ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside Scientific American Volume 307, Issue 3

Quantum Uncertainty Poses No Obstacles to Knowledge

Once viewed as imposing absolute limits on knowledge and technology, quantum theory is now expanding the power of computers and the vistas of the mind

More In This Article

Late in the 19th century an unknown artist depicted a traveler who reaches the horizon, where the sky meets the ground. Kneeling in a stylized terrestrial landscape, he pokes his head through the firmament to experience the unknown [see illustration on page 89]. The image, known as the Flammarion engraving, illustrates the human quest for knowledge. Two possible interpretations of the visual metaphor correspond to two sharply different conceptions of knowledge.

Either it depicts an imaginary barrier that, in reality, science can always pass through, or it shows a real barrier that we can penetrate only in our imagination. By the latter reading, the artist is saying that we are imprisoned inside a finite bubble of familiar objects and events. We may expect to understand the world of direct experience, but the infinity outside is inaccessible to exploration and to explanation. Does science continually transcend the familiar and reveal new horizons, or does it show us that our prison is inescapable—teaching us a lesson in bounded knowledge and unbounded humility?

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content


It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com.
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Dinosaurs

Get Total Access to our Digital Anthology

1,200 Articles

Order Now - Just $39! >

X

Email this Article

X