Quantum mechanics are famous for being thoroughly incomprehensible. There are so many events and paradoxes in the quantum world that sometimes feel and sound irrational.
In the quantum world, you can be in two places at once and even teleport. Pointing where or what a particle is doing is tricky—you see, you either know where the particle is going or how fast it is going or where it is, but never ever any combination of those. It is impossible to be completely certain of anything.
I like that bit.
The rules of the universe in large scales makes sense from an Einstein point-of-view. Relativity is what allows us to take advantage of GPS, flight, and space exploration.
Quantum physics allow our smartphones to work, enzymes in our cells to work, as well as birds such as the geese over your house last fall and the year before that to travel thousands of miles without the GPS in your smartphone.
Yet, one of the most important things about quantum mechanics is its feud with general relativity. The two fail to explain the universe with a single theory.
Professor Tim O’Brien, professor of astrophysics in the School of Physics & Astronomy at The University of Manchester and director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, admits that the incongruence of the two theories is confusing.
“They both fundamentally disagree on the nature of space time. That’s really sort of embarrassing,” he said.
I wrote about the importance of curiosity, and why the thirst to discover should drive our life. I didn’t explain what fuels curiosity, though.
I want to propose that embracing doubt, uncertainty, should fuel our curiosity.
I know that I’ll quote some leading people of the anti-religion movement; bear with me here, this is a two-part essay.
Most of us would like to thing that we are pretty smart, after all. We love holding on to the subjects in which we are experts in. I don’t know that I know, but it feels good pretending that I know.
What’s important here is to embrace our ignorance.
Umberto Eco, the Italian author, is rumored to have an extensive library. However, he would be the first to tell you that he has not read every single volume in his collection.
Why, then, does he keep the books? Surely he cannot keep them around for kicks and giggles, or to boast of his books. If it were boasting, Mr. Eco would say he had read them all.
The unknown, according to Eco, looks down on him and bears down on his ego. In that library, housing his read books along with the ones he has written, has more books about things he doesn’t know than things he does know.
Stay humble, his books whisper.
Probably the best analogy for this is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. As humans, we are content with the level of knowledge we have. Being ignorant, we believe that what we see is the real deal, when in fact it is just the “shadows” of what is real.
Richard Feynman, physicist extraordinaire, once said, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
That to me says more about the knowledge than a lifetime of Planet Earth documentaries.
I love seeing Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings. There is something special about the man who was truly an absolute genius trying to predict the future. Here, we have a man that mastered countless forms of arts and sciences, still predicting new things.
What he didn’t know weighed heavy on him.
Disclaimer: having confidence in experts’ ignorance does not mean any of us can stay ignorant or ignore science, it means that we trust that this ignorance will drive scientists, as well as us, to explore and find the answer.
Most times, any answer we find leads to even bigger questions. This is known as edifying philosophy.
“It is our knowledge—the things we are sure of—that makes the world go wrong,” says Lincoln Steffens, “and keeps us from seeing and learning.”
That’s what attracted me to science as a kid. I had all these questions about how the world works and all I came away with was more questions.
No one ever claimed to have all the answers, but everyone promised that they would keep working towards the answers.
This drives my curiosity.
When alpinists are asked why they climb a mountain, the answer is “because it’s there!”
What don’t I know about my neighbor?
When was the last time I chose to learn something or have a conversation because “it’s there?”
Will what I discover about my fellow human beings lead me to being a better person? Will it lead me to more questions?
What don’t I know about the frame of reference those whom I may be prejudiced against?
It is this active engagement in discovering what I don’t know that leads me to understand others better.
It is the embracing of ignorance that leads me to hunger for more knowledge, ever expanding my horizons.
It is this denial of what I know as important that leads me to keep an open mind to ideas and concepts. This keeps the conversation going. A stagnant conversation leads to asking the same old questions, with regurgitated half-baked answers that only sound smart, without adding anything new.
It is doubt, the fuel of my curiosity, that defines me as a human being.