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Reaching our capacity?

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Seadragon | 14:47 Tue 15th Jun 2010 | Society & Culture
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Last night I was reading a Sunday Times article about the 'human brain having reached its limits, leaving the biggest mysteries unsolved' by our 'top scientist' Lord Rees. As I don't know how to do links I can't provide you with link but extracts include:

'that the inherent intellectual limitations of humanity mean we may never resolve questions such as the existence of parallel universes, the cause of the big bang, or the nature of our own consciousness.'
'He even compares humanity to fish, which swim through the oceans without any idea of the properties of the water in which they spend their lives.'
'A 'true' fundamental theory of the universe may exist but could be just too hard for human brains to grasp.'

He goes on to talk about the failure of scientists to develop a 'unified' theory explaining why forces that govern the behaviour of the cosmos don't reconcile to the rule of the microworld of atoms and particles.

Anyway the interesting bit is that Rees seems to support the 'string theory' and the particles he suggests 'could exist in 10 or 11 dimesions. Humans, by contrast, can experience only the three spatial dimensions plus time.'
'He adds that there could be other 3-D universes 'embedded alongside ours.'
'In theory, there could be another entire universe less than a millimetre away from us, but we are oblivious to it because that millimetre is measured in a fourth spatial dimension and we are imprisoned in just three.'

My gardener believes in this theory big-time. I get blown away by it every-time I come across it and since its been on my mind all day I thought I would share it with my computer. Going to have a cup of tea and think about these other dimensions.


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Don't believe all you read.

People also thought electricity would be no use. Heavier than air flying machines are impossible. The light bulb was a novelty and so on.
The answer lies in the soil.
He's right for reasons other than just the human Brain's limitation.

Godel proved that some mathematics problems are simply not provable however smart you are.

Some areas like early cosmology there is simply no surviving evidence and in some areas like the idea of Multiverses it's entirely possible that there is simply no way we can reach the evidence.

But that's very different from limitations of the human brain.

I'm sure that it does have limits but predictions of this type have a real bad history. Like the Victorians who confidently predicted that all physics was known and there was just a bit of tidying up at the edges needed and it could all be put to bed
> 'He even compares humanity to fish, which swim through the oceans without any idea of the properties of the water in which they spend their lives.'

As far as we know... ;-) Fish might be pan-dimensional beings, akin to Douglas Adams'

> 'In theory, there could be another entire universe less than a millimetre away from us

In theory, there could be anything... In theory, our universe might be a single atom in a larger universe and every atom in our universe might itself contain an entire universe - ad infinitum, in both directions...
Yes mark but there are good reasons for thinking the former may be true and good reasons for believing the latter probably isn't!
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That reminds me of 'Horton hears a Who' - wonderful movie.

I don't know if there is a theory label for it but I do believe in mathematical probabilities for example 1 in 20 people sharing a birthday and coincedences can probably be explained mathematically with the combination that we remember those that have been positive.

Don't hold me to this but I think Dawkins may have said that we had reached our evolutionary capacity at this point. Much like a chimpanzee has reached theirs.

Brian Cox is also quoted in the article as saying 'The idea that certain things are beyond us is quite a bleak one and history does show that we can eventually overcome the most difficult of problems.' - He has to be optimistic as its his field and he has branded himself favourable to youth interest in science.

However there is an article in the Telegraph today about dark matter and energy not existing? We may or may not ever experience these other dimensions? Or do we at times feel their 'energy' and explain it has a coincedence or fate?

The other 'mind boggler' picked out in the article - 'Consciousness, scientists suggest consciousness derives from chemical reactions in the brain but cannot explain how this might generate a sense of self.'
Not quite convinced the Telegrapg has quite got that right Dark Matter and Dark energy are two quite different things I'd be a bit surprised if these were suddenly explained away together

Maybe I'll pick up a copy of Science when I get a chance and see what they're actually saying.

One of the main reasons for thinking that other Universes exist is that the values for things like the strength of Gravity, the size of the charge on the electron etc. seem so very tuned for matter and hence life to exist.

Other Universes with different laws of physics is a neat explanation. There are other things to like how weak Gravity is - if somehow this leaked into other dimension this might explain things better.

But this is all suppossition - we do not know how the laws of physics are set the way they are.

How does the electron come to have an equal and opposite charge to a proton?

Well String Theory has some sort of explanation but the measurements to show whether or not it is true are so far beyond us as to be quite depressing.

None of this though is due to our lack of smartness - it's beyond our ability to engineer experiments.

Theoreticians go on their merry way but they are in great danger of going where experimentalists can never follow - in some cases they are already there.

What they are doing then is no longer Science but a type of philosophy.

I have better hope for conciousness and self though - I'd be pretty hopeful of seeing a fairly good description of that in my lifetime
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By the way, goldfish have a memory of 3 months if you caught the football fish on 'The One Show', they were pretty amazing.

This is really fascinating stuff Jake - last quote from article - 'some aspects of reality, a unified theory of physics or a full understanding of consciousness might elude us simply because they're beyond human brains, just as surely as Einsten's ideas would baffle a chimpanzee.' Maybe we are simply not ready to take the next step in our mental evolution?

I think you guys above are right and I've often thought that we are limited in development more because of our external positions and state, technological advancement and discoveries etc than our mental capabilities after all we don't use all have our brains.

If we are ever in a position to unlock the mind's power further we may be able to detect the other 10/11 dimensions which may well probably overwhelm the 'self's' sense of information probably destroying the self and thus the brain protects itself from self-destruction by not working at full capacity? Absolutely mad I know, but interesting.
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Jake, have a look at ignore the 2004 article that dark matter and dark energy may be one and the same? Take a look at this month's article and the astrophysicist Tom Shanks findings that dark matter and dark energy may not exist. It will be interesting how he explains what could replace the workings of the gravitational pull keeping planets and stars together.

I can understand that the universe may not be expanding as fast as is thought if this is a credible theory but dark matter? I don't know - you say the laws of physics are set the way they are yet some of the greatest mysteries aren't answered. Maybe there will be a whole rethink of physical and mathematical laws in the future - Personally I don't think we are going to scientifically get a 'good description of consciousness and self' for along time, maybe the answer will remain more in philosophy than science?

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I'm still really thinking about this. As a non-scientific person a term of science and philosophy should be compulsory teaching in secondary schools - only to bring awareness of these many exciting theories to minds other than just looking at the Periodic tables and forces which don't exactly render science appeable to young people.

Curiosity and thus investigation has to be the most important traits of human advancement. (putting aside politics and financial motives behind the funding of science) This in itself would render Lord Rees' opinion to be quite a negative one. I am all for scientists suggesting quite radical theories and this finding of dark matter and dark energy not existing, is an amazing finding even if nothing comes of it.

It's keeping up with all the reading though and then the understanding of all the reading? Sometimes I sit through an hour scientific documentary about the Universe on discovery channel and after its finished, I'm still sitting there - seeing the screen but not really seeing what's on. Maybe it is all beyond my understanding but curiosity doesn't prevent me from watching the next sciencific documentary.

I need to get back to life for now. Thanks above posters for an engaging and thought provoking discussion.
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Final quick point - I think we may have reached our evolutionary capability as we have no predators (as yet) but not our intellectual capability as has been already pointed out. Taking for example the Industrial Revolution and the developement of the World, cities and modern life and all that enables us to do, maybe its a case of finding the next 'Revolution?.'
I think sometime people underestimate the capacity and igenuity of the human mind. We have continued to climb up the tiny new leads of knowledge and then fill the detaoils of the foundations later.

A few tiny pieces of electrical knowledge led to a world dominated by electromagnic devices in a very short time. The electromagnetic field theory led to wahy to think about other fields and Einstein sorted out that. Then there was the original Quantum Leap which nobody had really anticipated.

Scientists are tooling up for nanotechnology with many highly advanced techniques providing exquisite control over structures at molelecular scales. Both highly conductive and semiconducting materials have been written into graphene.

Genetics is being steadily decoded and we can now print out dna directly from electronically stored code. The convergence of nanotechnology and genetic engineering promises to be spectacular.

Personally I think the six or so extra dimensions are a mathmatical convenience and do not reflect the true nature of reality.
Seadragon, 1 in 20 people don't share a birthday. In a room of 23 peope there is an evens chance that two of them will share the same birthday - which is a completely different matter.

There is no such thing as losing a capacity to evolve. The capacity - i.e. the certainty that some mutations will occur - is always there. In the case of human beings the process does not proceed because the all-important stage of natural selection doesn't take place. We don't allow people to die because they are born with a disadvantage. We nurture them in a way that wouldn't happen in nature.
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What is also interesting is how we revisit established theories.

To quote Beso - ' Personally I think the six or so extra dimensions are a mathmatical convenience and do not reflect the true nature of reality.'

I'll have to think about that one.

You're right Chakka one can't lose the capacity to evolve, it just doesn't develop further as there is no reason/instigator to propel it forward as Dawkins suggests.

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