• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

We are inching along, but not as quickly as we (or you) would like. If you have already donated, thank you so much. If you haven’t had a chance, consider skipping the coffee this week and drop CounterPunch $5 or more. We provide our content for free, but it costs us a lot to do so. Every dollar counts.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Axiom of Uncertainty

It’s simple. Given that there might well be an absolute nature/structure of the universe and our perhaps fundamentally limited cognitive position/abilities within it can we be certain that we can be sure about the true nature of anything? Can there be fundamental forces, matter, and material relationships of which we will never know?

While unanswerable in principle, the mere possibility of such an epistemological situation has many consequences.

Firstly, it considerably lets out the air out of our current secular hubris.

Science and technology have given us what is perhaps a false impression of our own cognitive and technical omnipotence. While we rightly marvel at what we have achieved during the last five centuries, it does not necessarily give us the right to think that we can, even theoretically, master and understand all that there is.

Would it be so far fetched to think that the human mind, both as it is now and will be in the future, will always be limited in what it can know?

Although we cannot even judge the actual probability of such a proposition it should nevertheless give us pause while constructing brash anthropocentric scenarios which inflate our own importance within the universe.

If we stop to consider the possible theoretical implications of this axiom of uncertainty we will quickly realize that we may never know more than a part, even just a small part of existence past, present, and future.

Of course that does not mean we should stop trying to know all we can.

On the other hand, it does mean that we should be far more circumspect when offering explanations about everything whether scientific, political, or religious.

In each of these domains, we may, it might turn out, be far off the mark.

Yet, the deeper point is that according to the above axiom we can never know for sure.

Do such thoughts open the door then to superstition and fantastical ideas of all kinds?

Yes and no.

Privately, one can believe in whatever one wants to.

However, publicly, the commonly accepted standards of reason, logic, and evidence would still apply.

In order for a proposition such as “Three-eyed pink giraffes eat hamburgers on Titan” to be even remotely true there would have to be substantial scientific research to back it up.

Yet, even if there is credible evidence for totalistic viewpoints of any kind the axiom of uncertainty can always, potentially, call them into question. For if there are indeed fundamental aspects of existence that are forever closed off to us; then it follows that no comprehensive theory of everything could be completely and forever considered true. Such an axiom will always allow for some doubt, however small, to remain.

Indeed, although knowledge is power,; true, absolute knowledge may be unattainable and thus call forth, even demand an attitude of deep humility with respect to the true nature of the universe as a whole and a sharply critical stance towards all publicly held theories, beliefs, and viewpoints.

 

More articles by:

Dan Corjescu teaches Political Philosophy at Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Poll Projection: Left-Leaning Jagmeet Singh to Share Power with Trudeau in Canada
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
stclair
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Chris Gilbert
Forward! A Week of Protest in Catalonia
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
Christopher Fons – Conor McMullen
The Centrism of Elizabeth Warren
Nino Pagliccia
Peace Restored in Ecuador, But is trust?
Rebecca Gordon
Extorting Ukraine is Bad Enough But Trump Has Done Much Worse
Kathleen Wallace
Trump Can’t Survive Where the Bats and Moonlight Laugh
Clark T. Scott
Cross-eyed, Fanged and Horned
Eileen Appelbaum
The PR Campaign to Hide the Real Cause of those Sky-High Surprise Medical Bills
Olivia Alperstein
Nuclear Weapons are an Existential Threat
Colin Todhunter
Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: Trading Away Indian Agriculture?
Sarah Anderson
Where is “Line Worker Barbie”?
Brian Cloughley
Yearning to Breathe Free
Jill Richardson
Why are LGBTQ Rights Even a Debate?
Jesse Jackson
What I Learn While Having Lunch at Cook County Jail
Kathy Kelly
Death, Misery and Bloodshed in Yemen
Maximilian Werner
Leadership Lacking for Wolf Protection
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail