I Know Nothing

There's an old quote (from a play I think) in which one character asks another if he knows everything or nothing. He replies that he knows nothing. Something came up in class last week that made me think of that. We were talking about those times in human history when humans were convinced that they were doomed by war or environmental damage, or some natural disaster like an asteroid impact.

Back in darkest periods of human life on Earth, humans seriously considered the end of the human race: they had created great vaults of seeds for plants of all kinds, and then later the embryos of as many animals as they could fit in, like giant bomb-resistant technologically advanced static arks. And finally the time came to consider building a Vault of Humanity, containing not only humans themselves but also the knowledge of humans.

So humans began to ask themselves the questions, What do humans know? What do humans know that is important? What should we put into this great vault of knowledge?

These questions made me think about what I know, and what I, without the aid of research of any kind, would be able to include in such a vault if I was somehow the only person available to do it. I am supposedly somewhat educated. I know a little about a lot of things, and when you think it is surprising what you know that only one thousand years ago people were still guessing about- I could instruct people to eat well, to cure some disease, to understand the world around them, inform them of their past (it would be strange to wake up on a planet where no evidence of your own evolution exists). But compared to the vast amount of information that was tabulated for the Vault of Humanity, I know nothing. My knowledge, although relatively vast, is basic and shallow. I would have to answer the question in the above quote with "I know nothing".

But (going off into the land of ridiculous, thoughtless philosophy) what about the human race? The Vault of Humanity was never completed, due in part to the sheer complexity of tabulating and storing efficiently all of human knowledge. We were defeated by the weight of what we know. Nowadays, much of our information is stored with massive amounts of redundancies in billions of servers and computers and storage facilities across the occupied world.

Despite this, our scientists still search for cures, our explorers still step in places unexplored, biologists uncover new secrets about plants and animals, historians still delve into the history of the world, philosophers still mull over its truths, and composers still find new ways of turning music into song. Could the human race, with so much understanding, given the choice of black and white only have the (totally absurd) option of saying "I know nothing"?

Eventually, the danger passed and advances in space travel and eventually the terraforming of Mars made the panic to preserve less pressing. The vaults still exist- you've probably heard the term "Vault" applied to something like this, even on Mars. They are now partially museums of a precarious era, but still also perform their old function, giant libraries of their specific area. However, no Vault of Humanity exists. If it was implausible to imagine such a thing back four hundred years, it is all but impossible now. We could try but in the end we might end up just wanting to put everything in: I suppose that in a way we are our own Vault of Humanity.

It's the only way to know everything.

Your Absurd Philosopher-Historian,


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