December 28: Day Four

Go back to Day Three

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly
Perhaps she’ll die!

So starts the folk song I learned in elementary school. The song is an answer to the question, “Why did the old lady die?” As she swallows an even bigger animal to chase the one before, we learn that by the time she swallows the horse she died “of course.”

Why did she swallow the damn fly?

But we never know why she swallowed the fly! The problem of knowledge — how we know what we know or whether we know at all — lurks throughout any discussion of vocation, volition, and faith.

The problem drew Manhattan Project investment during the enlightenment. Brilliant people tried to answer to the question, “How do we know?” with finality.

Today empiricism and utility generally rule the day; the standard of judgment is “what’s my experience and are more people helped than harmed?”

“I work because I need to take care of my family.” If you ask “why?” a person will say, “I just know that it is a good thing.” It’s a, “she-swallowed-the-fly-answer.”

Joseph Singer in an essay on nihilism suggests that when we give up trying to know definitively we are left with each other and ourselves but not nothing.

“It is a matter of conviction. We cannot answer our question of how to live together by applying a noncontroversial rational method. We will have to take responsibility for making up our minds.”

When facing the howling darkness around us, what Joseph Conrad called “The Horror,” we have to create meaning as individuals and communities as a guess based on experience. Doing matters less than how we know.

How many bites does it really take to get to the center of a tootsie roll tootsie pop? The world may never know.

Go to Day Five

The world may never know.