(A Short Story)

My name is Ludwig, Mr. Ludwig, but you don’t actually know that, nor do you actually know if the words I used mean what you think they mean, because all the dictionaries and everyone who has ever used those words, including me, could be mistaken. Forgive me, I’m terrible at introductions, or so I’ve led you to believe. Perhaps intentionally? Perhaps not. Perhaps. Always perhaps. Life you know: always a perhaps. Today, I’m speaking in a mirror — given of course that this is, in fact, a mirror and not better called the Chinese word for “mirror” — but tomorrow I will begin speaking to blokes and lads on the cobble streets to help them understand how little they know about anything, not that I know people will necessarily listen even if they act rapt. I think I’ll wear this top hat with my black tux and vest, though I can’t say for sure that I won’t change my mind. Given that tomorrow happens. Which it might. Always a might. I should bring a cane. Support, you know.

(Full Reading)

What’s your name? Yes, of course, I forgot: I’m practicing in a mirror, assuming I exist. Which I suppose I do; after all, I’m talking, yes? Well, to the Deaf, I suppose this wouldn’t be talking, but moving my lips, but to me speaking is occurring, given that there is a me. And perhaps there is indeed something or someone here talking in this vest, but is it me? If there is no me, no one will be able to speak with me tomorrow, which means no one will realize how little they know. Though, I suppose if I stepped in front of people and danced around flapping my arms, there would be a chance that my random movements would cause them to realize the depths of their ignorance. It’s possible, certainly, and if they claim not to understand, they very well might be lying. I can’t say for sure that I’ve ever not been told a lie, still assuming I exist. Surely some philosopher in some book somewhere has proven I exist, so I need not bother with it, though it’s certainly possible no philosopher has ever proven the existence of the self. Certainly possible? Possibly.

Drops of rain are falling, as often occurs in London, though you don’t know that for sure unless you live in London, for all the news stations and people who have informed you of London’s weather could very well be mistaken, brainwashed, or something worse. Absurd, yes, probably, but you have to acknowledge that I could have a point. A silly point, certainly, but a point. And you very well may think you know that you understand how little you can be certain about, but I submit to you that you have no idea. You’re certain that you’re certain about how uncertain life is, but you’re not. Of course you’re not. You’re listening to me rather than curled up in a ball screaming. Forgive me, but what I mean to say is that you’ve never really experienced or fully felt what it means to have as little certainty as you do. There’s a bloody difference between knowing it would be horrible if your wife died and your wife dying. Extreme example, I know — do forgive — but I suppose I don’t actually know. By what standard is it extreme? Your standard? How do I know that’s a valid standard? Who decides what is “extreme” and what is “light?” The Queen? Have you ever met the Queen? Yes, yes, someone surely has met the Queen, and your certainty is grounded in that person, but how do you know that the reporter isn’t lying? Because there’s no reason to lie? Perhaps the bloke killed the Queen and is trying to cover it up? Perhaps the Prime Minister is hiding the fact that the Royal Family died years ago and that the Royal Family you see now is just a bunch of posers like those doubles of Saddam Hussain? But you’ve seen images of the Queen on the tube? Photoshop. Easy as pie. But sources you trust believe she exists? You mean to say you are certain because others believe? Ah, there’s the rub.

Tell me, good sir, have you ever measured the age of the Earth? No, no, I’m not a Creationist; I’m just asking: have you ever measured the age of the Earth? Of course not: you — I — wouldn’t even know where to begin. Hardly can work a calculator myself. Were you there during the moon landing? Gone off and studied the evidence for quantum mechanics and general relativity with your own eyes? Reading about them won’t cut it, I fear. Me? Hardly can make it to the bus without getting lost. Good sir, don’t you understand what I’m trying to make you understand? If anyone dares suggest the age of the Earth is this or that or that quantum mechanics is this or that, you’d probably throw a fit, but who would be more foolish? The man who holds a reasonable doubt about what he knows or the man who doesn’t? “Reasonable doubt” — what a splendid idea! No, it’s a terrible idea, for there’s always room for a reasonable doubt. And what is a “reasonable doubt” to one is unreasonable to another. I have “reasonable doubt” that the world is actually so-and-so years old because I’ve never studied it myself, truth be told, and then I’m justified to be skeptical due to my laziness, unprofessionalism — the power is mine. But honestly, if I questioned the age of the Earth, I’d be an outcast. A fool. Telling a tale told by an idiot that only idiots wanted to hear. And fittingly so, right old chap? Ah yes, but aren’t we to fight for truth even if we are the only ones standing? That’s what all the great books say, yes. Socrates died for truth, like we should — learned that at Oxford. Fight for Gay Marriage if the world rejects you. Fight against torture until you die. Stand up to government even if you stand alone. Hail the Queen! Great phrases for posters, every one of them. But my good man, what do you stand up for that no one else is standing up for other than what you believe people should have a “reasonable doubt” is true? And seeing how little certainty you can have about anything, you certainly should stand up for a lot of what no one else will defend.

Don’t worry, my good man, I know what you’ll say: I’m proposing you have a — how should I say it? — an “unreasonable doubt,” yes? That sounds all well and good, but I’m sorry to say that a German who questioned Hitler was seen by many as holding not a “reasonable doubt,” but an “unreasonable doubt.” It’s all relative, recall? Oh, and surely Galileo was thought to have an “unreasonable doubt” about the heavens. But I know what you’re thinking: that’s why we have science. Methods to establish “what is” regardless how certain we can be about “what is.” God Bless science, you say. And let me clarify: I don’t mean to suggest there’s no truth, not at all. 2 + 2 = 4. No, you can’t know if those numbers actually exist, but you can know that whatever they are add up to four. What you cannot know for certain isn’t that which cannot be true. It just means you can’t — how should I say it? — never mind. It’s hard to explain. What were you saying about science? Yes, science: helps us establish truths, certainly. But do you personally do Chemistry? Biology? Physics? No? You don’t do any science yourself? So you rely on scientists to not be wrong? You trust the authorities? I take it that you aren’t aware that authorities have historically enslaved nations and bombed our Queen and country? Authority is a dangerous thing to trust in without skepticism, as history shows. But how can you be skeptical of what a scientist says unless you do science yourself? You can’t, you say? The scientists know it, my good man: that’s why they’re so upset if you act like you don’t believe in them. Did you know, by the way, that Eugenics was considered good and healthy science before Hitler? Certainly if you questioned it like people question Global Warming, you would have been laughed out of Oxford. “It’s science,” they would have said. “Science!” And it was. And how are you so sure it’s not true? No, my good man, I’m not saying you should believe it: I’m saying what you believe doesn’t change what’s true. Well, perhaps it does.

Do you hear the Flower Duet? It’s been in the background for hours. Familiar? Ah, it might be, but unless you’ve never slept and never left yourself open, those memories very well may be government implants. I’m joking, I’m joking, but I could just be saying that — part of the joke, you know? Tedious, isn’t this? All this uncertainty. Much better to convince yourself that you have certainty over what you do not. Go read a book, would you? One about some topic that the writer has citied countless sources about, sources you’ll never go check to see if they’re legitimate and rightly interpreted. How could you? There are possibly thousands of them, all entailing their own sources, on and on. I know what you’re thinking, my good man: there are people whose job it is to check facts. But there you go again, relying on authority. You can’t escape this reliance, can you? In this world of people shouting and screaming about the bloody beauty of “rebelling against the status quo.” Sorry to tell you this, but unless you’re an idiot, you don’t really rebel against the whole status quo. If you did, you couldn’t believe in the age of the Earth, quantum mechanics — any of that lovely “science” you keep mentioning. Don’t be mistaken, you could, I suppose, become a Physicist and know that general relativity was true, by your own eyes and hands, but I’m sorry to say you couldn’t then have that same certainty about Global Warming, Capitalism, Christianity, or what-have-you. Oh, and even if you were a Physicist, how could you be so sure that you read the information correctly? Perhaps you misinterpreted, misread, or miss-saw? Because you possess a scientific method? That method didn’t stop Eugenics. Our science is better now? The Eugenicists may have thought their science was the best the world had ever seen? I’m sure it was peer-reviewed.

If you are human, you rely on authorities that can be wrong and perhaps unintentionally manipulate you. At the same time, if you are human, you probably talk constantly about standing up to authorities. A good joke, yes? The truth is that you rely on authorities so much that you couldn’t ever hope to begin to grasp it, and the reason you do is because you can be certain of so very little in this world of ours. What you think you know, you know mostly thanks to authorities, authorities which you cannot be certain about, regardless if they’re telling the truth. If you believe, my good man, that your eyes actually see an actual world, you are relying on the authority of people who have told you that your eyes see. If you believe, you’ve been told. And no! I’m not saying that what you see isn’t there or that everything you think is false, only that you’re ripe to join a totalitarian movement. Cogito ergo sum ovium.

I’ve gotten ahead of myself: a good speaker is supposed to “get behind” a listener’s self-defenses. Thanks to emotions and preset ideas, if you’re a self, you have self-defenses, though it could be that the self doesn’t exist, in which case you would just be defenses, I suppose (or defenseless, perhaps?). Do forgive: I do too much “supposing.” That’s life, after all, a “supposing.” I suppose; therefore, I might be. That reminds me: do you take me to be a Cartesian? Doubting and doubting? Please, don’t confuse me with Descartes: he abandoned ship before it went off the cliff. Personally, I don’t doubt at all that I’m uncertain about bloody everything. If Descartes, to be blunt, truly doubted everything, he would have doubted that he doubted and stopped acting like Hamlet, asking questions he didn’t care to answer and asked just to pass the time. Admittedly, I can’t be certain that I’m not a Cartesian — I can’t be sure that I understand Descartes enough to say one way or the other — and for that matter, I can’t be bloody sure that anyone has ever truly understood any school of thought. Can anything be understood, my good man? Can anyone?

I don’t doubt that most people have suffered moments when they accepted how little certainty was possible in this world of ours, but the idea of how little we can be certain of appears and vanishes in consciousness, changing nothing. We forget and remember, then forget again. It’s bloody impossible, my good man, to really know it. How could we eat waffles? We couldn’t, and yet we must learn to function well aware of how deeply uncertainty runs through us; otherwise, we’re just too ripe to join a totalitarian movement. Too soon? Perhaps not.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying Hitler is nigh; rather, I’m saying we can be Hitler for ourselves or someone much kinder or nicer and more destructive. A good Hitler? Can you imagine how much destruction he could carry out? I dare not think it, my good man, I dare not think it. We really don’t know what we don’t know, do we? It’s part of being human, my good man. We can’t experience true ignorance, which is part of much of what we supposedly know. Take a fact like “air consists of oxygen:” we don’t know we don’t know that we believe this fact thanks to an authority. This doesn’t make the fact un-factual or false, it just means that the fact is relayed to us through and thanks to power. Every fact is colored in authority. It bloody bleeds it, my good sir, and yet we walk around posturing ourselves to be rebels fighting for justice against the powers that be. Where would we be without the powers that be? Much more aware of how little we knew for ourselves, that’s for sure, and that might leave us unable to function. Which might not be all that bad, truth be told, seeing as it’s hard to be a Nazi when you’re paralyzed.

German and British — those are my roots, as I’m unsure you guessed. Christian too, which was obvious since I made an example of uncertainty involving Evolution and the age of the Earth. Terrible that we live in a world where people are always trying to guess what’s underneath the mask. And yet we never try to get underneath ourselves. It would be terrible, really, to know how little we knew. Honestly, I feel terrible telling people about all this, but 2 + 2 = 4. If upsetting though, perhaps chaps will help the world avoid totalitarianism like what killed my grandparents. Only mother and I survived. We got by, I suppose: let the people rage. Oh, I meant to ask: do you actually think I’m Christian? Perhaps I just used the examples of Evolution and the age of the Earth to prime you to think that way about me? How easily people are primed — perhaps I’m just saying that for a bit of fun? Don’t think about it too hard. How about that Bible?

Never mind the Bible: I owe you some hope. I believe it’s obvious enough, my good man, that I could be saying you don’t know that you don’t know this or that to control you. I mean to say, if you don’t know that you don’t know a thing, then you can’t say anything for or against it, and if I want you to believe something, by saying you don’t know you don’t know about it, I make the claim unfalsifiable while also — how should I say? — creating an impression that if you question me, you’re an idiot. Simple. Appealing to “true ignorance” is a wonderful strategy for those with egos and tenure. The method is totalitarian, really: it’s like Hitler telling the Germans “you don’t know you don’t know what the Jews are doing” and the Germans listening — how couldn’t they? Sigh, these Hitler examples are trite: come up with something better before tomorrow, will you Ludwig? But the point stands: I could be pulling wool over your eyes by saying you don’t know you don’t know how little certainty you have. But my good man, you know I’m not leading you astray. Just think about it: have you ever seen with your own eyes evidence for Evolution? Or just taken it on authority? A good dog?

I mentioned the Bible, didn’t I? How do you know it’s true? N.T. Wright? A great scholar, but perhaps a liar. The Resurrection of the Son of God is a Christian classic, but is it possible N.T. Wright made up all the data and paid off the reviewers. You don’t know that he didn’t. And my good man, if you’re a Christian, admit that you want to believe the book is true. Yes, of course, that doesn’t mean it’s false, but even if it’s true, you can’t be certain. Read Gödel, have I? If I told you I had, the words I used to speak might not actually mean what you think they mean. Bored of this game yet, my good man? It’s not a game, but a “wake up:” for your sake, I’m trying to make you realize how dependent you are upon authority in this world of rebels and fighters against the status quo. It’s bloody funny, if you ask me, not that you will.

Do forgive, but I’m trying to remember why I brought up the Bible. Was it just for that point on N.T. Wright? I really should script what I’m going to say tomorrow unless I want to come off as a rambling idiot, but the people very well may like that: it will give them room to tell themselves that I’m insane. To their credit, I don’t know that I’m sane, for if I was insane, I would of course think I wasn’t, for it takes sanity to recognize your insanity. Anyway, I wonder now why I brought up the Bible. I suppose I could have made a similar point about the Quran, but I’m not familiar with the N.T. Wright of Islam. Because I’m a white male, I suppose. Predictable, that assumption, but a sign of the times, as is people’s profound overestimation of how much certainty they have in what they believe. Most Westerners don’t read their Bibles, truth be told, let alone all the religious texts of the world, and furthermore mistreat cultures via misunderstandings not because they intend to, but because they don’t know any better, even if they intend to know better. They’d have to read everything to avoid unintentional and well-intended misinterpretation and misrepresentation, which they will not, and even if they did, they can’t know if whatever they read is indeed true. Why did I begin discussing this topic, do you know my good man? I don’t know either. “I don’t know” — that’s the spirit!

A tree is outside beyond my window garden, no? Hard to say. Ah! It wasn’t the Bible I wanted to bring back up, but Eugenics. Do forgive, but to reiterate: I’m aware that you strongly think science can save us from the problem of certainty. It’s just, well, human. How can’t you? And certainly science is a great thing, but you do know about the Replication Crisis, yes? And that all the horrible regimes — don’t mention Nazis, Ludwig — believed themselves to be very “scientific.” And surely you don’t think China’s “Cultural Revolution” was to preserve the arts? That was pseudo-science, you say? Of course, of course, as it was pseudo-religion Nazis followed. But I suppose that’s the rub, isn’t it? That science and religion can be so “pseudo” so easily. People can be lead to believe that x is their religion and not even know it isn’t. Funny, this problem of certainty, yes? No, just real. And please, please! Don’t mistake me as saying science isn’t our best method to know truth. My point is only that it can’t save us from ourselves.

Eugenics! A very important point I should make: what must be false is what would ruin everything if true. No, don’t laugh. Could you imagine if Eugenics was true? Our entire socioeconomic order would have to be rebuilt to be moral. If people lack equal control over how they live their lives, incentives are cruel. If the Chinese, for example, are genetically superior to whites, then to give whites “equal opportunity” to become brain surgeons is pitiless. Whites will be unjustly punished by not receiving as much money or respect as will be received by the Chinese. Racist to even note this possibility? Indeed, but that doesn’t mean it’s false. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everything that was bigoted was false? Perhaps it is, but we can’t know without exploring the bigotry that even exploring is considered bigotry. We like feeling certain that racists and bigots are wrong, but they might not be, and we protect ourselves from this possibility by making the mere suggestion of their rightness taboo, allowing us to keep living not knowing that we don’t know the truth behind the bigotry, all while we stand up against authorities in the name of justice and read textbooks. Lovely, yes?

Forgive me: I become cynical at random. Life is hard, yes my good man? What else should I say while you’re already upset? Ah, yes — I just wanted to ask — does it really make sense to you that Evolution would stop so and so thousand years ago and cease to cause major genetic differences between modern species and tribes? The idea that human groups across the planet possess the same genes — honestly — does that sound sane to you? Personally, I find people like believing in Evolution long enough to laugh at Christians, but then abandon it when the theory suggests the possibility that the Chinese might be genetically superior at brain surgery than other people groups. Horrible to even suggest? Exactly, my good man, exactly! Evolution only applies in spots, and it’s up to us to spot the spots.

If it makes you — me — feel any better: having a genetic advantage for a high IQ only helps you in a society that values IQ. Oh, and if you have a genetic disposition for IQ, that might mean you have a genetic disadvantage for developing creativity in our modern “Idea Economy,” as it is innovatively called. And do recall, good sir, if generally the Chinese are genetically dispositioned to be brain surgeons — which I’m not certain they are — that doesn’t mean you, if Chinese, are genetically dispositioned to be a brain surgeon. Group realities don’t necessarily translate into individual realities. Wonderful, yes? Honestly though, I can’t say for sure that a group trend doesn’t apply to every individual, for I would have to know every individual to be certain of that, and I’m only one man: Mr. Ludwig. And I wonder: does having a high IQ mean you can know more than other people, or only that you learn faster? Once a man actually knows something, does anyone actually care how long it took the man to learn that thing? Oh, I just recalled that we don’t know anything. The thought appears and vanishes in consciousness, as you can see, the thought appears and vanishes.

Perhaps the point of certainty is to stop cognitive dissonance? We think it’s about truth and epistemology, but I’m not sure. Oh bother, why did I bring up Eugenics? I feel terrible now. Don’t do that tomorrow, Ludwig, my boy, it will cost you an audience or two. But I didn’t say it was true, only that we didn’t want it to be true. It doesn’t matter, Ludwig: the mention of it makes you sound like a Conservative Nazi. Is it always Nazism with you? Ludwig, Ludwig! Stop talking to yourself in the third person! Please, it makes you sound bloody mad. Regardless, possible genetic realities don’t match with the world we want to live in, and so without fail, we’re certain deterministic findings in the field of genetics are false. Certainty keeps London Bridge up.

I’m boring you, aren’t I? A broken record is more unpredictable. Tomorrow, I must be terser and less third-person: I’ll scare the children, assuming children exist rather than small adults. Do I come across like I know everything? Is it arrogant to know you know nothing? Perhaps dressing differently will help? Could I reduce this whole reflection into a sentence? The young love sentences, I hear: they’re not much into prose. Is anyone? I suppose I could say that we are certain that we are certain, but we are not certain — a fitting Merleau-Ponty allusion. Does that say what I want to say, Mr. Ludwig? What is it I want to say? Whatever it is I’ve said. Given that I’ve said anything: perhaps I only think I’m hearing sounds that constitute my voice from a body that I assume constitutes Ludwig? Bother, is any of this going to make a difference? Will I really help people grasp how virtually all their knowledge is reliant on authorities and hence help them be less ripe to fall in line with totalitarianism? Perhaps to be human is to be “toward” totalitarianism? Perhaps.

Honestly, I’m skeptical of my efforts, seeing as telling people about their plight won’t make them experience it, such as telling a person it would be horrible if their wife died won’t in and of itself make them experience the death of their wife. It just won’t have the same impact. Whatever I say to people, it will probably appear and vanish out of consciousness just as meaninglessly as does people’s current knowledge of how much they might be controlled by genes. Whoever I speak to won’t remember what I tell them a week later. Sad, isn’t it, old chap? There doesn’t seem to be any hope. Will knowing there’s no hope create hope? There, there Ludwig, at least you’ve said your piece. Perhaps. Always perhaps.

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