October 2, 2022

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Our representation of reality limits what we can know

Taking our method of investigating reality as a universal measure is unwarranted, and perhaps our cognitive descendants will view us just as we would our highly intelligent dog.

in 1960’s article Hungarian-American physicist Eugene Wegener wondered why our mathematical theories “succeed” in capturing the nature of our physical reality., in a kind of perfect response to the statement made by Galileo centuries ago, when he asserted that “the great book of nature is written in mathematical language”. In both cases it has been asserted with confidence that our universe is amenable to mathematics, that is, it can be known scientifically, at least from a general point of view, with an arbitrary level of depth having sufficient time and means of knowledge to explore it. Recently, however, American mathematician David Wolpert coined the a His new writing What I think is a question that can more than any other sum up the attitude of humility which every scholar must, but it would be better to say every thinker, should be. the question is: Are we really sure that our science can fully capture reality, with the cognitive prosthesis provided by the logical-mathematical and empirical approach?

Our math may not be as effective as we think. Maybe he can only capture a small part of reality. Perhaps the reason it seems so effective to us is that our scope of vision is limited to that sliver, to those few aspects of reality that we can perceive, given the same way our minds are constructed from a biological point of view. . From this perspective, the most intriguing question is whether our brains, backed by our technology and mathematical logic, will ever have the minimal skills necessary to fully understand reality, or whether it is possible to discern the limits that it will not cross. Never possible to pay us. Pay attention: we do not ask ourselves whether we will ever come to understand the whole of reality, but only if there are limits to our abilities that prevent us from exploring large parts of it.

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The problem is not with those facts that are unknown to us simply because we cannot observe them, such as what happens on the event horizon of a black hole. We cannot know these events, and probably never will, for the simple reason that our engineering skills fall short of the task, and not for reasons rooted in the limits of science and mathematics that our minds can build. In other words, it can be imagined and simulated, not verified, at least for now, but the question here is different. That is, are there some cognitive structures necessary to understand important parts of our physical universe, which are inconceivable and unimaginable to a human-like brain, and thus we can never perceive?

One possibility, Wolbert’s concern, is that our cognitive limitations are rooted in the form in which human thought can be expressed. First of all, keep in mind that this form is not suitable for mathematical and scientific thought: it has been well established, by the American philosopher Daniel Dennett and others, that the form of mathematical logic, and more generally of science, is completely identical to the form of human language. Indeed, since Wittgenstein, it has become common practice to define mathematics as a special case of human language, with its own kind of grammar. Even the less formal sciences are still constructed in terms of human language, using limited strings of symbols, such as mathematics. So this is the form of our knowledge. Our understanding of reality is nothing more than a large set of sequences of finite chains governed by rules of their formation, each containing elements from a finite set of possible symbols.

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Now, we might think that we have evolved precisely in order to have a cognitive tool, that is, this ability to formulate a description of reality and questions about it through strings of symbols, capable of embracing all there is to know. However, as Wolpert correctly pointed out in my opinion, there is no reason to believe that it is the culmination of the evolutionary process: the cognitive fitness of our descendants, not only that resulting from the natural evolution of our species, but also taking into account all the organic or inorganic species that we will be able to create, which may be higher than that of our descendants, and may include ways of describing reality for We are incomprehensible, but we are stronger than our strength.

Ultimately, then, our representation of reality through thought, mathematics, and language may be fundamentally limiting what we can know; In this case, by definition, we will not even be able to imagine what is left outside, if it exists, how far it extends and what it consists of. However, taking our way of formalizing and investigating reality is unwarranted, and perhaps our cognitive descendants view us just as we would our highly intelligent dog, unable even to imagine atomic theory or the existence of a quasar.