Knowing What We Don’t Know

Ever found yourself starting out to find one thing on the Internet, only to spend hours wandering down various Google Holes chasing interesting rabbits?

While Googling the source of a quote today, one of the search results caught my attention. It was an article titled, “50 Things we know now that we didn’t know this time last year” by Jeff Houck. He cites 50 examples of how we think we know what we know, until something comes along that shows us we didn’t know we didn’t know it until we knew it. Whew!

In short, Mr. Houck describes how we go along in life, certain that everything is the way we believe it is…until some revelation comes that changes our view.

A few examples of things we didn’t know last year at this time:

  • One mutated gene is the reason humans have language, and chimpanzees, our closest relative, do not.
  • Scientists have discovered how to scan brain activity and convert what people are seeing or remembering into crude video images.
  • The thrill of driving a sports car makes the body produce more testosterone. The findings suggest a biological explanation for why some men buy a sports car when struck by a “midlife crisis.”
  • The human body emits a glow that is 1,000 times less than what our eyes can detect.
  • More than 350 new animal species were discovered in the eastern Himalayas, including the world’s smallest deer and a flying frog.

The list reminds me that whatever I think I know, I might be wrong. Being open to other points of view is a challenge, but I find that if I spend more time listening to understand and less time proving my point, the better I am at getting along in life.

This is why I grow so tired of politicians of all stripes. They all speak with a toxic certainty, with no room for discussion or negotiation. “We’re right, and they’re wrong” is the mantra of our elected officials. But as we’ve seen in the current drama in Washington DC, differences seem more important than similarities. Most of the health care wheeling and dealing in the fall was to get Democrats in line, not to enlist Republicans.

Not that this is anything new. Will Rogers once said, “I’m not a member of any organized party. I’m a Democrat.”

And so, I take some comfort in knowing that if we are sure of something today, we might not be tomorrow. Again, nothing new. Back in about 500 BC, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus opined that “There is nothing permanent except change.”

One more thing from Mr. Houck’s list: surfing the Internet may help delay dementia because it creates stimulation that exercises portions of the brain.

Well, in that case, back down the Google Hole!


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