Socrates, the philosopher, supposedly said that the only true wisdom lies in knowing that you know nothing.
I must be really wise, then.
It is humbling, really, to be able to work with a research project of a magnitude that whenever I think I almost have the hang of it, I only discover that there are new things popping up. Things I haven't considered. Things I really should consider. I keep getting the feeling that I could easily devote my life to writing my thesis, and it still would never be entirely done.
I started out, two years ago, knowing nothing more about the Middle East and the conflict(s) there than the average newspaper reader does. I dived into the subject - took out every book there was in the library, and even managed to read some of them. I copied off articles to read. I wrote a project proposal. I held a "test lecture" for two professors as part of my exams. I did everything I could to make sure I knew everything I had to know about what was going to become the topic of my master's thesis.
And yet. Every time I opened a new book there was a new aspect. Something I hadn't thought about. Something that changed my perception of what I was working on completely - over and over again. No matter how deep I penetrated the problems I was working with, I continued to return to my starting point. There was still much more I didn't know about this conflict than what I did know.
I wrote a chapter. I read some more. I went to the US, where I spent the greater part of my time in an archive. I've read through thousands of documents. I've categorized them, analyzed them, written about them. I've read more books. I've written more chapters. I've talked to professors, and fellow students and other who have worked with this conflict.
I have done everything that was possible for someone with my resources and capacity to understand the topic of my thesis, and to make it comprehensible for others. Looking back, I can see my learning curve has been steep. Reading my first project proposal makes me cringe, because I am now able to see flaws, inconsistencies and imprecise formulations in every paragraph.
Despite this, however, I still feel like there are light-years to go. There are more books and articles and papers than I can fathom written about the very thing I try to make sense of. Then why in the world am I trying to write another one? I have no idea. I am supposed to have a brilliant answer to that, and it is supposed to go on page 8, circa, of my introduction chapter, which currently is a mess.
Regardless of all my hard work - or because of it, actually - I am still left with the feeling that I know nothing. I suspect that this is the way it will be. And I'm starting to wonder if it isn't also how it's supposed to be. The more I learn, the deeper I go in my research, I will only find that there is more left to explore. I will never reach a total understanding of the conflict I am supposed to be an expert of - nor would I of any other subject. It's just not possible. The more I search for answers, the more questions I come up with.
In the end, isn't that what research is all about? Perhaps Socrates had it right?