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Memories of the 28th Century


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I asked someone what I should write about next, and the response that I got was, "Mysteries, the unknowable."
That is a fairly good topic, and it is somewhat related to what I have written along the lines of consciousness, epistemology, and Turing test, etc. Then that person suggested that I write about god, the unknowable. That's completely different, because there are many Gods and Goddesses, and most of them are quite knowable, and some are downright friendly, so that can't be the unknowable. Perhaps there is an unknowable God, but I don't know which one.
I have thought about the limits of knowledge before, but I haven't studied the matter. A library catalog search came up with Knowledge and its Limits by Timothy Williamson among others, but some of the titles look like something from Science fiction. Larry Niven wrote a story (“Limits” collected in Draco Tavern) about a gentleman who owned the Draco Tavern, which catered to sophonts from around the universe. One day he overheard a bit of a conversation about how those particular sophonts had noticed that humans set the limit before they tried something.
That's one way to make sure you won't do much worse than expected, but it tends to limit the results. It might be considered begging the question, assuming the results beforehand. One example of this that I thought very odd was Planck length, which Max Planck decided was the minimum distance, length, of things that humans could investigate; read the article for more information. Since it is tied in with the speed of light and other constants, there may be something to it, but that declaration was based on the level of knowledge and instrumentation of a hundred years ago. I suspect that there are other possibilities now. The aliens in Niven's story concluded that it was a mistake for humans to predetermine results. I recall reading something about observations that were finer than a Planck length, but I can't recall the details, so it's just a rumor.
On another hand, there are many things that I don't know, and I probably have no interest in know many of those things, but I don't determine beforehand the limits of my knowledge, except that I don't want to know what the current showbiz celebrities are doing, but that's only because I'm not making that kind of money for doing so little; this could change, if a beautiful starlet decided to take up with me.
Then there are international affairs. Some people have pointed out that the more money that the U.S. pours into spying the less we learn from it. Consider how much we knew about IS before it started making a splash. If we look at that matter carefully, then we will find that it is largely a matter of personal intelligence. There are people who simply do not notice anything about anything.

I just learned that Fitch's Paradox of Knowability exists. It is in symbolic logic, a language that I have not learned, but the narrative description says: "It tells us that if any truth can be known then every truth is in fact known." I see a problem with time in that. It should be possible that something will be known that is not known at present, or it could be playing games with exactly that, so that it means that anything presently known is known at present without saying anything about things that may become known in the future. I will look into this. The more I think about it, the more I think that it plays with time and logic. Section 3.5 Paraconsistent Revision shoots a big hole in the argument. This is worth looking at, but it is not definitive.

This list from listverse has unprovable things about math, and it is mildly interesting.

An interview with a researcher of the unknowable
It is interesting to note that the interviewer comments about "your interest in the limits of scientific knowledge."

This is not a subject about which I am inclined to spend much time thinking, but I have concluded that there is no practical way to know whether there are things that are not known by humans, except those matters about which enough is known that we can concluded that there are details that are missing. For example, it is reasonable to think that the timing of the release of radiation from a nucleus probably is determined by something about the nucleus that cannot be detected with instruments that are presently in existence. There may be a world of data within a nucleus that will someday be available, and Schrödinger's Cat will be much safer.

Similarly, humans have explored only a very small part of the universe. There is an excellent chance that there is something out there that is completely unknown and unexpected, but that just means that it has not yet been observed. Even here on Earth there are places that have not yet been explored, and there may be something different and interesting to be found.

Then there are the matters that are not yet known about human consciousness. Are these matters knowable? I don't know, but I suspect that everything about humans is knowable.

Then there is unknowable in a sense that H. P. Lovecraft would have used it: The Unknowable Horror beyond the limits of knowledge.