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Space Science

Are Some Things About the Universe Fundamentally Unknowable? (forbes.com) 225

StartsWithABang writes: As we peel back the layers of information deeper and deeper into the Universe's history, we uncover progressively more knowledge about how everything we know today came to be. The discovery of distant galaxies and their redshifts led to expanding Universe, which led to the Big Bang and the discovery of very early phases like the cosmic microwave background and big bang nucleosynthesis. But before that, there was a period of cosmic inflation that left its mark on the Universe. What came before inflation, then? Did it always exist? Did it have a beginning? Or did it mark the rebirth of a cosmic cycle? Maddeningly, this information may forever be inaccessible to us, as the nature of inflation wipes all this information clean from our visible Universe.
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Are Some Things About the Universe Fundamentally Unknowable?

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  • Bestridge (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rmdingler ( 1955220 )
    No, [wikipedia.org] there are no limits on our ability to comprehend the universe as its own observer, and if there were, we would not be here to observe it.
    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Reality is there are real physically barriers comprehending the universe. Not our universe, other than constraints of change ie what ceases or changes prior to our ability to observe it but the multiverse the chaos from which our universe differentiated though the function of life bound to our universe. Those other universes are unreachable as they technically no longer exist with regard to the functioning stability of our universe. You can derive order from chaos but add chaos to order and it ceases to be

      • All of the perception problems are based on time. Throw out time for a moment and add other dimensions, quantum cohesiveness, and the current reality becomes something that time obscures. It raced out from the Big Bang, and presents us with a construct which our minds now experience, and try to fathom.

        Where time is removed from the equation, or altered to permit quantum awareness-- no delta T- we always were, and always will be, but for now, our brains record the moment as an artifice for understanding. Whe

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Time is the wrong variable, relative change is the right one. Time can occur as fast or as slow as possible in changes nothing, only the relative changes of matter with regard to other matter have significance, how fast or slow is arbitrary and time is just a relative measurement against other changes ie how fast or slow the universe is in totality does not affect it, how it changes relative to itself does.

          • Delta-T as a non-linear variable is an intriguing concept, too. I like the time-is-a-smash idea, as it solves other mysteries and quantum linkages as well.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        You can derive order from chaos

        That depends on what you mean by "derive". You can't extract order without increasing the chaos in another part of the system at least as much.
        The glass I'm drinking Ardbeg from right now has much higher order than the sand it was created from, but that was only possible by heating it, expending stored energy, which increases entropy. That energy ultimately comes from the sun (and other suns) that lose order.
        Overall, the entropy increases, even though my glass says otherwise. It's not called the second

      • but the multiverse the chaos from which our universe differentiated though the function of life bound to our universe

        Multiverse - nice fantasy. Anything derived from that idea is itself a fantasy.

        We all have our fantasies. Mine I write about with words and others describe theirs with math. Both types remain fantasies.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Well, literally that is exactly what I stated, were you not paying attention, no interaction means they are literally are a fantasy, they can not exist with regard to the implementation of our universe, although logically they still can (not do) exist in infinite variability.

        • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

          Multiverse - nice fantasy. Anything derived from that idea is itself a fantasy.

          We all have our fantasies. Mine I write about with words and others describe theirs with math. Both types remain fantasies.

          Laser weapons, and talking to computers was also a fantasy...that was only 60 years ago.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      I think it seems very reasonable that we cannot know what existed before time existed, because there would not be any time to accommodate the "before", making the question meaningless.

      • For all you know, the lack of one's awareness of time's existence has little to do with its genuineness.
        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          For all you know, the lack of one's awareness of time's existence has little to do with its genuineness.

          For all we know, there might be a bearded guy who created the universe because he loves us and wants most of us to burn in hell for eternity. But the evidence doesn't point that way either.
          From what we can tell, time does not have the properties we normally think, but is a local phenomenon that expands and contracts depending on acceleration (including gravity, a special case of acceleration). As we approach big bang, the flow of time asymptotically approaches zero. Time itself doesn't flow. It becomes

      • This is what I was wondering: before the big bang, and whatever it was that resulted in the big bang, was there time and was there space? Space and time were created at the instance of the big bang and before the big bang (ah, that thing in our reference system, time) neither space nor time existed. Furthermore, is space and time still being created outside the volume of the universe? If quantum mechanics posits that a particle of matter can transition from one place to another while being at both places si
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2016 @07:00PM (#51319503)

    Forbes's insistence that I drop adblockers, when their ads have been empirically detected dispensing malware, is one of them.

    So is StartsWithAWhimper's insistence of posting his blogspam here.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Actually, that report of malvertising on the Forbes site is so far unconfirmed. Look, I hate ads as much as you, and block them because of the malware issue, but all we have here is a tweet making an allegation that no-one else has been able to reproduce or certify.

      As likely as not the tweeter has a local malware infection, or his AV software gave a false alarm. I continue to block Forbes ads anyway, but as a general point it's important to fully investigate and determine the accuracy of these claims so we

  • Maddeningly, this information may forever be inaccessible to us, as the nature of inflation wipes all this information clean from our visible Universe.

    This is why it's so important that we go back to the gold standard. Ron Paul 2016!

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @07:25PM (#51319621) Homepage
    We already know there are questions we can't answer. In fact, it isn't that hard to write down questions where barring extreme surprises, we can't answer them even given that they are essentially just simple computations. For example, does 2^(10^(10^500)) +1 have an even or odd number of distinct prime factors? That took two seconds to write down, but unless there's something very weird about numbers close to powers of 2 then we literally lack the computational power in the observable universe to answer that question. So we already have pretty hard physical limits on what we can know. This is just a question of whether there are also hard physical limits to questions that some people happen to care a lot about.
    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      from the point of view of epistemology, the answer to your question is something we can, eventually, figure out and agree that the answer is valid within a specific known domain of mathematics. We have well defined words, processes, and can calculate the answer brute force given enough resource, or maybe through some tricks if we are clever enough. This question is different, and I would say ill posed. It would be like asking an ancient Greek if fire could be taken out of wood so it would not burn, or as
    • Factoring primes is not known to be "hard" that is there is no such proof. It is just believed to be "hard" since we have come up with an algorithm to do it. Even if there is no efficient algorithm to factor primes it maybe that we can use inventions like quantum computers to possibly solve it.

      That is not to say there is no unanswerable questions but we definitely don't no yours is one.

      • \begin{nitpick}

        Factoring primes is not known to be "hard" that is there is no such proof.

        Actually factoring primes is really easy. For any prime p, it factors as just p. What you mean is in factoring a generic composite into primes. \end{nitpick}

        Even if there is no efficient algorithm to factor primes it maybe that we can use inventions like quantum computers to possibly solve it.

        See my reply to the other person who brought up quantum computers. Quantum computers can if implemented factor large numbers very efficiently. Moreover, we can't even prove at this point that factoring is itself classically hard (as you correctly noted). This is why I used a tower of exponentials in my example.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          Actually factoring primes is really easy. For any prime p, it factors as just p.

          And any number of 1s. (Just to pick the nits on your nits.)

          >What you mean is in factoring a generic composite into primes.

          Or he could mean determination of primality through unsuccessful factorization.

    • Actually, there is something "weird" about integers that are 2^n + 1 (for some integer n) that make them "easy" to factor (at least partially). This one still looks tough. Warning: I am not a number theorist.

      • Yes, you can partially factor 2^n+1 if you write n= 2^(a (2k+1)), but it only gets you too big factors which are about the size of 2^(2k+1) and the other being the rest. That helps only a tiny bit, and is part of why I choose an example that had an n with a very large even factor.
    • by swell ( 195815 )

      You have chosen a very difficult math problem as your example. Anyone highly trained in some specialty field can do the same and befuddle outsiders. The challenge here is to state a simple question that anyone can understand, which is impossible to answer.

      example: Can God make a chili pepper so hot that He cannot eat it ?

      • "Can God make a chili pepper so hot that He cannot eat it ?"

        That's not even difficult to answer: No.

        You might think well, but then He wouldn't be omnipotent, would He? Still, God can't make a chili pepper so hot that He cannot it just as He can't make an imaginary beast to exist. The problem is not God but your lack of knowledge of basic Logic.

        • by swell ( 195815 )

          Either he can or he can't. You say he can't. The only possible conclusion is that he is NOT omnipotent. Twist your thinking all you want, that won't change anything. You can't choose logic only when it is convenient to your bias.

        • by bentcd ( 690786 )

          "Can God make a chili pepper so hot that He cannot eat it ?"

          Yes of course he can, he is omnipotent, why is this even a question?

          Once he's done it he would no longer be omnipotent because there would exist a thing that he cannot do. This isn't a problem: it must be within the power of an omnipotent being to choose to make itself no longer omnipotent.

          • The question is flawed anyway. There could be a chilli with a hotness rating of a few bazillion kajillion and all I have to do is throw it down the back of my throat and swallow. Anything that happens after that would not change the fact I ate it.
    • For example, does 2^(10^(10^500)) +1 have an even or odd number of distinct prime factors? That took two seconds to write down, but unless there's something very weird about numbers close to powers of 2 then we literally lack the computational power in the observable universe to answer that question.

      I don't think many mathematicians would accept "we can't do it because we haven't got a big enough computer" as a real proof of incalculability.

      • The problem is the mathematician is just thinking about what i possible in principle. While this problem is in principle no different from determining if 2^10+1 has an even or odd number of prime factors, in reality the scales of computational resources required put it forever out of reach.

        • The problem is the mathematician is just thinking about what i possible in principle.

          Why is that a problem? It's exactly what this story is about.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      We already know there are questions we can't answer. In fact, it isn't that hard to write down questions where barring extreme surprises, we can't answer them even given that they are essentially just simple computations. For example, does 2^(10^(10^500)) +1 have an even or odd number of distinct prime factors? That took two seconds to write down, but unless there's something very weird about numbers close to powers of 2 then we literally lack the computational power in the observable universe to answer that question.

      Hmm. It may not be that we can't answer the question about the prime factors of very large numbers, but I think it might be more correct to say that we can't find out whether we are unable to answer that question, except by counterexample.

  • by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @07:30PM (#51319641)

    ...it will be on your foot.

  • Technically, everything about the universe is fundamentally unknowable. Sure, we can be pretty certain that eg the sun will rise tomorrow, that the laws of physics will be tomorrow what they were today. But never absolutely sure. If you want certainty, try mathematics of philosophy.

  • Yes, there are some things about the Universe that are fundamentally unknowable. For instance, anything that we cannot apply the scientific method against is unknowable. This equates to much of theoretical physics and cosmology. It doesn't mean that we can't have theories, but if those theories cannot be tested, then by definition, what they are purporting to explain is unknowable.

  • Are Some Things About the Universe Fundamentally Unknowable?

    .... no one's come up with the answer as to why Pee Wee Herman was EVER popular, and i'm pretty sure that THAT is simply unknowable.

  • Yes, Ethan (Score:5, Informative)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @07:52PM (#51319743) Homepage Journal
    Yes, Ethan, there is. How can you possibly be making enough money writing your crummy blog with malware ads on it? It is unpossible that you can be making money with it.
  • How did science solve the distant science issue on earth and power needs? Build collection systems and place them in interesting but very remote locations.
    Data is collected and ends up at a nice well funded, comfy lab for publication and study over decades. The news media tells the world and more study follows.
    The US did it with its Sentinel 100F, Sentinel 25 remote monitoring sites. Voyager 1,2, Galileo ect.
    ie just keep looking, funding and teaching science.
    The big issues is the lack of any charism
  • There is one thing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Curate ( 783077 )
    The only thing that is fundamentally unknown is the question of fundamental unknowability itself.
  • by reve_etrange ( 2377702 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @08:43PM (#51319939)

    There's an infinite number of unknowable facts. I think "fundamentally" is sort of a semantic trick that makes it seems like there's a distinction with a difference even when there might not be one. Exampe: my friend crashed his bike and had retrograde amnesia for a few hours. What caused the crash is unknowable. Although it could have been observed, it just wasn't. There's no way now to go out and capture those photons, long since scattered and reabsorbed, etc. The path he was on has been totally repaved and redesigned. What happened to him is just as unknowable to human beings as esoteric facts about the early universe, the real difference is that bike accidents are mundane and the early universe is interesting.

  • end game (Score:4, Interesting)

    by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock@poetiMONETc.com minus painter> on Sunday January 17, 2016 @08:58PM (#51319973)

    This thought line reminds of two things that keep it in perspective:

    1 The TED podcast of January 4 "Have we reached the end of physics?" by Harry Cliff. He points out that there are some things that we can never know (or prove with any foreseeable technology.) Big surprise!

    2 Charles H. Duell was the Commissioner of US patent office in 1899. Mr. Deull's most famous attributed utterance is that "everything that can be invented has been invented." Whether this is a correct attribution is irrelevant to this discussion.

    It is possible that at some point the rate of new discoveries and ideas will diminish, but history has shown the opposite- a snowballing increase in human knowledge in almost every area. Of course we will never know it all, never be able to prove all that we do know, but we will keep on striving.

  • "Are Some Things About the Universe Fundamentally Unknowable?"

    No.

    Thanks for playing.

    Good luck in the next PowerBall.

    • "Are Some Things About the Universe Fundamentally Unknowable?"

      No.

      Thanks for playing.

      Good luck in the next PowerBall.

      And don't forget to watch "Ancient Aliens" on the History Channel folks. They'll tell you about how humans are too stupid to do anything and how everything on earth is rbecause of ancient aliens. It's like the answer channel for Intelligent design creationists and general dumbasses.

  • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @09:22PM (#51320047)

    Forbes had been blocked having become increasingly annoying over period of years until recently reaching the height of becoming perilous to visit.

    While there might be information contained within Forbes I remain doubtful I will ever be able to discover it.

    • Forbes had been blocked having become increasingly annoying over period of years until recently reaching the height of becoming perilous to visit.

      While there might be information contained within Forbes I remain doubtful I will ever be able to discover it.

      Go fuck themselves, forbes can.

  • ...the nature of inflation wipes all this information clean from our visible Universe.

    My problem is that inflation wipes all the money clean from my bank account.

  • That's about the only thing that could explain the constant approval of submissions for Forbes with links to their click-bait pages.

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] has let me down, because, yes. There are many things [about the universe] that are fundamentally unknowable.

  • Anything beyond our "light cone" is unknowable, simply because of the speed of light. Yet we can never say "absolutely yes", because we don't know what technologies we will develop in the future. Someday we may have tech that can map branes, use gravitational waves for sensors, or something else so far beyond our current imagination that this question is a bit ridiculous.
  • It's impossible to know what the ultimate observer is.
  • A "fundamentally unknowable" might fall into the "known unknowns" category.

    Then of course there are unknown unknowns.

    It's preposterous to suppose that we could know everything. It's akin to the patent office wanting to shut down a hundred years ago because everything had already been invented.

  • The human mind does have limits, driven by the assumptions we learn or develop as we age, and also by our senses. We can only directly perceive a certain number of things that we can see or touch or feel or taste.

    The universe may be full of dimensions and forces and things we can't see and therefore don't know about. Dark matter is one, something we know little about and can barely detect yet it is apparently the most common kind of matter. And we can't even see it, touch it, anything.

    If there are other

  • Time was created in the big bang. If there's no time, there's no "before" or "after". So, technically, you cannot ask the question "what was there before inflation". Which means, we can know everything in our universe. What's not part of our universe, does not exist, by definition.

  • Recently, whenever I come across a headline that has a certain grand sounding ring to it, I have come to expect it to promote something like a Forbes article about something well-known and fairly trivial, that they try to pump up a bit in order to attract naive souls; click-porn, in a word.

    To state that there are things in the universe that we can never know about is obvious for many reasons:

    1) Our model of the universe is a theory - which is to say, it is a tool that we know is inherently flawed, in that i

  • There's a lot about StartsWithABang that's unknowable for instance:

    - Why he seem to be suffering an existential crisis.
    - Why he seem to write about nothing but crap.
    - Why he reblogs his shit blog on Slashdot even though the majority of us run adblockers and can't actually get to Forbes.com
    - Why Slashdot is going along with this crap.

  • Does god exist? That's something we'll never know. An even if we manage to prove his existence, there is no way to know if there isn't some "supergod" on top of him.
    We usually exclude god from science because of the Occam razor, but Occam razor is a heuristic, a way to better focus our research rather than an absolute truth.
    You can replace god with simulations, extra dimensions or what lies beyond the observable universe as long as it is unfalsifiable.

    If something as simple as knowing if a piece of code wil

  • Werner Heisenberg, Kurt Godel, and Noam Chomsky walk into a bar. Heisenberg turns to the other two and says, 'Clearly this is a joke, but how can we figure out if it's funny or not?' Godel replies, 'We can't know that because we're inside the joke.' Chomsky says, 'Of course it's funny. You're just telling it wrong.'
  • It seems to me that once you start looking backward and asking origin type questions, you are eventually forced to confront infinities. Either we assume something has always existed, or a god created it, and god was around for infinity. My understanding is that infinity is a mathematical symbol, and not yet observed in the physical universe. Would it even be possible to witness any infinite thing, or it's infinite-ness ? Aside from mathematics, I am not sure the word infinity qualifies as an actual signi

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