4

Excuse me for such nonsensical question, but for some time, the idea of things that could not be discovered bothers me. I guess that this is an interesting object of investigation, and I also guess that someone already thought about it or wrote one thing or two.

I know almost nothing about philosophy, but I guess that the hypothesis of undiscoverable things, could probalby pose what we know as something with less legitimacy. But again, this might be a meaningless sentence due to my lack of understanding.

I'd be glad to be pointed to works that speak about this.

  • what we have discovered are only contingently so; perhaps Coulombs died at sea. what does not exist cannot be discovered; Columbus’s proposed route to Cathay. and there is more to discover that we haven't yet; a particle here and there of course. it seems possible if not likely that some necessary state of affairs may entail that some other physical process is in principle unknowable. one may think e.g. that time-travel is physically possible but conjecture that no-one can know that they have. these are just some ideas to get you thinking... – user6917 Aug 19 '14 at 15:19
3

There are two important logical results that suggest there are unknown truths. The first are Gödel's incompleteness theorems. These imply that there are mathematical statements that are "independent" (i.e. neither provable nor disprovable) from the axioms of arithmetic. This means that there might be mathematical truths we can't ever prove.

The second, less well-known logical result that might interest you is called Fitch's Paradox, or the Paradox of Unknowability. The conclusion of this argument is straightforward: There are some unknowable truths.

The interesting thing about Fitch's paradox is that if it is correct, then some important substantive philosophical theses about the nature of knowledge must be false. For instance, Kant thought that just what it was to say that something was "true" was to say that it is knowable by somebody.* Obviously if there are unknowable truths, then that can't be right. Fitch's paradox remains controversial.

That should be enough to get you started.

*I'm not an expert in Kant, so don't just take my word for this. But this is the standard "kantian" position among anti-realists today, whether it is fair to impute this view to Kant himself or not.

2

It's not an exact match, but you might best be served by looking into the concept of the Noumenon, which is things that cannot be discerned by the senses.

Kant, in particular, wrote influentially on the topic, describing the noumenal realm as consisting of things that might exist, but that are completely unknowable (to human beings).

1

In his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton laid out the fundamentals of what we now call Calculus and used them to derive the Laws of Motion. Those laws were so precise and accurate that they are still in use, with slight modifications by Einstein, today. Newton also developed the Laws of Optics and the Binomial Theorum. He may have made the greatest contribution to science of any single human who has ever lived.

During his examination of the movement of the planets of our solar system, Newton quantified the, now famous, n-body problem as being the interaction between the gravitational forces of all the bodies involved in the orbit of a given body. Newton declared that the problem conformed to his Law of Universal Gravitation but was fundamentally unsolvable. The problem was solved by the Finnish mathematician Karl F Sunderman in 1906 using methods derived from newtons own laws.

Newton could have done this himself. There is no doubt that he had the mind to do it. He simply decided that the question was unanswerable and stopped looking. That is the danger of calling anything undiscoverable. It is only undiscoverable until someone discovers it. The entire universe lies within the scope of science to comprehend and we have only seen a tiny fraction of what is out there.

Remember that our brains are evolved to chase antelope on the Senrengeti and yet we've used them to put humans on the moon.

  • It's an interesting history lesson, but I'm missing how this addresses his question. – virmaior Aug 19 '14 at 10:39
  • Its an illustration of it would be impossible to know if something is undiscoverable until someone discovers it. proving it to be, in fact, discoverable. I'm putting forth the premise that there are no undiscoverable things, just people who stop looking. – JonS Aug 19 '14 at 11:09
  • Are there unicorns at the ends of rainbows waiting to eat leprechauns? If not, there are things that are undiscoverable. – virmaior Aug 19 '14 at 11:36
  • rainbows have no ends. they are actually circular refractive optical contructs. they appear semi-circular because of our low perspective. Your problem is not that there is something that is undiscoverable but that you lack education on optics. It is impossible for any one person to know everything so there is a tendancy think that things we don't personally understand are unexplainable. This is the origin of the god-of-the gaps arguments favoured by creationists. – JonS Aug 19 '14 at 12:53
  • I think you've missed my point entirely. Is the unicorn discoverable or is it not? – virmaior Aug 19 '14 at 12:56

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