Shakespeare in Space #10: Thinking Makes It So

Big things on the horizon. It's been a busy week. Here's a Shakespearean distraction.

Pillars of Creation Hamlet
The Pillars of Creation with a quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI/AURA/J. Hester, P. Scowen

There's no objective experience in life, no absolute good or bad. In science, there's no proof, no truth, and no facts.

All knowledge is a matter of perspective. And perspective depends on how we think about the world around us. Our whole universe is built on the collective thoughts of conscious minds. Everything we know about the world has, at one time or another, been constructed in the mind of a human being. 

Without these collective minds, our knowledge would not exist. And if our knowledge of the universe didn't exist, would the universe itself even exist? It's the classic problem of a tree in the woods—if nobody is around to hear it fall, does it make a sound? If nobody is around to perceive and think about the universe, is it still there?

That may sound like a highly anthropomorphic way of thinking about knowledge. It's not as if human beings are so special that it requires human minds in order for the universe to exist; after all, the universe existed long before humans existed, and will probably exist long after we're gone. But, we didn't know anything about the universe before we existed. Everything we know about the past and future is based on present knowledge; even if the universe did exist before us, there may not have been anyone around to know that it existed at all. 

The thing is that we don't know any better—we're ignorant as to how much other knowledge might exist out there in this vast cosmos (past, present, and future).

If we don't know anything about this other knowledge, we can't say anything about it. There may be alien civilizations out there with vastly more knowledge and understanding than what we possess. Or we might be it. Our collective human knowledge might be the only source of knowledge that exists at this present moment (though this assumes that we know the nature of knowledge, which we don't) in the universe. We just don't know.

What we do know is that everything that we know is dependent upon our thoughts. And in our thoughts, we have a model of the universe—a basic understanding of the cosmos, however limited that conceptualization may be. To some extent, we do comprehend its vastness. Without human beings to continue thinking about this vast cosmos, this particular model would cease to exist—our conceptual universe would vanish.

That in itself is a reason to keep thinking about the cosmos. Our knowledge of this vast thing depends on human minds; without us, our conceptual model of everything that exists would cease to be. And since we only know the universe exists because we're here to know that it exists, we can't be sure that it would continue to exist without us being around to know that it does. 

We don't know, but perhaps thinking makes it so.

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