We’ve all met people who shrug off their lack of knowledge by saying, “Ignorance is bliss,” but who takes that seriously? The modern world is built upon levels of understanding and knowledge. Our life isn’t blissful, but without a doubt the sciences and technology we base our lives upon represent mountains of knowledge and mountain ranges of data, experimentation, and research studies.
It is baffling, then, to consider a famous remark attributed by Plato to his mentor Socrates: “All I know is that I know nothing.” Why did the greatest Greek philosopher claim that his teacher said this? It makes Socrates seem to be anti-knowledge. In fact, he was, because the kind of knowledge Socrates opposed was specious knowledge. His philosophical antagonists, the Sophists, taught the better class of young men in Athens, and what they transmitted, if we translate it into modern terms, was the validity of objective facts. What Socrates taught was intuitive inner knowing. That’s why it is possible to say in the same breath, “Know thyself” and “All I know is that I know nothing.”
To unravel his meaning even more deeply, Socrates wasn’t claiming that intuitive inner knowing was superior to objective facts. As we all experience—and as scientists constantly remind us—the subjective world “in here” is capricious, changeable, unpredictable, and filled with imagination and therefore unreal things.