Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was held up to a considerable amount of ridicule when, defending the government’s position in 2002 that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction,” he 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.
Taking aside the fact that we knew perfectly well Iraq had no WMDs, Rumsfeld was actually right. There are things we know that we know, things we know that we don’t know and things we don’t know we don’t know. But he missed one.
There are things we don’t know we know. In Rumsfeld’s parlance, that would be unknown knowns.
Nearly 14 billion years ago, all that is in this universe was condensed into a single dot in space. The heat, the density, the pressure are as incomprehensible to us as those 14 billion years. The source of that dot is unknowable, or just maybe … it’s an unknown known.
When the pressure in that dot reached … critical mass, let’s call it … our universe began to expand. In that expansion, it began to cool. As it cooled, atomic nuclei formed, then actual atoms of elements like helium, hydrogen, lithium. Clouds of those atoms formed stars, and then galaxies.
Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is probably about 12.5 billion years old, our own star, the Sun, considerably less. It’s about 4.5 billion years old. The earth? About the same. Gaseous elements combined to form the sun at about the same time as other elements, with other densities, formed the planets. Life? The oldest life we know about are bacteria that lived 3.5 billion years ago on a hot, molten earth that couldn’t have supported any other kind.
Our planet cooled, though, and as it did, other kinds of life emerged, and then others, and still others, over billions of years, all bringing us to this point in time.
We are all made of elements, atoms of elements that began in the stars, which began in a dot in space. We are all made of the same stuff, and not just humanity, but every other creature on the planet, every plant, every animal, even the earth itself and beyond.
We feel a connection to our families, those other humans who share our bloodlines. Even if our connection is a troubled one, it’s there. We do not forget it. And we share an even greater connection, not only with our families, but with our universe, all of it. We share everything.
We know this, even when we don’t. This is an unknown known.