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Is absolute truth possible?
Posted: 20 March 2007 03:06 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Yes, absolute truth is possible. 

Let us begin at the most basic level: [i:f18926d9fa]appearances[/i:f18926d9fa].

It is an absolute truth to say that the way things appear to you, is the way they appear.

I’ll repeat:

You can be absolutely certain that the way something appears, is the way it appears.
Mathematically, this is best expressed as:  A=A

A=A is an absolute truth.

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Posted: 20 March 2007 03:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Is absolute truth possible?

Yes, absolute truth is possible. 

Let us begin at the most basic level: appearances.

It is an absolute truth to say that the way things appear to you, is the way they appear.

I’ll repeat:

You can be absolutely certain that the way something appears, is the way it appears.
Mathematically, this is best expressed as:  A=A

A=A is an absolute truth.

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Posted: 20 March 2007 03:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Re: Is absolute truth possible?

[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“CoryDuchesne”]Yes, absolute truth is possible. 

Let us begin at the most basic level: appearances.

It is an absolute truth to say that the way things appear to you, is the way they appear.

I’ll repeat:

You can be absolutely certain that the way something appears, is the way it appears.
Mathematically, this is best expressed as:  A=A

A=A is an absolute truth.

It should be written: “The way something appears to you is the way it appears to you.” Not, “... is the way it appears” (period), since something may well appear one way to me and another way to you.

Ah yes, indeed.  Point taken.  I should have added that last bit on there.

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Posted: 20 March 2007 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Here are three more absolute truths (all of them rest upon the same principle of cause and effect)

1) To have a notion of self without a notion of otherness is a logical impossibility.

2) Consciousness cannot percieve distinction, without it contrasting with another distinction.  (e.g. background and foreground) 

3) A sensation can only exist in contrast to another sensation.  (e.g. taste, color, heat, coldness, pleasure, pain)

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Posted: 20 March 2007 05:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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1) To have a notion of self without a notion of otherness is a logical impossibility.

I think this is a linguistic issue rather than a matter of absolute logical truth. Self is difficult to define and discuss without reference to other, but a self-aware consciousness might exist in isolation with no sense of the possibility of any other in existence. Certainly the religious often describe the mind of God as a self that encompasses all that is and so without any true other. I don’t necessarily find this idea convincing, but it is not logically impossible.

) Consciousness cannot percieve distinction, without it contrasting with another distinction. (e.g. background and foreground)

If by this you mean that no distinction can be perceived between two things unless there is some distinction or contrast to be perceived, than yes this seems logically true.

A sensation can only exist in contrast to another sensation. (e.g. taste, color, heat, coldness, pleasure, pain)

This doesn’t seem to make much sense. One sensation can be perceived without reference to any other sensation. If you mean we cannot perceive something without a change in the state of the perceiver brought about by the stimulus perceived, than sure. Our sensory apparatus functions on the principle of an interaction between the environment and the apparatus that results in a state change in the apparatus.

The last statement seems to be an example of an effect that requires a cause, but I’m not sure where you’re headed in terms of the question of absolute truth or whether anything can exist uncaused.

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Posted: 21 March 2007 12:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Well, I am not convinced that any of these are necessarily “absolute truths”, except perhaps #2. The only absolute truths I know of are truths of logic or mathematics. (And mathematics reduces to logic plus set theory, so at base all “absolute truths” are truths of logic).

If you can demonstrate that these three statements are logically valid, then I will agree with you. But the work is not yet done in providing three plausible examples. Many examples may appear plausible but in fact be false. E.g., Kant believed that Euclidean space was an “absolute truth”. Kant was no dummy. But not only is it not “absolutely true”, Euclidean space is in fact false. So we have to be very careful in following our knee-jerk intuitions about what appears to be “absolutely true” in the strictest sense, as versus what we simply believe is likely to be true.

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Posted: 21 March 2007 06:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]

1) To have a notion of self without a notion of otherness is a logical impossibility.

I think this is a linguistic issue rather than a matter of absolute logical truth. Self is difficult to define and discuss without reference to other

If self is synonymous with consciousness, then it’s logically impossible. 

but a self-aware consciousness might exist in isolation with no sense of the possibility of any other in existence. Certainly the religious often describe the mind of God as a self that encompasses all that is and so without any true other. I don’t necessarily find this idea convincing, but it is not logically impossible.

If you come to a clear definition of consciousness, then you will see that consciousness without a sense of other, is a logical impossibility.

How do you define consciousness?

[quote author=“Brennan”]
[quote author=“Cory”] Consciousness cannot percieve distinction, without it contrasting with another distinction. (e.g. background and foreground)

If by this you mean that no distinction can be perceived between two things unless there is some distinction or contrast to be perceived, than yes this seems logically true.

Yes, that’s right.  So there is an absolute truth.  Distinctions are both the cause and effect of distinctions. 

[quote author=“Brennan”]
[quote author=“Cory”]
A sensation can only exist in contrast to another sensation. (e.g. taste, color, heat, coldness, pleasure, pain)

One sensation can be perceived without reference to any other sensation.

No, that’s incorrect.  A sensation only makes sense because it is relative to a contrasting difference. 

For instance,

the speed of something must always be measured relative to something else. 

That’s an absolute truth, and it rests upon the same principle as the other ones I mentioned, namely, cause and effect.

If you mean we cannot perceive something without a change in the state of the perceiver brought about by the stimulus perceived, than sure.

No, I mean we cannot percieve something (like speed) without that something (speed) contrasting with something else (a slower object).

Our sensory apparatus functions on the principle of an interaction between the environment and the apparatus that results in a state change in the apparatus.

Yes, and so there’s another absolute truth.  The sensory apparatus (or anything for that matter) cannot change without a cause.

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Posted: 21 March 2007 06:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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If self is synonymous with consciousness, then it’s logically impossible…If you come to a clear definition of consciousness, then you will see that consciousness without a sense of other, is a logical impossibility

You keep repeating this, but you haven;t in any way demonstrated it.

How do you define consciousness?

Obviously, there is no simple, pithy statement that sums this up, as our understanding of it is rudimentary. Essentially I think of it as a subjective state of awreness or perception occurring as the result of complex and temporally overlapping neural network activations in the brain. I think this awareness or perception can be of external things (your “other”) and usually is. However self-consciousness implies an awareness of one’s own internal processes, and I think this can exist without an other, though in practice I wouldn’t say it very often does. I would also say that consciousness is, in some ways, an illusion created by the fact that we feel as if we have mental continuity in time and space, though in fact this sense of continuity is an artefact of the functioning of our nervous systems. It’s a useful artefact, and I’m willing to treat it as if it were what it feels like it is most of the time, since I think the perception we have of how our minds work is a good enough model for the actuality on a day-to-day basis, if not a good model for the true underlying neurology. It does lead us astray into dualism pretty easily, but again there is a difference between viewing consciousness as a phenomenon and experiencing it and utilizing it in a more quotidian way.

No, that’s incorrect. A sensation only makes sense because it is relative to a contrasting difference.

For instance,

the speed of something must always be measured relative to something else.

Bad example, since speed (aka velocity) is not a sense but a measurement or property of a moving object. A sense (taste, touch, vision, olfaction, hearing) is the perception generated by sensory transducers responding to stimuli (usually but not always external) and the subsequent neural processing of the signal generated by the transducer. It is, additional, our subjective perception of this pathway. So a sensation requires a stimulus, a transducer, and a neural system to process it and generate perception, but each sensory pathway can function quite independantly of the others. If I see yellow, it makes no difference whether any other color exists or is seen by me. The particular wavelength of light stimulates the relevant molecules in my retina, then neural processing and subjective perception follow. Now, this is and example of a cause/effect relationship, but I still don’t see why you think two senses are required for any one to exist.

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Posted: 21 March 2007 07:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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[quote author=“CoryDuchesne”]the speed of something must always be measured relative to something else. 

That’s an absolute truth, and it rests upon the same principle as the other ones I mentioned, namely, cause and effect.

I’ll back up Brennen here—it’s not a good example. Einsteinian mechanics tells us that velocity is always relative to your reference frame. But Einstein was reacting against Newtonian mechanics, which asserted that velocities were absolute and not relative to anything.

So unless you can show an implicit logical contradiction in Newtonian mechanics, I can’t see how relativity of velocity is an “absolute truth” as opposed to a simple contingent truth of physics.

A related concern is how the relativity of motion rests on the principle of cause and effect. I can’t see that either.

———————————

I should probably add that Saul Kripke has argued that there are some “metaphysical” necessities which are not based on logic or the meanings of words. These he called “a posteriori necessities”, such as the claim that the Morning Star (= Venus) is the same as the Evening Star (= Venus), or that cats are animals. This gets into some pretty complex metaphysics pretty quickly. For a short intro into the subject, see HERE . For a longer, more detailed intro by one of Kripke’s long-time colleagues, see HERE .

These could be relevant to the discussion, since a more precise term for “absolute” truth would be a “necessary” truth. (Unless what you mean by “absolute” is something epistemological and hence a priori).

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Posted: 21 March 2007 12:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]

[quote author=“Cory”]How do you define consciousness?

Obviously, there is no simple, pithy statement that sums this up, as our understanding of it is rudimentary. Essentially I think of it as a subjective state of awreness or perception occurring as the result of complex and temporally overlapping neural network activations in the brain. I think this awareness or perception can be of external things (your “other”) and usually is.

However self-consciousness implies an awareness of one’s own internal processes, and I think this can exist without an other, though in practice I wouldn’t say it very often does.

Just consider the very language you are using to describe what you feel might be an acausal, non-dual state of consciousness: “self consciousness implies an awareness of one’s own internal processes”. 

You are seperating the self from the self’s internal processes.  Implying an awareness of these seperate processes.  So there is a division between the awareness and the object of awareness.  So we can see cause and effect here.  There can be no self without an object of consciousness.   

[quote author=“Brennan”]
I would also say that consciousness is, in some ways, an illusion created by the fact that we feel as if we have mental continuity in time and space

In my view, this is indeed how it appears.  I certainly don’t see any reason for believing in a soul, or an inherently existing self.  In other words, I don’t see things as having any indiviudal essence.  All things are like an eddy in a stream, coming into being and then forever vanishing. 

The eddy doesnt inherently exist, but is simply the expression of everything.   

though in fact this sense of continuity is an artefact of the functioning of our nervous systems. It’s a useful artefact, and I’m willing to treat it as if it were what it feels like it is most of the time, since I think the perception we have of how our minds work is a good enough model for the actuality on a day-to-day basis, if not a good model for the true underlying neurology.

It does lead us astray into dualism pretty easily, but again there is a difference between viewing consciousness as a phenomenon and experiencing it and utilizing it in a more quotidian way.

Yes, there is a difference between abstract, objective, intellectual consciousness and the relatively more unconscious mode that is sensual, emotional, subjective, go-with-the flow. (if that’s what you mean)


[quote author=“brennan”]
[quote author=“Cory”]No, that’s incorrect. A sensation only makes sense because it is relative to a contrasting difference.

For instance, the speed of something must always be measured relative to something else.

 

Bad example, since speed (aka velocity) is not a sense but a measurement or property of a moving object.

 

Speed is a sensation percieved by vision.  Much like sound is a sensation percieved by hearing.  Vision is the sensation of depth, of color, form, of speed, etc.


[quote author=“Brennan”]
If I see yellow, it makes no difference whether any other color exists or is seen by me. The particular wavelength of light stimulates the relevant molecules in my retina, then neural processing and subjective perception follow. Now, this is an example of a cause/effect relationship, but I still don’t see why you think two senses are required for any one to exist.


If you were born into a condition where your vision was limited to only yellow, then there would be no way you’d be able to see unless you could detect yellow at different shades.  Therefore, the light wave of yellow can only exist in consciousness if variations of the color can be sensed.  The sensation of darker yellow would contrast with the sensation of lighter yellow.  Therefore, it holds true that a color(sensation) can only exist in consciousness when it is distiguished in contrast to a variation of that color(sensation). 

But furthermore, for the person in this condition, the word yellow, or even the word color, would be meaningless to him.  The only thing he would be capable of distinguishing would be different shades, as he would have no way of making sense of what the word yellow or color meant.

Ah, but what if he could formally see colors, but had an accident that left his vision limited to yellow?  Well, since he has memories of other colors, then the concept of yellow would make sense.  But if he was only born with yellow, then the word, the concpet of yellow would be meaningless. 

He would only be left with the ability to see distinctions in shade.  The sensation of darker shade in contrast with lighter shade.

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Posted: 21 March 2007 01:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“CoryDuchesne”]the speed of something must always be measured relative to something else. 

That’s an absolute truth, and it rests upon the same principle as the other ones I mentioned, namely, cause and effect.

I’ll back up Brennen here—it’s not a good example. Einsteinian mechanics tells us that velocity is always relative to your reference frame. But Einstein was reacting against Newtonian mechanics, which asserted that velocities were absolute and not relative to anything.

So unless you can show an implicit logical contradiction in Newtonian mechanics, I can’t see how relativity of velocity is an “absolute truth” as opposed to a simple contingent truth of physics.

I’m reffering to the conscious sensation of speed.  It is indeed an absolute truth that consciousness cannot sense speed unless the motion of a thing is percieved in relation to another thing.

[quote author=“Doug”]
A related concern is how the relativity of motion rests on the principle of cause and effect. I can’t see that either.

Well, that is understandable, because, by cause and effect, I’m sure that you are in the habit of thinking in terms of billard balls -  which is true as well. 

However, there is a much more fundamental way of thinking about cause and effect. 

For instance, the speed of a thing, as it is percieved by consciousness, is in part caused by it’s relationship to all other things in the field of vision.  The sensation that things are stationary is likewise caused by the sensation of things in motion.

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Posted: 21 March 2007 02:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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In my view, this is indeed how it appears. I certainly don’t see any reason for believing in a soul, or an inherently existing self. In other words, I don’t see things as having any indiviudal essence. All things are like an eddy in a stream, coming into being and then forever vanishing.

The eddy doesnt inherently exist

This is a nice way of putting it. Reminds me, again, of the BUddhist notion that nothing inherently exists as an independant thing because everything is a concatenation of prior circumstances and in ongoing interaction with other things. Of course, there is a less abstract level of daily life in which things function as independant and real (I wouldn’t advise contemplating a speeding truck as a mere eddy of effect when it’s heading for you!). So again I’m not sure how useful this level of abstraction is, but it makes a certain sense.

 

Speed is a sensation percieved by vision.

I still disagree with this. Humans, at leats, are terrible at perceiving movement, only good at perceiving changes in movement. Vision has a strong role in perception of movement, but it is the apparatus of the inner ear that does most of the work here. Still, in the absence of changes in velocity or direction, you could sit in a vehicle going 10mph or 10000mph and not know the difference. Even visually, perception of velocity varies with distance from the thing seen and is not especially accurate. So while the others are senses (vision, hearing), I still don’t think there really is a sense of speed.

You are seperating the self from the self’s internal processes. Implying an awareness of these seperate processes. So there is a division between the awareness and the object of awareness. So we can see cause and effect here. There can be no self without an object of consciousness.

Well, if the object of awareness is self, it isn’t other. To say this merely subdivides self into faux others to then be perceived implies there is a true center of consciousness from which the perceiving is done and which cannot reflect on itself. Yet as I pointed out in my post above, and you seem to agree, there is no actual self or seat of consciousness, only the false perception of it. So this still doesn’t convince me that consciousness fundamentally requires an other.

If you were born into a condition where your vision was limited to only yellow, then there would be no way you’d be able to see unless you could detect yellow at different shades.

If I was born only able to see yellow, I would only see that which was yellow and all else would be invisible. It’s like certain simple predators, such as some frogs I believe, who see motion acutely and have very limited other visual ability so they literally do not see that which isn’t moving.

Anyway, I don’t want to get too embedded in details of such examples. I understand your general point that awareness and sensation typically requires distinction of self and other or contrast or cause effect relationships, and I accept that. I don’t think you can prove this is a logical necessity just because it is how things ordinarily seem to work, as we humans perceive and understand them, but since I always prefer to stay close to the pragmatic level of daily reality, I’ll grant you that causeless things are uncommon, and may be impossible at ordinary macroscopic scales. So with this limited acceptance of the idea that causality is ubiquitous (if not a logical necessity), where do we go next?

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Posted: 22 March 2007 12:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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[quote author=“CoryDuchesne”]I’m reffering to the conscious sensation of speed.  It is indeed an absolute truth that consciousness cannot sense speed unless the motion of a thing is percieved in relation to another thing.

We have all experienced the phenomenon of the illusion of motion: after watching out the window of a moving car for a long time, our eyes’ motion sensors get fatigued. Then when the car comes to a stop, we have the illusion of motion in the contrary direction, even though nothing is moving in relation to anything else.

That would seem to be a counterexample.

[quote author=“CoryDuchesne”]For instance, the speed of a thing, as it is percieved by consciousness, is in part caused by it’s relationship to all other things in the field of vision.  The sensation that things are stationary is likewise caused by the sensation of things in motion.

If you are talking about some sort of Humean “cause and effect”, there the cause always precedes the effect. But on your sort of picture of motion, the velocity of an object is temporally identical with the stationary nature of the background. There is no Humean cause/effect relationship when both are happening at the same time. At most that would be a relation of Humean “contiguity”, except that it sounds like a simple logical relation to you.

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Posted: 22 March 2007 06:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]
Anyway, I don’t want to get too embedded in details of such examples. I understand your general point that awareness and sensation typically requires distinction of self and other or contrast or cause effect relationships, and I accept that. I don’t think you can prove this is a logical necessity just because it is how things ordinarily seem to work, as we humans perceive and understand them, but since I always prefer to stay close to the pragmatic level of daily reality, I’ll grant you that causeless things are uncommon, and may be impossible at ordinary macroscopic scales. So with this limited acceptance of the idea that causality is ubiquitous (if not a logical necessity), where do we go next?

How about here?

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Posted: 22 March 2007 08:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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To get back to the initial question of this thread, the simple answer is—NO.

The universe can be said to encompass reality.  There’s no way we can know all of that, but rather only tiny bits of reality.  Thus, we all see small facets of truth (if we’re lucky and very careful).  And the different facets can appear to disagree.

Even a being that could know and comprehend all of reality couldn’t have absolute truth because it would still be constrained by what we know of quantum mechanics, that is that various properties of most of the basic particles of the universe cannot be defined.

Occam

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Posted: 22 March 2007 09:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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[quote author=“Occam”]To get back to the initial question of this thread, the simple answer is—NO.  The universe can be said to encompass reality.  There’s no way we can know all of that, but rather only tiny bits of reality. 

Without knowing it, you are confidently promoting what you believe is an absolute truth.

Thus, we all see small facets of truth (if we’re lucky and very careful).  And the different facets can appear to disagree.

There’s another one.

Even a being that could know and comprehend all of reality couldn’t have absolute truth because it would still be constrained by what we know of quantum mechanics, that is that various properties of most of the basic particles of the universe cannot be defined.

You are full of absolute truths!

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