The Truth about Truth

As a non-cognitivist, I don’t believe in Truth, so I am not entirely sure why it matters enough to me to continue to write about it. I suppose I’m an Emotivist and Prescriptivist, if these terms capture the essence of my feelings. The Emotivism is what attracts me to an issue whilst Prescriptivism is why I feel the urge to transmit my beliefs. I’ll also suppose, if I adopt an evolutionary survival framework, that people do this to enhance probability of survival by minimising otherness. It also identifies me to those with a similar perspective. The inherent risk is that this attempt at community building also broadcasts my potential—and let’s be real here, actual—otherness.

In practice, I’d venture that most people simply take the notion of truth for granted, and given an inquiry would defend it with an ‘of course it’s true‘ with no need for additional justification. But as with human language more generally, Truth is an approximation of a notion. I like to categorise it as Archetypal.

The issue with Truth and other virtues and (pretty much everything not analytically tautological), is that people seem to believe that they operate asymptotically, but the truth is it’s not that simple. I wonder if some actually believe that it is even more approachable than even asymptotic.

I am self-aware that employing the language of maths and science is a problem adopted for many in philosophy, as they attempt to legitimatise a position by explaining it into the currently adopted meta-narrative framework. I also know that by adopting this frame, I (or anyone in a similar position) am (is) twisted into convoluted knots. This is how science had been forced into retrograde motion models to explain a geocentric model of the universe, but when the paradigm was shifted to a heliocentric model, these off behaviours fell by the wayside. I suppose a superior approach would be to redefine the language and deposition the frame, but that’s easier said that done.

Graph: Correspondence of Truth to Reality (Asymptotic Curve)

The common assumption is that, over time, scientific inquiry will lead us closer to the truth. Correspondence theory supports the notion that more observations and perspectives will lead to a closer approximation, and eventually tools at our disposal will lead to more granular definitions, until we reach a point that and differences in the tangency to reality will be insignificant, a veritable rounding error. But there are several problems with these assumptions.

FIRST

We have no idea how close or far we are from Reality on the Y (Truth) axis.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is truth-correspondence-1.png
Graph: Correspondence of Truth to Reality (Asymptotic Curve)

Assuming for the time being that there is an approachable truth, we have no reference to understand how close to reality we might be. In practice, we seem to operate on a basis of always being within some level of statistical significance of where Truth = Reality, and when new information is introduced, we say, “Hooray for Science!” Aren’t we glad that science is self-correcting. And Empiricism has its own issues.

Historically, we’ve had ‘wrong’ correspondence between Truth and Reality, but then we got it ‘right’—until we didn’t.

We may all know how Einstein progressed and refined Newtonian physics. What Einstein did is to create a new narrative—a synchronous shift of paradigm and rhetoric—, which has been accepted into a new orthodoxy. In our mind, this feels like progress. How close are we to the real truth?

Taking our understanding of gravity or of the fabric of space-time, we still have no idea what’s going on or how it operates, but this doesn’t prevent us from accepting it as a black box and making pragmatic predictions from there. So, for all intents and purposes, the ‘truth’ mechanism is less important than the functional relationship, just as I can tell time on a watch I have no idea how it operates.

SECOND

We have no idea if any changes to our perception move us closer to or further from Reality.

Rather than being asymptotic, perhaps the relationship to is polynomial (or the result of some stochastic function). See the graph above. As we move into the future (in red) and look back, we may perceive that we’ve reversed against some notion of progress. Common wisdom is that progress is directly, positively related to time. But is it?

In my first amendment, I reference how Einstein progressed and refined Newtonian physics, but in the future, this could be shown to be wrong. In our minds, what had seemed like progress may in retrospect turn out to have been a false assertion.* Moreover, we’ll dutifully accept this updated notion of truth if the rhetoric is sufficient to fit our concept of evidence, especially given humans’ propensity for pareidolia.

Taking our understanding of gravity as the fabric of space-time, we still have no idea what’s going on or how it operates, but this doesn’t prevent us from accepting it as a black box and making pragmatic predictions from there. So, for all intents and purposes, the ‘truth’ mechanism is less important than the functional relationship, just as I can tell time on a watch I have no idea how it operates.

I am no true Sceptic, but neither do I accept the prevailing meta-narrative whole cloth. Unfortunately, I am in no better position than the next to discern proximity to the underlying structure of reality.

THIRD

Rhetoric is a primary driver to fashion our sense of how close or distant we are from reality. Rhetoric shapes and focuses the frame.

War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, and Ignorance Is Strength

1984, George Orwell

I’ve already commented at length about the primacy of rhetoric. To recap for the purpose of this disquisition, the only meaningful arbiter of truth is rhetoric—the ability to persuade the larger populace to accept something as true.

Here, I’d expect someone to counter with, ‘Just because people are convinced that something is true doesn’t make it so’, and they’d be right. However, as we cannot access the underlying reality accept through our admittedly fallible senses, who’s to argue?

Moreover—going off on a tangent—, we know that other lifeforms—let’s stick with the animal kingdom—have different senses than humans, and some humans perceive things differently to the normie (if I may adopt a spectrum term) .

Sharks have electroreception (re: The Ampullae of Lorenzini), which allows them to perceive small changes in electrical fields as well as what’s termed a lateral line ( mechanoreceptor function), which allows them to recognise changes in environmental pressure. Other known sensory adaptations are echolocation in bats and dolphins and chemoreceptors (notably in insects and snails).

We are probably also aware that different animals have differing degrees of sense acuity compared to humans. Dogs hear frequencies above the human threshold and have better olfactory discrimination. Birds of prey have superior vision. Women typically have a broader colour vocabulary.

Bees see in ultraviolet; snakes can ‘see’ in infrared; owls have night-vision.

And then there’s synesthesia, a condition in which one sense is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses. A person with synesthesia may perceive sound as colour (chromesthesia) or perhaps taste.

Given concepts of normality, we presume we are synesthesia are normal and these other people are somehow not, but for all we know, we normies are evolutionary dead ends, soon to be displaced by synesthesiacs. (Is that even a word? It is now.)

But I digress.

Perception is reality. If one can convince you of something, e.g. Donald Trump is a good president, then it’s ostensibly true to you. If one can convince an entire population that something is true, e.g. the plot of Orwell’s 1984, or The Matrix, then who’s to say otherwise.

FOURTH

Intent in communicating perception does not get one closer to some corresponding reality. It merely diverges perception.

This fourth entry is a response to this comment by Landzek from The Philosophical Hack regarding the notion of intended truth in communication.

Extending the simple asymptotic function from the first amend, we might see (in Graph 4a) a slight variation in interpretation due to the insufficiencies of language—providing us with a close enough for the government approximation to some shared perception. People in this group will tend to agree on some perception, say, that the earth is spherical.** The average distance from perception to reality is the same for all in-group members, give or take some small variance that I’ll dismiss as an insignificant rounding error.

Graph 4a: Correspondence of Truth to Reality (Simplified in-group concurrence)

Graph 4b, however, illustrates two opposing perceptions of reality. In this example, I show proponents of orthodoxy (group O), who claim the earth to be roughly spherical, arbitrarily closer to reality than proponents of an alternative theory (group A), who claim that the earth is flat.

Each in-group has some variance from the mean notion, but ex-group members are orders of magnitude apart, as measured by the blue and red bars to the right of the chart. If we assume some binary condition that the earth is either spherical or flat with no other options, one of these might be considered to be right whilst the other would be wrong. We can establish this situation relative to the ex-groups, but, still, neither of these is comparable to Reality™ .


Graph 4b: Correspondence of Truth to Reality (Simplified ex-group concurrence)

The intent of each group may be to promote the perspective of the group—each claiming to be closer to the truth than the other. It is easy to imagine a situation where both claimants are equally distant from the truth:

Imagine two groups, each making opposing claims:

  • Tarot is superior to Astrology in predicting the future.
  • Astrology is superior to Tarot in predicting the future.

I’ll go out on a limb here and create a reality where the future is not predictable by either measure, irrespective of what each in-group believes.


* I am not versed well enough in the history of science, but I’d be interested to know which, if any, scientific advances have been a step ‘backward’, that a belief had overtaken a prior belief only to have reverted to the former.

I am aware of the slow march of science and the ignorance of possibly valid assertions simply because the rhetoric was not strong enough or the PR just wasn’t adequate. An example might be the debate of theoretical Democracy versus Communism: which is better than the other. Of course, there are too many dimensions to consider, and the adoption or exclusion of one dimension over another might be enough to tilt the outcome.

In the real world—see what I did there—, the US spend billions upon billions of dollars to interfere with Communism—and I am not taking a position whether it would have succeeded or failed on its own terms—, just to be able to knock down the strawman some century later though propagandising and disinformation campaigns.


** I understand that the earth being an oblate spheroid is primarily an analytical distinction, so is tautologically true, but I am using a simplification of a commonly accepted fact.


DISCLAIMER: In order to keep generating new content (or even content) on this blog, I will occasionally adopt a new approach of publishing unfinished thoughts instead of waiting to complete the thought. This means, I may be editing pages in place to correct my position and alter narrative flow, of not the narrative itself.

EDIT: I’ve included my amendments in line above, though I’ve retained links to the original content.

18 thoughts on “The Truth about Truth

  1. Cool essay.
    I wonder not only how far reality might be in the approach, but how the idea that there is a juxtaposed situation might be involved in the equation you are problematizing. Why or in what way are we being able to view a ‘perception’ that is not true or not (quite) real against the perception that there is a real vector?

    What is informing me to being wrong that there is a right that I am approaching ? Or a right in the approaching the Right (real)?

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    1. In re: What is informing me to being wrong that there is a right that I am approaching? Or a right in the approaching the Right (real)?

      Right and wrong are contextual. There are no universal rights or wrongs. One needs to first subscribe to some metanarrative about how the world operates and then adopt the rights and wrongs of that system. If you were born in a different time or place, your moral compass would likely be different to the one you (or I) have currently adopted.

      A simple example might be to ask if eating pork is right or wrong. The answer will depend on your worldview and your upbringing. I don’t happen to eat pork, but I don’t think it’s morally wrong. I do have feelings of compassion for pigs, but I eat chickens, so who am I to talk? I get upset when I am with someone ordering veal or lambs, but that’s not a moral issue. Peter Singer has a different take on the topic, which I touched on in my Speciesism post a little while back.

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      1. I mean “right” in the sense of a right/true/correct reality, not morality.

        What is this reality that is supposed ‘correct’ that one approaches like in your post ?

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      2. I think I’ve answered this already (and I discuss this in my next post: https://philosophicsblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/28/the-truth-about-truth-first/), but, essentially, I am saying that the chasm between what is and what is correspondingly perceived will (1) never be bridged and (2) know way to know that it’s been bridged. Humans pretty much always operated from a position of believing their current state if the world as true.

        Flat-earthers come to mind. Most people, I think, believe that the earth is a spheroid, This is the orthodoxy, and I subscribe to it. Any counter-claim seems to be falsifiable. Yet some people still do not accept this so-called knowledge as true or right. Were I a sceptic, I suppose I’d say both may be mistaken. But my point is, whatever we believe, we believe to be true.

        I’m pretty sure I can’t hold something I don’t believe to be true as also true, so the world cannot be simultaneously spherical and flat unless I get into some unreal non-Euclidean maths.

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      3. In this model, what is ‘real’ is so without context. It is unchanged by subjective perspective of time or place or language. There may be a ‘correct’ reality, but (1) there is no way to know it’s correct, and (2) there is no way to validate you are correct. The best one can hope for is to perceive one is correct, and our perception is always subjective to us and experience. This is a typical problem with Empiricism.

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  2. I think the more actual situation could be that whatever we are thinking at the time could be no other wayand is entirely real. For when do I ever have a perception that somehow dissipates, doesn’t inform me to anything at all and yet somehow I’m able to have that perception or thought it? At no time does this ever happen. In fact, I would argue that whatever thought I’m having at any particular time could not have arisen if it were not real. The idea that I might be having some sort of false conception or perception of what reality is is it self a real perception. The content of the perception of the unreal, or a perception or a concept that is compared to real in as much as it is not reflecting, somehow, the real content of the situation, is it south I thought that could exist in reality in no other way than it actually does.

    The notion that I am having concepts or perceptions that are not real I think is a particular formulation of human consciousness to justify itself in the world, but that it could be a no other way.

    But in fact that the only way that I can have an Perception, or an understanding of something that I later find out wasn’t real, or even in the immediate sense of finding out that what I thought was true is not so true as in Rio, is to have some sort of communion, some sort of connection with some sort of “mind” or some sort of lens upon reality that is outside of reality itself.

    Personally I think this is the point that Kierkegaard is making about the whole enlightenment project: that while people think that they are coming up with conceptions that somehow negate religion or somehow rational as opposed to irrational, is it self and irrational notion of truth, A sort of mass hallucination or fantasy that thinks it’s getting somewhere, thinks it’s self progressing, but in fact merely replays the same message over and over in different ways. Personally, I think Kierkegaard is saying that the authentic human being will realize that he is determined in existence and that The constituency of interpretation or concepts, in order for them to actually be true instead of merely approaching truth, or approaching reality but never getting there, is to make the absurd choice that can never arise.

    😄. How do you like them apples? Lol

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  3. In history, we’ve seen mass hysteria (begging forgiveness for the sexist term), so for these people, it was all too real. In the film, Friday the 13th, the horror is to not be able to distinguish between a shared reality and the personal reality, which had real consequences for those experiencing an alternate reality in their dreams.

    As for existential authenticity of Kierkegaard or Hegel (or Nietzsche or Jung), that’s either an aspect of identity or archetype, either way unapproachable. 😉

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  4. I suppose what I’m getting at is how can there be anything that is not real? Even a unicorn is real in context. Even things that are typically known or argued as not real are indeed real by the sheer fact that they are all involved with being able to know anything at all.

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    1. I see. What is ‘real’ here is language, as it were. I’ll bypass the epistemic question of whether one can know anything at all. Simply imagining something doesn’t make it real. Harry Potter and unicorns are not real. They are merely concepts. If you want to label the concept as real, that’s fine, but where does that get you. There is a saying, Thinking doesn’t make it so. And there is an extended version, There is nothing such that thinking doesn’t make it so, which is to say that Perception is reality.

      This takes a Pragmatic view. If you think it’s real, it is real. But this misses the shared aspect of reality. One is not likely going to get concurrence that unicorns or faeries are real…or Santa Claus.

      Some people attempt to define Santa Claus as a sort of spirit of Christmas and giving, but this is simply personification.

      Finally, in this definition of real, we are assessing the distance between, say, an object in this world and our perception of it. If you and I are describing a blue truck that we have access to, we could arrive at the same definition. If we were to capture the description independently, we could compare similarities and find a high correlation…even details as minuscule as how many screws are in the carburetor and what type of screwdriver is needed to fasten them.

      If we were to do the same for Santa, we’d probably get stuck at some representative jolly, old, fat man with a beard in a red suit, yadda, yadda, but we’d be unlikely to share reality if we were filling out a form with prompts for attributes:

      How many buttons? I thought he had a zipper.

      How many holes in each button? What colour are the buttons? What colour are his eyes?

      If we were noting the blue truck, we could observe analogous details with little variation, and any variation due to language could be easily remedied.

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      1. I question whether we could agree on the same object through only description. I think that agreement relies upon an assumption between parties. at some point, if one party were to continue to ask what the descriptive detail was, they would have to eventually agree despite the description. For example, the screw. There would first have to be an object between them to begin to describe it to agreement of what that real object is. From scratch, description never gives me (the other party) the object you are trying to give me. At some point I must ‘give up’ and just agree that we are taking about the same object.

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      2. And…what I mean by logistical is intra-knowledge. What is the path that knowledge must take in order to understand that there is a ‘reality’ and then a ‘subjectivity’ by which the totality of human beings are understood as common?

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