There's many levels lying on the other side of ordinary knowing. I've been pondering this after writing the recent post, What can we know about that which we cannot even imagine?
I hasten to point out that while I'd love to lay claim to such a marvelous title, it belongs to David Wolpert, who wrote an engrossing monograph about the limits of not only human knowledge, but the knowledge of any other species.
Wolpert lays out the foundation of his complex and subtle arguments in a single paragraph.
This question does not concern limitations on what we can know about what it is that we can never know. Many things can be conceived by us humans even if they can never be known by us. The set of what it is that we cannot even conceive of is a (strictly smaller) subset of what it is that we cannot know. The issue I am concerned with is what we can ever perceive concerning that smaller set, the set of all that we cannot conceive of.
As quoted in the first post about Wolpert's paper, he aptly observes:
A cynic might comment with heavy irony, “Gee, how lucky can you get? Humans have exactly the cognitive capabilities needed to capture all aspects of physical reality, and not a drop more!” This cynic might go on to wonder whether an ant, who is only capable of formulating the “rules of the universe” in terms of pheromone trails, would conclude that it is a great stroke of fortune that they happen to have the cognitive capability of doing precisely that; or whether a phototropic plant would conclude that it is a stroke of fortune that they happen to have the cognitive capability to track the sun, since that must mean that they can formulate the rules of the universe.
I think it is not only likely, but a near-certainty, that without exception, every human who has ever lived has been handicapped in knowing the nature of reality by the seemingly inescapable fact that there is much about the cosmos we can't even conceive of, must less know.
To be blunt about that "without exception," I include Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Lao Tau, Guru Nanak, and each and every mystic, saint, yogi, or whatever who has walked the earth. No one, repeat no one, is capable of knowing anything about what we can't even imagine.
Religion and mysticism embrace awe and mystery. So do I, as an atheist. But awe is what we feel when we are in the presence of something known, yet beyond our comprehension, like the vastness of the universe.
And mystery likewise requires a dividing line between what is known about something, and what lies in the darkness beyond the light of knowledge. Darkness isn't nothing. It can be conceived, as when we peer into an unlit room and say "I can't see what's there."
We don't know what's there. However, we can imagine something being there, even if it is nothing.
Obviously it's much more difficult to envision even the slightest sign of something beyond our capacity to conceive of. I'd say it's impossible, but Wolpert has been thinking about this stuff for many years, and he sees some possibilities for humans to conceive of what is now beyond our conception.
God, of course, is either fully or largely within the realm of human conception. Which is one reason why I firmly believe that God is a creation of humans. I used to resonate with the Via Negativa, negative way, where whatever could be said about God, isn't.
(In contrast to the Via Positiva, where believers love to describe God's love, wisdom, power, goodness, and such.)
But even the Via Negativa requires the concept of "God." It's just a way of saying that whatever can be said about God, the reality is beyond those sayings. What would we be left with, though, if the very concept of God were beyond the ability of humans to imagine?
Well, it would be akin to how our dog looks upon politics or quantum mechanics. Less than nothing, since "nothing" implies the potential presence of something, and our dog just has no capacity to conceive of much that we humans take for granted.
Yet as every dog owner knows, canines inhabit a sensory world of scent and sound and sight that is impossible for we humans to conceive of in anything more than a crude sense.
Probably each of us has a favorite way of trying to grasp in even the slightest fashion the elusive concept of what is so far beyond our conception, it can't even be imagined. Mine is the classic "Why is there something rather than nothing?"
Or as I prefer to put it, "There is something rather than nothing," because I don't see any possibility of answering the "why?"
When my mind tries to conceive of this primal fact, There is something rather than nothing, I'm thrown into a realm of no beginning, no end, no creator, no creation. Just the stark reality of existence that to my human mind, must always have existed.
But that's a very human conception. It fills me with awe. It fills me with mystery.
However, I strongly suspect that if an alien being arrived on earth who, against all odds, did possess the capacity to know the nature of There is something rather than nothing, neither me nor anyone else would be able to conceive anything about that knowledge.
It would be as distant from us as the Theory of Relativity is from our dog's understanding of reality. I find this exciting. Also, humbling. Because it means that no matter how much anyone believes they know about the cosmos, what they're utterly incapable of knowing is what they cannot even imagine.
>> It would be as distant from us as the Theory of Relativity is from our dog's understanding of reality. I find this exciting. Also, humbling. Because it means that no matter how much anyone believes they know about the cosmos, what they're utterly incapable of knowing is what they cannot even imagine.<<
With a hammer and some nails one can only do what the hammer and nails allows one to do, nothing more nothing less.
With the body one can only do what the body allows us to do, nothing more nothing less.
With all, the elements of the body, legs, arms, feed hand toes and fingers, we can only do what they allow us to do, nothing more nothing less
With the senses we can only perceive what they allow us to perceive nothing more nothing less
With the brain we are also allow only what the brain does allow us to do.
It is like driving in an tank. .. the machine depend on the function of their rubber bands to manoeuver and the prisma periscopes, to see where to go.
We can know with our brain, mind what can be known by the brain/ mind. ... but ... we might be able to be conscious of more than what is delivered by the body, senses, brain mind.
From the literature I understood, both dualistic and non dualistic, Buddhist or otherwise, that BEYOND that personal divinity, or illusion of it, there is something else that they all reffer to as ALL - KNOWING.
THAT .. cannot be known with the mind/ brain but, according them, one can certainly be conscious of it.
Not able to verify what they say, not being at their level, it is up to me or anybody else to accept it as an hypothetical truth, stating a fact or not.
The proof will for ever be outside the domain of human thought and language. ... and ... I do not need to have experiences, spontaneous or provoked by manipulating the chemistry of the brain, to understand this.
Reason why people like Lao Zi and Wittgenstein exclaimed that one cannot and should not talk about what cannot be talked about. .... even an ignorant simpleton as I am can grasp that truth .. just some coffee will do and seeing a crow now and then.
We can not scoop water with a thieve .. that doesnt mean there is no water.
Posted by: um | February 04, 2023 at 05:23 AM
@ Brian. “I think it is not only likely, but a near-certainty, that without exception, every hu-man who has ever lived has been handicapped in knowing the nature of reality...”
“To be blunt about that "without exception," I include Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Lao Tau, Guru Nanak, and each and every mystic, saint, yogi, or whatever who has walked the earth.”
“But awe is what we feel when we are in the presence of something known, yet beyond our comprehension, like the vastness of the universe.”
The first two statements are most likely true although to be clear, my understanding of the Buddha way is that Buddhism – more ascribed to Zen and Chan – is more about helping to understand inner conflict and suffering rather than understanding reality – that is basically: “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self – etc.” (I take it that to ‘forget the self’ is to not be too preoccupied with it).
And, with not being too preoccupied with the ever-chattering ‘self’, ‘awe’ may arise naturally. Regarding ‘awe’, I reckon that what Stephen Batchelor calls the ‘everyday sublime’ and when Wittgenstein says the “The mystical is not how the world is, but that it is”, they are referring to the everyday and ordinary wonders of the world as it is and that it presents itself as being just this – and, also the wonder that we are here to perceive it.
Posted by: Ron E. | February 04, 2023 at 07:56 AM
"(...)We can not scoop water with a thieve .. that doesnt mean there is no water."
Posted by: um | February 04, 2023 at 05:23 AM
It does, though. It does mean exactly that, um.
This takes us back to our discussion in the other thread. Absolutely, there's a great deal we don't know, and a great deal that we may never know, not even in principle.
Like what happened at the exact point of the Big Bang. Like what obtains in other universes, if there are any. Like what obtains in the inside of black holes. And so on. Maybe we'll never ever know that, maybe.
And maybe there's lots lots lots of stuff that, like this article discusses, we cannot even conceive of, far less know (And which someday we might start to know; and maybe never ever get to conceive and/or know.)
Sure there's all of that.
But, and this is key ---------------------------- As I see it, what all of this translates into is a certain wonder, and a certain humility, in terms of internalizing the idea that everything we know is, at the end of the day, provisional. BUT, AND AGAIN AS i SEE IT MYSELF, THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT, WITHIN THOSE PARAMETERS, THERE'S NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT IS AND WHAT ISN'T.
So that, if our current state of knowledge tells us there's no water, then it makes sense to accept there's no water. That, without a shadow of a doubt. Always with the understanding that this is provisional, sure; but that does not take away from an understanding of what is and what isn't.
And why not? Why doesn't it take away from what is and what isn't? Why does "We don't know of water so far" mean "There's no water" --- even if provisionally, as everything is?
Rather than launch into a detailed discussion, I think a brief argumentum ad absurdum might do the trick, as it had done once in the past. This is not a structured built-up-from-basic-premises formal argument per se, but a shortcut workaround. And the shortcut-workaround answer is: Because that would throw open the doors to all manner of unevidenced nonsense, including Shadowfax, the invisible dragon that lives in my garage.
So: If "Our science does not show that water exists", should, as you say, lead to "That doesn't mean that there is no water"; then "We have no evidence so far of invisible garage-dwelling uncorns" will equally well mean that "That does not mean that there are no invisible garage-dwelling unicorns".
Nah. I don't think it works that way, at all.
What all of this means is that, like I said, we realize how little we do know, and how everything about everything we know is provisional, and subject to getting upended any day now. But that notwithstanding, we still distinguish, clearly, between what we do know exists, and what not.
So: "We have no way to know of water" DOES translate, for all practical purposes, into "There is no water".
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | February 04, 2023 at 09:05 AM
And to think otherwise is, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, to keep one’s mind so open that one’s brains fall out. To think otherwise is, to fall back on another metaphor from Sagan, to willfully retreat back into the dark dank demon-haunted world of pre-scientific times.
And nor is this essentially pragmatic approach to cutting the Gordian knot of metaphysical onanism in the least bereft of wonder, exactly the opposite. To quote Douglas Adams this time: “'Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?'
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | February 04, 2023 at 09:09 AM
Hahaha ... where I wrote "thieve" I should have used the word ..... STRAINER
What I was underlining was the "strainer" and not the water.
The science, the method, instruments, theory and the user of tools, are like the STRAINER .. they have shortcomings, shortcomings that translate in the outcome of their work.
I never make statements about the the existence of things or not existence of things that cannot be verified, in one way or another.
It is not a blame on science. There is nothing wrong with it but it is not a good tool for everything .
Posted by: um | February 04, 2023 at 09:50 AM
In the past being among stasangis, there were many discussions about real masters who was one and who not. You could hear them say that this or that person was of this or that level etc et.... THAT has never been my cup of tea.
To respect an person, or to love one, that "knowledge" is not needed.
Jamun, knew about all things his friends would put before him as argument of prove that she, laila, was not worth to be his spouse.
Nobody in my life has ever been pressed to prove, explain that they deserved the feelings I have for them. I do have these feelings for them and THAT is enough for me.
Among thrm there are some that might behave in a way that is not my cup of tea .. but the annoyance about it etc cannot destroy the feeling
Posted by: um | February 04, 2023 at 10:00 AM
Ah ok. What I take from those comments, um, is that you're speaking here not so much about the objective nature of things, but of how your personally relate to them; how you personally relate to individuals, to ideas, to concepts, and the rest of it.
If that's what you mean --- and correct me, please, if I'm misreading you there --- then sure, there's no question of contesting that. When it comes to things subjective, that are seen clearly as subjective, then, while you might question your own basis for such, but ultimately it's your call, regardless of anything else.
So no disagreement there from me, um.
Although I quite don't see how that ties up with the existence-of-water observation, but I'll not beat that equine any further!
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | February 04, 2023 at 10:15 AM
That was nice UM
you cannot regulate Love
not the BIG, . . not the tiny
Only by give it away
Posted by: 777 | February 04, 2023 at 10:23 AM
After writing and deleting again what I wrote several times .... let we just give up and in .. and ... direct myself to the kitchen, the place of solace, and make some coffee.
Posted by: um | February 04, 2023 at 10:50 AM
That's fine, another time then.
Enjoy the coffee, cheers!
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | February 04, 2023 at 10:59 AM
Yes I am subjective, like any other human being.
Scientists are also subjective beings.
Whatever they produce starts and end with their personal motives.
Value-free, objective science is an illusion of the seventies .
The key to everything human is to be found INSIDE the house
Posted by: um | February 04, 2023 at 11:02 AM
Not sure I follow, um. Sure, we all exeperience subjectivity, agreed. But I'm not sure what that might have to do with that earlier water-might-exist-despite-science-not-having-an-inkling-of-it observation.
As far as this:
"Value-free, objective science is an illusion of the seventies ."
Again, not sure why you think that, and in any case what the seventies have to do with it.
Are there de facto biases within how science is actually conducted? Sure there is. It isn't perfect, our scientific establishments, and our conduct of science, sure. But those are details, that don't detract from the overall picture, and in any case details that can be corrected.
But in the end, and cutting down to the very essentials, science isn't about hi-tech labs and cool white lab coats (okay, scratch that, weird-looking dorky lab coats). In its essence science is how we move from subjectivity to objectivity. That, underneath everything, is the project of science. Arriving at objective commonality from subjective diversity. That isn't an illusion, at all. That's the whole point of our present no-longer-demon-haunted worldview.
And as far as this, where you say:
"The key to everything human is to be found INSIDE the house"
You seem to be using this somewhat differently here than you'd used this earlier.
Here you seem to be going for a solipsism of sorts. Of focusing on the subjective to the exclusion of --- or at least, by overriding --- the objective.
Now that might actually make sense in some things, I'll grant you that. But when it comes to understading reality, that's exactly the opposite of how we ought to be going about it. In my view, at any rate.
Because the subjective is riddled through and through with biases, blind spots, and all manner of error in perception and thinking and understanding. It is precisely to root this out, and to arrive at an understanding of reality that is free of bias, that is the whole entire point of science, as I see it.
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | February 04, 2023 at 06:16 PM
Whatever Humans do starts within the human, in his house.
The question than is ... "are humans objective or can they be?"
Given an certain concept of "objectivity".
No human being will do, act without an motive, he might be clear about it or not.
Walking towards a bookshop,
Searching for certain writers and topics to the exclusion of other experts
Buying the book
Reading the book
Understanding and digesting the book
Talking about its content with other, in place en time
Are all subjective,, in the sense they all start, in the house.
The use of language is both denotative and connotative.
We share the denotative with one another in order to live in a herd.
The use of the denotative in another way than accepted is only allowed for artists others might end up in an asylum.
The connotative, is by necessity subjective, related to many uncontrollable variables.
and ... there are many ways to look at an flower ... biologists, gardeners, sellers, lovers, poets and psychologists might also look at all of them ... hahaha .... instead of the flowers.
Posted by: um | February 05, 2023 at 01:21 AM
Sure, I take your point, um, and agree with what you’ve said just now.
But I’m not sure how this ties in with what we’d been discussing! Thing is, while we all are susceptible to bias, each and every one of us; but science is a tool designed specifically to root out this bias in how we interpret and understand reality. There are de facto imperfections within the conduct of it in actual practice, sure; but that does not take away from the fact that its very purpose is to arrive at bias-free, objective explanations for things, and that it is by following this method that we’ve been able to shake off the superstitions and magical thinking that a subjective interpretation of the world is liable to result in. And one of the implications of this is that when science tells us there’s no water in some planet, we abide by that conclusion --- even despite knowing the ultimately provisional nature of it, and even despite continuing to look further if we so wish. I mean, that’s the entire point of science, at the end of the day.
Haha, we seem, I don’t know, to be speaking at cross purposes here. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be an ass and keep flogging monomaniacally on this thing; and I’ll desist from doing that after this comment; but I’m not sure how any of these observations of yours holds up to what I’ve been saying here in response to your original comment.
But no matter, not to force the issue beyond this. At this point of apparent impasse, even though I don’t quite see where and why precisely the impasse, maybe let’s just ...you know, let it go, right?
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | February 05, 2023 at 06:40 AM
Posted by: um | February 05, 2023 at 07:02 AM
Ahh yes, we will all end up in the same place eventually—the land beyond time and reason and knowledge.
Thinking just allows us to navigate this world as we experience it.
Posted by: GiAnt | February 16, 2023 at 11:55 PM