Knowing What and Knowing How

“Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

-Agent K, Men in Black

Any child knows that if they drop something that it will fall, even though with their imagination they can imagine a ball floating in the air it will fall to the ground. Without knowing the details of Newtonian physics it is something that they know will happen even if they don’t know why it will happen. That is why even something simple as a balloon is an amazing thing because it fuels their imagination as it floats in the air and seems to challenge the things that they know. As children we imagine ourselves like the balloon able to float in the air and wonder what we need to do to be able to fly. It breaks the limited rules of the fundamental universe that children are aware of and let’s them wonder about the “how”..

It’s Magic~

Throughout human history there are things that we’ve known because we see and experience them everyday. We know the sky is blue because we can look up and see it as blue, we know that the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening because we have experienced it every day of our lives. Initially because scientific knowledge had not advanced enough we explained such matters through stories or religions. These reasons soon became common knowledge and accepted as truth. Lightning flashed across the sky because of Zeus or Thor and the changing of the seasons was because of one god or another.

“If lightning is the anger of the gods, then the gods are concerned mostly about trees.”
Lao Tzu

Breath of Fresh Air

As science advanced many of the ‘hows’ or ‘whys’ challenged what was common and accepted thought, but mankind in generally began to realize and accept that there were natural laws and rules that governed our world and could be proven through science. While each culture and society had their own explanations one was no better than the other and each side clung to their own beliefs. Slowly though those beliefs began to erode as a single reason could be found to explain natural phenomenon that others could not refute.

Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cozy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigor, and the great spaces have a splendor of their own.

Bertrand Russell

The broader our base of knowledge became the easier it was to absorb and accept such ideas as the norm. I think trying to explain the concept of Earth as a round planet that revolves around the Sun in a solar system in a galaxy as part of the universe might be a bit too complex and farfetched of an idea were we to try to explain it to a pharaoh of Egypt as the truth, chances are we’d be executed as his base of accepted knowledge is limited in scope. He would already know the reason why the Sun rose in the morning as it was Ra making his journey across the sky to return to the Underworld in the evening. The same would apply if I took the idea of Ra to the Aztecs or the Aztec god Tonatiuh to Asia. Each culture and society had their own idea that was widely accepted and believed and each culture and society was wrong.

Doesn’t really resemble a chariot to me, but to each their own~

Trying to explain the sun as a giant ball of hot gases where hydrogen is being fused into helium probably wouldn’t save you. To each culture the idea of the different atoms of hydrogen and helium and nuclear fusion releasing huge amounts of energy as the Earth rotated around the Sun would be even more unbelievable than the idea of a Sun god.

Both you and Pharaoh know what is happening everyday, but cannot come to an agreement in ‘how’ or ‘why’ it is happening. Even the idea of the Earth being round would be rejected as he would simply state that you can clearly see it being flat. The shear size of the Earth and the curvature would not make any sense to him at all.

The Egyptians saw the sun and called him Ra, the Sun God. He rode across the sky in his chariot until it was time to sleep. Copernicus and Galileo proved otherwise, and poor Ra lost his divinity.

Ashwin Sanghi

You could jump ahead in time to the Romans and attempt the same thing and again your ideas would most likely be rejected. Maybe by the time of the Byzantine empire would the idea of the Sun not being a god begin to gain some traction and there would be some scientific ideas leftover from Aristotle to show a round Earth, but the Sun at the center of the solar system would most likely get you the same treatment as Galileo.

Clinging on to Old Ideas

Humanity has always needed to find an explanation of things and once explained they tend to hold onto that explanation regardless of whether it is right or wrong. Part of it is based on our need to have a stable platform of what we do and do not know. Any attack on our foundation makes us question everything that was built upon that foundation. The deeper the attack the more we do not want to accept it. When looking at something like family the levels of shock from hearing that your cousin was adopted, your uncle was adopted, your sister was adopted to you were adopted are very different as certain thoughts and beliefs on who you are as a person are built upon each one. In each case the same situation is occurring that someone is adopted, but the who changes your reaction dramatically as everything built on the original premise becomes unstable.

Looks Stable to Me~

Whether it is as a single entity realizing something new and shocking or something that is experienced as a group the reactions tend to be the same. The deeper and stronger the acceptance of the original concept is the greater the attempt at denial to the truth.

The reality is that chances are we will never understand everything. We will always have new questions that need answers and in many cases our current database of answers won’t work and we’ll need to make an effort to find new answers to these questions. Newtonian gravity while it explained how gravity worked, but when scientists started adding in different factors of velocity it failed. Only until Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity came to being was gravity explained further. The science of light and waves which we once thought had concrete answers has shown that there are still many questions that aren’t satisfactorily answered.

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.

Albert Einstein

As technology advances and our knowledge base grows we need to remember while humanity has advanced human nature at its base form is much the same. We are still afraid of something truly new and unexplainable. We try to put boundaries on new ideas using the old forms instead of accepting that there are truly things that we don’t know, yet. It is our initial nature to try to force things into answers we already know exist. Watching a baby with a toy of different shaped pegs and holes is an example of our very basic nature and the process of learning. If a baby is only given circular pegs they learn that it goes in the circular hole to the point it becomes automatic. They don’t even bother trying the other holes after a certain point. Give them a square peg and they will try the circle over and over again even though it doesn’t fit. Initially they may grow frustrated and discard the square peg, but after enough time they will realize that a square hole is there as well. Give them an oval peg and again they will go through the same process of the circle and square and then frustration. Trying options that we know have worked in the past such as the circular and square hole is not a problem in many cases the new piece will fit, but when the time comes that it doesn’t or to make it fit we need to force it a bit too much then before throwing the piece away or becoming frustrated we need to see if there are other answers out there for us.


Originally posted 2017-01-30 07:00:57.

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