Tuesday, December 4, 2018

What We Don't Know

Raise your glasses! Here's to what we do not know! May we sooner rather than later learn the things that we must know to survive, and may we, please God, may we learn to admit that we still don't have a clue about many, many things.

It seems to be surpassingly difficult for human beings to admit that they do not know something. Oddly, it seems to become more difficult as that particular human becomes more intelligent. They become more invested, perhaps, in the certainty of what they know. Our geniuses can admit to not knowing certain things. After all, they know so many things that we ordinary humans cannot begin to understand that they feel safe in saying, nope, that particular bit of knowledge has so far eluded me. The merely highly-intelligent are the worst offenders. They lack the security of the real geniuses. They fear that their entire house-of-cards will collapse if they admit that they do not know something. Take doctors, for instance.

The body of knowledge that currently constitutes modern medical science is huge. It includes several categories of scientific knowledge, and some math is involved. The vocabulary alone that must be mastered is truly daunting. Anyone aspiring to the status of MD must be born way up on the good side of the intelligence curve. Then there are the decades of school work and indentured servitude to consider. All of that time, the aspirant is being examined and judged not only for intelligence, not only for academic performance, but also for general suitability emotionally and socially for the role of “doctor.” It's amazing that anyone makes it through such a terrible process.

There is little wonder, therefore, that those who have achieved the status of doctor, medical doctor, try so hard to hide the fact that most of the matters that they deal with on a day to day basis are totally obscure to them. They really do not understand very much at all about what is happening to their patients. They are often like car mechanics who are not permitted to open the hood; they must stand back and look at the surface and try to imagine what might be happening in the hidden realm. I'm certain that they are specifically instructed never to admit the extent of their ignorance. I am equally certain that they themselves much prefer to maintain the illusion that they know what they are doing. There is a good reason that nurses refer to doctors as “M-Deities.” The doctors are only too happy to cut and swab and prescribe first according to their best guess, and just as happy next week to try something else when it doesn't work. They can schedule you for additional tests in the hope that the results will be illuminating, or they can prescribe more and stronger antibiotics in the hope that the offending phenomenon is bacterial in nature and will be killed in the onslaught. Otherwise, we'll just try something else. Certainty is almost always denied to medical doctors.

Many scientists are in the same boat. They learn the playbook at school, they study the programmed moves, but for most of the sciences there is a deeper game that has still not revealed itself. I admire their courage, pressing on into the valley of thorns and darkness that is the future of their chosen field. I can hardly imagine the frustration that must overtake someone in the field of physics, let's say, God forbid sub-atomic physics. What geniuses they must be to follow the progress of the field in the first place, only to realize that although they have learned a bit about the first few particles and phenomena involved, there are scores of deeper levels that are denied them. It must be hard to realize that the real knowledge that they seek is so far down there, or out there, that humans may take another thousand years to understand it.

I salute the brave men and women who soldier on in the certain knowledge that future scientists will look back on them and laugh at their primitive inadequacy.

It occurs to me that I was lucky to labor in a field like the law, where no math or science are involved. In the law, there is no scientific method, no truth, no justice, and often no right or wrong. There are only smoke and mirrors, and whatever the judge says, and whatever the jury decides. There is no science in the law. Two plus two is not automatically four. The only truth is that if you got paid for your work, it was a great day. For great lawyers, or difficult judges, two plus two can be anywhere from three to six. The entire field of law is somehow unmoored from reality. It's a blessing and a curse, I suppose. It may work for you or against you. But, like I say, if you got paid for your work it was a great day. Candidates for careers in the law must display a high tolerance for ambiguity. Except when it comes to getting paid. “Always get the money first,” was the best advice that I ever got. “If they won't pay you up front, they probably won't give it to you afterwards either.”

Don't expect the lawyers of the world to save us. Usually the best that a good lawyer can do is get you a two-to-five when another lawyer would have landed you a seven-to-ten (and an overworked public defender would've gotten you fifteen). Better lawyers get larger settlements for their clients in civil cases. There are no lawyers on the list of “People Likely to Save the World.”

I wish that the medical doctors knew a lot more than they do. There's only so much that they can do, though. They are in no position to save the world either.

Scientists could do a lot more than they are doing now to help us, but in our current dog-eat-dog, winner take all, you're on your own world, no one is paying scientists to actually help anyone. They are all wrapped up in projects designed to make more money for people who have too much money already.

Maybe it's not what we don't know that will kill us all. Maybe we'll all be killed off by our misplaced priorities.

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