How much really is known?

I often ponder how many layers of “knowing” may exist. After of a lot of informal reading and experimenting I’ve stuck my snout out into the world to share what I’m doing with the little bit I think I know. I’m a very well informed layperson. My learning has been selective and undisciplined. I am reliant on people with better educations than myself to share what they think they know in words that I can understand.

What I can know is very much limited by vocabulary. The hardest part of learning a new discipline is acquiring the lingo. Once the specialised words for different things is known, and the associations made with the the thing they refer to, everything just falls into place. How many people get to use “Locus coeruleus” in their day-to-day conversation. I hadn’t even heard the term until I was looking in a book for some words I didn’t know to illustrate this point. As it happens, the locus thingy is really important to us – it’s part of the noradrenergic diffuse modulatory system, which as far as I can understand, is the brain’s large scale communication system, distributing general status information throughout the CNS.

Tomorrow when I’m reading I’ll have a few new words, and a whole new phrase, that I understand sufficiently well to be able to read the next level of information on the subject.

Knowledge is a tower built on words. The higher ramparts may be math, but even math depends upon being able to describe the variables. Quite a few high-profile scientists have turned to the popular press to share their theories. I wonder how they feel as they decide what level of ‘general knowledge’ to pitch at. In the subjects I’m a little familiar with, I cringe at the generalisations, simplifications and plain evasions that appear in pop-sci literature. Intellectual censorship. Intellectual snobbery?

You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! And indeed, I cannot. If I were exposed to the best approximation of the truth currently available, I would not be able to understand its proofs. I would have to take the word of the ‘recognised’ authority in the field. I only have to look at science a few layers above my own education to reach a place where I have to take their words on faith.

Scientific method is self-correcting and acknowledges errors, yada yada. I can’t bring myself to start enumerating examples of where both religion and science have and have not made significant course changes. At the upper echelons of academia and religion we find the outer realms of “I don’t know.” When I say I don’t know, I’m in extremely good company. When some of these people at the pinnacles of knowledge say the don’t know, they actually mean, “This is currently unkown.”

I wonder if there is a body which administers higher truth? Is it possible that at some level there is a compassion that sees that we would not be happier if we knew certain things?

Faith, trust, understanding, wisdom – they’re quite inextricably linked. When I go venturing in my mind and come back with what seems to me to be a gem, whose words do I take as gospel in assaying its worth?


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  • Anonymous  On August 22, 2009 at 12:44 am

    Ignorance is bliss but searching and finding ‘the truth’ is ecstasy.

  • WillieG  On August 22, 2009 at 12:45 am

    Sorry I forgot to add my name — Ignorance is bliss but searching and finding ‘the truth’ is ecstasy.

  • Jingle  On December 5, 2009 at 5:43 am

    your link popped in mine and here I am, try to connect with you.

    I write poems some times, for fun!

    bless you!

    • CraigT  On December 5, 2009 at 7:54 am

      Thanks for stopping by!
      As a wordlover myself, it’s good to see a site celebrating words for their own sake.

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