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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Entire human knowledge - FAQs
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Pictures: Thicket by Ursula Freer. World in a Cell by Ursula Freer.

Q: Hallo?
A: Yes.

Q: How much human knowledge is there?
A: A lot. More than enough for one human brain. Human knowledge is far more plentiful than most anoraks at the garden centre imagine.

Q: Is it OK to go to the garden centre but not wear an anorak?
A: Yes. You can go to the garden centre wearing an ill-fitting Christmas jumper your mother knitted for you five years ago, or a dinner jacket. But perhaps don't wear the jumper under the dinner jacket.

Q: Of course not. But if one wore the jumper over the dinner jacket, it would reduce the appeal of the dinner jacket, wouldn't it?
A: Yes. It would reduce the immediate visual appeal of the dinner jacket. But the theoretical appeal of the dinner jacket as a sartorial stratagem would remain undiminished. In a garden centre, no one would expect a man wearing a dinner jacket to be a professional shoplifter.

Q: I am interested in Entire Human Knowledge.
A: What is your question?

Q: Why am I am interested in Entire Human Knowledge?
A: Because you are deeply ignorant; transcendentally ignorant; so ignorant that almost every fragment of knowable human knowledge is unknown to you.

Q: So some human knowledge is unknowable then? I didn't know that.
A: Yes it is, and no you didn't.

Q: Which human knowledge is unknowable?
A: No one knows.

Q: I find that I have an unquenchable hunger and thirst for Entire Human Knowledge. What can I do?
A: Read Plato's Republic in the original Greek.

Q: I've tried that. It didn't help. Why didn't reading Plato in the original Greek work for me?
A: Are you fluent in Ancient Greek?

Q: No. I don't know any Ancient Greek at all. And I am not fluent in modern Greek, either.
A: If you don't have Greek, there is little to be gained from reading Plato in the original Greek. You won't understand it.

Q: What, then, can I do to address my unquenchable hunger and thirst for Entire Human Knowledge?
A: Read George Eliot's Middlemarch in the original English.

Q: Is George Eliot's Middlemarch equivalent in importance to Plato's Republic, as far as Entire Human Knowledge is concerned?
A: Yes. There are minor differences of context, style and authorial intent, but they have approximately the same canonical status within Entire Human Knowledge.

Q: What is that canonical status?
A: 7.

Q: What does that mean?
A: It means that within the canon of truly significant writing thus far produced by human civilisation on this planet, only six works, or clusters of works, are more important than Plato's Republic or George Eliot's Middlemarch.

Q: Does that suggest that there are flaws in the writing of Plato and George Eliot?
A: Serious flaws, yes.

Q: What are those flaws?
A: First, Plato makes no attempt to explain why Casaubon died only eighteen months after marrying Dorothea Brooke. Second, Eliot completely fails to notice Will Ladislaw's obsession with Socratic Dialogue.

Q: What are the reasons for those literary deficiencies?
A: There are two reasons. First, it is plain that Plato never bothered to engage in a close reading of George Eliot. Second, George Eliot was obviously so blinded by the intellectual gymnastics of Mr Bambridge that the steady cerebral rigour of Will Ladislaw escaped her attention.

Q: Do these howling deficiencies undermine the integrity of Entire Human Knowledge?
A: Only if they are allowed to do so by the gatekeepers of 21st Century cultural taste. It may not be too late.

Q: What can be done to prevent further decline?
A: More attention might be paid to items 1 to 6 in the canonical hierarchy of significant texts.

Q: What are those texts?
A: No one knows. They were all burned in the first fire at the Alexandrian Library in 391CE.

Q: That would appear to present an unsurmountable obstacle to my quest for Entire Human Knowledge.
A: Not necessarily.

Q: You mean there's hope for me?
A: Yes. You might consider developing personal omniscience.

Q: That's a good idea. If I was omniscient, I would know what was burned at the Alexandrian Library, before it actually was burned, and I could retrieve the unburned texts by an act of concentrated thought.
A: You could indeed.

Q: Why has no one done this before?
A: People have. Nazis, mostly.

Q: How do you mean?
A: Before the Nazis burn down a document store such as the Reichstag, they extract the documents first. Thus they retain a record of the textual content of the incinerated documents.

Q: That's useful.
A: Yes. And then, after the Second World War, they can take the documents to America and start work all over again.


The pictures at the top of this page are: "Thicket" by Ursula Freer, and (the clickthrough) "World in a Cell" by Ursula Freer. More examples of artwork by Ursula Freer, and by other artists and illustrators, are linked from this page here.


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