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The Unknown Knowns

For most of history, superstition and mythical beliefs flourished to work as a placeholder for the unknown causes in the cause-effect game. All unknown phenomena and events were attributed to actions of mythical creatures and deities. A lot of stories were told around these events: extreme weather, earthquakes, eclipses, etc. However there was always this sense of humbleness in front of, and projection of majesty and might onto mythical creatures and deities. This surrendering to the mighty powers and resolving to seek comfort under their merciful umbrella was a substantial source of human relief.

Since the dawn of recorded history, it is fascinating to see how humans were so fixated on unlocking the keys to understand the universe around them. This magnificent pursuit is very much embodied in every trace of human actions and efforts that have reached us. Whether through written manuscripts, folk tales, drawings on cave walls, or monuments, it is very evident that the human race was invested in discovering, or inventing, a working descriptive and predictive model of the world.

And then it was said: Let there be enlightenment! And slowly but surely humanity started to crawl its way out of these ancient beliefs into a more “rational” understanding of the cosmos. This was powered by great breakthroughs in numerous scientific and industrial fields. Which served to both refine and enhance the long pursued model of the world and, more importantly, give the collective human self-esteem a significant boost. This resulted in allowing the human element to gradually replace the previously worshiped deities and sit on the throne of causality, or at least share it with whatever newly sought deities mischievously named in a seemingly nonreligious manner: Universe, Mother Nature, or whatever.

So far so good, except for a very small crack that will eventually declare the modernistic approach as a general failure and start a new more critical view with a hint of (only superficial) nihilism: postmodernism. To be honest, the writer is ignorant on both subjects and cannot provide a nice and coherent review and compare/contrast piece on them. However, the writer will spite the following claim: it is apparent that modernism was tainted with a deterministic understanding of the universe, and all human efforts were to “crack the code”. This code cracking approach was all over the place from biology and medicine, to physics and chemistry, and of course the most complex human psychology. And it is apparent that scientism, the new undercover religion, has failed humanity when it came to digging deep and providing the fully operational model.

Now this wild claim of failing humanity in this endeavor might seem absurd. And it really is! If we are talking about the human perception, read illusion, of the advancement in knowledge then absurd it is. However, a true reflective inspection on any “advancement” in cracking the code will allow an observer to see the cracks, in the approach itself. This is very evident in humanities and the like. For example, all attempts in the field of psychology are very fixated on applying a model of the human psyche and trying to explain and predict human actions and interactions with the world based on that model. Most importantly, this is done in a deterministic manner. It is nice to see how each school is very sharp when it comes to identifying the flaws and shortcomings of other schools, but quite naive in adopting a narrow minded deterministic model just like the rest.

This is not to say that all the attempts are fruitless. However, what we must be weary of is the reductionist element in play. With curiosity as a fuel, the deepest trenches of human existence are the limit. The only caveat is not to be locked within the reductionist approach.

It seems that as we move forward in history, we are constantly opening new doors into the pandora box that is ourselves. The possibilities are endless, and this is an issue for the reductionist mind. It is quite amusing that this “reductionism” handles the unknown by casting ‘randomness’ as a placeholder for all observables that do not fit within the various adopted models. Although on the cognitive level, randomness does not fly, simply because the human race is identified with stories and cannot accept a random element as part of the game.

All this somewhat lengthy description of the status quo is to make a simple yet powerful claim. What if we are doing it wrong to begin with? What if what we define as “knowledge” is not only limited to the human brain/ mind/ cognition/ perception can view and process? Just lay back, close your eyes, and try to examine some interactions or observations you make. Sometimes, in many situations you will find there are unidentified indications that will drive your decision in a certain area, or shed light on a truth. A tiny subset of these revelations will appear to be uninformed, more importantly unaligned wth your known cognitive biases and way of thought. Simply, Out side your understandlable domain.

You will most probably find that there was an unknown bias, an unknown intuition, that has led you to decision, conclusion, maybe even an epiphany. It seems that there are some unknown things laying around in our deepest thoughts and tuitions, helping us navigate and observe this cosmos without us knowing. This is a thought that deserves a little pondering. Thinking about the unknown, yet known.