Dear Friend and Reader:
On my short to-do list of book projects, I have a concept for one called Know When You Don’t Know: A Guide to Investigative Reporting and Life.
The little joke in there is that life is kind of like an investigative reporting project. It always was one, but in our current environment of information overwhelm, awareness is indispensable.
I think about this concept a lot — how to know when you don’t know. For most people I run it past, it’s like a Zen koan, similar to ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’. In this case, we could ask, ‘what happens when you rub one brain cell together?’
Personally I don’t find knowing when I don’t know to be paradoxical. It’s usually as simple as coming across a word in a book or article, knowing that I don’t know what the word means, and stopping to look it up. But I am gathering that this is an unusual approach. It’s easier to guess the meaning of a word than to look it up.
If you’re a news reporter, awareness of your knowledge level on any topic is the essence of your work. The difference between knowing and not knowing could be a libel suit, or ruining someone’s reputation, or cashing in your trust with the public, or with your editor.
Good reporters have to know the difference between knowing and not knowing. They also have techniques that help them notice, some of which I’ll explain later in this article.
To give one easy example, when two people in authority give you conflicting versions of the same story, you know you have some finding out to do. Some of the best news stories in history have been discovered due to conflicting information — such as the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster. Clearly someone was lying and that alerted the press to the underlying issue.
Another technique reporters use is attribution. Even though every fact is not attributed in a news article, a reporter has to know the source of every fact. Honest news organizations have fact checkers, who get authority to question reporters and editors about the source of any detail of the story. This is becoming increasingly rare, however. [Planet Waves adheres to strict internal fact-checking guidelines.]
Once you get into the habit of attribution, you start to walk around asking yourself ‘how do I know that?’ for just about everything.
Once you know that you don’t know, you can get busy figuring out what is true. That’s often an adventure. Asking a question that does not have an obvious answer can lead you to unusual places and to real discoveries. Yet it’s not possible to be lazy and do this, or to have willful ignorance, the opposite of which is curiosity.
Along with that is the factor of being willing to admit that you don’t know, which does seem to be difficult for people. In fact that may be one of the biggest barriers: feeling stupid because one does not know, which in turn seems to prevent one from finding out.
Isn’t it refreshing when someone poses a question to an expert of some kind, and they think about it, and admit they don’t know the answer? The reason it’s such a happy thing is that it’s honest, and that in turn opens up a space where real knowledge, or at least a real question, can enter. There’s little difference between the two.
Mercury Square Neptune: The Everlasting Gobstopper
Tonight, Mercury is stationing direct in Gemini, after a retrograde that began May 18 (May 19 in some time zones). It’s doing so in a square aspect (90 degrees) to Neptune in Pisces. This is an unusually long event of Mercury square Neptune. Typically this aspect will last a few days. Thanks to the Mercury retrograde, wherein Mercury stays in a narrow band of the zodiac for a while, the current square is lasting for about two months and is far from over.
That is extraordinary. Many people are feeling it, in that way of noticing there’s something odd they have not noticed yet. Aspects of this variety tend to bob in and out of consciousness. You might notice them, then forget you noticed, only to remember.
Mercury square Neptune has a diversity of effects. It can represent a kind of brain fog. There can be an integrity question, relating to the difference between truth and lies. There’s a need to question the veracity of any statement.
When we place these planets in Gemini and Pisces, everything can get even more slippery than it might normally be. There is the dualism factor of the signs Gemini and Pisces — suggesting there are many possibilities, many ways to look at the same thing, many sides to the story. There might be so many possibilities that you decide it doesn’t make a difference what is true and what is not.
In case nobody has said this out loud to you lately, it matters.
There are many other planets in the pattern. Within hours of when Mercury stationed direct, Mars made a perfect square to Chiron. On Planet Waves FM this week I ask whether there is such a thing as too much integrity. After thinking about it for a few days, I decided that Mars square Chiron delivers just enough integrity to burn through the Mercury-Neptune fog.
Mars will keep moving through Gemini. It’s therefore vital that you focus on what you’ve learned over the past few days and what you discern the next few days and make use of that information. Yet when it comes to knowing what one does not know, herein lies the first obstacle: knowledge implies responsibility. Once you know something, you have a duty to factor in or to act on that information.
How to Know When You Don’t Know
First, let’s ask: what does it mean to not know when you don’t know? I think this comes in two shades: lack of awareness and willful ignorance.
Lack of awareness can be addressed by curiosity and mindfulness. Assuming one is interested, it’s pretty easy to work with this. Most of what will get in the way is laziness and sloppy thinking. There are techniques to get past that, but the desire is a necessary ingredient.
Willful ignorance is more difficult to address. It’s one of the most serious problems that the world now faces. In truth all ignorance is willful — the word has as its root the verb to ignore. Don’t tell me; I don’t want to know (what’s in my food, my air, that contract, that person’s intentions, and so on).
So, let’s assume that you are curious and not willfully ignorant. Let’s assume that you’re willing to take responsibility for knowledge when it comes to you.
And let’s assume that you can get past the nervousness of admitting the extent of what you don’t know. There are many others — please share any that you’ve thought of. After all, there is plenty, and were you to acknowledge that, you might feel like you’re standing at the edge of a cliff. It’s not just a feeling. You actually are. So, with that in mind, here are a few techniques for knowing when you don’t know.
1. You have a question. Is it really that simple? Yes it is, mates. You’re wondering something, and it has a question mark tacked onto it. It might begin with the word why or when, where or how, what or who. You know you want to know. As long as you don’t suppress that, you will know that you don’t know. The question is, do you have the guts to ask the question? And what do you do with the answer?
2. You notice something that you don’t understand. Let’s say you’re reading a book or an article and you come to a word you don’t recognize. The moment you notice that you don’t recognize the word, you know that you don’t know. Then what do you do? Do you look it up in the dictionary? Do you guess, or make up a meaning for the word? Once you start looking up words you don’t know, it can become addictive. You suddenly want to know the meaning of every word that you admit you don’t understand. Why? Because you learn something and that feels good.
3. You are presented with conflicting information. This might be about the safety of something, the cost of something, or any facts that someone presents you with. They might conflict with what you already knew (or thought you knew). Or you have two sources telling you two different things. Once you notice that the sources or their information conflicts, you know that you don’t know. When you set out to resolve the conflict, you are on the path to finding out.
4. You’re angry. Sometimes anger is about having information that you don’t want, and sometimes it’s about sensing something that you don’t know. Your emotions might indicate an instinct that someone is withholding something or lying. If you feel anger, stop and question what it’s about, if you can muster up the presence of mind. You may discover there is something that you need to know. Of course, most people who are being lied to have ample information to support that notion; that is easily addressed with denial.
5. You’re confused. So many people spend so much time confused, they don’t even notice when it’s happening. It helps to notice when you’re confused, which is similar to being mentally lost. Consciously acknowledged confusion can be addressed by choosing to seek information. It helps to keep digging until you feel a sense of resolution.
6. You discover something that makes no sense. We’ve all had that experience where someone tells us a story and the whole scenario fits together except for one little thing. You have the choice to overlook that bit, or to stop and see what it’s about. One problem is that so many things seem to make no sense that it hardly seems worth sorting anything out. But if you live willfully with what is senseless, that’s a form of ignorance.
7. You discover how little you know. You might think you know a lot about a subject or a person, then you make a discovery that opens up a whole new realm of existence. Here again, you have the choice to enter that realm, or to pretend it does not exist.
Standing at the Edge
Conscious existence involves a relationship to the unknown. There is so much that we don’t know that in order to maintain some sanity, we need either to acknowledge this fact or pretend that something else is true.
There is strength in facing the unknown as a willing gesture. There’s humility to this, yet there is also an unusual kind of bravery that it calls forth. Some truly brave people get to the place where they want to know anything, no matter what it may be or how it may affect them. They view all of life as an encounter with the unknown. Some of the people society respects the most have lived this way.
It is considered a rare trait. Yet I think that everyone is capable of embracing the mystery of existence. Sometimes this is a matter of preference. Sometimes it’s a matter of necessity, such as when a struggle for survival is involved.
Respect for the unknown is its own thing, as apart from wanting to enter the unknown. If you can look into that space and see one glimmer of light, know that it’s your mind that is perceiving something other than darkness.
Weekly Horoscope for Thursday, June 11, 2015 #1053 | By Eric Francis
Aries (March 20-April 19) — You must work consciously and carefully with any resistance you may encounter. It will be risky to use force; it could be just as risky to yield to inertia. Therefore, persist gently and with full awareness. You are working through an inner block of some kind, and it would seem to involve what you are and are not willing to say. What do you think the consequences would be, if you were to say exactly what you think? I suggest you start by making peace with those consequences, whether they might come to be or not. Get yourself to a place where you have nothing to lose. From there you can assess the potential benefits of revealing your truth. You might also encounter a level of necessity or urgency in doing so, which could get you beyond any resistance you feel. The benefits would outweigh the risks. But are there really any risks? The greater gamble seems to be silence, which has a way of spreading its consequences. Meanwhile, take one step at a time, and keep asking yourself where you are at that moment.
Taurus (April 19-May 20) — Consider how good it is to have a home, and a country to live in. We don’t need images of the homeless, or guilt, or fear of loss, to make contact with the benefits of having some grounding. Instead it’s possible simply to appreciate what you have, your stability and the benefits of your physical existence. Of course marketing culture takes this simple appreciation away from us with its constant pushing everyone to want more. From that context, there’s never an appropriate time to appreciate what you have, because when you’re appreciating you’re probably not reaching for your debit card. By all indications you’re living a remarkable life right now. The larger factors are in order and so are many of the smaller details. Any concerns you might have about money can be addressed by two factors — organization and motivation. Thankfully you have access to those assets as well. And from this place, you have options. Many of them would afford you extraordinary creative possibilities. All you would need is faith in yourself.
Gemini (May 20-June 21) — Mercury stationed direct in your sign on Thursday. This would normally help you clear up any confusion and get yourself moving after a series of delays or distractions. Yet you may still find yourself bogged in doubt and an odd lack of clarity. Other factors in your solar chart suggest that you know exactly what you want, and you know how to get it. You’re willing to override your concerns and uncertainty and make any necessary decisions. The key here is to know your options and to choose consciously. You might take a little more time to put your plan into action; I don’t think this would hurt, and it could certainly help, because over the next week or so additional information will come out in the wash. That data is likely to confirm what you already know. This does make a difference, since confirmation will help you proceed with greater confidence. You seem determined to make the right decision, and having your mind on stable ground will save a load of energy that could be wasted on doubt.
Cancer (June 21-July 22) — You seem to be having a crisis of faith in yourself, though at least you know this much. Events over the next few days will go a long way toward demonstrating that you’re capable of accomplishing any goal you define for yourself. Yet that seems to be included in the question — what exactly do you want to achieve? And is what you want even about achievement, or is it about being in the world in a more harmonious way? That would be my educated guess. Having said that, if you’re going to set goals, focus on the five- to 10-year time range. Many factors in your chart are suggesting that you take a much longer, wider view of your life. This would include what you want to be doing, and where you would be doing it — ideally. Don’t worry about what is possible. Dare to describe your life exactly as you would have it be. Then consider how many of those factors are present now. Some of them are, and others are not. Choose one of those visions for yourself and focus on it for a while.
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — You have the choice to assert yourself in a bold way, or to use the power of attraction. I suggest you emphasize attraction first, and see how that goes. Right now you have enough magnetic power to lift a train off the tracks and get yourself all the way to San Francisco. What would make sense, though, is discerning what you do and don’t want to attract. Have a clear idea of what you want, and what you could skip. But don’t stick to it too rigorously. Leave yourself room to be wrong, in the happy way — such as something or someone comes to you, and you had no idea that you would have so much fun. In fact, in all things, leave yourself some wiggle space. You run the risk of being excessively rigid when the very response called for is flexibility. Stiffness is not good for your creativity and it’s not good for you. This is especially true in anything involving sex. Modern people seem to have the idea that a situation must be absolutely right, or else it’s absolutely wrong. Rarely is that true — especially right now.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — Certain issues involving your professional life are about to open up. You may get some long overdue news, or have an opening to make some progress. I suggest that you proceed slowly rather than quickly; gently rather than aggressively. There is still an uncertainty factor that you would be wise to acknowledge, especially where the intentions of others are involved. Those others might be people making decisions for your organization; they might be clients or people of influence who are watching how you handle making decisions. And how would you do that? First, know when you’re guessing and when you’re proceeding with real information. There is a difference between these two conditions, ignored though it is by many. Study the situation carefully. See if you can get information from several different sources, and put together the layers or the pieces for a more complete scenario or image of what is going on. The more you develop this picture the more you’ll realize how helpful it is.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — Your star quality is shining right now, and I suggest you step out from behind the curtain. Get out where people can see you, hear you and feel you. Keep the emphasis on feeling. Notice how many people spend so much of their lives in a bubble; notice how you’ve done the same thing. I understand that your astrology may seem to pose a paradox — that of being visible when you may not want to be seen. Or liking attention and being made uncomfortable by it at the same time. If your usual tendency is to step back, stay quiet or remain off to the side, this would be the time to try a different approach. Remember that you have no special obligations or responsibilities for being noticed. Acknowledging the attraction others may feel for you is not giving them permission to do anything, nor are you committing to be anything. You remain free; you remain the one making choices in your own life. It’s just that now, you’re very likely to have better options than usual.
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — You have every opportunity to accomplish great things in the professional aspects of your life — that is, your chosen mission. Your chart describes recognition, but also tangible accomplishments that advance your cause and that of whoever you’re working with. But you seem to be hesitating, as if you’re not sure you’re doing the right thing. Some other option is nagging you. I would not be surprised if you feel creatively blocked in some way. I would suggest an ethic that has served many successful people well: whatever you’re doing, excel in that thing. Whatever you’re doing, learn as much as you can in the process, and relate it to everything else you’re doing. You need to access your creativity not just to do your work but also to do it in an unusually enterprising way — and to keep it interesting. Not every task or project is ‘exactly what you want to be doing for the rest of your life’, though I would propose that nothing really qualifies for that. Therefore, focus on quality in all things, in each moment.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — Someone may reveal something to you that they’ve been keeping hidden for a while, and that they may have never intended to tell you about. Be calm about this. You might potentially experience it as an affront; nobody likes to be lied to. While this may not be an overt deception it would surely qualify as a withhold, or lie by omission. See if you can guide the conversation to the level where you understand this person’s motives. They are likely to be driven by desire, though of a kind that they don’t feel entirely comfortable with. There is some conflict, though there’s also a particular quality that this conflict has, which is a kind of split in their personality. Everyone experiences this from time to time. Handle this with compassion. Whomever you’re engaging with on this topic is more vulnerable than they may seem, and any aggression is likely to be a cover for the feeling of weakness. Therefore, do what you can to add strength to the equation, which could come in the form of your tolerance, acceptance, stability and sanity. If you offer these things, it will be good for everyone.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — If financial questions seem to be interfering with a work-related project, or a health-related one, then be clever and find a way to get it done. Money is difficult to overrate as a vital resource, but it would be incorrect to say that it’s the only one. Your own creativity and intelligence are much more valuable, and without them money is useless anyway. Therefore, focus on using your mind, which also means working with your connections. It looks like there are some super resourceful people in your environment, people who would be willing to help, if only you would get out of your own way and be clear about what you want. That clarity might be the very thing that’s troubling you. You seem to be absolutely certain about something, and then you doubt yourself at the same time. Can both be true? Probably not. There is a third option, which may involve a fairly typical scenario around the time of Mercury stationing direct: there is missing information, and when you have that information, you will have a much better idea what to do.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — You will have a lot more fun with sex if you remember that all sex begins with you and comes back to you — that it’s your experience. True, it’s an experience you share, though first you must claim it as your own. As part of that, a long overdue conversation looks like its time has arrived. The astrology here involves Mercury changing directions (which happened earlier Thursday). The chart for that event describes two things. One is that information, ideas and a real exchange are likely to come out in layers. Try to set aside the idea that everything is going to be resolved instantly, or that your desires will be met instantly. The two processes will develop together. I suggest you work closely with any uncertainty you may be experiencing, and count it as a resource. The unknown is a source of energy, of power and of strength, if you can work with it patiently.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — You’ve been carrying some tension and it’s been throwing you off balance. There are many factors involved; some of them are short-term and others are long-term. Over the next few days you may get some insight into the source of this tension and what you can do about it. If you feel a need to figure things out, do your best to set it aside. What you’re experiencing is emotional and physical rather than mental. Searching for an answer or for some logic to your situation may throw you off the scent, and it may be frustrating. Therefore, stick to what you feel, and stick to your experience of being in a body. You are involved in a long-term healing process, by which I mean something that covers a period of years. This involves Chiron and Nessus moving through your sign — two centaur planets associated with deep transformation and self-awareness. At the moment, both of them are being aspected by inner planets Mercury and Mars. So you’re getting an immediate look at what you’re working out over a rather extended phase of time. Take it easy, and take it easy on yourself.