joe wrote:An object appears in the sky that is not made by humans, it is extra-terrestrial, not of our world. (The obelisk in 2001?) Can we know its purpose? Yes! We at least have the capability of studying it, taking it apart, forming theories, testing it, replicating it. In short our intellect, being somewhat larger than dogs, allows us to investigate and hopefully eventually understand anything that we can physically interact with.
2001 is a good analogy. Could we know
the purpose of the obelisk? I think it would be fair to say that, mostly, we could do the things you said to know of its makeup but the best we could ever do, in the absence of input from those who built it, regarding its purpose
, is hypothesise.
Another analogy that comes to mind is the Baghdad Battery
. We know what it's made from, we know what it's capable of, we've built replicas and had them work and tested out a number of possible uses for the artifact. Unless any actual documentation is found the one thing we'll probably never know is the purpose it was designed and built for.
The important point for this thread, however, is that the latter part of the above paragraph isn't news and is an accepted and well understood "problem". You can know how
a thing works if you've got the thing in your hand, but you can't know what value some other mind places on that thing. But, if you do know that value, it tells you nothing about the thing in your hand anyway. As I see it they're two totally different lines of inquiry.
And this is where I think the problem in this thread lies: the initial idea, as posted, seems to suppose that progress in understanding is all about certainty -- it isn't.