How much can we know? (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Thursday, May 31, 2018, 21:08 (172 days ago)

There are absolute limits:

"There are clear unknowables in science—reasonable questions that, unless currently accepted laws of nature are violated, we cannot find answers to. One example is the multiverse: the conjecture that our universe is but one among a multitude of others, each potentially with a different set of laws of nature. Other universes lie outside our causal horizon, meaning that we cannot receive or send signals to them. Any evidence for their existence would be circumstantial: for example, scars in the radiation permeating space because of a past collision with a neighboring universe.

"Other examples of unknowables can be conflated into three questions about origins: of the universe, of life and of the mind. Scientific accounts of the origin of the universe are incomplete because they must rely on a conceptual framework to even begin to work: energy conservation, relativity, quantum physics, for instance. Why does the universe operate under these laws and not others?

"Similarly, unless we can prove that only one or very few biochemical pathways exist from nonlife to life, we cannot know for sure how life originated on Earth. For consciousness, the problem is the jump from the material to the subjective—for example, from firing neurons to the experience of pain or the color red. Perhaps some kind of rudimentary consciousness could emerge in a sufficiently complex machine. But how could we tell? How do we establish—as opposed to conjecture—that something is conscious?

"Paradoxically, it is through our consciousness that we make sense of the world, even if only imperfectly. Can we fully understand something of which we are a part? Like the mythic snake that bites its own tail, we are stuck within a circle that begins and ends with our lived experience of the world. We cannot detach our descriptions of reality from how we experience reality. This is the playing field where the game of science unfolds, and if we play by the rules we can see only so much of what lies beyond."

Comment: We can debate but not reach provable conclusions. Faith or no faith.

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