The Limits Of Science

“We live in an age in which science enjoys remarkable success. We have mapped out a grand scheme of how the physical universe works on scales from quarks to galactic clusters, and of the living world from the molecular machinery of cells to the biosphere. There are gaps, of course, but many of them are narrowing. The scientific endeavour has proved remarkably fruitful, especially when you consider that our brains evolved for survival on the African savannah, not to ponder life, the universe and everything. So, having come this far, is there any stopping us?

The answer has to be yes: there are limits to science. There are some things we can never know for sure because of the fundamental constraints of the physical world. Then there are the problems that we will probably never solve because of the way our brains work. And there may be equivalents to Rees’s observation about chimps and quantum mechanics – concepts that will forever lie beyond our ken.”

Interesting article in New Scientist (you’ll have to register, for free, to read it), examining how there could be some – perhaps many – things that we’re just not capable of discovering.

The author identifies a few – what lies beyond the cosmic horizon? how life began? – and then briefly dives in to the polarised consciousness debate (an area of personal interest). Here the argument is pretty much split between those who believe we will never discover what consciousness is and the reductivist mechanics who believe if we break down the brain just a little bit more we will find exactly which bit does what.

I’ve interviewed experts on both sides of the debate. From the snarky comment above, you might guess that I’m not 100% convinced by the reductivist approach and you’d be right. Roger Penrose’s suggestion that a quantum process underpins the nature of consciousness seems more elegant and interesting.

Worth a read.

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