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πŸ’‘ Infinite human knowledge is possible

πŸ’‘ Infinite human knowledge is possible

Is there an upper limit to what we as humanity can know and learn? Are there problems we can't solve because our brains are too insignificant? Yes, at least according to the prevailing attitude of most people. But is that really true? Not if you ask Oxford professor David Deutsch.

Mathias Sundin
Mathias Sundin

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The human superpower

The human superpower is the ability to create knowledge. We are not limited to the knowledge stored in our DNA, but we have brains with more and another type of knowledge. We have explanatory knowledge, as Deutsch calls it.

We can understand things. Over the millennia we have, step by step, explained stuff to ourselves and increased our understanding.

David Deutsch.

It is this kind of knowledge that is infinite.

If it were not, that would mean that we would eventually reach a point where no one could learn a new thing. Imagine billions of people and no one, not any single individual, being able to learn something that we didn't know before. No one would have a new idea, try a new thing, or seek a new explanation.

That is impossible. We will never reach that moment.

There will always be something new to learn. Some of those things will be immensely hard, and it feels impossible to imagine how we ever could understand something like that. But that is because we haven't built the right kind of knowledge - explanatory knowledge - yet.

Suppose we back up a few hundred years and people back then trying to imagine video calls. Showing someone's face thousands of miles away and being able to talk to that person in real-time. The only explanation someone could have come up with then was magic, something supernatural or godlike. Maybe someone very open-minded could think that it would be possible someday, but without any idea of how.

No upper limit to what humanity can do

This journey of infinite knowledge we are on means that there is almost no upper limit to what humanity can do.

The prevailing view is that we should be very humble; we are only a speck of dust in a vast universe. Stephen Hawking called us "chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star." But that view is only right if there is an upper limit to our knowledge. Our kind of intelligence is not insignificant, even if we still haven't achieved much on a universe level, galactic level, or even here in our solar system.

Every human being is also insignificant in a vast sea of eight billion other humans. But despite that some humans have such a drive, intelligence, and ideas that make them drive the entire human race forward.

The only limiting factor is the laws of physics

If we want to, there is no upper limit to what humanity can achieve. The only limiting factor is the laws of physics. If there is a law of physics that makes something impossible, then it is impossible. No amount of knowledge will change that. But honestly, there is still a lot we don't know about the laws of physics.

Of course, we might fail to have galactic influence. We might not even survive. But if we don't survive, it is because we didn't create the right kind of knowledge in time. There are no threats to humanity that we can't solve given enough time. That is why it is always crucial to speed up innovation and the creation of knowledge.

Humanity: A journey with unlimited reach

We are on a journey with unlimited reach. A journey that could lead us anywhere.

We are part of a lift-off that has no limit in principle.

We might end up just being a speck of dust, or we might become so much more.

It is really up to us.

Mathias Sundin

For a much more thorough explanation of this thinking, please read David Deutsch's book The Beginning of Infinity. This interview with Deutsch by TED curator Chris Anderson is also terrific.

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