Thursday, June 2, 2011

I've Learned Enough!

I often find myself pursuing knowledge as if some great state of enlightenment were just around the corner. But the quest never ends! There is simply no way of obtaining even a large fraction of all human knowledge. And I'm not sure it would make me happy if there were. The sum of human knowledge is expanding, and barring a collapse of free civilization, it will continue to do so. So there is nothing special about the present state of science; in the grand continuum of spacetime, the modern collection of scientific knowledge merely coincides with our time and location in the universe.

In addition to our expanding body of knowledge, there were things known by humans that have been lost forever. When the Library of Alexandria burned to the ground, humans watched as centuries of information was literally erased from the world. There were things known that will never be known again.

Even if we could absorb all that was ever known or will be known by humans, this only represents the knowledge of our species. If there are other intelligent creatures in the cosmos, we would miss out on their knowledge unless we made contact. But many of these civilizations, if they existed, have surely destroyed themselves. Others might come into existence in the future, foreclosing the possibility of mutual understanding. Yet even if one considers the total knowledge of all intelligence that ever was or ever will be, there are still things that will never be known. Imagine the astronomical cataclysms that light the skies of barren solar systems in neglected corners of the universe—great fireworks shows that unfold before no one's eyes. When I ponder the limited set of facts I will ever know, I sometimes feel I've learned enough to be happy.

1 comment:

  1. Or as Newton put it: “To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.”