Thank you so much for your response, Victor. I really appreciate your thoughts and feedback.
The study that Pinker describes is interesting, but the conclusion is not surprising. The person made an observation about something in the world. In this case, the person observed himself walking out of the room. The person then gave an explanation for the phenomenon, and his explanation was wrong.
Most of our explanations about what we observe are wrong, all of our explanations are biased, and none of our explanations are completely objective. For this reason and many others, Logical Positivism has been thoroughly debunked.
It’s tempting to then conclude: Our knowledge about the world is bound by our ability to observe the world. We can only observe the world through the filter of our own bias, which is dictated by our biology. Therefore, our knowledge is bound by our biology.
It sounds pretty tight, but there is one assumption here that we should evaluate critically. Is it really true that our knowledge about the world is bound by our ability to observe the world? If yes, then the above conclusion stands strong. If no, then it falls.
So let’s dig in!
The key question is, what role does observation actually play in the creation of knowledge? The “black swan” idea, popularized by Nassim Taleb, was developed many years ago to answer this exact question. The idea goes like this. If you observe 1000 swans and they are all white, can you make a conclusive statement about whether all swans are white? No you can’t, because you have no way of being certain that the next 1000 swans you observe are not all black. Now consider this. You observe 999 white swans and 1 black swan. Now, can you make a conclusive statement about whether all swans are white? Yes, now you can. You can conclusively say, “the statement ‘all swans are white’ is false”.
So what does this tell us? It tells us that the role of observation is not to prove true statements, but rather to disprove false ones. This is how science tends to work. We observe something about the world that we can’t explain. We come up with a whole bunch of theories. We then try as rigorously as we can to disprove our theories. The theory that withstands our most severe testing is the one we tentatively accept, until some future observation refutes the theory, at which point the process repeats itself. This is how our explanations about the world have improved over time.
If the explanation I’m describing is acceptable (and I invite you to criticize it!), then what bounds our knowledge is not our ability to observe the world, but rather our ability to come up with new theories.
So how then do we come up with new theories? That, my friend, is THE great mystery! History shows that explanations about the world (strong ones and weak ones) can come from anywhere, such as observations, myths, religious texts, dreams, reason, intuition, revelation, creativity, or emotion. In other words, our ability to create new theories comes from the realm of the human imagination.
In order to maintain your claim that human knowledge is bounded somehow, you would need to show not that our capacity to observe is inherently limited. Rather, you would need to show that our capacity to IMAGINE is inherently limited. I, personally, can imagine no good reason why this is so.