Knowledge is fractal — the never ending hole

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working and taking classes toward a BS from Iowa State. Between what I’m learning in classes, and listening to audiobooks between classes and on my commute, I’m finding that my knowledge of the world seems to be fractal in nature. What do I mean by that?

What exactly is “fractal”?

Fractal image representing knowledge
Photo Credit: Arenamontanus via Compfight cc

A fractal pattern is one which is self-replicating. Or, put another way, if you can imagine zooming into a fractal image, the details along the edge will match the larger parent pattern. For an example of this, see this animated GIF of a zoomed Mandelbrot fractal. Fractals can be found in nature, from the pattern of tree branches, to the coastlines of islands, to the contours of mountains.

So how does this relate to knowledge?

The way I see things, the initial state of the fractal is similar to a general topic. When you decide you’d like to research a topic to gain some knowledge, you find a source or two to start from. Then, as you read those sources, you find the author’s sources in the bibliography, and you can continue to drill down into the topic. As you go deeper and deeper, you realize there is still a depth of knowledge to be gained on the subject. This leads to a situation where, the more things you learn, the more you see the holes in your knowledge base.

As Sgt. Schultz said on “Hogan’s Heroes”…

I know nothing. This seems to be the conclusion I come to as I study. The more I learn, the more I find that I don’t know. Eventually, I feel like I’ll learn so much that the only logical conclusion I can come to is that I know nothing at all. And on that zen-like reflection, I’ll end this post.