It was the spring of 1997. I remember seeing the guy in front of me in line at the Scotiabank but I gave it no extra thought at the time. It was only after everything happened and he started running away that my mind started spinning.
The whole thing went down fairly quietly. The guy got to the front of the line, passed the teller a note, his hand was in a paper bag and he said he had a gun, the teller gave him the money, and he ran away.
There are a few things that stood out to me that day. I remember the bank manager coming out to calm his employees. I remember that the first cop to show up was on his bike. I remember them shutting the glass doors and locking us all in, which certainly caught the attention of all the passers by, in the middle of the day.
Not much happened for a while until a detective showed up and started taking our statements one by one. When it was my turn he took me into a room and started asking me questions. Nothing too out of the ordinary but I was impressed at the level of detail he used in capturing my response. Every ‘um’ and ‘ah’ was written down.
After telling him it was a man, he asked me how old he was and I replied “older”. The detective asked “Why do you say that?” I replied that I have no idea.
And I didn’t. I never saw the man’s face. So how did I even know he was male? I just inferred he was a man from the clothes he was wearing. But why did I say he was old? He did sprint away after the robbery like he was on fire. The funny thing is that the officer totally accepted that reasoning.
Sometimes we just know things and can’t explain why.
But did I really KNOW that he was old? Or had I subconsciously gone through the exercise of eliminating all other reasonable possibilities.
There is a branch of philosophy that deals a term called ‘Contrastivism’ which suggests that knowledge doesn’t exist. That we can only know something once all other possibilities have been eliminated, but there will always be more possibilities. For instance can we be sure that someone is dead, or is it possible that they are in some kind of coma that perfectly imitates a dead person? For more details you can watch the video below.
Now lets take the perspective of another famous philosopher, Rene DesCartes. DesCartes wondered how we could be certain of anything at all. So he went through the exercise of abandoning all of his beliefs and then examining them each one by one before accepting them again. But what he found is that he could know nothing for sure. Our senses are the first place he looked to as a potential source of certainty, but anyone who saw that white & gold / black & blue dress from a few years ago knows that the senses are far from perfect. He ultimately & famously concluded “I think therefore, I am.” once he realized the only thing he can be sure of is that he was thinking. See a great 10 minute video on this topic below.
So if there is virtually nothing that we can be sure of in life, how is it that we move forward? And how come there are so many people with unshakable belief systems?
I think we seek solace in people who act so sure of themselves because deep down we know how much of a mystery everything is, and will always be, and that can cause us extreme anxiety. So when someone comes along claiming to know things for certain, well we’ll jump on that train in one second! Even if it is a sham.
My personal lesson from this is to try and live my life more based on my experiences right now, in this moment. In contrast to trying to figure it all out first, we instead need to act. And then let the response we get from “life” guide us in our next step. This means we have to accept our failures, we need to learn from our mistakes, and we need to forgive ourselves, and each other, every step of the way.
FYI, they caught the bank robber a couple of days later. And he was an older man.