A member of our philosophy club (Paul) had stated that “our categories of thought evolved to live and prosper in our planet-size world.” In other words, the concepts by which we interpret reality resulted from our evolution as creatures who survived and prospered in our natural and social environment.
His friend (John) Then raised the following questions:
Does this view entail that in the bigger picture of reality our human categories may fall short of being able to conceive an adequate view of reality? Might there exist a greater intelligence than ours, perhaps an infinite intelligence, capable of knowing everything? In short, since our capacities are limited, might God exist in spite of our inability to know this? Might there be more things than Paul dreams of in his philosophy?
This stimulated me to think some on these questions. Then I offered this contribution to the discussion.
It seems that any philosophy and any theology that humans advance will be limited by our concepts and categories of thought; and further it seems that our language and concepts developed in a context of a natural, physical world. So, even when someone dreams up gods, ghosts, and purely spiritual realms, there’s a sense in which that persons is limited to those categories of thought (many based on our physical existence and physical acts). Yes, we can imagine non-physical beings of one sort or another; but any attempt to say much about the properties and doings of these imaginary beings will rely on a language and set of concepts that developed in a natural context and primarily apply to physical reality: objects, actions, processes. Talk of spiritual, unearthly realms is generally metaphorical talk; and the metaphors applied get any significance they have from our natural, physical ways of talking and thinking.
Our ways of thinking and our ways of effectively doing inquiry into reality may or may not give an adequate view of reality, depending on what aspect of reality you’re talking about. You ask about speculations that greater intelligences might exist who dwarf our limited intellectual capabilities. Of course such possibilities could show the limitations of our view of things. Who knows what intelligent cultures might exist on other parts of the universe? Your suggestion of an “infinite intelligence,” capable of knowing everything seems to be just another way of referring to one concept of a deity that humans have dreamt up. My view is that the very of notion of an infinite intelligence, when fully analyzed, is likely incoherent. At least, there’s much in contemporary physical theories that render doubtful the idea that any intelligence could have knowledge of everything. Omniscience may not even be a coherent concept!
Our scope of knowledge and even our scope of plausible conjectures are limited. And given those limitations, many possibilities remain, including some greater being for whom we are failed experiment. John, the possibilities which we can entertain are a “dime-a-dozen.” Take your choice. But insofar as we’re concerned with human thought and human philosophy, we must proceed with what we have (what our natural, cultural capabilities allow). The dreams and other-world speculations of some people can be taken for what they are: dream and speculations. People dream all kinds of alternative worlds all the time: fiction, mystical visions, theologies, futuristic visions, etc. etc. These are all part of the drama called human reality; but there aren’t any grounds for thinking that these alternative visions and dreams constitute any basis for doubting the general reliability and limited truth of our human-based, naturalistic philosophies. Because we cannot see everything does not show that what we can see is unreliable.