Given that there are limitations to what we can achieve with our bodies in a physical sense – e.g., how high we can jump, or how fast we can run – it seems reasonable to think there are also limits to what we can achieve with our minds in an intellectual sense, in that these limits are determined by the unique physiology of the human brain and its ability to offer up the required level of conceptualization.
We might be comparing apples with oranges here, but the intent is to merely illustrate the fact there will likely be an upper limit to the extent that one is able to grasp a concept and run with it, so that no matter how clever one is, there are going to be limitations to our ability to think about the world and our place in it.
The ability to organize and conceptualize the data of our sensory experiences into the reality of the everyday world we must live in is critical to our ability to survive and thrive in it. And that isn’t necessarily a uniquely human ability – and likely exists to some extent within other creatures in the world depending on their level of sentiency.
But only in humans is this capacity developed to the point that it can be articulated in terms of shared ideas, and be the subject of continuing discussion and analysis. Now that we can do this and chimps – our nearest cousins in the animal kingdom – cannot, is not just a function of the ability to use one’s brain more effectively, but also the fact that the human cerebral cortex, the brain’s most highly evolved region, is three times larger in humans than in chimps. The latter simply don’t have the hardware for this – to put this in very simple terms.
And so it might be necessary for our species to receive substantial increase in the grey matter department before we (or the species that supersedes us) will be able to reach the next level of understanding that will allow us to grasp our place in the world more completely, as currently we don’t seem to have much of a clue!
I’m presenting this in the context of our ability to understand those aspects of the world that would have to be larger than us, in the sense that they have gone into the making of us – and underpin the evolutionary push that brought us about. All of this on the assumption that the evolution of matter is an intrinsic, goal oriented process, and in the end not some random activity without necessarily excluding randomness as a means to an end if that would bring about the desired effect, with the understanding there is such an objective.
But insofar as we are able to look back to see how we did come about in an evolutionary sense – and attempt to deduce some underlying principles from this – we can’t look back quite far enough to see what started it all because we can’t conceptualize an earlier world that doesn’t have any humans in it yet without begging the question.
That is to say – we cannot undo what we have added to the world due to our own presence in it, and see it independently from ourselves. In Schopenhauer’s words, in the end it is always a human eye that looks at the world, and a human brain that must interpret the information. As such, we will always see the world from the inside out, as opposed to from the outside in. It would follow that there is no objective knowledge of the world, because all knowledge we have of it is a function of how we encountered the world from the very moment we were able to interact with it and hence always judged from the subject’s point of view.
This also means we are no innocent bystanders with respect to being able to account for the spectacle of the world as we are experiencing it; we are necessarily implicated in its very creation when these experiences give rise to our descriptions of it. At the same time, our capacity to account for it in an intellectual or logical sense is necessarily limited by the creature we are today, and subject to the conceptual processing machinery in the grey matter department.
To summarize, it would appear that – not only an we not reach beyond our grasp physically – neither can we do so intellectually when it comes to understanding the world we see around us in terms that are able to account for our own presence in it – as that would reach beyond the fact of our own creation as human beings, a fact that is given to us without recourse to justification.
Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world. (Arthur Schopenhauer)