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Then Let Me Find The Cause To Your Confusion

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Posted by Harvey on August 1, 2003 16:22:44 UTC

Harv: A good explanation should satisfy us Mike: 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?

It depends. If your opinion is what counts for me (e.g., you're a person that can decide my future...), then it's not a good enough explanation from my perspective if I think having you agree is necessary. If, on the other hand, your opinion doesn't affect how I feel, then it is a good explanation for me to give to you. From you viewpoint, if what I explain to you does not satisfy you, but it satisfies all the people whose opinions matter to you, then you might be the kind of person who struggles to come to grips with the puzzle on why it doesn't satisfy you but satisfies all those who's opinions matter. You might respond by adopting a new conceptual scheme in line with your colleagues and accept my good explanation, or you might become like Dick and write a model of reality paper and tell all your colleagues that they are like sheep and do not think for themselves and risk becoming an outcast if need be. If the people who matter to you also agree with you (or they think you are at least justified in seeing it as a poor explanation), then your lack of satisfaction is justification to perceive this as a poor explanation.

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."

By 'satisfaction' I mean what you judge to be your overall satisfaction. If your colleagues reject you, and you see that as more important to your overall satisfaction than being satisfied with a specific explanation, you might 'give in' and accept the 'truth' simply because it is more overall satisfactory to do so (rather than risk being shunned, etc). In the case of "it's absolutely true I'm going to die", in this case your overall satisfaction for being realistic supercedes the specific dissatisfaction with accepting this unpleasant future. If you were willing to forego your overall satisfaction of being realistic, you might accept a disillusional belief in spite of the realistic circumstances around you. That's okay as long as the cost of ignoring your overall satisfaction needs for being realistic don't overwhelm your ability to stay the course of your hopeful belief. If you were overt about it and openly said that "you weren't going to die", you might feel the social pressure mount in your personal and career life where people considered you strange, etc, and eventually alienated you to the point to whatever satisfaction you obtained from believing that you weren't going to die was not worth it to you any longer to either keep saying your pet belief openly in public, or just not believe it anymore if you found your internal mental state suffering from this odd belief.

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.

Not exactly correct. I think truth is ultimately inaccessible, but we can believe what we believe is true since this is what makes our interaction with the world meaningful. If the world is not meaningful (i.e., the benefit that comes from understanding), then it is not very satisfactory (since we are frustrated by our inability to understand it, i.e., the experience of meaninglessness). If we divorce ourselves from believing that what we believe is absolutely true, then we can become disillusioned and unable to function properly in a meaningless situation. Therefore, since meaninglessness is an unsatisfactory state, we have the right to proceed in our beliefs of what is true and what is not in order to obtain satisfaction with the meaning that this belief provides. This is how we arrive at a meaningful state.

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.

Here we have to reword the self-reference statement so that it makes sense within the context of what I am saying:

L1: "Absolute truth cannot be known" cannot possibly be an absolutely true statement.

L1': "Absolute truth cannot be known" cannot fully satisfy our notions of possibility and truth such that this statement is believed to be an absolutely satisfactory statement of truth.

The L1' statement is translated into the satisfaction/belief language that I require to be associated with any ontic term, and therefore L1' becomes acceptable and non-contradictory. The statement "absolute truth cannot be known" is something we cannot believe with 100% satisfaction. We can be satisfied enough to say that "absolute truth cannot be known", but we that doesn't mean we say it or believe it with 100% confidence.

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.

I disagree. We are just satisfied in their truth. No scientific model has a claim to absolute truth. If it did, then there wouldn't be small, small discrepancies in the measurement results. Those small discrepancies might be due to the equipment failure, etc, but we cannot say with 100% certainty that the error is because of something else (e.g., a new physical phenomena such as dark matter or dark energy, etc).

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.

Not in my approach. Truth is gauged based on our overall satisfaction with the explanation and/or measurement/observation. Therefore, incomplete theories do not make them false in every context. It just makes them unsatisfactory beyond certain contexts. If the reduced 'lower' theory cannot properly link to the approximated 'higher' theory, then the approximated 'higher' theory (or reduced theory) might be false entirely since we are not overall satisfied by the way in which the approximated theory and reduced theory are unable to be causally linked by good explanation. In this case, we might reject one or both theories as unsatisfactory (i.e., untrue) since the two theories do not cohere properly (i.e., to the overall satisfaction of experts, in this case).

"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.

"He died because of pneumonia" is a satisfactory answer in a certain context, and as long as that context is understood, then it is to be considered a true statement.

Harv: All we can do to understand the world is make our poking attempts to model reality and compare the model results with our experience. Mike: Is that really all we can do? How do you know?

I don't absolutely know, but I have enough confidence in that statement that I consider it true. That type of knowledge is based on my experience that scientific models are subject to change and that when we reduce explanations long enough and hard enough, we find that there is still an incomplete knowledge in our theories. At some point, we would see that our theories become unconfirmed and even speculative. Just go to your local university's physics department and ask them to explain dark energy on a purely factual basis so that there are no missing details or lack of evidence to back up what they say.

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

An explanation in my view is not to be seen as 'absolutely true' in the sense that there is absolutely no room for error (i.e., our satisfaction with an explanation is not 100%, it appears there is room for yet more explanation to any explanation). However, an explanation that is very satisfactory does tell you more about a problem since with a good explanation comes an understanding, and with understanding comes more curiosity as to what remains to be explained. This is how knowledge is created.

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.

I guess it all depends on what satisfies you about the study of truth.

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.

Given that mice must look for food and feel satisfied that they found the right food, I'd say they have some concept of truth. It's not that they ponder the concept as a meta concept, but obviously they are presented with decisions of "is it" or "isn't it" and must decide which is true (i.e., their level of satisfactory has been met in order to expend effort to scratch at, squeeze through, etc).

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?

I never said that satisfaction had to be a higher conscious brain function.

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?

We gotta start somewhere.

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