“The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land, to add something to the extent and the solidity of our possessions.”
–Thomas Henry Huxley, On the Reception of The Origin of Species (1887)
The context here, as the book’s title indicates, is Huxley’s defense of Charles Darwin’s famous book, which Huxley called “the most potent instrument for the extension of the realm of natural knowledge which has come into men’s hands, since the publication of Newton’s ‘Principia’.”
Huxley’s image of an ocean of inexplicability is memorable in the vivid way it combines honest humility and plucky confidence. It expresses the spirit of science, and more broadly the spirit of curiosity.