Two Selections from Borges

Two selections from Borges on the subject of unknowing.


Argumentum Ornithologicum (The Maker, published with Penguin’s edition of The Aleph; translated by Andrew Hurley)

I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second, or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite? The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one can have counted. In this case I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but I did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, which was not nine, eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integer–not-nine, not-eight, not-seven, not-six, not-five, etc.–is inconceivable. Ergo, God exists.


From A Defense of Bouvard and Pécuchet (Selected Non-Fictions, translated by Eliot Weinberger)

Flaubert was a devotee of Spencer; in the master’s First Principles we read that the universe is unknowable, for the clear and adequate reason that to explain a fact is to relate it to another more general fact, a process that has no end, or that conducts us to a truth so general that we cannot relate it to any other, that is, explain it. Science is a finite sphere that grows in infinite space; each new expansion makes it include a larger zone of the unknown, but the unknown is inexhaustible. Flaubert writes: “We still know almost nothing and we wish to divine the final word that will never be revealed to us. The frenzy for reaching a conclusion is the most sterile and disastrous of manias.”

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