Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Logic and the Potential Limitations of Science
Tyler Britton & Rebecca Santos


Summary by Brett Clark & Gregory Kiker

Logic and potential Limitations of Science (The Known and the Unknowable)

This topic presented by Tyler and Rebecca began with the statement “We are conscious beings; we exist”. This allowed us to look at patterns within our universe, which seem to be implicit for a universe to exist that supports such conscious life. We learn that mathematics is merely our description of those patterns we observe within our universe. Furthermore, we often attribute the presence of these patterns to an undefined set of intrinsic laws of nature, which processes within our “observable” universe seem to follow. These laws are useful to us in our continuing search for meaning, and efforts to understanding our place in the universe; this is Cosmology. Portions of our examination of scientific cosmology throughout the previous several hundred years has shown a somewhat fragmented view of science and a desire to understand and isolate the parts of the system, while often neglecting to acknowledge the interconnectedness of these parts. As knowledge of a system grows we often become aware of the levels of interconnectedness between the once separate parts of that system. Then Tyler posed the question, whether we feel that the whole of something is greater than the sum of its individual parts. An example of this was presented by Tyler regarding the ability for a single atom in a human leg to exist as such, but when many such atoms are joined together through natural laws and/or processes, they are able to form and function as a far more complex whole. We (the recorders) felt we could agree and identify with this idea, but concluded it is a topic worth future reflection and examination.

Enlightenment and rationalism were then brought into question regarding the presence or lack of a reality that is entirely rational and knowable, citing Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem (1930) as a probable case for the latter. The theorem states that a mathematical system cannot receive complete validity about the system within the system itself, and requires a frame of reference outside and beyond itself in order for a complete validation of that particular mathematical system. The description of the arithmetic within a given mathematical system is referred to as meta-mathematics, and as shown by Gödel and summarized by Tyler, every mathematical system will have loose ends...There are often other mathematical systems available to tie up these loose ends, which themselves, too, have ends which cannot be fully tied up...and so on. Professor deVries elaborated on this stating that the basis for a number of mathematical fields is a series of proofs that are based on a set of elementary axioms, or obvious truths from which the proofs begin. He cites Euclidian Geometry as a common example of this. Kalika then posed the thought-provoking question of asking why proofs are required in order to verify or prove these theorems or truths, if they are obvious enough to be referred to as such.

With Gödel’s theorem in mind the idea of limitations existing within science was raised, similar to mathematics, which serves as the basis for the aspects of science. Is it just a matter of getting the right science in a matter of time? Can we ever understand everything through science? Peter raises the point that quantum physics is a system with loose ends but one that is also very useful and seems consistent with a large number of scientific observations to date. He believes it is very plausible that someone will come up with another theory that will make improvements to the quantum mechanics system. Tyler agreed with this idea that we can always develop better science, but will there ever be a science that will be able to explain everything…. where is the limit? The two of us tend to lean toward the idea that there are no limits to this and that as long science is moving forward we will not find ourselves in a position where there is no room for progress. It’s hard to imagine where science hits the roof and cannot expand any longer. Generally, with the creation of a new theory there are always portions that may prove incorrect following examination by peers or future generations, and these are the parts other scientists try to improve, replace or expand upon.

With that said, how deeply can science fulfill our need or desires to know things? Scientific knowledge helps us with environmental understanding as well. Each consecutive generation has for the most part allowed us to explore and gain further insight into the world around us. We (the reporters) feel that science gives people an appreciation for life, simply by drawing direct meaning from the discoveries of science, not necessarily pursuing the discovery, but just finding out new information about how the world works. The more we continue to know, the more we realize we don’t know, our spectrum of knowledge increases and broadens, but our wonder increases even further. Kristyn then questioned if looking to science for answers was a truly fulfilling act. She stated that finding certain things out would decrease her sense of wonder of existence. The two of us (Greg and Brett) disagree with the idea of a sense of wonder leaving a system once its parts are better understood. For us, this simply increases the appreciation for the processes and the wonder they hold. Lauren brought up a different perspective of exploration through meditation in your brain. She believes that there are other facets of life that are not simply explained by science.

The ideas of an assigned “value” and “purposes” in life were discussed. Do we find meaning through the pursuit of it by our choices, or do we have a purpose that calls to us? Professor deVries went on to comment that he believes ultimate purposes are projected by humans and are usually frustrating if the ultimate purpose is unattainable. However, how can you actually achieve that until you begin figuring out your surroundings and you find out what is worth working toward? When you find that the ultimate purpose is somewhat unreachable, then you may be able to move on to discovering a new form of ultimate purpose. Purposes are not handed out and presented to us, but are chosen by ourselves, a life choice, essentially. The choice is then reaffirmed, especially if you enjoy what your meaning is. Ultimately, one projects him/herself into the future. Tim stated that he believes he has a purpose, and that purpose is not necessarily fixed, and changes as life does. Tyler would find a purpose in owning land in a secluded area of the world that is undeveloped and peaceful, i.e. it is natural. He doesn’t have to be reading or listening to music, he can just be there and find meaning. Part of his meaning comes from knowing the interconnectedness of all beings within nature. He does not claim to have found a key to happiness for the rest of his life, but the ability to remove himself from the structured life that we live in and be able to go canoeing in an instant and getting in touch with nature.

The focus shifted to the word “value” at this point, with professor Davis making a comment that resonated with us. He commented on the value in the placement of molecules, and stated that he doesn’t see where that value comes from. No one DNA arrangement is seen as any better than any other, it’s just “stuff”. However, Davis asserts that our consciousness itself is our meaning and purpose or reason for existence. Essentially, it is how we have been able to come as far as we have in science and society. Who are these conscious ones and how do we differentiate between them? Some animals are conscious, but not to the degree as humans, where they would ask themselves: “why do I have a consciousness?’’ Due to our level of intelligence we have dominated the world in population numbers and distribution in a short time like no other species in the world.

This discussion ended with a statement that we felt did a great job of wrapping things up. Tyler made the comment “The pursuit of meaning is where I get my meaning from”. It was simple but seemed to ring true for the two of us. The two of us (Greg and Brett) thought this was a great way of wording and describing how we both view meaning in our own lives.