BoomerCafe’s Greg Dobbs reminds us there are still great mysteries

BoomerCafé’s Executive Editor and Co-Founder Greg Dobbs reflects on the fact that mysteries still remain on earth despite all the advances we baby boomers have seen throughout our lives in technology and knowledge … and our own good instincts sometimes are the best guide.

Once Lewis and Clark and their crew of 29 explorers pushed north on the Mississippi out of what was then a thousand-person colony called St. Louis, nobody back in what was considered civilization knew where they were. Or how they were. Or even if they were still alive.

Greg Dobbs

Greg Dobbs

Not for the two-and-a-half years they were gone. You might call that the good old days.

Because in the time of President Thomas Jefferson, who sent them to search for a passage to the Pacific, nobody expected to know. It was 1804. No cell phones, no email, no TV or radio or texting or GPS or, I declare with a trace of envy, Facebook. To put the age into perspective, not only was there no such thing as high-tech electronics, but no one to that point in history had ever even traveled faster than the speed of a galloping horse.

Now, fast forward (a phrase reflecting technology they hadn’t yet invented in the age of Lewis & Clark) to 2014, an age when we expect to be able to know (whether we need to or not) where everyone is, every second, every day. Not just because many people bend over backwards to tell us where they are on Facebook and Twitter and other social media (another phrase of which 19th-Century citizens were blissfully bereft), but because if they don’t tell us, there are other apps we can use to find out. Not to mention the involuntary traces that can be put on us thanks to our smartphones, which pinpoint our whereabouts from their unceasing emission of signals. And I won’t even bring up the NSA.

So isn’t it amazing that we’ve found out from two major news stories in the past month how much we still don’t know?! An army moves into someone else’s territory and takes it for its own … and no one saw it coming. A 200-ton airplane disappears from everyone’s radar… and no one saw it go.

The disappearance of MH370 has been compared to Amelia Earhart, the legendary aviator who vanished during a flight over the Pacific Ocean in 1939.

The disappearance of flight MH370 has been compared to Amelia Earhart, the legendary aviation pioneer, who vanished during a flight over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.

Sure, maybe you can chalk some of it up to human error;  in simple terms, maybe someone in each case was asleep at the switch. But I prefer to chalk it up to something more basic: that while we have the means to know more about our world than we ever knew before — and from the standpoint of understanding our global environs, that’s a good thing — there is still some mystery in life, and hopefully there always will be.

What we know for sure is, while computers now can beat even the highest-ranked Grandmasters in a game of chess, there are some things they still don’t do. Like infer the intent of Russian soldiers crossing into Ukraine, or track an airplane on an overnight flight to Beijing … let alone find it once it has disappeared.

Sacagawea with Lewis and Clark.

I’m not anti-tech, but I am pro-human. And if the characteristics that set us apart from computers mean that from time to time we are still left in the dark, that’s just fine with me. With nothing more than their own good instincts and the sage support of a young Indian woman named Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark not only found the Pacific; they also found their way back.

(Please note: this story originally appeared on BoomerCafé on April 7, 2014)

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6 Comments

  1. Excellent piece, thanks Greg. I especially like the philosophical question implied here. Indeed, it’s nice to have mysteries still – they give a measure of humanity to an increasingly tech world…And actually point to the limits of artificial intelligence. But that’s a yet even bigger story (so many books about it, including the concept of “singularity” , it would be worth a whole other article!

  2. You have raised an issue that we as individuals and as a society must find the time to pause and ponder. In some ways I think our humanity depends on doing it. I know I will be thinking about this for a while. Thank you Greg.

  3. My husband and I were just chatting with a fellow we met last night about the computer versus world champion chess master Kasparov and how far technology has come. We certainly have seen a great deal of change and advancement in our lifetime! I too however, hope that there will still be some mystery left in this world. Wonderful, thought provoking article Greg!

  4. I’m glad that there’s still plenty of mystery left. And, because I don’t have a smart phone, I can’t instantly look up the answer to any factual question I might have. And I enjoy living life that way. Still, I’d love to know what happened to Amelia.

  5. Great piece Greg. The first sentence in your last paragraph, sums up what, in my opinion, should be the essence of the digital age: not anti tech, but pro human. Enjoyed it. Thanks.

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