Friday, December 15, 2006

Maintaining a Sense of Uncertainty

I like to tell people I don't believe that man has been to the moon. I'm actually moon agnostic. When I look at how far every other technology has advanced in the last 40 years and the amount of trouble we have getting shuttles up and orbiting the planet, I do have my suspicions. I'm kidding. Ok, I'm not.

The bigger questions I am teasing out when I play this game with myself and others is "why do I believe what I believe?" and "have I left room for other possibilities?"

The debate over evolution is raging once again in this country. On one side is a group of people, most of whom are not scientists, have never studied the primary research and probably do not have the aptitude to draw proper conclusions from the research if they did. Despite that, they vehemently defend evolution and mock creationists as fools who believe things simply because they "read it in a book'.

On the other side you have a group of people who are sure they have a better line into the mystical workings of the universe. Their study of theology and thorough knowledge of scripture is, I'm sure, equally lacking.

Both sides are probably wrong, at least incrementally. History teaches us that there are no theories that are above revision and its only a matter of years before the best theories seem hopelessly outdated. Newtonian physics explained some of the physical workings of the universe. Einsteins theories more so, but only at certain scales. Last I checked there weren't any areas in the sciences where all the work was completed and they closed shop. The case for natural selection and adaptation seem pretty compelling but an understanding of the origins of life and the universe is another story.

What deserves a deeper level of cultural inquiry is why there is such a violent lack of tolerance for the beliefs of others and the dysfunctional, dogmatic sense of certainty that everyone possesses.

Intelligent debates would attempt to frame questions like "how do you establish education policies that accommodate multiple perspectives". But that's not what's happening.

As one who finds it much more interesting to laugh at the foolish shortsightedness on both sides of such broad cultural debates I get a sick pleasure from stories and discoveries that create cultural and intellectual disruptions. Watching new information lay waste to shared knowledge and volumes of work is akin to that moment in "Don't Spill the Beans" or "Don't Break the Ice" when everything goes to hell. Part of it is just the anarchist in me and part of it is knowing that sometimes that's what it takes to create room for new possibilities.

Here are two such stories from the past year.

Lost city 'could rewrite history"

Underwater world: Man's doing or nature's? Researchers come across mysterious shapes on the sea bottom just west of Cuba. Patterns suggest an ancient civilization.

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