Quote for the Day

Then, when the talk had begun to lull, his uncle turned to him and said, “Do you ever wonder, Howard, about the questions we can’t ask?”

“Can’t answer, you mean?”

“No. Can’t ask.”

“I don’t understand.”…

“Think about a dog,” he said. “Think about your dog–what’s his name?”

“Albert.”…

“He functions in every way normally, then, within the parameters of dogness. He’s an exemplar of his species. And he has the ability to learn, yes? He can do tricks? Learn from his experience? And he’s aware of his surroundings; he can distinguish between you and your mother, for instance? He’s not unconsicous or impaired?”

“Right.”

“But despite all that, there’s a limit on his understanding. Obviously so. If we talk about gravitons or Fourier transforms, he can’t follow the conversation. We’re speaking a language he doesn’t know and cannot know. The concepts can’t be translated; his mental universe simply won’t contain them.”

“Granted,” Howard said. “Am I missing the point?”

“We’re sitting here,” Stern said, “asking spectacular questions, you and I. About the universe and how it began. About everything that exists. And if we can ask a question, probably sooner or later, we can answer it. So we assume there’s no limit to knowledge. But maybe your dog makes the same mistake! He doesn’t know what lies beyond the neighborhood, but if he found himself in a strange place he would approach it with the tools of comprehension available to him, and soon he would understand it–dog-fashion, by sight and smell and so on. There are no limits to his comprehension, Howard, except the limits he does not and cannot ever experience. So how different are we?….We can ask many, many more questions than your dog. And we can answer them. But if there are real limits on our comprehension, they would be as invisible to us as they are to Albert. So: Is there anything in the universe we simply cannot know? Is there a question we can’t ask? And would we ever encounter some hint of it, some intimation of the mystery? Or is it permanently beyond our grasp?”

–Robert Charles Wilson, Mysterium

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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