Gary Gulman

“I figured out how smart I am. I’m not a moron, but this is what I am. This is how I like to put it. I’m just smart enough to be unhappy. Like if ignorance is bliss, I’m right above that. Like there’s no bliss. I have no bliss. I know too much, but not enough to do anything about it. It’s a very sad predicament.”

You’ve probably heard stories of people driving around in their cars, blissfully unaware of the “check engine light” that’s been illuminated on the dashboard for weeks. The car could break down at any given moment, but they don’t know that, so they just keep going on with their day, singing along to the latest Gwen Stefani song playing on the radio. They’re happy.

At the other end of the spectrum is the certified gear-head. He notices the “check engine light” the moment it goes on and he knows exactly what he needs to do to diagnose the problem. He goes home, identifies the issue, and proceeds to fix it. The car is repaired and he can head back on the road without concern.

Then, you’ve got the rest of us who fit somewhere in between.

We see the “check engine light” and know that something should be done, but we may not be all that sure how to identify the “something.” And even if we figure out the problem, we may not have the tools or the knowledge to fix it ourselves. And so, we fret, we worry, and we riddle ourselves with angst until an “expert” can provide us with some relief.

And it is in this range of knowing just a bit more than nothing that we find comedian Gary Gulman, as he expresses in the excerpt above. This was a part of his set from the first episode of 2 Dope Queens, a new WNYC podcast hosted by Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams. You might recognize the latter from her work as a correspondent on The Daily Show.

Gary Gulman had heard some recent news stories about black holes (likely related to the recent discovery of gravitational waves) and wanted to read a little further into it. He dove into some scientific papers and found himself reaching for the dictionary with every second word. He knows black holes are important. He has a basic understanding that they’re out there in space… but he doesn’t know nearly enough to follow any deeper discussion.

I’ve written before about why ignorance is bliss. When you really don’t know, the decision-making process is easier. You’re not privy to all the intricate details, nuances and complexities of the situation, so you base your decisions on what little knowledge you have. But at the end of the day, you’re still ignorant and that’s not exactly all that desirable.

That said, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, because you think you know enough to make a smart decision or form an insightful opinion, but you’ve still got a lot more to learn. You’re missing so much and you’re basing your perspective on incomplete information. It’s like passing judgement on an article based solely on its title.

The paradox is that the more you know, the more you realize how little you know. And even when you get over the hump and understand a fair amount about a subject, far more than the average person, you’re still riddled with the angst of all that you don’t know.

It can be a sad predicament or it can be a motivating one. We can never know everything, but we can certainly try, even if it comes at the cost of our ignorant bliss.