- When I see a movie – I wonder what I was doing at the exact moment the shots were filmed and what it would be like to see footage of myself next to it. One scene that only lasts a few minutes may have been shot over several days. Imagine the cuts back and forth between characters talking. As one person speaks, I’m in my office working, and as it cuts to the other person in the same fictional moment, I’m eating dinner at a restaurant across town. The thought is more interesting when I see older movies. I was probably crawling around the floor eating a saltine cracker while they filmed Jurassic Park.
- When I see thousands of cars on a road in a big city – I wonder where everyone is going. Each person has a separate destination. They’re all so close to each other yet not talking to each other. The trip that matters most to each traveler is their own. Some are coming home, some are leaving. Never will that same combination be on the road at the same time again.
- When you sit next to someone on an airplane – The odds of sitting next to that person are the same as sitting next to any major celebrity. The only difference is they aren’t famous. How could you have possibly planned to sit next to that person on that flight? What are the odds? But it’s meaningless because we don’t know them.
- When I think of how smart we are as humans – Able to have complex languages and inside jokes, which are an even deeper level of communication. The subtleties are amazing. Then I think about how little we know. How great is the amount of knowledge that can be known, and we know less of it than we could possibly describe. If our collective knowledge was contained in a grain of salt, all the knowledge that can be known would be many times greater than the entire earth. You’ll never know what Abraham Lincoln’s mother said to him on the morning of his fifth birthday. He might not have even remembered. You’ll never know what it feels like to be a dog. You’ll never know how many rooms are in Chicago—yes, the grand total number of all closets, conference rooms, lobbies, hotel suites, closets, bathrooms, and every other kind of room possible. If someone counted them, it would change through demolition and new construction before they finished. You’ll never know what the 425 mph winds on the edge of the Great Red Spot sound like. The limit to our knowledge is astonishing.
- When I think about the present – What is it, really? How long is it? Is it a second or two? When does the past become past? When does the future become present? This is unnervingly mysterious when you ponder it.
- When I drink morning coffee – What is the name of the farmer who first planted the shrub that bore the berries which contained the seeds that were harvested, dried, roasted, ground, packaged, shipped, and then sold, picked up, opened, and finally brewed by me? What is his first memory? Has he had a good life? His life touches mine in some way and this is amazing.
You go to the kitchen sink in the morning and turn on the faucet and water shoots out. What pushes it to your house? Can you say more than “the water processing plant”? Can you describe it intelligently? I can’t.
You sip coffee that probably floated across a pod of dolphins in the Atlantic a week ago while you were sleeping, and you browse social media at the table. How does that internet in your hand work? Can you describe it in detail? Could you break it down to an 8-year-old so they could understand? I can’t, and I’ve been using it for 20 years.
You drive to work in a car, and if you were pressed to do so you would be unable to teach me how the combustion engine works, how rubber is gathered for tires, or why exactly we need to change the oil every 3,000 miles. What does the oil even do?
Most trivial things like these can be studied and learned easily on the internet. While that’s awesome, it’s not really the point. The knowledge we hold in our heads at all times is minuscule. The top experts in the world hold only a little more knowledge in one specific field because they have devoted their lives to studying it.
All of this, and we constantly try to impress people and want to avoid looking stupid at all costs. But we’re all at least a little stupid! No one knows everything.
The smartest people of all time hardly knew anything. They did prove it’s possible to learn a few incredible things. We can learn too, but never if we insist on that strange game of making impressions and saving face and acting like we know a lot.