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The Limits of Human Comprehension

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This is a topic that has bugged me for a long time now, and I still can't come to a satisfying conclusion.

Do humans have limits on their comprehension and understandability of their surroundings? If so, will we ever find out what they are?

By comprehension of our surroundings, I'm not simply speaking in terms of the Earth that we live on, but of the universe as well. From what we humans have come to understand, there may be underlying laws of nature that maintain the course of the universe. That's an immense achievement, if you take the time to really consider what it implies. This means that we can predict what the future may have in store for us (not necessarily to a high degree of accuracy), what the other side of the universe (assuming that the universe has any sides at all) may have and where it came from, and where we came from.

One question that these laws cannot provide an answer to is the question of each of our individual purposes are here on Earth and the role that we will play in the advancement of the human race. Many -- and by many, I mean the majority of people that I know -- find an answer to this question through their faith. For them, being told what their purpose is is an acceptable notion. Due to my questioning and skeptical nature, I can't accept answers as to what I was put on this Earth for from other people. I know that in order to discover my true purpose, I must live my life and take whatever opportunities come my way.

This however, creates a contradiction.

If I do discover my purpose, how is it going to help me if I'm scheduled to die anyways? Even if I gain the knowledge, what purpose will that serve once I have passed on? Since it's significance only applies to me, the information will most likely never be passed on to my children or their children, so what is the point of even knowing it for myself? This is also a harsh reality that theists have come up with an answer to, life after death. Even such religions such as Hinduism do not believe that you retain your memory after reincarnation, but that the way(s) that you live your life or lives will conglomerate to form a more profound understanding of your true purpose as a sentient being.

Before I go any further, I would like to apologize if any religiously-affiliated individuals were insulted in any of my phrasing in the above paragraphs. But fear not, because now we get into some scientific stuff.

One of the most debatable and difficult to grasp concepts in the scientific community to date is the one of quantum physics. One of my favorite quotes about the subject that I think captures its complexity is one from Niels Bohr, a Danish physicist who developed the Bohr Model of the atom among other scientific advances said, "If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you haven't understood it yet." This quote gets across the point that I'm trying to make, that is the limits of human understanding.

An extremely simplified description of quantum mechanics, if you don't know (which you probably don't fully know), says that on the subatomic level, which is the level of an electron, matter is composed of waves, not particles. This essentially means that any wave function can be in an infinite number of places at any given time. Entanglement, which is a part of this theory, states that when you affect one of the waves in any way, that the other wave does the exact same thing simultaneously. This trancends conventional understanding for most people, including myself.

I said before that we know that there ARE natural laws, I did not say that we understood them. Personally, I don't think anybody will ever understand them until they catch a glimpse of the universe from a bird's eye view. You have to see everything in order to develop laws that may govern it. Another quote, this time by Douglas Adams, captures my thoughts almost exactly, “There is a theory which states that if ever for any reason anyone discovers what exactly the Universe is for and why it is here it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another that states that this has already happened.” So, even IF we happen to look at the universe through flawless eyes, and are able to see everything, we will be, by definition, more complex than the universe. Since the universe entails everything in existence, we could not possibly exist. And therein lies a paradox and the limits of human comprehension.

Still, even through all of this, we go about our lives oblivious for the most part. There are 4 billion bits of information that we can process every second, but we only process about 2,000 of them. Why? Because we are limited to our 5 senses. That is essentially the limit of human comprehension, if it isn't visible, audible, it doesn't smell, it has no texture, or it has no smell we are oblivious to its existence. However, you cannot smell electrons. You cannot see protons (with the naked eye). You cannot hear stars impolding because of the vacuum of space prohibits the travel of sound waves. Yet, we know that these things occur. These things are all the product of human deduction and abstract reasoning, which the frontal lobe in our brain allows us to do. The brain is still a medical mystery, and we have a long way to go before our brains evolve to their maximum capabilities. This gives hope for future generations; hope of answering these simple yet immensely important queries that are the basic builing blocks of our society and world.

Just ponder that for a few moments. Samsonius 04:46, May 27, 2010 (UTC)

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