The substructure of the universe regresses infinitely towards smaller and smaller components. Behind atoms we find electrons, and behind electrons quarks. Each layer unraveled reveals new secrets, but also new mysteries.
— Academician Prokhor Zakharov, “For I Have Tasted The Fruit”
The universal state of things expressed in this quote is not only applicable to the natural world at large (or small, as the case might be), but also to the lifeworlds of humans in general. The discovery of ever smaller components is equally a function of how the universe is structured, and of how knowledge is built upon previously accumulated knowledge. In order to find a smaller component, it is necessary to have discovered what said component is smaller than. It is, as Yang said, an iterative process.
Secrets and mysteries depend fully on the point of view adopted at a given point in time. On the one hand, it is necessary to know enough about something to know there are things not yet known; on the other hand, secrets unravel and mysteries unfold as soon as they become knowable enough to be subjected to systematic study. There is at all times a finite range of conceptually available objects that are not yet fully understood, but also not completely unknown. As Gadamer would have it, there are always things just beyond the horizon, and as we move towards it, new horizons come into view. The specific secrets and mysteries of the day tend to be discovered and explored, but there will always be new ones lurking just slightly further into the future.
This parallel between physical and mental universes can – it is assumed – only be pushed so far. Eventually, we will run out of physical universe; at some point, we will have found the smallest component there could possibly be, where venturing into smaller scales simply would not be a meaningful thing to do. Zakharov’s infinity is not quite as infinite as it is made out to be. It is, however, infinite enough to last for the rest of our lives, and possibly the lives of many generations to come. Which, for all intents and purposes we might have, is infinite enough to suffice, and to warrant the active seeking out of new mysteries and secrets to uncover. We are not done with the small secrets of the universe just quite yet.