Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

What do we know?

Wick's World

 


One of life’s most remarkable observations came out of the mouth of a loathsome man, who for the most part, I spent my life detesting. I will, however, grant him this noteworthy quote:

"There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know." - Donald Rumsfeld

A friend of mine named Cheryl Strayed once referred to Rumsfeld’s famous citation. You may remember her as the celebrated author from McGregor, Minnesota. She wrote the New York Times best seller about her trek across the Pacific Crest Trail. She was trying to reclaim a life from the despair in which she found herself following the sudden death of her mother. Most of us remember Cheryl for the book she titled, “Wild,” and the subsequent Oscar-nominated movie of the same name starring Reese Witherspoon.

Cheryl’s recognition of the famous Rumsfeld quote was to be found in a subsequent New York Times best-seller of Strayed’s called, “Tiny Beautiful Things.” While making a point about what people really know or don’t know, Cheryl led into Rummy’s quote in this way: “For most of you who know me, you realize that I would rather be sodomized by a pink flamingo lawn ornament than vote for a Republican but,” and this is a large but.

She grasped that what Rumsfeld said required some deep thinking just to understand what it was he actually said. The implications of his statement run long and deep. Both as individuals and as the human species as a whole, what we do know changes every hour, every minute and every second of every day. Some things we know collectively as a species. For example, we know that the sun rises and sets every 24 hours, whether we can always visually see it or not. We know some of us are males, some of us are females and in rare instances, even with this "known," the line drawn in the sand can become slightly murky.

As for individuals, some of us know vastly more amounts of information than others. Take Albert Einstein, for example. How many of us were willing to spend most of our waking moments scribbling on a chalkboard until we discovered the workings of the universe could be explained by erasing the board, leaving only this small equation: e=mc2?

How about Einstein’s modern day successor, Elon Musk? As a young child in South Africa, Musk not only read every book in his school library, including a set of encyclopedias, with his photographic memory, he remembered everything he read. His vision of life is so huge that he not only dramatically shot a satellite into space, he returned the rockets that got the space cargo out there and gently set them back down on the pad that launched them. He already has launched the car of the future, the Tesla. I have enough faith in the man that I gave him a thousand dollars just to get my place in line for when my car becomes available.

These are some of the things we know. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is in the gray area, even if the proof is in the pudding. We know man has walked on the moon; or has he? Was the moon landing a giant fraud using mockups and trick cameras? Except for a handful of flatlanders, we know the earth is round. A millennium ago, almost all humans believed the earth was flat.

We know that a lot of humans believe there is a God. We also know that a lot of people believe that there is no such thing as God. So do we only know that we don’t really know if we know?

Science is the medium where humans place facts in the Petri dish of Earth in order to increase what we think we know. These known facts increase mankind’s knowledge allowing us to advance as a species. For example, it is increasingly obvious that today’s climate is changing at such a rapid pace that the repercussions are observable. But do we know this for certain or do some of us think we know science is not the set of truths it is supposed to be?

We know AR-15s shoot a lot of bullets at a very rapid rate and they are very easy to purchase. Yet we also know that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. We seem to have as hard a time regulating the purchase of AR-15s as we do regulating people. And we can’t even agree if that is a good thing or not. Folks, we still have a lot to learn before we know what we think we know. I realize I have tossed a lot of material at the wall of the human intellect and the one thing I know is for certain: some of it will stick and some of it will slide down the slippery slope of unreasonable reason.

The one thing we do know: we’ll never know anything for certain.

 

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