Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Limits to the Knowable & The Theory of Everything
Lead: James Ledoux & Kevin Rehberg


Summary by Sean Every:


Limits to the Knowable & The Theory of Everything

The topic of our third to last discussion was the theory of everything and the limits to the knowable, which was presented by James Ledoux and Kevin Rehberg. The first section of the discussion was on the Theory of Everything, which James was quick to qualify it as a very brief and introductory explanation of the theory. Due to the physical and mathematical nature of theory James and Kevin did not wish to linger on this topic.

The Theory of Everything basically goes a step beyond the Grand Unified Theory, so it describes the unification of the fundamental forces the weak, strong, and electromagnetic forces, and includes gravity where GUT does not. The TOE states that some temperature regime the effects of the four fundamental forces are indistinguishable, so in a sense the forces are combined into one force. As it was said there is no link between economics and TOE. It would be nearly impossible to derive human interaction, after studying particle interaction, even though our thoughts may be governed by those particle actions.

At the conclusion of this section of the talk Tom brought up a very good point about the limits of research when he said, “What will this theory do”. James was quick to reply with “Nothing”, because we can’t possibly ever recreate those regimes. But similar theories have lead to the discovery of new particles. This theory is very mathematical and complex, and in order to get into the meat of the theory James hinted that we would need to study a lot of math. Kevin stated that it is a function of the human mind to unify things, and give them order, maybe to make things more predictable. Kevin also said that " Laws can't always predict events", and what I believe he meant is that there will always be anomalies and some things that science can not account for.

We as people here have to choose between two possibilities: we can look for new laws, or we can chalk it up to faith.

This is where the conversations switched from TOE to the limits of the knowable, which was the bulk of the class. The discussion of the limits of the knowable was much more interesting because it was able to bring in the entire group, and the discussion became much more insightful. For example, Robyn said that “If we know the structure of something we can still know the how, but not the why”, which the rest of the conversation seemed to circle around. Science can answer how things work, interact, and the probabilities of interaction, but not why things do what they do.

What is beyond the knowable? You can never experience someone else's experience, so for you that is unknowable. Your perception is unknowable to someone else because you can never prove that what you see has any more veracity than what they see. There was a discussion about death and what it is to die. We may know what causes our death, but we can never know what it is like to be truly dead because that is an experience, which only can be known by the person, experiencing it. There are some things that humans can share collectively, but we can never prove to others what we experience is true. However, humans can come to a consensus about things like gravity. We all experience gravity everyday. We cannot, however, find out why there is gravity rather than anti-gravity, a point brought up by Jason. Tom also brought up another scenario, which can help to qualify limits to the knowable. He will never know what it is like to have a baby because he is a man and therefore can’t experience it.