Sunday, July 22, 2007

Is Knowledge Finite?

Forgive me for waxing so philosophical on a blog that was originally intended to be entertaining and not overly "deep". However, I've been musing about the notion of knowledge and wondering whether there was a point at which we could no longer absorb more?

For instance, do we learn and learn and learn until supersaturation occurs, thus requiring us to get rid of one thing in order to make room for something else? Or can we conceivably keep learning (without having to engage in any mental "spring cleaning") until we die?

Obviously, thoughts and ideas take up no physical room in our three-dimensional world, but surely there could be limits as to how much information our brain matter can reasonably hold. Or maybe not and I'm full of baloney and obviously need to learn more about the science behind the question.

So I'm throwing it out to any visitors to this blog:

What do you think?

Are we limited not only by how much time we have to learn, but how much space we have to "shelve" our boxes of knowledge? And does it really matter? (Let's face it... few people reach their limits in terms of knowledge.)

~ just wonderin' ~


jason evans said...

I have a theory that memory is like a film loop. Some people have bigger loops than others, but everyone eventually comes back to the beginning again and begins to re-record.

I think there is always room for more, but pieces are also dropping off the other end. For that reason, the people we are truly shifts over time.

The Quoibler said...


I've always pictured knowledge as linear, but you have me rethinking my premise. If it's cyclical, then a person's evolution would involve leaving some learned ideas, behaviors, et cetera behind. (Or do those ideas and behaviors simply become relearned in a more advanced way that takes up less "space" in this context?)

I have no idea what I'm saying, mind you... but it seems like this discussion could get very deep! :)

As always, thanks for stopping by to chat!


Alex Railean said...

I think that we have to take into account the efficiency of the storage process. One instrument we can use to deal with large volumes of data is abstraction.

Instead of memorizing things by heart, we can learn a principle which can be used to generate the information we need. For instance: I only need to remember the multiplication table in order to be able to multiply any 2 numbers. With this knowledge, I can multiply any N numbers (multiply the first 2, then process the result and the next number, and so on).

So, some brain space is taken by certain information; once we come up with a better way to express that information, we store it in a different format, and the previously used space can be reclaimed.

Forgetting is a feature, not a bug - this is the mechanism we use to free up unneeded space and recycle it for other purposes. I've described this in an essay - Mnemonic chains.

As you've noticed, I did not answer your question, I just pushed the bound further.

If you force me to provide an answer, it will be "of course it is finite" - the brain has a finite size, therefore it cannot store an infinite amount of information.

How far is that bound? Can't tell, because a human will die sooner than they run out of space (death is another feature). If we assume that we can live twice as long - then we'll survive thanks to forgetting, and thanks to higher abstraction layers (new, shorter ways of expressing previously acquired knowledge).