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I think it's somewhat relevant to point out that many people who will use this excuse don't even seem to believe it themselves as they will trot out the catch-all "god did it" explanation to any question you care to ask them, or will claim that the bible contains all the answers to all questions. It's peculiar to say the least.


Great post -- the blog LessWrong has an extensive sequence on the worship of ignorance as a curiosity stopper that readers of this post might find interesting:


I must be an oddball in that I've never found that lack of knowledge of how things work makes them more exciting. I find them more exciting when I understand how they work. Perhaps this is what draws me to science.


@JL: Nope, I don't think that's odd. I think there is a thrill about finding out new things, and by definition that originates with ignorance about them in the first place. It just depends on whether you are more inspired by the mystery itself, or solving the mystery.

Robin Zimmermann
Some answers do eventually lead to dead ends -- as I understand it, we have Newton's Laws of Motion pretty well figured out -- but it's very common indeed for solved mysteries to open up still more unsolved ones.

Oh, ha ha! Take it from a mechanical engineer working entirely in the domain of classical physics: there is a tremendous amount we don't understand about how to use Newton's Laws for our purposes. The Navier-Stokes equations are nothing more than a trivial special case of Newton's Laws, but a general solution to those equations is a difficult enough problem to deserve a million-US-dollar prize.

There is a huge amount to be discovered, have no fear.


I've always found it amazing how people think you can only find awe and wonderment in things if you can regard them like an ignorant caveman scratching his head in confusion as he grips an animal femur. "Ook not know what shiny things in sky are. Ook think pretty!"

I find plenty of awe and wonderment in thinking more deeply about things I have taken for granted. Like what we know about the stars. Yes, I'm sure there are all sorts of unanswered questions in that arena, but the question has been answered for all practical purposes for the common layman. At one point, they were gods, or the heralds of gods, which could be read and used to determine all sorts of things. Now we know enough about them that what made them mysterious to the average person is gone, so we take it for granted in a way our ancestors never really could. For the average person, that mystery is solved.

I don't always think about it either way when I look up--some part of my mind just registers it as I might a very high ceiling and not much more. But every so often, I really look up and think about what we know and what it actually means. I force myself to really consciously think about how that is all empty space, and it keeps going on--perhaps not infinitely, but certainly farther than I am able to readily comprehend--and I think about how far those stars really are and how some of them are so far that they could be dead and it will be millions of years after I am dust before that registers on this planet. I really try to understand that the moon is not some disc painted on a ceiling, but is actually a 3-dimensional sphere "hanging" out there in all that empty space. If you try to genuinely understand how big all that is, and really contemplate what we know without taking it for granted, you'll be amazed at how much awe and wonder you can feel without a single bit of magic being invoked.

So even though I know there are no gods, no magic fairies, no firmaments with god-messages affixed to them, I can still have awe and wonderment by really considering what we do know and contemplating more deeply on it.

The same can be achieved with nearly every "solved" mystery. When I was a child, I used to get pretty whacked out meditating on the the fact of my own existence and consciousness amid the existence of everything around me--something that is easy to take for granted.

Nurse Ingrid

Demonhype, thanks for that. Seriously. That was beautiful.

And I can't resist adding:

"You may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space. Listen."

Greta Christina

Thank you, Robin. I stand corrected. And it's kind of comforting to know that there's still more to learn about Newtonian mechanics.

And Demonhype, I second Nurse Ingrid. That was beautiful. And I totally know what you mean. Knowing that there's a black hole at the center of our galaxy; that matter is mostly empty space; that the Sun is a star just like the twinkly lights in the sky -- and really, really thinking about it and contemplating it -- is awesome. (Also, "Ook not know what shiny things in sky are. Ook think pretty!" made me laugh so loud it scared the cats.)

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