Saturday, December 8, 2007

Truth vs Falsehood, Cagematch vs Effectiveness

So, truth is a rare bird in today's Anglo society.

Still, the sky does not fall. If truth is such a useful, and often necessary thing, how is it that humans get by just fine without it? Why do we get fine without it?

If truth is so desired, so highly valued, why is it that philosophers are ridiculed? Not that I disagree in general.

In fact, the most powerful civilization yet, America, is built on a lie! Democracy does not and has never worked. If you're not convinced, you can see, or

Basically, democracy is the rule of the people. Clearly, at best, a democracy is influenced somewhat by the people, but is in fact ruled, depending on how evolved it is, by elected republican representatives or outright by the bureaucracy.

Note, there's an association between 'elected' and 'controlled by the electorate' which is completely false. I hope I don't have to hold you by the hand here.

The farcical democratic states of today, far from rising above the muck of totalitarian monarchies, are in fact the most authoritative and powerful states ever. Democracy was a victory, all right, but not for the people. It was a victory for the power elite.

And indeed, how could it not be? The very definition of power elite means that they wield most of the control. If it were possible to really root them out, they wouldn't be the elite.

Also, America is basically a communist state now, with a few free market adjuncts because they happen to support the overall socialist climate, or simply haven't yet been engulfed by the states amoeba-like pseudopods.

Fat lot of good the War of Independence actually accomplished. The constitution really is just a piece of paper, and was always doomed to be.

Still, this is all just detail.

The State of the Society
First, let me refer to my first essay on truth. The truth is obviously useful - that's part of what defines it as truth. It is important to note this - I'm sure that this essay, if strategically placed in certain hands, would inevitably evoke the response, "But is the truth really that useful?" or the related, "But it's impossible to reach the real truth." Don't get sucked into this nihilist, post-modern nonsense. These statements are tools of control.

Nevertheless, the fact is, aside from a few things that deal directly with physics, like bridges, our society simply doesn't use truth. This is startling to naive people such as myself, and needs to explained.

Even in the case of where and when to build the bridges, the actual function of a bridge is ignored. For the most part, bridges are pork - patronage, except where absolutely necessary.

This pattern holds across nearly all endeavors.

It is my contention that our people inhabit the world of other people's ideas - most efforts in our society are directed at the realm of perception. Power is necessary to do anything, by the strict definition of power. In our society, power is maintained by public opinion, even if you're an employee and your 'public' is your boss or co-workers.

To maintain this opinion, especially in the face of public hypocrisy, (which I should hope is obvious) requires the cynical manipulation of emotional associations, rather than adherence to truth.

The result is that enterprise is enslaved to untruth.

Because the basic cause is human hypocrisy, the 'problem' of reality's non-conformation to the twisted beliefs of the powerful (remember, no matter how small the power) is not actually a problem. When necessary, the human self-deception circuit kicks in, delivering a potent shot of rationalization, allowing the subconscious reality-processor full control.

While I hope that this deception-power structure is unique to our type of society or at least relatively rare, I fear that it is in fact the human condition.

This is my belief.

And this is my proof!

The Human Beast
Humans are neohominids. We are the latest in the bipedal offshoot of the primates.

Primates are extremely social, one of the most social of all mammals, who are in general the most social organisms alive, including both dolphins and elephants.

Societies, even canine societies, automatically confer hierarchy. Someone has to lead, otherwise the society isn't a society at all, but a collection of individual actors calling itself a society. This means that every species with any kind of language will have a hierarchy at least two deep - the leader, and everyone else.

Further, the leader will prefer some individuals over others, generally for very personal reasons as opposed to immutable qualities. This results in further ranks of the hierarchy, either informally by the 'ear of the king' mechanism, or formally with betas ruling omegas.

Because the leader is a person with personal preferences, the most effective way of manipulating the hierarchy isn't direct action, but simply manipulation of the perceptions of the leader.

As such, lying will always emerge in evolving societies.

Primates are very advanced, socially, and of course neohominids are by far the most advanced. The evidence suggests that large brains evolve mainly for the purpose of keeping track of societal factors. Humans have by far the largest capability for tracking individuals - 150, the Dunbar Number.

Par for the course, humans are also the most skilled dissemblers. We are also, by necessity, the best at spotting lies. We really don't want to be lied to, and thus honesty is a virtue. In fact we've gotten so good that we've apparently evolved a unique adaptation - the large-scale habit of self deception.

You see, if you're trying to manipulate a human, it's best if you yourself wholeheartedly believe your lies.

Of course this leads to a problem, in that the humans doesn't really want to act on the lies.

So the self-deception kicks in once again for rationalization, and simply lets the non-conscious mind take over the decision making process.

Now, because the human wants to continue believing their lies so that they can continue manipulating other humans, truth gets a bad rap.

Between this and the fact that we're so rich that we can mess around with politics all day, there's almost no one who has to deal with truth on a regular basis - a few engineers and scientists, soldiers, and that's about it. Even then, the scientists take steps to make sure truth doesn't infect them too heavily. Can you tell a scientist apart without the lab coat? Or are they just like everyone else - just a regular guy with a regular job?

Soldiers, of course, you can spot at forty paces - because ignoring reality means their life. Also boot camp, but that's a detail, and could be changed.

Thus, we have political formulae. And advertising. And fanatics of every stripe, texture, and fragrance.

The Mind's Machine
So what about this rationalization-to-subconscious control dealie? How can I show that more clearly?

One of the ways is to simply look at extremes. A Muslim basically thinks that if they eat in the day during Ramadan, they will go to hell.

But what if they were starving? Say, lost in a forest, and they get out in the middle of Ramadan? Will their religion stop them from eating?

In general, no. During the other extreme, complete comfort, if you asked them about it before, or even after the experience, they will rave and rant about how important it is to fast during Ramadan. When their situation changes, so do their values.

From a logical perspective, this is a slippery slope. Without a clear logical or qualitative boundary between allowed violations and the disallowed, there's nothing to stop me from using a light bruise or even 'general malaise' to justify breaking fast. Given that, even the threat of hell is empty, because if I can risk hell in extenuating circumstances, the only barrier to me declaring a circumstance extenuating is an emotional-associative rejection. We can see the result of that in today's majority 'Christian' America. Erosion is the key word.

Similarly, when an abortion protester becomes pregnant, they often suddenly find sisterhood with their pro-choice least until they've recovered and are ready to go back to the picket line.

None of this causes a reworking of the beliefs of the hypocrite. Instead, a rationalization occurs.

If you're still not convinced, test it yourself! Accepting Ignorance: science you can do at home.

Go watch people. Just people you meet anyway; no need to go out of your way. Check each of their actions against what you know of their beliefs, and if it clashes, go ask them what their reasoning is! Don't confront them or try to catch them in the contradiction - just verify that a contradiction occurred, and that a rationalization is the enabling factor.

The prediction of this theory is that when it's convenient, people will drop everything they believe in, by engaging in rationalization. I don't believe you will find this prediction anything but useful, at least if you remember that being watched, 'the boss is in,' is an effective antidote to this behavior.

The Machine's Mind
Now, because the conscious mind is engaged in creating and maintaining lies, it's natural to wonder where the reality-based planning comes from. I turn to observations of how people actually come by decisions, including myself.

People, as I'm sure you know, rarely think through the things they are going to do. Outside engineering circles, the impact of theory on action is less reliable than the impact of weather.

So how do people come by decisions, at least as we perceive it?

People achieve their decisions mostly by instinct, with some help from tropisms.

By instinct I don't directly mean inborn knowledge, like how a snake can feed itself straight out of the egg, because in humans the instincts are completely swamped by the influences of higher brain functions.

Instead, I mean actions humans take that are basically instinctive - actions that require no thought at all. Habits, essentially, though not all instincts are quite as repetitive.

This is because our instincts as adults are direct lines to the real decision maker - the subconscious. Instinctive or gut reactions, including evaluations of truth statements, are much faster than conscious thought but clearly involve some kind of processing. These two facts combined requires that the subconscious in humans is a powerful logical computer in its own right.

Tropisms are simply the more emotionally-weighted version of this. People have direct emotional attractions and repulsions, which entrain instinct and conscious thought.

This is something you can't directly observe in other people, though you can observe it in yourself. You have instincts, yes? And attractions and repulsions? You will find that I've described them accurately. Similarly, you will find that human behavior closely follows this model.

Now, if I'm right and the subconscious is the true ruler of the hypocrite, you won't ever need to know a person's 'most deeply held values' to predict their behavior. You just need a representative list of likes and dislikes. Their values are irrelevant, unless for some reason you want to construct their rationalization before they tell you about them.

But doesn't that falsify my contention that society is run by lies? Doesn't it mean that the conscious mind is simply window dressing? In fact, doesn't it counteract the whole point of the self-deception circuits?

No. The subconscious is a powerful computer, but it is limited. Without an alliance with the conscious side of things, anything that isn't directly, physically affecting the organism is beyond its scope.

Society as the Interplay of Fictions
And thus, war.

War is never a good idea. It shouldn't even be possible anymore. While in William the Conqueror's time, with armies of a whopping 7000, you could promise real power to each soldier. In other words, actually involve them in the spoils of conquest. Now, however, a soldier has to be paid in lies. If the soldiers of both sides simply refused to give up their life so that some random politician could obtain some random goal, wars would be impossible. There's nothing material that a soldier can gain through soldiering that they cannot gain elsewhere - only the politician has a unique use for the soldier.

In fact, basically every political or religious debate is completely dominated by conscious entities - which unavoidably means that it's based on lies.

No wonder the American experiment resoundingly denied its hypothesis.

Of course, then, true philosophers or anyone who loves truth is going to be ridiculed and shamed. With the entire society set up by liars in accordance with the prophecy of liars, taking into account that liars will crop up all over the place, truth has a small and ever diminishing role to play.

Indeed, unless the philosopher takes all this into account, they themselves will simply be a new node on the web of lies. In fact, it would appear that philosophers are actually the greatest experts at lying, the most erudite and adroit manipulators of opinion.

The only reason philosophers are reviled is because people really do hate being lied to.

The End
So, I've explained how the lies set up residence and maintain themselves; I've explained how people maintain their physical selves and their bridges; I've outlined how the lies interact and create our society as we know it. I've even, in a roundabout way, shown how useful the lies are to the liars.

Now, I'm not actually in a position to judge. While I happen to abhor hypocrisy, and see it everywhere, there's good reason to believe that it may be inevitable. As such, a condemnation is pointless at best.

Indeed, it would appear that nearly all of people's major goals are getting achieved just fine as it is. What, exactly, could I propose as necessary to improve?

What I'm saying is that these lies are not in and of themselves bad. They exist; if you want to make precise predictions or live in harmony with your fellow human you have to take them into account; but most people don't seem to see a need to do so.

Despite the length, breadth, and depth of this essay, there isn't a single moral reason to stop lying to yourself.

It's a matter of personal preference.

The question for the naively honest is, "But how do I deal with all these liars? How do I best relate to their clear contradictions?"

And the answer is that their real self is contained in their subconscious; their conscious mind is a mass of lies, often self-contradicting, and can be safely ignored as a person. Whatever they tell you, don't bother to take it seriously.

Instead, find their real preferences and attractions, and deal with them around those. Don't bother to affect their beliefs; they're not their real beliefs anyway. I wonder if that's why it's so hard to argue someone down from their insanity; you're not arguing with their real beliefs at all, so their emotional apparatus, a part of the subconscious mind, engages weirdly, indicating irrelevancy on your part or something like that.

Occasionally, just occasionally, you'll find someone who really prefers truth. Then, and only then, should you take their overt protestations as truth. It may not be, but if they really value truth they will like it when you change their mind, just like I do. Otherwise, you'll quickly find that their protestations are immovable, in which case you misjudged their values.

On the other hand, you might be a liar yourself. If so, congratulations! You're a normal, well-adjusted human being, adored by your friends and respected by your enemies. I have no idea how you made it through this essay.


Anonymous said...

Aren't you conflating truth with honesty?

Anonymous said...

You don't believe someone can be misinfomed, or is it that you believe people who are misinformed are lying when they spread what they think is valid information?

In my own opinion I would say that honesty and truth are seperate concepts, truth is epistemolgical and honesty is ethical. not only that you can be being honest while what you are saying is untrue, and you can say things that are untrue for dishonest reasons.

Anonymous said...

I responded to this but I got an error message so I am not going to type it out in full again. I'll just ask a question instead. you think that honesty indicates truth?

Alrenous said...

When one declares a statement, there's usually an implicit statement, "I believe this statement is true." If you're mistaken, this statement is true.

So, instinctive hypocrisy. This is when the above implicit statement is mistaken. It is a little finicky to test, because conscious and unconscious hypocrisy are so similar.

Is this hypocrite a liar? When I wrote this piece, I would have said yes. Yet they believe that they believe. Now I put it in a separate category and I don't worry about the word unless I absolutely have to.

Alrenous said...

As to your second message, I'll try shutting moderation off.

Anonymous said...

you are just shifting your argument one step further back. lets ignore your escape into the subject of hypocrisy, it just muddies the water.

My argument is simple. it is pretty easy for someone to be misinformed, they do not have to be certain to say something (certainty seems to be a slippery requirement in these things). do you think newton was lying, because his theory was untrue?

This is what it comes down to.

Alrenous said...

Bad example. Newton was correct, simply incomplete.

Drew said...

"Bad example. Newton was correct, simply incomplete."

Life often gets in the way of interesting debates on blogs.

Einstein theory contradicts newton's theory at its root, therefore newton's theory was falsified, when it tuned out light did bend and did not travel instantaneousl. Saying a false theory is incomplete is a vague conventionalist strategem to avoid refutation and can be used in the service of all sorts of false ideas.

I am still interested in why you cannot distinguish between epistemic issues and psychological ones. Honest and truth are two radically different things the one does not in anyway rely on the other.

Alrenous said...

I see you've never studied physics in a serious way.

Quantum theory is entirely based on approximations, because nobody knows how to analytically solve the equations. Specifically, perturbation theory.

First, Newton's theory is not rooted in the speed of light. It's rooted in the three laws, which do not mention light at all.

Second, it is approximately true. The same kind of true as quantum theory is.

The same kind of true Einstein's theory is.

To make an exact measurement takes infinite information. Information has mass. Such a measurement would literally destroy the universe. The universe itself does not make precise measurements because it can't.

To say Einstein falsified Newton is to say that Nature falsifies Herself.

Drew said...

"I see you've never studied physics in a serious way."

Irrelevant and false.

"Quantum theory is entirely based on approximations, because nobody knows how to analytically solve the equations. Specifically, perturbation theory."


"First, Newton's theory is not rooted in the speed of light. It's rooted in the three laws, which do not mention light at all."

It predicted that light travels instantaneously, or at least that gravity did which is false. The three laws especcially law 2 works only in limited ways, note works. Things can work and be untrue.

"Second, it is approximately true. The same kind of true as quantum theory is."

Which is precisely to say that it is false. What I think you mean is that its predictions about the where some x would be were approximate, which is a different matter from the theory itself being true, if it has stipulations that a certain thing will be found in a certain approxmiate area and it is found somewhere in that area then it has been corroborated, and if it does not it ends up being false.

"The same kind of true Einstein's theory is."

No it is not, because einsteins theory predicted different approximations for somethings and therefore helped in creating a prediciton that falsified newton's theory. There is, let me, reiterat a difference between the accuracy and precision of predictions and the truth value of the theory it is deductively inferred from.

"To make an exact measurement takes infinite information."

Irrelevant, because we are not talking about accuracy or precision of predictions.

"Information has mass. Such a measurement would literally destroy the universe. The universe itself does not make precise measurements because it can't."


"To say Einstein falsified Newton is to say that Nature falsifies Herself. "

What a peculiar comment. When you falsify a theory, you falsify a guess about some set of data, by invoking a new set of data which that theory (conjecture, guess) does not explain, and which another theory might explain and which therefore supersedes it as an explanation of the data.

Alrenous said...

It's obvious to me you haven't studied physics seriously because there's a number of insights you're lacking that I got from physics. My fellow students did not lack them - it's not some sort of special insight on my part, and it's strongly correlated with physics study. Notably, I see them in physics papers too, so it's not location specific.

Did you know sin(x)= x ? It's pretty important that sinx = x. Almost literally, QM is based on the fact that sinx = x.

Similarly, that Newton's theory is one particular limit of GR. It's a different limit of QM. It is the same theory from a different angle.

Saying a theory in incomplete is a sophist trick? Then every physicists is a sophist. Every theory in incomplete. GR can be beautiful, but it is also painfully incomplete. QM or QCD or whatever we feel like calling it is less beautiful but no less painfully incomplete.

Why are there so many classes on Newton if all there is to say about Newton's theory is that it's falsified? Because that's hardly there's all to say about it.

Specifically, the different angle is, "I don't want to dick around with Ricci tensors today." You get an answer within 0.001% of true, it's good enough. Similarly, when you have to dick around with Ricci tensors, you get an answer within 0.001% of true, and you call it good enough because it is.

Phlogiston was falsified. It makes inaccurate predictions. Newton was not falsified, it makes merely imprecise predictions. Newton was expanded and generalized.


More generally, you can make a prediction that's more precise than you can measure. Then you cannot know if it's accurate or not at those decimal places. Which can be important in e.g. chaotic systems.

(In the right context, Newton can make predictions more precise than can be measured.)

The ultimate measuring instrument is the brain.

The only way to know if a belief is true is by whether it is predictive.

A belief can (in theory) make a prediction more precise than a brain can apprehend.

In which case, the truth would be less predictive. E.g. many-worlds theory. Let's say the cogent objections are mistaken, and it's true. Since it is impossible to perceive the other worlds, it is exactly like classical probability is true.

A psychological block against truth feeds back into the only way to apprehend truth in the first place. If it does so once, it must do so all the time. At its base, the epistemic is the psychological. In other words, the idealists were onto something. It turns out, when fully steelmanned, idealism and realism are the same thing. Since they're supposed to be opposites, it would seem that philosophy as a culture has misunderstood both, and still does.


Speaking of measuring instruments, there's a phase change at physical limits. It is possible to make a prediction more precise than you can measure, but also possible to make one more precise than nature can measure. Which means more precise than nature can instantiate.

Newton's theory does it all the time.

To say Newton is falsified because it is imprecise is to indict Nature, not Newton. So, we don't say it's falsified. We say it's incomplete. GR and QM are additions to Newton. They are Newton++. Newton's issue is that it is too simple, not that it is inaccurate.