Thoughts on Human Knowledge

Thoughts on Human Knowledge

We all live encased so comfortably in our own microscopic worlds which seem so important to us that it's easy to lose sight of the things that affect us but are not readily visible to our senses.  One of those things is knowledge of all things in the universe, of which we know but the tiniest fraction.

One of my favorite sayings is, "you don't know what you don't know, until you know you don't know it."  Basically it boils down to "ignorance is bliss." But to be aware of how much we truly do not know certainly would make us wiser.

I think there are four steps to mastering anything:  1) Unconscious Incompetence.  2) Conscious Incompetence.  3) Unconscious Competence. 4)  Conscious Competence.    And if you think about it, it makes sense.  At first someone is so gung-ho to get into a project, they have no idea what awaits them.  If they knew, they'd be much more reluctant to begin the task.  They find out quickly enough (stage 2).  Then they get good at it but don't yet have the self confidence to believe in themselves (step 3 - probably the best stage to be in, because we can all can get inflated egos in stage 4).

As a human race we have discovered so much, but there is so much more out there, and it's all surely right in front of our eyes, just like physics or calculus was, or, for example, the technological know-how to build a craft to reach the moon.  That knowledge was available for the taking 15,000 years ago, there were just no takers.  So what knowledge is available for our taking now?  What knowledge is out there that we're simply too primitive to grasp for -- even dream of?  Or as it may be for many of us, simply too comfortable in our routine lives to search out?

We make such incremental steps.  For all the leaps we humans are able to make, they are but skipping stones in a pond... or more aptly, a huge lake or ocean.  Our minds work by association.  Every single thing we know, we know because we can relate it to something else we know.  We are not capable of making a leap from something we know to something completely foreign to us.  If you don't believe me, imagine trying to explain a jet airplane to a person indigenous to the Amazon rain forest.   Sure, you could tell him you flew there, but would he believe you?  So you might relate it to the fact that birds can fly (just to prove to him that SOMETHING can fly... that flight is even possible).  And you might try to explain to him that if air travels over the top of a wing faster than on the bottom, it produces lift.  So MAYBE you could explain enough for him to believe in the concept of a jet airplane, but then how could you ever explain how a jet turbine works, or how the toilet in the plane works, or how the airplane's tires stay inflated ("you mean there's air inside the tires???  that's crazy! You cannot bottle air!")  [ok so it's nitrogen in airplane tires, but same difference...].

All these concepts would be so foreign to this person that it's amazing this person even has any genes related to the engineer who designed the airplane in the first place.  Then again, he probably knows how to fillet a fish in 20 different ways.  But the point is, we are ALL that Amazonian rainperson as we look out into the heavens.  We are so clueless that we don't even know how clueless we are.  (Side note:  Even the fact that I had to use an analogy to explain my point reinforces it - we on understand things through other things we already understand, like analogies).

I wish there were a way for us to jump over all the necessary incremental steps from Amazonian to Jet aircraft engineer in our quest to understand all those things that are greater than ourselves in our solar system & beyond.  Each little bit of knowledge may take someone a lifetime to cultivate, and I simply don't have the patience to wait!