leaving the rest to chance or another day.
I don’t know and for the first time in my life, I am comfortable with that.