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in­stance of this root in ac­tion: gnothi seau­ton, “know thy­self,” the maxim writ­ten at the tem­ple to Apollo at Del­phi, where an­cient Greeks vis­ited the oracle to learn about the fu­ture. In Plato’s Phae­drus, Socrates says:

But I have no leisure for them at all; and the rea­son, my friend, is this: I am not yet able, as the Del­phic in­scrip­tion has it, to know my­self; so it seems to me ridicu­lous, when I do not yet know that, to in­ves­ti­gate ir­rel­e­vant things.

If I re­ally, prop­erly, knew my­self — phys­i­cally, rather that the way that Socrates means here — per­haps I would re­ally, prop­erly, know what the fu­ture has in store for me. In­stead, my di­ag­no­sis has had the effect of re­mind­ing me just how mysterious our bod­ies can be. For months, I was ob­sessed by the fact that there were things hap­pen­ing in me that I couldn’t even sense if I wanted to. And still, I wept and thought, I know all things now. The scope of my life shrunk down to this di­ag­no­sis; noth­ing else was rel­e­vant.

The Del­phic oracle was the giver of some­times mad­den­ingly am­bigu­ous ad­vice. “If you attack the Per­sians, you will de­stroy a great em­pire,” was, so the story goes, the ad­vice the oracle gave Croe­sus, king of Ly­dia, when he was con­tem­plat­ing an in­va­sion. He took this as en­cour­age­ment — not con­sid­er­ing that the fate of both em­pires would hang in the bal­ance. It didn’t end well for Croe­sus. When I think of the story now, I think of gnothi seau­ton, dan­gling like a big comic warn­ing sign over his head. I think of my­self in the MRI tube, recit­ing Yeats with bliss­ful un­aware­ness.

In the face of knowl­edge, what to do? I say “bliss­ful un­aware­ness,” but I don’t want to sug­gest that I would pre­fer not to know. De­spite my fears a few years ago, my life has not been per­ma­nently un­set­tled: I have a more in­ter­est­ing job, I have my own apart­ment, the sky didn’t fall. I man­age through pe­ri­ods of fa­tigue — a whole-body tired­ness un­like any­thing I ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore — but still, I wake up ev­ery morn­ing and I take a pale blue pill that, through its own un­seen magic, slows down the rate of de­myeli­na­tion and mostly keeps the symp­toms of MS at bay. If I didn’t know, none of this care to safe­guard my fu­ture would be pos­si­ble.

The vi­sion in my right eye never fully re­turned. With both eyes open, I don’t no­tice this, but if I squint or wink or cover over my left eye, I am re­minded that I carry this small neu­ro­log­i­cal scar and that one day I might have more. I’ve won­dered, strug­gling through a bout of de­bil­i­tat­ing fa­tigue, if the fog in my brain and the weight in my limbs might never lift and if this would mean I have to give up my am­bi­tion to do, to see, to write, to ac­com­plish any­thing. I try to look straight at the fu­ture, but it dis­solves, in my flawed vi­sion, into a con­tin­u­ing mys­tery with a slight pos­si­bil­ity, now, of bad things. A life can feel so small. But there is a con­tin­gency plan, phone num­bers of the clinic to call if I need to. I take a deep breath. I re­mind my­self that Socrates was wrong: there are many things be­yond my­self that are worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing in the mean­time. There are so many ac­tiv­i­ties worth do­ing with a belief in their cer­tainty. When I go to work. When I see my friends tonight. When I fin­ish this es­say. When, when, when.

Cer­tain state­ments from the oracle of Del­phi were lauded in an­tiq­uity for their per­fect am­bi­gu­ity, which was such that ei­ther out­come served to prove her cor­rect. There was pos­si­bil­ity but noth­ing else. If, if, if.





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