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Posted by Michael Wright on January 25, 2002 01:50:29 UTC

I have been reading David Hume's "Enquiries: Concerning the Human Understanding" lately and something puzzled me – but here is a little background information first:

Hume categorizes human knowledge into two categories - Matters of Fact and Relations of Ideas.

The Relations of Ideas category includes the Pythagorean Theorem and other things that are independent upon their existence in the universe – if there were no triangles in nature, the Pythagorean Theorem would still be correct. Mathematical knowledge fits in here.

The Matters of Fact category includes statements like “The sun will rise tomorrow,” “Fire produces heat,” and “My friend lives in France.” Scientific knowledge (re: probable events, but the contradiction can still occur) fits in here. Although I disagree with his grouping all scientific thought in here, I believe that Hume sees Mathematical knowledge as the framework of Scientific knowledge – Scientific knowledge is Mathematical knowledge applied to the real world.

Hume argues that at the root of all matters of fact is ‘cause and effect.’ Experience gives humans the basis upon which cause and effect is applied. He says that Adam, with all his analytical skill, would not have been able to know that water would suffocate him; he would not have been able to deduce that fire would consume him.

Here is what I would like your thoughts on:

If there were born a human with a very great analytical skill and a vast intellect (but no experience with the real world), do you think that he (or she) could arrive at the fundamental equations of the universe (which we have not yet been able to reach)? Or could he (or she) come up with the weak form of the Anthropic Principle?

Or would he have to begin with experiencing physics firsthand – dropping apples, measuring the speed of light, colliding subatomic particles, et cetera to work up the pyramid, so to speak, toward the most fundamental equations (from which he would be able to derive that fire would burn, water would drown, etc.)?

I appreciate your feedback in advance =)

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