Will we ever understand the fundamental nature of reality? What if we gathered past geniuses?

Inspired by the thread on the Planck length. Do you all think we will ever be able to figure out the fundamental nature of reality? If we could somehow bring together all the past geniuses that made the initial discoveries, would they be able to make more progress than we are currently making? I’m thinking of a scenario where someone with a time machine brings the 20 year old versions of Einstein, Planck, Newton, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, and others and sent them to learn at the physics department at MIT. Would having so many genius minds in one place working on the problems help or is the human mind, even the greatest of them, too limited?

The ultimate questions are philosophical, not scientific.

Would the geniuses of the past be of any use? They were very, very good at solving a certain set of problems, but can we depend on them to be as skillful when it comes to a completely different set of problems?

Einstein famously failed to come to grips with quantum physics; would Dirac be any good working with inflationary-phase Big Bang computations?

We need the geniuses of today…and tomorrow.

No. In order to truly understand “reality”, you would have to be able to observe it from outside the space-time continuum.

No. That’s an example of epistemic arrogance, i.e., thinking Humans can know more than we actually can. There will always be unknown unknowns.

I did not know that.

I’ve been looking for what to call this for a long time and you just gave it to me.

Thanks WordMan.

We might someday answer all of the questions we’ve ever asked up to this point. But no matter how many questions we answer, there will always be some left unanswered.

This can actually be proven, as a consequence of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. If we take, in addition to all of the standard mathematical axioms, additional axioms corresponding to the results of all experiments and observations we’ve ever made, we can construct from them a logical system. And using that logical system, we can, if we’re clever, derive a lot of interesting results, including predicting the results of other experiments before we actually do them. But no matter how elaborate we make the system, Gödel assures us that there will always be some statements which can neither be proven nor disproven from the axioms we already have.

We cannot understand it because we are **inside **of it.

I know I’ve said this before, be I can’t help repeating myself. Why would our puny ape brains be capable of understanding the fundamental nature of reality? How do you even know there is a fundamental nature of reality? Perhaps the idea that there must be such a thing is a reflection of the limitation of said ape brain.

And… what if dreams were actually reality and waking is really a dream. Think about it. Whooooooah!

Each genius of the past already had the help of the others that preceded them. We have plenty of geniuses now, and whether a gathering of them would produce any better results is more based on their individual personalities and ability to cooperate than their combined IQs.

IME, gathering together past geniuses would accomplish relatively little. There is no denying the genius of Einstein, Planck, Newton and the others who did so much to advance science, but I think it’s a mistake to think that we have fewer scientific geniuses today than we had in the times of those great names – in fact, by and large we probably have more, and they are more deeply steeped in modern scientific knowledge. Perhaps the most salient characteristic of the individuals we associate with the great discoveries of science is the confluence of their genius with the scientific knowledge of their time having just enough knowledge and evidence to be ready for the next great leap forward.

If these individual great names seem to mainly be in the past, I would argue that it’s not the lack of great minds today, but rather the evolution of science to a level of complexity where many major advances are team efforts that may not necessarily be associated with any particular individual. In contemporary physics, for example, we do have names like Peter Higgs, made famous by his hypothesis of the eponymous boson, but the actual discovery was made by a team and a massive investment in equipment whose total cost to date, including all operating costs, was well over $13 billion. And most people have no idea what the discovery means. This tends to be the nature of much of physics today, not one man and a Bunsen burner.

I would also posit that no, we’ll never understand the fundamental nature of reality, but we will continue to make new discoveries – many of them amazing – and each new discovery will only lead to new questions. It is, as others have said, inherently impossible to fully understand a system from within itself. There also appear to be inherent limitations on evidence. No matter how advanced or clever we are, we will never be able to “see” inside a black hole, though we will no doubt have much better theoretical descriptions of its interior in the future, and of the true nature of singularities which are currently something of a paradox.

I’ve sometimes thought that, too, and I accept the general concept. However, it was always my understanding that the Godel Incompleteness Theorem was about the nature of mathematical systems or systems of formal logic, and that applying it to understanding the nature of the universe was more like an analogy than a direct application of the theorem.

They’d immediately start arguing about politics.

I don’t think you can apply Gödel to physics. It is eniterly possible to imagine a universe where things happen for fairly specific and easily understandable reasons. Say that Newton was right, atoms are little billiard balls of matter, that according to certain mathematics involving instabilities of the ether, gravity, electromagnitism and gravity follow simple laws and universes to spontaneously pop into existance. In such a universe it might be possible to figure out the fundamentals about how the whole thing worked.

Our universe is obviously a whole lot more complicated, and certain things such why there was the big bang may not be open to study due to the impossibility of collecting relevant data, but I don’t see that there is reason that it is logically impossible that we might figure it all out, as all other responses in this thread seems to claim.

As to the OP’s second question there is no reason to believe that the “geniuses” of the past would be any better at figuring it all out than the geniuses of today, in fact probably less so, since we have more people ergo more geniuses available than previous generations, and also our geniuses are standing on the shouldersof more and taller giants.

I think the point is that if you want to make predictions, and make them rigorous, you need a formal system of logic that’s going to include the axioms of arithmetic. There are complete formal systems that do not use the axioms of arithmetic, but I suspect it would be incredibly difficult to describe the workings of the universe without them. In whatever system you create, there will be, by the nature of arithmetic, either questions to which you cannot prove the answer or logical contradictions.

I’m not convinced that bringing back past geniuses would be the best idea because maybe what is needed is people who can take a fresh approach to these problems. Einstein achieved a great deal but could not accept the new ideas of quantum mechanics so it may be better to rely on new generations of scientists to come up with completely ‘out of the box’ thinking.

I think, given enough time, we will build tools that are capable of figuring out much more than our brains can and these tools will be able to explain it in a way we can understand. This will probably be our short-lived enlightenment before we go extinct.

Well, when you think about questions to do with the fundamental nature of reality it’s as well to bear in mind that what we are really asking is what is our relationship with reality in terms of the models we construct in order to understand it. Our place as an observer is vitally important in this because we are inevitably forming concepts based on our innate nature which will filter whatever input is coming from outside of ourselves. We cannot experience phenomena ‘directly’, if that has any meaning at all, only in terms of the regularities we perceive in our minds. So, all the maths and instrumentation used in science in order to make sense of reality kind of ‘skews’ it to form something intelligible to human beings.

So with all due respect to the OP, I think it may be a bit meaningless to ask whether we will ever understand the nature of reality because what the question is really addressing is will we ever be able to understand the fundamental nature of ourselves. Science , after all, is a human invention (tool?) so, as with all tools invented by human beings, will shape whatever it is applied to.

Yeah, I mean what could happen is that we develop AI to such an advanced level we can no longer understand the models it produces and just allow it to do its thing. At this stage I think we humans need to watch out because we would have become an inferior species and we all know what happens then! :wink:

Household pet dogs and cats live pretty good lives, for “inferior species.” I look forward to humanity’s residence in (hyper-modern) zoo conditions.

Agreement with abashed that the question recoils upon an understanding of ourselves, and also that the inquiry itself alters the actual answer. We can’t measure anything without altering it, and that applies to reality.

We’ve made astonishing progress in the 20th and 21st centuries regarding the nature of reality. Is there any reason to expect such progress not to continue? What will we be totally amazed by, forty years from today? “Reality” won’t have changed greatly, but our understanding of it shall have!

I believe that knowledge is fractal; the more we know, the more we know what we don’t know. Sort of like the advice to hire teenagers “while they still know everything.”

Science fiction writer John M. Ford had a poem – that I cannot locate now – to the effect that man struggles to understand some question about the cosmos, succeeds, and God says, “Solved that one, did you? Here is another.”