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Truth
Posted: 22 May 2007 04:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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But we don’t experience the same thing at the same time! We all experience something different.

It is impossible for anybody to experience what any one else experiences.

I think what we experience must be very similar

If what we experience is sufficiently similar to allow widespread agreement on how to identify or represent the thing perceieved, how much does it matter that there may be minor differences in what we actually perceive? We all learn to agree what red is because we all consistently perceive it as the same thing every time, so the possibility that our internal representations differ doesn’t seem veyr meaningful to me.

but that can be explained by the fact we are very similar.

Or, the explanation I prefer, they are very similar both because we have the same (in the vast majority of detail) sensory and cognitive systems AND because the things we perceive have a real and consistent objective existence so they impact these systems the same way, provide the same stimulus for us to perceive.

what I feel sure of is there is no objective colour or feel or sound etc. etc. these things are subjective experien

ces.

So what is objective reality like if not made up of these things?

Objective reality is made up of objects with mass and with inherent properties, electromagnetci radiation, quantum probability fields, and porbably a whole lot of other stuff we don’t know anything about. It is not made up solely of our perceptions of these things.

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Posted: 22 May 2007 05:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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I don’t get the claim that our internal representations differ. How could one know such a thing? One can’t step outside one’s head and know whether A’s experience of red is any different from B’s.

I’m not targeting this answer at any one person, since it’s seemed to be a background assumption here.

We do know that people make claims that differ from one another about the external world ... sometimes. More often we agree about our banal observations ... i.e. that we both see trees out the window, that the leaves are green, that it’s a sunny day, that fire hurts, that sugar is sweet, that alcohol gives a buzz ...

The differences of opinion on perception are startling because they are comparatively rare.

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Posted: 22 May 2007 06:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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Doug,
I agree. I think the question of whether your green=my green is ultimately unanswerable, but as I stated in my post, even if they do differ slightly, why does it matter? I certainly think it likely that some sensory perception differs among people because some much of the details of the processes are developmental. For example, people from first world industrial societies can be shown to have a greater sensitivity to lines with horizontal and vertical orientations than with intermediate orientations, whereas Inuit people from environments with fewer human constructions have equal sensitivity around the entire 360degree visual field. There are lots of little quirks like this that show our sensory systems influenced heavily by developmental experiences and probably, though I’m not aware of such data, by genetic differences (think color perception as a crude example). So I don’t think it’s uinreasonable to assume some of our internal representations of external reality differ between individuals, but I don’t thik this has any bearing of the question of the real existence of external reality, and I am not convinced it has any significant impact on epistemology.

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Posted: 22 May 2007 06:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Right, but just to repeat myself, even if these societal differences in perception are real, they are comparatively very minor.

The question as to whether your green is different from mine is a well-trodden one in philosophy—it goes by the general name of “qualia” which are our raw experiences. There the standard thought experiment is of the color spectrum, and the question is whether any two people might have “inverted spectra” (so red to you looks like blue to me, etc.)

In any ‘ultimate’ sense this is, as you note, unanswerable. However given that our visual systems are constructed more-or-less identically, etc., I submit that we should assume it to be false. After all, what could possibly explain why A’s spectrum was inverted with respect to B? Nothing, unless there are immaterial souls out there that are somehow wired up to bodies, and unless these wires can somehow get crossed.

So we have no good reason to believe that our qualia are substantially different, and even if we had inverted spectra it would not materially impact our knowledge of the world. Hence, as you note, this has no significant impact on epistemology.

(Except, peraps, the epistemology of colors and other qualitative phenomena).

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Posted: 22 May 2007 09:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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I agree that people often forget that they have a huge amount of perceptions (and beliefs) in common and focus on their few differences.

And, Brennen, your mention of how do we know whether two of us see the same green is reasonable.  However, if you give a sample of a green paint to paint tinters at two coatings companies and ask them to match the color they see, it’s amazing how close the two cans of paint they make will be in color.  In other words, they may see different colors of that paint chip, but what they generate from whatever it is that they see comes back to the outside world as identical.

Occam

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Posted: 23 May 2007 01:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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Hi Brennen,

[quote author=“mckenzievmd” date=“1179892363]
If what we experience is sufficiently similar to allow widespread agreement on how to identify or represent the thing perceieved, how much does it matter that there may be minor differences in what we actually perceive? We all learn to agree what red is because we all consistently perceive it as the same thing every time, so the possibility that our internal representations differ doesn’t seem veyr meaningful to me.


It depends on if I’m right on my next point or not.

what if we were very different brought up in a different environment on another planet say?

Maybe everything moves much faster or is much bigger or smaller or whatever.

We may have vision but because of that different environment we may need to see a different part of the magnetic spectrum.

Maybe we still would see the colour red but it would be seen when we viewed “light” (not quite the right word) at a different wavelength. (Sorry I don’t pretend to have great scientific understanding and I may have put this badly but hopefully you can see what I mean)

Do you think it would be impossible for us to be wired up this way?

If not then there is an obvious problem, which red is the objective red?

Stephen

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Posted: 23 May 2007 02:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Stephen,

Well, I’ll answer as if you said “evolved” rather than “brought up” in a different environment, since the differences induced by environment are pretty limited; the range we can see in the electromagnetic spectrum, for example, is fixed by genetics so I don’t think any differences in rearing environment would be sufficient to get at your underlying question.

If another species sees in a different part of the spectrum, then they might very well use “red” to describe a different wavelength range than we mean by it. But that wavelength would still objectively be what it is, and if it also fell in our perceptual range it would be possible to work out something to call it so we could reliably and consistently know we were referring to the same thing regardless of how we labeled it AND regardless of how it was subjectively perceieved (the qualia angle). If what the other species called red wasn’t directly perceiveable to us, and our red not perceivable to them, of course it wouldn’t matter what we each chose to use the label red for, we’d clearly be referring to different things. I don’t think there is any real internal “red” that gets attached to the perception of one wavelength or another, as you seem to posit, so it’s not possible that they could use an internal “red” to mean one thing and us another. Our perceptual and cognitive systems react to an incoming wavelength and we have a suibjective perception of it which we then choose to label, but there’s no limit to how many internal representations we can have, except the limit to our ability to distinguish separate wavelengths. And while there’s no way to know if the subjective experience of a color is the same for two people or two species, I still think Doug is right that it is likely to be when then two share the same fundamental sensory and cognitive system, and I still think it makes no practical difference if the subjective experience is different, so long as it is consistent and repeatable and we can agree with others on labels so we can share our perceptions and talk about the world. In any case, the wavelength exists and is what it is apart from any perception or representation, and the only thing that depends on a perceiver for its existence is the subjective experience, and the label.

I’m a fan of Dennet’s book “Consciousness Explained” in which he deals with subjectivity in great detail, so if you have an interest in it it would be a much clearer investigation of your quetsion from a perspective pretty similar to my own than anything I can offer.

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Posted: 23 May 2007 02:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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mckenzievmd - 23 May 2007 02:01 PM

Well, I’ll answer as if you said “evolved” rather than “brought up” in a different environment,

Yes, sorry, silly mistake. evolved is what I meant, I’ll come back on the rest.


Stephen

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Posted: 11 June 2007 07:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Personally, I find what William James has to say about truth to be very helpful.  Typically, though, his view is summed up with just this one-liner: “ The true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief ” (James, Pragmatism, p. 36).  Unfortunately, most folks take this statement as a form of relativism, and subsequently dismiss pragmatism altogether.  Part of the reason for this, I think, has to do with the “neo-pragmatists” re-writing of the history of pragmatism.  Personally I don’t think that the views of Rorty or Putnam, e.g., deserve to be labeled “neo-pragmatist” at all; I think “neo-analytic” is a much more apt description of their view (and its emphasis on linguistic relations above all else).  Anyway, I won’t say anything bad about Rorty now, since he just passed away on Friday.

James himself was frustrated by the way that the pragmatic view of truth was constantly misinterpreted.  In a letter, he provides a nice clarification:

“I am a natural realist. The world per se may be likened to a cast of beans on a table. By themselves they spell nothing. An onlooker may group them as he likes. He may simply count them all and map them. He may select groups and name these capriciously, or name them to suit certain extrinsic purposes of his. Whatever he does, so long as he takes account of them, his account is neither false nor irrelevant. If neither, why not call it true? It fits the beans-minus-him, and expresses the total fact, of beans-plus-him. Truth in this total sense is partially ambiguous, then. If he simply counts or maps, he obeys a subjective interest as much as if he traces figures. Let that stand for pure “intellectual” treatment of the beans, while grouping them variously stands for non-intellectual interests. All that Schiller and I contend for is that there is no “truth” without some interest, and that non-intellectual interests play a part as well as intellectual ones. Whereupon we are accused of denying the beans, or denying being in anyway constrained by them! It’s too silly!” (William James, “Letter to Dickenson Miller, Aug. 5, 1907,” The Letters of William James, pp. 195-6)

The key point I think is this: just because “truth” is interest-relative—i.e., dependent upon inquiring individuals—that does not mean that it cannot also be “objective”.  When a scientist looks at the universe there are millions (if not billions or more) of different ways to divide up the relevant objects of study, we have to single out certain features (like the solar system or the biosphere) and work from there.  That process of selection is, to put it crudely, a human projection onto the world, but it is not, for all that, just “man-made” and so completely relative. 

Rorty was right to dispute the idea of truth as an attempt to “mirror” reality; i.e., he was right to dispute the correspondence theory of truth.  But when Rorty gives up the idea that our beliefs are answerable to the world, he gives up the notion of objective truth altogether: he thinks that the best we can hope for is “solidarity.”  He sees his view as sharing similarities with Davidson’s coherence theory of truth.  Neither view, however, seems fruitful to me because they both give up on the idea that truth has anything to do with word-world relations and instead hold that truth—and all other epistemic relations—are merely word-word relations. 

This view of truth denies something that Dewey finds to be central to our activity of inquiry: knowing requires doing something to the world and seeing what consequences redound.  It cannot be a mere “spectator” sport: either spectating the world or spectating beliefs.

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Posted: 17 June 2007 12:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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The problem with perception of truth is the cultural interpretation of it.  For instance, in modernism, it was accepted that most things could not be proven completely but ideas based on evidence were more likely to be true (a perfectly rational position, perhaps).  Postmodernism developed largely through anthropological studies, one example of which was a tribe who were painting a house blue and part way through ran out of blue paint and continued painting it black, which they insisted was the same colour (they had only one word that encompassed both).  However when pressed much further, it appears they could not acutally SEE a difference, despite the clearly visible dividing line.  There was (apparently) nothing wrong with their eyesight, it was just invisible to them because they interepretted the world throught their language and culture.

Massive over-extrapolation (in my opinion) of scant anthropological data led to the conclusions that there were no objective truths and that since all of our experiences were different from each other, we all interpret language and semantics slightly differently and that nothing we say or see has any “fixed” meaning.  Oh- and that scientific beliefs and religious beliefs were equally faith and interpretation based and should co-exist as one entity.

On the language thing, it’s essential an if/then proposition which can be said therefore to be true (“if” tells us to accept a premise and “then” follows on from it). However it could only ever be trivially co-true with any “fact” derived from it; since applying its metaphilosophy to the ensuing, I could be talking about a yellow monkey called clarence and you might all be agreeing with me if we all interpret language differently.

On the second point, we’re seeing that with creationism now.  So we can see how the religious guys are faring with their attempts to incorporate (what they understand to be) science.  I want to see the science guys make an effort.  We could have “10g of pottasium manganate (IV) were heated to 330K in the presence of our lord and saviour Jesus Christ”, or “The particulate components of the vacuum were attributed to conversion and pair annhilation of matter and antimatter and the holy ghost, amen.”

On cogito ergo sum (and prior to that, Socrates profession that he knew nothing but knew one more thing that the experts he interviewed because he at least knew that he knew nothing), these both appear true, provided you’ve proven the latter to yourself first before annihilating it with the former.  Knowing something (a known thing being a “truth”), requires two processes: 1 ontology- having the fact exist, and 2 epitemology- knowing that you actually know the fact as opposed to just believe it.  In knowing you exist you need to have gone through the process of testing it before you can know that you know it.  Having done so, you know that even if you are imagining everything else whatever is doing the imagining exists - seems inescapable, right?

How many times prior to this one fact have you had that feeling of knowing something and been absolutely convinced that it was true, and then found a really clever argument that meant that it wasn’t.  I submit that in testing the cogito you have found it to be true because you can find no reasonable argument against it, no matter how hard you try.  However, there is always a possibility that a reasonable argument can be found that will blow your previous paradigm out of the water.  So do you still think that this is an incontravertible truth?

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Posted: 17 June 2007 04:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Narwhol said:

you know that even if you are imagining everything else whatever is doing the imagining exists - seems inescapable, right?

I think I am registering a smidge of incredulity in your tone; so I’ll add to it.

What Descartes “discovered” was a massive triviality.  The word “knowledge” gets stretched beyond its ordinary usage when it is used to apply to things that one simply cannot be wrong about.  I think the same goes for “truth”.  Is it “true” that I can’t doubt my own existence (because doubting implies existing)?  I guess you could say so, but so what?  Philosophers use all kinds of words in weird ways.  And that makes for a lot of unnecessary confusion.  Trust me; I’ve had to wade through it myself.  The pragmatists taught us—or me, at least—that truth must have an impact.  This is also a key lesson from Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein wrote:

“The difference between the concept of ‘knowing’ and the concept of ‘being certain’ isn’t of any great importance at all, except where “I know” is meant to mean: I can’t be wrong” (On Certainty, § 8). 

Descartes’ “method of doubt” depends upon this conflation.
Elsewhere Wittgenstein says: 

“That what someone else says to himself is hidden from me is part of the concept ‘saying inwardly’.  Only “hidden” is the wrong word here; for if it is hidden from me, it ought to be apparent to him, he would have to know it.  But he does not ‘know’ it; only, the doubt which exists for me does not exist for him” (Philosophical Investigations, pp. 220-21e).

If “truth” and “knowledge” can only occur in contexts where it is possible to be wrong, then it looks like neither of those words can be applied to god.  You’ll often hear “them” say: “but it’s true for me” or “I know…”  Actually all that is, is an expression of faith—blind faith.  Such expressions are no more meaningful than the statement that, “it is true for me that flying spaghetti monsters exist.”  If it is true for me in this way, then what I am saying is that I can’t be wrong.  And if that is what such statements amount to, then the words “truth” and “knowledge” simply don’t apply.  They are being hijacked by the faithful, just as they were hijacked by Descartes, because they are “impact” words; but, there is no impact—no measurable consequences—in their use of these words. 

I guess the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

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Posted: 17 June 2007 05:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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You have some very interesting points here.  Most of my memories of what little I’ve read of Wittgenstein is his stuff on language, and I can’t remember whether he was young or old at the time (I do remember him violently disagreeing with most of what he said in his youth).  The philosophy regarding what truth is is a history of outrageous claim and counterclaim and claim again ad nauseum, but it’s interesting for all that.

I am, as you noted, incredulous (and downright sceptical), but I too am over towards the pragmatic end of that particular spectrum.  Where I think the cogito had value was in getting people back into the idea of reasoning rather than believing all sorts of nonsense, although that’s coming back into vogue with eastern “philosophy”, alternative therapy and ID.

I vehemently disagree that inability to be wrong as a definition of truth is inapplicable in the case of the FSM and refer you to the unnatural ratio of EC’s to ID proponents argument.

Another use for the cogito is St Narwhol’s ontological proof of the non-existence of an omniscient being:
An omiscient being automatically knows everything.
It cannot therefore “think” and would have no reason to do so (if it already knows what it’s going to think, that’s not thinking and it would be pointless)
I think therefore I am proves to me that I exist, ergo I know that I know that I exist.
Something that can’t think can’t know that.
Anything that cannot recall proof of anything that it “knows” is unable to know that it knows anything.
It doesn’t even know that it exists.
Given the logical impossiblity, it doesn’t exist.

However, some people might say to me that I can’t know the mind of an omniscient being and that it has some kind of special omniscient being knowledge rather than having to prove truths to itself.
Whereupon I’d say so how in the hell can you know that in its mind it has such a thing whereas I can’t make presumptions about its mind?

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Posted: 17 June 2007 09:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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Where I think the cogito had value was in getting people back into the idea of reasoning rather than believing all sorts of nonsense

I would agree with that.  Descartes is typically considered the first modern philosopher.  And modern philosophy set us on a course towards the enlightenment—not that that enlightenment ever came to much.  What we need to do—and I think that your first post was moving in this direction—is carry the torch of a new enlightenment.  That’s what CFI is for! Also, recent books by Hitchens and Dawkins—and even Al Gore—seem promising in this regard.  We have to get out and fight for the truth.  Literally, we have to fight for the word “truth”, to keep it from being watered down—much like the word “theory” gets watered down by anti-evolutionists.

I vehemently disagree that inability to be wrong as a definition of truth is inapplicable in the case of the FSM and refer you to the unnatural ratio of EC’s to ID proponents argument.

I’m not sure exactly what you mean by this (specifically the “unnatural ratio…” part).  Perhaps you could clarify.  I’ll clarify something myself.  I don’t think that “inability to be wrong” is a definition of “truth”.  I’d simply say that there has to be consequences associated with the word “truth”.  It has to mean something verifiable.  So there at least has to be a possibility of getting evidence for some statement claimed to be “true”.  We may not have the resources or capacity to find such evidence—like traveling to the edge of the universe (if there is such a thing) to see what’s going on there—but it must at least, in principle, be possible to garner evidence.  (Otherwise the word truth has no “impact”.)  For this reason, saying something like “god is outside of nature” involves making a statement that is outside of the bounds of truth or falsity.  It’s not exactly a meaningless statement, but it’s close. 

The “ontological proof” you provide is interesting.  But I wouldn’t keep around the notion of the “cogito” just to make this particular argument against god.  There are so many other good arguments out there. 

I think you could simplify the argument a bit; and, leave out the part that requires the “cogito”.
I think you just need two lines:

An omniscient being automatically knows everything.
It cannot therefore “think”

I like that.  Its simplicity is powerful: an omniscient thing cannot think. 

There are many paradoxes and impossibilities that result from the traditional definition of god as omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent, etc.  But, if you pull these out on a believer, they’ll just change their definition.

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Posted: 18 June 2007 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Pragmatic Naturalist - 17 June 2007 09:17 PM

I’d simply say that there has to be consequences associated with the word “truth”.  It has to mean something verifiable.  So there at least has to be a possibility of getting evidence for some statement claimed to be “true”.  We may not have the resources or capacity to find such evidence—like traveling to the edge of the universe (if there is such a thing) to see what’s going on there—but it must at least, in principle, be possible to garner evidence.  (Otherwise the word truth has no “impact”.)

This doctrine is known of as “verificationism” in philosophical circles—that the truth of a sentence (or its meaning, which reveals its truth conditions) is given by its method of verification. This sort of notion began with the Vienna Circle, although really it goes back to the empiricism of Hume. FWIW, verificationism has been widely discarded nowadays.

The truth of a sentence and its criteria of verification are similar but different concepts. It is possible that a sentence could be true and yet there be no method of verifying it. E.g., it is either true or false that there are other universes that are spatiotemporally distinct from this one and in no causal contact with it.

The truth or falsity of this proposal “has no impact”, in your words. However, while that may make it uninteresting or otiose, it does not make it automatically false or without truth conditions.

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Posted: 18 June 2007 01:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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dougsmith - 18 June 2007 08:46 AM
Pragmatic Naturalist - 17 June 2007 09:17 PM

I’d simply say that there has to be consequences associated with the word “truth”.  It has to mean something verifiable.  So there at least has to be a possibility of getting evidence for some statement claimed to be “true”.  We may not have the resources or capacity to find such evidence—like traveling to the edge of the universe (if there is such a thing) to see what’s going on there—but it must at least, in principle, be possible to garner evidence.  (Otherwise the word truth has no “impact”.)

This doctrine is known of as “verificationism” in philosophical circles—that the truth of a sentence (or its meaning, which reveals its truth conditions) is given by its method of verification. This sort of notion began with the Vienna Circle, although really it goes back to the empiricism of Hume. FWIW, verificationism has been widely discarded nowadays.

It is not surprising that verificationism went by the board, because truth is a defined noun.  We can play with the definition to a small degree but not to that extent. Perhaps we ought to employ other means to describe what we mean by “it’s the truth”, descending in a hierarchical fashion:
It has no possibity of being otherwise; The evidence points strongly towards; I’m saying this with no intent to deceive; Well, of course statiscaly speaking; I would imagine that; Its the God’s honest truth, I swear on the holy bible; My financial advisor tells me, etc.

Failing that, I think we have to accept that 1 absolute truths are vanishingly rare and irrelevant, 2 the likelihood that we are simply imagining a vast body of empirical evidence that can be readily demonstrated to our brains via our neural receptors is vanishingly small, and 3 It is true because it is written is glaringly lame.  Our truths should be the second category and yes it requires faith.  A miniscule soupcon of faith.  As opposed to a large condiment jar of faith.

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