How do you know if you understand something? Anything?
Well, it’s simple, here are the four questions you need to answer before you can claim to know anything.
- Where did this thing come from?
- Where is it today?
- How did it get there?
- Where is it going?
If you can convince enough skeptical minds that you’ve answered all four, then you can claim to know something.
But the problem there is, very few things in this world are really knowable. That’s because almost everything we think we know is founded in stories that humans themselves made up and are constantly adding to. The cyclical nature of these stories renders any attempt to understand them inherently flawed.
Most of that is pretty obvious, law, history, even math, are all human inventions and are all thus subject to what I described above. In formal mathematics it even has a fancy name, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems.
There is only one outlier, life itself.
Last night, I had an exchange with Dr. Megan Duffy, who spends her days trying (and often failing, as most real scientists do) to grow mini human brains in a dish for the National Institute of Health, that led her to say (though I’m paraphrasing)…
“Think about a single ion. A single Na+ moving into a cell isn’t enough to spark anything. It’s like the proverbial tree falling in the woods, if a single tree falls no one cares. But, when you think about the number of neurons a single neuron is connected to synaptically…then you got a story worth telling. However, you’ll soon realize that to decode the entire thing you’ll need to figure out how to record from each post synaptic site simultaneously throughout the brain.”
So, in other words, any attempts to try to understand who or what we are inherently screwed until science can get to the point described above.
But, it did get me thinking again about THE question….What is life? I mean, how does nature see it? Is life a part of what nature does or is it apart? Something different from itself?
The Question at the Center of it all
There’s an equation at the center of the known universe. It is the answer to something that I’ve struggled with for decades but which I think can be summed up with the following three questions: What is existence? What’s the different between life and death? What does it mean to be a living thing?
As best I can tell, this is the answer.
E = SST
Written in English, existence is stuff in space through time.
That is where all our philosophizing about the universe begins, where it is today, how it got there and where it will all end. So long as we’ve been able to look around us and say, “What is that?” We haven’t made any progress in all human history towards figuring out what SS or T might really be. Each are equally unknowable to us, in our corner of the universe, with whatever senses we have, and whichever we will concoct going forward.
So, where do we go from here? What is left for philosophers to do? Imo, the subject is dead, and has been for almost 70 years since Proust tried and failed to explain what T might be…
But that is not to say that philosophers are useless. Imo, they are now more necessary than ever in helping us organize what we know and what we don’t. Because, if we can’t agree on where that boundary is, across all domains, between what is knowable and what is not, then we will truly be fucked.
Or, in other words, Gooooo Bengals!
(“This conversation was informed by Megan’s existential crisis.”)