Friday, June 01, 2007

How do we know what we know?

There's a dinosaur on my desk at work - a tyrannasaurus rex - the king of the dinosaurs! It's there to remind me to be humble and not to get so attached to my understanding of truth that I don't continue to seek understanding. Truth, I firmly believe, is complex. You just think you get something figured out when new information surfaces. Something doesn't quite fit. That's what makes the pursuit of truth so exciting.

I have this image in my mind about the way we tend to claim "truth". It's like climbers who have scaled a mountain, or astronauts who have landed on a distant planet - they proudly plant their flag, claiming the "conquered" territory. We do the same sort of thing when we arrive at a deeper level of insight or understanding. We plant our flag. Problem is, too often we tend to camp out there - protecting our territory. This is TRUTH - maybe even THE TRUTH and we're ready to defend it. The climb, the search, the flight is over. We've arrived. Of course, while we're tied up defending truth, we stop looking.

So what's this got to do with the dinosaur on my desk? When my son went through a dinosaur phase, we had movies about dinosaurs, books, various dinosaur figures - the works. In the course of our "research" I can still remember the shock and disappointment I felt when I discovered that paleontologists really have to fill in a lot of blanks in order to give us the finished product. The fierce tyrannosaurus rex, for instance, is a composite of a few bones and a lot of imagination. Did you know that? On the basis of a few bones, paleontologists have re-created this amazing creature - they've fleshed him out, all based on a few bones. Shape, size, color, temperament, habitat, diet - all from a few bones!

We have this great book. It's a coffee table size - Dinosaur Skeletons and Other Prehistoric Animals by Jinny Johnson. On the cover flap it says this: "No one was around millions of years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth. So how do we know about these amazing creatures? From discoveries of fossilized bones, scientists have pieced together a picture of how these incredible animals MAY have looked, and how they moved, fed, and fought." I added that emphasis on MAY... hm. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

So, the dinosaur sits quietly on my desk, watching me work and reminding me to keep thinking, keep searching, keep seeking - even when where I'm at feels pretty right.

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