Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Nature of Nature Understanding Nature

Richard May headshot by Richard May

As individual members of our species have genetically-based cognitive limits on what they are capable of understanding, there is no reason to suppose that species don't also have asymptotic cognitive limits. Chimps and gorillas have no facility with the equations of Newtonian mechanics and there are no homo sapiens theoretical physicists with IQs between 90 - 110.

"The search[for physical laws and particles may] be over for now, placed on hold for the next civilization with the temerity to believe that people, pawns in the ultimate chess game, are smart enough to figure out the rules," George Johnson, "Why is Fundamental Physics so Messy?" WIRED magazine, February, 2007.

It may not be a matter of a civilization, i.e., culture, with the "temerity to believe", a feature of some human religions not of science, that people are smart enough to figure out the rules of the universe. Actually being neuro-biologically more intelligent may be required to do the next level of physics. Another species with a more highly evolved higher brain structure and higher genetically-based cognitive limits may be required to achieve the next major theoretical synthesis.

Even ordinary human occupations have cognitive thresholds and so may there be species-specific cognitive thresholds for the theoretical tasks required to ascend to the next level of a perhaps infinite regress of 'ultimate truths' about the universe. It is the ultimate anthropocentric hubris to presume that the Protagorian dictum "Man(as his brain is currently evolved)is the measure of all things" necessarily applies to fundamental understanding of Nature herself!


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