Hi Hal,

Indeed, if intellectual progress had continued at the rate it had in ancient Athens, for example, and provided that the Greeks overcame their disdain for technology (which promotes as well as feeds off "pure" science), we would have colonised the stars by now, and who knows where our physical theories would be? But an interesting exercise would have been to ask the best scientists or philosophers in each historical period how close they thought they thought they were to understanding everything about their subject. If this could be somehow expressed as figure - a "perceived knowledge index", perhaps - I suspect it would (a) stay remarkably constant over time, and (b) be paradoxically higher during periods where little intellectual progress was being made.

Stathis Papaioannou

Hi Stathis:

As far as I can see knowledge and understanding do not increase monotonically. From what I have been reading lately the ancient Greeks etc. were doing rather well re our quest yet all was virtually forgotten/lost.

Hal Ruhl

At 10:02 PM 11/2/2005, you wrote:

We're very ambitious on this list, aiming for the One True Theory which will explain the universe. It's fair enough to keep this in mind as the ultimate goal, but you have to remember that every generation of scientists has thought this goal was just in reach, no matter how simplistic and just plain wrong their theories have turned out to be. It isn't just scientists who have thought this way either; theologians and philosophers have also regularly come up with Theories of Everything, or Everything Except a Few Minor Details. Given this history, can we really be certain at the start of the 21st century that our present knowledge and theories are somehow fundamentally different to all that has come before?

--Stathis Papaioannou

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