We know nothing about what Socrates thought, except through the written work of Plato and Xenophon. Socrates was a talker, not a writer. In the Apology of Plato, Socrates claims he has an inner guide, a daimon, a belief shared by most Greeks of his time. This inner guide would advise him against certain courses of action. Socrates felt a divine presence in listening to his daimon. He was tuned into a deep and wise psychic source. Socrates was interested in meditation and truth, so he consulted the wisdom center of his time, the Oracle at Dephi, about finding a teacher.
The priestess at Delphi came up with an odd conundrum for Socrates. She told him that he was the wisest man in Greece. But he knew that he didn’t know anything, so how could that mean he was the wisest? Surely there were many others who knew about the nature of reality. There were many teachers out there who claimed to know stuff, so he set out to discover what they knew. What he discovered was that they would try to answer his questions, but eventually contradicted themselves. Their systems of thought were inconsistent and anyone who has studied Euclid’s geometry would know that a contradiction means there is an assumption which doesn’t fit in with the other “givens” in a proof.
So Socrates went from philosopher to philosopher discovering that they had lots of beliefs, but no knowledge. That was Socrates’ defense in his trial, he claimed that he was a very pious man. He consulted the god Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi and knowing that he didn’t know, tried to prove the oracle was wrong. Ironically he proved the Oracle was correct. He was the wisest man in Greece because he had self knowledge. That was the expression over the door to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, “Know Thyself”. Socrates knew that he didn’t know. That’s a kind of paradoxical statement, a religious utterance, which is a mantra of sorts. It has become my mantra of late. I keep wondering about things and hear myself say “I don’t know”. It is rather refreshing to know that I don’t know. It tends to put me squarely in the now, “in the present moment” as they say. I might have a lot of beliefs and many have great justifications, but do I know? Probably not.
Some things I have come to know through experience, things the ancient Greeks would term gnosis. These are truths which cannot be taught to others. You can discover them only through personal experience. Others have discovered them too. My favorite teacher, if you could call him that, of these gnostic truths is Carl Jung. You can’t know much about the archetypes unless you have personally experienced them. You can talk about them to others who have similar experiences, but you can’t apply modern scientific experimentation to determine their characteristics. So those of us who follow in the lineage of Carl Jung often find ourselves having to say “I don’t know”. What does this particular person’s dream mean? I don’t know, but let’s explore our associations with the images and see what shows up. There is often an “aha” experience which the dreamer has when an association “rings true”. Only the dreamer can say “Yes, that resonates”, because it is her dream and the dream is communicating with the dreamer. Often the dream facilitator learns things in the process of exploring the dreamer’s dream, but does he “know” what the dream means? Not really. The dream knows and the dreamer can come to understand what the dream is trying to show the dreamer. And the facilitator might be shown things as well by the dream. All this is possible, but would I say “I know”? Not really.
As that wise doctor Lucy was prone to say, “It’s a mystery, Charlie Brown.”