6
$\begingroup$

I'm working on a story that deals with an inordinate leap into the future and was wondering what leaps and bounds in science the human race may have reached by then. So here's what I'm wondering:

Over time, we have been able to access information in more and more areas. For example, we're dealing with computation at a quantum level now: a level we previously didn't even know existed.

Further, as we evolve it seems we are also getting better at learning more from less information. As we compile information we have learned as a species, and develop new equations for such information, we can extrapolate more from less. Another example: you have a circle with a radius of 1m. What's that circle's circumference? Chances are good you didn't have to rediscover pi. I realize that example's pretty basic, but hopefully it gets the idea across.

It seems to me that as we learn more and more about the creation and subsequent events of the universe (which I guess is just all of them), we can start to know about events and matter farther and farther away, both in distance and time. It also seems that if we take this to the extreme (I'm assuming humans make it as a species), we'd know as far away and as far ahead (or back) as possible, making us, for all intents and purposes, omniscient.

The only bottleneck I can think of is that pesky Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Since we can never have complete information about subatomic particles, and they certainly affect the universe, it seems we might run into trouble there. But it also seems like we still might be able to learn enough anyway through everything else that this wouldn't matter.

My question is: given this constant advancement of knowledge, could my future humans ever realistically reach the level I'm talking about? We're able to land spacecrafts on asteroids, clearly we can already predict so much about our solar system from it's current state in time. What's to stop us from eventually extending this to the edge of the universe?

(I'm not worried about this being a laughably long time from now. I'm just wondering if it's possible.)

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Ignorance is faster than knowledge for the same reason darkness if faster than light. Any person of science will confirm that the more you learn the more you need to know. as a law of our universe the only thing faster than light it's darkness. $\endgroup$ – Charon Aug 17 '16 at 22:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You might by interested in looking at the Kardashev Scale for a scale on quite how much power over the universe a civilisation might have. In particular, the Culture novels detail adventures of characters usually inhabiting the Culture, a Type III civilisation. $\endgroup$ – ktyldev Aug 17 '16 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure i understand how you would define omniscience. Are you talking about "knowing every scientific principle" or "knowing the results of every scientific principle" ? I assume the latter would be impossible, since it must be close to an infinite number of results. $\endgroup$ – Burki Aug 18 '16 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ But long before we know everything we will be able to upgrade ourselves with biotech the mind uploading. Don't expect them to be human. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Aug 18 '16 at 8:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ uploading yourself is more like killing yourself and putting a copy of you inside a robot... doubt many people will do that $\endgroup$ – Charon Aug 18 '16 at 10:54
3
$\begingroup$

Maybe

This is a very complex question and depends a lot on the type of universe we live in, and we do not know enough about our universe to answer that. I am also gonna broaden the question to ask can a sentient (infinite processing power and memory) life achieve omniscience.

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle would not be a issue, as it doesn't say you cannot determine the momentum and location of object at atomic scale, but rather say momentum and location cannot be inferred with certainty in a classical sense, and are probabilistic. Similar to how ideas of length does not matter beyond plank's length, or the idea of "before" does not matter prior to Big Bang.

Even if we understand all aspects of our reality, a unified scientific theory which describes both micro and macro realities, there could be Hidden Variables in the universe which we can never know. We can never know what we cannot interact with (non-FTL), this includes anything outside our universe, beyond observable universe, even objects outside your causality cone. Even if we can predict or mathematically formulate the interactions in this region, it is not the same of direct observable data.

But on the other side of things, similar to Quantum entanglement, the whole universe could be in some sort of coherence which makes omniscience possible, but we simply aren't advanced in science enough to know that.

P.S. I personally believe that a version of omniscience is possible, and that is the reason for Fermi's Paradox.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ How does this explain the fermi paradox? $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Aug 18 '16 at 8:39
  • $\begingroup$ Once you are aware of everything, within your space-time and all of science, why would make any technological advancements ? Sure there can be a lot of technological implementations but that there is no use in making it as you already know everything possible combination and its outcome. If everything is knowable. You would be very aware of how your consciousness works. And I believe that a sufficiently intelligent sentient being would simply not buy into the illusion of life. Thus no desires, needs or even curiosity. Imagine some kind hyper intelligent monk. $\endgroup$ – Chinu Aug 18 '16 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that that Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and its ilk are much of a barrier to this kind of omniscience; the statespace of quantum systems is not a symplectic manifold and particles just simply do not have defined (or hidden) positions and momenta. Regardless of your particular favoured interpretation of QM, any omniscience would have an operational rather than ontological flavour. $\endgroup$ – A Simmons Aug 18 '16 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ This answer is well-written, but I had to downvote. See my answer below. This is a very complex question, but a bunch of math geeks (way way smarter than me) spent a long time tackling it awhile back. They pretty definitively answered it: No, you can't. $\endgroup$ – Dayton Williams Jan 10 at 5:26
2
$\begingroup$

No. It is not possible. People said in the 1800s that science had discovered everything but it clearly hasn't. Humans will never know everything. We may be able to learn a lot but there will still be things we do not know. For example we won't know the future as some stuff is determined by quantum which is based in randomness. We will never disprove Gods existence. Proving it is possible if God decides to show himself. Furthermore we will never know if we know everything or what we don't know if we don't know everything.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I would only add that a substantial part of what makes us "human" is our need to achieve, explore, learn, imagine and even conquer. Omniscience would make these things obsolete at best, perhaps not even possible, thereby negating what it is to be Human. I suggest as further reading this link to the same question: quora.com/Can-a-human-be-omniscient-1 $\endgroup$ – Joe Aug 17 '16 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not really satisfied with this answer because I think your definition of "knowing" is too strict. I'll concede we will never know everything with 100% certainty, but we'll never know anything with 100% certainty. We could be in a simulation and wrong about everything we think, but within the scope of our simulation, we can achieve such a high level of confidence about something, we say we "know" it. For example, Bellerephon believed in Zeus, but we "know" now Zeus isn't real. Obviously we can't prove it, but we know with enough certainty that the Greek gods aren't real that we can claim it $\endgroup$ – Lord Farquaad Aug 17 '16 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ to be a fact. I can say the same for your God example (either for or against his existence, I'm not arguing either way). As for the quantum example, the same thing applies. Sure we might not know 100%, but might we get precise enough that we be omniscient for "all intents and purposes"? Maybe omniscience is the wrong term here. I'm thinking of us being able to know anything about anything at anytime, but to me that's descriptive of omniscience. $\endgroup$ – Lord Farquaad Aug 17 '16 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ @LordFarquaaad With God maybe. With quantum no. It is random so we cannot narrow it down. Even if we could there are still likely other factors we would not know about. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Aug 17 '16 at 18:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @LordFarquaad I do think that story wise you could make an argument for functional omniscience very easily so if you want it in your story no one would question it. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Aug 17 '16 at 19:40
0
$\begingroup$

No we couldn't...our brains couldn't handle it sadly. It's possible a future evolution of humans could (Homo Erectus > Homo Sapiens > Homo somethingorother . We would be talking about a large enough leap in our mental capabilities to become a new species at this point.

But I wouldn't contest humans becoming omniscient just on a biological level...Omniscience is also a tough definition, especially in morality. What you or I consider right (me : I squished a mosquito!) would be considered horribly wrong from another perspective (mosquito: I was trying to eat and got squished by a giant hand!) or indifference (fly: I'm glad I didn't land there). Is omniscience by definition including knowing all interpretations of one event? Or is it simply knowing something got squished regardless of intepretation? Is it knowledge on the cellular level (the cells of the mosquito now unable to sustain itself) or is it taken from the conceptual mosquito self? It's a hard topic to grasp simply because an observer and their position of observation inherently affects whats being observed. Does omniscience mean knowledge from all observation points, or none at all?

The other theory that kinda kinks the omniscient line of thought...All ideas can be disassembled into their components of understanding, but can also be combined with other ideas to create new ones...and those new ones themselves could be combined with others and so on. From this standpoint, there is no 'knowledge of everything' as each new step of knowledge opens the path to yet another new one. And unfortunately, there isn't the 'higgs boson' of idea's...the base idea that inherently exists other pieces of knowledge come from (therefore you can disassemble ideas to infinity in the same way you can combine new ones to infinity.)

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

It depends on how the universe works:

Let's say you want to map the positions of the smallest possible particles that make up our universe. Since there is nothing smaller to "draw" your map on, your map would end up the size of the universe; ergo, we can't know everything at once...

...but we could know anything, provided the universe follows these rules:

  • No information is ever lost.
  • All interactions are governed by a very simple set of rules complexity is only a emergent property.
  • Every particle in the universe has indirectly interacted with any other particle in the universe

If those rules hold true, you could beginning with any particle in the universe, deduce the position of any other particle in the universe. This would probably take longer than the heat death of the universe, but at the very least, it's only very improbable not impossible.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Besides, it's not about matter but time as well. Knowing everything it's not only about knowing it at a given time but at any given time. $\endgroup$ – Eduardo Fernandes Aug 18 '16 at 16:02
-1
$\begingroup$

While others have given great answers, let me pose a philosophical one:

Is omniscience even possible in the first place?

I'd argue as follows:

Omniscience is knowledge of everything, meaning no matter the circumstances, there will never be uncertainty in knowledge. This would technically would constitute knowing everything about the past, present, and future as well.

If the humans supposedly know everything, but continue to search for more knowledge, then they do not know that they know everything already. Therefore, they are not omniscient.

If the humans supposedly know everything and stop searching for more knowledge, the fact they know everything is enough to change how they act which will cause a change in how the proverbial dominoes will fall. These changes will result in different information than they previously knew somewhere down the line, and the fact they stopped searching for more knowledge means they will not know of these changes happening even if they know it is possible the changes could happen. This creates an uncertainty factor; meaning: therefore, they are not omniscient.

If the humans supposedly know everything and keep searching for more knowledge despite knowing there's no more knowledge to learn in order to prevent uncertainty in outcomes from happening if they do stop searching for more knowledge; then this means they acknowledge that by not continuing their search for more knowledge, then things they don't already know about could occur creating an uncertainty of the specific outcome of stopping. Therefore, they are not omniscient.

Omniscience in and of itself is an impossibility. There will always be uncertainty, either in what will happen if you stop learning or things changing because you stopped learning and let that influence your choices. The butterfly effect is usually used to refer to time travel, but it's still worth considering for a progression of time no matter how large. In a year, what we do on Earth won't likely have an impact on anything outside our planet, but a million years from now? An explosion set off on Earth could push the moon slightly out of orbit. 100 million could knock the planets out of alignment. Sure, in the big picture, what we do here on Earth seems insignificant, but dominoes fall with every action and inaction. By choosing to learn or stop learning, a different course will set out for humanity with every moment. Every second, countless new universes open up and close off at a rapid rate just because we chose to learn or not to learn. Every choice leading to the final conclusion of the universe's heat-death.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

If your definition of omniscience is "to know everything" without breaking the rules of logic and mathematics the answer is NO.

It's actually a mathematical problem that is not obvious at all.

For example the "halting problem" cannot be solved in finite time.

Alan Turing proved in 1936 that a general algorithm to solve the halting problem for all possible program-input pairs cannot exist.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halting_problem#Oracle_machines

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entscheidungsproblem

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_undecidable_problems

If you handwave logic and pretend you can be a GOD who lives outside of logic like the Abrahamic GOD then you can just basically say anything you want.

BTW omnipotence (the ability to do anything) is also logically impossible. Many philosophers quickly found the paradox which is something like:

An omnipotent god should be able to create an object so heavy that even himself cannot lift it.

1) If he can create the object and not lift it, there is one thing he cannot do (lift it) so he is not omnipotent

2) If he cannot create such an object then he is not omnipotent either

So an omnipotent entity cannot exist

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Omniscience is impossible in principle. 1) Knowledge is a codified representation of external reality. By nature, all representations summarize, omit inessential details, and take shortcuts. No representation of reality can contain all of reality; if it did, it would not be a representation but a copy. The map is not the territory. 2) Knowledge depends upon sensation, and as such involves a thermodynamic process. Energy must flow "downhill" from the known object toward the knowing subject. Complete knowledge of every atom in the universe would require the universe reaching absolute zero (and the knowing subject being even colder than that), which simply can't happen. 3) It is a principle of computation that no system can hold a simulation of a system more complex than itself. Complete knowledge of every atom in the universe would require that a brain were able to contain a mental representation of a system that not only contains the brain itself, but every other brain in existence, and all the galaxies. You not only run into a computing capacity problem, but into an infinite loop: a brain that contains a representation of a universe that contains that brain. It can't happen.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems and the Halting Problem proved this is literally impossible

Incompleteness Theorem

Around the turn of the 1900s, there was a big open question in the field of mathematics. Finding proofs is kind of an art. You just work at it until you uncover a solution to the problem. Cleverness and insight play a big role. Is there something we could do about this? They were just starting to create the formal models of computation itself that would go on to become important in the development of computers (and their precursors, analog/digital calculating machines).

Many mathematicians at the time expected that they would be able to find an algorithm - a concrete process you can write down - that would, given some proposition, mechanically determine whether it is true or false.

But they couldn't prove it. And eventually a mathematician by the name of Kurt Gödel proved, in the 1930s, that this is impossible. No matter what system of formal logic you are using, either a) it's too weak to do anything useful, or b) there exist statements which are true, but which the system cannot prove, or c) the system can prove false statements (which means it can prove anything - i.e. it's useless).

Turns out there's a way to formalize "This statement cannot be proved by system X" in such a way that it's a valid statement within system X (as long as system X is sufficiently powerful to do interesting work). Now, if the statement is true, then system X cannot prove it (because, err, that's what it says). And if the statement is false, then system X can prove it (because that's the opposite of what it says).

Halting Problem

Likewise, there is a famous Computer Science question called the Halting Problem. In a nutshell: I have a program. If I pass in a set of inputs, will the program enter an infinite loop, or will it terminate?

Programmers would really like a tool that could always answer this question. It would make eliminating a whole class of bugs much more convenient than it is now. Too bad that it's impossible.

See, if I had a tool that could answer this question, I can write a program, SmartAss. SmartAss uses the tool to see what it claims that SmartAss will do ... then it does the opposite.

Unprovable and undiscoverable things turned out to be fairly common

People started looking into this. They found out that uncomputable numbers (things that you can define, but can provably never discover the value of) are actually fairly common. Here's an interesting bit about one of these numbers, called Omega:

Ω is definable. We can (and have) provided a specific, precise definition of it. We've even described a procedure by which you can conceptually generate it. But despite that, it's deeply uncomputable. There are procedures where we can compute a finite prefix of it. But there's a limit: there's a point beyond which we cannot compute any digits of it. And there is no way to compute that point. So, for example, there's a very interesting paper where the authors computed the value of Ω for a Minsky machine; they were able to compute 84 bits of it; but the last 20 are unreliable, because it's uncertain whether or not they're actually beyond the limit, and so they may be wrong. But we can't tell!

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.