Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


I Love What You Can Do (Without Knowing How)

Coombsville Road, Napa, California, USA

July 9, 2014



"Do you know the way to San Jose? I've been away so long, I may go wrong and lose my way." ... Hal David

I am indebted to Joseph Kempin who contributed material for this conversation.




If I asked you "Do you know the way to San Jose?" and you said "Yes I know the way to San Jose", then if I asked you "Can you tell me how to get there?", you could. You could give me directions. Giving directions is one of the things you know how to do. You know the way there.

But if I asked you "Do you remember  the way to San Jose?" and you said "Yes I remember the way to San Jose", then if I asked you "I, too, once knew the way to San Jose, but I've forgotten it - can you tell me how to remember  how to get there?" (I'm not asking you how to get there - I'm asking you how to remember  how to get there), you couldn't. You couldn't tell me how to remember how to get there.

Even though you can remember how to get there, even though you remember things constantly (arguably your very life  depends on your ability to remember things), even though you remember things many, many times each and every day, if I asked you how you remember, you wouldn't be able to tell me. You do it all the time every day ... and yet  (if you tell the truth about it) you don't know how you remember. You haven't got a clue, yes? And yet arguably your very life depends on your ability to remember things.

I love what you can do. I especially  love those things you can do which make you so effective, so powerful, so able  to function as a human being in the world and get along in life, and yet you don't know how you do them. There's no doubt you can remember things. Yet if I were to press and ask you "But how do you remember?" your truthful answer would be something like "I ... don't  ... know  how - I just ... well, remember. I just do  it.".

That's right: you just do it - but you ... don't  ... know  ... how  you do it.

That's incredible! That's awesome  when you consider it, isn't it? We don't know how  we do so many of the things which make us effective and powerful. We're at the very top  of the food chain, and yet mostly  (not "occasionally": mostly)  we don't know how we do the things we do. Yet we do them anyway. Our most profound  and truthful statement of introspection for "How do you remember?" is "I don't know.". Wow!

Remembering (to pick but one of our plethora of abilities) without knowing how we remember, is remarkable. It's also confronting. It's more than just mildly disconcerting to notice how many of our daily activities we perform without having a clue as to how we perform them.

I love what you can do. I especially love that you can do so much without having a clue how you do it.

There are entire classes  of activities we perform without knowing how: we hear, we see, we taste, we smell, we touch. Our five senses (you can include the sixth sense here if you like - and create your own definition of it) are all on full automatic. Even if you can't explain how you hear (and you can't, can you?), you hear anyway. Hearing is on full automatic. Even if you can't explain how you see (and you can't, can you?), you see anyway. Seeing is on full automatic. All  our senses are on full automatic.

<aside>

It's more than that actually. The truth is that each of our senses are on such full automatic that, upon close examination, everyday phrases like "I hear ...", "I see ..." etc, even "I think  ...", are revealed to be inaccurate.

You  don't hear. The truth is it  hears you. You don't see. The truth is it sees you. And you don't think. The truth is it  thinks you.

<un-aside>

I love what you can do. Indeed I love what we  can do. I especially love that so much of what we do is on full automatic, yet we have it that we know how we do what we do. The truth is mostly we haven't got a clue. We hear, we see, we taste, we smell, and we touch continuously throughout the day. Our senses keep us in constant correct orientation and alignment with the world. Yet we really haven't got a clue how they work. Really we don't. You really haven't got a clue how you sense anything  (and don't lie about it). Yet you can.

Specialists know more about the details of the processes of our senses than you and I know. Yet even specialists beyond a certain point  don't know how we sense. Listen: it's not enough to say impulses travel from the ear to the brain, causing us to hear. If you really know how you hear, you'd be able to tell me how  impulses travel from your ear to your brain. An impulse traveling from your ear to your brain, is a component process  of hearing. If you say you know how hearing works in terms of its component processes, you also have to know (and be able to say) how the component processes of its component processes  work.

If you're honest, you'll admit you don't know how an impulse travels from your ear to your brain, and neither do you know what makes  an impulse travel from your ear to your brain. Yes, we hold some generalized, woolly concept of this process, which masquerades as knowing how hearing works. But at the fundamental level? If we're honest, we'll admit we don't know how we hear. Yet we live our lives as if we know  how we hear.

In addition to sensing, we perform many ordinary, everyday physical actions - like walking  for example. It would seem as if we know how to walk. We may explain it something like this: we lift up one leg and put it in front of the other, yes? But tell me: how do you lift up one leg and put it in front of the other? At this point, we could start a long, detailed explanation of how we contract various leg muscles in synch  with one another, which (to cut a long story short) produces walking. Mission accomplished? Not quite: explain how  we contract our leg muscles in synch with one another etc etc ... and inevitably (again, if you tell the truth about it) we realize at the fundamental level, we don't know how we perform even the most ordinary, everyday physical actions like walking. Yet we perform them all the time.

Here's something I'd like you to try on for size:

In the case of walking, we could say how we walk is by consideration alone  (I consider myself walking - and voila: now I'm walking!), and that's a really good shot at it. It's possibly the best  shot we have. If you're willing to consider "consideration"  to be an extremely powerful ability we have, powerful enough to trigger / initiate other actions, then this is how we walk: we walk by considering ourselves walking ie we walk by consideration alone. Simple.

If you skip the attempted (and futile) explanation "I walk by contracting my leg muscles in synch with one another etc" and instead go directly to "I walk by consideration alone" while considering "consideration" to be an extremely powerful ability we have, powerful enough to trigger / initiate other actions, that's good enough for jazz. But then I defy you to explain to me how you consider  (did you get that?: "... explain to me how you consider  ..."), and in particular I defy you to explain to me how you consider such that it results in walking.

Tell the truth. You can't explain it to me. You don't know how you walk. You don't know how you consider yourself walking. Even though you don't know how you walk, it doesn't stop you from walking. And if you prefer to not explain walking (something you don't know how to do) in terms of considering walking (something else you don't know how to do), then you could say how we walk is by walking  (that's very Zen - don't try to figure it out).

I love what you can do. I love the brilliance, the genius, the creativity of what you can do as a human being which a dog can't do, which wheat can't do, which a rock can't do. I especially love that what we do so brilliantly, so ingeniously, so creatively, we haven't got a clue how we do it. We just do it. I especially love that our most profound and truthful statement of introspection for "How do you (fill in the blank)?" is "I don't know.".

Now, about any single one of these particular things you can do without having a clue how you do it: isn't that really everything  you do? Isn't that really all the time?  Isn't that really your entire life?


Postscript:

The presentation, delivery, and style of I Love What You Can Do (Without Knowing How) are all my own work.

The ideas recreated in I Love What You Can Do (Without Knowing How) were first originated, distinguished, and articulated by Werner Erhard.




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