a limit on human creativity?

Circle Limit IV—Heaven and Hell © Escher

With our creativity, we explore a space of art and culture, of science and technology, that expands outwards in all directions. By perceiving reality more clearly, we develop more sophisticated skills and tools that, in turn, deepen our perception of reality. It seems natural to believe that this virtuous circle is accelerating us towards an infinite horizon. But is this true and, if so, in what way?

The further back we look, the less has been explored, so that a single person can make great advances, sometimes in several sectors at once. The first explorer of a sector lays claim to the foundational part of it. As each new sector is found, fewer are left to be discovered, and are likely to be further out and narrower.

As children, we must trek over this discovered country from its centre. With each generation, in any sector, we have to travel further to reach its frontier. The further we are from the centre, the more difficult it is to discover anything new, and the smaller any discoveries become. Ever more people and resources, ever more complex instruments, are required to push the frontier onwards.

This process of exploration does not seem to be accelerating—never mind it being an exponential curve ramping up to the ‘singularity’. Though the frontier tends towards an infinite circumference, its radius seems to be tending to a limit. We may be trapped within an event horizon we can never hope to escape.

(One way to escape this event horizon may be to increase human creativity. This could perhaps be accomplished by some kind of genetic or technological enhancement—but, most likely, these would only push the limit a little further out. Another way might be to supplement human creativity with that of artificial intelligence: here is an argument about that possibility.

It may seem foolish to put limits on what our science will discover—reality is likely to surprise us. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there are good reasons to suppose that our ability to penetrate reality may be limited—if only because the instruments we need to probe it are already beyond our capability to construct. As an example, consider how physics has resorted to String Theory, considered by many to be more metaphysics than science.

Posted by Ricardo

writer and blogger

6 Replies to “a limit on human creativity?”

  1. Quite. 140m or so possible combinations for the 6 lottery numbers. Imagine the 7(8) musical notes and several octaves in the audible range. We haven’t even heard a fraction of what is possible. But music is made by playing combinations of known notes. Science’s fascination is in searching for new ‘notes’ (laws and explanations).
    Metaphysics is perhaps best described as what religion does for believers; comes up with possible answers to save us from madness induced by ‘not knowing’. ?


    1. that’s what I meant by ‘the circumference tends to infinity’ (as demonstrated by the Escher drawing)—the number of possible creations, probably in any field, is potentially infinite: what is finite is the number of significant ‘categories’ that are discovered/invented… eg. cubism, 12 tone serialism.

      I would define metaphysics more broadly—thus my example about String Theory—though, in the end, even that does fit your functional definition 😀


      1. I am fascinated by the string theory, but far from sold on it, not even remotely. That’s the one thing that makes me think we come up with ‘extraordinary’ concepts precisely because we cannot proceed forward without filling the gap. The problem of course is the possibility that it’s just a wild goose chase.


        1. we need to have a conversation about Calabi-Yau Manifolds…


  2. Your second and third paragraphs. I am quite fond of the third one in particular, although I have niggling feeling there is some additional explanation.
    Re reaching our limits and needing ever more complex ‘machines’, the Hadron Collider accelerator and the its huge effort in replicating what happens in universe constantly with little effort, is a case in point. But, as well as there being a limit to our ability to discover and push the frontiers, there may actually, equally, be a finite amount of information that can be discovered. Otherwise we may have to assume that there are new rules and laws coming into existence all the time, as we speak, that would by nature make some old rules redundant and make for a crazy universe.
    Metaphysics is quite fascinating, and wild at times.
    The most fascinating accepted scientific rule for me is that nothing ever stops to exist, ever.
    Maybe because I am getting old and looking for an alternative immortality.


    1. I also had the Hadron collider in mind—to build the one that they would need to delve further, would require a collider the size of the solar system…

      And I too suspect that there may be limits to what we can know. But I don’t suspect that most people feel that there is a limit to what we can do with music or art generally… and yet, looking around at what we’re doing in all these fields, it’s hard to see that we’re not just making endless variations on things that have already been done…

      And though there may be endless games to be played in metaphysics, imagine that that game is even more limited than science…


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