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Will we ever know enough?

The accumulation of knowledge defines us as human. Each epoch adds a new layer of knowledge. It builds on the thoughts of past generations. The proliferation of knowledge does not have a direction, a finite capacity, or a definitive goal, . It simply exists in context to itself.

In essence knowledge is only limited by our imagination. In the entire history of knowledge we have never had the ability to find immutable truths. Yet it continues to accumulate.

Is there some point when we should cease to accumulate knowledge and simply live our lives by deepening the understanding of the knowledge we possess?

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    May 16 2013: You know, new answers always bring new questions.
  • Gord G 50+

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    May 6 2013: Interesting responses. I realize conversation starters typically respond to individual posts. I thought I would try something a little different and post a general response based on the thoughts presented up to this point.

    I believe learning wouldn't become obsolete because as people are born into the world there is a need to educate them. Even today there is such a vast body of knowledge in the world that it would take many lifetimes for an individual to learn all there is to know. If we learn more about each other rather than expend our energy changing, would we deepen our empathy?

    I fully acknowledge that if we ceased to accumulate knowledge at some point in the future there would be many questions that would be unanswered. But do we need to answer them? Today we have all the knowledge we require to live a comfortable life. It would appear to me it's a lack of empathy that is creating most of the hardship in the world…not the lack of knowledge. Perhaps if accumulation was de-emphasized it would lead to an equitable distribution of existing resources. Does constant change destabilize the world?

    Obviously this question is hypothetical since it's unlikely we would be able to satiate our drive to accumulate knowledge. The intent of the question is to consider the affect of constant change. Most life forms on the planet remain in a relatively constant state. Our perception of other organism's intellectual inertia places them at a lower evolutionary position. But is our inability to establish a stable mind set more primitive in nature?
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      May 6 2013: Wow. I never considered this aspect of your question. Firstly, I don't think we can ever stop changing; we are always adapting and none of us will ever be the same. I agree that if we learn more about each other we would deepen our empathy, and it would be incredible if we were able to understand each other fully. However, I think there is a distinction between understanding and accepting. For example, I may be able to understand your emotions and have deep empathy, but we might not ever agree with each other and feel as the other person because we are all unique.

      For the second paragraph, I can't put it better than Edward.

      As for whether our inability to establish a stable mind set makes us more primitive, this thirst for knowledge doesn't make us primitive. We'll always have instinctual thoughts: run, hide, withdraw, etc. So in that aspect we are still animals. However, what sets us apart is our curiosity. Every species adapts at some point; they change their mindsets on hunting, foraging, and surviving. Even if phylogenetically we are as evolved as any other organism, the fact that we adapt faster and our mindset changes every day means we are at least more advanced consciously.
      • May 7 2013: "I may be able to understand your emotions and have deep empathy, but we might not ever agree with each other and feel as the other person because we are all unique."

        An astute observation Michael. Without question there are as many points of view as there are people in the world. That's why I feel respectful tolerance is key.
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      May 6 2013: Learning will never be obsolete, as we are wired to observe and to synthesize our observations and to connect ideas and observations in novel ways. We are constructed to learn and to try to understand things better. Information can be gathered and processed for all practical purposes in parallel.

      On a more mundane level, for an individual simply to gather more and more facts without considering their connections, implications, and potential application would be a misallocation of effort.

      I am not sure what you mean by a stable mind set. Many people have perhaps too stable a mindset.
      • May 7 2013: "On a more mundane level, for an individual simply to gather more and more facts without considering their connections, implications, and potential application would be a misallocation of effort."

        Your statement is on point Fritzie. I feel this is one of the major challenges of the information age.

        "Many people have perhaps too stable a mindset."

        I imagine you are referring to individuals with a closed, biased mind set supported by ignorance. I agree that is a negative form of stability. I'm referring to a shift away from the current volatile dynamic between knowledge and power.
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    May 6 2013: What would life be like after a complete, global cessation of learning? I think all humans would be dead within a single generation. Our world is ever changing and we survive because we adapt. Adapting requires learning. No adaptation--no survival.
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    May 5 2013: Historically theories have been developed and then overthrown a couple of hundred years later, suggesting that if we ever did understand everything we would never be certain of it. Also, even if we knew all the laws that governed the universe, it would be incredibly difficult to know why those laws govern the universe.
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    May 5 2013: This won't happen, ever.
    We have more unsolved questions today than we thought we had a century ago. It looks like a paradox, but knowledge creates mystery.
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    Jun 5 2013: We certainly won't stop adding knowledge, but we can hope that new knowledge gives us better understanding of the knowledge we already have. But we could slow down our seemingly frantic search for technical and scientific advancement. Up to now, it seems like we have been more clever than wise: we've devised a lot of stuff that have wound up not being used for the good of mankind or the Earth, but have often damaged both. In fact, a very large portion of our sci-tech research is specifically devoted to finding better ways to destroy one another. I'll be convinced we're advancing as a species when that's just a bad memory.
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    May 26 2013: I've always thought that making boundaries for your knowledge means that you're already smart in some way) Knowledge is a great power and we should be careful in our wish to know everything! Let's live in harmony with what we haven't known yet !
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    May 11 2013: No, there is not such a thing as knowing enough. human beings are curious.
    knowing enough means give up curiosity.
  • May 11 2013: I appreciate your comment Uniquea. I think there's natural change, and then there's the illusion of change mediated by commerce. The latter often creates a feeling of deficiency prior to introducing the new product or service. The computer industry has reduced this to a science. What we lack is placed behind the decimal point in a version update. Do we really require the update? The urgency and persistence of their message certainly would suggest we're on the verge of complete obsolescence. (did you know some companies have the new and improved version of their product prior to releasing the original version...but they wait for sales to dip before they introduce it.)

    Is all knowledge pertinent to a happy life? In the new world of instant information (knowledge) how do we decide what's important? Where do we focus our energies? If all the answers are fed to us in digestible bytes will thought be supplanted by instant rhetoric?

    To state it as allegory; Each morning I check the weather. The knowledge I acquire from several sources informs me of various possible outcomes. Yes, the information I attain is close to the same...but it does vary slightly. Each source is an authority. I then use this knowledge to decide how to prepare for the day(an extra layer of clothing, an umbrella, etc.). I walk out the door and the reality of the weather immediately confronts me, and I adjust accordingly. As the day progresses I compare the prediction (knowledge) to the reality. Sometimes they get it right and other times I wish I hadn't wore shorts.

    Now if you consider the virulent nature of knowledge and the amount we must absorb in a day…from the information about your cousin's parking ticket posted on Facebook to the debate regarding the potential discovery of the Higgs boson. How do we decide what is connected to a reality that truly has meaning in our lives?

  • May 11 2013: Here's another thought…when people take a vacation they often reduce their lives to the essential reality of their rustic cabin? (of course they feel guilty because they've disconnected from the flow of information)

    So now extrapolate this to sometime in the near future when we have satiated our needs and have only endless wants…how are we going to annex ourselves from the insatiable need to change simply to sustain the infrastructure of change?

    Or is change infinitely necessary? (After all the universe doesn't change as much as it transforms from one state to another within a finite set of probabilities.)

    [nobody reads long comments…but sometimes it's nice to think out loud] ;-)
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    May 10 2013: n
  • May 7 2013: I believe that the world is constantly changing so it inhabitants need to change as well in order to survive. Learning is a crucial element to mental, physical, and spiritual growth. How can we make lifestyle decisions if we are unaware of the causes, effects, and alternatives? We learn everyday, the only time we're not learning is when we're dead, and if there is an afterlife, we're probably learning there too.
    Our collection of knowledge is unique among individuals and it does depend on their imagination, if they do not believe certain things to be in existence, they're not going to take the time to learn the ins and outs of those things.
    In terms of ceasing knowledge, that's not possible. We all are gaining knowledge, even if it is something as simple as a new dish to cook for dinner. I believe that humans play around with the line between obtaining knowledge, and tampering with the natural way of things. I believe in the prayer of serenity whole heartily, we can learn about any and everything we want, but we shouldn't try to change or control everything we learn about