Sunday, November 25, 2007

The First Step

Naturally, I believe I have a coherent theory about truth. About what is truth, and about how to find more. I'm going to share it with you for several reasons. If I'm correct, this theory of truth, this epistemology, is superior to any other that I've found, if for no other reason than that it includes all their good parts. I assume that you want to know truth, not lies, yes? If nothing else, you can update yours the same way I update mine. Also, by sharing it, I have the benefits of peer review, which given standard conditions is enough to find every logical error in triplicate. Finally, if there's anyone else like me it'd be nice to talk to them, and if I can't find them on the internet, I'll be damned if I can find them at all.

Following Socrates either literally or by convergent evolution, every person seeking truth must start with accepting their own ignorance. Preferably just the ignorance they actually have, rather than going Decarte's route.

So! I've accepted ignorance. I've found zero. Where is one?

Already the metaphor breaks down. There isn't a one. There's only Godel's Incompleteness Theorem.

Godel's theorem is incredibly broad in valid application, right up there with causality and Newton's Third. In English, Godel realized that every theory has a finite volume, and at the edge are things that are unprovable within that theory. For every provable truth, somewhere along the chain of proof is an axiom, simply taken as true. In the case of ontology, it means you have to start somewhere.

In humans, this starting point is simply memories. Since babies aren't philosophers in a strict sense, anyone practicing philosophy already has some understanding of the world. At a deeper level brains are already preferably wired to understand things like gravity and 3D space and the concepts of past and future.

However, at some point a philosopher will have reduced every memory they own into principles they use to explain the world. I exaggerate and simplify for logical effect, but even having done this, the explanations will depend on axioms.

Now, often two people meet and discuss with the goal of coming to a common understanding, taking the democratic idea that if more people agree it's more likely to be true. However, it is nearly always impossible for two people to come to a common understanding, as their axioms will differ, and how are you going to convince someone that their axioms are wrong?

Luckily, our brains are all hominid brains. Most of the axioms are the same. Even still, this axiom changing crusade seems an ongoing obsession with anyone even slightly contaminated by intellectualism.

How do we form our axioms? Well, I certainly can't figure it out yet, and I've never run across anyone even beginning to examine this question. For the moment, I'm just going to enumerate mine.

1. Our perceptions are trustworthy.
2. Self-consistency is proof on its own merit.

That's basically it. Number one I've had as long as I remember, while number two I created later.

Still, number one needs some additional explanation. It means that when I see an object, that object is really there. It doesn't matter whether it's actual sight or hearing or emotional seeing, it doesn't matter if I can tell what it is - that's interpretation - but if I see something, it's really there.

Now, for the physical senses this is pretty obvious, and you can easily define disorders as simply the physical senses not obeying this simple rule.

Notably, there are far more than five senses, though there seems to be wide agreement on those five. To tell when you're hungry, do you taste or touch your hunger? How about the sense of where your limbs are, your proprioception? Your sense of balance? When you're sick, what hurts, exactly? Based on an article in New Scientist exploring the issue, a conservative estimate for total senses is about 50. Some of those are unconscious, like your blood pH, and perhaps shouldn't be counted, but the point is that five is way too few.

However, for emotional or mental senses, the objects under scrutiny do not apparently exist in our shared physical space. Put this way, it's not surprising at all, of course. It means that disorders of emotional and mental perception are nearly impossible to define, and may even mean that they don't exist at all. I don't normally find sunsets beautiful. Does that mean I have a 'disorder?' Are they objectively beautiful but I'm simply emotionally blind? Or, does it mean that what I see is true? Does it mean that, for me, sunsets are kind of boring?

I assume that when I have an emotion, while I may not know what it means, just as I may not know what an object is when I see it, but I assume it's trustworthy. I assume that I am in fact sensing something that is exists.
The only proof I can offer is that emotions are extremely consistent across similar situations. If I have a particular feeling when someone is bullshitting me, I'm going to have that feeling again and again every time someone is bullshitting me. I just have to figure out the association once.

Notably, the opposite contention of post-modernism is logically inconsistent. If you can't trust your senses at all, how can you trust your perception of the idea that you don't trust your senses? Same goes for brain-in-a-vat hypotheses and similar trash.

This is subjectivity. It's not invalid or somehow beneath (or above!) objectivity, but simply different.

However, there is at least one problem with my axiom. Logic. I want you to go find or construct a logical progression so you have it to play with. A true one, specifically. What you think is true, not necessarily what I think is true. B, therefore C, something like that.

Now, how do you know that C follows from B? Is it 'obvious?' Okay, now define obvious.

You don't know, do you? I certainly don't. Accept ignorance. We can name it though: this is our logical sense or senses.

But that's not the real problem. Even though you can't describe it, you know it when you see it. That's emotional consistency. The problem is that logical senses are very dependent on previous conclusions, through things like the confirmation bias. 'Obvious' is a shifting mire.

"Be rational! Use your reason! It's the golden age of enlightenment!" That's nice. What's rationality? What's reason? Is it your logical sense? Is it deduction? Induction? Bayesian averaging?

Luckily, there's a hack solution. Your logical sense is exactly like a muscle, and can be trained. The process is often called science, but the label is being eaten away by corruption.

Hypothesis, testing, conclusion. Use your logic, make a prediction, and find where you've gone wrong. If you look hard enough, you'll find something. Use that to find the flaw in your thinking. Repeat.

After an interminable time, you can eventually have some confidence in your logic alone. Most experts need about a decade of practice to truly master their craft. For me, there were ten years between the time I wanted to make people laugh and the time I did.

I say science is corrupt because most scientists do not go through this process. Even though science is supposed to be the great culmination of rational thought, most scientists can't think their way out of a paper bag. They seem to rely on the 'scientific method,' that fuzzy beast, to do their thinking for them. And of course emotions are but poisonous 'subjectivity,' which I will talk about later, because my ideas on that are a result of my axioms.

My axioms are not true axioms. They can, with a few clarifications, be confirmed or refuted. That's not the point of the essay. The point is that they are my axioms. They didn't come from some analysis of the evidence, I didn't logically disprove all the other possibilities. I simply jumped up one day with them in my hand, and started hacking away at the jungle of reality.

As such, if you disagree with them, and want to argue with me, realize that if your goal is to change my mind, you will axiomatically fail. We can still debate some more minor points, the subset of axiomatic towers that work have to overlap, especially in the fine details. However, the true bedrock of my thoughts really is adamantium against the weathering of argumentation, and the sediments above are like Ultima's Blackrock - only powerful magic will ever change them.

In return, I will attempt to respect your axioms. If I find a flaw in your reasoning, I will try to present it in a way that does not contradict your most basic beliefs. It's polite, and frankly a waste of time otherwise.

2 comments:

Andrew Crawshaw said...

It has been awhile since I came to your blog. I lost the webadresse for it, when I closed my blog (due to my writer's block/laziness). Anyway, I was thinking about the incompleteness therom. Goedel's Theory actually implies the opposite of what you are saying about the human mind. It actually indicates that minds (specifically human minds) are not based around axiomatic thinking (maybe I misunderstand your point). furthermore, your idea that everything comes from memories is contradicted by the sentence that comes after it, memories are not where we start, they are just supplementary material, where we actually start is the knowledge, however tacit that gets "encoded" into our body (and brain) by DNA, and how this information (while being encoded) interacts with the environment finally leading to self-identification through social interaction, which encourages us to keep certain memories and to abandon others. I would think self-criticism is the next step and finally critical rationalism, as propounded by Popper (though practiced oftentimes unkowingly by philosophers and scientists in the past and present)

Alrenous said...

Yes, the memories need some way to get in there in the first place. As we now know from building computers, the learning algorithms are themselves knowledge. I just say straight up that DNA is intelligent and knows things.

What I was thinking of at the time was a practical matter, but, as is my habit, failed to that distinction explicit either in my writing or thinking.

I still think it is important to remember that philosophy starts with grappling with your own ideas, which spring directly from your memories.