Cosmology and Our View of the World

Summary for 3/29/99:

by P.J. Reczek

Being Human - What are minds for?

Kathleen Hayes

The topic for tonight's discussion is "Being human, what are minds for?" Going by Barrow's book class began the discussion with the human brain. The brain was described as the most complex thing that we have come into contact within our universe/world.

The discussion then went into a comparison about the brain and computers. The discussion focused on the powers of each and limits. The topic of limits would be important for much of the following discussion. A computer is able to solve problems at rates a normal human brain is not capable of. The computer runs from a program which a human set up. So in a sense it is limited to the capabilities of the program, although it can "evolve" in that program, it cannot match the complexities of the human brain.

The question "Is science limited or not?" was asked of the group. A demonstration of the Tower of Hanoi was given. Its idea is that the mind is not limited except for the constraints of life and time. It has been argued that there is not much creativity left in art today. That all art that is created today goes upon the work that others have done. We felt that art is not limited, for there is no limit to imagination.

It is this idea of limits that appears again. It could be argued that we are limited today to everything that could be known or done, or it could be argued that limits are always changing. In the 1970's it was thought that computers would never be needed for individual use and that they would get bigger and more expensive as technology increased. At the time this idea was limited to what was known. In this case we can see how the reverse took effect. We can tend to think of limit in another sense, we are limited to what we now and can learn in our lifetime, but also, the use of our brain is limited to a small portion of what we possess.

There are scientists that are currently looking for a TOE, a theory of everything. But the name itself is deceiving. This theory would not hold secrets of the universe, like factors that understand the complexities of biology, rather it would find a way to understand the laws of physics in one formula.

Again the question was asked do we have limits. At first it was easy to think, and discussion followed this train of thought, that we have no limits. We soon realized, that there are limiting factors. Language is one factor. Another is that models are not the same as reality. No model will ever mimic reality, so there are limits to knowledge. Thus, we will never know the limits of reality. We also talked of boundary situations were thought breaks down, and again we have limits to knowledge.