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.
K, The Men in Black
Knowledge is actually pretty fluid when you think about it. Not only objective knowledge, but situational understanding. Conceptualizations. Mental models. Memory. The analogies you use, simplified similes, polarized dichotomies.
All of it, transitory, slightly opaque, and slippery as sand under your feet.
Try it yourself. Ask, “What am I absolutely sure of?” If you take the exercise to its logical conclusion, it won’t be much. And what’s more, what little you are sure of, won’t remain the same if you asked yourself that question in a year.
Science & Philosophy
Science used to be practically the same as philosophy. When you think about it, they both construct models of how the universe works. Descartes was as much a scientist as Newton was a philosopher.
They both used logic, a tradition passed down from the Greeks, to create complex systems of theories predicated on “facts”.
For instance, planets wander around the night’s sky in a circular motion, as do the moon and the sun. Therefore, the earth is the centre of the universe. Q.E.D., right?
In fact, all of how we interact with the world is through the lense of a mental model we have about how the world works. This isn’t inherently good or bad… there’s just no way around it, frankly.
The trick is just to remember that mental models get outdated. And not to resist updating them in light of new knowledge. Even better would be to proactively test your models regularly to make sure they still work. But I’ll be honest with you; that’s tougher than hell to do, and even if you’re meticulous about it, you’ll still have blind spots you can drive a bus through. Not that it’s not a worthy aim or anything, but don’t get all evangelical about it either.
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