Knowledge is useful information to a particular being at a particular place and a particular time. GSM, (age fourteen) UC Berkeley Thesis Outline.
My sister sits across from me in the coffee shop, legs akimbo, hands flying like spasmodic birds, face full of light, glowing as if she is in the throes of post-coital bliss. She is wired, high, buzzing, on the edge of space, about to break the bounds of gravity.
“Sis, where is my nephew? You just disappear, and I’m used to that, but his cousins miss him, and so do Fidelity and I.”
She smiles at me with too bright eyes. “With his other Uncle for a few days. He will be with you soon enough. You look worried. Please don’t worry.
I read Fidelity’s play, brilliant, stunning, provocative, unnerving. You have a peculiar and delicious wife. Grandma would be proud of you. I’m proud of you. Are you proud of me? I mean, you’re not disappointed–”
“No, I’m never disappointed in you. I’m not Grandma.”
“Brother, what did she want from me. I never understood–”
I remember report card time at Grandma’s. Over the supper table she would glance at me, her form of inquisition.
“Whew, Grandma, I got a “C” in math. I still don’t get it, but that’s over until next year. I hope they abolish math this summer, make it illegal for kids to learn math and teachers to teach it.”
She gives me a hint of a smile, touches my cheek with two rough-as-tree-bark fingers. That touch means as much to me as winning the Congressional Medal of Honor.
She turns to my sister.
“Grandma, the school survived me, and I survived it. And, your attendance was only solicited once this year. I had a very successful academic experience.”
My sister is in the second grade. I’m in the third. I go to classes and do as I’m told, most of the time. My sister wanders from class to class, sometimes doing sixth-grade work and sometimes dropping in on the preschool to finger paint. She does pretty much what she wants.
The Principal of our all black school in Sumter County, South Carolina knows my sister is something rare and extraordinary. The Principal makes allowances and calls me, as if I had some power over my sister, when things get a little too strange.
Grandma turns to my sister, wags a rugged finger at her. “Child, you need to learn the basics, now, before it’s too late, too late for all of us.”
“Brother, I never learned the basics. I never understood what she was talking about.”
All knowledge is incomplete. No one knows everything about anything. GSM, (age fourteen) UC Berkeley Thesis Outline.
High school was a problem my sister avoided. At age fourteen she decided she wanted to enroll in UC Berkeley all the way across the country.
“Take care of your sister as best you can. And, you keep an eye on my brother, Ollie. He, he is a little different.”
“Grandma, I want to stay with you. I don’t want to go to California. I don’t want to leave my friends. I just want to stay here and work the farm–”
“I know. I know, but I need this from you. Can you do it?”
I would not disappoint her for the world.
We move in with our Uncle Ollie in West Oakland. I hate the city, the noise, and the traffic.
Uncle Ollie uses his contacts with a maid friend to get us an appointment with the Chancellor of UC Berkeley. In the chancellor’s office, my sister gets right to the point.
“I want to enroll here and study philosophy and mathematics and whatever else I might find of interest. I want to start today.”
The Chancellor is amused at the two of us brown children in his office on this bright fall day.
“Well young lady I’m pleased to meet you and your brother. Our maid says I should meet with you and good help is hard to come by, but the semester is already started and if your application was denied–”
My sister is wandering around the office inspecting books and awards. “I never applied. I’m applying now. I’m sure you have an alternative procedure for admission.”
The Chancellor laughs, scratches his chin, smiles at us. “Well, we do,” he removes a folder from a desk drawer “Here is a test we have used in the past for special admissions. It takes about an hour. You’re welcome to take it in my outer office.” He turns to me. “Are you applying also?”
I shake my head no as my sister snatches up the test, grabs a pen from the Chancellor’s desk and starts scribbling at a furious pace on the front and back pages of the test. She drops each page on the Chancellor’s desk as she finishes. It takes her ten minutes to complete the test and thirty minutes for the Chancellor to evaluate her responses.
He is no longer laughing. My sister is enrolled that morning.
“Sis, did you really answer all the questions that quickly?”
“No, it was an insulting test. I wrote better questions and explained why they were better. Let’s go check out the bookstores and get something to eat. California makes me hungry.”
Because all knowledge is incomplete and no one knows everything about anything, knowledge is inherently unstable and always subject to change. GSM, (age fourteen) UC Berkeley Thesis Outline.
“Come on brother. You will love Oxford. I’m tired of crazy California and the batty Bay Area. Let’s see some other parts of the world, OK?”
“Sis, you’re sixteen. You have plenty of time to see the world. I would like to graduate from high school and—”
“Don’t lie, Hezekiah. You don’t care about high school. You just don’t want to leave big boobs, Kathy Battle—”
“I’m trying to save you, brother. You will have her pregnant tomorrow at the rate you two go at it, and your whole life will change. You will never be free to see the world. And, boy will you regret that and big boobs and your untimely offspring.”
I’m not convinced by my sister’s argument, but Grandma dies. Grandma’s last words to me, “You’re the governor for her passions, but not forever, not for long.”
Grandma’s last words to my sister. “Limits, you haven’t learned limits. It’s nearly too late now.”
The essence of knowing is uncertainty. The essential character of knowledge is that we know it is subject to change. Change is essential to human existence. GSM, (age fourteen) UC Berkeley Thesis Outline.
“Sis, what is going on with you? What are you on? What did you do?”
She winks at me, sips her tea. Touches my face with two calloused fingers. She leans in toward me, and I lean in to meet her. She whispers. “I know something. I almost have complete knowledge of something. Brother, I truly do. I promise you. I’m so close.”
“No, you aren’t. You can’t be. No one can do that. You have made that real clear. It’s your major thesis—”
“Brother, shut up and listen. If I’m right it is the end of the world for us.”
“What are you saying?”
“Brother, if complete knowledge is possible then all incomplete knowledge becomes devalued, cheapened and unacceptable. Our world falls apart because we no longer have faith in what we know and rely on. We will forgo useful information as we chase certainty.”
I try to figure it out. Think it through. It is a headache creating quandary.
“I’m going up to Modoc County to Tionesta, a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. If I’m right. I might need you to, you know, end it.” She pauses, looks serious. “If, I’m right you and Fidelity take care of my son.”
“Yes, we will, but, Sis, even if you know something completely, and you can’t, nobody knows that you have this complete knowledge but you and me, right?”
“Big brother, you know how nature insures that there is a birth balance between sexes in a population? You understand that kind of communication exists across a community?”
“Yeah, I know—”
“So, the state of human knowledge is essential to human existence just as birth balance is and that same system of communication will spread the word that complete knowledge is possible. In a small isolated community, I reduce the impact and slow the spread of this devastating knowledge.”
If complete knowledge were possible, it would be the end of our civilization and perhaps the end of all civilizations. GSM, (age fourteen) UC Berkeley Thesis Outline.
I get the call a week later. “Come now.”
I use my GPS, sticky notes to remind me to use my GPS. The name of the town is written in ink on the back of my hand. I have pinned to my shirt a note of the steps I have to follow when I reach my sister.
The closer I get to Tionesta the more I have to refer to my notes and concentrate like in third-grade math.
I see confused, lost, bewildered folks wandering aimlessly near and in the town.
I find my sister in the small house just past Tionesta. She doesn’t recognize me. I fix her the tea with the drugs. She drinks it readily, falls into that endless sleep. I’m too disoriented to do anything else. I fall asleep on the couch.
In the morning, it is all better. I know who I am. I know my way home. I know what I have done.
I drive past the recovering folks of Tionesta. They all look traumatized.
As I drive home I feel the touch of rough fingers on my cheeks.
Header photograph: By User:Introvert (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons