What Is Unknowable?

Knowledge is ever increasing, and often it seems to increase by leaps and bounds. We know more today than we have ever known, and we add to that store of information every day.

The universe, our own genetics, manipulation of materials, the building blocks of matter — all are areas where we are learning more all the time. Sometimes it seems that we will be able to keep on learning and growing what we know indefinitely.

But even if we continue to accumulate knowledge, some things may be beyond our grasp.

It may be that some problems are just too large. For example, the number of ways an ordinary deck of player cards can be arranged is greater than the number of atoms on the earth. Writing them all out can’t be done.

However, some things just might be impossible to know. What is it like to live in five-dimensional space?

What is unknowable? How might we classify unknowable things? Which Intellectual Roundtable questions have unknowable answers?

Related questions: How do we know what we don’t know? How does creative expression help us to know ourselves better? Why are we fascinated with the unknown? What’s the most useful thing you’ve ever learned?

Is It A Cruel World?

News today can be very depressing. Every day, we see stories of mass shootings, environmental devastation, government corruption, war and bloodshed, and global pandemics.

Is this the natural state of human affairs?

On the one hand, things seem to be constantly improving. Our knowledge is cumulative, and today we know more about how the universe works than ever before. And with that knowledge, we are able to manipulate the world around us with ever-increasing ability and refinement.

On the other, we keep repeating mistakes of the past. We continue to be ruled by our coarser natures of suspicion, intolerance, and greed. Atrocities happen at home and abroad. History is filled with shameful events in all times and locations, and today is no exception.

The hope would be that our society is moving toward a better world. One where our lives are longer, happier, healthier, and more productive.

However, that may be only a dream and not reality. The more complicated our lives become, the more stress we feel. We don’t sleep enough. We tend to eat unhealthy food and to be overweight. We work long hours. We don’t get enough exercise. We sit in traffic. We use drugs to start our day, and again to end it. We pollute our air and our water. We make products that have a one time, limited use but that remain in our environment for centuries.

Is the chaos of our current society a stepping stone to a brighter future? Or is it our fate to live a life of struggle and uncertainty? Will our descendants inherit a world that is better than our current one, or one that is just as bad or maybe worse? And do we have the power to choose one option or the other?

Is it a cruel world?

Related questions: Why do we put up with unhappiness? How have we changed? What are you optimistic about? Are we too busy?

How Can We Become Better Listeners?

Listening to others is hard. If someone else says something you don’t agree with, the overwhelming impulse is not to listen, but to explain why you disagree.

But that impulse is not always correct. Often, you have to hear why someone believes something before you can try and change their mind. And that means it is important to listen to what they have to say, no matter how wrong-headed or incorrect you might think they are.

As a society, we are currently divided into two (or more) isolated camps. I often hear that we don’t talk to each other, but I think the problem is really that we don’t listen to each other.

Beyond our political or social climate, studies in management show that to make an effective team, the members of that team need to feel that they are heard. To get team investment in a particular strategy or course of action, all team members need to feel they have a stake in setting that course.

Even when arguing with a spouse or a romantic partner, it’s possible to hear the words, but to miss the underlying message that is causing the disagreement.

In each of these cases, listening to others is important. And yet it is a difficult skill to learn, to really listen to what others have to say. It seems like it should be easy to do — after all, we all know how much we want to be heard ourselves, so why do we find it so hard to allow others to feel like they are heard?

I think that maybe it is because we feel no one listens to us that makes us bad listeners. If I feel that the person I am talking to isn’t listening to me, then my effort is on making them hear me, not on hearing them.

So how can we break this cycle? How can we listen to someone else, and let them know that what they have to say is heard, so that they in turn can be willing to hear what we have to say? What are the tools that allow us to do that? How can we sort through the extraneous information, like insults or unnecessary detail, to really hear what is at the core of another’s message?

How can we become better listeners?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? What is necessary to change your mind? What do we have in common? How can we encourage debate?