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The Profound Limitations of Knowledge

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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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12. Reason and Science in Almost One Voice

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CHAPTER TWELVE

Reason and Science in Almost One Voice

 

Philosophers like Bertrand Russell who analyze the foundations of knowledge have considered the belief that only the self exists and is real, a position called solipsism. Russell rejected solipsism but only on esthetic grounds. Many of the leading interpreters of quantum mechanics are borderline solipsists. They believe that the process of measurement creates reality (elementary particles have no properties until measured), and a conscious observer is required for measurement to occur. In syllogistic form:

Measurement creates reality. A conscious observer is required for measurement to occur. Therefore, there is no reality independent of a conscious observer.

Theoretical physicist John Wheeler, whose delayed choice thought experiment was discussed in the previous chapter, called reality a participatory phenomenon. He described a game of 20 questions he had played. In the standard version, one player leaves the room while the rest of the group selects a person, place, or thing. The player is then called back to try to guess the chosen object by asking no more than 20 questions that can be answered only by yes or no. When it was Wheeler’s turn, the other participants secretly changed the rules. “There had been a plot not to agree on an object to be guessed, but that each person, when asked, must give ← 173 | 174 → a truthful answer concerning some real object that was in his mind, and which was...

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