A long time ago I proposed “what exactly is reality?” as a question I would later answer. More recently I wrote on the same topic “I donâ€™t know [...] I also donâ€™t really care.” That was obviously not quite true, as here I am writing about it again. I think what was true was that I'm okay with not having a way to fully define reality. And I’m not only okay with the ambiguity of possibly being totally wrong about everything; I think it’s a good thing.
I remember reading a long time ago a quote by Einstein “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.” and later hearing about what I think was probably the Dunningâ€“Kruger effect, an actual cognitive confirmation of what Einstein said. Ignorance really does breed overconfidence while knowledge grows understanding of how ignorant we really are. What we value isn’t just knowing a lot in general, but specifically knowing enough to poke at the edges of what we don’t know.
There’s something uncomfortable about recognizing that the part we don’t know just seems bigger and bigger the more we learn about it. But I think the alternative, the idea that we could figure it all out and just be done learning about the universe, sounds even worse. Maybe it’s just the perspective of what I know now, but it’s hard to imagine knowing everything without everything feeling really small and boring.
Once I start from the assumption that reality is undefinable and stop struggling against that idea, reality actually gains some definition, not as a resolvable thing, but rather as the process for improving resolution. I’d been thinking about reality as a thing to see better, but reality is more like the "enhance" thing they do on TV shows, only not totally ridiculous. It’s the process of seeing better.
So taking that back to the idea that one’s ideas should be not only internally consistent, but also consistent with external reality, I think all I really mean by that is that being internally consistent can’t come at the expense of being open to new ideas. That doesn’t mean all new ideas are equal, because new ideas can be evaluated on how they open up even more new ideas. Bad ideas shut down thought. Good ideas expand it. And expanding ideas includes maintaining a good amount of existing ideas, which conveniently rejects the whole "everything we know is a dream" flavor of nihilism. That seems like a pretty good rubric for approaching ideas. I’m looking forward to applying it more specifically in future posts to see how coherent my thinking really is.