Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Context-Dependent Knowledge

Originally posted on October 29, 2011

A pickpocket at a convention of saints would only see their pockets. This morning I heard that the World Series Baseball game that I saw part of on television was considered one of the greatest games in the history of baseball. Who knew? The only thing that impressed me was how many spits the various players delivered per inning. The nuances of the plays escaped me, fool that I am.

What this illustrates is that in certain roles, what I or you or someone may do may be highly accomplished, capable of being appreciated only by the cognoscenti in that field. It takes one to know one. Whereas in other fields, one may be quite out of one’s league. Smart in A, dumb as a rock in B. My wife reminded me of a spiritual teacher, Muktananda, who responded to a question about what it was all about by saying something like “Even if I could explain it to you, you wouldn’t begin to understand.”

One of the common problems of my era and perhaps of humanity was the subtle entitlement to access to answers. There are several layers here: First, there’s the belief that there really are “answers” to non-insignificant questions—they are indeed out there, and some few, select, people, or those graced with divine revelation, have been exposed to and at least somewhat understand those answers. This whole belief may be fundamentally mistaken, but anyway. Another belief that’s related is that the answer is (or should be, at least) comprehensible to the questioner, simple enough to be understood. That’s another giant, presumptuous, and deeply erroneous assumption. “If I ask it, there must be an answer somewhere, and I’m entitled to hearing it and it should be simple enough for me to understand it.” I think people deeply feel this way and are unaware of the infantile state of maturity of mind that underlies this attitude—there’s no shame because there’s no awareness that there’s anything wrong.

What if it’s more true to consider that (a) many questions really have no answers, or so many partial answers because in so many ways “it depends” on so many aspects of the general problem; (b) whatever answers there are already known by others are really quite complex and several layers of infrastructure of knowledge and skills are needed to begin to appreciate them; ( c) just because a question can be asked does not in itself lead to the existence of any answer at all, or no answer that can be framed in language (e.g.—what is the meaning of  “cute”?).

So . . .  what’s the meaning of it all? (wink, wink).


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