Uncertainty #2 – Levels of Understanding – The Path of Knowledge and Wisdom

The second uncertainty is an understanding that the more you know about something, the fuzzier reality becomes. If something seems too clear and straightforward, you probably don’t know enough about it. Knowing more about something though, does not invalidate everything else that was previously known. Things can be true at different levels of understanding.

Gravity:  (1) Things fall.   (2) Gravity is the reason things fall.   (3) A body of mass will attract other bodies of mass.   (4) Nobody really understands why anything attracts anything else. The word “gravity” is just a placeholder for a concept that is not really understood.

Light:  (1) You can see light.   (2) Light is made up of photons.   (3) A photon is a packet of energy.   (4) Light is both a particle and a wave.   (5) You don’t actually “see” light at all. Your brain creates the sensation in your mind.   (6) Nobody really understands light. The word “light” is a placeholder for a concept that is not understood.

Taiwan:  (1) Taiwan is a small country.   (2) China considers Taiwan to be one of its territories and not a country at all.   (3) Even America does not officially recognize Taiwan as a country in order not to antagonize China.   (4) The people of Taiwan consider themselves to be an independent nation and have no political ties with mainland China.   (5) You can call Taiwan a country or not, but the reality is more complicated.

It is true that the sky is blue at one level, but it is not true at another level.

It is true that space is empty at one level, but it is certainly not true at another.

It is true that English has 5 vowels at one level, but at another, this too becomes uncertain.

A week by definition has 7 days, but what is a day? 24 hours? Its period of rotation? Which one since they’re not exactly the same? If a day can have a complicated definition, what does that do to the week?

Barrack Obama is America’s first black president, but what does it mean to be black in America? Does he really qualify? Yes at one level. No at another. And I haven’t the foggiest at still another level.

You can read a lot these days about how bad sugar is for you. Just yesterday though, I read an article that talked about how great sugar is. So which is true? Could it be both? At one level, sugar is certainly bad. At another, it has many benefits. At still another, the jury is still out.

I could probably go on and on with different topics to illustrate the same point. In my experience, if you study any so-called “fact” thoroughly enough, you will eventually come to a place where the experts simply don’t know what comes next. No matter what level your understanding of a principle or concept, it seems like there is always a higher level. Generally speaking, the higher your level, the greater your understanding that there are yet higher levels to which you are not yet able to attain. To me, being at any level of understanding lower than that highest pinnacle implies at least some level of uncertainty.

Thinking yourself at the top before you actually get there is one common mistake that people make. Sometimes, people that are at a higher level in comparison to others can forget that although their level of understanding may be higher than that of those around them, they still know very little about anything. It is very easy to become prideful. A lower level is not a wrong level. The Earth did not stop being round just because it is not a perfect sphere. The ground upon which I walk to work each day is still rather flat, regardless of any supposed curvature that might be going on under my feet. The water of the ocean is still a beautiful blue.

This uncertainty encourages the perpetuation of learning. Knowing that there are higher levels and that I am not yet at the highest level propels me ever onward. Every level is valid, but what is true at one level may be false at another. This uncertainty is also a path of wisdom because it requires you to stop and consider at each step whether you and the person you are speaking with are speaking at the same level. A lot of arguments and misunderstandings could be avoided if we just took a little more time to understand one another and what we’re really saying.

A person that truly understands this uncertainty will find themselves learning more and more throughout their life. They will be slow to mock or ridicule others for speaking from a different level because they understand that every level is valid. They will be slow to judge others and yet full of understanding. This is the path of wisdom.

Everything can be understood at countless different levels and with different depths. Therefore, keep learning to increase your knowledge and practice wisdom as you interact with others at different levels.


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