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The Unknown


The Unknown


Explaining the unknown by means of the unobservable is always a perilous business.


Why grass is green,
or why our blood is red
Are mysteries which
none have reach'd unto.
     John Donne, "Of the Progress of the Soul. The Second Anniversary"

Chlorophyll a and Heme


There is no subject so old that something new cannot be said about it.
     Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, A Diary of a Writer (1876)


If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before, we must leave the door to the unknown ajar.
     Richard Feynman, "The Value of Science" (speech at NAS meeting, 1955)
     reprinted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short
     Works of Richard P. Feynman
(Jeffrey Robbins, ed., 1999)


Scientist to colleague: "I'm not afraid of the unknown. The stuff we already know is what scares me!"
     Bob Goddard, St. Louis Globe-Democrat


If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it; for it is hard to be sought out, and difficult.


It is the duty of human understanding to understand that there are things which it cannot understand, and what those things are. Human understanding has vulgarly occupied itself with nothing but understanding, but if it would only take the trouble to understand itself at the same time it would simply have to posit the paradox.
     Soren Kierkegaard, The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard: A Selection
     (edited and translated by Alexander Dru, 1854)


"The unexpected is what makes life possible."
     Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)


Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the unknowable. But there it sits nevertheless, calmly licking its chops.
     H. L. Mencken, Minority Report: H. L. Mencken's Notebooks (1956)


In making one discovery we never fail to get an incomplete knowledge of others of which we previously had no idea, so that we cannot solve one problem without finding new ones.
     Joseph Priestly, Experiments and Observations (1774)


There is nothing hidden between Heaven and Earth.
     Venezuelan Proverb


Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves.
     Rainer Maria Rilke, letter, 1903


For myself, I like a universe that includes much that is unknown and, at the same time, much that is knowable. A universe in which everything is known would be static and dull, as boring as the heaven of some weak-minded theologians. A universe that is unknowable is no fit place for a thinking being. The ideal universe for us is one very much like the universe we inhabit. And I would guess that this is not really much of a coincidence.
     Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1979)
     "Can We Know The Universe? Reflections On A Grain Of Salt"


It is the characteristic of a weak and diseased mind to fear the unfamiliar.
     Seneca, Moral Epistles


There's no such thing as the unknown, only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.
     James T. Kirk, "The Corbomite Maneuver"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


Instruments only register those things they are designed to register. Space still contains infinite unknowns.
     Spock, "The Naked Time"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


"A mystery is only a mystery as long as it remains uninvestigated, sir."
"I love a mystery, Data, but this one will have to wait ..."
     Data and Picard, "Lonely Among Us"
     STAR TREK:  The Next Generation


It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
     Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)


The four points of the compass are logic, knowledge, wisdom, and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable.
     Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light