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What We Don’t Know

Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, on the need for intellectual humility:

Einstein averred that “the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible”. He was right to be astonished. It seems sur­prising that our minds, which evolved to cope with life on the African savannah and haven’t changed much in 10,000 years, can make sense of phenomena far from our everyday intuitions: the microworld of atoms and the vastness of the cosmos. But our comprehension could one day “hit the buffers”. A monkey is unaware that atoms exist. Likewise, our brainpower may not stretch to the deepest aspects of reality. The bedrock nature of space and time, and the structure of our entire universe, may remain “open frontiers” beyond human grasp. Indeed, our everyday world presents intellectual challenges just as daunting as those of the cosmos and the quantum, and that is where 99 per cent of scientists focus their efforts. Even the smallest insect, with its intricate structure, is far more complex than either an atom or a star.

This is why science can never be a complete way of knowing. For many things, it’s the best way of knowledge that we have, but that’s not the same thing as saying that it is a complete and exclusive way of knowledge.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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