Can I ever know myself? Can you know yourself? How about the objects and encounters with other living beings?: Can you ever really know them? These questions may seem silly. Please think for a moment about the screen in front of you that you are reading this from. Think for an instant about the chair you are sitting on. Can you ever know these things? We only ever see them in certain periods of time. European existentialist philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty would say we never see anything from all its various angles. We can imagine the underside of a chair–we can imagine what is inside of a computer screen. We can see, hear, feel, touch, smell, taste and breathe most moments of our individual lives. Can we really know those things in this existence that we interact with? There must be something about this life–this place–that we can come to know about it.
I see my chair. I can feel it under me supporting my weight. I assembled it out of the box. I spent time in this chair, sitting upon it; others have sat in this chair. How did this chair come into existence? Imagine the person who designed it. Imagine all the bugs that may have landed, or crawled, on it. Imagine all the places this chair has been. Maybe the materials to make it were shipped from Canada to China; then it was manufactured in China; designed in the US; and sold in Canadian outlets of US corporations like Walmart. The point of all this rambling is that I don’t really know the chair that I am sitting on. I don’t really know the computer screen in front of me. Hence, I don’t really know much about any of the things of my existence. However, I exist; I come to understand parts of the world through existence. I can never fully know all parts of the world. I can only know parts of things and fill in the blanks; in an attempt to understand the world I interact with and that interacts with me.
If my experienced existence is comprised of merely my interactions with parts of various things, then I am prone to err in my understanding of the world. If what all that I have said is true, then I base most of my judgments about the world on things I know relatively little about. I fill in the blanks, make stories about, create illusions about the other side of things which I cannot immediately be exposed to. It takes time to really get to know a chair–but we can never fully experience the chair from all angles or all times and spaces. We know the form of the objects in this world, in a sense; but we can never really know each particular part of these objects’ existence. We share but moments of our existence with everything we come into contact with. Moments of things. As Heraclitus would say, everything is in a state of flux; you can never set foot in the same river twice. If we try to measure flux, it will change in the process. Every moment is fleeting. With all this in mind, I ask myself, what do I really know?
~Justin Allen Philcox