Sunday’s Wisdom #389: To Know is to See

“Knowledge only makes the eyes see what was there all along.”
– Cotillion, House of Chains
The Malazan Book of the Fallen
, by Steven Erikson

I recall a moment from my time at college. The discussion between students and teacher had turned towards the stereotypical image of the scientist who learns how the universe works and loses the child-like sense of wonder that first drove them to learn about it in the first place. We were asked, how real is that? I mean, obviously it happens, but is it truly so inevitable? Several voices were answering yes, that some of the wonder must surely fade from the eyes of the learned. I raised my hand, and my voice, in disagreement. A child might catch a falling snowflake on their mitten and see it shine and melt and be gone, and they move on to the next shiny thing, but a scientist? A scientist can catch a snowflake as well and, in looking on it, be struck dumb with wonder because he or she understands the ancient, cosmic forces of the universe which have been packed into and made manifest by this tiny, transient drop of frozen water.

The child may be innocent, but also ignorant, their attention lasting only an instant, while the learned scholar can still be thinking about this snowflake hours, days, weeks, or even years later.

When Cotillion says the above quote, the circumstances are a bit less wholesome than this memory of mine from school. Suffice to say that he is conversing with someone who wished to have remained an innocent little nobody, ignorant and ignored by the world. She curses the knowledge she now has, knowing the chains which lay already on her soul, but knowledge just shows what was always there, whether she knew it or not.

Those who have learned hard, unyielding truths, and who now bear the burden of that knowledge, may indeed wish that they never knew whatever it is that they know. However, knowing something does not bring it into existence, and not knowing does not prevent it from existing. The snowflake in my analogy exists either way, whether it’s a child or a scientist who notices it, or whether it’s noticed at all. The difference does not lie with the snowflake, but with the person who sees it.

Gravity did not come into being when it was discovered. Even now, there is much of it which is not understood even by the foremost minds in the world, but it still continues to function as it always has. It is our understanding of it that has grown.

That is how it is with every branch of knowledge. Each new discovery is exactly that: a discovery, a new illumination of what was always there to be seen.

And already, there is so much to know, so much to learn, of ourselves and each other. People of different lifestyles and backgrounds, of nations and cultures and sub-cultures, all go through life knowing and seeing so little of their fellow man. City folk understand tragically little of the country folk, little realizing everything that goes into the food they simply buy at the store. Meanwhile, country folk can have as simplistic a view of their city-dwelling kin as the city folk have of them. But there is more to learn there, more to be known and seen and understood.

How much more needs to be learned for there to be peace among us? For ancient enemies to see each other as humans instead of as faceless foes? For black and white alike to see that there is not such a difference after all between them? For the rabid zealot to realize that we are all alike, all fellow humans, that we can love each other as children of the same god?

To know a person is simply to see who they truly are. That is all.

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