Results 1 to 13 of 13

Thread: Why can we understand reality?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2004
    Posts
    1,750

    Why can we understand reality?

    How did humans evolve to understand things like quantum mechanics and general relativity?
    SHARKS (crossed out) MONGEESE (sic) WITH FRICKIN' LASER BEAMS ATTACHED TO THEIR HEADS

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    16,775
    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Mazanec View Post
    How did humans evolve to understand things like quantum mechanics and general relativity?
    But we don't. We can just do maths that produces useful predictions.
    And on that topic see Wigner's The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences (1960).

    Grant Hutchison
    Blog

    Note:
    During life, we all develop attitudes and strategies to make our interactions with others more pleasant and useful. If I mention mine here, those comments can apply only to myself, my experiences and my situation. Such remarks cannot and should not be construed as dismissing, denigrating, devaluing or criticizing any different attitudes and strategies that other people have evolved as a result of their different situation and different experiences.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    8,808
    Yes, in the similar way that squirrels evolved to be able to understand how reality works enough to make huge leaps from tree to tree.
    Formerly Frog march.

    Newscaster: ... But I've just had a report that a representative of Disaster Area met with the environmentalists this morning and had them all shot, so now nothing stands in the way of the concert going ahead this afternoon on this beautiful sunny day.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Nowhere (middle)
    Posts
    35,523
    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Mazanec View Post
    How did humans evolve to understand things like quantum mechanics and general relativity?
    Same as we evolved anything else. The capacity for abstract thought provided a survival and reproductive advantage, and those with it outlived and/or outbred the rest.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    a long way away
    Posts
    10,374
    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    But we don't. We can just do maths that produces useful predictions.
    Doesn't that just push the question back to: why are we able to do maths of that complexity?

    I think the comment below about abstract thought, along with pattern recognition, probably answers that. It may be the same set of basic skills that give us the ability to use language.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Nowhere (middle)
    Posts
    35,523
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Doesn't that just push the question back to: why are we able to do maths of that complexity?

    I think the comment below about abstract thought, along with pattern recognition, probably answers that. It may be the same set of basic skills that give us the ability to use language.
    And language talent is a leading sexual selection factor; more verbally adept hominids are both more appealing as mates, and more convincing as dates.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    16,775
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Doesn't that just push the question back to: why are we able to do maths of that complexity?
    Hence the link to Wigner's paper.
    The mathematics that we can do does seem to be surprisingly effective in helping us make useful predictions about what the Universe will do next.
    I think there are a lot of interesting things that can be said about that, but unfortunately not on this forum, except in the Thread That Dare Not Speak Its Name.

    Grant Hutchison
    Blog

    Note:
    During life, we all develop attitudes and strategies to make our interactions with others more pleasant and useful. If I mention mine here, those comments can apply only to myself, my experiences and my situation. Such remarks cannot and should not be construed as dismissing, denigrating, devaluing or criticizing any different attitudes and strategies that other people have evolved as a result of their different situation and different experiences.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    16,775
    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    ... more verbally adept hominids are both more appealing as mates, and more convincing as dates.
    If only that were so.

    Grant Hutchison
    Blog

    Note:
    During life, we all develop attitudes and strategies to make our interactions with others more pleasant and useful. If I mention mine here, those comments can apply only to myself, my experiences and my situation. Such remarks cannot and should not be construed as dismissing, denigrating, devaluing or criticizing any different attitudes and strategies that other people have evolved as a result of their different situation and different experiences.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    a long way away
    Posts
    10,374
    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    And language talent is a leading sexual selection factor; more verbally adept hominids are both more appealing as mates, and more convincing as dates.
    Cue Sweet Talking Guy by the Chiffons

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Nowhere (middle)
    Posts
    35,523
    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    If only that were so.

    Grant Hutchison
    Quality over quantity.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    3,163
    First, language - the ability to collaborate on abstract ideas - and then writing - the ability to preserve those collaborations - resulted in a geometric increase in our ability to understand the world because each new insight - rather of standing next to its kin - was able to stand on the shoulders of its kin.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    a long way away
    Posts
    10,374
    The use of abstraction is also important. When designing a transistor, the movement of electrons (possibly individual electrons in modern devices) is important. When designing a logic gate, we only consider the transistors and not the movement of charge. When designing a CPU we only consider the logic gates (actually, we abstract to higher level functions: registers, adders, etc). And when writing software, we are only concerned with the instructions set. Trying to understand an MPEG decoder by thinking about the movement of electrons would be an impossible task for the human brain, but one person can hold the algorithm in their head.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Falls Church, VA (near Washington, DC)
    Posts
    8,262
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    The use of abstraction is also important. When designing a transistor, the movement of electrons (possibly individual electrons in modern devices) is important. When designing a logic gate, we only consider the transistors and not the movement of charge. When designing a CPU we only consider the logic gates (actually, we abstract to higher level functions: registers, adders, etc). And when writing software, we are only concerned with the instructions set. Trying to understand an MPEG decoder by thinking about the movement of electrons would be an impossible task for the human brain, but one person can hold the algorithm in their head.
    Very well said. My brother, a retired programmer/analyst, once told me he doesn't know physically how a computer works, but if he knows how fast it runs, how much memory it has, and what programming language it uses, he can write software that will do useful tasks in crunching millions of sets of personnel records.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •