On Our Lack of Understanding

The human race has an unrelenting desire to better our understanding of the world. Year after year we make new discoveries in fields like math, physics, biology, and other hard sciences; when is it going to end?

When will our understanding of the world be complete?

In 2002 a war simulation was done called the Millenium Challenge. A seasoned marines officer named Paul Van Riper led the antagonistic “red team” against the U.S. Military’s blue team.

The red team’s objective was to maintain control and reduce the presence of blue forces in the gulf they occupied. The blue team’s objective was to overthrow the red team’s regional rule and secure trade routes.

Blue team prepared to intercept red team’s communication channels, destroy power grids, and even disrupt their opponent on cultural, economic, and political planes. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that the U.S. Military could dominate their enemy with their superior technology.

When the simulation began, being a far more powerful force, blue team postured it’s Navy outside the gulf and demanded that red team surrender. Van Riper, anticipating the response that blue team would be expecting from him, decided to do something unexpected.

After denying the demand to surrender, blue team’s Navy began to enter the gulf and Van Riper attacked. He deployed boats with explosives, ground missiles, and aerial attacks that destroyed 16 blue team ships, including their main aircraft carrier.

Despite their rigorously systematic and rational preparation, blue team didn’t anticipate this attack. They were caught completely off guard and suffered devastating consequences.

Blue team failed to see that expecting everything to behave rationally is, itself, irrational. Even if blue team guarded against this kind of attack, Van Riper could have done something else. There will always be something else.

We can’t anticipate every branch of an infinite decision tree.

Just like Blue team can’t achieve a complete understanding of red team’s potential actions, we can never complete our understanding of science. A complete understanding of science is like Plato’s perfect triangle: it doesn’t exist.

There’s an actual theorem in Math, Godel’s incompleteness theorem, that shows it’s impossible to find the end of Math.

We can’t account for the things that we don’t know we don’t know, and thus, we’ll never have a complete understanding of the world.

We’ll continue making new discoveries and improving our understanding until the end of time. And understanding that we don’t know what we don’t know will help empower us to discover and understand even more.

I’m just a curious little rhino. Host of The Andrew Schutt Show.