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Dr_C's avatar

Is human knowledge (science, math, etc) dependent solely on human perception or can we claim certainty in certain areas?

Asked by Dr_C (14054 points ) May 30th, 2009 from IM

What i mean is.. can we really know anything for sure or claim something as a universal fact or are we limited to our capacity to comprehend certain concepts? Is there a possibility that there is more to things we consider “fact” which is beyond the comprehension of our human brains?

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35 Answers

Ivan's avatar

We can’t know anything for certain. But that does not give us reason to believe things outside of our current understanding.

LostInParadise's avatar

The assumption in science is that we accept everything tentatively. It is always possible that future experiments will invalidate what we know. Newton’s laws were fine until relativity and quantum mechanics overrode them.

As for facts beyond the human brain, I invoke Occam’s Razor. Since there is no way of demonstrating a fact beyond human intelligence, we might as well assume we can know everything there is to be known.

Math is a special case. Philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell had this to say about math:
Mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true.

This was said somewhat tongue in cheek. What it means is that mathematics is based on axioms for undefined terms. A statement is true if it follows from the axioms. Mathematicians are free to choose any set of axioms they want provided that it is consistent, meaning that you can not both prove a statement A and the statement “not A”.

cyn's avatar

Imagination, belief, attraction are unlimited knowledge. Are the ones that give us the reason why we are still living today. No, we cannot know anything for sure:look at religions: some people that are religious claim that their religion is the true one or their God is the only one Anything that seems absurd might be the truth, but sometimes “certain concepts” block that truth. Why? I do not know. To become better humans: we can, only some people are way too ignorant, arrogant, irresponsible, greedy etc., etc. to let other people live. But people have to learn to live with them and simply ignore those negative energies. Life is nothing but a game: you either know how to play it, or you don’t! You should read this: http://www.sedona.com/The-Secret-Behind-The-Secret.aspx

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

We cannot know anything with absolute certainty, as we cannot know if we are stuck in an arrangement like The Matrix or not. Rene Descartes eloquently expressed this in his statement “I think, therefore I am”. However in practice we must work within the framework of what is most likely to be true. We reject the Matrix theory because there is no evidence of such, and therefore it is superfluous. Therefore apart from Descartes’ statement, all knowledge should come with a clarification that it is only valid within the confines of human observation and reasoning.

ubersiren's avatar

I’d like to say that I don’t know, but how do I know that?

quasi's avatar

Certainly not ;-)

bonus's avatar

It seems that certainty is always doomed.

Judi's avatar

I have been wondering if this life is a sort of gestation, and our understanding is limited, like a child in utero, and things will be much more clear once we’re “born.” Just a thought.

spresto's avatar

The only real certainty is that humans only look out for themselves and will ultimately use what they learn to their own advantage. The rest of it is entirely speculative until something of a higher authority comes along.

DarkScribe's avatar

Sure. God-Botherers are always claiming certainly – we can at least do as well as them.

The reality is nothing is ever any more than our perception. No one else can think for us, it really comes back the the God-Botherer’s credo – faith. If we don’t experience it, then we are accepting someone else’s experience on faith.

critter1982's avatar

I’m fairly certain 1+1 will always equal 2.

DarkScribe's avatar

@critter1982 With inadequate protection, sometimes 1 + 1 equals twins or triplets.

critter1982's avatar

Hmmm, perhaps I should rethink my logic? :)

penny398's avatar

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle gaurantees that the answer is no. However, he was talking about physics. If your talking about love, justice, loyalty, honor, etc. these can change from time to time and place to place. Good thing! It keeps us nimble and rethinking about things we have already convinced ourselves are unasailable facts.

hitomi's avatar

Everything is a matter of perspective. Even something as supposedly straight forward as math can’t be CERTAIN because it is defined by man based on an arbitrary system of words. We can say 1 + 1 = 2, but even the characters we use to convey the ideas are designed by the very limited human mind…and we can’t know that even the concept is the same in everyone’s mind. Just because we all agree that the character 1 + itself (and what is +) is = (another arbitrary symbol) the character 2, doesn’t mean that it is absolute.

I can go on about perspective and uncertainty for DAYS, but I will spare you all and leave it at that :-D

astrocom's avatar

In a philosophical sense, no; technically everything is ultimately filtered through our own perception. That said, the entire point of science is to counteract the filter that human perception places on our understanding of the universe. The scientific method, the continual skepticism, was all put together with the intent of verifying objective facts and conclusions. Math gets an even better deal: it’s based purely on logic, so misinterpreted facts can’t influence it.
As far as logic being perception? Honestly, I don’t believe that’s the case. Logic isn’t something humans came up with and then went, “Hey, let’s apply it to everything. You know, our surroundings, nature, animals, other people, the way the world works. Maybe that’ll work out.” Logic is something we gained from observation and our understanding of the world, it’s inherently linked to how the universe works. If something naturally occurs it can’t really be illogical, it can only seem that way based on your perspective or knowledge.

candide's avatar

nothing is certain

Dr_C's avatar

@candide death and taxes.

candide's avatar

I thought someone would bring them up! ;)

WolfFang's avatar

“There are no known known’s and no known unknown’s, only unknown unknowns!”
The Boondocks is a great show, really lol

DarkScribe's avatar

@WolfFang “There are no known known’s and no known unknown’s, only unknown unknowns!”

Nope. An unknown unknown is effectively a double negative. There are most certainly known unknowns. We know which questions are not yet answered.

KeithWilson's avatar

Logic is an observation, or you could say that logic is observed. The fact is that logic may exist in nature inherently, but logic itself is meaningless unless it observed. You have to be able to make sense of it before it has any substance. And your observations and attempts to make sense of what you are seeing are based on perception.
Also its unfair to say that nothing can be certain. If I say that I am standing, and I am actually standing, I can be certain that I am in fact standing. Who is going to say otherwise? You can call it what you want in any language that you want to call it in, but the fact remains that I am standing.

LostInParadise's avatar

Everything you know is through your senses. What if I twiddled your neurons to create the illuson that you were standing when you were in fact sitting down?

DarkScribe's avatar

@LostInParadise What if I twiddled your neurons to create the illuson that you were standing when you were in fact sitting down?

This already happens with things like “phantom” limbs in amputees, and with diabetics who have neuropathy. I have an interesting neurological effect (since being re-built after a major accident in 2004) where if I get an itch that seems to be in my ankle, I have to scratch the back of my knee to relieve it.

WolfFang's avatar

@LostInParadise hm, that’s very intriguing. good point

talljasperman's avatar

1 + 1 doesn’t = 2 unless knows what one is… apples can be different sizes and still be counted as an apple…one is almost never defined or exact….so the basis of math is flawed…unless you define one or use big “Fudge Factors”

LostInParadise's avatar

Yes, but do numbers have an independent existence as Platonic ideals and can we conceive of them without perception? I throw this out strictly for contemplation or just to be annoying. There are philosophers on both sides of this.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@talljasperman Maths is not founded on apples, that is just an example for people who do not yet understand it as an abstract concept. We do not have to specify units for an equation to make sense, because maths requires abstract thinking. Maths is a set of self consistent laws that have proven useful in describing the world. If you draw a 3×3 grid, there will always be nine cells – it doesn’t matter if the cells are square centimetres, square cubits, or in fact if they are rectangular.

DarkScribe's avatar

@talljasperman apples can be different sizes and still be counted as an apple…one is almost never defined or exact….so the basis of math is flawed…

In your world view mathematics and Apple Cider have a common ancestry?

Interesting world you live in – is it far from here?

(You cannot use a simplistic illustration and apply it to the science.)

WolfFang's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh that must be why I hate mathematics, such a pain

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@WolfFang I think people only hate maths when they haven’t been taught properly. Hating maths is like hating gravity – its there, and it is inescapable, so why not enjoy its implications? A good teacher would help their students see its beauty and the amazing things that can be achieved and understood with a good mathematical knowledge.

WolfFang's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh I know I could probably come to like it… its just I started off bad in math, way back in elementary school, so I’m not always ahead of the pack when It comes to mathematics. I would need more time and better learning methods in order to really connect with mathematics the way I want to.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@WolfFang I spent an hour last weekend explaining electricity to my mum. It is hard to undo old habits, but it is certainly worth the effort.

WolfFang's avatar

Maybe I will undo it…but idk when because I’m loaded down with new information already considering school these days

JenniferP's avatar

Math is more certain. Science isn’t. Scientists are continuously adjusting their views. Evolution is not true and scientists (even the ones who accept it) are always arguing with each other over the details.

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