Things We Can Never Comprehend
June 6, 2011 2 Comments
Have you ever wondered what we don’t know? Or, to put it another way, how many mysteries of the universe are still to be discovered?
To take this thought a step further, have you ever considered that there may be things that we CAN’T understand, no matter how hard we try?
This idea may be shocking to some, especially to those scientists who believe that we are nearing the “Grand Unified Theory”, or “Theory of Everything” that will provide a simple and elegant solution to all forces, particles, and concepts in science. Throughout history, the brightest of minds have been predicting the end of scientific inquiry. In 1871, James Clerk Maxwell lamented the sentiment of the day which he represented by the statement “in a few years, all great physical constants will have been approximately estimated, and that the only occupation which will be left to men of science will be to carry these measurements to another place of decimals.”
Yet, why does it always seem like the closer we get to the answers, the more monkey wrenches get thrown in the way? In today’s world, these include strange particles that don’t fit the model. And dark matter. And unusual gravitational aberrations in distant galaxies.
Perhaps we need a dose of humility. Perhaps the universe, or multiverse, or whatever term is being used these days to denote “everything that is out there” is just too far beyond our intellectual capacity. Before you call me out on this heretical thought, consider…
The UK’s Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees points out that “a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum mechanics.” Despite the fact that Richard Feynman claimed that nobody understands quantum mechanics, as Michael Brooks points out in his recent article “The limits of knowledge: Things we’ll never understand”, no matter how hard they might try, the comprehension of something like Quantum Mechanics is simply beyond the capacity of certain species of animals. Faced with this realization and the fact that anthropologists estimate that the most recent common ancestor of both humans and chimps (aka CHLCA) was about 6 million years ago, we can draw a startling conclusion:
There are certainly things about our universe and reality that are completely beyond our ability to comprehend!
My reasoning is as follows. Chimps are certainly at least more intelligent than the CHLCA; otherwise evolution would be working in reverse. As an upper bound of intelligence, let’s say that CHLCA and chimps are equivalent. Then, CHLCA was certainly not able to comprehend QM (nor relativity, nor even Newtonian physics), but upon evolving into humans over 8 million years, our new species was able to comprehend these things. 8 million years represents 0.06% of the entire age of the universe (according to what we think we know). That means that for 99.94% of the total time that the universe and life was evolving up to the current point in time, the most advanced creature on earth was incapable of understand the most rudimentary concepts about the workings of reality and the universe. And yet, are we to suppose that in the last 0.06% of the time, a species has evolved that can understand everything? I’m sure you see how unlikely that is.
What if our universe was intelligently designed? The same argument would probably hold. For some entity to be capable of creating a universe that continues to baffle us no matter how much we think we understand, that entity must be far beyond our intelligence, and therefore has utilized, in the design, concepts that we can’t hope to understand.
Our only chance for being supremely capable of understanding our world would lie in the programmed reality model. If the creator of our simulation was us, or even an entity a little more advanced than us, it could lead us along a path of exploration and knowledge discovery that just always seems to be on slightly beyond our grasp. Doesn’t that idea feel familiar?