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There are countless different ways in which we can and cannot know things. Different people throughout time have come up against maddening limitations of every kind. The absurdity of infinities within infinities and the academically unpleasant possibilities of hidden variables are enough to drive people crazy. There’s nothing a seeker of truth hates more than something that can’t be known about. I call this buffer to knowledge the Great Mystery.

As an example of the Great Mystery in action, Werner Heisenberg discovered the uncertainty principle in the 1920s. This revealed a known unknown. His theory specifically states that the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa. However, this applies to other aspects of quantum mechanics as well. For instance, this is why a wave-particle has to become one or the other, in an interaction.

Another glimpse at what the Keeper of Secrets does was revealed in the 1930s when Kurt Gödel formulated the incompleteness theorems. They demonstrate the inherent limitations of every formal axiomatic system containing basic arithmetic. In many ways, he showed that certain foundations of logic can never really be proven. Work like this proves that there are always things that can never be known, no matter how hard we try to understand them.

There are other things that limit us as well. For one thing, our technology determines what we know beyond our senses, and these are very limited in what they can do. Due to the speed of light, we cannot ever see out into space, we can only see further back in time the farther we peer with a telescope. Plus, we can only see back to the time that light started shining a few hundred thousand years after the universe formed, not all the way back to the beginning.

As another example, we can only probe so deep into the scales of existence with high energy collisions. It would take a particle accelerator the size of a solar system to see down into the realm of smaller and smaller stuff. Currently, only mathematics can describe the tiniest pieces of everything all the way down at the bottom.

In an epistemological sense, we are limited by the different ways of knowing that we use. If I examine something from behind a lab coat it differs drastically then when I’m wearing a wizard robe. The scientific method is just one way of knowing. Our different hats determine our different thoughts, by establishing first principles in our minds.

This is how and why we are limited by our worldviews and our expectations. Skeptics never really see anything new, but having too open of a mind leads to idiocy. Everything that we ever come to know does so by way of the ways we know. Therefore with all the right kinds of eyes, we can see almost anything. All it takes is the daring to accept the truth — whatever it turns out to be. The trick is in not knowing until you find out, and finding out everything you can.

An Autodidact Polymath

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