Friday, 18 September 2015

My favourite phrase

Ladysolly has just told me that my favourite phrase is "I don't know".

I can believe that. There's so much I don't know. There's so much that I even don't know abojt the existence of huge areas of human knowledge that I've never even heard of.

I've noticed that I don't know a lot more than most people. Other folks have some great areas of knowledge that I can't even understand how they can possibly know what they say they know, which makes me even more ignorant.

And I'm not ashamed to admit when I don't know something - admission of ignorance can be the first step towards enlightenment. After all, if you already know all about something, there's no incentive to find out more about it.

I don't know that there's a Tooth Fairy; nor do I know that there isn't. Isn't that an appalling degree of ignorance? And the same is true of the Easter Bunny, the Great Teapot, unicorns and gods. There's an immense number of gods that I don't know whether they exist or not, although I'm inclined to be sceptical about whether they could possibly all exist; surely most of them, and possibly all, don't exist. But I don't know.

Fortunately, many of the things I don't know, aren't important. Some of the thngs that I don't know, can be looked up in books or on the internet - for example, I can never remember the exact syntax of the perl substr function.

So I don't think my deep ignorance is important.

But I don't know.


  1. I think you have to rule out some things you don't know to be true if you want to be both rational and have your inferences converge in a sensible time frame. For example, suppose you stick to the possibility that the Tooth Fairy exists, and has a penchant for messing with your code behind your back. When debugging software, as well as the usual list of hypotheses you'd have to include 'perhaps the Tooth Fairy tweaked the value in the register, which is why we have garbage at this point in the code'.

    I completely agree about substr though: I wonder why that function in particular is hard to remember.

  2. I did once locate an obscure bug in the Microsoft Fortran compiler, version 3.13. I spent ages trying to find the bug in my code, but eventually nailed it down to a problem in the compiler.