On Knowing by Sarah Ruhl

From playwright Sarah Ruhl:

I worry that choosing the essay form implies that I know something. Because today, (it is, mind you, an extremely hot day,) I feel that I know next to nothing. Recently I met a mathematician who described himself as “the world’s leading expert on absolute and total ignorance.” Today, I stand with the mathematician. But the mathematician, while an expert in ignorance, also believed firmly and enthusiastically in the concept of progress.

And yet I must not believe in progress because I make theater. And theater, by its very nature, does not believe in progress. Because we must constantly go back to go forward. And theater, by its very nature, does not believe in absolute knowledge, because there are usually two characters talking and they usually believe different things, making knowledge a relative proposition. But increasingly in the American theater idiom we are led to believe that plays are about knowing. Or putting forward a thesis. Today, I stand humbly with the mathematician. I am not the world’s leading expert on absolute and total ignorance. But the importance of knowing nothing is underrated.

“An expert in ignorance” — this is a great perspective on mathematics, I think. It relates to some of my favorite strands of Karen Olsson’s The Weil Conjectures.

I’m loving Sarah Ruhl’s book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write, which I first learned of from Austin Kleon.

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