Impossibility and Us

Summary: May 10, 1999,

by Kathleen Hayes

Lead: Allison Smith and Robyn Vockrodt


In this section of the class three theories of the universe were discussed as well as all the problems that came with them.


The universe is complete and understandable through mathematics (though as yet, we do not understand it completely.) Such a universe is predictive, leading to a conflict with free will.

The universe is incomplete and we will never understand it through mathematics.

The universe is complete, but not completely understandable through mathematics because mathematics cannot prove the axioms (precepts) on which it is based. *Gödel's Theorem*

When we talked about Gödel's Theorem, there were several examples discussed that show how effective it is. The examples showed that most concepts start out with something undefined, such as: lines are made up of points, but then what are the points made up of? Another example was from a religious story, it said that a man holds up the Earth, but the question is, what is the man standing on? Well, he's standing on an elephant, but what is the elephant standing on? The story goes on like that until someone finally says that they are all standing on the turtle, but what is the turtle standing on? No one knows, the story just stops there.

The biggest problem with the first theory is that if it was true, there would be no free will, which basically means that we don't make are own decisions… or we do and mathematics are just able to predict what we do before we do it. With this section we also discussed astrology and whether or not the predictions astrology makes would ever be able to be proven. We came to the conclusion that there is the possibility if the person who makes the prediction is the only one who ever knows about it, they write it down, and then they are killed… and the predictions are opened many many years later.

Then again, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle also rules out the first theory because it says that the smaller the quantity we have than the bigger the discrepancy there is when measuring it. Basically saying that a lot of things cannot be represented exactly by mathematics yet because there are limits to our knowledge of mathematics.

The last thing we talked about during class was the question of man or machine? Which is the superior intelligence? The point was brought up that man built the machine, so obviously that makes man smarter than the machine. But we also talked about how a computer is smarter than a human in concentrated areas that they are programmed for. A question was asked: "If a computer was given five equations and Howard was given the same five equations, who would finish them first?"

Howard's response: "I would."

"How do you figure?"

"Because I would break the computer."

And on that note, class was ended.