Plagued by my incessant seven year old questions, Mrs. Smith blurted: “Brad, everything that can be known is known. So, be quiet.” Not the sentiment of a second grade teacher having her best moment. Mrs. Smith repented. She thrust Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea into my hands. Verne’s tale drove me to Coeur d’Alene Public Library’s science fiction collection. As one starving, I gorged on Asimov and Heinlein and Pohl, banquets of ripe speculative universes. Truths, certainties quavered in master hands. The demi-gods of science fiction drove me, for the first of many times, to ask: what do I know?
At three, I worked out shoe-tying for myself (to this day, I tie my laces backwards). I knew then that I knew everything important. From that triumphant day, education increased, but certitude shrank. At four, I crushed off the tip of my right index finger in my bicycle sprocket. At eight, the principal thwacked my tusch for tossing snowballs at icicles on school eaves. At ten, I discovered just how much my classmates liked fat, smart people. At twelve, I learned that Jean Hall did not pine for me as I did for her. At fourteen, I scored in a junior high basketball game--for the other team--twice. At eighteen, I adopted religious certainty with Protestant odors. At nineteen, I saw that religious certainty is not all that certain. By twenty-two, I understood my mind was second-tier. By twenty-four, I fathomed that churches don’t want smart-alecks leading them. By twenty-six, I gleaned that I did not know what truth is. At forty-three, I found that crooks may prosper and facts may not matter. At forty-five, I saw I could not coherently explain evil. At forty-eight, I learned that bad men may be more eloquent than I. At fifty-three, I started writing these little articles, publishing my ignorance.
Certitudes wane for me. Hordes of messy facts, heaps of worthy perspectives gnaw at my knowing. Socrates (Athenian, 5th century B.C.) assaulted confident knowing. He withered opponents: “[N]either of us really knows anything fine and good, but this man thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not think I do either. I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either” (Apologia). The Enlightenment’s scion, Voltaire (French, 18th century A.D.), put it simply: “I am far from being certain” (Philosophical Dictionary, “Certitude”). That captures it. I am certainly uncertain.