Ever noticed how hard it is to unknow something, once you know it? It’s like knowledge is somehow very persistent and permanent. Of course, if you learn to do something and then don’t do it for a while, you get rusty, but somehow you never entirely forget and never return to the state of being you once felt, before you knew it.
For me, this is one of the best reasons to seek truth and learning. The more you know, the more knowable the world becomes. Skills accumulate. Knowledge stimulates the discovery of still more knowledge.
Once, there was a time when I didn’t know how to draw and paint. I had no idea how to handle the materials. I didn’t have the first clue on mixing colours or on making colours work with each other. It’s the same for guitar playing and music. Once, I didn’t know how to play a blues scale. Now, it seems to me like I almost cannot avoid playing one. In whatever career path we pursue, the more we know the better we get.
With knowledge, we accumulate the means to shape the world. We can shape it for better, or for worse. Hopefully, we do it for the better. Knowledge can protect us from those that would prey upon our ignorance, naiveté and credulity. It can cut through the veil of propaganda and reveal hidden agendas. Coupled with intuition, we can perceive the world more incisively and have creative, innovative thoughts that arise from having a hunch and testing it. Knowledge is the best protection we can have from helplessness and enslavement. Knowledge is a pre-requisite for freedom. Self-knowledge is perhaps the most crucial knowledge of all. What a fortunate thing it is that this knowledge, once obtained, is very hard to unknow.
There are a few downsides of the inability to unknow, however. If you are one of these people that picks up deep skills in a broad range of disciplines, but your day job constrains you to only using a few of those skills, it can begin to feel increasingly claustrophobic and frustrating. Nobody ever regrets giving their best, so when the constraints of your role prevent you from giving your best across your entire skill set, that situation can lead to a lot of internal conflict and tension. Somehow, you have to find a way of giving your best with all of your skills, whatever eclectic mix that happens to be. Often, that means creating a portfolio career or making a job that is uniquely your own.
The other down side of the inability to unknow is that once deep truths are revealed to you, you cannot see the world the same way ever again. For example, if you detect corruption, incompetence, bad faith, megalomania, greedy profiteering at the expense of humanity, ignorance, inhumane ideas, disdain for the plight of the ordinary man, cold ruthlessness, conflicts of interest, perversity or any of a number of afflictions that can infect those in authority or those professionals that we trust, the spell is broken forever. We can never again put our faith and trust in these institutions or people. We must find another way to create the security, status, and safety that we once felt.
That can mean your belief in religion, politicians, a movement, the medical establishment, banks, global organisations, corporations, a partner, an employer, your colleagues and friends can no longer be sustained, because you are unable to un-know some salient fact or other. Your entire world view can unravel in an instant, just because you learn a single piece of knowledge. That can leave you feeling confused, vulnerable and bereft, yet is somehow preferable to the previous blissful ignorance you once enjoyed.
So, our inability to forget is at one and the same time one of our most precious gifts yet can be a terrible curse. The only thing more dreadful than knowing is ignorance.