I know nothing.

I recently attended a talk by a very skilled, influential, and seasoned leader who, “in a dark night of the leader’s soul”, asked the question: Do I really know anything about leadership? His wasn’t a false humility, but genuine, albeit temporary, paralysis. Many of my doctoral cohorts and I seem to also be walking through a “dark night” of our own and I thought it might be cathartic for us all to formally get it out on the table. Maybe in doing so we can see the light!

The paradox of postmodern learning is that often the more you know, the less you know. The little t’s we are all chasing become more elusive and complex the more we pursue them. All the while, the information revolution “big bang” continues to create a diaspora of particulars of increasing volume. Some believe that Google provides the great winnowing fork, the meta-tool that will help us to rise above the diaspora and domesticate this wild animal for our designs. At the risk of introducing one more religious metaphor, I think Google is a tool in the hand of the postmodern information beast whose plan is to paralyze us, the intrepid truth seekers, by providing a guise of organization while the world spins deeper into epistemic chaos.

Sarcasm notwithstanding, the fact of the matter is that I currently know nothing. I sit down to write, I know nothing. I search and read and read and read, I know less. Epistemic curiosity only results in the rabbit hole getting longer and weirder and harder to define. In all honesty, it is a dark, cold place. I’ve heard it said that in scientific inquiry as soon as you “know”, it’s game over. Hearkening back to our Greek roots, the gold is not the knowing but the questions. That way of thinking is somewhat comforting at the moment. If we could all just agree that we’re simply watching a vague, shadowy cosmic puppet show on the cave wall, then we could take ourselves a bit less seriously and get about the business of grunting the loudest when we think we recognize a shape.



Ironically enough, with its front page “doodle” yesterday, Google took to rubbing all this in our faces and perfectly proving my point. Moving the cursor over the Google logo caused it to break up into a bunch of little balls that chaotically flew all over the screen. If left alone, the logo formed back into a coherent shape. This leads me to the conclusion that the only way out of this hole is to step slowly away from the Google, retreat to some Walden, and pray that when we come back things (or ourselves) are put back in order, coherence. I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I am closer to a retreat from technology and information than I am to a pursuit. At the very least, in the midst of epistemic paralysis, we must not also forsake the beautiful, sublime, and ineffable — that which is never meant to be understood, only felt and experienced. This is much like what our colleague, Greg Casperson, is doing with the simple act of posting a poem each day in the midst of a busy research and teaching regimen.

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
-ee cummings

Photo Credit: Athalfred http://www.flickr.com/photos/athalfred/
Cross-posted on Ideaplay

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