How can you un-know what you know?

A 4-part report about a trip to New Zealand.

-A little afterthought I once wrote down on a lonely beach in New Zealand-

A map of the hemisphere centred on Wellington,...

It was Abel Tasman who in 1642 laid eyes upon New Zealand as the first European. He belonged to a bunch of Dutch sailors who navigated the Indian Ocean for quite a while to reach their trading center Batavia in Indonesia. Their motivation for traveling was for the most part trade. The mere adventure of exploration and discovery was actually not their thing. It’s interesting to understand how they have traveled along the west coast of Australia for a long time without realizing that it was a huge continent. They obviously were not interested. Exactly 370 years ago Tasman went to look a little further and found New Zealand. He, in fact, saw Cape Foulwind, traveled around Cape Farewell on the South Island, had a brief encounter with natives and left with a very vague idea of where he had been.

He didn’t impress the world with his findings at all, and it took another 130 years until James Cook really discovered and explored it. Cook came from the east all the way across the Pacific this time. I find it interesting to imagine situations like Tasman’s discovery. When we try to reenact events like that we must realize how biased we are. We know that he indeed found NZ. But did he “find” it? We know that on a course only slightly more northerly he wouldn’t have seen anything and most likely turned around and probably been quite satisfied with the trip. He did not really look for something that already existed in his mind as J. Cook certainly did. How can we possibly imagine to not know what we know? You cannot really reenact experiences, especially not when they are historical collective ones like this: the discovery of a new important land. Tasman didn’t have a clue what he had found – in those years they actually speculated that he might have seen the west coast of South America – and I find it difficult to accept that he wasn’t terribly interested to investigate more. It is a peculiar fact that these guys were not typically uninterested, they simply didn’t have reason to be interested, they didn’t know what we know today. History had to play for a while until such interest would come. Tasman had mercantile markets on his mind, maybe personal wealth. He had a good idea of the fact that the world was round but somehow did not quite grasp yet what that meant. That too has so many implications and is so hard to imagine for us. How can you, even for a moment, un-know what you know?  The power and fascination of scientific knowledge had barely been discovered at this time. He probably was not driven by it yet, so why should he be excited?

 Klaus March 2012

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4 Responses to How can you un-know what you know?

  1. imbrocata says:

    This is really fascinating and a great post/read! I love the challenge in apprehending the implications of what we know and what it means. Have I understood correctly that you are also suggesting that great truths and knowledge may be staring us right in the face – and so preoccupied with our lives and desires, the mundane (if you will), we just don’t know, that we know it? Fun!!

  2. I probably did not consciously have that in mind, however, I immediately agree. Yes, we often don’t use our full capacity of knowledge. We mostly think our knowledge is restricted to the intellectual plane, but we know so much more in a wordless form beyond concepts and thoughts. Only when we don’t interfere with too much thinking such deeper knowledge and wisdom can shine through. I think the common term of an ‘open mind ‘ refers to this attitude of trusting your deeper unarticulated knowledge. Tasman didn’t know that he found an important new land, Columbus was quite wrong with what he thought he’d found, Kopernikus may have known that he found a substantial flaw in our world view, but he did not know that he actually ushered in the much more profound concept of a universal paradigm shift in general.

  3. Alexandra Jump says:

    On the flip side, you will never know what you will never know. A six year old told this to me once.

  4. Mary Holden says:

    Think. Go. Reach. Expand. Match. Know. Surprise!
    “How can you, even for a moment, un-know what you know?”
    “How can you, even for a moment, un-know what you know?”
    These questions are works of art!

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