Limits of Cognition

The girl I had a crush on once showed me a (wrong but recreational) proof for 2 = 1. Although I was shocked for a minute or two, she gleefully showed me how she had divided both sides of the equation with (a-b) when infact she had initially assumed a = b. It was a mistake I made out my own foolishness, but it was a smart mistake… it showed me the power of mathematics to break the rules of intuition.

Science & Mathematics as opposed to technology does violence to common sense. The history of science has been one long series of violent brainstorms as successive generations have come to terms with increasing levels of queerness in the universe. We are now so used to the idea that the Earth spins rather than the Sun moves across the sky. It’s hard for us to realize what a shattering mental revolution that must have been. After all it seems obvious that the Earth is large and motionless, the Sun small and mobile. But it is worth recalling Wittgenstein’s remark on the subject. “Tell me”, he asked a friend, “Why do people always say it was natural for man to assume that the Sun went around the Earth rather than that the Earth was rotating?” His friend replied, “Well obviously because it just looks as though the Sun is going around the Earth!” Wittgenstein replied, “Well what would it have looked like, if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating?”.

Our ancestors never had to navigate through the cosmos at speeds close to the speed of light, if they had our brains would have been much better at understanding Einstein. Our unaided human intuition schooled in our world of mediums still finds it hard to believe Galileo: he tells that a heavy object and a light object, air friction aside would the ground at the same instant, and thats because in our world air friction is always there. If we would have evolved in vacuum we would expect them to hit the ground simultaneously. Our brains have evolved to accept the percieved realities of this medium sized world.

Yet inspite of all this short comings & handicaps of the mind which is a product of evolution; we are able to use the tools of science and mathematics to pursue the truth about reality unlike any other ape. The children of this brave new world trained in Newtonian physics at high schools intuitievely know that masses attract each other due to gravity.

What is it that makes us capable of supposing anything? And does this tell anything about what we can suppose? Are there things in this universe that will be forever beyond our grasp but not beyond the grasp of a superior intelligence?

If universe is queerer than we can suppose, is it because we have been naturally been selected to suppose only what we needed to suppose in order to survive in this Garden of Eden; Or are our brains so versatile and expandable that we can train ourselves to break out of the box of our evolution? Or finally, are there somethings in the universe so queer no philosophy however God-like could dream them?

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