If there were a place called Know-It-All’s Anonymous I would be marking my two years in recovery around about now. Perhaps you’ve suffered from this troubling (and annoying for those around you) condition but staking oneself on the contents of your brain can be a problem, an addiction and I had it bad. I'd cram my head with a little book-learning here, a little memorised nuggets of info there. I thought, I can handle. The song even says, Just Say Know, right? Perhaps I misunderstood.
The reverence for knowledge is strong in our society (even though often it’s those with an abundance of letters after their names that do the dumbest things) with rationalism our new religion and abject respect for those who hold the greatest levels of knowledge, high. You may recall the British Telecom advert where Maureen Lipman’s character Beatty (see what they did there), exclaims with joy that her son will be a success because, even though he’s failed all his other exams, he’s gotten a moderate mark in an ‘an ology’, a subject with the postfix ‘ology’ which means something. Doctors have ‘ologies’!
The common lexicon is littered with affirmative phrases on this matter such ‘in the know’, ‘a little knowledge goes a long way’, ‘knowledge is king’, ‘knowledge is power’... ‘knowing me, knowing you’ although I’m not sure of the correct usage of this one, perhaps it's for when you’re having a particularly schizophrenic day (but that would be ‘knowing me, knowing me’... anyhoo...).
And, Boy, does the Know-It-All love to flex their intellectual muscle (often mistakenly interchanged with acquired knowledge). I even went to the great and unsurprisingly disappointing lengths of applying to join MENSA, just to prove how smart I was.
The online test registered me as having the pre-requisite IQ to join so I booked my in-person test a month later. It was a very peculiar scenario. I don’t think I’m being rude by saying I wasn’t your typical ‘MENSEE’. Thick-framed glasses and polyester trousers were the order of the day. If I’d known it was a costume party I’d have made the effort. There was one kid, about 12 who looked like he could have been a contender for ‘The One’ in the Matrix. I half-expected him to start bending spoons and levitating above his test paper.
The in-person test was a timed affair, I guess so you couldn’t cheat though I don’t know why you would. It’s not a pub quiz. IQ scores aren’t generally considered team victories (having said that, I cant resist judging other groups during pub quizzes when they get floored even by the first question – "By what name... is your team known?").
Anyway, the test was hard but not impossible though I had to skip quite a few questions due to a. The time constraints and b. Not being Stephen Hawking.
I got my results through shortly after. I’d made it into the top 2% of the national IQ. I was suitably delighted with my ego doing a little virtual lap of honour before I got on with the important business of telling everyone how clever I was and then finding out what exactly the MENSOIDS did with themselves. I soon discovered, not a lot. MENSA is basically a bunch of people with high IQs that do normal stuff. They have these Special Interests Groups for various activities. Skiing, cycling, chess, football. You name it, there was a group. Ironically, the idea of sitting around with a bunch of other know-it-alls had literally no special interest for me and so, after a couple of years, I relinquished my bragging rights and allowed my subscription to lapse. This was at least 10 years ago. (I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten a lot stupider since then and probably wouldn’t stand a chance of passing the test now).
But I'm pretty sure I'm not the only Know-it-all addict. Humans love to live in the known. We love to know 'stuff'. That buzz of having information other people don't is a sweet yet dangerous high. Be it advice, acquired knowledge, information or common sense, we love the chance to show what we know. Who doesn't, for example, get a giddying burst of pride when a stranger asks for directions and you actually know the answer but conversely how many times have you ‘had a guess’ at directions when you haven’t been sure, sending that same tourist further into deepest, darkest Wherever You Are, just because you don’t want to feel like you don’t know.
We love KNOWING! especially when someone else doesn't. What about that tingle of excitement just before you tell someone good news or a juicy piece of gossip? Don’t we all enjoy that momentary experience of superiority? Is that why, sometimes we relish the opportunity to give advice?
I know there's been many occasion where I've proffered pearls of wisdom without even thinking to ask if it was wanted. Beginning with the dreaded 'you know what You should do' and spirally down hill from there.
It can be really challenging spending extended periods of time with people who think they know everything. People who are always spewing knowledge, and spouting their oppinions as fact. I prefer people who are open, have an inquiring mind and live in possibility because truly, how can any of us know anything for an absolute fact? Even the sun rising tomorrow is not a fact, it’s just an accurate projection but, you know, shit happens (for the sun to not rise, it’d have to be a pretty big shit but nonetheless...). That’s why I find it so boring talking to abject atheists. They are so commited to e know that theres no room for possibility. They want to be able to make declarations like, 'there is no God and that’s the end of it' but how on earth can you know something like that? I get, ‘ I don’t believe in God’ because that allows for change, Is generous enough to accounts for other people's beliefs, but 'there is no God' is so... dead and an indicator of our unhealthy romance with the need to know or more acurately, the need to 'known' - to fix things or set them in stone. It saddens me, not because I believe or don’t but I relish possibility. What ifs are for more exciting that, that’s it.
Rather than knowledge being power, I prefer, Ignorance is bliss. Not the type of ignorance that causes racism or wars or The Kardashians, but the 'living in the not-knowing'. It's a glorious place because it’s alive. Fixing things in the known, while necessary on occasion, can kill something, labelling bringing to an end all other possibility. This is what has happened to a lot of religion and why people don’t resonate with 90% of what they seem to stand for. Dogma is what happens when something ceases to be an alive inquiry but a dead ideology (and by the way it happens in science too).
We should always be pushing forward and when we make it a discovery, simply declare it the known for now and push on forward for even greater and more distinct answers. We once thought the world was flat but the inquiry continued and we discovered it was not. If we proceed from where we are now, what other great mysteries will we reveal? To stop asking would be to do a disservice to the the greatest facets of the human spirit, to wonder. Even Professor Cox's show is not called Knowns of the Universe. It’s called, Wonders of The Universe.
Luckily, there are always individuals who understand the necessity for this type of continued inquiry and are committed to breathing life into any religion, doctrine or scietific theory and it is to those people we should be grateful. They are our innovators, constantly reinventing our comprehension of what's so. Some may come across as kooky but they are pushing the boundaries and in doing so, in remaining in the question rather sitting pretty on the answer, they take us to a place that ‘knowing’ never could. There’s no discovery possible from coming from the known. The known is always, inherently about the past. 'The question' is always about the present and future. What if and why?
I don’t panic when I don’t know anymore. I used to hate it. It made me emotionally and physically uncomfortable. Whenever I started the process of learning something, be it a language or a skill, I’d have an immediate spurt of enthusiasm (due to my enormous IQ, ok bragging rights relinquished) and make huge leaps then I'd hit the boundaries of my knowledge and begin to squirm and writhe in the agony of not knowing. I HATED IT. Many of the things I’ve tried to learn have been because I wanted to know rather than I wanted to experience the process of discovery.
I want to be able to speak Spanish. I don’t want to learn it. BORING. Perhaps that’s another reason the Matrix appeals to me so much. I’m very much onboard with the idea of being able to upload skills into your head without having the tedium of learning!
As children we annoy the hell out of our parents with the persisant question, Why? Some might dismiss this as a mechanical function of childhood mentality but I think it’s more important and fundamental than that. It’s constitutes who we are, and personally, I don’t think it’s particularly profound that children continually ask, but that adults stop.
Power comes from change and change comes from seeing something we did not see before. The saying goes, power is knowledge but true growth and strength comes in the question.