Things I don’t understand


By Natasha Josefowitz


Lots! Some are mundane, some mechanical, some biological, some economic, some political, some universal.

The everyday things I don’t understand are some mathematical formulations (I got a D in Statistics but A’s in everything else, so they graduated me anyway.) There are many obtuse articles on economics that Herman reads and then explains to me; our daughter the doctor tells me the medical reasons for whatever is bothering me; our son the lawyer does the same when we struggle with taxes. I don’t understand why politicians make the decisions they do - their errors in judgment seem so obvious to me.

As a practicing social worker, I was privy to many kinds of mental and physical illnesses and always professed that one does not have to have lived through the same experience as one’s clients to understand their problems and help find solutions. Yet, in reading the newspaper, I cannot understand how a person can abuse a child or rape or torture someone-that is because my brain does not lack those sections that allow for empathy or restraint.

So indeed I live in a world that can be quite puzzling at times. Actually, I don’t really understand how I can dial my cell phone in some restaurant in La Jolla and reach my son who happens to be walking down a street in London. Now I don’t call people’s cell phones and start with “Hello,” I start with “Where are you,” and most often it is not where I thought they were.

I know, I know, satellites circle around the globe picking up signals and transmitting signals. Telephone wires were amazing enough, with our voices running from telephone to pole to pole, and now everything is wireless … even more mysterious.

How about the computer? One click and I have Google, and next click - the world of information about anything and everything. I shall never get over my amazement.

I asked a few friends what kinds of things they cannot understand - How radios and televisions work was a frequent answer and also trying to understand people from other countries like the importance of honor in some Arab countries or the importance of revenge. One friend said he did not understand himself. Other answers include the stock market - particularly hedge funds, how airplanes stay up, how our organs function, why we believe in what we believe in, and why don’t the children call more often?

But the most mysterious of all is how the universe works. If our brains could figure out the universe, that universe would be so simple that our brains would not have evolved enough to figure it out, so the universe is so complex that our limited brain capacity cannot understand it.

No one even knows what gravity really is - Newton admitted to making it up as he went along.

If we don’t really understand gravity, how can we know about dark matter and dark energy? Do they exist? Can we ever reconcile general relativity and quantum mechanics? (Not that I understand either one). Quantum Theory says that particles can pop in and out of existence and so our universe would have popped into existence - we have theories of parallel universes and intersecting ones, and a superposition of universes according to Stephen Hawking. Will we know more when the Large Hadron Collider begins operation this November or the International Linear Collider circa 2020 or the next supercollider around 2030?

I read that the universe is 13.7 billion years old and all of its components - galaxies, stars, planets are moving away from each other at a greater and greater acceleration.

Now if this isn’t mind boggling, I don’t know what is.

There are things no one understands and things some experts do but most people don’t. And then there are all the things I think I should understand but don’t, but am too lazy or limited to try and give up perhaps too quickly, feeling guilty that I don’t make more of an effort to understand this universe I happen to inhabit at this moment in time. Yet I also accept my limitations and so live contentedly in my ignorance.