On David and my latest field trip, in Pate Valley, during our day off, when we had nothing better to do, I broached the subject of “perfect information.” My example was that, if I did have perfect information, I would know where to go to find a rare and expensive coin buried in the loam in Yosemite. I probably wouldn’t have to go very far. If I had perfect information, I’d be able to walk down the hiking trail a quarter mile or so, dig down 2 feet or so, and find a $5 gold piece that John Muir or one of his cohorts had dropped, decades ago. Those things are out there, lying around under the dirt, ripe for picking, if only I had perfect information.
“Perfect Information” is another way of saying “Omniscience.” The example is mundane, obviously; if I were omniscient, I wouldn’t waste a lot of time digging for lost gold. It’s just an example.
All that science is, as far as I can tell, is the human yearning to be omniscient. To be like God in that respect. God, of course, besides being omniscient, is also reputedly omnipotent, which is beyond our abilities, and even beyond our possibilities. I mean, I can see my way toward a time when we know everything we can possibly know; I can’t see a time when we’ll be able to do everything we can possibly imagine. So God’s safe, there.
The reason why I can see my way toward a time when we, as humans, as humanity, know everything we possibly can, is because scientists tell us that there are limits to what we can know. Chaos theory; the Uncertainty Principle. These are shorthands for saying “We can’t know everything.” Therefore, at some point in the future—call it ten thousand years from now— humanity will have as perfect a body of information as is possible. There will be nothing more; fact and fiction will be irrevocably split.
I can see how the possibility of knowledge limits can cause despair. It would have bugged the hell out of me 20 years ago, if I’d thought of it.
Now it doesn’t bother me at all. The way I think about it is that there are many ways that we can fantasize that the world is built, but there is only one way that it is really built. The way that it is really built is beyond critique; it is immutable. What good does it do me to rail against the immutable? None. My pitiful burst of blood and bone won’t change the way things are at all.
The very fact that there is a barrier between us and omniscience, I think, is cause for hope. If there was no barrier, no Chaos Theory, no Heisenberg’s Uncertainty, no Schroedinger’s cat, that would tell me (in no uncertain terms) that the universe and everything in it is inherently boring.
But, I’d still like to know where to dig to find a $5 gold piece dropped by John Muir decades ago.
And there’s a long way to go before it gets boring.