Please, dear reader, take a spoon, stick it into my brain, and stir. That way when the grey matter turns red, and my nerve cells are no longer the cells that imprison me, I’ll finally have an empty head that I can fill in with useful ‘stuff’. Everything else that’s in there, whatever it may be, is just junk. This is because all knowledge is useless. Whether it is about Justin Bieber’s birthday or the molecular weights of every element on the periodic table, it’s all entirely trivial, all entirely arbitrary.
How can I say such an outlandish thing? Isn’t everything, including my previous statement, a collection of ‘knowledge’ so to speak? First off, I never claimed to have the answers. All I said was what I have is useless. To explain what I mean, it is necessary that I provide a definition of knowledge. It should be noted though that such a definition will fail in its task. All definitions do. That is because all definitions are a form of knowledge and all forms of knowledge are useless and thus, all definitions are useless. So my attempt to define knowledge will be like attempting to jump into a bed of feathers at the bottom of a high building. Just call me the modern day Icarus.
Our knowledge at any given point is the accumulation of ourselves. We characterize ourselves by what we know and by what we do not know. I can say that I am Kacper Niburski only insofar that I know that I am Kacper Niburski. The same could be said for any one else. Contrarily, I can state I am not Oskar Niburski – although, most people would consider any difference, besides a few letters, is not important enough to note. Knowledge, then, is the intersection of oneself and one’s perception of the world at some point in time. Quantum mechanics may cause one to perceive the world with a certain uncertainty. Tarski’s undefinability theorem may have the side effects of perceiving imperfection as something rather perfect. And so it continues that the culmination of what we learn, at any given time, warps the very fabric of perception. Simply said, it changes the way we exist.
And yet, by the time you finish reading this very sentence, you will have ceased to exist. In the time it took me to write it, I stopped existing too. This is because the past and the future are invented concepts; abstractions for a world that questions what is really reality. To say something will happen, or did happen, is to postulate a state that precisely isn’t the way things are right now. Or now. Or even now. The present is simply a gift that will be taken away as soon as it is opened. Most people don’t even get the chance to realize it as it whisks by. Speaking of, you just missed it. There too. Again.
To illustrate my point, take the example of a time where you asked someone how they were. Most likely, they answered that they were in some emotional psyche, whether it be sad, happy, glad, or constipated. Yet, that state is no longer the same when the question was first posed and the response made. The very moment in time has passed, and no longer is the observer as they were, but altered due to observation. It is like quantum mechanics – the very act of observation changes the outcome of the experiment. Thus similarly, the states of things that are ‘right now’ are only a fleeting instant based on a given moment which passes as soon as it arrives. Everything else is just a slew of abstract ideas of what was or will be. Even if you tilt your head, the painting of past and future does not become any better.
Consequentially, one’s existence erodes like a rock in the river. Consider that you have an idea of yourself, seconds ago, starting to read this entry. Does that version of you still experience this world? No. That person is gone. For even though day-by-day life seems to be stagnant, pretty soon, everything changes and you’re older and you wonder where the time went. With each millisecond being different from the next, and each second even more so, knowledge is useless because it is arbitrarily weighed against an ephemeral existence. As a result, us human beings struggle against our mortality. We measure our bodies with the hope of transience wherein our consciousness may outweigh our flesh. But when one’s body stops being a vessel for consciousness and we succumb to the proverbial croak, the consequence will be much the same as when one stopped existing five seconds ago. Utterly inconsequential.
This is why those who say knowledge is founded on the shoulders of giants are wrong. I agree inasmuch as knowledge is a constant accretion of ideas and concepts that define oneself and that such knowledge is found through expressing past ideas at some given time. But like death, and like our prior existences, memories are defined only in the abstract, not in reality which has already passed us by. As a result, one’s very knowledge does not stand on the shoulders of giants, but on giant shoulders of doubt.
I consider my memories to be such an example, if anecdotes could stand for anything. As a child, I asked my dad where rain comes from. My dad said, “God is crying.” I asked why God is crying. He said, “Probably because of something you did.” I said I was thinking about being an atheist. He said, “God believes in you.” I said that that is why God’s crying – too much belief. My dad said, “Only after rain can flowers grow.” I said that only in winter can flowers die. My dad stared at me for the longest time. In the silence with just his eyes tiredly fading in and out, he tacitly said that the face of a child can say it all. To break the silence, he promised to take me to Wonderland some time after, but it was getting pretty late, and I was scared half to death of the dark. I told him and he pointed to the television and it was done.
Despite such a memory, despite not existing as I was when I was able to create them, despite whatever knowledge is contained in such a memory, there’s a sense that I am very lucky to be alive today, certainly luckier than the ten quadrillion others that might have existed instead of me. But that’s my egocentric mind talking. The universe doesn’t work that way. It expands and expands and expands some more; the edge moving father away from us. As a consequence, humans become a resultant process. I am an example. So are you. The processes between us are simply different. The useless knowledge that shapes us is different. Yet it remains that: useless. In a fleeting existence, knowledge is outdated. It follows suite with deaths of our prior existences. It is inconsequential and as a result, useless. It is nothing but a fart in the roaring winds called life.
Perhaps knowledge has some uses though. Who am I to say otherwise? I mean ‘useless’ still has the word ‘use’ in it. Under that consideration, some will go to the heart of what it is to know: epistemology. It is the very essence of a state, if indeed a state is what we perceive and my definition of knowledge is to be accepted. This means that epistemology then is what we know at that given state or the intersection of ourselves. However, it is only useful insofar that its use contributes to its own useless. Here is a study that encompasses knowledge down to its very core. And yet, only on Earth is knowledge given any value. If I were to fly to Pluto today, with my brain whizzing with wonderful factoids like Pluto’s atmosphere consists of a thin envelope of nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide gases and that the Earth, depending on planetary orbit, is about 5750.4 million km away and that Pluto is no longer considered a planet but a dwarf planet, would my knowledge serve any use? Sure, knowledge would have made it possible that I had the means to fly to Pluto in the first place. Someone would have to have had sufficient cerebral rocket-fuel to reinforce the ship with enough liquid hydrogen to blast me off into space, food to feed me and toilet paper to use. That is all fine. However, out there on Pluto, floating in the birth of creation with my ideas and thoughts for friends, knowledge doesn’t matter for crap. Everything around me is inanimate. No amount of knowledge will change that. Up there, with my knees deep in the Milky Way, I am just a bunch of uselessness strung together in a fleshy prison. And when this prison fades, and it does fade, that knowledge fades with it. I will join the cosmos, becoming an inanimate being. Knowledge is useless because life is. Fly to Pluto and you’ll find out for yourself.
That is why I wish to tell you, dear reader, the most useless knowledge of all: the first words ever spoken. Most people would claim they could never be known. They’d say that language is a combination of gurgles that developed into gags, gags into grunts, grunts into gargles, and finally, gargles into grammar. That’d be nice because such a process is magnificent. It is an example of the world’s overwhelming beauty. When I think of it, I just want to throw my head back like my ancestors would have and gargle my worries away. Why? Because the first words were, “I’m human and I’m going to die.”
But regardless of the uselessness of knowledge, our fleeting existences, and the fact that we are born only to die, I can sum up everything in this essay in four simple words. Goodbye, hello, goodbye again. It always happens that way. Things always move on. Whether they move with or without us doesn’t matter. I know at least that much. Now you do too.