We all have questions. About all kinds of stuff. What's wrong with my computer? Who will win the next presidential election? Is that lump on my chest anything to be concerned about?
Almost always, our questions are presumed to have answers. Maybe not right now, but eventually. The winner of the 2024 presidential election will be known after the votes are counted, not before. Until then all we can do is wait.
And hope. That's when I turn a bit religious, even though I'm an atheist: Dear God, please don't let Donald Trump win a second term!
But the questions I find most interesting, especially after imbibing some Oregon marijuana courtesy of my beloved PAX vaporizer, are the ones that we humans are clueless about. Meaning, not only don't we know the answers, we don't even know the questions to which we lack the answers.
It'd be good if I could give some examples, but of course I can't. No one can.
Because what I'm talking about is a fundamental inability of us humans to grasp the Deep Unknown well enough to even fathom the basic contours of what we don't know.
This isn't just a difference in degree of, say, our inability to know what sperm whales are saying with their clicking sounds. That was the subject of a fascinating story in The New Yorker, "Talk to Me: Can artificial intelligence allow us to speak to another species?"
Most of us have heard of the famous philosophical/neuroscientific question, What is it like to be a bat? In this case, researchers trying to decipher the meaning of sperm whale clicks, which travel great distances through the water, are faced with the problem of how the whales look upon the world.
Surely very differently than we do.
But through artificial intelligence, it is hoped that with a large enough database of whale click patterns, known as codas, "it [AI] could then -- once again in theory -- generate sequences of codas that a sperm whale would find convincing. The model wouldn't understand sperm whale-ese, but it could, in a manner of speaking, speak it. Call it ClickGPT."
OK. That'd be way cool.
However, the story says that it's possible that nothing in our human experience matches up with some, or even all, of sperm whale experience. Researchers are hopeful this isn't true, but it might be.
And this relates to a fellow mammal on our very own planet. Imagine how much more difficult -- I'd say impossible -- it would be to grasp the fundamental questions of the cosmos, leaving aside the answers. This presumes, of course, that such questions exist.
I suspect that they do, though naturally I'm clueless about what the questions might be. The best I can do is gesture in the direction of where my intuition causes me to believe that such questions might be lurking.
What boggles my mind above all other boggles is the notion that something always has been, is now, and always will be. That sounds like a religious notion, but it really isn't.
Sure, religious believers consider that God is the everlasting entity. However, as I've pointed out many times on this blog, and surely will do so many times in the future, saying that God always has existed brings us no closer to fathoming the boggle than saying the cosmos always has existed.
Actually, less close, since we know the cosmos, in the form of our universe, exists, while there's no convincing evidence that God does.
Regardless, it seems to me that we humans are very limited in our ability to comprehend eternal existence. We don't even know whether, when it comes to the cosmos, "eternal" means endless time or outside of time.
And for sure we don't know what even farther out questions about the cosmos could be asked if the human brain had a capacity to ask them. Again, I'm not assuming that the questions could be answered.
What I'm saying is that we humans, no matter how wise, intelligent, or enlightened we might be, lack the ability to come up with those questions because all we're capable of is fathoming queries that relate to our human experience -- which lacks any experience of existence having always existed.