When I was in college many moons ago I was required to take a Philosophy course as part of a business curriculum. It seemed like a strange subject at the time but oh the lessons that I learned from my funny little professor, chief among them that “we KNOW nothing.”
I am not being rude in my description of this brilliant scholar for he was indeed quite little – no more than 5’4” tall – and about that same in girth. He taught with humor and merriment, as though life were promising despite the fact he was dying.
That is no exaggeration – the man was dying – and indeed passed sometime the following semester. But when he described his prognosis, it was as though it were a comedy routine, and those of us in his class were laughing and in horror at our response, all at once.
He described an incident from the past semester. He had fallen as he came to the door of the school, rolled into the grass on his back like a beetle, his little arms flailing in the air. One by one his students passed by, looked down, and respectfully said, “Good evening professor.” Again we dissolved into apoplectic laughter
His humor and cleverness extended to his teaching style, which helped to leaven a dry subject – the study of the fundamental principles of the world in which they operate. “It is a search for knowledge,” he told us. “But if there is one thing I teach you this semester it is the fact that we KNOW nothing.”
We would take a look at Plato’s two-world theory – that the material world is not real but only a copy. There is, Plato wrote, an apparent and changing world and an unseen world of forms which cause our world to exist.
Dry stuff, except the professor made such mockery of these ideas and soon we were laughing along with him. “Sit down on that chair,” he would motion to a student. “But wait – it isn’t real – you’ll fall down on your keester.”
One by one we studied the philosophies, the sciences, the religions of centuries gone by. From parallel worlds to a theory of no reality at all –we studied them, stripped them down to their basics, and laughed. At the end of each chapter our funny little professor would ask, “Now wasn’t that silly?
Then he would get very quiet, still, serious. “You laugh now, but here is the important lesson. Someday, centuries from now, a classroom of students will be laughing at our theory of the universe, of life, of religion, science. For our theories will be just as laughable to them. You see, students. We KNOW nothing.”
— Jonnie Martin