It’s all about what you don’t know

By Paul Woodward

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In an era of Big Data, the prevailing myth is that what is known has become vast, while what isunknown lies on an ever-narrowing margin.

We live in a known world in which a few pockets of the unknown remain, but it’s just a matter of time before science succeeds in wrapping up its investigations. Every question will have been answered and for any individual, the only constraints on knowledge will be determined by the capacities of their own mind.

Thank Google, among others, for fabricating this fantasy image of the world.

As a measure of how little we know, try to remember precisely what you were thinking, precisely an hour ago.

No one can do that. No one’s memory operates with that precision and there are no means to record the stream of thought other than through memory.

So think about that: there are over 7 billion people on the planet most of whom currently attach a certain amount of importance to what is going on inside their own minds and yet all of whom know amazingly little about their own recent and distant experiences. Sure, we can piece together small fragments — enough to construct a narrative about who we are and what we have done — but the bulk of our experiences, once past, are gone for good. They have merged into the limitless void of the unknown and the unknowable.

We imagine that as we proceed through life, we are engaged in a process of perpetual aggregation, yet what we carry with us is utterly dwarfed by what we leave behind and is lost forever.

First published at War in Context

More by Paul Woodward on Beyond Meds

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