Space Warper Extraordinaire

Day 32, On Not Knowing


“Many adults are put off when youngsters pose scientific questions. Children ask why the sun is yellow, or what a dream is, or how deep you can dig a hole, or when is the world’s birthday, or why we have toes. Too many teachers and parents answer with irritation or ridicule, or quickly move on to something else. Why adults should pretend to omniscience before a five-year-old, I can’t for the life of me understand. What’s wrong with admitting that you don’t know? Children soon recognize that somehow this kind of question annoys many adults. A few more experiences like this, and another child has been lost to science.

There are many better responses. If we have an idea of the answer, we could try to explain. If we don’t, we could go to the encyclopedia or the library. Or we might say to the child: “I don’t know the answer. Maybe no one knows. Maybe when you grow up, you’ll be the first to find out.”

— Carl Sagan (via br3nnando0o) (emphasis added)

I’ve bolded that question in the middle because to me this is the heart of the matter. Human beings don’t like admitting that they don’t know. Maybe it’s about maintaining some kind of adult-child power dynamic, or maybe it’s just a cultural accident, or maybe it’s something else entirely. I don’t claim to be a sociologist, and I don’t know the answer to this question.

I do know that this is something that happens to all of us. We who consider ourselves scientifically literate must be constantly on our guard against this behavior. So the next time you find yourself about to derail someone else’s earnest questions about anything at all, ask yourself: What’s wrong with admitting that you don’t know?

(Source: skaterboytae)

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