Manogrie Golden asked:
My question for today is this:
We have evolved to deal with the environments in which we found ourselves.
Are there limits to what we can understand about the universe?
Are our brains and minds too limited to understand the real nature of the universe?
I hope not.
Many thanks for a great website,
Johannesburg, South Africa
What do you mean by limits?
I think our only limit is with knowledge and that increases daily. Through language and writing etc. that knowledge is built upon by subsequent generations, hopefully without end. MikeS, Mon, 12th Mar 2012
An interesting question. We can clearly only understand things that we can obsere and infer from observations and models based on observations. If there are aspects of the universe that are outside of both of these possibilities we can never comprehend them but on the other hand they can never affect us because if they did we could observe the effect. Soul Surfer, Tue, 13th Mar 2012
I think it depends on what you mean by "understand". I don't think any physicist would say he really understands aspects of modern physics. He/she may be able to do the maths, and use this to make predictions in some areas, but is this the same as understanding the subject? All of deep physics is based on theoretical models which, as Prof Lisa Randall says, we can grasp only through the maths or, sometimes, by analogy and explain verbally. Maybe are brains are not wired to understand the concepts - they cannot be visualised except by limited analogies. But this does not stop some people from being able to be so good at this they do develop some intuition about how the universe may behave, but it is an interesting philosophical point about whether this constitutes true understanding. I suppose string theory is a good example - the models work to a large extent but nobody really knows whether the idea of a "string" has any meaning in reality except as a visualisation that we can assign familiar qualities to. It is possible, in reality, that this concept is just the nearest we can get to a model that we can grasp.
I still think the larger part of our understanding of the universe is mostly biological itself - that intellect is a product of natural selection. I think Susskind is right - but perhaps what he did not realize was that if this was to be true, then nature emerges itself with the intent of creating life; it does afterall bring us back to not only an age-old question, but one Susskind has dedicated most of his life to, the question of the strong anthropic theory, the idea there is an intelligence behind the universe at large - one maybe us mere intellects may call ''God'' - but those who did might consider such as the trailor trash of intelligence. Ęthelwulf, Tue, 13th Mar 2012
Nah, we're here to see ourselves :)
I have to subscribe to Graham's last sentence, "But then do we really "understand" anything?"
Funny - I think it is the other way around. Mathematical concepts are the one thing we can actually understand - all we can do with physical concepts is to model them. I think it is physics dirty secret that there is a huge amount of "who cares if it's true, or if we can comprehend it - as long as the model works" - the different interpretations of qm are a prime example. fields and gauge bosons are a second. imatfaal, Wed, 14th Mar 2012
Yeah, it's the old quandary. Does mathematics mirror nature just by being built the way it is? Or is it primarily a tool that you need to adapt to what we see and measure? And as we now a days seem to love weak measurements, are the conclusions we can draw from statistical behavior fitting, for example a 'photon path'?
Hey, thanks for posting my question!
Well, we're already 'there' Manoo :)
Yup, I also don't know what exactly 'space' is...
I think this is a fascinating question which is also something of an evolving question. As science moves forward we are able to create better sensory devices. We, as humans, cannot see Infra Red or Ultra Violet, and as for the Cosmic Microwave Background, we would never have a reason to evolve where it would be beneficial to sense it.
The Quantum mechanical vacuum is described in terms of every possible state in every possible dimension existing for all time and any outcome is based on probabilities all the way down to times spaces and times as small and short as the planck limit. There are clearly vast numbers of very brief and (physically) small probabilities. For something like a "universe" to exist there must be some sort of coherent behaviour that evolves and changes in some way rather than just random noise.