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10 More Things We Can’t Comprehend

A short while ago on Listverse, a list by a different author titled ‘Top 10 Things You Can’t Know‘ was published. While interesting in its own right, it focused more on ‘confidential information’ than ‘things which literally cannot be known,’ prompting a number of comments from readers expecting the latter. This inspired me to compile my own list of knowledge which is not just held by a privileged few, but is in fact ostensibly unknowable to all of us as human beings. Some of the following items are based in science and are literally impossible to know; others describe philosophical debates that are unlikely to ever be definitively resolved. At any rate, I hope the following list serves as food for thought and a basis for debate.

10

Universe

Universe

Why is the universe the way it is?

As they learned more about celestial mechanics through research, astronomers in the 20th century became increasingly fascinated with the fine-tuning of the universe. All physical constants colluded to create the perfect conditions for life on Earth, so much so that the perfect calibration seemed beyond coincidence. If the laws of chemical bonding or gravity had been even slightly different to their actual values, the Earth would spiral into the sun or worse, would never have formed at all.

This is another issue divided sharply down team lines, with no evidence possible that would reconcile all thinkers. Religious thinkers and proponents of intelligent design have pointed to the exquisite balance of physical constants as proof of a divine engineer, who consciously guides the development of terrestrial life. Skeptics, meanwhile, have dismissed any wonderment with what is known as the Anthropic Principle. This principle is viewed by some as so obvious as to hardly bear stating, while others view it as disingenuous and intellectually dishonest. To summarize, the Anthropic Principle states that it is only to be expected that the universe is tuned for human life – if it weren’t, we would not be around to debate it. It could be that out of a million possible universes, only one could support human life. However, states the principle, it is a given that we would be milling around that one universe, pondering the odds of our existence but with no frame of reference.

Unfortunately, neither the claims of intelligent design nor the tenets of the Anthropic Principle lend themselves to empirical verification. As such, this is another debate that will continue unresolved through the ages.

9

Quantum Particles

Quantum-Jpg

Complete Information on a Quantum Particle.

In the regular, macroscopic world, we know intuitively how an object will react when it is acted upon. If I throw a ball straight up in the air, I expect it to slow down and then fall back to the ground in a predictable manner once gravity has acted on it. Likewise, if I throw that same ball to a partner across the yard, I inherently expect to be able to gauge its location and speed simultaneously. Indeed, for my friend preparing to catch the ball, both of these parameters need to be carefully monitored at all times, lest they end up with a concussion!

Once one enters the realm of subatomic particles, however, the Newtonian physics on which we intuitively base our lives breaks down. Many will have heard the term ‘uncertainty principle’ in relation to quantum mechanics. This principle posits that certain pairs of parameters describing a particle cannot be precisely known at the same time, not even in theory. The primary example usually given to illustrate this is the position and momentum (velocity times mass) of a particle. The explanation is steeped in mathematics but in summary, the more precisely one of these properties is measured, the more uncertain the other becomes.

While the following analogy is a loose one, this makes for an interesting hypothetical game of quantum catch-ball. As a thrown ball comes towards me, I concentrate on the speed of the ball coming towards me and as a result, lose track of where the ball is. As I try to regain focus I concentrate on its location, but now have no idea when it will reach me. As with much to do with quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle is counter intuitive, but is nevertheless based on a solid base of theory and experimentation.


8

Feeling Blue

Blue%20Sky%20Sailboat

What does ‘blue’ look like?

If the above question sounds nonsensical, it is because it is one which defies any kind of meaningful answer. In physics, color is defined based on the wavelengths of light reflected off an object, but this explanation fails to describe the subjective sensation of sight. One does not need even the most rudimentary physics education to recognize and differentiate between colors as they are encountered. Light from the sky enters the eye, and is then processed by the brain in milliseconds to produce an experience of ‘blue’ – one that may be unique to each of us.

Scientists label these sensory-based subjective experiences, such as sight or hearing, as qualia (singular, quale). Almost by definition, it is impossible to know if one person’s qualia are the same, similar to, or completely different from those of the person standing next to him. Who is to say that my ‘blue’ might not be your ‘green’, or vice versa? Or that our sensations of ‘sweetness’ might not differ entirely?

At first blush, one may counter by noting that we can all mostly agree on what color is which, what is a pleasant sound, and what is bitter or spicy. Indeed, that is so – but all that this requires to be true is that each of us is consistent in our own experience. From the time we are born we are educated that ‘this’ is green, ‘that’ is birdsong, and so on. How each of us perceives our qualia in our private, internal worlds is inscrutable and unknowable to anyone but ourselves.

7

Partner’s Thoughts

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What is my partner thinking?!

Odds are, a majority of readers who have been in a romantic relationship of any duration have had this thought multiple times. As all of us can attest to from personal experience, men and women possess differences in their psychological makeup that can baffle the opposite gender on occasion. A part of this difference is due to hormonal and physiological differences (testosterone/estrogen levels, etc.), while a large part debatably arises from social conditioning during childhood (‘Only girls cry!’ or ‘Sport is for boys!’). While it is important to note that differences between individuals are often larger than differences between the sexes, as a general rule our personalities and psychology are shaped – directly or indirectly – by our chromosomal make-up. As a result, the reason he is reluctant to discuss his day, and she insists ‘nothing’ is wrong when she is obviously upset, the other half will never truly know.

6

Free Will

Adam And

Do we have free will?

This is a debate in which every punter has their own horse, but for which no decisive conclusion will ever be reached. To explain why I feel I can make such a bold assertion, I iterate my reasoning as follows:

If we are machines – if the human mind is solely a by-product of brain chemistry – then it is invalid to suggest free will could be a possibility. As complex a system as human psychology may be, the brain is nevertheless subject to the laws of physics, with each neural action determined by past experience and current stimuli. The arguments commonly used to escape this disheartening conclusion invoke one of two wildcards: the soul, or Multiverse theory.

Existence of the soul is understandably a near universal belief amongst the religious. The soul is said to be an immutable and eternal part of our beings that is connected to God and the afterlife, and that bypasses the laws of physics. Certainly, if this is true, free will is possible in theory. But therein lies the rub: because the soul is defined as unrestrained by physical law, it is impossible for us, in our physical world, to ever prove or disprove its existence. All belief boils down to a matter of faith in either direction.

The same can most probably be said for Multiverse theory. This theory posits that every quantum interaction spawns a new universe, so that literally every single potential eventuality has or will occur in one universe, somewhere. Confined as we are to a single reality, it is hard to imagine how this theory could ever be proven. That said, even if it did turn out to be true – if one makes every possible choice simultaneously at every junction, would that be considered free will? Or would it be determination of a different bent?

5

Going Batty

Screen Shot 2012-08-20 At 10.00.23

What is it like to be a bat?

The above question is taken from a well-known essay by American philosopher Thomas Nagel, and is similar in many ways to the topic of qualia. The difference here is that while you and I can agree on a label for a color regardless of our subjective perception, and can agree that both our experiences arise from the same familiar construct of ‘sight,’ some life-forms have senses so alien to us that we literally cannot fathom what they would be like to possess.

On the fringe of potential human understanding is the ability of bats or dolphins to navigate via echolocation. Similar in concept to radar, these animals are able to gauge the distance to various objects by ‘bouncing’ sound waves off them and interpreting the returning signals. Some blind people, such as Daniel Kish of World Access for the Blind, have managed to develop a similar technique using cane-tapping or oral clicking. However, these people are certainly in the vast minority. To the average person, imagining what it is to be a bat is as futile activity as attempting to flap their arms and fly.

Even more foreign to the human senses is the ability of some aquatic organisms to navigate and detect prey through their disturbance of electrical fields. This ability is known as electrolocation, and even the Daniel Kishs of the world will have to join the rest of humanity in failing to grasp what such a trait would feel like to possess. This list is hardly exhaustive – even some senses that are extensions of ours, such as a dog’s wide hearing range or a snake’s ability to detect infrared radiation, are conceptually difficult to contemplate.


4

Perfect Government

Via-Sacra-Roman-Forum

What is the perfect system of government?

For as long as human civilization has existed, government has been necessary for the maintenance of civil order and organized distribution of resources. Every civilization has developed its own codes of law and society. However, history stands testament to the fact that the ideal system of government has never been realized.

Philosophical rumination on the ideal society has a long history. Among the most famous examples of this are works such as Plato’s The Republic and Thomas Moore’s Utopia, the latter of which has been co-opted into modern English as the very definition of a perfect state. While visionary for their time, however, neither society portrayed by these authors would be viewed as ideal in this day and age. For example, both employed slavery or indentured servitude in the workings of commerce, which would not be compatible with modern liberal sensitivities. Plato’s republic was also based on population sizes which would be considered rural today (generally accepted to be under ten thousand). This goes to show both that great thinkers have failed to solve the question to hand, and also that shifting cultural mores over time may render any given system obsolete over time.

In the last century, fascism and communism have been widely reviled in liberal nations for their oppressive implementation and economic repression. Certainly, there is much wrong with these systems. That stated, while it has become largely taboo in the West to speak out against democracy in any capacity, it must be said that it is not by any means a perfect system. Allowing open voting to all citizens is certainly the most egalitarian approach possible; however, by permitting citizens to cast a vote on issues on which they may be entirely ignorant, the decision making process cannot be optimal. Further, this leads to a corruption of the election process. Often a charming candidate can win office on charisma alone, with a majority of voters incapable of or unwilling to consider the actual issues under debate.

Of course, the fact that democracy is partially lacking is entirely the point of this entry. As stated by Winston Churchill in a 1947 House of Commons address: ‘Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’

3

ET Phone Home

Screen Shot 2012-08-20 At 10.06.48

What does ET look like?

If there is sentient life out there in the stars – and based on the sheer size of the cosmos, it is at least a real possibility – what does it look like? I would contend that it is impossible for us to truly envision what an alien race would look and act like, as it is entirely out of our scope of experience. All life on Earth is practically identical when compared to the vast range of life allowed by the laws of biology and chemistry. Most vertebrates, for example, share the majority of functional organs and morphology (head, torso, eyes, legs, heart, lungs and so on). Even plant life and animal life is surprisingly similar – many readers will have heard the factoid that humans share 50% or more of their DNA with carrots and bananas.

Looking to entertainment media for film and TV makers’ visions of aliens, a strong bias towards anthropomorphisation of aliens is evident. While budget is doubtless a factor in earlier science fiction shows (such as the original Star Trek series), the trend continues to the modern day even where directors have much larger budgets and CGI at their disposal (a prominent recent example would be James Cameron’s Avatar). Even where aliens are presented as exotic and frightening (Predator, Alien), the creatures in question share many features in common with terrestrial insects or other predatory species.

While some portrayals of alien life are certainly more imaginative than others, at the end of the day even our most creative storywriters have only their experiences to draw on in describing new worlds. If and when first contact with ET is finally made, it is uncertain that we will even be able to recognize a totally alien life form, let alone communicate with it. Whatever one’s thoughts on the topic, it is a safe wager that ET will turn out to be much more exotic than anybody could have imagined.


2

Evil

Hell

What is evil?

At first glance this question might seem out of place. After all, as humans we all have an intuitive gut feeling for good and evil. However, once you begin to analyze more deeply, the threads of logic begin to unfurl.

The most conservative definition of ‘evil’ would be ‘to willingly and habitually inflict pain and harm on others, for no necessary reward other than their suffering.’ This definition would fit the common perception of the Christian devil, so would appear to be appropriate. However, by this narrow definition some of history’s greatest villains would not be classed as evil. Adolf Hitler, for example, encouraged and organized the persecution of Jews with no regard to their human dignity. However, their torture was not its own goal; his goals were forward-looking and based on a misguided notion of racial purity and patriotism. Certainly he would not have considered himself to be evil.

Would we be happy then with relieving Hitler of his ‘evil’ status? I am sure most readers would emphatically say no. In that case, how do we widen the definition of evil to encompass people such as him? ‘To pursue one’s goals with no regard to the welfare or dignity of others’? Not quite – Hitler doubtless had due concern for the happiness of those German citizens he chose to recognize. So then, ‘to willingly hurt innocent parties in the pursuit of a goal?’ Once the definition has been widened this far, many upstanding military commanders who were heroes of their nations become suspect.

Without going further down the rabbit hole here, I hope the above serves to show that evil can likely never be satisfactorily defined. We know that people like Hitler are evil – we just do – but attempting to explain that conviction leads to confusion.

1

Afterlife

Purgatory

Is there an afterlife?

The ultimate item I assume many would be expecting from a list such as this is the question, ‘Does God exist?’ I have chosen to avoid that question, for the reason that ‘God’ is too abstract a concept to present in blanket terms. For example, even the most ardent atheist would profess a belief in the Big Bang. If I decided to label the events which created the Big Bang as ‘God,’ my non-believing friend would now be a theist by trick of definition.

Instead, I pose the question of whether there is a spiritual life after death; this includes the Heaven professed by monotheistic religions such as Christianity or Islam, as well as reincarnation and other such beliefs held by Eastern religions.

The question of an afterlife has vexed philosophers and laymen alike since the dawn of time, and we are no closer to an answer today than were our ancestors. On the one hand, it is human nature to question the meaning of life and ponder its continued existence once we shuffle off our mortal coils. A life that ends with mortal death is seen by many to be bleak and meaningless, and belief in an afterlife is the only thing that sustains them. However, desire aside, unless the deceased begin returning to us from beyond the grave to openly and unambiguously document their experiences, it will be impossible to definitively prove the existence of an afterlife.

Believers in the paranormal and Near Death Experiences (NDEs) may protest, and certainly many intelligent people belong to this category. However, mainstream science is yet to recognize the former phenomenon, and the latter is mostly believed by the scientific community to be symptomatic of a distressed brain shutting down near death. With opinion divided down two irreconcilable paths and no consensus in sight, it is safe to say that mankind as a whole is no closer to answering the question: ‘what happens to me when I die?’



  • Barry Wanksock

    meh

    • The next time you want to be on top record the time you posted today and then tomorrow come to listverse half hour early and stop all automatic updates on your computer and keep on refreshing the page in a broadband connection.

    • formerly known as Dangsthurt

      What’s it like to be a plant?

      Total meh article.

      • ParusMajor

        Well, you should know.

  • Whoa, “things we can’t comprehend”? You should rename this list 10 More Things YOU Can’t Comprehend. Cause I do just fine.

    • Kyle

      completely disagree. Great list

    • Kyle

      You’re an idiot. Great list

    • Anton

      You’re full of sh*t, there is no way you could comprehend any of the things on the list, nobody can.

      • trolltroller

        including your mum. shes awondering where your dong went

        • daddy cool

          On his head presumably??

    • Xyroze

      Very nice. You are most of what is wrong with society.

    • perr

      I kind of agree actually. I mean as far as quantum dynamics goes, no we can’t ever truly measure the state of a quantum particle but that doesn’t mean we can’t comprehend it. Many of the topics exist today by the very virtue that they can’t be disproven, the reason God is such a strong arguement is if you say ‘you can’t prove God exists’ they can respond ‘that is it is a matter of faith’, the weaker the understanding the stronger their resolve. I am pretty sure I can comprehend what ET looks like, if it is able to exist it must have a source of energy (sun), it must be subject to gravity (which will limit the size and its physiology), all things have to be roughly in the same proportion as on earth (can’t have giant ants cause blood cells roughly grow squared, whereas volume of muscle grows cubed, and muscles need sufficient rejuvenation) so on and so forth.

      • Headmire

        Your wrong the point the author was making is E.T can’t be comprehended because it can be way out of scope with anything you could imagine. Just because life needs certain things on our planet to exist doesn’t mean it’s the same in the whole universe.

      • baffled

        How can you make such broad sweeping assumptions about alien life? You make these statements as if they are facts but you only draw from one sample out of billions upon billions of stars and solar systems. We are carbon based lifeforms here on earth. What is stopping alien life forms from having another base element? I imagine they would be vastly different from life on earth. I feel you miss the point of the list entirely and It is slightly depressing.

        • perr

          That was like the entire premise of my arguement, that you can change little things here and there but the major factors that truely dictate how we would evolve would have to be more or less common. Ironically, you clearly missed the point of what i was saying entirely.

          Why not in such a vast universe can we find aliens with legs made of celery and heads of ducks? play the strong law of large numbers

  • Kyle

    Really enjoyed this list, some great talking points. Thank you.

  • evilmannikin

    yeah sorry this is a terrible list fully half of these things are in fact knowable just because as of know they are not known does not in and of itself mean they cannot be known. for example the e.t if we eventually find extra terrestrial life then we will know what happens what they look like.

    • evilmannikin

      now not know sorry

    • Xyroze

      If you don’t know why many of these entries are unknowable, you probably shouldn’t comment on them. And when we find the first alien microbe, it will do little for showing us what complex life looks like. Even when we find complex life, it will do little in helping us imagine what the next life form will look like.

  • Dogmatix

    LOL the free will bit reminded me of a recent Futurama episode, gotta love that show.

  • 5oh4Lady

    Wonderful list!!

  • Will Trame

    Not a bad list, overall. As I noted on yesterday’s list, I love subject matter that makes one think. There are a number of potential controversial topics listed above. As far as free will goes, I noted one comment on “Futurama” but I prefer that concept being akin to the “free will” that was expressed on the 1960s series “The Prisoner”, ie, free will is what the government SAYS it is. Come to think of it, the whole of modern society today seems an exact prototype of what that particular program theorized.

    • Will Trame

      Perhaps I should have noted a carbon copy, not prototype.

  • M1L0SH

    There are such deep meaningful questions here and all they can say is “first” …
    Anyway my thoughts on Evil and afterlife …
    Evil … “man is measure of all things” so evil is what we agreed to be evil. Morality and values changed over time. For example ritual sacrifice was considered great honor in some societies, many considered slavery or some forms of killing not to be evil. But for us is just unacceptable. There is no absolute good or evil. We invented good and evil …
    And afterlife “i don’t know”, there is no way i can obtain such knowledge so I’m not going to waste my time trying to comprehend it. Religions just made up stories about what happens after death. I’m more content with “i don’t know” answer … Anyway some day we will all die and find out.

  • Missy

    Too heavy going for me. It’s 5.30pm here in Perth, Western Australia, and you want me to comprehend this stuff! Get real!!!

    • Vincent

      It’s worse at 1:30am when the list first appears here PST (California). Yes, I’ll wait up for it.

    • John

      Whoa I’m also in Perth. Small world. Have you ever noticed that up until a few months ago the new list would always arrive at four in the afternoon but now we don’t get it until five? Might be a daylight savings thing somewhere in the world or something. I’d always have a quick break at four from work or uni or whatever I was doing but I’m out of the door at five anyway now.

      • Vincent

        I was born in Perth… can that count for something? :)

      • arandompersonotherwiseknownasbob

        You Australian people are lucky. Here in California I’d have to wake up at 1:00am to get to the list first

    • ni99a

      Hey, you haven’t answered my question from the previous list.

      How does the vitrified fort feels to the touch?

      • trolltroller

        it feels like my c0ck on your face

      • Paradox

        Glossy.

    • nya

      Wondering how this works?

  • Super Hans

    To present intelligent design and the anthropic principle as equals as neither can be empirically proven is ridiculous. The anthropic principle is a scientific conjecture that logically explains why the universe seems fine-tuned to support life, whereas intelligent design would have you believe that there is some greater being turning the dials on some sort of cosmic thermostat in order for their creations to survive.

    The question for number 10 could have been along the lines of “How can humans effectively comprehend the universe as a whole, given that every instrument they use to do so is part of the universe it is trying to measure.”

    • Ben creagh

      exactly, starting with that dismal argument I decided to skip the rest of the list. Intelligent design pfft

  • smallkid08

    excellent list.

    • Will Trame

      I like the Led Zeppelin avatar. Come to think of it, here’s another enigma: how did the band members come up with their unique little symbol? Robert Plant I can understand the feather as he was the group’s chief lyricist, but the other three puzzle me.

      • Maggot

        how did the band members come up with their unique little symbol?

        By the way, there is also a reletively lesser-known fifth symbol, used in the liner notes next to backup singer Sandy Denny’s credit. The whole idea for the concept as well as the origins and meanings of each symbol has been pretty well investigated and documented over the years. I’m surprised you haven’t looked into it. The Straight Dope (among other sources) has a good explanation of the origins and meanings, but his info on the Page/Zoso symbol is outdated and doesn’t include more recent information noted elsewhere. Each symbols’ origins are neatly summarized here by the venerable Wiki:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zoso.svg

        From the link:

        The original four symbols were created by Led Zeppelin in 1971, probably from the following sources:

        1. Jimmy Page’s Zoso symbol from a sigil for Saturn from page 51 of an 1850 reprint of a 1521 French book Dragon Rouge and Poulet Noire (The Red Dragon and The Black Hen); also seen on page 31 of Frinellan’s 1844 book Le Triple Vocabulaire Infernal Manuel du Demonomane. A variation of the symbol also appears in Jerome Cardan’s 1557 book De rerum varietate (page 789 of this 1580 reprint).

        2. John Paul Jones’ symbol (non-interlaced triquetra overlaying a circle) is from page 33 of Rudolf Koch’s 1930 book The Book of Signs (Koch died in 1934).

        3. John Bonham’s symbol (three intersecting circles) is from page 32 of the same book by Rudolf Koch. (it’s also the logo of Ballantine Beer btw. Lol)

        4. Plant’s feather symbol is likely a simple merging of two symbols from the “Feather Symbol of Truth” illustration on page 105 of James Churchward’s 1933 book The Sacred Symbols of Mu (Churchward died in 1936).

        • Will Trame

          Thanks for the information. Actually, many of Zeppelin’s album artworks are full of cryptic messages. Wasn’t aware of the Sandy Denny symbol on LZ IV. If I can locate my old vinyl copy of that album, I’ll look it up.

  • avenger280

    I cannot dismiss the existence of a afterlife. Just because we cannot see something does not mean it is not there. It only means that we do not have the ability to detect it’s presence at the moment. Nothing in this world is ironclad. There is more unknown that we can comprehend.

    • NW

      At the same time, just because people believe in something does not make it true. So until it can either be disproven or proven to exist, people are going to go with which assumption they think and/or want to believe is right. And considering the fact that believing in life after death makes the concept of death less terrifying, most people will believe in its existence.

      • avenger280

        By the other token, just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. For centuries, disease and suffering were blamed on sin and evil spirits. It wasn’t until the invention of the microscope that awareness of an entire universe was realized. It had always been there, but up until then there had been no way to validate its existence. I have no problem with non-believers. I just prefer to bear in mind that just because I can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

        • Jono

          But then you have to make a couple more leaps of logic – why have you chosen your beliefs over other, equally fantastical beliefs?
          If your logic suffices for one religion, it suffices for them all.

  • richiachu

    These lists are finally getting better. I thought that everything on here had its own difficulty in thought.

  • Will

    Great List, got something to think about now

  • There is only one way to find out if there is life after death.

    Unfortunately, once you have it is very hard to share the answer :(

  • Nice list. True imponderables.

    By the way, there both is and isn’t free will.

    You’re welcome.

    • Paradox

      What, like a fluctuation between existence and nonexistence?

  • Arsnl

    And once again a list about quantum physics is inaccurate.

    • a list about quantum physics is inaccurate

      Imagine that!

      ;-)

  • cpjt

    not one to complain about lists as usually if i dont like the list its because the topic doesnt interest me or something, but this list is just pretentious bull crap

    • nocebo

      What exactly was pretentious about it?

  • Nice list, gives me something to argue with people about.

  • Jy D.

    Idk this list is kind of wishywashy haphazard. No real direction, but interesting notions

  • oouchan

    I think the title has left a lot to be desired. As with the 1st list, those were items we weren\’t allowed to know about…..however, with this list, we just haven\’t got there yet. Imagine what we didn\’t know 100 years ago…and what we might know 100 years from now. Science has a way of putting superstition to rest. We might not be able to know everything there is to know about evil or a so called afterlife, but we know tons about the universe….of which none comes from superstitions.

    Overall….a fun list to debate on, but not much substance for anything else.

    • undaunted warrior 1

      Wll said !

  • honkster7

    @ Missy , hello fellow Sandgroper , nth or sth of river ?

  • Marco

    There are much to discover about gravity or Quantum particles for example, but for now the things “we” know about these 2 first topics are perfectly understandable.
    For the rest of the topics, i guess we will never understand them, at least in this life :P

  • Jazz

    Great list. I have been thinking about qualia for some time without realising it had a name. I just thought it my own ponderings.

  • zagging

    The best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship. But it can’t last.

    • ni99a

      Similar to the Meiji era and Chinese Imperial system.

      • trolltroller

        similar to the way i dictate your face

  • About #3:

    Give Stanislaw Lem’s book “Solaris” a read. It’s a fascinating examination of this exact dilemma.

    Ignore the movie though.

  • Bobby TonTon

    Great list, interesting and easy to grasp

  • SECRET FBI AGENT

    OR CAN YOU?

  • Good Ol’ Horseface

    #11: What the hell Peter Muriniti was thinking.

    #12: What number I’m thinking of.

  • lovesya

    A 5 year old can answer these questions besides the partner one

    • Maggot

      besides the partner one

      Lol, so why do you omit that one?

      • Paradox

        Because a 5 year old doesn’t have a partner.

        • Maggot

          You walked right into that one, P. Welcome to the “I didn’t actually read the item” club.

    • Avi

      And what answers would he give, and why are those correct?

  • Toastly

    Pretty awful list, imo.

  • esaar

    hitler will remain a villain as long as the western civilization exists. as soon as a new civilization gets to the top new villains will be labelled out of the current modern civilization. its just the way we are.
    we always need some people to be labeled as villain in order to prove our own agenda.
    truly humans are the most dangerous specie out there.

  • Hep

    I’m sorry, but this list was awful, these are not things that can’t be comprehended, it is more things that are fun to think about. Through a knowledge of basic psychology I can understand what my partner is thinking, with a knowledge of basic science I can understand what it is like to be a bat. These are not that hard to think about budddy.

    • nocebo

      How can you read those entries and still be so far off the mark?

  • Chris

    i know the answer to all of those! But if i tell you you’ll need to find about afterlife on your own shortly afterwards ;)

  • magoopaintrock

    What does it feel like to be a strawberry? Or a glass of chocolate milk? Is there an after-afterlife?? What about an after-after-afterlife?? These are easy once you start saying whatever random crap pops into your head.

  • Blckbrd

    Every man has a right to fulfill his own will without being afraid that it may interfere with that of others; for if he is in his proper place, it is the fault of others if they interfere with him.

  • ww

    Good: as God does.
    Evil: as God does not.
    Unfortunately, we don’t know everything God does and thinks.

    • Ben

      Assuming God exists. Yes that would answer it, but we don’t know so how can we define it.

  • Henry

    EXCELLENT List! Best in a while! Many of the “things” listed I have pondered about many a time.

  • Adeel

    This is probably the best list I’ve ever read on listverse. Highlights those things that are still unambiguous and cannot be proved or disproved. Yet, if something can’t be proved, people start to firmly believe it doesn’t exist. For most of the time humans have been on earth who would’ve believed in unbelievably tiny lifeforms, micro-organism. If you can’t see them, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Only that we found it very late. Who knows some of these things can be proven in the future as we haven’t reached the end of science, nowhere near it. Till then we’d live in harmony if people can just shut up vigorously debating on ambiguous things and pretend to know all.

  • New superstar

    DAFUQ list… Such stupid rubbish… When saw the title thought that, wow, it will be a good read, great list to read but turns out its the list of stupidity of the author….for example , #10….is like asking why something is something???… Stupid too stupid… I miss the old listverse…

  • nocebo

    I’m getting the impression that this particular list was too much for a lot of readers’ minds.

  • ListverseRocks

    One of the best list I could not easily forget. I like it. I like these types of topics where all you can do is sit and wonder all the “what ifs”…

  • Listverse commentor

    Mmmmmmhhhmmmmmm, very interesting….. I like it! 10,9,8,6,4,and 2 really made me think there.

  • David Hopkins

    “Literally every single potential eventuality has or will occur in one universe, somewhere.” That means Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, or any other fictional story and or people could be real in another universe.

    • Paradox

      I have always believed that.

  • Ben creagh

    It should be renamed 10 ways the author tries to justify religion to himself and others. What a shit list.

    • Joe

      Agreed a terrible list, not one fact!

      • Avi

        Yes, because most unanswerable questions are very factual.

  • Cubone

    Nice list Peter, well written! I’ve had the #8 discussion with my kids.

  • Carlos

    on the list entry about colors, what about cameras? sure the colors in the resulting image can also be interpreted differently by individuals but since a camera is a machine doesn’t it capture the true colors

    • since a camera is a machine doesn’t it capture the true colors

      Not necessarily. Whether or not a camera captures an exact, true recording of the scene in front of it, including colors, depends on many, many things. In fact, it would take a lot of explaining to make it understandable why it may not do so or, even if it did, why the resultant image may not.

      • Legato

        You kind of miss the point of qualia, I believe. It’s all about the interpretation on the colors! What you are talking about with the camera is the fact that certain sensors will register certain wavelengths, which is true for the human eye as well, but qualia concerns the interpretation of the sensory information we receive. That is to say, we can agree on the wavelength characteristic of the light, but does our brains interpret the information in the same way, i.e. do we see the same “color”. That is what the whole “what if my red is your green” refers to. I’ve read of some research that suggests that our interpretations may not agree, since they have, with the help of gene therapy, given animals a new kind of cone cell not normally present in their species and thus make it possible for them to see a whole new set of wavelengths (I think that the experiment was giving some kind of monkey the ability to see red, but I’m not sure…). Anyway, the point being, it seems that their brains adapted just fine to interpret the new information, suggesting that colors are “learned” not only in the sense that one learns what to refer to them as, but also the brains interpretation of them, which of course could have interesting implications not only in philosophy but also in medicine and future applications of gene therapy. This last part is just my two cents though.

    • Legato

      Ops, replied to the wrong poster… ah, well, you can see for yourself!

  • Ken

    At last. A thinking man’s list.

  • Joe

    Why did you list this terrible list?

    • Paradox

      Why did you write this pointless comment?

  • dm21865

    Excellent list and nicely written!

  • TonyDee

    OH LOOKY!

    Another pseudo-intellectual list from a zealot with religious overtones.

    “I’m too dumb to think, so I’ll just say its impossible”

    Just because YOU (list author) cannot comprehend or imagaine, does not mean others have the same limited and tainted view of reality. Its funny how you post creationist dogma (‘intelligent’ design) and at the same time try to appear to be knowledgeable in higher reasoning.

    This really annoys me:

    “…soul is said to be an immutable and eternal part of our beings that is connected to God and the afterlife”

    No, its said by religious types who are too scared to live their life in the here-and-now and think there must be overlord to hold their hand for life. Childish and stupid… and if you think it isn’t, then prove the existance of any deity and prove the existance of this soul thing you speak of. Got proof?

    …yep, thought so.

    Most of the list is “its too complicated for my little mind to comprehend, so everyone would agree its too difficult becuae i say so”

    NO.

    • PeterM

      I find these claims that I’m a zealot, or am pushing Intelligent Design, strange. I was simply trying to present all philosophical positions as impartially as possible.

      I *will* cop the criticism that the article title may be off-putting, but I did mention at the top that some items are not scientifically based and instead “…describe philosophical debates that are unlikely to ever be definitively resolved.” The items you’ve taken issue with seem to be those latter ones.

      Obviously from your comments, you’re a believer in the Anthropic principle and an atheist. All well and good – for all you know, I am too. Or maybe not, what does it matter as far as the article is concerned? My point in the article, and as I wrote, was that neither the Anthropic principle nor Intelligent Design lend themselves to empirical verification. So for you, the Anthropic principle is basic common sense. For the believer in Intelligent Design, *that* is basic common sense. Can they prove it with evidence? I say, no, they can’t. Can you prove the Anthropic principle is correct? No, you can’t either. You can say it’s beyond obvious and doesn’t NEED to be justified, but your opponent is going to come back with exactly the same argument to support their own position. That is why the debate will continue indefinitely. At no point anywhere in that argument am I stating my own opinion.

      I am a firm believer that religion has no place in science, and vice versa. The former is faith-based and metaphysical, the latter, observation-based and physical. As long as you don’t go mixing the two together or conflating them to advance an agenda, I don’t believe that being religious or otherwise has anything to do with your own intelligence, moral character or anything of the sort.

      Do we have a soul? I’d wager nobody can scientifically prove that we do. I agree with you there. And based on science alone, life does end with physical death – once the brain has died, there is no vehicle left to foster consciousness. But none of that matters to a religious thinker, who believes in a metaphysical existence that is separate to this mortal universe. Again, can they prove such a spiritual realm exists? No, not to a scientific standard, not by any means. But can you see before the beginning and after the end of time, or outside the universe? If you can, you should start your own religion, but I suspect you’re being inflammatory for the sake of it.

      Also, I don’t know what your criticism of my definition of the soul is supposed to be, or why it annoyed you so much. I wrote it is “SAID” to be. Your retort is that it is “SAID to be by religious types…”, Putting aside the fact that your opinion of those religious types was less than charitable, so how was I wrong then? Again, I get the feeling you’re trolling or simply trying to provoke.

      • Maggot

        Unfortunately the guy probably won’t take the time to appreciate or even consider your reasoned reply. I thought it was a pretty good list, man. A lot of folks besides him seem to be having a problem with your use of the term “comprehend” in the title, as if you are questioning their intelligence or understanding of the given topic(s). Obviously you meant nothing of the sort, which strikes me as being amusingly ironic. For them, perhaps a better word might’ve been “fathom”.

        • PeterM

          Thanks Maggot, I appreciate the feedback. I told myself I’d stay out of the comments, but I was puzzled by how many people thought I was taking sides in these entries – I thought I at least needed to clarify that point.

          By the way, as a long-time reader of the site, I always look forward to your and the other regulars’ comments. Take care ;)

        • Tony Dee

          “present all philosophical positions as impartially as possible.”

          …by concentrating on such limiited perspective such as cristianiity.

          Next time you have the urge to make a list, don’t presume to think you know what you are doing. “Comprehend” and then having one-viewpoint-religious views makes people turn off extremely quickly.

          “all philosophical positions”

          is not one-viewpoint.

          • TonyDee

            forgot “?” at thevery end.

          • PeterM

            I checked back in after a few days, and saw this comment.

            Tony, if my wording made you think I was pushing Christian agendas, then I apologise. If you can point me to the phrasing that made you think as much, I’ll take that into consideration “the next time I have the urge to make a list”.

            However, I feel you’re looking for something in the article that just isn’t there. Yes, I already admitted that the use of the word “comprehend” was sub-optimal – “reach consensus upon” would have been more accurate, but that doesn’t make for a very catching header. ;)

            I just want to set the record straight here and say that I never wanted the debate to be about Intelligent Design as such. My comment, as you can plainly see was “religious thinkers AND proponents of Intelligent Design” (emphasis added here). The focus was ‘religious thinkers’, which is not limited to Intelligent Design or, for that matter, Christianity in general.

            Allow me to go further.
            “Intelligent Design” need not be religious at all. You may have heard of a fringe theory that we live in a hologram simulation, designed by future humans or by aliens. For us to exist in that simulation, the universe would need to be tweaked such as we could survive – that’s just a basic input parameter. If I say that “Intelligent Design” is referring to aliens rather than God, does that make the subject more palatable to you? Something to think about, in any case.

            I do hope your comments are sincere, Tony, and not just trolling. If the former, I’m happy to discuss further.

          • Maggot

            I already admitted that the use of the word “comprehend” was sub-optimal – “reach consensus upon” would have been more accurate, but that doesn’t make for a very catching header.

            Hmm, far be it for me to tell you what you were thinking or what your intent was, but my interpretation of what you were trying to demonstrate in your list was not that these things are topics that are endlessly debatable with an unachievable consensus, but rather that any debate about them is pointless because consensus is unachievable. Taking it further, we can all contemplate and imagine whatever possibilities or plausibilities, but we just don’t know what we don’t know. Hence the term “comprehend”. I’d suggested “fathom”, but comprehend works too if it’s taken in the context that I’m trying to describe, rather than just whether or not a person comprehends a given subject at large.

            For example, yes we all comprehend what the term “infinity” means, but we cannot really quantifiably comprehend it. Look into the night sky, not at some finitely distanced point or object like a star, but just at the blackness in between, and how do we describe how far, or just what “it” is, that we are seeing? We can’t. It’s not comprehendible. Similarly, a blind person would not be able to comprehend our descriptions of a color to them. Criticizing your mention of religious elements or perspectives in a given entry kind of misses the more abstruse point that I think you were trying to get at.

          • Avi

            Only two of his points mention religion, neither one mentions Christianity, and both say it can’t be proven.

      • Uncle Hijo

        Peter you are a genius!

        Your article was truly amazing and the best one I have read in a very long time. Even your argument to TonyDee shows your unbiased and logical perspective.

        I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to write such an article. Really made me think.

        To the wankers who criticize this article I strongly suggest you read it a few times and if you stil dont understand it or want to go criticize the author go to some teen chat site and talk to people on your level who will understand you, you sad sad person.

        Once again good stuff Peter. I hope to see more articles from you :)

      • Avi

        The Anthropic Principle is just saying “if we couldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be here”. It doesn’t need to be tested because it is a tautology. To say it can’t be proven scientifically is like saying you can’t prove scientifically that all chairs are chairs, it’s true by definition so there is no need to test it.

  • RossBoss

    This is the best list in a long time. The previous one too

  • brian256

    Gravity – I’ve never heard a good explanation for simple gravity. Can anyone explain it? Sure I understand what it is – but how & why?

    • him

      lol
      fail

  • tom

    Very well written. One of the top articles to date.

  • Craig

    Doesn’t simple understanding of our eyes’ rods and cones show that we all see blue as blue, green as green, etc.? These parts of the eye would have to be completely different in each of us if we interpreted different wavelengths of light differently.

  • Adriano

    If the number 8 were true, there would be no reason for the traffic signs to be yellow or red to ‘call more attention’ since ‘the color that draws more attention’ would change for each person since a color like red could be gray. If it does exist, the change is minor.

  • gazmend

    I would say evil is to willingly hurt innocent parties in the pursuit of a immoral goal

  • doofy

    I don’t remember anything before being born, what would make me think I would remember anything after I die?

  • Louis-Alexandre Simard

    The anthropic principal is flawed in that it looks at the problem inversely. It asks how is it that the universe is so perfect for life as we know it. If only one of the 4 forces were slightly stronger or weaker life as we know it would be impossible. Well maybe its not the universe that is fine tuned for the appearance of life as we know it but that life as we know it is perfectly adapted for the universe we have.

  • Wingman22

    Number 2 I think can easily be explained. Evil all comes down to selfish desire. While Hitler may not have considered himself evil in his mind, in the spectrum of humanity he would be considered such because he’s basing his actions and thoughts on his own selfish desires regardless if anyone will benefit from it.

    What he may have considered to be an ideal world and an ideal race may not be what is considered an ideal world and race for others. The fact that he exterminated innocent lives to pursue this vision of his reveals his selfish ambitions and disregard for other lives. All of us desire to be happy in this life, when something interferes with our happiness we react. It makes much more sense to kill off someone who is interfering with the happiness and well being of other people in order to preserve the happiness and well being of others than someone killing off other people to pursue his own happiness, well being, and views.

    All in all, no ones life is more important than another and no ones thoughts are more valued than another. With that in mind being good is looking outside of yourself and behaving in a way that portrays value for humanity as a whole while being evil is not looking beyond yourself and behaving in a way that portrays disregard for other lives and the happiness of others in order to benefit one’s own life and personal views.

    • perr

      that’s not a good arguement at all.

      Socrates believed men are inclined towards evil, an act of ‘evil’ is just an act of ignorance. If you entirely believed something is right you act on it.

      I am told A is evil but that is based on the standard that the culture that tells me A is evil is itself not evil.

    • ParusMajor

      Except that Hitler didn’t base his thoughts and actions on his own selfish desires. He thought his actions benefited the German people (the non-Jewish German people, but anyway). In the short term, they did. He created jobs for everyone, he assigned Ferdinand Porsche to create a reliable car that anyone could afford (that became Volkswagen), he built Autobahns (the best roads in the world) , he didn’t try to become filthy rich.

      Then again, Holocaust. Warmongering. Those quite efficiently erased all of his good achievements in everybody’s minds. Was he evil? I doubt it, at least not in his own mind. Was he misguided and confused? Definitely.

  • Great list. I’m looking for something like this all the time.

  • Bridget

    Yes. There is An afterlife. There is also a beforelife. It is the same. It is source god love. We are it. We come from it. We are on earth in bodies now. We are not alone. The universe is alive with life. We suck at perceiving all the life around us because we are limited sensory ability.

  • adeyb

    A very interesting and well written list!

    I have a another to add, infinity. Perhaps the ultimate in science for incomprehensibility.

  • plato88

    pretty awful? yes it is..

  • Asterisk

    Death isnt just a journey it’s the living right, so when it comes to you smile and let go it’ll be alright .

  • 1gav

    7- Partner’s thoughts?

    I know exactly what my partner’s thinking. She’s thinking it’s all my fault, I’m wrong and I’m the one that should be blamed for everything that goes wrong in her life.

    You learn to read your partner’s signals as time goes by.

  • Chris

    Actually it has been proven that some people process colors different from others, some people can see many different shades of khaki that others can’t.

  • Freddie

    I’ve always wondered, even as a child, whether my perception of things is the same as others perception of the same thing. I was always ridiculed by friends for my wierd thoughts, but I guess such things weren’t foremost on the minds of other 12-year-olds.

    Hence, it was nice to learn about qualia. Still doesn’t answer the question but at least I know the term for it now.

    • Michaela

      Yes, me too ever since I was very young.

  • MT

    This is one of the dumbest list I have ever seen here.

    • Uncle Hijo

      Your a c0ck sucker MT

      This author is a genius and your too dumb to understand it

      This is definitely one of the BEST lists I’ve ever seen here

  • ohenlightenedone

    Everybody experiences color more or less the same, because the human body only ranges about .2% in genome differences. People who are color blind don’t see color the way everybody else does because of tiny DNA mutations.

  • Cobey CObb

    To the author of this list, I really liked it. I think this is one of the best list I’ve ever read on Listverse and I’ve read just about everything posted for the last year as well as a ton of the archives. I was like, ‘Oh here we go, more stuff only idiots can’t comprehend” but your list is freaking great. Keep it up!

  • The list was kind of interesting but number 6 felt a little heteronormative, I’m sorry.

  • bparry

    I’d say evil is any intentional action which causes harm to another or makes another less. How corrupted is the common idea of evil if we want to make exceptions for military generals or the like

  • michaela

    I ALWAYS ponder about number 8, ever since I was 10! I try to explain it to other people and they have no idea what I’m talking about! Finally I read about it on Listverse! thanks guys!

  • Daniel

    You had me for a few posts but then you sort of rattled off.

  • hawede

    Excellent List! The writer keeps impartial on choosing and explaining the topics. Mind blowing since most of the items explain some of psychological knowledge that I tried to figure out since years ago! great job!

  • FMH

    Or shorter: Life

  • Rogie Ramilo

    To generalize all the topics above, whether we will agree to this or not, the truth is – Man’s wisdom alone is limited, insufficient, not enough. Because we are humans, we often make mistakes, wrong assumptions, wrong belief, etc. The rise and fall of men throughout the histories of all the generations will prove this once and for all. That’s men’s cycle in all the generations is simply to rise and fall… Oftentimes it’s all because we try to twist one truth… that there is God whom created everything and that HE controls everything, the universe, the earth, and up to the tiniest particles in it, even the every bit of atom. All life forms is one perfect creation… too bad too many geniuses tries to decipher a lot of things regarding the creations only to boast eventually of their superiority and after acquiring a high level of intelligence take upon them the pride and praises and forget about the existence of God. The Universe is one perfect creation, every single particle moves in accordance to perfect timing that’s why we are alive and we exist in harmony with all the other creations… it’s just a matter of belief on how things differ. I believe one thing, you believe another and all our beliefs are oftentimes complicated. But I am certain after this life on earth is over, we will all know that there is God, that His ways are perfect and how we claim our status next life will depend on how we live our lives according to our free will or the free agency. Each day is a matter of exercising our freedom to choose – right or wrong. Godly thoughts against the corrupted and twisted ways of men will be the basis on what will our conditions be after this life. We didn’t sprung on earth for nothing. I know that God, Our Heavenly Father put us all here to learn His perfect ways and eventually return to Him, or maybe not. It’s always a matter of choice. The perfect government of men? there is none. Corruption existed in all the histories of men throughout the generations of times. When God claims the earth at the second coming, I know we will see what perfect way can govern us …. We are God’s children. We have One Father in Heaven. To know everything is to know the Plan of salvation. The answer to all the topics here is in the scriptures.

    • Paradox

      Careful, Rogie.It sounds like you’re trying to convince prole that everything(in science)that they know is wrong.

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  • coloUr !!_

  • loustormoub
  • just saying

    #1 question is already answered we just chose not to believe the answer, thinking its religious stuff but its not.

    think about this : if this life is only about studying from elementary till college then work afterward .. gosh it would be so boring .

  • Richard

    How about, how does gravity work?

    • That old 4th grade joke?

      “Gravity works because the earth sucks”.