Cosmology and Comprehension

The non amateur stuff. Hawking, black holes, that sort of thing

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joe
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Post by joe »

Lawrie wrote: In referring to "ruffled feathers" I was merely meaning that, for once, I seemed to have started a lengthy "thread" with very interesting arguments.
Ruffling feathers is good.
I am really questioning if there is a limit to our intellects and thus our powers of comprehension
I think there is obviously a limit to our intellectual capacity but I do not see that limit approaching just yet.
Are there other approaches of which we have no conception (like fourth , fifth etc. "dimensions")
I am not sure how a knowledge of further dimensions, if they exist, will radically change our increasing knowledge of the universe. We use models today that incorporate extra dimensions.
1. Observation.
2. Calculation (i.e logical deduction)
3. Speculation

And that is all we can do
And look at how much we have done with those tools. Are you suggesting, Lawrie, that this search for a "reason" or understanding of the universe is a hopeless endeavour to know the "mind of god" or something? I may be way off the mark but correct me if I am.
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Lawrie
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Post by Lawrie »

Yes Joe, I think that it probably is a hopeless endeavour but we humans don't care to admit it. (most of us anyway!)
It seems that we learn more and more about less and less. The path of knowledge (of our Universe) seems to lead into a vast maze of other paths of possible investigation which multiply faster as we progress so that the possibility of investigating them all forever recedes, like the Rainbows End.
I think that I am happier accepting that there will always be something beyond my comprehension. I doesn't worry me any more than the clock on the wall worries my dog. We are content to be company for each other. We both enjoy astronomy in our own ways, me at the telescope, him curled up at my feet.
I guess that we could go on with this ad infinitum but perhaps this thread is quite long enough.
It has been interesting.
Best wishes, Lawrie
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Post by davep »

Lawrie wrote:Yes Joe, I think that it probably is a hopeless endeavour but we humans don't care to admit it. (most of us anyway!)
Hopeless how?

You've suggested a few times now that "we" don't care to admit that there might be a limit to what we can uncover, but I'm not seeing anything behind this suggestion. Could you say more about this?
Lawrie wrote:I doesn't worry me any more than the clock on the wall worries my dog. We are content to be company for each other. We both enjoy astronomy in our own ways, me at the telescope, him curled up at my feet.
To my mind it's this thing about the clock and your dog that's muddling the message. You seem to be anthropomorphising in regard to your dog and, because of this, thinking that your understanding of the "nature" or "purpose" of a clock is the "nature" or "purpose" of the clock and that your dog will never get it. Presumably your understanding of the clock in question is that its purpose is to tell you the time -- but, as I see it, that's not an essential property of the clock, that's an accidental property.

Drawing that point out a little: unless I'm mistaken "science", the act of applying the scientific method, is generally about trying to uncover the essential properties of the Universe, not the accidental properties. As such, if you think that it's a "hopeless endeavour" and that "we humans don't care to admit" that it is, it strikes me that you need an analogy or explanation which is closer to how the scientific method works and where it is useful.

You can use the scientific method to try and uncover how gravity works, but you probably can't use it to uncover what purpose gravity serves. As far as I know no jobbing scientist is trying to do the latter.
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Post by joe »

Let's see....A clock is not part of a dog's world. It is made by humans not dogs and is a contrived tool that counts ticks. A dog has no chance of understanding its purpose. (It can be conditioned as spodzone pointed out)

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.
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Post by davep »

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.
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Post by Cliff »

Dear al
I am afraid I tend to go along with at least some things that Lawrie suggests.
Just because science evolves does not necessarily mean it is heading exactly in the right direction. Of course it seems like we are heading the rigyt way at the moment particularly since current improvements in technology always seem to make life easier and \ or better. However, there is just the possibility that technology might lead to our (ie humans) downfall. Just as an example take global warminig.
So think Global warming is a bigger problem than terrorism.
Some think global warming is not a problem at all!
Some think that even if global warming is a problem then better technology can be used to avoid the problem. In a way that seems a funny sort of pholosophy since it seems at least possible the our ever burgeonning technology (possibly plus population increases or at6 least more people using the technology) may well be the cause of global warming.
I personally enjoy astronomy as a sort of personal exploration and personal attemt to experience as much as I can about the Universe. I find it fascinating that I can actually do it from my own back garden. I know for certain that I will never fully understand the Universe myself, but that does not stop me trying. However, like Lawrie I have at least some doubts that human beings will ever properly understand the Universe. I will even go as far as to say that the fact that humans may never properly understand the Universe hardly really matters very much. After all humans have existed what is it possibly 5 million years without knowing all the answers. i suspect the majority of humans are not really bothered about understanding the Universe. Some people are more worried about how Manchester United will go on in their nect match.
As for actually finding extraterrestrial life from what I gather scientists cannot even properly agree as to what life or certainly intelligent life actually really is. I suppose in some respects that makes the chances of finding extraterrestial life easier because the goal posts can always be changed as felt desirable.
I have recently read "A Briefer History of Time" very easy reading and very interesting especially the concluding chapter.
Best wishes from the Grumpy Old Codger Cliff
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Post by Lawrie »

My word, this goes on and on!
To sum up my original propositionin this way:
To comprehend the infinite we need infinite comprehension.
Now:
Either we have infinite comprehension or we don't
If we have, then all will be comprehended eventually.
If we don't then we will never comprehend it.

I was respectfully suggesting that none of us has or will ever have, infinite comprehension.
Lawrie
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Post by davep »

Cliff wrote:Just because science evolves does not necessarily mean it is heading exactly in the right direction.
What would the "right direction" be?
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Post by davep »

Lawrie wrote:My word, this goes on and on!
An interesting subject often can.
Lawrie wrote:To comprehend the infinite we need infinite comprehension.
And what is "the infinite"?
Lawrie wrote:I was respectfully suggesting that none of us has or will ever have, infinite comprehension.
That's sort of a given isn't it?
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Post by joe »

Lawrie wrote:To comprehend the infinite we need infinite comprehension.
True maybe but has that got anything to do with comprehending the universe (whether we are able to comprehend or not)?
I was respectfully suggesting that none of us has or will ever have, infinite comprehension
I don't think you will get disagreement here. You seem to have a view, Lawrie, and indeed Cliff, of the scientist as megalomaniac or something. This is not even close to my reading of the scientific way of working. Where does this come from!?
Cliff wrote:After all humans have existed what is it possibly 5 million years without knowing all the answers.
Again, as Dave said - I think - and if not probably will eventually :roll: :D , the answers to what?

Lawrie wrote:My word, this goes on and on!
Only getting started :wink:
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Post by davep »

joe wrote:
Cliff wrote:After all humans have existed what is it possibly 5 million years without knowing all the answers.
Again, as Dave said - I think - and if not probably will eventually :roll: :D , the answers to what?
Oy!

Seriously though, while it's a bit sweeping, I took there to be an obvious but useful point there -- humans have managed to evolve this far without knowing everything (..."that we know now" is what I mentally inserted in there while reading it) and yet we still managed to evolve this far. I took it to be, in part, a recognition of the idea that ignorance and uncertainty need not be negative things and that seeking to overcome ignorance and uncertainty isn't a bad thing either.
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Post by davep »

joe wrote:You seem to have a view, Lawrie, and indeed Cliff, of the scientist as megalomaniac or something. This is not even close to my reading of the scientific way of working. Where does this come from!?
I'm guessing not from here.
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Post by spodzone »

joe wrote:Let's see....A clock is not part of a dog's world. It is made by humans not dogs and is a contrived tool that counts ticks. A dog has no chance of understanding its purpose. (It can be conditioned as spodzone pointed out)
Worse still, I actually suggested that conditioning could explain our ability to read a clock (qualifier: at least ability to read a clock quickly).
Last edited by spodzone on Thu Nov 03, 2005 6:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
~Tim
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Post by spodzone »

Lawrie wrote:My word, this goes on and on!
To sum up my original propositionin this way:
To comprehend the infinite we need infinite comprehension.
This is probably flawed:
a) what is "the infinite"?

b) Mathematicians have simple ways of dealing with some infinities, such as by dealing with tending to limits (eg infinite sequences or series).

So what is `the infinite', and how does it differ from something that can be encapsulated by rational thought?
~Tim
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Post by Cliff »

Dear Joe and Davep
Answers to what?
Didn't someone once say, "Well we have found the answer but forgotten what the question was?
Well you tell me!
I know why I am interested in astronomy. However, my astronomy is not paid for by tax payers money. So I do not need to justify why I am an amateur astronomer.
I just read some comments in an "Astronomy and Space Magazine" extolling the importance of Space flight. The chap seems to suggest humans current experience of space flight compares with the early days of flight.
As it happens I have previously npt long ago mentioned some of my own thoughts about the pioneering days of human flight, so I won't go into detail again beyond mentioning the considerable difference in cost of flighing old stringbags across the English Channel as compared to putting humans on Mars.
I think most humans living in the developed world think such things as airliners and motor cars are wonderful things, and I am probably one who falls partly into that category myself. However, I do now have some increasing misgivings about these amazing machines that might be considered out mechanical servants. It now seems quite possible that these mechanical servants (which are a symbol of human progress ) could be a big factor in human's downfall.
I think cheap airline flights and tourism were in part a factor in the terrible consequences of last years Tsunami. But let us hope that human flight can help reduce the impact of the Pakistani eathquake.
According to New Scientist it looks as if NASA is now reaching a crisis point. President Bush's pronouncement of basis on the Moon and humans on Mars may be delayed because of loss of funds to crises like Katrina and the likes. As I have said before, I think the biggest stimulant to humans venturing in space is more likely to be a form of political power eg USA versus China, rather than expanding our knowledge for the benefit of humankind.
Incidentally I have just started reading "Warped Passages" by Lisa Randall who is something of an expert on the subject of extra dimensions. From the little I have read so far Lisa Randall puts things in very easy readable ways (of course that might change later in the book!).
"Let me say at the outset that obviously not all new ideas prove correct, and that many physicists are skeptical about any new theories. The theories I present here are no exception. But speculation is the only way to make progress in our understanding. Even if it rturns out that the details don't all align with reality, a new theoretical idea can still illuminate physical principles at work in the true theory of the cosmos. I'm fairly certain that the ideas about extra dimensions we'll encounter in this book contain more than a germ of truth."
Baring in mind that Lisa Randall is an expert on the matter of extra dimensions what she says seem to suggest to me there could be a long haul in learning much about these extra dimensions. Although she herself seems to think the Large Hadron Collider could prove that some extra dimensions exist within five years. Assuming say one extra dimension is proved to exist could that open a can of worms.
Best of luck from the grumpy old codger Cliff
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