Could there ever be an end to knowledge?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by wegs, Aug 14, 2016.

  1. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    I'd say no for the simple reason that there is no fixed body of knowledge to be known. Since change occurs in the world, there is always something to be known that was not previously in the state it is now. For example, total knowledge of human affairs is impossible since there is always something more happening. You cannot know the whole of human history because you cannot see into the future. Ditto for other aspects of the world.
     
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  3. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    Obviously the greatest swimmer ever, but the history goes back to the 1956 Melbourne Olympic games when Australia with the greatest swimming coach ever, Forbes Carlyle, and won every man's and woman's freestyle swimming event held at those games.
    The American's learnt from that dominant display and copied Forbe's training methods and with the far great population differences, then over a period of time became the top swimming nation with the likes of champions like Phelps and Katie Ladecky with the woman's.
     
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  5. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Knowledge accumulation in a human context can end simply by people going extinct. But aside from that...

    Instead of "data about the non-artificial world", most storage of knowledge may consist of information about invented human conditions, systems, skills, technology, arts, social / recreational pursuits, etc. There's no termination to that creative process. (Excluding, again, extinction; and the generic continuance of innovations and new circumstances by posthuman civilizations.)

    The overall non-artificial cosmos may be practically equivalent to endless; direct exploration is limited for a variety of reasons and observations restricted by finite light-speed. So it's impossible to document all of its specific features and occurrences. In addition it obviously doesn't cease developing (the future isn't available for inspection); and what happened in the past will consist of low-resolution slash blurry facts perpetually open to revision.

    - - - - - - - -

    Isaac Asimov: "I believe that scientific knowledge has fractal properties; that no matter how much we learn, whatever is left, however small it may seem, is just as infinitely complex as the whole was to start with. That, I think, is the secret of the Universe."
     
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  7. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    I'm going to say 'no'. While omniscience might be hypothetically possible in principle (assuming that the universe cooperates), it would seem to be impossible for beings like ourselves.

    To possess all possible knowledge, the universe would have to be finite, not only in its spatial temporal cosmological extent, but also in the amount of detail discoverable on the microscale, by looking closer and closer at things. If that wasn't the case, we could just keep discovering new facts indefinitely by looking further out or by using stronger microscopes. More radically, we would have to have similar information about any other universes or modes of being that might exist, separate and disjoint from our own universe. (Our space-time continuum might not contain all of reality.)

    And the universe would also have to be finite in a more conceptual sense, in terms of the principles such as mathematical principles, logical principles and so-called "laws of physics" applicable within it. We would need to have some way of accounting for the existence of logic and the 'laws of physics' and for explaining why the the universe conforms to them and why they are what we observe them to be. We would also also have to have some reason to reject emergence, the appearance of genuinely new and unpredictable phenomena (arguably including biological life or minds) within a universe. (If unforseen possibilities are being realized unpredictably, knowing how things will unfold in the future becomes problematic.) And finally, we would have to have an answer to the ultimate question: Why does existence exist at all? (My own feeling is that last one is unanswerable in principle, since all attempts to do so would be circular.)

    Those are metaphysical considerations. There are also practical considerations.

    A hypothetical omniscient knower would have to have some way of learning every possible detail about every hidden corner of the universe. It would have to know as much about every exoplanet and every barren asteroid in the billions of galaxies as we can hypothetically discover about Earth. It would have to have some way of learning all the applicable principles everywhere. Time, space and things like black-hole event horizons create difficulties for that. The possibility that something might exist outside our space-time continuum that we would need to know about creates even bigger problems. So access to information creates huge constraints.

    That hypothetical omniscient knower would have to have the raw memory and processing power to process that incredible amount of information and would have to have the cognitive powers necessary to conceive of all the abstract relationships in all of it. (Mathematical, logical...) Here on Earth, cockroaches don't have the cognitive firepower to even conceive of Schroedinger's equation. So it might be most realistic to expect that there might be aspects of the universe, necessary to achieving a full understanding of it, that will always be beyond us, that human beings can never even suspect, let alone know.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2016
  8. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    I think that there might be two ways of looking at that question, but my answer will probably be the same to both of them.

    1. Are there lots of facts about the universe that we don't yet know? I'd say of course there are. Pick a star at random in the Andromeda galaxy say, and imagine that it has a planet orbiting it. There are no end of questions that we could ask about that planet. Does it have an atmosphere? How hot is it? What kind of chemistry takes place on its surface? What is its geology like? It's a real place where real things happen, and we don't know about any of it. Now multiply that by the size of the observed universe, billions of galaxies over billions of years, with untold billions of years to come. So just given the scale of the universe, we only know a microscopic percentage of what could theoretically be known. As an old science-fiction reader, I'm confident that there's a tremendous amount of things out in the universe that would surprise and amaze us.

    2. But there's another way of looking at it: Do we already know all the basic underlying principles that are at work everywhere and everywhen? I get the feeling that many physicists (who have been kind of elbowing into the metaphysicians turf recently) think that we are approaching that kind of (theoretical) omniscience. We see it with the so-called 'theories of everything'. There's an assumption that we are very close to understanding all of the fundamental physical principles at work anywhere in the universe.

    I'm tremendously skeptical about those kind of hubristic claims and damnably persist in thinking that there may well be principles at work in the universe that human beings can't even suspect. Human beings almost certainly aren't the apex of all possible cognition, and it seems realistic to me to suspect that there may be important aspects of the universe that exceed our best powers, just a freshman university physics class exceeds the cognitive powers of a cockroach. And we might be just as incapable of imagining what those aspects of reality are as the cockroach is incapable of imagining what we can know and it can't. In other words, there may be limitations on what human beings can think and understand, and the universe may exceed those limits.

    I should add that Albert Einstein felt the same way. (The cockroach analogy comes from him.) I heard it in a 1980's discussion with an elderly professor who worked with Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton late in Einstein's life. It probably helps explain Einstein's peculiar religious views and his rather 'transcendent' view of ultimate physics and why he referred to it on occasion as 'reading the mind of God'.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2016
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  9. sculptor Valued Senior Member

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    Question:
    Are sapiens sapiens capable of knowing more than sapiens heidelbergensis(some of whom had bigger brains)?
    Are sapiens sapiens capable of knowing more than sapiens neanderthalensis(some of whom had bigger brains)?

    Will he next subspecies have more or less capability? Will the next subspecies have bigger or smaller brains?
     
  10. cluelusshusbund + Public Dilemma + Valued Senior Member

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    An who has the corect answr... paddoboy:::

    "But who knows? In a million, or 10 million years or so, if we are still around, and whatever we have evolved into, things may possibly be different."








     
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  11. geordief Registered Senior Member

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    I doubt physicists are deluding themselves about a 'theory of everything'

    I do not think that term is meant to imply an understanding of all physical processes and consequences

    It is just shorthand for the unification of the laws we already know.
    In the 19th century perhaps the idea was afoot that e could be masters of Nature.I think that has gone by the board now and we are probably happy with the idea of incremental advances inknowledge
     
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  12. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    I've read all of your insights today, and agree that the answer is most likely 'no.'

    And then maybe this begs an even greater question...''how would we ever know that we know everything?"

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  13. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Also, does mere brain size and natural intelligence have everything to do with it? Or are there people who could ''know'' more but are too lazy to bother tapping into that natural intelligence? Many of us know kids or even knew kids when we were kids in school, who were brilliant, genius even, but they did poorly in school because they didn't apply themselves. An 'F' on a test doesn't mean necessarily that the student doesn't understand, or isn't capable of knowing the information being presented, but it can mean laziness and a refusal to care about knowledge. So, we should keep that in mind, too.

    I could know more than I do...I could read more than I do...I'm always telling myself to read two books a month on a random subject I know little about, but I don't. Maybe it is a matter of priorities as to why our species doesn't know more?
     
  14. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    +1 - agree with this.
     
  15. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    This is exactly right, so another question could be - who is deciding what is considered knowledge? For the sake of this thread, I'm using knowledge to mean things that be factually proven in an objective way, using a scientific process for reasoning. This can cover a brought set of topics/subjects, but only factual knowledge, not just awareness.
     
  16. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    This last sentence stuck out to me, and could be the bigger problem, or dilemma. How would we ever know we've reached the limit, maybe we'll never know, and how can the universe have secrets that we can't ever know? That's such a fascinating concept to ponder for today.

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  17. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    +2
     
  18. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    +3

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  19. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    My comment about was directed at ideas like those expressed in the opening sentence of the Wikipedia article on 'Theory of Everything'.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_everything

    "A Theory of Everything (ToE) or Final Theory, Ultimate Theory or Master Theory, is a hypothetical single, all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework of physics that fully explains and links together all physical aspects of the universe."

    That's a very strong idea. It suggests that even if we don't know the details of what's happening on some hypothetical planet out in Andromeda, we already have all the principles necessary to understand it if we can just get the necessary instrument readings to plug into our equations.

    My remarks about physicists playing at metaphysics were motivated by books like Lawrence Krauss' 'A Universe from Nothing: Why there is Something Rather than Nothing'

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Universe_from_Nothing

    It's subjected to some rather devastating criticism by physicist and philosopher David Albert here:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/b...e-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html?_r=0

    With Krauss' rather lame response here:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/technolo...made-philosophy-and-religion-obsolete/256203/

    The problem is that trying to explain the existence of everything that exists by employing the principles of physics (in this case, Quantum Field Theory) brings us no closer to understanding the origin of the principles of physics, among them the quantum fields upon which the whole enterprise rests. The entire argument ends up being circular.

    I'd like to think so.

    The question at issue here in this thread would appear to be more about the completeness of physics than about its internal consistency. Has it finally identified all the general principles necessary to explain and to account for all the events that occur in the physical universe? (Even if we don't know the values of all the variables in every case.) The idea that it's identified all the physical forces and understands their genesis and interactions suggests that some people would answer 'yes'.

    These remarks by Cal Tech emeritus professor John Schwartz take a rather skeptical view of that question more like my own:

    http://theory.caltech.edu/people/jhs/strings/str143.html
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2016
  20. sculptor Valued Senior Member

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    as/re knowledge:
    Do we need to be the reference library of we have access to a reference library. and the knowledge to use it?
     
  21. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    It would be so cool if our minds were the library

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  22. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    That still does not mean that we will finally have and know all there is to know as is asked in the OP.....particularly if the Universe is infinite in extent and content.

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    As someone steeped in philosophy, your bias is understandable but not excusable.
    The Universe from nothing gives us a reasonable logical process as to how the Universe may have come into existence, based on some of the current knowledge we have.
    That is summed up in the following, and please note the "still speculative" comment.
    https://www.astrosociety.org/publications/a-universe-from-nothing/
    by Alexei V. Filippenko and Jay M. Pasachoff
    On your again biased comment re Krauss' "lame" reply, I actually see him as hitting the nail square on the head, particularly his answers as follows from your own link......
    "Krauss: That's a good question. I expect it's because physics has encroached on philosophy. Philosophy used to be a field that had content, but then "natural philosophy" became physics, and physics has only continued to make inroads. Every time there's a leap in physics, it encroaches on these areas that philosophers have carefully sequestered away to themselves, and so then you have this natural resentment on the part of philosophers. This sense that somehow physicists, because they can't spell the word "philosophy," aren't justified in talking about these things, or haven't thought deeply about them"---

    Q:Is that really a claim that you see often?

    "Krauss: It is. Philosophy is a field that, unfortunately, reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke, "those that can't do, teach, and those that can't teach, teach gym." And the worst part of philosophy is the philosophy of science; the only people, as far as I can tell, that read work by philosophers of science are other philosophers of science. It has no impact on physics what so ever, and I doubt that other philosophers read it because it's fairly technical. And so it's really hard to understand what justifies it. And so I'd say that this tension occurs because people in philosophy feel threatened, and they have every right to feel threatened, because science progresses and philosophy doesn't".

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    Obvious to all and sundry then why such comment should raise the hackles of our esteemed Philosopher friends.


    Finally in Krauss' reply to a question, re why he saw a need to write this book, he replied.......
    "Every time I write a book, I try and think of a hook. People are interested in science, but they don't always know they're interested in science, and so I try to find a way to get them interested. Teaching and writing, to me, is really just seduction; you go to where people are and you find something that they're interested in and you try and use that to convince them that they should be interested in what you have to say.

    The religious question "why is there something rather than nothing," has been around since people have been around, and now we're actually reaching a point where science is beginning to address that question. And so I figured I could use that question as a way to celebrate the revolutionary changes that we've achieved in refining our picture of the universe. I didn't write the book to attack religion, per se. The purpose of the book is to point out all of these amazing things that we now know about the universe. Reading some of the reactions to the book, it seems like you automatically become strident the minute you try to explain something naturally"

    Again, obviously why so many religiously inclined people and some philosophers, have seen the need for rage, angst and unreasonable assumptions, because a scientist has seen the need, and had the audacity to explain something as natural as possible, within the frame work of current knowledge.
    As I like saying, science, particularly cosmology is continually pushing the need for any deity into oblivion. That along with the encroaching into the realm of the philosopher, doesn't quite gel with some people.
     
  23. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Okay, agree.

    What causes the universe to be considered infinite? Or causes it to be infinite? From a spiritual perspective, I can throw my spin on it, but I'd rather keep the dialogue based on science. From a scientific point, I'd like to know if there's a valid explanation.
     
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