I can’t see the thousands of messages that were there before this one. They’re gone. Irretrievable. I can only see what’s there right now.
I’m talking about what’s written on my whiteboard.
Remember VHS? To record a show you either needed a blank tape or to record over something else.
Whiteboards and VHS are good metaphors for our knowledge because they can only show us what is currently there.
We can’t see what came before. We can’t remember what it’s like to not know.
Imagine you’ve been friends with someone for twenty years and you find out that they abuse their partner.
You can’t go back to not knowing. You can’t recreate the conditions of your relationship from before you found out.
It’s similar to hindsight bias. Hindsight bias is when your current knowledge influences your interpretation of past events. You can only see the past through the lens of what you know now.
Imagine everything you know is written on a whiteboard. If you learn something new you add it to the board. If you learn you’re wrong about something you erase it or replace it with what you think is right.
You do this every day.
After several years the picture is incomparable to the one you started with. In fact, unless you’ve meticulously documented every revision you won’t even remember what the starting picture looked like.
This is how our understanding grows. We add. We erase. Every truth written on the board is impermanent. Liable to change. Some have been there from the beginning. Most haven’t.
The only consistent factor amongst your collection of knowledge is that it all resembles writing on a whiteboard. It’s merely the latest iteration of what you knew yesterday. And it’s liable to be rubbed out and erased from your mind forever.
We cannot unsee. We cannot remember how we used to think before we knew.
We cannot be sure that what we know won’t change.