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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.

 

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

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