On Knowing Everything 3/14/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

No, despite the fact that I’ve written a blog post or two, I’m not going to claim that I am “all knowing”. Believe me, what I don’t know could fill volumes, but of late I’ve been thinking about knowing everything. Most likely it’s because I’ve recently watched a couple of movies that references the concept. But what would it really mean to know everything that there is to know?

If you actually did know everything that there is to know, would it include things like how to cure every disease that ever was or will be? Does it include knowing everything since the beginning of time, or before, or beyond the end of time? Does it mean having the knowledge to be the best at any given sport even without practicing? Or being a mechanic? Would it encompass knowing what everybody is thinking?

They’re questions that Hollywood writers and producers conveniently avoid. In one of these movies, the main character develops the capacity to utilize a full one hundred percent of her brain, as opposed to the estimated ten percent that we presumably use today, although for some of us its far less than even that. In the story line, this was sufficient for the individual to not only know everything, but to control her own cell development, the actions of others, to move matter as a form of telekinesis and even travel through time. But would using the full capacity of our brain be sufficient to know everything?

I recently built a large computer for my research, with a lot of memory, but having that memory doesn’t make it full. Currently I’m running quantum mechanical calculations on six different (but very similar) compounds simultaneously in my research into the nature of the hydrogen bond, and even with that, the diagnostic software tells me the memory is only about twenty percent utilized. Having the capacity doesn’t give access to knowledge.

Now, there are a few different types of knowledge. Yes, knowledge can be acquired through study just as I’m hoping to acquire new and never-before known information through my study, but there’s more. There is such a thing as hereditary knowledge, for example, knowledge that dates back to our ancient ancestors. My dog, when she was with me (I do miss her so) had never seen a bird of prey in her life, and yet when my then-girlfriend turned on her ceiling fan when the light was on, Bella hid from the shadows passing overhead. No doubt this was hereditary knowledge, a database passed along in her genes that allowed her ancestors to survive.

There is also an inherent understanding of the laws of physics. The terminology and mathematical equations may not be known to somebody specifically, and yet everybody knows that a ball will naturally roll downhill, not up. My dad hung a plywood snowman my mother purchased without using bolts on the brick wall segment in front of our house. He used loose wire on two “L” hooks, attached to the snowman with “S” hooks under the arms. Without having had physics or understanding vectors, he knew that the tension in the wire would hold the L hooks tight and the friction would hold the snowman to the house. For decades, he would hang up that snowman around Christmas, and never did it fall.

As it turns out, while we may not know everything, we do know the upper limit of knowledge. Heisenberg, famous for saying “I dunno”, showed up the physical limits of knowledge with his Uncertainty Principle. Mathematically derived, it tells us exactly how much can be known in the physical world. It’s something like the speed of light, wherein we will never be able to reach that specific limit.

More than one of my students has asked if perhaps that’s the difference between being human and divinity. Perhaps God doesn’t have this limit. I honestly don’t know the nature of God, not being God myself, but if there is such a being, then one of the greatest gifts She has ever given me is the gift of NOT knowing everything. I’m driven by my intellectual curiosity. I was taught the basics of the hydrogen bond in the mid-to-late ‘70’s, and today, finally, well over forty years later, I’m finally getting a handle on the questions that have plagued me for years, and yet this research has arisen time and time again as new ideas and hypotheses formulated and drifted through my mind. If I knew everything, these and other preponderances that occupy my mind would, well, vanish. I cannot fathom a mind so full of knowledge that it simply has no room for wonderment.


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