Labeling something unknowable
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15-07-2012, 09:03 PM
Labeling something unknowable
Agnostics often raise the idea of "unknowable" when it comes to the issue of is there or is there not a god.

Now Christians and people in other religions assert that they know things about their gods.
They assert that they know their gods' properties, ie; all knowing, all powerful, etc

In much the same way that someone can assert that they know things about a god, someone can also assert that a god can be unknowable.
This would almost seem to mean that an unknowable thing is somehow cloaked so that we cannot ever know anything about it.
In essence, it has the same characteristic as something that doesn't exist.

There is a star forming somewhere in our galaxy at this very minute and the light from that star won't reach us for another 75,000 years.
It's location in our galaxy isn't quite unknowable, but for now it is. I can believe it lies in the direction my finger is pointing right now, near the north star, but I can never know if I'm right.
I can believe that this star has a certain size. Maybe it's the other half of a binary system. I can imagine how fast it's spinning and guess any number of attributes about it, but in the end, all I'm doing is imagining the properties I would like it to have.

If I ask the question "Do you believe this particular star exists" ?
The answer will have to be NO, because there is no evidence to suggest that this particular star exists.
You can say YES, if you want to and that is the only reason that you can give for saying YES, is because "you want to". You want to believe it's true.

The answer is unknowable, but it doesn't prevent you from answering the question about your belief of it's existence.

I was having a problem earlier today dealing with the idea of unknowable, so i wrote this as a way of helping me reason out my thoughts. Hope you like the analogy.

Insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results
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16-07-2012, 09:16 AM
RE: Labeling something unknowable
Just adding to the conversation. Don't get your armpits all wet. I am not intending to flame here.
I simply disagree with the position that some things are unknowable.

From the perspective of Science, we CAN know everything.
Will we? Nah. There is too much to know.
But we CAN know it. We have the ability to ask and answer anything.
If the methods of Science are applied to any unknown, an answer can ultimately be determined. Even if the answer means it does not exist or occur. That IS an answer.

In your example, the forming star may or may not exist where you are pointing to.**
We can use the methods of Science to determine that at some point along the way and answer the question with certainty.
Either yes, there is a star forming at that location or no, there is not a star forming there.

Same with god. We constantly ask the question, but so far we have nothing to support any answer other than no, there isn't one.
Folks still ask and we can continually investigate claims and know the answer. The current answer is that it does not exist despite all the unsubstantiated claims.
We can assume stars are being generated all the time as you rightly point out because we have evidence to support it. We have seen and confirmed the process.

The answer to the god question remains a resounding NO until The Great Absent One itself decides to get off its lazy and cruel butt to show up and clue us in.

To conclude, there are no unknowables. Any question can be answered. That does not mean a particular answer is easy to find or is confirmed quickly. Peter Higgs couldn't even fathom the boson question until others before him answered questions further down the tree of knowledge.
To stop at "maybe" opens the door to woo woo and superstition. Religion is standing there ready to kick the door of vagueness wide open unless we use our brains a bit to advance our knowledge with accurate assessments.

**The universe is SO large, that anywhere you point is a likely spot for a star to form IF you go far enough. There are enough stars/galaxies already in existence that if you pick a random spot in the night sky the size of a dime, with enough telescope power, you would see ten of themdie and explode in just that on tiny area.

Surely, somewhere in there a fresh one is being born. Smile

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16-07-2012, 09:49 AM (This post was last modified: 16-07-2012 09:54 AM by Bucky Ball.)
RE: Labeling something unknowable
Interesting subject. Even the theist mystics say they are left in the "cloud of unknowing".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cloud_of_Unknowing

What exactly does it mean, when we use the word "know". Does it mean to "encompass completely" ?
Just how much, exactly ?

Can we say we actually "know" what a metric tensor is ?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_tensor

Certainly there are going to be things we cannot "grasp" about 10 dimensions ?

Where is that prophet when I need one ?

Insufferable know-it-all.Einstein
Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music - Friedrich Nietzsche
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16-07-2012, 09:55 AM
RE: Labeling something unknowable
My two cents:

If there is indeed a thing or things that are unknowable, then the correct position is to simply say "I/we don't know." The second that you insert any sort of declaration or assertion about said unknown (ex: that unknowable or unknown stuff is god) you've already committed a logical fallacy.

Science is the path to knowledge. For everything else (ex: the exact starting point of the physical universe/multiverse or if such an event even exists) the correct answer is "I/we don't know." Nothing more, nothing less.

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16-07-2012, 09:57 AM
RE: Labeling something unknowable
Nobody needs no dang prophet. Big Grin

Unknowable is that dang Gwynnies. I don't need no more complicated example. I used to have people come over my house and look at me and all the Gwynnies and go, I don't get it. And they already knew, but they got a fresh dose of unknowing. Big Grin

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16-07-2012, 10:39 AM
RE: Labeling something unknowable
Tom - My point was that the light from this particular star, 75,000 light years away. (not just any star in the path I was pointing in) may or may not exist.
Telescopes as you know are not looking at the current state of things in the universe.
They are looking at what was, since the distances are so great and given that light only travels so fast. We are looking back in time as we look at the night sky.

The existence or non-existence of that star is currently unknowable. We can know eventually, true.

I guess the main points I wanted to make was that something currently unknowable shares the same properties as something that doesn't exist.
And that just because you label something as unknowable, it doesn't prevent you from answering the question about whether you believe it exists or not.

Insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results
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16-07-2012, 11:08 AM
RE: Labeling something unknowable
I understand what you are saying.
It is just that I hold the position that everything IS knowable.
I guess I am a bit queasy about defining anything as unknowable and or tying something currently unknown to something that doesn't exist.
That obviously stems from by previously stated position that there are no unknowables but there are things we know that do not exist.

Now my brains hurts. Smile

It's all in your head, because there is no other place it could be.
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16-07-2012, 12:04 PM
RE: Labeling something unknowable
(16-07-2012 11:08 AM)TalladegaTom Wrote:  I understand what you are saying.
It is just that I hold the position that everything IS knowable.
I guess I am a bit queasy about defining anything as unknowable and or tying something currently unknown to something that doesn't exist.
That obviously stems from by previously stated position that there are no unknowables but there are things we know that do not exist.

Now my brains hurts. Smile
We need to disentangle personally unknowable from unknowable in principle.

You will never know about the star 75 light-years away, but someone may.

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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16-07-2012, 12:18 PM
RE: Labeling something unknowable
Hey, Rahn.

I like your post.

The star thing, serendipitously, is a great analogy for unknowable.

There are galaxies that are accelerating away from us faster than the light can reach us. This speed will increase over time as the universe expands and the number of observable galaxies will decrease. Crazy.

So we look at the edge of our observable universe and speculate. Are there stars beyond what we can see? We'll never know because as far as we know we cannot travel faster than the speed of light, thus, they're gone forever. We'll never know how many are out there or if they've all gone supernova. The truth of the matter is unknowable.

We'll also never know if your particular star is there. Maybe, maybe not.

So what is the answer?

Some people might say, "Well, I believe that there are stars out there." They're welcome to believe that but they have no evidence.

Some people might say, "Well, there's no evidence for, so there are no stars out there." They're welcome to believe that but they have no evidence.

Some people might say, "Well, there's no evidence for or against, so I don't know. I choose to believe neither."

So yes, saying one believes one way or the other is fine. But it's belief, not fact and should never be marketed as fact. That's the important bit to point out. But it's equally fine to not hold a belief.

To use a mundane example, the gender of a child in utero is unknowable BY MEANS OF looking at the woman. Not so universal, but it gets the point across. So if asked, do you believe it is going to be a boy or a girl, then boy, girl and I don't know are all valid answers. It's just that I don't know is the only one that's reasonable.

But those stars don't have the same quality as something that doesn't exist because they exist, if they exist, despite our knowledge of them. If we're asking questions about the nature of the universe, as is our lot, knowing if there are stars out there affects our understanding. So the question is important. We'll just never know the answer.

Something that doesn't exist, doesn't exist; objectively. My vagina doesn't exist. Something that is unknowable may very well exist. The point is, we don't know if it does or not. Now say this unknowable whatever has an effect on the universe. Then this unknowable thing has vastly different properties than something that doesn't exist.

Hey, Talladega.

The ASSUMPTION of science is that it can allow us to know everything. But it's an assumption, not a fact. Fittingly, whether or not the assumption is true is unknowable.

Also, how does it go? You can't prove a false negative?

There are all manner of limits.

Hey, Light.

Quote:If there is indeed a thing or things that are unknowable, then the
correct position is to simply say "I/we don't know." The second that you
insert any sort of declaration or assertion about said unknown (ex:
that unknowable or unknown stuff is god) you've already committed a
logical fallacy.

Doesn't happen all that often, but I agree with you.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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