As much as I appreciate the cleverness of the classic rock group Kansas’ title of their chart-topping song, “Point of Know Return,” I was not actually (much, anyway) trying to be clever with the headline of this column. No, it is in fact a description, or an explanation of sorts.
And those two words, one a definition of certainty and the other denoting the lack of ability to gather certain information, describe a very common condition we all share at various times in our lives. Fortunately, however, the condition isn’t terminal and is relatively easy to counter.
According to our friends at the dictionary (thank you, Merriam), the word “know” is defined as “to perceive directly: have direct cognition of.” The same good people (perhaps Webster) define the word “blind” as “unable or unwilling to discern or judge.” Based upon these definitions, the verb and the adjective would seem to directly oppose one another. A lot like oil and water, you might say; but whip them up enough, and they sort of blend together, at least for a while. And of course, when they do, it leaves behind quite the mess.
People “know” a lot of things. We gather information as best we are able and then make decisions based upon how we process that information. And there is a lot of information out there to process. I once wrote a column about spiders and discovered (developing, understandably, a case of the “willies” in the process) that the number of spiders on the planet outweigh pound for pound all of the whales in the ocean. You’re welcome, by the way, for that disturbing mental picture. Still, that is information — and if you printed all the available information to us right now, I am sure it could easily cover both spiders and whales.
Some information, of course, is more easily verified than others. My birth certificate, for instance, could be considered fairly definitive proof that I am 56 years old; and this is in spite of the fact that some days I feel like I am 100, and sometimes still act as though I were 12. Other information, well, might not be so easily verified.
For instance, when I recently wrote about Pavlov’s dogs, there was somewhat conflicting information available. In school, I was taught (complete with textbook verification) that Pavlov used a bell to induce canine drooling. Current research alternately listed his tool of choice as a bell, a metronome, and even a light, all from different sources. Perhaps, after all, it was a swinging flashlight taped to a sleigh bell that doubled for Yuletide festivities; I wasn’t actually present in the 1890s, so I couldn’t say.
Still, we know things, and most of our personal knowledge is fairly solid. Along with that knowledge, however, we have the tendency to assume things. This, of course, is where the “blind” comes into play. We might know that bacon sandwiches are delicious — they in fact are, because we have eaten (many) bacon sandwiches in the past, perhaps while sharing similarities to Pavlov’s test subjects. And because we know that said sandwiches are delicious, we assume that they must be good and healthy for us to eat without restraint.
Sadly, the first does not prove the second, because even though we would prefer it to be so, science has proven the exact opposite to be true. But if you want to eat bacon sandwiches — or are selling bacon sandwiches — the temptation is to believe or convince others of the assumption anyway. And if you take it a step (or several) further, then we can always find ways to refute the know in favor of the blind. It is childishly easy to do so, because it is as simple as becoming “unwilling to discern or judge.” My arteries might disagree, but I feel fine, thank you very much.
Of course, in this instance none of us have to be or remain blind. Truly knowing and understanding something might not be quite as easy as assuming something, but the long-term benefits far outweigh the effort involve. We just need to check what we know against the available facts on the subject, and those facts must come from reliable, proven sources. And it is probably a good idea to not gather those facts from a source who reaps direct benefit from what the facts present. Even Santa checks his list twice, and the list wasn’t compiled by the naughty or the nice group or website.
Obviously, there is more to life than bacon sandwiches, but the mechanics are solid. I remember a discussion I had several years ago about beliefs and opinions with my daughter. I told her that I made a habit of questioning everything, but not because I doubted my beliefs or opinions. I questioned because I wanted those beliefs and opinions to remain accurate, and thereby remove any possible doubts. There is always the possibility of being wrong, or of new information being brought to light. So, I question, I told her, because if there comes a time when those beliefs or opinions need to change, I am willing to do so and remain correct in both.
This doesn’t mean that I have achieved the lofty state of “Zen,” because I am far from it; but I am working on it. I only eat bacon sandwiches in one hand, but I still eat bacon sandwiches. I’m not always “right,” but I try my best to not be wrong. And I try to keep my “knows” and “blinds” separated because I don’t want to make a mess for myself or anyone else to clean up.