Understanding the Universe

I want to understand the world, the universe.

What philosopher, and by extension, what thoughtful person, does not?

Is this a chimerical quest?
Or a chimerical question, a fragenfeil?

We should be suspicious. The question contains two "big" "philosophical" words, understand and world.

As pleasant as it would be, I am not seeking the feeling of understanding. We could imagine a drug that would make us feel we really understand the world. I would enjoy taking such a drug. But that would by itself not constitute and understanding of the world.

Any understanding worthy of the name can be tested.

Nor do we simply seek a factual understanding of the world. This is obviously impossible. Countless facts about the world (the past, the future, the distant) can never be known.

What then might count as successful (philosophical) understanding of the world?

There are many philosophical understandings. You can study them in school. Many are quite venerable. All are plausible. The fact there are so many of them points to a problem: there is NO agreement on this. Nor do philosophers have any commonly accepted method of verification.

Few philosophers even ask what constitutes a philosophical understanding. They just dive with their substantial prose, in and we go along with them. It is a contextual process.

Here are a few possibilities of what kind of understandings might be the kind of understandings we seek:

  • We might seek a new way of looking at, and thinking about, the world we are in. A new conceptual system.
    Philosophers have spoke of obtaining a "perspicuous" understanding. But this appealing metaphor is first of all a metaphor. (What do we lose with a perspicuous representation? The details.)
  • We will need a new understanding of language, because language is the medium of the kind of philosophical understanding we seek here.
  • Or a tying together of the many many human contexts in which we use language.

There are a few quick arguments that an enterprise like understanding the world cannot be done:

  • There is the post-modern faith that all we have, and all we ever will have, are partial and somewhat personal understandings. All books, in all their diversity, are personal understandings that can never be subsumed in any kind of over-arching understanding. The post-modern position is not one to speak of truth.
  • We might think that Science is already doing this. With all its imperfections and limitations, this is the best that can be done. What science does not understand is in some narrow sense nonsense.
  • We might argue that our limited human minds are incapable of understanding the world. Our minds might well be incapable of understanding language itself, as well as the complexities upon which languages are built, and consequently the many contexts in which humans use language.

To speak most intelligently about the "universe" there are several steps that need to be taken simultaneously.

  1. On the one hand we must of necessities speak about the world in very general terms or "words."
  2. On the other hand, we must be deeply aware and deeply suspicious about these terms|concepts|words, with their limitations and their constant tendency to mislead our understandings.

The second step will form the major part of this work. And the second step will cancel much of the blithe self-certainty of the first step, and this, the first chapter.

p.s. Is it not interesting that such a simple request, an understanding the universe, become so problematic as we draw closer to it. It did not seem problematic at first. Probably intuition will not be our best guide here. Our intuition will need some retraining.

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