chapter one – knowledge of ignorance (extract)

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“One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.”

Socrates

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I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here. Even though I might seem to be in control of my life, I’ve come to recognize that actually I don’t know anything at all about myself, this life that I appear to be living, or this world around me. In spite of my appearance as a person who possesses a mass of knowledge about the nature of my being, I have to concede that I don’t know any of it to be true. Why? How could I arrive at such a radical conclusion?

When I went in search of some certainty about the truth of my being and the world that appears before me, I simply found that there was no source of knowledge that could be relied on. I had to admit that my senses and my powers of reasoning were all utterly untrustworthy. And so I was finally forced to accept that I exist in a state of profound ignorance. I saw that the certainty that I had cherished in the past about what I am and what is going on here was an illusion that was easily shattered when I started to investigate it sincerely. The simple truth is that I am lost. Stranded in a sea of unknowing. Nothing can give me any certainty about the truth of existence and my search for such truth has left me empty.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .

 When I began enquiring into my true nature, I found that I apparently knew many things. I experienced myself as a being, inhabiting a body, and with a mind that was filled with knowledge. I knew that I had been born and that I would die. I knew that I lived in a world full of other beings and I knew that this was the truth of my existence.

But did I really know any of these ‘facts’ to be true? Could I trust what was appearing before me in consciousness? Of course, these ‘facts’ accurately described the appearance of my existence . . . but did I know this appearance to be the truth of what I was?

If, for example, I chose to believe that I was the physical body, I found plenty of ‘evidence’ to support this belief. I could see it, feel it, read books about its anatomical structure, and talk to ‘others’ about it. So many sources of ‘evidence’ were available to me. But were any of them trustworthy? Could I trust anything that I perceived or imagined? Did I really know myself to be what I appeared to be?

Of course, believing myself to be a person with a body and a mind was very practical. It allowed me to deal with the ‘world’ that appeared around me. And knowing that I was a person with physical and mental capabilities, I was able to interact with the apparent world and the apparent people who inhabited it. It was all very practical. But was it the truth of what I was?

It had always been easiest to quietly assume that I was just what I seemed to be. Waking up, day after day, finding myself to be this same human being, why would I have chosen to question the reality of this appearance? The daily repetition of this sense of being ‘me’ – the one who inhabited the body and made use of the mind – should surely have been enough to convince me of the truth of who or what I was. It wasn’t. Even this constant repetition failed to convince me of the authenticity of my experience. I simply didn’t trust it. I couldn’t accept it as the truth. The true nature of my being remained a mystery to me and the repetition of a particular experience did nothing to help make the truth of what I was any less mysterious. Or any more knowable.

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chapter three – the only thing i know (extract)

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