What We Know. What We Don’t know. And the Things That We Don’t Know, We Don’t Know.
Since the Neolithic times, we have dramatically increased our knowledge. Buckminster Fuller, the creator of the geodesic dome, kicked out of Harvard twice, came up with the doubling time curve of knowledge. We now double our known facts each year, and that rate is growing exponentially. Despite that, we really don’t see a fraction of what needs to be understood. We cannot predict what will happen, but we can predict the odds of what will happen, although the “experts” are often wrong. Seventeen Nobel Laureates in Economics have expected that our inflationary economy will be short-lived. But it continues to live and so far is far from short. Over the past 12 months, inflation has been accelerating every month. Overall prices are higher by 6.2% on average for all consumer items, but gasoline has gone up nearly 50%, and world food prices have gone up 30%.
Covid-19 has been said to be defeated several times, yet just like the monster in the movies when we thought it had been killed, it rears its ugly head over and over. After all, it is a virus’s job to mutate. Darwin laid down the rules of evolution in his book On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, 162 years ago. A living organism constantly changes its DNA (mutates) through various mechanisms, natural copying errors, environmental factors that can alter the genetic code by changing the DNA sequence through a multitude of chemical actions, or radiation. Once a change occurs, it is then passed on to the next generation. Most mutations wind up on the trash heap of useless junk mutations. Occasionally a mutation will kill its host organism, like cancer, one of the more common mutations, but sometimes it makes the organism stronger (gain of function). That mutation replicates repeatedly until it replaces all the organisms from then on to the new and better version. In humans, it takes a long time to go from Neanderthal to Homo sapiens, hundreds of thousands of years. In viruses that happens rather quickly, days to weeks, and voilà, you have a better virus, the Omicron virus, for example. It could be able to latch on to our lung cells quicker. It could be resistant to our vaccines. It could be better at killing us off, etc. That, of course, would eventually lead to the virus itself losing strength as it eliminates its reservoir of victims. That factor played a part in the eventual weakening of the 1918 Flu, the Spanish Flu. It just took killing 100,000,000 of us! In a perverted way, the anti-vaxxers might be doing us a favor. The fewer chances the virus has to replicate, the less likely it is to mutate.
SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, was set up by NASA in 1982 by the efforts of Carl Sagan. He convinced Congress of its value. There are an estimated 400 billion galaxies in the Universe, and each galaxy has 100 billion stars. That makes 40 to the 21st power or 40 sextillions. We now know that many, if not most, stars have planets. Just our galaxy is thought to have 60 billion planets that could support life. The odds are relatively high that some world somewhere in the universe has life on it. Steven Hawkins was not too enthusiastic about finding that planet. He thought that the likelihood of their being superior to us was overwhelming. If they came to earth, they would treat us like we treat all the animal life on earth, i.e., we would become alien food. How do canned Homo sapiens sound?
We have two forms of government, Capitalism based on individual ingenuity and effort to create wealth, and Communism based on communal efforts to work together to create the worker’s paradise. There are permutations and combinations of those two forms that modulate more of one or the other ingredient to create multiple styles of government. With democracy, it is easy to govern when 90% want this, and 10% want that. It becomes problematic when it is 50/50, as so many issues are now. The tyranny of 50% plus .001% makes it challenging. Our biggest problems now include vaccination, abortion, elections, prosecution of crime, race, and more. Marcus Aurelius was the philosopher-king in Rome who ruled justly with wisdom. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, and no one has yet been found to replace him. Others who have tried have failed miserably, one too many concentration camps and gulags, thousands of extrajudicial killings. Communism’s fatal flaw takes away the individual’s incentive for being better. On the other hand, it has no problems enforcing what the “Central Committee” has decided what is best for us. But as Winston Churchill so eloquently said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others!” As bad as rule by the many is, it is still better than all those others, which have been proven over and over as so many countries have abandoned the rule of one or even rule by the “Central Committee.”
We still have not hit on the perfect system that is the answer to all problems. Also, there is a set of issues that have a lot of controversies, such as global warming, for example. Listening to arguments on both sides, I walk away often more confused than I was before I heard “all” the evidence from the experts, with no convincing explanation that is comprehensible, especially when it emanates from individuals who are not authorities on the subjects such as defrocked former Vice Presidents who predicted the disappearances of arctic ice by 2016, the melting of many glaciers including M. Kilamanjaro by 2014 and rise of oceans by 20 feet washing away our coastal cities that are still there or ex-bartenders tuned congresspeople from Brooklyn who gives us just another 8 years of survival before we are doomed.
There is a vast body of knowledge where we don’t even know the names of the issues that we have and not even the faintest idea of what they are, the biological mysteries of life, of space, of cancer, of the mind, of brain function, of artificial intelligence, of quantum physics, why life exists at all, and more. These worry me the most… the things we don’t know that we don’t know.