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article imageHas the human brain reached its limit of understanding?

By Andrew John     Jun 14, 2010 in Science
Britain’s Astronomer Royal, Lord Rees, has said the human brain may have reached its capacity for understanding, and there are some major problems we may never be able to resolve.
Some of the universe’s greateset mysteries, such as the Big Bang and even the nature of our own consciousness, may never be answered, he says, according to the Sunday Times.
“A ‘true’ fundamental theory of the universe may exist but could be just be too hard for human brains to grasp,” says Rees, who is also president of the Royal Society.
Rees draws an analogy with fish. “Just as a fish may be barely aware of the medium in which it lives and swims, so the microstructure of empty space could be far too complex for unaided human brains.”
Martin Rees’s comments come in an interview he did for the Sunday Times, and, says the paper, “is partly prompted by the failure of scientists working on the greatest problem of modern physics – to reconcile the forces that govern the behaviour of the cosmos, including planets and stars, with those that rule the so-called microworld of atoms and particles.”
Rees mentions two notable scientists, Paul Dirac and Albert Einstein. Dirac, he says, used “off-the-shelf” mathematical systems to devise quantum theory. Before him, Einstein had used 19th-century mathematical theories to develop his theory of general relativity.
“The problem faced by their successors,” says the paper, “is that the two theories are deeply contradictory – and no one can find the mathematical tools needed to bring them together into a ‘unified theory’.”
String theory
Many scientists have been working on the idea of a unified theory, but so far there has been no answer. “String theory” seems to be the most promising idea, he says. This suggests that the particles that form atoms are “woven from space itself.”
The report adds: “Such particles, he suggests, could exist in 10 or 11 dimensions. Humans, by contrast, can experience only the three spatial dimensions plus time. [Rees] adds that there could even be other 3-D universes ‘embedded alongside ours’.”
The physicist and former keyboard player with D:Ream, Professor Brian Cox, is quoted as saying: “The idea that certain things are beyond us is quite a bleak one and history does show that we can eventually overcome the most difficult of problems.”
Multiple dimensions, consciousness and the basic question of whether we are real or part of a giant computer simulation (à la The Matrix) are among the questions Rees feels the human mind may always be incapable of addressing.
More about Lord rees, Martin rees, Human brain, String theory, Brian cox
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