Who Knew?

I saw the astounding news today that scientists believe a ninth planet has been found, which they are calling, mundanely, "Planet Nine."{1} As I was reading about the evidence for this yet-unseen ninth planet, I thought to myself, "Wait a minute. Aren't there already nine planets?" I started listing them off, like you do when you're trying to remember the seven dwarves or the nine members of the Supreme Court: Earth, obviously; Mars; Venus; Saturn; Neptune; Uranus, that one's hard to forget; Pluto; Jupiter; and the one I always do forget, Mercury. That's nine. So, how can this new planet be the ninth?

I hate a mystery, which is really to say that I love them, so even though I was supposed to be getting ready for work, I investigated further and found out, unbeknownst to me, that Pluto got demoted to less than a planet - a dwarf planet - in 2006. In the story about Pluto's demotion, bringing the number of planets to eight, this definitive statement appeared: "I promise you this, though, we're never going back to nine planets . . . ever."{2} That story was written in May, 2013 and here we are, less than 3 years later.

With all of this technology at our fingertips, I think there's a trap to think we've got everything figured out, that we already know it all, when, actually, we don't. Did you know it's been estimated that "every year, researchers report more than 15,000 new species, and their workload shows no sign of letting up"?{3} The top new species for 2015 included a gorgeous, psychedelic worm, a Moroccan spider that can do cartwheels to escape danger and an Australian ocean-dwelling mushroom-shaped creature that could be a new jellyfish or possibly its own phylum.{4} (Think domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, Genus, then species.) There are an estimated 8.7 million species on earth, of which we've only discovered 1.3 million.{5}

There was a time when people thought the earth was flat (a while ago) or a time when people thought there were nine, different, planets in the solar system (me, yesterday). There, apparently, is quite a lot we don't know. Nova Scotian marine biologist Boris Worm (really) is quoted as saying, "It's astonishing that we don't know the most basic thing about life."{6} I would venture to say the same could be said about many things. Adherents to that theory have their own YouTube channel called "Things We Don't Know."{7}

Not knowing things can mess you up but so can knowing things that aren't true. I find that a lot in my line of work, psychotherapy. I remember an anorexic who "knew" that the calories from one food could migrate into another food if touching in the refrigerator. I've worked with some who "knew" they were worthless and unlovable, and with others who "knew" they could never change. There is an old adage that says, "Be careful what you wish for." I would add, "Be careful what you know."

A new planet or a new worm is fun and exciting and reminds us of new possibilities about the world around us. If the world around us, that we are so sure of, has the capacity to change from nine planets to eight planets and back again; if there really are millions of species inhabiting our world that we just haven't found yet; then this world we live in has an amazing capacity to produce new discoveries. We should not limit this capacity, however, to just the world. We have the same capacity to discover new possibilities, new potentials, within ourselves.

I'm thrilled when researchers discover things about this world that they didn't know existed before. I'm even more thrilled when people discover things about themselves that they didn't know existed before. With that in mind, I guess I'd better go to work.

  • {1} http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/new-evidence-suggests-a-ninth-planet-lurking-at-the-edge-of-the-solar-system/ar-BBotNpO?li=BBnb7Kz
  • {2} http://www.universetoday.com/15568/how-many-planets-are-in-the-solar-system/
  • {3} http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/science/30species.html
  • {4} http://www.cnet.com/pictures/top-10-new-species-of-2015-pictures/
  • {5} http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/science/30species.html
  • {6} http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/science/30species.html
  • {7} https://www.youtube.com/user/ThingsWeDontKnow