Science, Uncertainty and Serenity

I don't worship science, but I sure enjoy it. Anything which sheds light on how little we know automatically has my ear. For every major discovery made by scientists, it seems that a whole new world of the unknown is opened up.

For instance, twenty years ago, after years of assuming that no life could exist in temperatures over the boiling point, scientists discovered deep on the ocean floor, in superheated water of over 500F, a bacteria that dies if the temperature goes down to the boiling point. Under the microscope, they saw that the structure of the bacteria was the same as that of any other--it simply was built to thrive at five hundred degrees.

For all of the advances in telescopes, astronomers still know virtually nothing about planets which may be orbiting stars other than the sun. They have, by deducing the planet's existence from the wobble of the star they orbit, determined that about 100 such planets are attached to the stars nearest us, but as yet they have not actually viewed a planet outside of our solar system. Their telescopes are not strong enough.

When you consider that there are 150 billion stars in our own galaxy, and at least 150 billion galaxies outside of our own, trillions of stars, each possibly holding a dozen planets in its orbit, the extent of our ignorance of the universe becomes plain.

Isaac Newton, whose work more than doubled our scientific knowledge, said at the end of his life that, for all he had accomplished, he had but examined a couple of grains of sand on the edge of a great ocean.

With knowledge of what we do not know comes wonder. I sieze upon evidences of what we don't know, perhaps because I have a nostalgia for the wonder of childhood, when new discoveries were so frequent and exciting. Stripped of wonder, we become world-weary. Preserving and nurturing wonder, dwelling upon the mysteries of the unknown rather than simply rearranging our certainties, is beneficial. Not only that, it is realistic. We really don't know much. Thinking we do know is to invite disease, a word which, when broken down, means lack of ease, or anxiety.

There is great comfort in not knowing, and admitting it to one's self. The search for certainty is a desperate and unrewarding quest. Those who think they have found certainty, by their defensiveness, reveal that they are merely clinging to a fragile hope. If they were truly certain, they wouldn't need others to come on board to validate their certainties.

That said, there is much that we do know, and it behooves us to look it in the face and attempt to absorb it, study it, think about the implications. The vast unknown is not an excuse to despair and hide. It is an invitation to explore and wander out ever further into the forest.