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The Profound Limitations of Knowledge


Fred Leavitt

The Profound Limitations of Knowledge explores the limitations of knowledge and argues that neither reasoning nor direct or indirect observations can be trusted. We cannot even assign probabilities to claims of what we can know. Furthermore, for any set of data, there are an infinite number of possible interpretations. Evidence suggests that we live in a participatory universe—that is, our observations shape reality.
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2. Beliefs


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A bumper sticker reads “We’re born. We grow old. We die.” Philosophers ask what else there is, and some people think they know. Devout Christians believe that the best part of existence begins after the death of their material bodies. Others, suspecting that everything ends with the last heartbeat, try to enjoy their brief moments on earth to the fullest. Their beliefs, all beliefs, are conditioned by environment.

People from different backgrounds differ in preferences for food, mates, music, literature, and football teams. Even perceptions depend heavily on personal history. How else can we explain why people with normal vision may view the same drawing and report different images, as in the famous young woman/old woman illusion of Figure 2.1. If the evidence for religious beliefs were trustworthy, preferences would be independent of time and place of upbringing. They are, of course, not. More atheists live in Azerbaijan than Atlanta, more Baptists in Biloxi than Bombay, more Catholics in Cincinnati than Calcutta, more Jews in Jerusalem than Jakarta, and more Muslims in Malaysia than Mississippi. The boring demographic details reflect the obvious fact that people living within a broad general region are exposed to the same newspapers, TV shows, songs, films, games, and books. For the same reason, football fans from Cincinnati are more likely than Chicagoans to root for the Bengals whereas Chicago residents prefer the Bears. A noteworthy difference between religious and football...

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