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EVERYTHING HIDDEN?

Questions that seem to have only one answer

Things hidden can be known by following clues. We know in practice how this is done and I have explained in some detail what goes on in this rather complicated but interesting process (see for example Essay 2). But what about things not hidden. Can things not hidden be known?

My question here is not how things not hidden can be known, but merely whether they can be known. If I ask how things not hidden can be known I will receive different answers. For example some will say things not hidden are known by the senses. The senses reveal to us what these things are; that's why they are not hidden. But others will say no; the senses do not reveal; they hide, they deceive. The mind reveals; the mind lets us know what the real things are; things that are not hidden are known directly by the mind. There are many answers to the question how things not hidden can be known, but this is not the question I am asking. The question I am asking is whether things not hidden can be known.

With the question how things not hidden can be known there are many answers. But it is different with the question whether things not hidden can be known. With this question there seems to be only one answer. Things not hidden, of course they can be known--this I think is what most people will say. They may not agree among themselves how things not hidden can be known but they will agree things not hidden can be known. If things not hidden cannot be known what can be known?

To the question whether things not hidden can be known there is only one answer. Or so it seems.

There is another question which seems to have only one answer: Is there anything not hidden? To this question the only answer seems to be of course there are things not hidden. We may disagree as to what these things are and how they are known, but it seems there must be some things that are not hidden. It is not possible that there is nothing not hidden. If there is nothing not hidden it means everything is hidden. How is it possible that everything is hidden? If everything is hidden how can we know anything?!

It seems there is only one answer to the question, is there anything not hidden? It is not that we cannot think of more than one answer; it is just that it seems no one can take any other answer seriously.

Profitable sometimes to entertain other answers

Can things hidden be known? To many this is a question with only one answer. It is common for people to say things hidden cannot be known. If they are hidden you cannot see them. If you cannot see them how can they be known? To a large number of people this question is as simple as this. To them it is a question with only one answer.

But there are people who say things hidden can be known. I belong to this group. We do not say everything hidden can be known, just some of them. To us the question whether things hidden can be known is not a question with only one answer. And by not treating it as a question with only one answer we have obtained interesting results. Things hidden can be known by following clues. The process in which this is done is not simple, but by looking into it we discover all kinds of interesting things, for example the presence of feedback loops and the presence of indicators which will tell us whether we are headed in the right direction.

It is profitable sometimes to entertain other answers to a question which most people think has only one answer. Interesting results could follow by our doing so.

Nothing not hidden

Is there anything not hidden? Let us not treat this as a question with only one answer. Let us not take for granted that there must be some things not hidden. Let us entertain the other possibility: that there is nothing not hidden.

If there is nothing not hidden; if everything is hidden; this immediately leads to some interesting possibilities. For one thing it will open up the other question, the question whether things not hidden can be known. To this latter question, we have said, most people will say of course things not hidden can be known. But if everything is hidden; if there is nothing which is not hidden; there are then other answers. If there is nothing not hidden we obviously cannot experience these things. And since we cannot experience them we cannot know whether they can be known. Or we could say since there is nothing not hidden the question does not arise whether we can know these things.

In the past there has been unceasing controversy how things not hidden can be known. Some say they are known by the senses and some by the mind, and there are other views besides. If there is nothing not hidden these controversies should stop. If things not hidden do not exist there is no point in arguing how these things can be known.

Also, if there is nothing not hidden; if everything is hidden; knowing why things hidden can be known is the same as knowing why we can have any knowledge at all. For, if everything is hidden the only kind of knowledge we can have is knowledge of things that are hidden. There is no need to ask how things not hidden can be known.

There is one more interesting consequence we should point out. If some things are not hidden and we can know them one possibility is that knowledge of these things will be as perfect as perfect can be. For these things are there, right in front of us; there is nothing in the way; there is no obstruction of any kind. If we cannot be clear about them then; if we cannot be certain about them then; when can we be?

But this is just a possibility--even though it may be the first one we can think of. There can be other possibilities. For example consider the following. Welders wear goggles in order that they can see the things they are welding. If they do not, the flame from their torch is so bright that they will not be able to see what they are doing at all. In their case they purposely put some medium between they themselves and the objects they want to see. They do not want to confront the objects directly; they intentionally hide behind their goggles. Now if there are things not hidden it is possible that they are so dazzlingly bright that we cannot know them at all, let alone know them perfectly!

Where knowledge of things not hidden is concerned there can be more than one possibility. One of these possibilities is that this kind of knowledge will be perfect. A second is that this kind of knowledge is not possible at all.

We know from experience that knowledge of things hidden is never perfect. So, if perfect knowledge is possible at all (and it may not be) it seems it can only be possible if there are things not hidden. If there is nothing not hidden; if everything is hidden; there cannot be perfect knowledge. Now our knowledge is imperfect. If everything is hidden, that they are explains why.

Human beings have been looking for perfect knowledge for a long time. They have not found any despite the tremendous amount of effort expended. A possible explanation for this lack of success is there is nothing not hidden.

How is it possible?

But how is it possible that everything is hidden? We see tables and chairs. Are these hidden? In the cryptanalytic example I am in the habit of using the cipher and the cleartext are hidden (as we can easily see below).


SBR SBCTU DBCKERVS FCGG WTTCXR SFH FRRJD YTHE SHUWI


But is the cryptogram, the SBR etc.--is it also hidden? If it is, what are we looking at when we are looking at the cryptogram? If even the cryptogram is hidden how can we break the cipher?

It seems absurd to think that everything is hidden, even if interesting consequences should follow. Some things are hidden and some things are not, and that, it seems, is that. It cannot be that everything is hidden. If we are to entertain the possibility that everything is hidden there are questions we will have to answer.

Let us look at some of these questions and see if they can be answered.

Known

The cryptogram in our example is not hidden. We know this cryptogram. We know it in every detail. We know what letters are in it and which comes before which. How can something we know so well be hidden?


When we have broken a cipher we know how the cipher works; we know this in detail; we know for example that S stands for T, B for H, R for E, and so on. Now suppose the original of this cipher is kept in a safe. In breaking the cipher have we taken the original out of the safe? We have not. We have broken the cipher but we have not stolen it. The cipher is still locked up except that now we know in detail how it works.

When we know something; even when we know about it in detail; it does not necessarily mean that that something is not hidden. We know the cryptogram in detail but this does not necessarily mean it is not hidden.

Fast

But it takes us no time to find out what is in the cryptogram! We look and then we can tell. It takes time to crack a cipher. It takes time because the cipher is hidden. It takes no time to find out what is in our cryptogram because this cryptogram is not hidden. How can it be otherwise?


In the Morse Code sequences of dots and dashes are used to represent letters of the alphabet. For people not trained in the Morse Code translating these dots and dashes into letters of the alphabet will take time. For people trained in the Morse Code all they need do is listen to the dots and dashes; they can provide the plaintext right away; it takes them no time: they do not need to translate. But the plaintext is still hidden--in the dots and dashes. That some people can tell so quickly what the plaintext is does not alter the fact that the plaintext is hidden. The speed is merely the result of having internalised the cipher.

What do we see?

In looking at the cryptogram what do we see? We see letters of the alphabet, not dots and dashes. A message transmitted by Morse Code is hidden in the dots and dashes; our cryptogram is not hidden in anything. What can it be hidden in?


People who do not know the alphabet, what do they see when they look at our cryptogram? They cannot see the letters of the alphabet since they do not know the alphabet. Do they see lines and squiggles? Whatever they see, or whatever they do not see, our cryptogram is hidden in them.

Lines and Squiggles

Suppose we say the cryptogram is hidden in the lines and squiggles. In that case the lines and squiggles are not hidden. It can't be that everything is hidden.


Tourists send home postcards containing messages they do not mind other people reading. Suppose you see the following sentence on a postcard that some tourist has put into the mail.


We had a great time at the party the last night before we had to leave.


Would you think anything unusual about this sentence? Isn't it just the kind of thing people would say on postcards? But did you notice the italicised letters in this sentence? Did you know they spell halt? A word that could very well be a secret message?

Hiding a message inside a message is a common way of sending secret messages. The effectiveness of this practice shows us that things hidden can be right before our eyes. They are in full view; yet we do not see them.

If we put our cryptogram in front of people who do not know the alphabet what will they see? Will they necessarily see lines and squiggles? Is it not possible that even the lines and squiggles are hidden from them?


The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.

--Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles


Attention?

Things in full view are not really hidden, even though we do not see them. We do not see them only because we are not paying attention. If we had been more attentive we would have seen them.


This is an important question to think about: When things are in full view and yet we do not see them, is the reason for our failure the lack of attention or is it something else?

I think it is something else.

When we open our eyes there is always a huge number of things in front of us. Of this huge number we see only a few. We see only those we know how to see.1 Things by themselves are hidden: they are hidden in the crowd; the crowd provides them with cover, making them indiscernible. Before we can see some particular members of this crowd we have to know how to single them out: we need instructions, which is to say, we have to employ the appropriate cipher. In the message on the postcard the parties in the know are using a cipher that is usually attributed to Francis Bacon. It is called Bacon's bi-literal cipher. If you know they are using this cipher on this postcard you can see the hidden message. If you do not, the message will remain hidden.

We often fail to see things that are open to view. The reason for this is not simply the lack of attention. We can pay as much attention as we want but unless we know the 'cipher' we will not see what there is to see. With a cipher we do not already know attention may help us detect those clues leading eventually to the solution of the cipher and thus to the seeing of those things that are there; but attention by itself is not sufficient.

It is important that we recognise the need for a 'cipher' when we see things. That there is such a need means that seeing is never a two-term relation: for something to be seen we need more than just the seer and the seen. Seeing is always a three-term relation: in addition to the seer and the seen there is also the cipher. When we see things that are familiar--like tables and chairs, the requisite ciphers have been internalised, so that we can recognise these things very quickly (as in the case of people trained in the Morse Code). With things that are novel--for example, hidden messages on postcards--the requisite ciphers will have to be broken first.

Everything is hidden, even things we see.

The Question

Normally we assume there are these two questions: 1)How can things not hidden be known? 2)How can things hidden be known? We usually think the first is more important than the second. Knowledge of the hidden will have to depend on knowledge of the not hidden, we usually think. Certainly it cannot be the other way around. We are also likely to think we should answer the first question before the second. Answer first why things not hidden can be known. After this is done, and only after this is done, answer why things hidden can be known. The first is easier. It is easier to know things not hidden and therefore easier to explain how. Once we have understood how things not hidden can be known we can then go on to find out how things hidden can be known, if they can be known at all.

But there is nothing that is not hidden. Since this is the case the first question--how do we know things not hidden?--does not arise. This means there is only one question we can ask: How can things hidden be known when everything is hidden? Now this is the question I have answered in these essays. True, we began only with the question how things hidden can be known. But since everything is hidden, when we have answered the question how things hidden can be known, we have answered the question how things hidden can be known when everything is hidden.

Notice that when we answer the question how things hidden can be known we are not required to assume that we need knowledge of the not hidden. We uncover knowledge of the hidden by following clues. The clue-following process is different from deductive reasoning. In deductive reasoning conclusions depend on premises. The premises have to be true if the conclusions are to be true. In the clue-following or theseological process we do not depend on premises; we depend on clues. Clues are often hard to detect, often vague, and always uncertain. Without knowing for certain that something is a clue, without knowing for certain what that clue means, we can nevertheless plough ahead, make mistakes and correct them and eventually find out things we originally did not know. In uncovering knowledge of the hidden we do not start with the not hidden. On the contrary we start with things which we very much know are hidden.

When everything is hidden the only question we can ask is how things hidden can be known. If we do not ask this question; if we keep asking how things not hidden can be known, thinking it has to be answered first before we can answer how things hidden can be known; we will get nowhere.

Knowledge emerges

In looking for knowledge of the hidden--and this is the only kind of knowledge we can look for--we do not go from certainties to certainties; we do not go from one solid link to the next solid link. Instead, we follow clues; which is to say, we go from a small amount of uncertain approximate knowledge to a larger amount of less uncertain approximate knowledge. As we have pointed out on other occasions it is common to compare this clue-following process to developing a photographic print. When we are developing a photographic print, at the beginning there is nothing on the photographic paper. As time goes on more and more details appear and become more and more distinct. This is how a photographic print develops. Knowledge develops in a similar way. Knowledge emerges.

1 And expect to see. Sometimes we do not see things we know how to see because we do not expect to see them. Some one I know well could be attending the same party but because I do not expect to see him there, I do not see him there even though he is there.

1