The philosophy of science has oscillated between believing that everything is knowable and that somethings will always be unknowable. In 1872, the German physiologist, Emil du Bois-Reymond declared ‘we do not know and will not know’ implying that there would always be limits to our scientific knowledge. Thirty years later, David Hilbert, a German mathematician stated that nothing is unknowable in the natural sciences. He believed that by considering some things to be unknowable we limited our ability to know. However, Kurt Godel, a Viennese mathematician who moved to Princeton in 1940, demonstrated in his incompleteness theorems that for any finite mathematical system there will always be statements which are true but unprovable and that a finite mathematical system cannot demonstrate its own consistency. I think that this implies some things will remain unknowable or at least uncertain. Godel believed that his theorems implied that the power of the human mind is infinitely more powerful than any finite machine and Roger Penrose has deployed these incompleteness theorems to argue that consciousness transcends the formal logic of computers, which perhaps implies that artificial intelligence will never replace human intelligence [see ‘Four requirements for consciousness‘ on January 22nd, 2020]. At a more mundane level, Godel’s theorems imply that engineers will always have to deal with the unknowable when using mathematical models to predict the behaviour of complex systems and, of course, to avoid meta-ignorance, we have to assume that there are always unknown unknowns [see ‘Deep uncertainty and meta-ignorance‘ on July 21st, 2021].
The news brings us a daily diet of people’s lives lost or wrecked by events beyond their control, tempered with accounts of the apparently glamorous life-styles of the rich and famous, and interspersed with advertisements that lure us towards the pursuit of success and happiness. However, the advertisements are selling products that make others rich and, on their own, are unlikely to make us happy. Instead, we need to learn ‘to love the daily current of existence which flows on evenly’, to quote Natalia Ginzburg. Or as Pope Francis, has said about achieving happiness: ‘Slow down. Take time off. Live and let live. Don’t proselytise. Work for peace. Work at a job that offers basic human dignity. Don’t hold on to negative feelings. Move calmly through life. Enjoy art, books and playfulness.’
I am on vacation and off-grid so just a picture this week. It is a night time view from the cottage we stayed at in 2017 on the Lizard in Cornwall. If you have withdrawal symptoms from this blog then follow the links to find out why you need a vacation too!
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post inspired by reading ‘This is happiness‘ by Niall Williams [see ‘Are these the laws of engineering?’ onJuly 14th 2021]. On a more personal note, I enjoyed another description in the same book: ‘he was over sixty years…the moving bits of him could no longer be taken for granted, and twinges, pulls and strains in the elasticated parts were matched by aches, clunks and creaks in the skeletal.’ This description could apply to me but fortunately only on a bad day at the moment. I am going on a deep vacation [see ‘Digital detox with a deep vacation‘ on August 10th, 2016] for a few weeks in order to rejuvenate my mind and body by walking some sections of the South-West Coast Path [see ‘The Salt Path‘ on August 14th, 2019]. Regular posts will resume when I return in August.