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I'm Even More Confused

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Posted by Mike Levine on August 1, 2003 14:33:24 UTC

A good explanation should satisfy us

I suppose then you won't mind if I say your explanation is not good because it doesn't satisfy me. Is that how it works?

whereas talk of good conditions don't satisfy. Let me give an example. If we want to know the cause for the origin of life on earth, we aren't just asking for the conditions that existed on the young earth.

I'm not Mick Jagger. I'm looking for truth, not satisfaction. Truth can be quite unsatisfying sometimes, as in "it's absolutely true I'm going to die."

And I can tell you if you want to know the cause for the origin of life on earth, you won't find it. It doesn't exist, except as a lie fabricated to satisfy some people. And with that I realize there's no disagreement whatsoever between us. You believe explanations are not supposed to be true, they're only supposed to satisfy. I believe people often seek for explanations that are not true just because it gives them a sense of satisfaction. Our only point of contention is that you believe truth cannot be known, whereas I'm convinced the former assertion amounts to a version of the liar paradox and as such should not be taken seriously. "Absolute truth cannot be known" cannot possibly be an absolutely true statement.

I don't see truth-like propositions (e.g., physical laws) as synonymous with illusion.

That's not what I meant. All I said was that something that looks true but is not true sounds to me like an illusion. You may call it misperception or anything else.

We lack a complete causal theory for causal events (i.e., events that are typically seen as causally related). However, we have incomplete causal theories which science has identified. They do break down eventually, but they are still seen as satisfactory in terms of describing approximate causes.

Actually, the above is wrong. We have many theories that are absolutely true in any sense of the word 'true'. In fact, they are not even called theories, they are called "laws", because the people who understand them know they can't possibly be invalidated by any experiment.

[cause-effect relationships are...] not false, just not complete.

It's in fact their incompleteness that makes them false. And it's their incompleteness that make them useful. There are many "complete" theories, but they are all tautologies of sorts and therefore useless.

"He died because of pneumonia" is false but extremely useful; knowledge of "pneumonia" may help a person postpone their death. "He died because he was alive" is true but useless; it gives you no information you didn't have before.

All we can do to understand the world is make our poking attempts to model reality and compare the model results with our experience.

Is that really all we can do? How do you know?

The problem with focusing on truth conditions is that they make for poor explanations.

I wouldn't call them 'poor', I'd call them 'useless'. An explanation that is absolutely true cannot possibly tell you something you didn't already know or something that wasn't implied by your knowledge. All good explanation make a jump across a void of knowledge; the thing that makes them useful is the very thing that removes their foundations.

There are criteria that can be identified in many instances, but philosophers have failed to identify a workable theory of truth that works universally in language and in modeling reality (even deflationist or minimalist definitions of truth such as ones that try to discount the notion of truth entirely).

Given that hot-dog vendors and three year-old kids understand "truth" well enough to sell hot-dogs or learn English, I'd say philosophers have done a very poor job. The problem with 'truth' is that it's not a subject for philosophers anymore than 'vision' is a subject for ophthalmologists. A blind ophthalmologist is as useless as a philosopher who doesn't know what truth is.

This is what is absolutely fascinating not only of the human mind, but animals too have a instinctual ability to discern truthful situations that they depend upon for survival.

Do you really think a mouse has any concept of 'truth' anymore than it has a concept of 'Sunday evening' or 'infinity'? Last time I checked mice didn't speak so they cannot tell any truths.

The ability to ignore some irrelevant data and focus on the pertinent details appears to be key to our evolutionary survival.

Do you really think squirrels are 'focussing on pertinent details' when they are gathering food for next winter? Or is it how your mostly idle conscious mind distracts itself by conceiving of the world of squirrels while your lower brain does the real work of keeping you alive?

The world is billions of years old. Life, several million. Philosophy, a couple thousand. Any serious look on the subject reveals the fact that philosophy is just a distraction for over-evolved minds with more intellectual power than intellectual needs. Let's keep things in perspective, shall we?

Regards, ML

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