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Can a person know nothing at all?

  1. Jul 4, 2006 #1
    I was wondering, what value does information hold on a cosmic scale or is it an invention of sentient organisms that has no value whatsoever to the creator or to the accident that managed to collogate atoms at the right spots to egress consciousness?

    Basically, the question is two-pronged. First, can a person know nothing at all? For example, when someone was left to die in some distant jungle and he was taken into someone's care somewhere around his 40s-50s and has no capacity to learn any language (and thus, learning anything at all). Does this person effectively "know" nothing (excluding the fight or flight instinctual response)?

    What about braindead people, do they know nothing as well?

    The second question is, how much does the cosmos value each individual person, whether he is dead or alive and does it depend on knowledge? For example, a person who knows 400 languages (don't see these people all that often ) and is savvy in every area and can adjust to any environment and is just the type of guy that everyone calls a "genius" or a "walking-encyclopedia" (note: it doesn't have to be a dweeb) compared to a guy who knows one language and can't do much of anything else?

    Does the universe "care" (except the obvious societal adulation) how much information we accumulate before we die or can we just plough through life without learning a thing and still be a "commodity" for the universe? and can a dead person be classified as someone with "zero knowledge" as well?

    Too many questions to list here actually but i'll do a follow-up in another post. Any input appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 4, 2006 #2
    Well this question implies there is a creator, so it looks like a religious argument to me. The cosmos values nothing. Valuing something is a human idea the universe does not care for a thing. :smile:

    Well I hope you realize that things like value and care are human ideas. The cosmos does not value and care at all, the cosmos simply is. :smile:

    I see that you mix up information and knowledge. Knowledge is a human idea while information is something else. Every object, even a black hole, be it a simple atom or a complex living or dead organism contains information.
  4. Jul 4, 2006 #3
    So how long can a dead organism contain information before it completely disintergrates to form other organisms and other information? Will that still be the same organism? And if a dead body contains information, then how come it is.. well.. dead. Can you "revive" that information (ala Omega Point)?

    Also, how do you know that the Universe doesn't value information? Let's assume for a second that there is an afterlife and it is intimately connected with the universe - what if the information you gleaned from here is "copy and pasted" in the afterlife and you proceed from where you stopped?
  5. Jul 4, 2006 #4
    Well the answer is untill it completely disintegrates. I am not sure if you understand what information means in nature. Try not to mix it up with knowledge which as I wrote before a human idea.

    Well an organism that is dead cannot maintain it's structure for long. So shortly after death appears the organism is no longer an organism.

    The implication you make that only living things can contain information is incorrect. Even a stone contains information. I think what you are talking about if can we recreate brain patterns of a dead person. I would say that is impossible since we do not even recreate our own brain patters while being alive, the brain is like a neural network and no two identical brain patterns will appear, at least the chances of that happening as virtually 0.

    Well this an "how do you know we are not being watched by green eyed pigs who live in the 18th dimension" category of question. The burdon of prove is on the one who makes the assertion. Feel free to demonstrate how the universe could value anything.

    Yep and if I am going to assume that the green eyed pigs in the 18th dimension like yellow bubble gum I might consider buying some at e-bay. :smile:
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2006
  6. Jul 4, 2006 #5


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    Did you see the news story about a man whose brain had been badly damaged in a car accident and regenerated itself after he had been in a light coma (but not a "persistent vegetative state") for 19 years?
  7. Jul 5, 2006 #6
    Knowledge entails truth, thus if a person's alleged knowledge is based entirely on falsehoods then that person does not possess knowledge.

    Knowledge also entails justified belief, thus if a person's alleged knowledge is based entirely on beliefs which are unjustified (or even worse, on no beliefs at all), then that person does not possess knowledge.

    Best Regards
  8. Jul 5, 2006 #7


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    If you assume a Creator or an afterlife, without the need to verify them, you can go on to draw all sorts of conclusions. As MeJennier points out, why stop there? Why not assume green-eyed bubblegum-eating pigs?
  9. Jul 5, 2006 #8


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    Even the most isolated human - having never had any contact with the outside world - still has knowledge about "his universe" through his five senses.
  10. Jul 6, 2006 #9
    Not necessarily. He has "data" available from his senses, but to turn data from the senses into knowledge about the world requires the formation of justified true beliefs about the world.

    Best Regards
  11. Jul 6, 2006 #10


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    You're writing of two separate things here. A dead body contains plenty of information, which is the reason we conduct autopsies. Forensic information of this sort is contained in the brain as well. What you're asking is whether the thoughts and memories and the person dead can be retrieved somehow. Honestly, I suspect that, for some limited amount of time, they probably can be, but we obviously don't know how to do that, as we cannot correlate whatever it is exactly in the brain that codes these things with mental states.
  12. Jul 6, 2006 #11
    So there is definetly information to be deduced from a dead body for forensic purposes (CSI style), but what about the information that as some people said "goes to the unconscious" in the dead brain. Is it still information in the universe after it disintegrates (the body) and can it be retrieved in that case or is it lost forever? If it isn't, then how is it "usable" if it no longer utilized by that mind-body?

    For example, a person knowing 100 languages (not likely) dies. The languages are still "out there" but they are no longer "known" by that one person, so it is no longer valid to say that he knows anything, only that there was this one person (in past tense) that used to know X amount of languages, etc but no longer does since he himself is "gone".

    It's almost as if there is "active" and "passive" information in the world and the difference between them is that one a person dies, he is no longer capable of receiving that information or processing it.

    It's the same with religion basically. How can one say that a personality endures death when the "self" is no longer? That information (us) is lost forever, so we no longer exist (even if there is a all-permeating substance that pick us up after our last farewells).
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2006
  13. Jul 6, 2006 #12
    Sorry, but a dead brain has no unconscious.

    Well people who believe make theories that are not particularly scientific. Basically in theology anything goes. :smile:
  14. Jul 6, 2006 #13
    Yeah I got your back on this one but tell me one thing. Since there is something rather than nothing (and since Nature is the realization of all possible potentialities), how surprising would it be for instance to posit the existence of that bug of yours from 18th dimension? Yes it is theology where everything goes, but my question is, why should Nature that should be the "incarnation of the impossible", be limited to what we have here?
  15. Jul 6, 2006 #14
    Well I am sorry but I do not agree with that statement at all.

    Well I do not think that nature is the "incarnation of the impossible".

    Feel free to demonstrate that those assertions are true.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2006
  16. Jul 6, 2006 #15
    I can't really explain that. But since we can conceive of things with the use of consciousness (things that are by all means, more advanced than nature itself) nature endowed us with, nature should be capable of much more than this simple three-dimensional world where quite possibly the death is the end of existence.

    If there is something our mind can posit (such as the existence of another dimension or some such), then it (nature) should have no problem realizing these pinings or other things which might be inconceivable for the mind, cause without nature, we wouldn't be here and the mind wouldn't exist, so why is it wrong to assume that nature should be much more convoluted (forget that first quote, you're right) than anything we can imagine and can actualize the mind's yearnings on the basis of the "real thing" (rather than just us thinking about it).

    You know what I mean?

    Basically, if something is to exist at all, why should 18th dimensions or other metaphysical postulates be fallacious when for nature, supposedly, it's possible to create anything that our mind conceives of. It just happened to choose to create this primitive world.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2006
  17. Jul 6, 2006 #16


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    Well I think this puts too much weight on what we can conceive. I can conceive a whole lot of things; I commonly read science fiction and fantasy where I find faster than light space ships and dragons flying around under earth-strength gravity, both of which I know perfectly well to be impossible in the universe I live in. But Is the cosmos required to support those fictions? why is one fantasy (life after death) necessary because we can think of it and another (FTL or dragons) not?
  18. Jul 6, 2006 #17
    But don't you find it lamentable that whatever you can conceive (such as you travelling through bodies, creating another universes, travelling at speeds above the speed-of-light without utilizing any technology) ends up being just a figment of your imagination and all you're bound to do eventually is have fun and die? (replace that with any other personal goal)

    Since something exists rather than nothing then why should science fiction which created all of these flights of the imagination be more advanced than our nature (universe), since that alone allowed science fiction to exist.

    How can our mind conceive of things that are by leaps and bounds more sophisticated than the universe we live in, if the universe itself should be something science fiction stories can only hope to graze?

    It's hard to explain that but I hope I got my point across.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2006
  19. Jul 7, 2006 #18


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    This is a tough one. If the universe is wholly deterministic, then if we were ever able to correlate brain states exactly with mental states, it would become a computability question, which I honestly have no clue how to answer. As of right now, given our capacities for forensic science, we cannot correlate brain states with mental states with the precision required to glean a person's exact knowledge from the arrangement or activity of anything in his head.

    Nonetheless, I do think we can definitively say, as you point out, that the person himself no longer knows these languages, even if his knowledge is itself retrievable, in principle, by third parties. After all, the person no longer exists!
  20. Jul 24, 2006 #19
    "Can a person know nothing at all?"

    If he did he wouldn't know it and neither would anyone else.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2006
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