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Astronomer Martin Rees on why science is approaching its limits

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And how it can transcend them via “intelligent design:”

We can expect huge advances on three frontiers: the very small, the very large, and the very complex. Nonetheless – and I’m sticking my neck out here – my hunch is there’s a limit to what we can understand. Efforts to understand very complex systems, such as our own brains, might well be the first to hit such limits. Perhaps complex aggregates of atoms, whether brains or electronic machines, can never know all there is to know about themselves. And we might encounter another barrier if we try to follow Weinberg’s arrows further down: if this leads to the kind of multi-dimensional geometry that string theorists envisage. Physicists might never understand the bedrock nature of space and time because the mathematics is just too hard.

Martin Rees, “Black holes are simpler than forests and science has its limits” at Aeon

And now, about transcending those limits?

Abstract thinking by biological brains has underpinned the emergence of all culture and science. But this activity, spanning tens of millennia at most, will probably be a brief precursor to the more powerful intellects of the post-human era – evolved not by Darwinian selection but via ‘intelligent design’. Whether the long-range future lies with organic post-humans or with electronic super-intelligent machines is a matter for debate. But we would be unduly anthropocentric to believe that a full understanding of physical reality is within humanity’s grasp, and that no enigmas will remain to challenge our remote descendants.

Martin Rees, “Black holes are simpler than forests and science has its limits” at Aeon

Be warned. In the middle of the bridge to the post-human artificial intelligence future sits a fat troll called the Halting Problem, waiting for an unsuspecting computer idealist to wander by…

See also: Astronomer Martin Rees Reacts To Suzan Mazur’s Darwin Overthrown

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One Reply to “Astronomer Martin Rees on why science is approaching its limits

  1. 1
    vmahuna says:

    There is a wondrous and famous book on Mathematics, whose famous author I can’t recall. But he wrote several simplified real world situations where there is clearly a gap between what the raw theory tells us and how the day to day world actually works. Um, humans need to breath in O2 molecules to live. O2 molecules are in random motion, along with unbreathable CO2, helium, etc., etc. So at every instant in time there is a CHANCE that ALL of the O2 molecules will randomly move to the OTHER SIDE of the room, and we will suffocate. But in any real world occurrence, the odds of ALL of the O2 going to the same place and STAYING there is damn small.
    The more fun one though is: we divide the class into boys (young men) and girls (young women). We then have all the boys stand against the left wall and all the girls stand against the right wall. We then tell the boys and girls to move toward each other far enough to HALF the distance between them. We then repeat this half-move several times. How many moves will they make before they’re touching (i.e., they’ve reduced the separation to 0 feet)? Well, technically, it takes an INFINITE number of half moves, and they NEVER touch. But, the Mathematician observes, after only a few moves the boys and girls are “close enough for all PRACTICAL purposes”.
    So, in response to the “But we would be unduly anthropocentric to believe that a full understanding of physical reality is within humanity’s grasp, and that no enigmas will remain to challenge our remote descendants.”, I expect that humans can get close enough to The Ultimate Answer for all practical purposes. The Designer will probably even give us each a kewpie doll when we do.
    But there is every reason to believe that the Designer created the whole big crazy universe so that HUMANS would have a place to live and explore. If we wind up deciding that sitting in a park on Earth and writing poetry and cuddling babies and puppy dogs is what Life is about, then we would clearly have explored the whole Universe FOR ALL PRACTICAL PURPOSES.

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