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Human Limitations of understanding.

  1. Jan 25, 2012 #1
    Do you think that there is a limit to Human comprehension.
    Will we ever be able to realise the true nature of reality.
    I don't mean to say that the standard model is wrong or anything like that, but there are parts that cannot be explained. Yet.

    I've read that when you come across infinity in maths it means something has gone wrong somewhere (like the singularity at t=0 is infinitely small and infinitely dense). I've also watched documentaries about the multi verse (that their could be an infinite number of universes all with different laws of physics)and hows its becoming an increasingly popular theory, at least to the public and the layman (like me).

    Can a fish ever realise that its swimming in water, or to expand upon that, can we as humans rooted within the universe ever come to know everything that the universe keeps secret.

    I hope this is sufficient to explain what I'm trying to ask, my brains starting to hurt trying to think about it. What do you guys reckon.

    I guess this is more philosophy than cosmology, if a moderator wishes to move this to somewhere else, be my guest. I just want to know what you lot think.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 26, 2012 #2

    Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, it might just be so. Humans and all other material creatures we are familiar with are bound by their hardwiring or senses. True, we augment our senses via telescopes, cameras, and our intellectual capacities via computers. But what we are augmenting remains human and firmly rooted in the way we neurologically process stimuli and archive it as information and the nature of the organs through which we process such information. In short, reality, no matter what that reality might happen to be, will always remain subjective.

    To illustrate consider this:

    Ten intelligent extraterrestrials all with different sense organs are exposed to the same stimuli. Each one perceives the stimuli in a different way. Which one is perceiving reality? Each believes deep inside that its perception is the right one and all others are illusions or misperceptions.

    For example:

    One perceives a flame n its skin as coldness, another as a pinprick, another as a touch of a feather and we as agonizing pain. Each one defines fire according to its perceptions. Which of these is right? One tastes a food as bitter, another as sweet another as bland. The same applies to all perceptions and the results are that each one lives in his own universe.
  4. Jan 26, 2012 #3


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    At present we rely on machines to help us "understand" certain things about the LDCM model. For example, the detailed many-body calculations done by computers (such as of cold dark matter + baryonic matter and how the universe should look now as a function of dark matter fraction) are effectively impossible by humans using scratch pads or abaci. In a way, we ask the computer what the models mean. As machine intellengence gets better, we will probably require them to do more complex tasks, such as theorizing. Machines have the potential of understanding complex theories better than we can, and certain features of the universe may be very difficult to understand.
    Yes, I think there are limits to human understanding. Even in the crudest sense, a brain is much smaller than the universe, and the number of calculations per sec available is a lot smaller than that of the whole universe. Machines will potentially be smarter, but will still have limits. We may be asking machines to answer more and more questions for us because we are unable to derive the answers without help.
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2012
  5. Jan 27, 2012 #4
    While this statement is possibly true it is by no means necessarily true. The conclusion of Kurt Godel was:

    "Either mathematics is incompletable in this sense, that its evident axioms can never be comprised in a finite rule, that is to say, the human mind (even within the realm of pure mathematics) infinitely surpasses the powers of any finite machine, or else there exist absolutely unsolvable diophantine problems of the type specified..."

    25th J. Willard Gibbs Lecture, 1951. "Some basic theorems on the foundations of mathematics and their implications" The entire lecture is published in his collected works but I can't find an internet version.

  6. Jan 27, 2012 #5


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    Godel [a pal of Einstein] was one of the great logicians of all time. His incompleteness theorem argues a complete, consistent theory of mathematics capable of validating its most basic assumptions is a logical impossibility. While philosophically relevent, it has little relevance in cosmology, IMO.
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