This morning I stopped at the end of my street, gauging traffic to find out when it was safe to pull into the main road. I looked right, left, seeing the configurations of cars. Was the hole on the left big enough to let me enter? No. Then the right became possible and I looked left again. That had filled up. Finally, after gauging things in both directions several more times, I saw a situation being created that would let me enter, with the car on the left far enough away, and nothing on the right. And I pulled in. At this point it was safe for me to pull in. No one else was interested in this process of aiming at, and hitting, an unseen target, because no one else was in my situation. If it works, nobody cares; if there’s an accident, by contrast, we might have to articulate this and go over it many times. The accident is comparable to the question in philosophy that gets asked, and answered, the belief that is articulated, the tone of voice that is challenged. Most of life merely happens, without such radical stops and doublings-back: it is the error of those who consider to think that the times when we consider are primary.
We have the means to express this knowledge in more public terms—though most of the time we would never think of doing so. We could write out a report beginning, The incident took place at such and such a time, such and such a place. If we got the other drivers to add their recollections, or (unlikely but possible) got a video from a surveillance helicopter, we would be able to make this purely personal, transitory knowledge public, caught in the cross-hairs of the time-space continuum, something firm and incontrovertible.
Most of the world passes without this kind of freezing in terms of the public. The probability of a surveillance helicopter having been there is small indeed. And why would we try to nail down something this ephemeral to begin with? Usually we don’t, which means that most of life passes by in the way it passes by, as part of the realm of personal and situational knowledge. The realm of the personal is the default position of knowledge, before it is transformed into something else, and when it isn’t.
It's not by chance that the scenario above where we try to wrest public information out of a private moment evokes a police investigation, or a trial, circumstances under which we attempt to render private events public. It is related to the way we boil down events to create the abstractions of science. Such objectivizing is only rarely asked for, and indeed couldn’t happen more than occasionally, even if we were willing to try. During the time period when we are articulating and justifying, we are doing a slew of things that themselves will never be subjected to the same degree of scrutiny, precisely because we are spending our time and energy scrutinizing one incident in the increasingly distant past. Objectifications of private moments are themselves facts of life, and disrupt people’s lives. This means, they can’t always be achieved, and even when they are, it is at a cost. We didn’t have to wait for Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to know that the act of getting information alters the thing about which we now know more. Accusing a friend of the disloyalty we suspect him of may elicit information and help us decide whether or not he is guilty of it, but this will certainly have repercussions.