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Seeking the unknowns.

Undiscovered things are unknown, and therefore it is difficult to begin a search. What I want to explore with a series of posts are ways of searching for the unknown, with  some examples of what discoveries might be found.

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. – Those are the ones that are the most worrisome. It is those things we don’t know and don’t even know we don’t know, that I am going to be searching for. This is obviously a fool’s journey, and the path must be trodden by someone with time and energy to waste.

I want to go much further, but an example of one idea I have been exploring has to do with observing convergence of ideas and behavior in one situation, also being found in a distant other situation, and perhaps in yet another even more isolated situation. The idea here is that if similar things are happening in different situations there must be some underlying reason for that convergent behavior. If a statement can be made that abstractly covers all of these situations, then it should be possible to find other examples in other places where the newly stated abstract theory might be applied with success. The intermediate spaces ought to respond to the theory, but perhaps the theory could be applied outside of known space and time. Underlying the convergent processes would be some system of positive feedback for each of the species of process involved. Single events produce single results, but to get major variations generally requires multiple events. It is a positive feedback process that has greatest power for change, and it is the single event producing single results, without positive feedback, that is the limiting factor in most philosophies. Consider Zeno’s paradox of a rabbit’s repeatedly going only half way to to a turtle and so it never gets to the turtle; it’s a series of single events without positive feedback, and no inertia. It is these types of dead-end conundrums which a searcher into the unknown must learn to identify and pass on by without wasting too much time.

I will begin my journey into the unknown unknowns by exploring the factors hiding real things from our observation. Once we see clearly what prevents us from seeing things which are available to be seen, and not wasting time on distractions, it will be easier to remove the obscuring factors. The theory of camouflage will provide a large number of examples, because it is a necessity in nearly all living systems to respond to predation. The idea of camouflage has already been discussed at length by others since Darwin, involving animals, plants and military operations, and there are theories on how to best apply those ideas to each of these special situations. But the underlying camouflage theory can also be applied to other situations which the people involved would not have thought about under the term camouflage. For example, cooking, clothing, housing, music, news reporting … I have specific things in mind for each of these, but the principles of military camouflage have not been applied in each of these other more peaceful fields. An underlying strategy is probably applicable in many situations for hiding things which is to hide or to distract from the main message.

This is not a journey like Star Trek, which was going where no man had gone before, and telling sentimental stories about the trip. That was a fictional journey into distant fantasy realms, but this newly proposed journey is into real but, at present, unknown realms.

Off we go into the search for the unknown but hopefully knowable unknowns.