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Can we know if our knowledge is finite?

  1. Apr 18, 2003 #1
    Here I ask if complete self-knowledge must include an infinite line of reasoning. That line would evolve from infinite introspections, each necessary to accomodate the previous external reference to knowledge accumulated.

    Shades of Goedel's incompleteness theorem, or more simply, the Cretan paradox? The choices seem to be an infinity, or nonexistance, of self-knowledge.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 18, 2003 #2
    What, may I inquire, is "self-knowledge"?
  4. Apr 18, 2003 #3
    The Cretan or Liar's Paradox of "This statement is false" implies infinity, but whether or not it really is infinite is something that cannot be established logically. Re-worded as "I do not exist" or "I am not real" it contradicts itself repeatedly. If true, then it is false while if false, it must be true, ad infinitum. However, no one can be logically or scientifically proven to be immortal so the progression must end at some point when they die according to these standards.

    In an emotional context, however, it can be resolved. Note that we can replace the word "I" with "ego" to get "Ego does not exist." Obviously this too contradicts logic and scientific knowledge in a potentially infinite loop that can neither be resolved nor realized. Emotionally, however, it is possible we can transend these limitations through surrender or acceptance that the "I" and "existence" are in actuality one and the same thing.
  5. Apr 18, 2003 #4
    The answer to your question depends upon whether we can know the universe as a whole. Self-identity cannot truly be known unless the system of reference (the universe) is completely understood. Once we have a complete understanding of the existence we reside amongst, we can know ourselves proper.
    You really need to ask whether universal-knowledge is infinitely beyond us. Can we know existence (the universe) as a whole? Absolutely? As a singular entity? If so, then we can know ourselves.
  6. Apr 18, 2003 #5
    I agree with MajinVegeta, that you should define what you mean by "self-knowledge". I understand how Godel's theorems could be applied to systems of understanding, which try to describe themselves, however, I don't see how it applies to knowledge of oneself (if that's even the kind of "self-knowledge" that you are refering to). Please clarify.
  7. Apr 18, 2003 #6


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    Greetings !

    I'm not sure what exactly is meant by
    "complete self-knowledge". If it is the same
    as just "complete knowledge" then it is impossible.
    Also, in such a case I don't think that an infinite
    line of reasoning is required to reach the partial
    knowledge that can be reached but it is a possibility.

    In reference to the (apparently separate ?) question
    that is the name of this thread I think the "general"
    answer is yes - example: we can not comprehend the
    lack of time. Generalization of this: The principle
    according to which we can limmit what we can comprehend
    are the limmits imposed on our understanding by
    the laws of physics.

    Then again, it is possible that we will uncover new
    laws that will allow us to understand it - nothing
    in the Universe is absolute (except existence itself).

    Live long and prosper.
  8. Apr 18, 2003 #7
    In regards to "self-knowledge," please refer to the phrase "Can we know if our knowledge is finite?" That is, can we always know something more about ourselves, and if such knowledge is new and cumulative, without limit?
  9. Apr 18, 2003 #8
    Oh, ok. You are asking if we can infinitely learn new things about ourselves? The answer must be yes. I say that because everytime we learn something about ourselves, we also learn that we have learned that new thing about ourselves, and that we have learned that we have learned that new thing about ourselves, and so on...

    However, if you mean new qualities of ourselves, or new facts about our bodies and minds, then the answer is probably no.
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