can the universe be described?

October 9, 2014

can the universe be described?

The question seems innocent enough.

Most thoughtful people might well answer yes, of course.

But it does contain two very fuzzy words: "universe" and "described". It is most likely a fragenfeil.

The "universe" is the world's largest suitcase-word. By definition it will contain everything that exists. Or if we declare that there is something outside the universe (like the Creator of the Universe), then we can easily define another word ("universe" is a good candidate, containing both the limited "universe" and whatever is outside that universe.

And "describe" is another word. Of course the universe can be described falsely or badly. "The moon is made of green cheese."

There are countless things we cannot describe The appearance of a distant planet in another galaxy, most aspects of the past, the future, and all the other things we do not know.

But the question can be taken several ways. I am more interested in the question of whether the universe, or what we know about the universe, can, in theory, be adequately described by an intelligent human mind? Or is the universe in some sense incomprehensible?

It is somewhat of a cliché to say that God is beyond human comprehension. Why do we say that? Some of it is defensive: some of the things that God does seems wrong or even mean. We truly cannot make sense of them. Or we cannot make sense of God creating the universe, and the needing to send his sin|himself to save mankind from its collective sin. Or we being a unique and over-arching entity, we cannot understand Him in any like

Let us think of human language. We cannot name all the processes that go on inside a human being, in all their conscious and unconscious behavior. We have no names for them, and never will as they are unlike anything else.

  • Let us imagine a dense description of the universe that is correct. We might not be able to understand it.
  • Let us imagine a universe that we can comprehend. Can we. Would there not remain intractable questions like. Why is it here? What will happen to it? What is the consciousness of this universe? What is this language in which I am speaking | understanding?
  • Hilary Putnam speculates that a full model of "human functional organization,... may well be unintelligible to humans when stated in any detail."
  • Is there some sense a description not explanation. Physics, trying to hijack the word "universe" to the physical world described by physics and mathematics, presents us with idea of a mathematical picture of matter frozen in a moment in time.
  • Words may not be capable if describing this.

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