Imagine a small sunlit clearing in the forest. A very small clearing, smaller even than a single pixel on the screen. I am there with all I know. I am as nothing compared to the vastness of the forest, of which I know nothing. Zoom in on that clearing and you’ll see me happily wandering around, mulling over the stuff I know, trying to make sense of it. All my stuff is in boxes. You’ll see me constantly shifting them around, piling them up first one way then another, transferring stuff from one box to another then rebuilding the stack, again and again. You’re watching me turn facts into knowledge. You’ll see that I spend quite a lot of time out on the perimeter too, and visits to the perimeter are frequently followed by intensive sorting and restacking. The perimeter is the limit of my knowledge. Beyond, all is unknown. The length of the perimeter can be seen as the extent to which I am aware of my ignorance; it measures the scale of my modest “I know that I don’t know”. Sometimes, looking out into the forest from the perimeter, I catch a glimpse of a box that just might cease to be unknown if only I could get a little closer, and thus encouraged I set about working my way towards it. At other times, while walking the perimeter, I’ll come across a box I’ve not seen before. I only have to bend down and pick it up, then hurry back to examine its contents the middle of the clearing. Slowly, as I acquire knowledge, my clearing grows and its perimeter lengthens. The more I know, the more I know I don’t know.
One day I catch sight of something new: there seems to be a light out in the forest, not far away. I walk towards it, the brambles falling away as I go. I step into the circle and rock back gasping in amazement: it’s enormous! I can barely make out the opposite side. Unbidden comes the thought, “Jesus! How the fuck do you patrol all that?” Countless boxes are stacked a mile high and as I watch the piles change continuously, forming groups and patterns that have no resemblance to those in my own tiny clearing. There are arching bridges between stacks, elegant swirls and cantilever extensions that seem to defy gravity. At first I can’t see anyone doing the stacking; then I become aware of a blur zipping along the perimeter and to and fro between boxes. In a flash of intuition I understand what I’m seeing: this is sheer brain power at work. Whoever lives here positively fizzes while I plod. I totter forward a step or two and nearly stumble over a little sign in the grass at my feet: Mr Chomsky’s clearing. Awesome!