“With Every Funeral” – Ignorance and How it Drives Science – Stuart Firestein

“With every funeral” refers to generational turnover; how “facts” and science change with time.

Stuart Firestein goes on to explain that “science is a revision in progress, always.” This last word implies that we, as beings that inquire, question, and seek to find answers, will never emerge from the leading edge of “ignorance” which is in itself a good thing since ignorance extends the horizon, the breeding ground for more questions for us to ponder in an endless pursuit that is certainly not futile, but one of perpetual discovery and growth.  The “legitimate science” of phrenology is held up as an example of ideas that are later discredited by new discoveries or by disproving the underlying theories on which the science rested upon for its legitimacy.

Interestingly enough, decades ago phrenology was used in a famous trial involving the kidnapping and murder of a young boy by two men, Leopold and Loeb. Loeb was the heir to the Sears fortune. During court proceedings renderings of his cranium were offered up to the jury as “scientific evidence” of a sociopath’s personality. Both men were convicted and imprisoned.

The ripples simile speaks to the ever-widening circular edges of the unknown. The avant-garde literally translates into “advanced guard”, akin to the leading edge. Perhaps we can also draw an analogy of a cresting and breaking wave as it hurtles toward the shore. Surfers ride the crest and venture dangerously toward the turbulence on the break. The edges and the break are where “the action is.” So, too, are these the realms where new discoveries are to be found. By staying within the perimeter, we are only able to inspect, analyze and re-frame ideas, facts, and theories we’ve pondered before. There’s certainly value in refining “known knowns,” but the “known unknowns,” as well as the vast body of “unknown unknowns” live on the fringes. Lyrics from an old song may further shed light on my trend of thought. Manfred Mann’s “Blinded by the Light” declares, “Momma always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun. But, mama, that’s where the fun is.” The fun is in the discovery and the adrenaline infused risk of sailing into the vast unknown.

Firestein’s Ted Talk can be found here: <a href="http://


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