What does it mean for us to know, to truly know, the people that we live with on this campus? How do we go about knowing each other? How do we go about knowing anything at all? How does having or not having one kind of social experience shape my other social experiences? How does the negative space left by the removal of one experience actually create a positive excess of possibility that we can never capture, even in our most creative imaginings?
The other day, I encountered a social situation that made me reflect on these questions; I was forced to choose between two possible courses of action. Would I continue my conversation about the Deece, or would I go watch “Adventure Time” with a friend? That moment of choice brought me to a realization about my two possible paths and their interrelations. Two lands, two domains, two worlds are created here: the known and the unknown.
Can I even imagine these two worlds? Can I list what meanings I affirm through the two discrete types of social actions and then decide which one is more valuable? Probably. But does this mean that I can imagine the worlds that I must pick between? No. There will always be a measure of unknowability.
What if, by the very act of choosing between these experiences, I unwittingly create unknowable consequences for future choices? Without one kind of experience, will I be in a headspace to enjoy other experiences? Without more Deece conversation, can watching “Adventure Time” hold value?
The unknown does not just lie outside our realm of the known; it also lurks within the discrete fragments of my known world. The known and the unknown are always in flux, shaping one another with each thought. Time spent in one moment allows me to retreat from a given experience into another.
The unknown thus creates context. I have already spent time talking about the Deece today, and that is why right here, right now, I can enjoy watching “Adventure Time” with you. My conversations about the Deece may play no visible role in how or why I watch a TV show with a friend. The knowledge from the first experience is lacking in the second. It joins the unknown. Yet it is through this absence that I can affirm whatever meaning watching a TV show holds for me, whatever social value the experience brings.
In order for something unknown to have meaning in my life, I must bring it into my known world. I am not going to try to comfort if I don’t know that you’re going through a hard time. Humans are very good at linguistically affirming such a metanarrative of two worlds. I know the deeper thoughts that you might be having right now. Or, I cannot delve beyond the surface of this person’s character. We tell ourselves that we function in the world through such acts of boundary-making. We tell ourselves that we privilege knowledge, knowing and acting from inside the known world. But am I then misconstruing the domain of the known as the sole domain of meaning?
I engage in one discourse because it stands alongside other seemingly “discrete” discourses. I am a different fragment in different moments. Each fragment affirms one kind of knowledge while naively deeming all else to be unknown or removed. And yet these fragments resonate with one another. What is a lack (a negative or unknown) in one context is the reality-constructing excess that creates another context.
How do we choose between the fragments of our selves when discarding a fragment could transform the meaning of all other fragments? In every choice, meaning as we know it is itself at stake.
In the light of this realization, how do we then still make choices and not become lethargically open-ended selves who embrace all experiences? Or do we instead want to be open to any and all experiences?
There is much that we don’t know and a lot that we go about pretending to know. This is how we tell ourselves that we have a ground to walk on.