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Do we humans as a species have an inherent limit on our intelligence and thus a limit on how much we can understand? Daniel C. Dennett in this book From Bacteria to Bach and Back on pages following 372 gets into that idea, but he sidetracks the issue with, “As soon as you frame a question that you claim we will never be able to answer, you set in motion the very process that might well prove you wrong: you raise a topic of investigation. … Asking better and better questions is the key to refining our search for solutions to our “mysteries,” and this refinement is utterly beyond the powers of any languageless creature.” (p. 374)

What I would contend, actually quibble, is that we have many very smart people and very refined educational systems to hone those people’s minds, but even those minds elevated to their finest moments are capable of meeting questions that might have answers in their minds but which they can not demonstrate to others even if they presented the answers clearly. But even this isn’t facing the question, because if one mind can answer a question then another one can too if given enough time and opportunity.

With every greater refinement of an obscure question, it becomes possible to tweak it into something else which may bring to everyone’s attention a satisfying answer but which isn’t answering the original question. What inevitably happens is that the community of inquiring minds will get bored with a problem and move on to others. I’ve attended many discussions where people discuss defined questions quite heatedly and bring up a plethora of fancy responses, but in a round-robin summation, each individual presents their understanding in terms that they like and which have only modest overlap with the other people’s opinions. Unless there is a real-world, that is, scientific-type testing of the arguments, these conversations end up in fluffy nebulosities. Everyone leaves these conversations feeling happy and that they are right and in their own minds they are right.

When in these conversations, I try to force people into physically actionable intellectual positions. That is, that they go out and do things that real functioning people can do. Chopping wood, carrying water as the classic sages purportedly did, but with a difference in that their actions were helping humanity.

Perhaps with CRISPR technology, it will be possible to generate bigger and better-organized brains that can answer specific types of questions that our present brains can not answer, but those creatures might not be considered humans anymore. These uber-humans might provide working realities for us ordinary humans to use effectively even though we don’t have a clue as to why these new things work. We routinely flip a light switch and the lights come on, but we don’t have an even rudimentary understanding of why the new light bulbs actually function or how the electricity is generated. So, in many ways, Dennett’s mysteries are already being presented to us every day in a myriad of functioning situations. Dennett wrote, “The interaction of our world culture is presently one that can answer mysteries that are beyond the powers of any languageless creature.” I would add, humans have evolved our power of speech and combined with an evolved capacity to accept other people’s stupidity.”

Read Dennett’s books as a point of departure for your own discoveries to share with the rest of us.

 

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