We Don’t Know that We Don’t Know

Not surprisingly, if you know either of us, Maria and I spend a great deal of time exchanging ideas. In one of her latest blog posts, she wrote about a recent BBC, Horizon broadcast entitled “Is Everything We Know About the Universe Wrong?” (Spoiler Alert: Yes.) If you haven’t seen the 1-hour video, or her review, check out Maria’s blog linked above.

In short, she laughs along, as did I, at cosmologists’ dying love declarations regarding their Universal Theory, which has recently been torn to shreds, mainly because none of the data fits the model. Now, knowledge being what it is, our Sciencers are undeterred, and keep tweaking their maths by adding things like “ΘKμ + (1-β), where ∃=∂” which is boffin-speak for “there exists something different, but we don’t know what the heck it is.”

Basically, if you add enough Greek symbols people won’t notice that your theory bombed. Now, I’m not criticizing the scientists, given I consider myself as much a scientist as an artist. The idea we could explain the universe multiverses less than two decades after we started gathering good data was preposterous. We built our house of cards on Einstein’s back, without ever considering that his “genius” was really not much smarter than the average NASA hot shot. In other words, dude guessed wrong. So what, you say?

Einstein_laughing

In terms of the big picture, it’s no big deal. but it does point out something that M has been preaching at saying to me since we met: truth is fiction. In fact, much of what we think we “KNOW” is only a compendium of theories that has reached a critical mass. When enough “smart people” tell you something is true, you begin to be fooled into thinking they know what they’re talking about. They don’t. There are no experts. There’s no such thing as people who know more than you. There are only people who know what is accepted as truth, and that is temporal.

Said simpler, no one is more knowledgeable than you–they are only more knowledgeable than you are NOW. Whether that state continues is up to you.

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 3.29.55 PMAs I watched the video of the cosmeticians cosmologists clinging to the life raft of their theory amidst a sinking ship, laughing at the bits I’m sure my partner laughed at, a theory of the 4 Stages of Knowing came to mind (above).

In Stage 1, we are as smart as humans ever get, because we know that we don’t know. We are open, we learn, we take wild-ass guesses. (Some years back I guessed that our universe is a small part of an expanding bundle of multiverses. Guess what?…) Then, a tragedy inevitably happens–some reknowned Nobelite comes up with a unifying theory that none of the other scientists can refute. Since they don’t know enough to prove the theory is wrong, it is accepted as being RIGHT. Soon, we are full-on in Stage 2, and the theory is taught in school to our innocent children, and within mere years, EVERYBODY KNOWS. Sure, there are some anomalies: data splats, where observations don’t match the theory, but they’re minor and can be explained away. Harrumph! Harrumph! Theory re-proved.

Now, let’s pause here a bit, shall we? We’ve proved NOTHING. We’ve observed little to nothing. Yet, we know the truth. There are two names for this phenomenon. One, of course, is unifying theory (or scientific consensus). The other is group think. The problem with Stage 2 is that at this point we’ve forgotten that we don’t know. We confuse hypotheses that we don’t have the data to refute with an affirmation of truth. That’s like my saying because you can’t prove Santa Claus didn’t die in the desert, then we now know that he did. My proof? The fact that no one has definitively found him alive anywhere. Obviously, he’s dead, and where else would he be but the desert, given he was used to cool climes. Those trips over Death Valley did him in.

Negative non-proof is not proof, my friends. Just because someone shouts a “truth” doesn’t make it truer than your whisper. It’s like art: most successful artists were at some point proven by critics to have no talent. We all know they suck, right until more data splats happen and we’re right in Stage 3. Voilà! That crappy writer sold a jillion books. Campbell’s soup is art. That one-eared clown is not so bad after all. Or suddenly, there is a technological breakthrough and we can test our UNIVERSAL THEORY OF THE ALL in earnest. And guess what happens? That’s right, the data don’t match the theory. So what do we do?

Generally, we award a Nobel Prize to the final nail-hammering, theory-burying data splat finder, Prof. Heretic. Our theory is broken. Dinosaurs aren’t cold-blooded or warm-blooded. The universe is composed of 96% stuff, but we don’t know what that stuff is. Galaxies don’t behave according to the Laws of Physics. Science is a bunch of silly myths. But this doesn’t turn without a fight–oh no. Experts get heated in Stage 3, telling you the reason you don’t believe their theory anymore is that you’re too stupid/heretical/unteachable/untalented to understand it. You aren’t smart enough to know. However, while untruths will spread, the truth of their falsity is innate. We know the lie, once exposed to the light of day.

So now, good people we are in Stage 4, which is remarkably like Stage 1, except that you’re likely to see either 1) scientists/preachers/teachers/experts continually patching the broken theories/gospels/textbooks/knowledge, or the Truly Smart One admitting, “We only know that we don’t know.”

Knowledge is power, they say. You know what’s even more power? Having the knowledge that truths are always innate but often unobservable.

Getchu summa dat, Boffins.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “We Don’t Know that We Don’t Know

  1. It was a funny show wasn’t it? You get why I found it so amusing. It made me laugh not because I felt like a smart arse having known all along that all truth is a fiction, but because what that implies is that anything is possible, and that thought makes me giggle like the idiot savant that I am. You see, that’s the bit that everybody misses when you tell them, or they happen to realise, that there is no such thing as truth. Most people resort to panic and feelings of unease as if their whole world has suddenly ground to a halt and stopped having any meaning.

    “What, are you telling me that everything is a lie?”, they’ll ask.

    “No, you bunch of nincompoops…well yes…but it doesn’t mean that what you know is of any less value, and cannot be directly applied to your daily lives as a perfectly reasonable working model. Don’t confuse notions of truth with value, two different things.” I would tell them.

    Then I would continue to point out that what it really means is that there are no restrictions to creativity, that the world and imagination so full of all their unknowable stuff opens up opportunities for exploration and innovation the likes of which really don’t need to be waited out by empirical mediocrity, which tends to be somewhat tardy on the uptake as it is. I mean, what is the point of all this imperial data if at the end of it, it amounts to proving nothing? The world is your oyster as they say. What you think, goes. Any possible theory that you can come up with is just as salient and workable given the right impetus to find out.”

    “Ah, but that’s dangerous talk.” They might say.

    “Tsk! Only if you intend to be dangerous with it. If it breaks a few tired, outworn and oppressive rules in the process, then what’s wrong with that? There will always be advantages and disadvantages to all potential outcomes. And the last time I looked, that a certain duality in our reality exists seems to be a thing that both I and the scientists happen to agree on. Matter versus Dark Matter for example. Night and day, left and right n’all that. Maybe it’s just a human disposition? Still, the point is”, I would conclude, “that anything you can conceive of in your marvellous mind (wherever that is exactly) is perfectly acceptable, and quite possible given the current odds as proposed by the boffins, and by the simple knowledge that, as Bill quite rightly says: you can only know what you don’t know.”

    There.

    Mr. Jones, you rock. I love your diagrams btw. Genius!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on IshaiyaFreshlySqueezed and commented:
    It was a funny show wasn’t it? You get why I found it so amusing. It made me laugh not because I felt like a smart arse having known all along that all truth is a fiction, but because what that implies is that anything is possible, and that thought makes me giggle like the idiot savant that I am. You see, that’s the bit that everybody misses when you tell them, or they happen to realise, that there is no such thing as truth. Most people resort to panic and feelings of unease as if their whole world has suddenly ground to a halt and stopped having any meaning.

    “What, are you telling me that everything is a lie?”, they’ll ask.

    “No, you bunch of nincompoops…well yes…but it doesn’t mean that what you know is of any less value, and cannot be directly applied to your daily lives as a perfectly reasonable working model. Don’t confuse notions of truth with value, two different things.” I would tell them.

    Then I would continue to point out that what it really means is that there are no restrictions to creativity, that the world and imagination so full of all their unknowable stuff opens up opportunities for exploration and innovation the likes of which really don’t need to be waited out by empirical mediocrity, which tends to be somewhat tardy on the uptake as it is. I mean, what is the point of all this imperial data if at the end of it, it amounts to proving nothing? The world is your oyster as they say. What you think, goes. Any possible theory that you can come up with is just as salient and workable given the right impetus to find out.”

    “Ah, but that’s dangerous talk.” They might say.

    “Tsk! Only if you intend to be dangerous with it. If it breaks a few tired, outworn and oppressive rules in the process, then what’s wrong with that? There will always be advantages and disadvantages to all potential outcomes. And the last time I looked, that a certain duality in our reality exists seems to be a thing that both I and the scientists happen to agree on. Matter versus Dark Matter for example. Night and day, left and right n’all that. Maybe it’s just a human disposition? Still, the point is”, I would conclude, “that anything you can conceive of in your marvellous mind (wherever that is exactly) is perfectly acceptable, and quite possible given the current odds as proposed by the boffins, and by the simple knowledge that, as Bill quite rightly says: you can only know what you don’t know.”

    There.

    Mr. Jones, you rock. I love your diagrams btw. Genius!

    Like

Type it. You know you want to.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s