Our Reach Exceeds Our Grasp: The Theory Of Nothingness

Mar 28, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

Stanley Bing is a columnist for FORTUNE Magazine and may also be read on a daily basis at

Like just about everybody in the interactive, global blogospherical headspace, I try to stay up on everything that's going on in politics, the economy, science, news, sports, the media, ecology, nutrition and ethical philosophy of all sorts. That's possible now, because there's so much knowledge around and so many ways to access just enough of it to stay conversant. The odd thing, it occurred to me as I watched Manning pitch it to Tyree, is that the more we evolve, study, and add to the storehouse of human information now available to everybody with a socket on the planet, the less we know. Like, at this point, as we continue to feast our brains on the rich soil of meta-knowledge now at our fingertips, we know basically nothing about anything.

Let's look at a very short list. I'm sure there are more examples, so send in any additional areas of ignorance as they occur to you:

Sports: Let's start with that. The Super Bowl. A gazillion articles. A trillion pictures. Thousands of oddsmakers. All were wrong. Why? Because no matter how much you study what may happen in real-time, you can never really predict the future, and in this area, as in some others we will briefly mention, the more knowledgeable you are, it appears, the less likely you are to get something right. To put it another way, only a functional moron would have picked the Giants. We may be on to something here.

Politics: Once again, the pundits got everything wrong in Iowa, then in New Hampshire. They picked Giuliani to win at the outset. Hillary was unbeatable. McCain doesn't have enough money. And so on and so forth and blah blah blah. The more informed and experienced the observer, the less accurate their analysis, assumptions and prognostications seem to be. Not just politicians but the polls themselves now lie. Do we know what's going to happen on Super Tuesday? Yes. We know Adnan and Sam will continue to hate each other. But who will triumph? We'll have to wait and see.

Economics: Did anybody predict the sub-prime loan crisis? Is a recession coming? Are we in it already? Is it a real recession or one created by the media and a psychotically nervous market? What's the greater danger? Inflation? Stagflation? Is there any safe way to invest money at this point? Should the Fed have cut rates so deep already? Should they do it again? Does anybody know what's going on? There's a lot of heat on the subject, but we have less light today, I think, than we have at any point in the past. Or perhaps we know just the same amount as always, but the discrepancy between what we know and what we NEED to know is so vast it's discouraging.

The Weather: It's too wet in California. It's too dry in New York. Is our carbon footprint going to squash us? When I was a kid, there were about three minutes of weather and sometimes they got it right. Now there are entire channels given over to the study, and we know not the same amount, not more, we know LESS. We have a feeling that something terrible is about to happen, so once again our uncertainty, which felt like a fact of nature in the past, now generates an even more intense level of anxiety. Are the ice caps about to break free and head for the equator? Why not? And if not, who?

The Next Big Deal: Will it be Microsoft and Yahoo? Google and Yahoo? Something else and Yahoo? Something not even involving Yahoo? How is that possible? And what's next? Will a huge Barry Diller Front hit a gigantic John Malone front somewhere over Denver and cause a perfect mogul storm? Then where would we all be? Have all the great deals been made? Or is the business universe like our culture was before the advent of the Beatles... on the cusp of the next great thing? What is it? What if it's nothing. What if we're perched on the verge of the next great nothing? What would that be like? Or are we there already?

And speaking of The Universe: It turns out that really nobody knows anything about that either. Quantum physics doesn't agree with general relativity. String theory has run its course and can't explain quantum gravity, if there such a thing. They can't find the Higgs boson, either, no matter how hard they look. That's sad. And evidently, it seems that more than 95% of the cosmos is made up of dark matter and dark energy, two highly approximate ideas we really don't understand one bit. So there as well we're 83% stupider than we were, say, 100 years ago, while at the same time being 462% better informed.

Which, I think, leaves us with one great question upon which we can perhaps decide: Blu-Ray or HD-DVD? What do you think?

Let's continue to pursue these ideas together. They certainly can't do any harm.