While you might read the title of this blog and think it sounds rather Zen like and yes, it is. The first time I heard this idea that all knowledge is empty I knew there was something wrong. What I didn’t know was what exactly was wrong or precisely why the statement is wrong. But something is weird about the idea or notion that anything empty when obviously it has to be something. So let’s just move on to something really important and a little less zenish.
Kimber is now being referred to more often than not as KimB. She, KimB, and I were in the China bizarre store and saw the grabbers were on sale. You know, those poles with a handle on one end where you squeeze the trigger and there’s a set of gripers at the other end that come together when you pull the trigger. You’ve probably seen prisoners working on chain gangs picking up trash using a grabber. Unless you don’t live in the southern states in the United States in which case you probably have never seen a prisoner chain gang. Anyway, KimB said to me that we should pick up trash sometimes when we are out on our walks. We bought two.
With the Covid having shut down most of the tourism industry in Spain, the government has had to lay off a lot of people who used to keep our streets meticulous. There are of course a few places where the streets are looking poorly and our sense of pride gets to working on the subconscious as if something is wrong in the universe. With a trash bag each we meander with her on one side of the street and me the other. Once the bags are full, we find a garbage bin, toss in the bags and then complete our walks.
I recall a time when someone told me that knowledge is useless. If, for example, you learn two plus two equals four you have gained knowledge. The reason this knowledge is useless isn’t immediately obvious. If you ask yourself did the knowledge of two plus two equals four make it four? Or, was it already four before I knew the factors and the operation of adding? That’s an easy answer of course and in fact the universe doesn’t rely on my knowing the math. Two plus two equals four has been true even before I was born and will be true for the duration of the physical universe. Thereby, applying this logic, knowledge — is useless. Perhaps the better word is empty; knowledge is empty. Since knowledge only exists within the individual, me, then knowledge is only valuable and existing as long as I am aware of it.
What a load of stupidity that is, I reasoned. Knowledge isn’t empty. I’ve earned a Master’s Degree in mathematics and an undergraduate degree in engineering. The basics of each are the very simple elements of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. Just four tools for all of mathematics and none of which are useless or empty. I built a long and successful career with my knowledge of two plus two, and realized a lot of extravagant and magical events because of my enriched knowledge of mathematics. After acquiring a PhD with my knowledge, I was able to achieve far more in both career, wealth, and life. My wealth, position in life, and all are a direct result of the knowledge I have.
Anyway, once KimB and I have cleaned up a long stretch of sidewalk and roadway, it makes me feel better about having given something. Silly in a way I suppose because for all I know most people who walk and drive down these areas may not be bothered or even aware of the rubbish. In my mind though, I feel like I’m trying to make all our lives a little richer for the effort. I’m retired, and most of the people in this town are working and struggling to get through the days. I’ve been there and I know the strain of the job, the commute, the deadlines and commitments. Whatever the case I just feel like I’m doing something for us all in a very basic and uncomplicated way. A few days later, a wind storm, followed by a few days of rain. The cleaned up pathways are once again starting to collect rubbish, paper, clothing, surgical masks, etc.
Some would shrug, then tell me the world just does what the world does, and maybe some would say the universe doesn’t show you any respect for the cleanup efforts. KimB and I know there’s more rubbish on the planet than we have time for. As the woman who used to do my laundry at the dry cleaner would often say, “life is a dirty business.” I suppose it’s also similar to knowledge being empty. Our efforts cleaning up the sidewalks and roadways around the town are empty. Perhaps by way of reasoning I can understand the universe isn’t actively adding two plus two to equal four, but it just is that two and four just are without the need for mathematics and addition. Some call the logic “suchness” and when I hear talk of letting go I recognize this is the line of logic they refer to. Mathematics, physics, equations, etc. these are just words. I choose to accept that there is some substance to the formula of addition, but addition is really just mental phenomena. A thought construct. It only has an actual value when I perform an action such as the efforts of my career were possible because my thought constructs became actions. Logically my success then has been a result of the actions I took.
The universe is in motion, constant action, unceasing in a condition of evolution. Everyone and everything in this universe are in a constant state of simultaneously both evaporating and incarnating. In a word, we call it existence. What we do in this existence, that is, the actions we take in this existence are the only merit that moves forward. Everything else is empty.