Back in college I found myself in this initiation thing where to get into a service fraternity I had to do some silly stuff. Not like steal lingerie from the girls’ dorm or push an egg down the hallway with my nose. This was a more cerebral challenge. Each initiate was led into a darkened room to be interrogated by upper classmen. The premise was simple: no matter what you are asked, have an answer, even if you don’t know the answer. Just make it up and stick to your lie as best you can. Now, I hate shit like this but I wanted to get into the fraternity at the time so I went along with it. I was told no matter what, don’t say “I don’t know.”

I don’t even remember what the questions were, or what my responses were. I remember being annoyed by the whole thing. I think I was supposed to be intimidated and learn something about respecting my elders or some shit but all i was, was annoyed. I learned it’s far more natural for me to question and challenge authority than it is to go along with shit just to fit in. So after putting up with this for two or three questions I intentionally said “I don’t know” to a question I did know the answer to, cuz I just no longer gave a fuck about belonging to this fraternity.

I figured that was the end of it. I didn’t get in and I could go on with my life. Next day I found out I was accepted anyway. The whole thing was pointless and stupid, and being able to say I’m allegedly a lifelong member of that fraternity is so useless and pathetic to me now I am intentionally NOT naming said fraternity cuz I don’t want you to bother googling it.

I have written before at length about agnosticism versus atheism. That you CAN be both, but most people don’t understand this. Saying you don’t know but maybe there’s a god does NOT make you a Believer. If you don’t know, you probably don’t believe. If you don’t know but believe anyway, then you really don’t believe. You’re just pretending to know. You’re hedging your bet, as if an omnipotent omniscient god is not gonna know on Judgement Day that deep down you had your doubts he even existed. Pretending is not going to get you into heaven. Pascal’s Wager is a fool’s bet.

But “I don’t know” is given short shrift in society. Many don’t trust science precisely because it starts at “I don’t know.” A friend recently told me she doesn’t trust science because it lies and I asked her to give me an example. She said science often says it doesn’t know. I said how can that possibly be lying? To her “I don’t know” is as bad as lying. It is a lie. Even if you honestly don’t know. People want an answer, even if it’s the wrong answer. If you can say it convincingly, and nobody can challenge you on the answer, they’re satisfied with that, even if it could lead them off a cliff or in a river. Frankly, with this attitude towards admission of lack of knowledge, I’m surprised mankind hasn’t already caused its own destruction.

We would not have science if it weren’t for the phrase “I don’t know.” We looked out into space a long time ago and someone connected the dots we saw up there and made constellations, and people told stories about those constellations and this led to astrology, which for many centuries claimed to know what the stars were for and our place amidst them. Then Galileo put together a telescope and took a closer look. People still cling to astrology even today, even though all astrology is, is astronomy without a telescope. Astrology was made by people who had no clue what was up there, but they were afraid to say “I don’t know” cuz then no one would listen to them.

Scientists don’t care if anyone listens or not. They seek knowledge not fame or power. They ask themselves what they don’t know and then they figure out how to find those answers for real. They don’t pull shit out their ass and pretend it’s truth. In fact, when a scientist thinks he has the answer, he tests the answer to make sure he didn’t screw up somehow. Then his peers go out of their way to prove his findings wrong cuz nobody likes a smart ass. And if they can’t find any fault in his findings, they show it to other people who also don’t like a smart ass until everyone’s convinced that so far as we know, this is what we know. And then from there they ask again: what don’t we know?

And scientists sometimes even backtrack. Stuff we took for granted for ages may one day suddenly get thrown out with yesterday’s garbage. Like assuming Pluto is a planet for example. Why did we assume that? The more we learned about all the stuff around Pluto, we realized if we call Pluto a planet, we got a lot of other planets out there in the Kuiper Belt. So either eight year old kids were gonna start learning a lot more names for “planets” or Pluto was gonna have to get demoted. People got real upset about this. It blew a whole in what people believed about our own solar system. They didn’t care if it was right or not. They wanted Pluto to be a planet and that was that.

The word “planet” comes from ancient greek. It means “wanderer” because before we had telescopes, astrologers noticed these objects wander about the sky more than the other lights up there. We now understand why, and they don’t so much wander as they orbit the sun, just like Earth does. They appear to orbit from the perspective of an ignorant person who doesn’t have a telescope or modern day technologies that allow us to learn more about these things. The planets closer to our sun (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars) are “terrestrial” meaning they have land mass. they’re solid. The outer rim planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) are called “gas giants” and so far as we can tell you could go right through them and not hit anything we might think of as ground.

Okay you might hit ice, but ice is just really cold liquids and gases. My point is they’re not comprised of the same exact stuff. Inner planets and outer planets are very different from one another. You could theoretically fit hundreds of Earth sized planets inside Jupiter’s volume and still have room for more. These planets are so unlike one another it seems silly to use the same word to describe them. Mercury and Neptune are really nothing alike. They’re both kinda round. That’s about where similarities begin and end.

So why do we call the eight things we still call planets planets? I don’t know.

As I type these words, there are people here in the United States and all over the world who claim to have the answers. To what, I don’t know, but whatever questions are being posed to them, they pretend to have answers, and sometimes those answers lead to people’s rights being removed from them because of the beliefs these wrong answers generate. In Syria, The Ukraine, Venezuela, parts of South Africa, there are buildings in flames tonight and thousands of people are without homes, forced to flee for fear of death or worse. I saw an image recently of North Korea at night from outer space. South Korea was all lit up, and everywhere around North Korea was all lit up but North Korea itself? Black. A curfew is enforced there. Most people don’t have regular electricity. There’s a great deal of suffering. Why? I really don’t know.

The leaders of these little worlds on our big world all pretend to have the answers, and no one with any power challenges their lies. So they plod on in willful ignorance pretending to have the answers to questions they make unlawful to even contemplate. Thousands if not millions suffer for the lack of real answers to very tough questions, because the leaders of our world are afraid to admit when they don’t know. They are afraid, because they got into positions of power by pretending to know what they didn’t. They faked it till they made it, and people let them do that cuz they didn’t know either but they weren’t as good at pretending to know what they really didn’t. They perpetuate the myths that we don’t have to work hard to learn the truth, and that we can make up bullshit that’s better than the truth and if we try really hard and thrusts our fists against the posts we can still insist we see those ghosts.

Don’t be “blanketed by the warmth of ignorance.” Don’t give them the power. They don’t deserve it. They don’t know any more than you do how all this works. Don’t let them trade your freedom to seek your own answers in return for a false front of security. That blanket of ignorance has got so many holes in it. It’s not gonna keep you warm.

Why is it fashionable to make up answers that everyone knows aren’t true? Why is it unfashionable to find actual answers to difficult questions? What are we really so afraid of? I don’t know. We need to find out. We might not like what we learn, but we won’t know if we don’t try.