I often find myself wondering how exciting it would have been to live in a time before the entire world was discovered- a time where “Terra Incognita” still sprinkled world maps and explorers set off to see what lay beyond our known borders. How incredible would it have been to see places like the Grand Canyon of Crater Lake for the first time, to stumble upon some of Earth’s most breathtaking natural wonders without even knowing they were there. Today, our meticulously detailed maps are a testament to the fact that few places on Earth are left to discover, except for perhaps the depths of the ocean. True “journeys” do not exist anymore because travel is no longer an odyssey into the unknown.
However, we do still have the unimaginable vastness of outer space, the final frontier, to explore. Final seems a bit ambitious, though, because surely the universe is far bigger than we can even begin to comprehend. What’s lies beyond outer space, beyond the constricts of even our most advanced knowledge, technology… and maybe even beyond our imaginations? Just as Christopher Columbus was blissfully ignorant of the planets of our solar system (having lived centuries before their discovery), we probably can’t even fathom what we have yet to discover. There is a difference between what we know we do not know, and what we are completely unaware that we do not know. As Plato’s allegory of the cave suggests, we can only see what is right in front of us and our knowledge is but an interpretation of reality.
When I was younger my family traveled to Chichen Itza, Mayan Ruins of the Gods, one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and our tour group brought us to a massive underground spring called Cenote Ik Kil. The deep and enchanting spring, which lies 85 feet underground, was formally used as a sacred water source by the Mayans but has since been transformed into a unique swimming hole for tourists. The spring’s murky water is known to be at least 250 feet deep- but it could be far deeper as the floor remains undiscovered. I remember jumping into the water, surrounded by cat fish; I could not see 2 feet below me but could feel the eery, unknown depths. The feeling was quite unsettling, and the experience made me panicky. Would I have felt this way if I did not known how deep the spring was? The unknown is terrifying- but only when you are aware of its existence. How many unknowns exist, that our minds have yet the capacity to even consider? Probably endless…
We don’t even know how much of the universe remains Terra Incognita.
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