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Consider the relationship between a human and a dog.

A dog can be very intelligent or not very much. Border Collie is considered to be the most intelligent dog breed in the world, while Afgan Hound stands as the dumb counterpart. But neither of these breeds can ever reason like a human does, or perceive reality like a human does. In fact, their ability to reason about the world is limited by their biology and there are limits to what dogs are capable of knowing, regardless of their relative intelligence.

Could there be such a relationship between a human and Entity X? In fact, if there are clear-cut intelligence tiers in the animal world, isn't it reasonable to assume there are not just more intelligent species out there, but species or entities who operate on an intelligence tier completely beyond our reach and who we may not even be able to converse with?

In other words, is our biology limiting us from knowing everything?

  • Hello, a quick and small contribution here : I've heard N. Chomsky make a comment to something related, namely our epistemological and gnostic limitations by absence of some predispositions. Could not recall which video on youtube, but you might want to research it. His stance is the following : if a certain concept is absent from our innate language, then we would not even be aware of its absence let alone its potency. There are other developments you could investigate, but I am not well-versed in the biological side of it. – Gloserio May 29 at 12:25
  • Obviously, there are things too complex for us to grasp. But what is the question? – Conifold May 29 at 18:54
  • Why do you assume we are limited from knowing everything? – PeterJ May 30 at 9:13
  • See New Mysterianism. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_mysterianism – user4894 Jun 3 at 21:15
  • I feel you'd be better off studying mysticism, which claims the possibilty of omniscience, and not mysterianism, which denies it. . – PeterJ Jun 4 at 10:11
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There is no universally accepted reason to believe that our level represents, or is close to, a hard upper limit on "intelligence" (a notoriously difficult concept to give an uncontroversial definition of, by the way). Furthermore, it's trivially true that we don't know what we don't know --meaning that we cannot define the limits of our ignorance. There's also no shortage of topics that we do know we don't fully understand. So, it isn't hard to make a commonsense argument in favor of your proposition. Perhaps, therefore, the more productive question is what argues against your point of view. I can think of at least few viewpoints that would disagree:

  • Scientism (science as a belief system, not as a praxis or a methodology) - Many people hold the (non-scientific) belief that science is (theoretically) capable of understanding everything worth understanding about the universe.

  • Physicalism - This is the belief that all things in the universe are foundationally physical, and can be understood, ultimately, by understanding the physical laws they obey, laws which we already, in large part, understand. There's a lot of overlap with scientism, but this is founded in a claim about what the universe is made of, rather than how we understand it.

  • Exceptionalism - This argument starts from the concept that we may be the only truly intelligent beings in the universe (we don't have any evidence there are aliens out there anywhere) --in which case, are we not the measure of intelligence? Does it make sense, in that context, to talk about intelligence that exceeds human intelligence, knowing that it doesn't exist?

  • Special Creation - This is the religious version of exceptionalism, it's largely the same as the above, except as ordained by God. However, we usually conceive of God as having "intelligence" that infinitely exceeds our own. So that adds a little tension here, in as much as most religious people would NOT agree with the idea that we mere mortals can know and understand everything.

1

Our direct perception of reality through our senses is entirely dictated by our biology. Take for example the fact that we can see colours and hear sounds. Our brains represent different wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation as colours, but the wavelengths themselves do not have "colour". Similar, our brains represent different wavelengths of vibration as sound. Without our biological input and interpretation mechanisms, neither colour or sound exist. Additionally, we can only perceive and interpret very narrow ranges of these phenomena. We can only see electromagnetic waves in the range of 400-800 nm, which is why we can't see gamma rays, radio waves or other parts of the spectrum. Similarly, we can only hear certain frequencies of vibrations.

What is unique about humans (at least on earth) is that we have devised methods for us to extend our knowledge beyond our senses by the use of sophisticated tools and logical reasoning.

I also think it might be valid to consider that there is a difference between knowledge and intelligence. Again, our biology may limit our ability to acquire knowledge, but this is not the same thing as it limiting our intelligence. Dolphins, some primates and even some species of cephalopod all exhibit signs of intelligence (and consciousness as well, which may be more important than intelligence), but their biology does not allow them to interact with the world in the way that we do.

Where does this leave us?

For your first question:

..isn't it reasonable to assume there are not just more intelligent species out there, but species or entities who operate on an intelligence tier completely beyond our reach and who we may not even be able to converse with?

I think it is reasonable. However, our ability to converse or interact with them may not be a sign of our relative intelligence levels. If some alien species (or our far future descendants) survives Fermi's "Great Filter", then they will have potentially millions of years of an evolutionary head start on us, and will likely be far more intelligent than we are. Frankly, any Artificial General Intelligence that we create will rapidly become far more intelligent than we are.

And to your second question:

...is our biology limiting us from knowing everything?

This depends on how we define "knowing". My biology prevents me from "knowing" what an electron is "like" in the sense that I "know" about cats (for example). However, I can use the tools that my biology has allowed me to develop to describe how an electron behaves in certain circumstances.

  • If by limitations is meant 'lack of perspective' then yes we are limited. P. Ouspensky in "Search for the Miraculous' put it this way. – Charles M Saunders May 29 at 23:56
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Limits of human brain are well known

For example, short term memory is usually limited to 7 "items" , humans have difficulty remembering long numbers when they hear them just once. According to Dunbar humans are limited to 150 people with whom they could maintain stable social relationship, and could recognize around 5000 faces. Both men and women are bad at multitasking. Etc ...

To understand Entity X, we could use as a starting point people with certain special mental skills, like for example mental calculators, animals like whales that have large brains used for navigation etc ... It will be not difficult to imagine being able to process much larger quantity of information then humans, concentrate on many tasks at the same time, and simply perceive things humans could not. For one such being it could be easy to visualize complex phenomena like for example those used in String theory, or to find patterns in fractals. In other words, even if we as humans live in same universe as Entity X, and are exposed to same set of perceptive stimuli (Entity X does not "see" more things that we do ), it may be able to do much more with this sensory input and to create much more complex mental formations from them. This is similar situation as with humans and dogs: dogs could count to about five, after that flock of sheep for them becomes just "many sheep", while human could know exact number of sheep in that same flock.

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