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There are some things which aren't meant to be known.

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#51 figurate

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Posted 05 June 2019 - 04:01 AM

I think that the larger questions are always subject to debate. Schiller said: "Only through beauty's morning gate can you enter into the land of knowledge". Which is the more relevant or useful criterion for the test of a physical theory, truth or beauty? I would opt for truth, but truth itself can come to be seen as a kind of beauty in its explanatory power.

 

This topic and comments are very much similar to recent ones on the Sabine Hossenfelder blog "backreaction". She is a critic of mainstream particle physics with a recent book published, but more to the point, the comments section on that blog is worth a look; many points of view get exposure (can something like string theory be considered, ultimately, as a form of theology?), a good deal of it is technical and beyond my experience, but in its coverage of the general issues of the day and also some of these raised here, I can recommend it-

 

http://backreaction.blogspot.com     

 

 



#52 Pess

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Posted 05 June 2019 - 08:56 AM

So, I had Interstellar on and once again heard the character Dr. Mann says "There are some things which aren't meant to be known."  In the story script, Dr. Mann was speaking of the reality within a black hole and what that could tell us if we were able to know it.

 

What scientific things/matters/issues, do you have a suspicion/feeling/thought might forever be  beyond human (sentient) knowledge and comprehension?

 

Otto

Your Subject line, 'Things that aren't meant to be known.' sends a chill down my spine.

 

Meant to be known by whom?   Is the logical question.

 

It brings religion into the argument of science since the question itself predisposes the belief that there is some greater intelligence that controls what we are 'allowed' to know.

 

While this may or may not be the case, it mixes theology with hard science which leaves a distaste in my mouth.

 

Pesse (Show me a forbidden door and I'll open it every single time.) Mist


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#53 ascii

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Posted 05 June 2019 - 09:51 AM

If we accept modern quantum theory, there are things that are unknowable.  We can have a statistical model for them, but the particulars are forever beyond knowability.  While quantum theory could be refined or overturned in the future, I wouldn't count on it.

 

Aside from that, there may (or may not) be scientific knowledge that is just too difficult for the unaided human mind to deal with.  It would be technically knowable but just be beyond the capability of our puny brains.  However, I imagine that we could someday create artificial intelligence that exceeds our own and advances scientific knowledge in ways that humans could not.  In that case, we could benefit from the knowledge without any human comprehending this knowledge.  (In order to stay on topic, I don't want to get into the advisability of such things.)



#54 City Kid

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Posted 05 June 2019 - 11:14 AM

I'm not sure I believe there is anything that isn't "meant" to be known. I believe there are things that will never be known but not because they weren't meant to be known. 


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#55 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 05 June 2019 - 02:30 PM

Permit me to re-state and, hopefully, more clearly articulate the OP.

Are there realities of matter and motion of which we are aware, the combination of which lead us to a seemingly inescapable conclusion that some part of the explanation of these motions/changes/events are forever beyond our understanding?

In the movie Interstellar, the earth is dying and humanity needs to be moved to a more hospitable environment (planet, space station, whatever).  However, the means to accomplish this move is not possible until gravity can be overcome.  The statement is made in the movie that to discover how to overcome gravity, one would need to obtain a unified understanding of relativity and quantum physics.  However, the movie continues, the only way to obtain this unified understanding, one would need to enter into a black hole (one would need to pass through the event horizon).  The physicist in the movie continues that since this unified understanding can only be understood by entering into a black hole, and because humans or their probes cannot enter into a black hole and survive to send information relevant to the unified theory back; that therefore, understanding how to overcome gravity is impossible.

Now, please don't get hung up on this analogy.  It is only a movie, and quite possibly the example it uses is incorrect in many aspects.

But I am interested in hearing/reading your opinions about the general idea, are their realities of which we are aware, the combination of which lead us to conclude that some aspect of those material realities, some explanation of the motions/changes/events of those realities must remain forever beyond (outside of) our understanding?

Thank you.

Otto



#56 Keith Rivich

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Posted 05 June 2019 - 04:08 PM

Permit me to re-state and, hopefully, more clearly articulate the OP.

Are there realities of matter and motion of which we are aware, the combination of which lead us to a seemingly inescapable conclusion that some part of the explanation of these motions/changes/events are forever beyond our understanding?

In the movie Interstellar, the earth is dying and humanity needs to be moved to a more hospitable environment (planet, space station, whatever).  However, the means to accomplish this move is not possible until gravity can be overcome.  The statement is made in the movie that to discover how to overcome gravity, one would need to obtain a unified understanding of relativity and quantum physics.  However, the movie continues, the only way to obtain this unified understanding, one would need to enter into a black hole (one would need to pass through the event horizon).  The physicist in the movie continues that since this unified understanding can only be understood by entering into a black hole, and because humans or their probes cannot enter into a black hole and survive to send information relevant to the unified theory back; that therefore, understanding how to overcome gravity is impossible.

Now, please don't get hung up on this analogy.  It is only a movie, and quite possibly the example it uses is incorrect in many aspects.

But I am interested in hearing/reading your opinions about the general idea, are their realities of which we are aware, the combination of which lead us to conclude that some aspect of those material realities, some explanation of the motions/changes/events of those realities must remain forever beyond (outside of) our understanding?

Thank you.

Otto

Entertaining but scientifically lousy science fiction aside the only reality we are aware of is the one we currently reside in. So the easy answer would be no.


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#57 Pess

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 08:15 AM

Perhaps it is our destiny to become gods ourselves?

 

The definition of a 'god' is a thing that is omnipotent, omnipresent &  omniscient.

 

Let's start with omniscience.  Omniscience means 'all knowing'.  If at some point mankind learns all there is to know about the laws of the Universe and how they relate to one another, then mankind becomes Omniscient.

 

All good, first leg of divinity accomplished!

 

Now for omnipotence.  The ability to manipulate anything in the Universe.  With the understanding of every little thing the ability to change anything and everything becomes easy.   As a real world example, once we understood a certain level of physics it became quite easy to 'fly'.   Once we understand gravity it might even be easier!

 

WoW! Now we have two legs towards divinity accomplished!  I haven't felt this giddy since I was ready to make Eagle Scout!

 

The last, omnipresent.   You know, hanging around everywhere at once.   I would assume this is a natural outcome of mankind spreading to every knook & cranny of the Universe as we expand out like a cockroach infestation in the home of a Floridian hoarder.  Thus mankind is everywhere at once.

 

Mankind thus now fills the very definition of a divine thing.

 

Pesse (One heck of a merit badge!) Mist


Edited by Pess, 06 June 2019 - 10:11 AM.


#58 figurate

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 12:06 PM

Dream on. More like 'a-niscient' (not or without knowing), at least in my little corner of the universe. 

 

"Are there realities of which we are aware...some explanation of which...must remain forever outside of our understanding?" Do you mean, for example, like the precise weather conditions at some particular place in Springfield, Missouri at some particular time tomorrow?

 

Anybody familiar with the story of Auguste Comte's prediction about mankind never being able to know the chemical composition of a star (we also have him to thank for sociology) would be cautious about answering such questions, but in this all-or-nothing era where we seem to be running out of modifiers, I am skeptical about the utility of such a query on a massive scale. Progress in understanding has come to be seen as a reliable historical trend, where it is in fact a matter of two different classes of things- the slow, steady incremental kind of progress (therefore somewhat predictable), or on the other hand, the occasional and unanticipated bolt out of the blue. That's the mysterious part of things; the reshuffling of the cards and the consequent radical shift in perspective, and its a fluke.     



#59 Pess

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 02:44 PM

Dream on. More like 'a-niscient' (not or without knowing), at least in my little corner of the universe. 

 

"Are there realities of which we are aware...some explanation of which...must remain forever outside of our understanding?" Do you mean, for example, like the precise weather conditions at some particular place in Springfield, Missouri at some particular time tomorrow?

 

Anybody familiar with the story of Auguste Comte's prediction about mankind never being able to know the chemical composition of a star (we also have him to thank for sociology) would be cautious about answering such questions, but in this all-or-nothing era where we seem to be running out of modifiers, I am skeptical about the utility of such a query on a massive scale. Progress in understanding has come to be seen as a reliable historical trend, where it is in fact a matter of two different classes of things- the slow, steady incremental kind of progress (therefore somewhat predictable), or on the other hand, the occasional and unanticipated bolt out of the blue. That's the mysterious part of things; the reshuffling of the cards and the consequent radical shift in perspective, and its a fluke.     

One must agree that knowledge, for collective humanity, is greater than the knowledge of any single or even few in a subset of humans.

 

As a roaring example what group of, say 10 men, would be capable of building from scratch an Apollo rocket?

 

However, when a large enough subset of individuals comes together their collective intelligence becomes concentrated enough to construct such a massive technological advance.

 

For even though a smart man might know A, B, D, & F   He needs the collective intelligence to get the 'C' & "E' required.

 

That's why I referred to 'god' in my post as a 'thing' rather than singular.

 

Radical ideas that go against the grain require a paradigm shift that takes time to change the course of humanities thinking.   General relativity was such a thought, by basically only a couple of scientists. He was met with laughter and derision by most of mankind who thought A, B, E, D, C, F was correct.   Eventually mankind came around to accepting  the paradigm shift to A, B, C, D, E, F.

 

Pesse (..and now I've said my a, b, c's....) Mist


Edited by Pess, 06 June 2019 - 02:46 PM.


#60 ColoHank

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 05:02 PM

I'm not sure I believe there is anything that isn't "meant" to be known. I believe there are things that will never be known but not because they weren't meant to be known. 

But are there unknown things not worth the effort of inquiry?  Is there value, for example, in knowing the precise dimensions, location, and orientation of every grain of sand on a beach?   


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#61 llanitedave

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 05:28 PM

But are there unknown things not worth the effort of inquiry?  Is there value, for example, in knowing the precise dimensions, location, and orientation of every grain of sand on a beach?   

I at least expect to be aware of that portion that ends up in my shorts.


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#62 EJN

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 08:41 PM

Permit me to re-state and, hopefully, more clearly articulate the OP.

Are there realities of matter and motion of which we are aware, the combination of which lead us to a seemingly inescapable conclusion that some part of the explanation of these motions/changes/events are forever beyond our understanding?

In the movie Interstellar, the earth is dying and humanity needs to be moved to a more hospitable environment (planet, space station, whatever).  However, the means to accomplish this move is not possible until gravity can be overcome.  The statement is made in the movie that to discover how to overcome gravity, one would need to obtain a unified understanding of relativity and quantum physics.  However, the movie continues, the only way to obtain this unified understanding, one would need to enter into a black hole (one would need to pass through the event horizon).  The physicist in the movie continues that since this unified understanding can only be understood by entering into a black hole, and because humans or their probes cannot enter into a black hole and survive to send information relevant to the unified theory back; that therefore, understanding how to overcome gravity is impossible.

Now, please don't get hung up on this analogy.  It is only a movie, and quite possibly the example it uses is incorrect in many aspects.

But I am interested in hearing/reading your opinions about the general idea, are their realities of which we are aware, the combination of which lead us to conclude that some aspect of those material realities, some explanation of the motions/changes/events of those realities must remain forever beyond (outside of) our understanding?

Thank you.

Otto

 

Well, movie science aside, a black hole is a good example. While we might come up with better theories

about the nature of the singularity, the principle of cosmic censorship  - all singularities are cloaked

by an event horizon - appears to rule out ever verifying the theory. Except if you jump into a black hole,

you might find the answer before you are shredded, but the information can never get back out.

 

Also, the idea of the multiverse which is in vogue now. By definition, if other universes exist, they are

causally disconnected spacetime manifolds from our own universe, and it is impossible to learn

anything about them or travel to them even in principle.



#63 EJN

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 08:44 PM

Taking logical positivism to its extreme, that which cannot be observed does not exist.

While this might sound absurd, at the time quantum mechanics was formulated logical
positivism was in vogue and had an influence on how the theory was constructed.
It dealt only with observables. For example, electrons around atoms occupy discrete
states called orbitals. An electron can jump to another orbital when it interacts with
a photon. But an electron has never been observed between orbitals, making the
transition.

So theory treats the electron as if it simply ceases to exist in one orbital and reappears
in another. There is no intermediate or transition state in the theory of QM.

QM also allows the wavefunction to be in a superposition of multiple states, but when an
observation/measurement is made a definite single state is seen.

So what is an electron doing when no one is looking?

Edited by EJN, 07 June 2019 - 03:51 PM.


#64 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 10:11 AM

EJN, thank you.  Your comments/examples of the constitution/nature/behavior of the inside of a black hole/singularity and the existence and nature/behaviors of multiverses seem to provide two examples of knowledge which will remain beyond our knowledge.

 

Otto



#65 llanitedave

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 01:08 PM

Taking logical positivism to its extreme, that which cannot be observed does not exist.

 

While this might sound absurd, at the time quantum mechanics was formulated logical

positivism was in vogue and had an influence on how the theory was constructed.

It dealt only with observables. For example, electrons around atoms occupy discrete

states called orbitals. An electron can jump to another orbital when it interacts with

a photon. But an electron has never been observed between orbitals, making the

transition.

 

So theory treats the electron as if it simply ceases to exist in one orbital and reappears

in another. There is no intermediate or transition state in the theory of QM.

 

QM also allows the wavefunction to be in a superposition of multiple states, but when an

observation/measurement is made a definite single state is seen.

 

So what in an electron doing when no one is looking?

The problem with observables, is whether one can make the distinction between what is merely unobserved via happenstance and what is unobservable in principle.  I don't think that distinction is always recognized in popular perceptions.



#66 figurate

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 03:21 PM

And while both Hume and Mach took the positivist idea to that extreme, they played a role in later developments. But you don't have to drill all the way down to the Planck scale to encounter practical limits to knowledge; the original question sidesteps the epistemological issues such as what constitutes knowledge in the first place- does a useful statistical description of a large ensemble of gas molecules constitute complete knowledge? Is predictive utility knowledge? I would answer yes, but with limits, and while our idealizations are a critical bridge to understanding, they fall short of a complete description of reality by some measures. In practical terms such things as the exact disposition of every air molecule in this room at a given time is an unobservable, and so that distinction therefore might get a little murky. Some degree of skepticism I think is warranted, and serves as a check at a time when screaming headlines effectively constitute astronomy click-bait.

 

Ockham might have been the original positivist, and to borrow his language, we seem to be "multiplying entities" at a prodigious rate.                    



#67 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 04:08 PM

"figurate", what you wrote (above) riveted my attention; specifically, "the original question sidesteps the epistemological issues such as what constitutes knowledge in the first place-" and then you gave cogent examples of this idea when you wrote, "does a useful statistical description of a large ensemble of gas molecules constitute complete knowledge? Is predictive utility knowledge?"

 

So, in addition to there possibly being realities (e.g. interior conditions of black holes, existence of multiverses) which are beyond the ways science understands things...you have raised the issue of what constitutes true/deep/important knowledge of a given reality which is being considered.   I believe I have run into this issue here when I say I am attempting to understand what the nature/essence of something is and have been told that the search for the nature/essence of a thing is not what science as science is about (which is an explanation or description of behaviors and changes and motions and causes).  This, for me, raises the issue of whether or not, in some circumstances, science as science really gets to the important/deep knowledge of things.  I recall a diagram I saw in philosophical anthropology which stated that the type of knowledge science as science seeks is pretty much all that can be known about any given purely material reality; but as one ascends a scale to seek an understanding of living things, and then things with nervous systems, and then ultimately sentient things....that science increasingly becomes unable to give a full/relevant/deep/complete explanation/description of those things.  //  I wonder if the "knowledge" possessed by an A.I. entity or by a hyper fast computer or by a turing machine; I wonder in what sense what they obtain is or is not knowledge since some (or all) of these have no awareness of their own knowledge.

 

But, back to you "figurate"; I want to hear/real more of what you have to say about what you mean by "what constitutes knowledge".

 

Also, avoiding euphemism or figurative speech, I very much want to hear/read your thoughts about "multiplying entities".  What did you mean by this?  Did you mean something like ptolemaic epicycles and deferents and dark matter, which might just be hypothetical mental constructs?  Or did you means something else?

 

With gratitude,

 

Otto


Edited by Otto Piechowski, 07 June 2019 - 04:10 PM.

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#68 EJN

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 04:09 PM

I would say the question of what constitutes knowledge is beyond the epistemological hegemony of this thread.
:yay:
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#69 figurate

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 05:50 PM

Otto, in answer to your last question, yes I was referring to the bestiary of theoretical constructs which can take on a sort of embodied form by way of popular usage: WIMPs, Branes, dark matter, dark energy. Briefly, we rely on causal chains of inference or better, causal pyramids of inference to build up a convincing case for a given possible scenario or a given theoretical entity, ideally with redundant internal logic and independent sources of data. Lately, the hunger for eyeballs and ad revenue plus the hyped-up nature of our culture today may be helping to drive things beyond that boundary- in fact, you don't have to speculate about AI and supercomputers, maybe it's already here- the media is itself a sort of a feedback operating on a feedback (our consciousness), and whether we are more, or whether we are less self-aware, or even aware of our own knowledge as a result, is a debatable point. The epistemological looking glass, where the hegemon turns out to be yourself?         


Edited by figurate, 07 June 2019 - 10:17 PM.


#70 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 06:24 PM

When you, "figurate", wrote, "Lately...the nature of our culture today may be helping to drive things beyond that boundary-in fact, you don't have to speculate about AI and supercomputers, maybe it's already here- the media is itself a sort of a feedback operating on a feedback (our consciousness), and whether we are more, or are less self-aware, and  even aware of our own knowledge as a result is a debatable point."....when I read that "figurate" it caused a new realization to form in my mind....the idea that the manner in which knowledge-content is generated and repeated in our 24 hour-news/advertising culture, has caused both the audience and the generators of that content to be largely unaware of what they are saying and/or unaware of the meaning of that content.

 

And that idea brings a memory back to my mind of a theme I thought/spoke/wrote about years ago...the nature of the "evolution" of homo sapiens into homo mechanics/homo ratiocinator.  My original idea (which Descartes and Marx Hogben and others had first) was that human kind was becoming open to the idea of exchanging the biological self for a machine/cyborg/computer framework......and then one day it struck me that in order to become homo mechanics/ratiocinator, we don't need to adopt machine/A.I. forms; we are already doing it by adapting ourselves to machine-like processes; i.e. machine-like processes such as assembly lines and 24 news reception/production, schooling regimens and schedules, etc.

 

Otto



#71 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 06:27 PM

Oh, and, "figurate", I really enjoyed reading your "Schiller said: "Only through beauty's morning gate can you enter into the land of knowledge".

 

I believe that beauty is a transcendental property of being and, as such, has an existence independent of any human knowledge/awareness/choice.  And since truth is also a transcendental property of being, as one gains intellectual access by means of an maturation of taste to one attribute of Being as Being, on gains access to all of the transcendentals.

 

Otto



#72 figurate

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 11:06 PM

Confession: I picked up that quote in the Sabine Hossenfelder comments section somewhere recently. I know Schiller's general reputation as a philosopher of aesthetics, and as I am an ex-musician I will probably look at him a little more deeply at some point. I am leery of 19th century German philosophy, as I am some of the Romantic excesses of that time, though he's slightly earlier.

 

I think what has been playing out for a while as a result of the media entrenchment in our culture, especially for the boomers, is not so much some futuristic synthesis as it is a return to over-arching myth as an organizing principle and mode of being. Style and substance, form and content. Myth is powerful, so we should ignore stylistic flourishes and analyze the content carefully. 

 

 

 

   


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#73 EJN

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Posted 08 June 2019 - 02:24 PM

I recall a diagram I saw in philosophical anthropology which stated that the type of knowledge science as science seeks is pretty much all that can be known about any given purely material reality; but as one ascends a scale to seek an understanding of living things, and then things with nervous systems, and then ultimately sentient things....that science increasingly becomes unable to give a full/relevant/deep/complete explanation/description of those things.

 

This is the problem of going from simple to complex systems. As complexity increases, the amount of information needed to understand the system goes up not linearly, but exponentially.

 

Take for example individual cells. The principle that Francis Crick came up with, which he named "The Central Dogma," states: DNA makes RNA makes protein. This has proved mostly true for cells with the exception of some types of viruses (retroviruses). The principle is simple, but the molecular machinery for carrying it out is immensely complex, involving hundreds if not thousands of individual enzymes, which themselves are genetically specified.

 

Another interesting thing about biology is that knowing the chemical formula of the various macromolecules in the cell is by itself inadequate to understand how they function. One must also know the 3-dimensional structure to understand how they work. How DNA could carry a genetic code was a complete mystery until Watson & Crick (with data from Franklin & Wilkins) determined the structure of the molecule.

 

This leads to the idea of emergent phenomena which arise in complex systems, which cannot be directly predicted by fundamental theories such as QM and GR. Consciousness is an excellent example of an emergent phenomenon.

 

Another very complex system is genetic regulation of cell differentiation. We know it means specific genes are switched on and off at specific times, but the details are still largely unknown. We also know the breakdown of this process is what leads to cancer cells, but again the exact mechanism is far from fully known.

 

However, there is nothing in principle which would prevent us from eventually understanding.

Progress in the field is largely driven by the development of new laboratory techniques.


Edited by EJN, 08 June 2019 - 03:14 PM.

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#74 FirstSight

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Posted 08 June 2019 - 09:11 PM

Your Subject line, 'Things that aren't meant to be known.' sends a chill down my spine.
 
Meant to be known by whom?   Is the logical question.
 
It brings religion into the argument of science since the question itself predisposes the belief that there is some greater intelligence that controls what we are 'allowed' to know.
 
While this may or may not be the case, it mixes theology with hard science which leaves a distaste in my mouth.

There are two possible interpretations of the key phrase in the thread title: "things that aren't meant to be known":
1) to take the word "meant" literally to imply a conscious deity / intelligent governing force deliberately withholding from humans the access, means or ability to understand some physical phenomena; OR:
2) to take the word "meant" in its figurative, secular sense that the code to understanding some physical phenomena is inherently uncrackable.
 
IIRC, Otto Piechowski's background is in philosophy and theology, but nevertheless it's clear from his own more fully articulate phrasing of the inquiry in his original post that it's asked in that second, secular sense:

What scientific things/matters/issues, do you have a suspicion/feeling/thought might forever be  beyond human (sentient) knowledge and comprehension?

(my emphasis on the word "scientific").
 
Otto is well-aware that the charter for the CN Science forum only permits inquiries of the second kind, not the first here, a fact that he has alluded indirectly to in a couple of his posts, such as here1 and here2.  At least so far, he seems IMHO to be acting in good faith to frame and keep his inquiry safely within the bounds of the CN Science forum charter:

 

This forum is provided to discuss the What of the Universe - either for veterans to explain hard-to-understand concepts to beginners, or to share the thoughts we have as scientists and science enthusiasts about the Universe around us.

The Why of the Universe is not the subject of this forum. Religion is one of the topics which, like politics, has a potential to make a thread veer from thought-provoking discussion to flame war. Observation of the universe is not a proof of the existence of a deity, nor a proof of its non-existence.


So let's address the inquiry the way it was actually framed in the original post, which is a good, fair subject matter for the Science forum, and not go off on tangents about theological metaphysics.  Thread titles (especially in this forum) of necessity must often be stated more tersely than needed to fully and accurately convey the nature of the subject of inquiry intended in the original post.


  • davidpitre and llanitedave like this

#75 figurate

figurate

    Apollo

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Posted 09 June 2019 - 09:36 AM

Some news on the quantum jump/transition/superposition aspect of things, accomplished through a clever experimental setup. Instantaneous vs smooth, random vs deterministic- it sounds like a little bit of both: https://www.quantama...time-20190605/ 


Edited by figurate, 09 June 2019 - 10:11 AM.



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