This is green.
This is red.
And this is blue.
But how can you tell that what you’re seeing as blue is the same thing as what I see as blue? We’ve named the colors to give us a way to communicate and reference them but in reality, there’s no way of knowing that what you see is the same as what another person sees. Even with the small steps and the giant leaps we’ve made as a species, there is still a lot to learn about the earth, life, and the human condition. There’s still everything we don’t know.
On the 26th of February 2015, one picture of a dress divided the internet. While some saw it as gold and white, and others saw it as blue and black. Since then, there have been several repetitions of the same experiment either using the same sense, in this case, sight, or even other senses, like hearing in the famous “yanny” or “laurel” debate. These experiments remind us that there’s no way for us to tell that you and I sense the same things. What I call red might just be what you call blue, and there might be someone out there who sees human beings with purple teeth, but just refers to it as white.
71% of the surface of the earth is covered by water.
Humans are made up of about 60% water, potatoes 80%, watermelons 93%, and Cucumbers 95%. It’s very clear that water is essential for life on Earth, but we don’t know much about water. Not even about the very oceans we came from. We’ve only explored 5 to 10 percent of Earth’s oceans, the rest, well, who knows what’s down there? It’s even scarier when you realize that fish like the blobfish and the barrel-eyed fish belong to this slim percentage of things we’ve discovered. The deeper you go, the crazier things seem to get. What’s at the bottom of the ocean? For the most part, we just don’t know. But back on the surface, countries that are bordered by water use something called “coastlines” to mark their territory.
The coast is the land along the sea, and the boundary between the coast and the sea is known as a coastline. So, how long is the US coastline or any other coastline in the world? The answer is… well, we don’t know. Coastlines constantly curve and cut in and out. Even the smallest deviations from a straight line can add distance, and over time, these small distances add up. Some of these features are massive, like bays, while others are minuscule. Now, measuring each and every little crevasse isn’t really efficient, so surveyors cut corners and straighten rough edges into easily manageable lines. If you do a quick Google search of the measurement of any coastline, you’ll find a lot of different answers. They all cut corners, just differently.
Humanity as a species though… well we’ve done well for ourselves. When in a pinch, we invent something to push us through. We made clothes when the weather was harsh, shelter so we could be safe from wildlife to rest and recuperate, weapons to hunt for food, and money to replace pure bartering. But what about fire? Was the fire a “discovery” or an “invention”? And music? Music has been described by scientists as a relatively recent invention by humans. It’s believed that music helped our ancestors to help bring together a close-knit community. But did humans really invent music? Or did we just discover that certain sounds sound nice with other sounds? Birds sing whales sing, even tree frogs have a nice rich baritone sometimes. So can we really say man invented music? If we did, then what is the true definition of music? I guess we’ll never know.
On the list of man’s greatest inventions has to be tools. In fact, for a really long time, scientists were sure that this is pretty much what made us human. We were the only animals who, through the use of such a variety of tools, were able to expand and grow so quickly. Except… we aren’t the only ones who use tools. In fact, a lot of animals, mainly primates, use tools for all kinds of reasons. A study by Jane Goodall on African chimpanzees would change the definition of man forever. In the research, it was discovered that these chimpanzees used tools to gather food, brush their teeth, and even more. So in response, would this mean we must now redefine man or redefine tool? They use tools for the same things we would. Do we accept chimpanzees as humans? Well, of course not. This begs the question, if using tools doesn’t, then what makes us human? In the same research, it was also discovered that chimps had individual personalities and were capable of rational thought like emotions and sorrow. They gave pats on the back, hugs, kisses, and even just messed around with each other just for fun. They developed affectionate bonds with family members and with other members of the community, and some of these bonds lasted for over 50 years.
If emotions, rational thought, and affectionate actions do not, then what makes us human? In the past, it was thought that humans were the only animals who were self-aware. However, in the past thirty years, extensive research has proven that many other animals are too. In fact, in 2012, a group of neuroscientists created the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness which states that “humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neural substrates”. If consciousness, sentience, wakefulness, and the ability to feel and experience do not, then what makes us human? We really just don’t know. All we know is that one day we weren’t, today we are, and one day we will be no more. We don’t know what happened before we were born, neither do we know what will happen after we die. If a person dies and comes back to life, it’s referred to as a Near-Death Experience, because we see death as a finality, but what if it isn’t? What if one of the beliefs of humanity’s many religions is true? Even the earth itself can be very weird, and sometimes, you just see formations that make no sense. Like, who built Stonehenge and why?
A quick Google search and you would find Druids for sacrificial ceremonies, prehistoric people to bury the cremated remains of their dead, while some believe humans couldn’t have done such a thing by themselves. But again, in reality, we just don’t know. The same goes for the pyramids.
Some people think the gods of Egypt made the pyramids, others are convinced it was made by human effort. But, in reality, we just don’t know.
The human mind is everything. All of man’s greatest inventions, theories, and discoveries have come from the human mind. We first conceive an idea in our mind before we can ever create it in the real world, but perhaps, we don’t yet know or understand exactly how powerful the mind can be. The placebo effect gives us a glimpse. But basically, doctors appear to give a patient treatment, but in actuality, they don’t. However, this “fake treatment” registers in the brain, perceive it as real, and kick-starts the healing process. The mind heals the body because it thinks the body is getting treatment, even if it isn’t. In research on social cognitive and affective neuroscience, it was discovered that self-affirmation helps to maintain a positive self-view and helps to restore your self-competence and self-worth. Simply by telling yourself nice things, it is indeed possible for your mind to convince your brain and body that you are those things. And these are just the things we know the mind is capable of, think about everything we don’t know.
There are a lot of things we know about animals. Dogs are sweet and loving, cats can have an attitude and the lion is the king of the jungle, even if it lives in a Savannah. Not everything makes sense, and we don’t know as much as we think we do. Going to space is one of man’s greatest achievements. However, space exploration has clearly shown us just how small we are in the grand scheme of things. There are at least 2,500 other solar systems that have been discovered, but that number could go up to the tens of billions, we cannot know for sure. That’s just in our galaxy, the Milky Way, and the Milky Way is just one of the billions of galaxies that are out there in the universe. It’s so incredibly massive that you can’t just help but think, are we alone in the universe? And if we aren’t, why haven’t our neighbors come to say hi?
We have ideas, but as always, we don’t know, and we can’t really prove most things. A very fundamental question for nature is, what exactly is the universe made of? And why is there stuff in it to begin with? We know that all matter is made up of indivisible atoms, but why? Why do atoms exist and where do they come from? When we die, what exactly do those atoms become — everything else? At this point, you’ve read this article for seven to eight minutes. Time is persistent, for everything with mass, time never stops. We all know that yesterday is in the past, today is the present, and tomorrow is the future. But what exactly is the time and where does it come from? Even more confusing is, did humans “discover” or “invent” time. There are so many things about the world that we just don’t know, and while some are deep questions as we’ve talked about, others are more… well, trivial. While watching a person yawning, you also probably just yawned, so even more importantly, why is yawning contagious? When we’re happy, we laugh, when we’re sad, we cry. But… why? For a long time, it was believed that laughter was a social tool to show one another that we’re enjoying what is currently happening. It was an evolution tool used to help enhance connectivity in societies. But if that was the case, then laughter should be unique to us humans, or at least, primates, but it’s not. Other social animals like dolphins and even rats laugh. So, why do we laugh? And also, why do we cry? It’s as if crying has emotional healing powers. Crying activates our parasympathetic nervous system and helps return our bodies to a normal fully functional state. It’s a good thing for your body, so why do we associate it with such sad things? We often cry after something bad has happened, not really while it’s happening. Is it a process that evolved solely for our brains to process emotionally painful things? Then again, we cry for happy reasons as well. So scratch everything I just said.
I don’t know. Why are some people right-handed and a few others left-handed? Why isn’t everyone ambidextrous, wouldn’t that have made a lot more sense? We can have theories for many, many things, but they remain just that, theories. In actuality, proving theories as a fact of nature is a lot harder than you’d think. Many scientific theories are superseded with time and considered obsolete or simply wrong. We used to think Earth was the center of the universe, but then one day, we realized it wasn’t. Then again, not everyone could accept the fact that there. The view of the universe was wrong. I mean there’s a “theory” that as recently as World War 2, the Germans attempted some advances under the impression that the Earth was hollow. So, almost everything we do know about the world right now may be wrong. Honestly, it probably is. We simply don’t know everything about everything. And that’s okay. All we can do is keep asking questions and keep learning about the world around us, trying to uncover each of its mysteries one stone at a time, hopefully, answering the most important question of them all.
What does existence truly mean?