Contemplation: Unknown Unknowns (pt. 4 & 5): The Back of Our Heads

Well, I failed fantastically at keeping my word, twice.  Once for writing a parallel contemplations to Errol Morris’ “The Anosognosic’s Dilemma” every day this week, and twice for actually writing the post to part four yesterday evening (as I said I would in my garden update post yesterday).

Well, anyways, here we are at Friday and Mr. Morris has given us both his part four and five, and I have set for myself to wrap up my own end of the contemplations.  If I am following suit with my previous three pieces then this post will need to be about 2000+ words (as all the previous were right around 1000 words each).  Wish me luck!

“What we call belief is not a monolithic thing; it has many layers.”                           ~V.S. Ramachandran

“The road to self-insight really runs through other people.” ~David Dunning

“When God created man (and woman), he gave them the ability to perceive the world, but withheld from them the ability to understand it.  We could come up with one cockamamie theory after another, but real understanding would always elude us.  It was mean-spirited on God’s part.  And to make matters even worse, God gave us the desire but not the wherewithal to make sense of experience.  One might easily foresee that this would lead to unending, unmitigated frustration and suffering.  But here’s where self-deception, anosognosia and the Dunning-Kruger Effect step in.  We wouldn’t be able to make sense of anything, but we would never be aware of that fact.” ~Errol Morris

In the conluding parts of Errol Morris’ “The Anosognosic’s Dilemma” conversation is eld between Mr. Morris and V.S. Ramachandran and once more with David Dunning.  From Mr. Ramachandran we get ideas about how human belief works and from Mr. Dunning we get a look at our unknown selves.  It all wraps up quite nicely I think.

The thought that I am left with mostly is that, with our eyes facing forward, we can never know with complete certainty what is on the back of our heads.  Sure we can ask somebody to tell us, or we can tru and use mirrors, photographs, or video feeds, but all these things have there points of doubt, where logic can question.  We are left with only a choice of belief or eternal skepticism.

Perhaps then, what Mr. Morris’s pieces have been leading to more than anything else is the idea that the human self might be the greatest “unknown unknown.”  We adhere to very certain beliefs about what the self is, but considering all the outside influences that must go into the idea of the self, there is this thought that maybe the self is an unknown to it’s very nature (which parallels the minds ability to know itself.  The mind and the self are often linked up to eachother).  Of course there are those philosophers (British empiricists, like Berkeley and Hume, come to mind) who argued strongly against the idea of the self, holding tht because it was unobservable that it very well did not exist.

Much of philosophy, whether it is epistomology, philosophy of the self and mind, or any other discipline, deals regularly with “unknown unknowns.”  I think that Errol Morris’s parable above, of God creating us unknowing of our great unkowning, is a fitting look at the world in whihc we live.  We strive to know, but perhaps we do not even know what to know is in the first place.  Perhaps we are all just flying through space, groping about blindly and madly, while all delusional with a sense of knowledge and understanding of truth.

But does that matter?  and this is a question that has been asked by philosophers over and over again.  Even if we all are living in some “false” reality, if it is the only reality we know, does it matter whether it is false or not?  If we cannot know the truth of things, because it is the great “unknown unkown” what difference does it make one way or another? 

You may be tempted to agrue, “but if we are unaware of it it could harm us!”  “So what?” I honestly ask.  If we do not know it we could not prevent it one way or another anyways.  To some degree it becomes a moot point. 

As I see it you can take either side of the argument.  Either we actually do have understandings of reality (though this is constantly growing) or we have none whatsoever, but I do not see one being any better than the other because certainty is always possibly lost on us.

For the past several years, I have adhered to what might be called a general absurdist philosophy of being.  My basic view through this holds that while it is fun and interesting to contemplate the higher understanding of truth, reality, and self, all of it is somewhat bunk in the end.  Certainty is void to us and thus the contemplations lead us to the sense of the absurd.  We could choose to devout ourselves to a faith in a truth, but the faith only extends to far as we don’t allow the skepticism to sneak in.  We could, concivably escape this vicious cycle by ending our lives (assuming we believe that death is truly and end-all), but this seems to be running from “realality.”

I choose a third option.  I choose to persevere in the faith of all the absurdity and uncertainty.  I accept “unknown unkowns” as frustrating as the thought of them may be at any given time.  I am here in some capacity or another and I am going to keep on doing whatever it is that I am doing.  I may not understand any of it, but does that matter in the end?  Perhaps it is this idea that true freedom comes only in admitting that one is not actually free at all.  Something very daoist about it I guess, and that works I guess.

Alright, admittedly I didn’t get nearly as long a post as I had suggested I intended to get at the beginning of it.  A pity, but that is just how it is going to have to be.  Thank you Mr. Morris for giving me some good stuff to think and write about this week.  it’s been fun!

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~ by Nathaniel on June 25, 2010.

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