This We Know : What Do We Know?
« Spaceship Earth | This We Know #5
What Do We Know
By Tom Evans
The atomic clocks on the orbiting GPS satellites run about 7.2 microseconds a day faster than clocks on the ground.
You would be mistaken if you thought whoever wrote this book knows a lot of stuff.
In fact, the author just knows how to conjure up a set of linked questions, thoughts and memes that form a line of enquiry. His main skill is knowing how to wonder about something and how to look up the answer on the Internet.
The answers have been worked out by people who have asked similar questions and had the skill, tenacity and brain power to iterate towards something close to the right answer. The author did genuinely not know many of these facts until he started writing the book. He is taking it on trust, as might you, that they are true.
Truth is only a measure of how well what we observe fits our personal model of how things work.
We assemble our knowledge into models. We make predictions, and machines, based on these models. When observation deviates from prediction, or the machine breaks down, we refine these models. In this way, we get to ‘know’ more and more stuff.
For example, before the Space Age where we could actually look at our planet and confirm it was a globe, the non-Flat World model could only be inferred by observation.
At first, the horizon could be thought of as the edge of the world until brave souls circumnavigated it. When we started to go up in the air, at first with balloons and then aircraft, the curvature of the Earth was plain to see. The model fitted prediction.
A model of the world as a flat disc supported by an elephant standing on a tortoise is at the very least quite attractive. Not knowing what the tortoise is standing on is no less perplexing than some Big Answers yet to be known to some Big Questions.
The Flat Earth model has some usefulness. We think nothing of navigating across our round world with a flat map, for example. The screen of a GPS navigation system is also flat although, somewhat ironically, it is fed from data from an interconnected sphere of man-made orbiting ‘moonlets’.
By asking the simple question, “What do we know?”, with humility and in awe of the world we live in, we set new wheels in motion.
What if, for example, the elephant and tortoise represent, at a metaphorical level, unseen forces that make our reality ‘real’?
We ‘know’ now much more than we used to know. The acquisition of knowledge is exponential and, if you think about it, linked to exponential population growth.
When more and more people know more and more ‘things’, we gain more and more knowledge.
Next: What Don't We Know »
This inspiring article is serialized from the ebook This We Know © 2012 Tom Evans. All rights reserved. More »