If one person knows nothing, is it possible for two people in the same state to know less than nothing?
This marvelous philosophical question was resolved yesterday on PBS' Car Talk, which features the always entertaining Magliozzi brothers, Tom and Ray (a.k.a Click and Clack, or Clack and Click; I don't know what goes with each brother).
They read a letter from listener Andy Reischman, who thanked them profusely for answering that question – which he said had deviled him for twenty years.
Me too. I'd just never phrased it in such a clear fashion. After all, this really is what religion is all about. (And, I have to admit, much of this blog also).
Namely, two or more people – billions, in the case of the major world religions – getting together to ponder problems that no single individual knows anything about.
Does God exist? What is God's nature? Where do we go after death? Do butterflies have a soul? Is it bad karma to eat meat? How is salvation best attained?
I scribbled down notes on Reischman's letter as I was driving, necessarily incompletely, as I was more concerned with not crashing my car than in getting every detail down.
For a full rendition check out segment 4 on the August 2, 2008 show. I love it. Reischman is a fine writer; he makes some terrific points; Tom and Ray have a great time making fun of themselves (a staple of Car Talk).
Basically, Reischman concludes that, yes, two people can know less than nothing. One person who knows nothing will shrug his shoulders and toss his hands in the air.
But two people…they will egg each other on in a pas de deux of breathtaking speculation. Apologies and gestures of doubt are rendered unnecessary.
Great stuff, Mr. Reischman. You've pretty much summed up just about every metaphysical book in my extensive library.
He went on to say that Car Talk resolved this philosophical question for him when he heard Tom and Ray addressing a caller's query about a problem with electric brakes on a cattle car.
They started off by saying that they'd never heard of electric brakes and, obviously, didn't know how they worked. But they then engaged in an extensive discussion of the whys and wherefores of the electric brake problem.
Well, it's fun to talk about stuff we don't know anything about. Like, God and the hereafter.
We just should recognize when we've gone from knowing nothing on our own, to knowing less than nothing as a member of a religious or spiritual organization.
I'm totally competent at knowing nothing – I don't need any help in knowing less than nothing. Which is why churchlessness appeals to me.