The Ineffable
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12-03-2013, 06:34 PM
The Ineffable
I was watching the president of NYU on the Colbert Report and he had some very interesting things to say. To me, it made perfect sense, but I suddenly thought that there may be some objectors here, so I wanted to broach the subject.

He spoke about the knowable: water's wet, the Earth is round, sound waves require a medium to propagate themselves.

He spoke about the unknown, or that which is not yet known but shall be in the future: is there life on Europa, can astral physics and quantum physics be reconciled, can humans build a sentient computer?

And then he spoke about the unknowable. My immediate reaction was that some of the more die hard science types around here might have issue with the idea of there being something that science cannot figure out. So there's that. When he spoke of it, he referred to the ineffable; that which is irreducible, that which cannot be described in words, like the way we know we're in love, or the way that we know that life has meaning; possibly, I would add, even the source of our intuition, our insight, or our creativity.

He is quick to point out that the unknowable is not to be confused with the unknown.

Now as someone with a passion for the creation of meaning, my understanding is such that we cannot experience the world without first reducing it to the form of a word; as he says, to understand it in cognitive terms. It is through that mediation that we understand the world. Without words, we are, quite literally, speechless. But we can experience and appreciate things that cannot be put into cognitive terms regardless of the fact that we don't know them.

Instantly, this idea jives with me. I know to which he refers when he speaks of the kind of experience one simply cannot explain or define. But I'm curious about the thoughts of others.

We know that much of the universe and much of knowledge is quantifiable; however, we know that there is much that cannot be quantified. There is an entire discipline that dedicates itself to qualitative research. The collection and interpretation of qualitative data is as much art as it is science. Perhaps we are not meant to know everything. Perhaps we are merely meant to experience everything. Sometimes we can quantify it, sometimes we can understand it, and sometimes we can only let it wash over us.

For myself, I quite readily recognise space in the universe for that which we cannot put into words and that which we cannot quantify. To me, it's an exceptionally rich place. Perhaps it can also be made a haven for ignorance and those that would abuse to trust of others, but that does not invalidate it in my mind because the vastness of it far outweighs that narrowness people can find within it.

At any rate, it was quite a powerful thing for me to hear, but, as I said, I'm curious about other people's reaction to it.

What say you?

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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12-03-2013, 06:49 PM
RE: The Ineffable
I'm pretty sure that once we can explain how everything in the brain works, we will find that none of those "unknowable" things are really unknowable. At least not the ones you listed.

Love, intuition, insight, creativity... It seems to me that they're all products of the complex, but knowable workings of the brain. The information for those processes is available and accessable. I suppose the same goes for how some claim to "know that life has meaning"... in the same way they claim to know that god exists.

Now, some things that ACTUALLY might be unknowable
- Conditions before the big bang (predictable)
- Conditions inside a black hole (predictable)
- Any other situation where information is lost
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12-03-2013, 07:14 PM
RE: The Ineffable
Now we're talkin' agnosticism.

I don't see how we can know what we can know, we can only keep trying.
Are we two steps away from understanding how the physical universe works, and then by going back up the reductionist chain understanding pretty much everything? Or is reality limitlessly deep and we may never figure it out?

Don't know, don't know how to know. Keep trying, keep exploring, keep discovering. Maybe that's all there really is.

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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12-03-2013, 11:58 PM
RE: The Ineffable
“Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.” - Douglas Adams

I love the idea of effing that #$@% ineffable.

Yeah, some stuff can't be known. E.g. shit that's far far away beyond the edge of the observable universe such that light from there will never reach us... (assuming relativity is correct and we don't mess around with wormholes etc). It's helluva surprising to me that some moderately evolved monkeys can make such sweeping generalizations about our universe in the first place. Like how the hell do people figure stuff out like that the stars aren't just points of light but burning suns, some many times larger that our own ? I know, zey apply zee SCIENCE!!! But it's still amazing that we who are pretty dumb in general can figure stuff like that out.

But some really surprising stuff can be known - again with stars the classic example is that joker who declared with great conviction at the beginning of the 20th century "we'll never know what the stars are made of" - only for spectroscopy to be invented/discovered a few years later. So a lot of stuff we might think of as ineffable now... might very well be effed in the next little while Smile

Can we know that something can't possibly be known though ? As the religious types put it "science can't explain..." I guess we can probably construct statements carefully which have a truth value but whose truth value we can't determine ?
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13-03-2013, 08:25 AM
RE: The Ineffable
That guy is pretty unpopular. He thinks his school should run like a business.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/13...96427.html
One person's "ineffable" is another's "complex, but explainable", (like the experience of "wonder"). It all happens in human brains. There is no "woo" about it.

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Assistant Manager, Vice Detection, Whoville : Jebus no likey that which doth tickle thee unto thy nether regions.

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13-03-2013, 06:15 PM
RE: The Ineffable
(12-03-2013 06:34 PM)Ghost Wrote:  What say you?

You can't talk about that which is ineffable, silly.

You did remind me of a story I read a long time ago as a teen by Jorge Luis Borges. Thanks for prompting me to re-read it. Big Grin

"I arrive now at the ineffable core of my story. And here begins my despair as a writer. All language is a set of symbols whose use among its speakers assumes a shared past. How, then, can I translate into words the limitless Aleph, which my floundering mind can scarcely encompass? Mystics, faced with the same problem, fall back on symbols: to signify the godhead, one Persian speaks of a bird that somehow is all birds; Alanus de Insulis, of a sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere; Ezekiel, of a four-faced angel who at one and the same time moves east and west, north and south. (Not in vain do I recall these inconceivable analogies; they bear some relation to the Aleph.) Perhaps the gods might grant me a similar metaphor, but then this account would become contaminated by literature, by fiction. Really, what I want to do is impossible, for any listing of an endless series is doomed to be infinitesimal. In that single gigantic instant I saw millions of acts both delightful and awful; not one of them occupied the same point in space, without overlapping or transparency. What my eyes beheld was simultaneous, but what I shall now write down will be successive, because language is successive. Nonetheless, I'll try to recollect what I can. " - Borges, The Aleph

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13-03-2013, 06:29 PM
RE: The Ineffable
I get your drift Ghost.

It really opens the legendary Pandora'a box.

To me thee concept is linguistically tied up with what it is 'to know'.

If, and only if, our intelligence was bound by higher sources for a purpose. required of higher "knowing" then
our arguments could not reason within this higher level, as we would not have the appropriate tools.

This is purely hypothetical............................. I am not afraid to say "I just don't know!"

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13-03-2013, 07:58 PM
RE: The Ineffable
(13-03-2013 06:29 PM)Mr Woof Wrote:  I get your drift Ghost.

It really opens the legendary Pandora'a box.

To me thee concept is linguistically tied up with what it is 'to know'.

If, and only if, our intelligence was bound by higher sources for a purpose. required of higher "knowing" then
our arguments could not reason within this higher level, as we would not have the appropriate tools.

This is purely hypothetical............................. I am not afraid to say "I just don't know!"

Epistemology, much like karma, is a bitch. Big Grin

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14-03-2013, 11:02 AM
RE: The Ineffable
Just a bunch of chemicals producing emotional context. Tongue

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15-03-2013, 06:28 PM
The Ineffable
A deeper philosophical question and a more radical one would be to ask the obvious.

How would one "know what" unknowable things there are, and how close is that to just pulling shit out of your ass?

The color of the tooth fairies thong is unknowable....
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