Albert Einstein once said that the only source of knowledge is experience, which means that we can only really truly know something to the extent that we can relate it to, or remember, the experiences we have had. Which would allow that there will be things that some of us will never “know” because we will never have the chance to experience them.
For instance, according to Einstein’s thinking, men will never know what it is like to give birth to a child, even many women will never know what it means. Those who have given birth can relate as much information as possible about it, telling about the pain, the joy, the wonder, and again the pain, to others who have never had the experience. And those others may grasp a general idea of what the experience is like, but they wouldn’t really know, at least according to Einstein.
Another example would be that some of us will never know what it is like to be filthy rich with all the privileges that go with monetary wealth, and unfortunately many will never know what it is like to be underprivileged, scraping away to make enough money to put a meal on the table and clothes on the back. This means that we will never know what it means to know from another person’s perspective. Which is pretty much impossible anyways considering we would have to be in another person’s mind and body to know. Knowledge is always a matter of perspective.
If we take into account Einstein’s theory of relativity, then it doesn’t really matter if we never actually experience things the way that someone else does in order to know something. Relativity takes into account different points of view or perspectives and says that what you think is real could be seen in a different way from a person outside your situation. We could substitute “what you think is real” with “what you think you know” and the theory would still hold. When we say that something “is relative,” we are essentially saying that you see it your way and I see it mine, we are talking about the same thing and we see it differently.
It doesn’t mean that one way of seeing or thinking is better worse than the other, or that one point of view is more “right.” If we look again at the example of giving birth and question whether or not a man can know what it is like, we would have to say yes if we take into account Einstein’s theory of relativity. A man can know what it is like from his point of view, and a woman will know what it is like from her point of view, which may or may not be like any other woman who has given birth. Each being’s personal experience of anything is going to be that, unique and personal, no one can thus know what it was like. However that does not mean that they cannot relate in some way.
I bring this all up because weeks ago I was asked to write a mandate for this column, a mission statement, a raison d’etre for it’s being. I have pondered over this long enough and now must define in a sense, if you will, the un-definable. The title of the column is the Urban Native, which I chose because that is what I am and what 1 have always been since being adopted by a non-native family on the island of Montreal. The content of the column will be as varied as the experiences that I have had has as a native being and as an urban dweller in the various cities that I have called home. The content will thus most likely be similar to your experiences, just different.
Central to my way of thinking and writing is relativity and relating. I like to ask questions like how do we relate? What is it that makes us feel a connection or akin and therefore like other beings on this earth? I believe that we as beings are all made up of atoms, albeit put together in different ways, which is why your brother or sister does not look exactly like you.
As such, we do have the capacity to feel the same things. I’m reminded of quotes such as “if you prick us do we not bleed” and “a rose by any other name would still smell the same.”
There is nothing that really makes anyone so different from anyone else even though we may all have different upbringings and different thoughts and understandings of how the world works. These are simply the details that make people unique and what makes life so interesting and wonderful. By relating our experiences to each other we cannot help but grow as individuals, our minds will expand as we try to understand each other’s perspectives and come to the conclusion that everything is the same, just different. It all depends on how you want to look at it.