How can we take history’s greatest thinkers seriously when they were so oblivious to basic facts about the human situation? Future generations will almost certainly think the same of us, while snickering behind their hands at the primitive absurdities that today we believe unquestioningly, and dismissing the silly ideas that we build on top of our grand ignorance.
There are no uncharted lands waiting for ships to find their shores, and few if any untasted fruits waiting for human lips. Many grand mysteries of the Universe have been cracked open by science, from the makeup of matter on Earth to the nature of the stars in the sky. The child who marvels at the adventures of Magellan or wonders about how the Universe works might worry: What is left for me to discover?
Our answer should be: Well, almost everything.
While we have made tremendous strides in mapping the planet and the cosmos, there are still vast tracts of unexplored scientific territory. Much of life on Earth, from the ocean’s depths to the microbiome in our guts, remains unknown. And the largest cosmic questions are still unanswered: How big is the Universe? What is 95 percent of the Universe made of? What happened before the Big Bang? Why does time move only forward? Does space have more than three dimensions? Is there life beyond Earth?
Even the tiniest particles inside the atom hold perplexing puzzles that elude today’s greatest thinkers: Why do we have anti-matter? Why does every particle have two heavy cousins? How many particles are there? Is there a single tiny particle (or string) that makes up all of matter?
Is it any wonder that religious truth eludes us so completely that it can only exist, whatever its creed, on faith - on suspension of disbelief? The same holds for most of our orthodoxies to some extent. Authoritarianism is a belief- and suspicion-based ideology and yet it is widely embraced by its aherents with fierce certainty.
It's good to remind ourselves from time to time that, even among the ranks of the brightest of us, no matter how informed or well-intentioned we're really just dumbasses at the end of the day.