Not Knowing


The scientific name for humans is “Homo sapiens.” Homo sapiens means “wise man” or “knowing man.” This name signifies that the most discerning aspect of human beings as a species is ‘the ability to know.’

A human being does not, in a fundamental way, know who he is or why he exists. Yet ‘knowing’ is essential to being human. This discrepancy is the reason why identity and religion are so important to us.

Identity is an attempt of our ability to know, to find the answer to the question “Who am I?” Religion is an attempt of our ability to know, to find the answer to the question “Why do I exist?” The central role identity and religion have had throughout human history shows how essential it is for us to know who we are and why we exist.

So our need of having an identity is caused by the same mechanism that causes our need of having a concept of God. At the basis of this mechanism is the attempt of our thinking to know its existence by finding reference points like identity and God.

Descartes was satisfied with “I am thinking, therefore I exist.” That statement implies that there is a separate self who is having the thoughts. But Descartes didn’t bother to explain what that self is. The existence of that “thinker behind the thoughts” is apparently such implicit knowledge, that nobody has to doubt it.

But if we investigate what identity and religion fundamentally are, it turns out that they are very doubtful. For the existence of that self and a God is no scientific basis whatsoever.

But even pointing to science as proof for the non–existence of that self is, on a psychological level, making the same mistake as pointing to a religion as proof for the existence of a God. That mistake lies within thinking itself, not outside.

The mistake is we overlook that we need personal identity, religion and science as something to believe in. We need a point of view to identify with. Something to fill the bottomless gap of our fundamental epistemological ignorance.

But finally even this notion of epistemological ignorance can become another idea to cling to.

If you let go of all ideas, what remains?