The philosophical sub stream of epistemology concerns itself with questions surrounding the modes, methods and capacities of human knowledge acquisition. It is a very complicated subject with a lot of debate and disagreement among scholars. There are those like John Horgan, who envision the decline of scientific scrutiny into these questions. They contend that the tools offered by science are inadequate to grasp a highly complex and variant natural biological process. For example, in his book The End of Science, John Horgan gloomily predicts “an impending dissolution of science, that the great era of scientific discovery is over or very nearly so… the great discoveries and revelations that have made up the history of science as now yielding to incremental, diminishing returns.” (Horgan, as quoted in Bauer, 1997) While this kind of doomsday pessimism might come across as overblown to some, they are not without any merit. Some of the observations made by scientists like Horgan are true. For instance, they reckon that modern science is becoming more and more speculative and less concrete-evidence based. One can see this trend as science entering a “post-empirical mode”/”ironic science” where “scientists from a vast array of fields are generating questions that will never be subjected to experimental test.” (Bauer, 1997)
Science’s constant pursuit of knowledge and truth leads to a quandary, whereby all scientific inquiry is directed toward gaining understanding of a few fundamental questions relating to the universe and human consciousness. If scientists are unable to unlock these basic secrets of our world, then science might soon hit a stumbling block around which it cannot get around. Those who are critical of the utility of scientific inquiry point out, that, even ascertaining answers to these fundamental questions might quench our curiosity but might prove of little practical utility. So, either scenario suggests an End of Science.
On the other people like Thomas Kuhn and Derek de Solla Price, who celebrate the possibilities of science and its centrality to understanding limits of human knowledge and experience. These proponents of science emphasize that instead of a linear-progressive model, scientific inquiry can just as well undertake a paradigm shift toward achieving more dynamism. They foresee “the capacity of human imagination and its potential-not just in pushing the limits of science.” (Bauer, 1997)
Mathematician Leibnitz has contributed to our understanding of human limitations in acquiring knowledge. He famously coined the term “human finitude”, behind which were questions such as “How much can someone possibly know? What could reasonably be viewed as an upper limit of an individual’s knowledge–supposing that factually informative knowledge rather than performative how-to knowledge or subliminally tacit knowledge is to be at issue?” (Rescher, 2005) To essay an answer to these questions, let us consider a hypothetical attempt by a human to acquire maximum knowledge. For this thought experiment, we are assuming that this hypothetical person (whom we shall call H) has perfect recall and an infinite memory. In addition, we assume that he has a life-span of 70 years and spends all the time in pursuit of information and knowledge. For his entire life-span, H spends all the days in reading for at least 12 hours per day, which might yield a “lifetime reading quota of some 7.4 x [10.sup.9] words”. (Rescher, 2005) This quantity represents the literal consumption of words and not the actual facts and theories understood. Accounting for this, we arrive at a lifetime’s access to some [10.sup.9] truths for H, which approximates to one billion facts, theories, ideas, etc. This theoretical upper limit is several thousand times more than any of us usually achieve in our lifetimes. But the capacity of H is an impressive upper limit “to the information that a human individual could probably not reach and certainly not exceed.” (Rescher, 2005) While this calculation answers how much knowledge one human being cn possibly acquire, it doesn’t tell how much is in principle knowable. Leibniz comes up with a suggestion based on The Sand Reckoner theory proposed by Archimedes.