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Human intelligence: have we reached the limit of knowledge?

Mysterian arguments

"Mysterian" thinkers give an important role to biological arguments and analogies.

Late philosopher Jerry Fodor argued that there are bound to be thoughts we are unable to think. Similarly, philosopher Colin McGinn claimed that all minds suffer from "cognitive closure" about particular problems. Just as animals will never understand prime numbers, so human brains are unable to consider some of the world's wonders.

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Human intelligence: have we reached the limit of knowledge?

Human intelligence: have we reached the limit of knowledge?

https://theconversation.com/human-intelligence-have-we-reached-the-limit-of-knowledge-124819

theconversation.com

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Key Ideas

Science providing anwers

Despite the advances in science over the past century, our understanding of nature is still limited. Scientists still don't know what the vast majority of the universe is made up of or how consciousness arises from mere matter.

Some philosophers argue that we will never understand some things and that human science will one day hit a hard limit. They may already have done so.

Mysterian arguments

"Mysterian" thinkers give an important role to biological arguments and analogies.

Late philosopher Jerry Fodor argued that there are bound to be thoughts we are unable to think. Similarly, philosopher Colin McGinn claimed that all minds suffer from "cognitive closure" about particular problems. Just as animals will never understand prime numbers, so human brains are unable to consider some of the world's wonders.

Mysterians and pessimism

Mysterians present the question of cognitive limits in fixed terms: either we can solve a problem, or we will never be able to.

A possibility that eludes mysterians is one of slowly diminishing returns. We keep slowing down, even as we exert more effort, and there is no point where progress becomes impossible.

An optimistic view

Even if we do find the answers to the mysteries, we still have to understand the meaning of the answer. Quantum physicist Richard Feynman admitted that "nobody understands quantum mechanics." According to quantum mechanics, particles can be in two places at once or randomly come out of empty space.

But mysterians forget how mindboggling other scientific theories and concepts were when initially proposed, such as the theory of relativity or heliocentrism.

Mind extensions

To consider if our small brains can really answer all conceivable questions and understand all problems, we have to understand the human's ability to make tools.

  • Our sense organs cannot detect UV-light, ultrasound waves, X-rays, or gravitational waves. But we can equip ourselves with technology to detect all those things.
  • We use physical objects such as pen and paper, to increase the memory capacity in the form of notebooks or file drawers.
  • Mathematics enables us to represent concepts that we couldn't think of with our bare brains. Mathematical models and computers do the heavy lifting for us.

Cumulative knowledge

What makes humans unique is that we are capable of cumulative cultural knowledge. Many human minds are much smarter than any individual brain.

No single scientist would be able to unravel the mysteries of the world. But by collaborating with peers, scientists can extend the scope of their understanding and achieve far more together.

Turning the tables

If mysterians claim that some problems will never be solvable, they have to show in some detail why no possible combination of mind extension devices will bring us any closer to a solution.

By spelling out the problem, you set in motion the very process that might lead to discovery.

Indeed, some mysteries may forever remain unknown because human intelligence is not up to the task.

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