Elhenawy, Rowan

Rowan Elhenawy

Rowan Elhenawy responds to the question: Are some things unknowable

Object 1:

This butterfly keychain was given to me when I was 7 years old to distract me from crying because I was upset, and of course as a child I was distracted by the pretty blue and shiny keychain. The geometric patterns of the jewels that were carved to form the shape of wings enchanted me. The gold metal rim around the whole butterfly figure as well as its body made me think it was some ancient amulet I had to cherish. From then on, I never went anywhere without my butterfly keychain. But one day I lost said keychain and I started panicking. For what seemed like hours but was only probably about 15 minutes it seemed like I had lost my sanity considering how frantically I was looking. Eventually I got to my last resort which was praying. 8-year-old me was still very much debating the existence of God, so I’m not sure why I did it, but I was desperate. But low and behold about two minutes later I found it between my bedside table and my bed. Was it because God is real, and he willed me to find it? Or was it because the “praying” had put me in a calmer mindset so I could properly look.

I chose this object for this prompt because technically neither I or anyone will ever really know which it was because it is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of God and therefore if praying really is what we think it is. Religion and beliefs are a very controversial subject due to this. If we could prove God is what we have made “him” out to be then the debate between religions would be over. This object links to the prompt as me praying and getting the outcome I wanted inherently proves that God is real and that praying is a genuine way of communication between mortals and a higher power.

Now rationally thinking I know that I just had to recollect myself so I could properly search my room bit by bit. But some part of me wants that moment to be a religious awakening, some sort of epiphany moment where I figured out and knew for a fact that God was real. That praying really did work and that he heard me. But some things really are unknowable, I will never know if it was lucky timing, rerouting my mindset, or if God really answered my prayer.


Object 2:


My second object it an article written in 2020 about the extinction of certain species by the Scientific American. It was written by John R Platt who is an award-winning environmental journalist from Portland, Oregon. His “Extinction Countdown” column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. The main discussion within this article is informing the reader about the species that were declared extinct within the year 2020. Although the long and thorough introduction to this essay hashes out the detrimental effect human behavior has had on the ecosystem and habitats all over the world, as well as the complexity and fragility of declaring a species as extinct.

The article itself mentions how it is nearly impossible to prove a negative. Plus, statistically thinking about the concept, only 5 % of the ocean has been discovered and only 65% of land so how could we possibly and more importantly, accurately determine that certain species have gone extinct when there is so much of earth that we have not searched. Adding on the fact that the areas that we have discovered have not all been thoroughly searched for new or rare species, fuels this concept. And since the conclusion on whether or not an animal has gone extinct is based on its consistency of being noticed (e.g. fossils of certain animals coming up or being found periodically) the mere occasion of not finding these fossils could lead to the assumption that the species have significantly decreased in population size.

However, there is some sense to the word “extinction” due to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and what we know about the food chain and animal kingdom hierarchy we can assume that certain species have gone extinct, however assuming and making educational guess is different from knowing since as stated before the only way to truly know if an animal has gone extinct is to search every inch of the earth. Furthermore, it has already been proven that certain species have developed new migration and hunting strategies, we can assume that human activities have a key role into this evolution. Some more factors could be climate change or deforestation which could also lead to scientists searching the “wrong” place for certain species which again could lead to the miscalculation that a species has gone extinct. Further proving that it is unknowable to know for a fact that a certain species has gone extinct based on the data we are currently collected or previously collected data.

Object 3:

My third and final object is an evil eye amulet. One that has been hung up in my grandmother’s room for the past 55 years, one that was given to her as a wedding present. I am going to discuss the story and culture behind this superstition of protection and vulnerability of the evil eye. Growing up as children we heard many stories about “hasad” which is Arabic for the action of losing something due to the evil eye concept. In essence, the evil eye curse is a simple concept that originates from the belief that someone who achieves great success also attracts the jealousy of those around them. Envy, in turn, develops as a curse, robbing them of their good fortune. However, a key distinction in Arabic culture is that the evil eye curse doesn’t have to be intentional.

This object links to the prompt as the concept of the evil eye cannot be proven so therefore it is unknowable whether evil eye amulets work or not. The theory that an amulet of an eye with a blue iris can protect you from evil can be substituted for a totem for blaming. But specifically in Arabic culture “hasad” can happen unknowingly, for example if person A were to compliment person B on something without saying “mashallah” (translation: “what god has willed”) it could lead to person B losing the thing that was complimented whether it was an object or a physical attribute. But it is impossible to prove that these two events have any correlation, nor do we have any proof that they have a direct cause and effect relationship, hence demonstrating the prompt that some things are unknowable.

The initial concept of the evil eye cannot be proven to begin with however it is so deeply woven into Arab culture its almost treated as fact. So, there is a sort of domino effect where the initial concept is so widely accepted that we have blindly agreed to having blue eyed amulets “protecting us.” This concept also links to faith and religion as well as culture. The blind trust that God or just a higher being gives the amulet the power to ward off evil and cast aside the envious glares of others. There are no tests that can be done to prove this theory though, just as religion cannot be proved theories like these that are so heavily woven into faith, are just as hard to prove and fact.