What I don't know | Moment's Notice

By Maria Montalvo | Aug 19, 2016

What I don’t know could fill volumes … I believe there is an old saying like that.

Word of the day. Book club. Poetry app. NPR. Daily newspapers, morning news, evening news, 20-plus-year subscription to The Economist. These are all mechanisms to continually feed the hunger for knowledge, to fill the space created by the dearth of information in my brain.

As I learned a few months ago, we forget 90 percent of what we hear over time – and that fact I remember. That makes it even harder to remove a volume or two from the libraries of what I do not know.

“Know” is an Old English word (before 900 AD), “to perceive something as identical to another or to understand as truth.” In the 13th century, “know” took on the additional meaning of “to experience or live through,” and by the 17th century, “know” had come to encompass not only experiencing or understanding something but learning from it, as well.

That puts a lot of pressure on our knowledge.

If we learn something from what we come to know, then “knew” is a bit of an ethical dilemma. On the surface, knew is simply the past tense of know, to place the situation of knowing in past time. But if we come to know something and learn from it, then it becomes something we knew.

Is it then more than something we no longer know, but rather an indication that we not only forgot a fact but also discarded the lesson that went along with it?

To further complicate things, sometimes knowledge is painful. There are scenes we want to forget or moments we would prefer not to have experienced. Something difficult we knew has to be easier to deal with than something we achingly know.

In the movie “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind,” Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet have a procedure that erases their great love for each other from their memories. In the end, they realize they lost more by removing the memory and no longer knowing each other.

The moral of the story was not subtle: It is better to remember, to live through, to know.

I have an always-expanding list of things I want to learn and authors I want to read and people and places I want to study. The knowledge seems critical to getting the most out of an experience and understanding what is behind words or images or event, but there is that other saying: “It’s all about the journey, not the destination.”

Marrying my husband four times (just because), dancing and singing at dozens of concerts, walking along the Great Wall of China and hiking to Machu Picchu, delicious meals cooked at home and in professional kitchens, conversations with fascinating and kind people, and climbing a 14,411-foot mountain are starting to teach me that the experiences are the best part of my life.

Maybe it is the compounding of knowledge and experiences over time that finally helps us to learn.

Oh, and when I researched the adage about what I don’t know filling volumes, there were many references but no agreed upon origin.

However, I did find a blog post that delivered an extremely enlightening clarification by someone who must be younger than me: “Volume is an old word for a long book.”

The word “volume” (from about 1100 AD) got old in my lifetime?

Something else I did not know.


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