| I had a conversation the other day with someone who was so absolutely certain about everything he believed that it actually amazed me. To be honest, it was less like a discussion that it was me listening to a diatribe, but that is how it usually goes with people who are absolutely convinced that they are right about absolutely everything and believe it with unwavering certainty. I always find these kind of exchanges interesting because often spend a great deal of time finding or inventing facts to support their position and I have to wonder how much of their lives they have devoted to the task. It seems exhausting and incredibly time consuming to me.
Personally, I find absolute certainty a terrific waste of time, particularly since I have found myself having to do total 180 degree turns more than once in my life in the face of new facts and information. Having been knocked off my high horse more than once, I have decided that it is far better to be flexible and as a consequence, I try hard to never say, “I know,” anymore and opt for “I think,” instead. Basically, I think all sorts of thinks but I probably don't know much of anything for sure. I have come to terms with being unsure about pretty much everything in life.
If you are paying attention you discover that very little seems to be carved in stone. I recently read that a paleontologist in Canada dug up the bones of a horse that were 700,000 years old. Apparently, this came as a big shock to the scientific community who had previously believed that horses had appeared on the planet a mere 40,000 years ago give or take. Of course, when you are talking about that amount of time in the history of life on this planet “give or take,” can mean a lot of thousand years or so in either direction. That's a big spread. They were able to date this particular set of bones based on where it appeared in the geological timeline as indicated by how far down they were found and what kind of soil and sediment was heaped on top of it. Geologists apparently know all about that kind of thing, or think they do. We may find horse bones, no matter how old, unimportant or uninteresting, but the relative age of the horse is not as enlightening as the fact that it was found and changed or completely wiped out all sorts of theories about our planet. In effect, the horsey bones completely altered what we thought we knew and that is what is important.
We think we know all sorts of things but in fact, we don't know much of anything. We only know what we've learned or been exposed to up to any given point. Every time we get to thinking we know our own planet something pops up that throws everything we think we know down the drain. They are regularly finding animals or insects that no one knew existed, bones of creatures that are entirely new, and fossils that no one has ever seen before. When it comes right down to it the oceans are overflowing with creatures that we had no idea whatsoever have been hanging around for hundreds of thousands of years. What we don't know about our own oceans would probably fill more volumes than what we think we actually do know. It's kind of mind-boggling if you think about it.
I am a big fan of archaeology and I have read a lot of articles about things that have been found recently thanks to advanced technology and the effects of climate change that were hitherto entirely unknown and challenge all sorts of ideas about the history of human civilization. When some scientist finds the remains of a beautifully laid out city that can be dated to thousands of years earlier than anyone thought cities even existed it kind of changes the whole story. The one good thing I can say about scientists is that they generally tend to admit that they were wrong in the face of overwhelming evidence, which is more than you can say about a lot of people. That's why they use words like “theory,” and “hypothesis,” a lot. If I were a scientist I'd make a point to cover my back as much as possible given that new stuff keeps popping up like weeds. That's why they frequently say things like, “As far as we know,” or “given the available evidence,” whenever they discuss their findings. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to commit to much of anything too enthusiastically when you aren't going to stop asking questions or looking for new stuff, particularly when inquiring minds are incapable of not looking for more evidence and information that is just as likely to destroy theories as support them.
I once watched a documentary about the universe with a scientist who said that what we actually know about the universe is equivalent to a drop of water in an ocean. I'll buy that, especially since what we seem to know about the oceans is roughly equivalent to a drop of water in them and the universe is a whole lot bigger.