Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What do YOU know?

There are a lot of things we could know. Our brains are very small. Can we know it all? Can we even get close? Should we ever stop trying?

Colossal Knowledge

The latest guess is there are about 9,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (twenty-one zeros) stars in the universe.  Our brains contain about 100,000,000,000 (eleven zeros) individual memory cells.  We can not even dedicate one brain cell to each trillion stars.  The amount of information in the universe overwhelms even our ability to understand it.

In a grain of sand, there are roughly 10,000,000,000,000,000 (sixteen zeros) atoms.  Our brains do not even have the capacity know about all the atoms in a single grain of sand.  

Lucky then for us there appear to be patterns in the universe.  More accurately, our brains think they observe patterns in the vastness. 

Assuming the patterns repeat, we make mental models that help us clutch at the unknowable.

Thinking all stars are similar we can put our minds around the idea of how stellar processes work.

Judging all atoms by patterns, we consider we have understanding about grains of sand.

We humans have horded knowledge using our patterns.  Each of us knows a little.  Our brains each holding pieces of knowledge about the universe.  Combing the knowledge in all our brains together, we know much more.  Even the total sum of human knowledge no way approaches all that could be known.  It may never.

Knowledge and Fiction

We can never know a thing itself.  We can only sense it remotely.  I do not know what it is to be a baseball.  I am not a baseball, nor will I ever be one. I can never really know the baseball.  Making assumptions based on patterns, I understand enough things about the baseball to make it useful in my existence.

Truth, what actually is, exists externally to our minds.  Patterns in our brains allow us to have beliefs about what truth is.  Our beliefs, when true, are knowledge.

We learn many patterns, some we know to be false, while others fit the facts.  We combine fact and false together to make stories.  I know many facts about Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.  The Star Wars universe does not exist in reality.  These characters are fiction patterns in my brain.

Sometimes our beliefs are factual and we have knowledge.  Sometimes our beliefs are not accurate and fiction.  Truth and facts are not always the same.  I, and I bet you too, often confuse the two in our daily thoughts. 

Mixing truth and fact, our mental patterns help us cope with our lives.  The external reality sometimes shows me that patterns I believe are false. 

Understanding that I often have non-factional beliefs, I have created a pattern in my brain that constantly forces me to question my knowledge.  Doubt allows new information to become knowledge.  Lack of doubt keeps new knowledge away.  Humility before the universe is how the we come to know it.

People who have dogmatic beliefs are often unable to transcend their false patterns.  Limiting their minds to new facts, they exist in worlds of fiction.


From birth, our families and the world around us start forming patterns of belief in our brains.  By the time we hit grade school, many structures of thought have already formed.

As we progress from grade school through higher education we learn more.  Some of us stop at high school and begin our lives as adults.  We stop learning general things and begin to specialize.

College focuses our gathering of knowledge in specific directions.  We absorb input from books and teachers that takes us in direction of career or interest.  Adding to our storehouse of knowledge, our mental patterns become more complex.

Those who go on to higher degrees specialize further, narrowing their focus and traveling farther to the edge of human knowledge. 

Some few of us, will attempt to push the boundaries of human knowledge, earning doctorates or P.H.D.s (know by many as “Piled Higher and Deeper”).

Countless numbers of humans stop learning beyond the basics as they go about our adult lives.  On average we Americans read a hundred books in our life times.  While a few read thousands of books, almost 25% of us read none after high school.  The books we do read are largely fiction and do not add to our patterns of knowledge.

Reading books, of course, is not the only way of learning, but the data suggest, most of us are content to remain with limited knowledge about the universe we live in.

Personally, I have trouble imagining a life, where each day does not push the boundary of patterns of knowledge.  I hope you continue to push the boundaries of yours.

1 comment:

  1. Very good article. I found it to be a very thought provoking read.
    It is a very good description of why collective knowledge is important at the end.