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Is Ultimate Reality Knowable?

  1. Jun 9, 2004 #1
    I've recently read a definition from an online encyclopaedia, where it states that some part of ultimate reality may be unknowable to us. This is the link to the page:

    http://www.internet-encyclopedia.org/wiki.php?title=Ultimate_reality [Broken]

    Anyways, my question is: do you believe that eventually the ultimate reality can be described by a Theory of Everything or that by its nature it is impossible to do this?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 9, 2004 #2
    Does anybody have any views on this point?
  4. Jun 9, 2004 #3


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    The first question you must answer is this: how do we know things? Once you have worked out how we know things, you can then ask whether some things can not be known.

    I think you'll agree that we know something when we have received sufficient supporting evidence, and through the use of logic. Man's only way of learning about reality is through logic and the scientific method. Faith isn't a method of gaining knowledge. Asserting something on faith is not a good idea, because it is likely that we will be proved wrong.

    Having said this, the only things that we can know are those things that we can use science and logic to learn about. The universe is the extent of all that exist in time with us. It is everything that changes as we change. I think you'll agree that anything in our universe can be learned about, if man has the right tools to detect them, through science.

    If anything exists outside out universe, hence not 'in time' with us, we would have no way of ever receiving credible evidence of it. God, as typically defined, falls into this category. We can't set up equipment to detect God. It is impossible. He is supernatural, and therefore not a part of our universe.

    It wouldn't make any difference to us if things existed outside our universe, because we could never gain knowledge of them. Therefore one doesn't need to pose the question. We simply can't know of them. This does not extend to God, though. That discussion is, however, not in the scope of this thread.
  5. Jun 9, 2004 #4
    "Man's only way of learning about reality is through logic and the scientific method."

    We have many more tools than these. Statements like this seem to be a form of worship of the left hemisphere of the human brain. Regarding the scientific method, there are times when I am quite sure this is the dullest tool of the lot. After all it was the scientific method that brought us fen-fen, lobotomy, cocaine, weapons of mass destruction, thalidomide, air pollution etc...
  6. Jun 9, 2004 #5
    OK, thanks for your insight on the topic. In order to add a little bit of discussion to this page, I have here an extract out of a list of questions appearing on the following website: http://www.thebigview.com/spacetime/questions.html

    This is the relevant part to this thread:

    Will a complete physical model of the world help us to understand ultimate reality? Can we understand ultimate reality at all through science?

    Some physicists believe that a complete physical model can explain everything we observe. They hold that once the fundamental laws are known and powerful computers allow us to compute models of the world by applying these laws, we can eventually deduce explanations for all phenomena. In other words, physics can lead us to understanding ultimate reality. Is this really possible?

    One may doubt it. Even if we give physicists credit for their remarkable discoveries, we have to realize that their research takes place in an isolated field of knowledge. Physics does not concern itself with issues outside its own domain. For example, the subjects of biology, life, and chemistry, as well as the phenomena of mind and consciousness cannot be explained in physical terms. In addition, the following fundamental questions arise:

    1. Physics deals only with what can be measured. A complete physical model must therefore necessarily produce a materialistic view of reality. Although materialists usually deny the possibility that phenomena exist which cannot be measured or somehow quantified, they may actually exist.

    2. There are limits to what can be measured, as demonstrated by the uncertainty principle.

    3. Like any form of knowledge, physics represents not the world, but our ideas of the world. The question arises whether our ideas converge with ultimate reality, or whether this convergence is an illusion.

    4. Advanced physical models are abstract to the degree of being unintelligible to most people. Modern physics is based on higher mathematics and can hardly be put into common language, much less can it be imagined. The multidimensional worlds of relativity and string theory, for example, are elusive to plastic imagination. The value of any science depends on how useful its models are for the thoughts and actions of humanity as a whole, hence, its usefulness leans much on predictability and intelligibility.

    Points 1 and 3 refer in my opinion to what can probably be described as 'unobservable' but this is getting to the point of comparing it to Kant's concept of noumenon. I wonder what people's views are on this?
  7. Jun 9, 2004 #6
    What is knowledge? If you were to gather all knowledge about everything that can be known, what would you end up with? Some sort of encyclopaedia, right? And what is an encyclopaedia? At a basic level, just an enormous collection of symbols - words, numbers, equations, and so on.

    So ultimately all the knowledge you can possibly have about anything is limited to what can be expressed symbolically. That means something will be always left out: knowledge of the symbols themselves!

    Think of it this way: suppose God has published, in English, a billion-volume encyclopaedia with everything that can be known about reality. God's encyclopaedia gives you the answer to any question you may have, but you still need knowledge of English before you can learn anything from it. Anything can be explained, except the language in which explanations are expressed.
  8. Jun 9, 2004 #7
    So are you trying to say that string theory or any other TOE can't explain itself? I doubt that.

    By the way, referring to the point saying that physics only describes ideas of our world, and that it may not converge with ultimate reality I don't see why it wouldn't. For example, we are not really perceiving magnetic fields through our senses (although in some cases we are) but we are noting the effects of it (so it's not like if it has been filtered in some way). I don't really see why there would be a divergence anyways. I think it would be an uncomfortable idea to say it would be an illusion rather than reality (but this is not really my argument against it).
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2004
  9. Jun 9, 2004 #8
    All we can know is phenomena so no we cannot know "ultimate reality" or the "thing in itself" as it were. We have epistemic limitations. Next question. =)
  10. Jun 9, 2004 #9
    I think that it is both knowable and unknowable as long as we understand that mystery is a constant presence in both objective or universal reality and quantum reality. As long as we know that it is mathematically impossible to know all, I do think that we can come up with an effective working functioning map of universe to navigate with. They key is in *mystery*

    Only my point of view!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  11. Jun 9, 2004 #10
    if the universe and knowledge are constantly expanding, we can never know all. the ultimate reality is everything and it is never static, being fluid it cannot be completely understood or defined. IMHO

    olde drunk
  12. Jun 9, 2004 #11
    olde drunk we see the same thing, however, we can define it as 'mystery' or some variable that dictates where the 'unknown' is.......
  13. Jun 9, 2004 #12

    Wow, your religion is based on a contradiction. Not surprising.
  14. Jun 9, 2004 #13
    pistols or swords??? meet at dawn?

    olde drunk
  15. Jun 10, 2004 #14
    To Nichomachus, your "next question": these epistemic limitations do not necessiraly mean we don't get a full comprehension of ultimate reality does it?
  16. Jun 10, 2004 #15
    wow, not surprising you have created yet again another version of Moonrat!

    I am not a religious person, nor is my point of view religious in nature. I can contain 'paradox' which appears to you as contradiction, which is how you come to the conclusion that half of the universe does not exist!
    yikes, nico! the elephants are coming, duck for cover!

  17. Jun 10, 2004 #16
    wow, not surprising you have created yet again another version of Moonrat!

    "I know that I do not know" -Socrates. There is your contradiction working with paradox, if you cannot understand this, then you cannot understand the heart of philosophy. Knowing is not knowing. let that drive ya nuts somemore!

    I am not a religious person, nor is my point of view religious in nature. I can contain 'paradox' which appears to you as contradiction, which is how you come to the conclusion that half of the universe does not exist!
    yikes, nico! the elephants are coming, duck for cover!

  18. Jun 10, 2004 #17
    hehe, nah, I dont need no pinche' pistols or swords to defeat red elephants which exist in loaves of bread....

    but Nico sure needs all the help he can get!
  19. Jun 10, 2004 #18
    Curious, no it is not necessarily so but if noumena differs from phenomena then we have no way to know that. Of course it is pointless to discuss noumena, but I wasn't sure if you are discuss "knowing ultimate reality" as a practical matter or not.

    Moonrat, no you're just uneducated. That is called Socratic Irony, if you took it in context you would see it is not the stolen concept fallacy which you are describing as a paradox. As far as all the different versions of Moonrat and Bubblefish, I am just talking about "version 3.0 Basic", idiot.
  20. Jun 10, 2004 #19
    that is also called both knowing and not knowing.

    It is the same 'irony' that I referred to as we can both know and not know, just like Socrates both knew and did not know.....knowing that one does not know is the first step in real understanding and knowledge.

    it is you who said my statement was a contradiction, which means, if you meant what you said, that also the Socratic Irony is a contradiction, which means you do not take to paradox, unless you are told that it is an accepted irony used by the father of all philosophers

    well, I am not OS 012, just so you know, but I am glad you are a fan, and whenever you are ready, I would love to have you find the flaws in the dialectic of OS 012....hehe, I dare ya!

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