|Beginning a trial, defense and prosecution
attorneys can stipulate that a piece of evidence be accepted as "true,"
not disputed by either side. This is usually done when both believe objective
observers (in this case, the jury) would agree to its veracity. Then the
litigation can deal with items that one side or the other considers "not
In the physical and social sciences, psychology, metaphysics, and religion,
I believe all discussions should begin with the opposite approach: Stipulation
of the "unknown." If a jury representing differing traditions could
not agree the evidence demonstrates the answer is "truth," all parties,
in good conscience, should label it as belief, assumption, or hypothesis.
Applying this standard, most of what we label "truth" would have to
be considered as still in the "unknown" column.
When one conscientiously takes this approach, it quickly becomes clear
the list of "what we don't know" far exceeds that which we do know.
Following are a few examples of the many important questions for which
we don't know the answers. Add your own as you read.
Anthropology. What was the first civilization? Who discovered higher
mathematics? Who started the first languages? Why are they based in
mathematics? Who domesticated cats and perfected crops for human consumption?
Who discovered the medicinal values of herbs?
Biology/Chemistry. What started life on Earth, or anywhere? (In other
words, how do we link physics and biochemistry?) How do different species
form? How did different races develop? What is the smallest life form?
What causes sleep? Where do directions for cell differentiation reside?
What is the relationship of environment and genes to intelligence? What
is the final point of physical death?
Cosmology. What is the origin of the universe? How and when did consciousness
arise? Do conscious beings similar to humans exist? Have we discovered
all the Sun's planets? What is the nature of reality outside this universe?
How does a person's observing consciousness relate to the body?
Physics. Where does the universe's matter come from? What is dark matter?
What is the smallest particle? What is the nature of antiparticles or
sparticles? Are there unmeasured energy spectra? What is the subtle
energy form seen by many to enter the body at birth and depart it at
Psychology. Where does the personality reside? What are dreams? Why
do placebos heal? How do we perceive objects/events at a distance? What
is the nature of non-human consciousness? Where are memories stored?
There is much human experience and accumulated evidence that point
to the still "unknown" answers to all these questions, but the definitive
"truth" still eludes us. (For some other examples, see Why Aren't Black
Holes Black? by Robert M. Hazen and Maxine Singer. Anchor Books. 1997)
For each unanswered question, many hypotheses and assumptions have been
put forward, but few would be accepted by a "planetary jury." A unanimous
vote is not required to define universal truth; only a consensus among
competing epistemologies (ways of knowing) is necessary.
The misapplication of the labels "truth" and "unknown" results in prejudices,
antagonisms, and wars. Asserting "truth" when honesty demands something
be labeled "unknown" divides people. If we were truly honest about "what
we don't know," it would be much easier to have a dialogue that identifies
commonly accepted knowledge. In our search for truth or common ground,
any thoughtful hypothesis is as good as any other as a starting point.
As we learn more of the complexity of our universe, what is likely to
be ultimate truth is beyond our wildest imaginations anyway.
After reaching agreement on "what we don't know" in a particular area,
the discussion can quickly identify "what we do know," i.e., that upon
which there is already general agreement. In most aspects of life that
is actually very little; the "unknown" just about pervades all fields
that we consider human knowledge. Apparently, to make ourselves feel
less nervous about so much unknown, we have created the vast domain
of our as-yet-unproven beliefs and called it knowledge. But what is
this so-called knowledge?
To illustrate the variety of assertions about a few of the above unknown
areas: There are several mutually exclusive hypotheses about the origin
of the universe (random bang plus 15 billion years, God's one-week creation,
off-shoot of another universe, conscious conception of great forces).
Several explanations on how life started (lightning striking the primal
sea, panspermia, activation by a creator's voice, seeded at birth of
universe). At least three perspectives on how homo sapiens came to exist
(direct creation, chance mutation, manipulation by more advanced beings).
Why can't we sort out the truth?
Adherents to these various theories speak, write and act as if they
already possess an exclusive truth. Why are they loath to admit they
are only giving their best estimate or inspiration and are hostile to
other hypotheses? Y.G. Kimura in The Cosmic Light (University of Science
and Philosophy Quarterly. Spring, 1999) says "People are intolerant
of others with differing viewpoints, because...deep down they are uncertain
of the...validity of their own beliefs, and...do not want to face the
possibility...that they may not know the truth after all." Does this
fear of not having enough certainty make people more adamant than they
know the facts permit? Do some simply overstate their case because it
gives them attention or power over others? These questions also exemplify
"what we don't know." We know people stretch the truth, but we don't
Whatever the reason for unwarranted claims to truth, the next leap
in human progress requires more honesty about "what we don't know."
Only with it can we be open to discover the "real truth." Open-minded
scientists and metaphysicians have always been open to such a search.
But, when dogma reigns, as it does in most of today's labs, sermons,
classrooms, and media, there is little hope for profound breakthroughs
regarding the place and purpose of humans in the universe.
(Paul Von Ward, MPA and MSc, researches and writes in the
fields of prehistory, consciousness, and frontier science. His most
recent publication is the book Solarian Legacy: Metascience & A
New Renaissance. An Oughten House imprint, it is distributed by Medicine
Bear Publishing and is available to individuals in bookstores, on www.Amazon.com,
or by calling the publisher at 207/374-3831. Paul can be contacted at