37, day four.
Everything you know is wrong. You’ve heard this before; it is not a new idea. It was said some time ago, by one of the foundational philosophers of the modern age . Philosophers have posited that human knowledge is fundamentally flawed as far back as Socrates, perhaps much further. But as everyone it the modern world knows, ultimately philosophy is little more than clever thinking. It is interesting for its own sake, but it does not produce anything of practical value. For the last five hundred years, philosophy has increasingly lost ground in the discovering-truths department to its younger brother: natural philosophy, more commonly known these days as science. While it is true that the inherently skeptical nature of science means that it cannot provide us with Truth, it has given us more legitimate insight into the way the universe functions and how it is structured than any other approach in the history of humanity. When I say that everything you know is wrong, I am not being philosophical. I am being scientific. Imagine the following thought experiment. This is a bit abstract, so bear with me. Picture a closed room full of chemicals dispersed in the air. There is hydrogen, and neon, and sulfur hexafloride, and other gasses. They are of different density, so they are not all mixed together, and moving through the room will move the gasses about. It is a complicated and dynamic situation in there, but of course you cannot see it or interact with it in any way you can perceive. Now imagine you are inside of that room wearing a very specialized mechanical suit. The suit is equipped with various detectors and other devices. It provides you with visual and tactile feedback that corresponds to to the various gasses in the room. Hydrogen is blue and feels soft. Helium is green with red speckles and feels fuzzy and light. The heavy sulfur hexafloride in the corner is dark and feels viscous and your feet move sluggishly as you walk through it. Further more, the suit allows you to manipulate these gasses manually. You can move the hydrogen around, and separate it from the helium. The suit does this using filters, but to you it feels like you are using your fingers. Let us say further that you do not realize the room is full of gasses you would not normally be able to interact with in an observable manner. Furthermore, you do not know you are in a special suit. What would you think about the situation? You would think that what you were experiencing was objectively real. You would think you were in a room full of substances that you could touch and manipulate, with specific textures and colors that were intrinsic to the substance with which you interacted. But it is all an illusion. It is a model provided by the suit you do not even realize you are wearing so that you can perceive and interact with a world that would otherwise be outside of your sensory experience. This may seem like fanciful speculation. But the room full of gasses with the special suit, it turns out, is not so different than the world we live in. The universe is the room full of gasses, and the human body and brain are the suit. Scientists used to think the world really was more or less as it appears: Physical objects moving around in space forward in time. In future history books, it might be said that 20th century physics was a grand project in dismantling that very world view. We know now that matter is actually made up of tiny particles that are mostly empty space. The particles themselves are made up of bundles of energy bound together through fundamental interactions. They only have mass at all because of interactions with an invisible field that stretches throughout the universe. Time is neither linear, directional, nor consistently extant throughout the universe. Most importantly of all, everything I just said is a ridiculous and largely inaccurate oversimplification. Of course, you know all of this. You know that matter is made of atoms. You know that atoms are made of subatomic particles that are themselves made of energy. You know that time and space are relative to movement. We are all taught this in school. Yet we still go around believing that pencils exist, that we can see them, understand them, pick them up and use them to write on pieces of paper. Of course they exist. You have one in your hand right now. But that does not mean it is not an illusion. Everything we see and do is an illusion created by the biological mechanisms of our brains in order to facilitate our ability to function in the universe. It is all there, but the form we perceive bears little to no similarity to whatever craziness is objectively, physically real. We are all the man in the suit, believing we are handling green and red speckled fuzzy stuff when we are actually wading through helium. There is no unifying theory as to what the universe is actually made of. The best models fundamental physics has produced to describe large and small things do not agree with each other. The best guess we have as to how to make them work together is riddled with holes. Not only do we know the world we see is very much not the world that is actually out there, we also know that our understanding of what is out there is fundamentally incomplete. Everything you know is wrong. People much smarter than either of us have said it, and some of them have demonstrated it using experimental data and millions of hours of mathematical computation. If you are uncomfortable with any of this, don’t blame me. Blame science. That’s what everyone else does.