The Seven Liberal Arts

The Seven Liberal Arts

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Stargazing in New York and the Infinity of Intelligence

There's something about looking up at an expansive sky of stars that makes people start to contemplate the meaning of life (the universe, and everything.) I suppose in New York there aren't many stars visible and one cannot really see the sky in the first place, so they turned to another source of inspiration—the people. And thus was born the popular website and Facebook page, Humans of New York, and its offshoots. One human goes through the city and interviews other humans for their life stories, insights, and a photo shoot. A year or so ago, it was so popular that I'd be unable to scroll through my newsfeed without seeing several of those posts. And it was for that reason that I irrationally but perhaps understandably began to hate it.

But I was quick to find good reasons that it disturbed me. Just what did the author of this site think he was doing? It seemed a whole lot like it was portraying some message of sentimental "life's meaning is what you make it/about your experiences" pretentious nonsense. The way so many would fawn over it was sickening to me. As if we humans, who didn't even cause our own existence, were the final arbiters of the meaning and purpose of our existence! Sheer buffoonery! Infuriating nihilism! How dare they? I thought.
How dare they?
And what else, what did we voyeurs think we were doing, reducing the lives of others to a paragraph and picture to be consumed, absorbed, stored away and forgotten like just another piece of information in our vast collections of knowledge and experience? Oddly enough, one of the humans-living-in-New-York made a similar observation recently, but in a more positive, beautiful, and oh so inspiring way:
"I am the culmination of every single experience with every single person I’ve had in my life ... I view my life as a canvas and people splatter themselves on my canvas. Everyone’s a different color. I think that my life gets more and more colorful, and I would love nothing more than for the world to know that I am so incredibly grateful for every single experience with every single person that I’ve ever locked eyes with."
Not surprisingly, my anger towards the project has chilled in direct proportion to the decrease in posts I saw, as fuel for the fire ran out, so to speak. But then that one popped up suddenly, after many months of deprivation, and instead of anger it threw me into a fit of thinking. (That is common for me, and part of the reason I found it appropriate to start a blog.)

After all, what she said makes some sense. It is a characteristic of us intelligent creatures to internalize, in a way, the world around us. It might result in what appears to be loathsome objectification when it concerns other people, but as long as we live we will never be able to fully understand the entirety of another person. Or the entirety of any other part of the world, for that matter. That is why we study. Surely every scientific truth about the natural world has existed as long as the things to which they pertain have, regardless of whether or not we knew about them. And yet it seems that something, like a new color, is added to the world every time a discovery or realization is made. That addition is, of course, in our own intellect, where now we know something that we did not know before.

A goldfish might only know the cubic foot of its aquarium, and forget even that quickly, occasionally bumping into the glass. A bird might know what a substantial area of the surface of the earth looks like. But we humans of New York and Beyond somehow can know things about the furthest reaches of the universe and can speculate down to the most microscopic level. As individuals we are limited by the time and effort it takes, as clearly one person might spend a lifetime studying and learning from one thing, while another spends a lifetime studying and learning from something else. But intelligence, the capacity for knowing, understanding, and extrapolating things, considered in itself, has no limit.

Hypothetically, we could assign each person who has ever lived to know a certain set of truths, with no overlap, and that collective "intelligence" would be much greater than any individual's, in that world or this real one. Even in that hypothetical world, it might be possible that the extent of that which is knowable reaches beyond that collective intelligence. But further, suppose that all knowledge is exactly equal to all knowable things. In that case, intelligence could go further, in creating hypotheticals. (Knowledge is only of things known, and things can only be known if they exist. If they do not exist, however, they still might be creatively imagined through intelligence.) And the realm of what could be, added to what is, is infinite.

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