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Our Limitations

All of us, astrophysicists included, struggle with language to describe and to solve problems. In this struggle, the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, "There are no whole truths: all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil." He spoke of grasping as much as we can out of an infinitude.

Sometimes in ignorance we might make assumptions that are false rather than half truths. Science is not supposed to do this. Science creates working hypotheses – the best we can do short of grasping the whole of reality. Meanwhile as members of a society we reason imperfectly and come up with conflicting ideas as to what should and should not be done. We have different philosophies.

Struggling with language, the astrophysicist Stephen Hawkins made a statement that was beyond the discipline of science, a statement that can be said to be in the realm of philosophy. In May 2011at Google's Zeitgeist Conference, according to a report I read, he declared, while he was philosophizing, that philosophy is dead, indicating that even a brilliant physicist can be absurd.

Recently some university-connected philosophers have struggled in associating astrophysics with philosophy. It's a problem of words, including metaphors, describing the universe associated with the Big Bang theory and empirical data showing bodies flying away from a center of some kind. The philosopher Tim Maudlin of New York University proposes that there might be laws that apply uniquely to the initial state of the universe. This, I submit, is for physicists to fathom hypothetically without any big-headed assumptions about grasping the whole of reality. Whitehead's statement still holds about our limitations as we try to grasp knowledge from an infinity.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.