Two arms and a head guy

Allan HavinlingCommunication, Epistemology, Leaving Truth4 Comments

There has of late been much content produced on Popper’s Inversion which is close enough to the Leaving Truth philosophy to either be confused with it or seen as a counter-argument. I am referring here to the Doug Freyburger’s first three articles of Oct 2014, and his contributions to the long discussion of the article Religious Belief and the Scientific Method by Bert Bigelow. Regardless of its intent, I would like to elucidate the position of Popper’s Inversion.

HOPG substrate under STM imaging

Image of a graphite substrate demonstrating the atomic theory of matter to such level of certainty as to preclude serious doubt

In the first place, there is no doubt that Leaving Truth is enthusiastically pro-science, and its shortcomings as a scientific tome might be misconstrued by actual scientists. Yes knowledge may approach some line asymptotically, and there is a point at which any further dissent becomes a farce. “Leaving Truth” says that the asymptote itself is a division of reality created by man, and cannot be assumed to be reality’s own division. This is from Point 1 of the 8 point outline or (‘list of assertions”) given toward the beginning of the book, called “Base level anthropocentrism.”

Two arms and a head guy

Two arms and a head guy

A better example than any scientific result would be what I call “two arms and a head guy”. This appeared in Keith’s essay “Truth?” but is sadly missing from “Leaving Truth”. It’s the guy who says, “Well, whatever you may say, it is true that I have two arms and a head.” This little bit of knowledge doesn’t approach anything; it lives and dies on the asymptote. Keith dismisses it as redundant: “Why doesn’t the guy just say, ‘I have two arms and a head?’. What does the ‘It is true that’ actually add?” I was never satisfied with this, however. It sounded too much like a grammar problem, and I knew Keith meant something deeper than that. So I set my mind to solving it like a koan, figuring that if I could work this out, I would know “Truth?” (pun intended).

How do we get to the point where we regard the primary purpose of speech as communication of literal information, and all other purposes as subordinate? This is undoubtedly LT’s perspective, and it probably derives from Christian thought. (See my first reply to Doug Freyburger’s blog The mistakes of Biblical literalism and inerrancy). So ingrained is it in our culture that it took me decades to realize that it is not at all how people talk. Before I met Keith I had speech mapped onto several axes, one of which I called ‘truth’. Nowadays I might say this is the ‘literal’ axis. Other axes are ‘desire’, ‘friendship’, ‘loyalty’, ‘cohesion’, and ‘humor’. This is probably not an exhaustive list, and the axes are not orthogonal anyway. Honesty and dishonesty are quantitative measures that may be applied to any of the axes (even ‘humor’ if you think about it long enough). “Leaving Truth” addresses only the ‘literal’ axis as the one that might in theory yield Truth – and concludes that it cannot do so in any coherent sense.

Getting back to “two arms and a head guy”, our position is not that it doesn’t represent our experience, but rather that the divisions of reality we take to be important (two arms and a head) are not necessarily reality’s own divisions. Mosquitos partition reality in ways that suit them. While they probably do distinguish different types of flesh, we can be pretty sure that the salient differences have nothing to do with their being on heads or arms, or with any other divisions that might be meaningful to us.

We view every statement, every conversation, from our own prospective. We are trapped in that perspective, and can evaluate the perspective of others only in its terms. Maybe we can “get” what they’re trying to say, but maybe we can’t.
chicken-and-road

There is a sense in which some kinds of knowledge are asymptotic, but we will still hold that the asymptote itself cannot coherently be labeled “truth”, as we can see it to be – like all the rest – a division of reality that we create.

In parallel to the above, we can indeed ask Keith’s straightforward question, “What does ‘it is true that’ add to the sentence, ‘It is true that I have two arms and a head.’?” IF it is to add any meaning, it MUST mean that there is some external standard from which the statement “I have two arms and a head” may be judged. Most people intuitively feel this to be “the real world” or “reality in itself”, but as shown above that standard is beyond our ken. LT makes short work of revelation as a standard in Point 5, and I won’t bother repeating it here. But here is indeed where the danger lies – to our peace and to the planet. Revelation can but does not always mean Holy Scripture. Revelation can also be the argument terminus, “Because it’s true!”

But what about the observation, “I observe that I have two arms and a head”? So to Hell with the mosquito, right?, this is what he observes. Good for him. And if enough of us humans observe the same thing, and talk about it in the same way, such that it meets the test of coherence (see future post), we have knowledge.

It is the position of Popper’s Inversion that we should hold and express our beliefs simply and straightforwardly on the basis of how we ourselves arrived at them. If it’s a personal observation, great. If you read it in a book, tell us that – or even better, which one. There are many sources of knowledge. Keith lays out a 5 layer “knowledge selection procedure” toward the end of LT, but invites readers to work on their own. The salient point in all of this is that there is no need or place for “truth” in this system. We are literally “Leaving Truth” behind. Our contention is that our world will be a substantially better place without it.

4 Comments on “Two arms and a head guy”

  1. Doug Freyburger

    Allan Havinling –

    “There has of late been much content produced on Popper’s Inversion which is close enough to the Leaving Truth philosophy to either be confused with it or seen as a counter-argument. I am referring here to the Doug Freyburger’s first three articles of Oct 2014, and his contributions to the long discussion of the article Religious Belief and the Scientific Method by Bert Bigelow. Regardless of its intent, I would like to elucidate the position of Popper’s Inversion.”

    The idea of absolute truth can be viewed as having its origins is the assertions of a couple of religions that have a large minority of the world population as their members. Leaving in a region where one of those two faiths has a local majority gives us an “objects in mirror are closer than they appear” type of bias on the topic. As a member of a faith in the majority that is not those two, I found the concept of Popper’s Inversion interesting because there’s zero conflict between it and the religious majority of the world.

    I have become not convinced that the CI folks of the JCISMR family are the source of the concept of absolute truth, though. Plato’s Theory of Forms predates both Christianity and Islam, though it has been absorbed into them. I suppose they delivery the substrate not the origin but the substrate is good enough.

    “In the first place, there is no doubt that Leaving Truth is enthusiastically pro-science, and its shortcomings as a scientific tome might be misconstrued by actual scientists. Yes knowledge may approach some line asymptotically, and there is a point at which any further dissent becomes a farce.”

    Scientists tend to assume there is a real absolute underlying reality and that any one branch of science can and does asymptotically approach it. Whether they mentally simplify that to thinking they are chasing absolute reality or extend it to thinking they work with the Theory of Forms is up to the individual scientist. They work mostly in that spectrum.

    ” “Leaving Truth” says that the asymptote itself is a division of reality created by man, and cannot be assumed to be reality’s own division. This is from Point 1 of the 8 point outline or (‘list of assertions”) given toward the beginning of the book, called “Base level anthropocentrism.””

    I see that but don’t see the point. Divisions of reality may be arbitrary but when they are objectively testable they remain valid, or confirmed, or having reduced error bars or some similar statement. We may not get complete coverage when using our divisions, and some alien experimenter might make different divisions and hence different discoveries that lead to different technologies, but the results remain the results. As long as the results are objectively testable they work.

    “A better example than any scientific result would be what I call “two arms and a head guy”. This appeared in Keith’s essay “Truth?” but is sadly missing from “Leaving Truth”. It’s the guy who says, “Well, whatever you may say, it is true that I have two arms and a head.” This little bit of knowledge doesn’t approach anything; it lives and dies on the asymptote. Keith dismisses it as redundant: “Why doesn’t the guy just say, ‘I have two arms and a head?’. What does the ‘It is true that’ actually add?” I was never satisfied with this, however. It sounded too much like a grammar problem, and I knew Keith meant something deeper than that. So I set my mind to solving it like a koan, figuring that if I could work this out, I would know “Truth?” (pun intended).”

    It’s an artificial division to be sure. An alien experimenter with completely different physiology would not care. But once introduced to our physiology an alien experimenter could still gather statistics on us and report what percentage of our population is missing at least one arm. Let’s go with hex-ent-age and fr the fun of it have an alien species that decided to use hexadecimal numbering.

    “How do we get to the point where we regard the primary purpose of speech as communication of literal information, and all other purposes as subordinate?”

    I take it you really intended “How did I …”. Being from a faith with no conflict with science, I’m also from a faith with no conflict with General Semantics. Once I learned the topic I recognized that my speech is an attempt to push up an asymptote not an attempt at an absolute. Then I played Newton’s game of “for every delta there exists a sufficiently small epsilon such that it works” and I gave up worrying about the difference between asymptotic approximations and absolute statements. Target as far along the asymptotic path as I can get and the distinction from absolute truth becomes theoretically there but pragmatically absent.

    It isn’t the same definition of truth as that asserted by theologians of some religions I disagree with, but so what? Rather than cribbing Plato through them, I crib Plato independently of them. Rather than be offended by Newton’s infinitesimal reduction I wonder about how close the approximation gets at the Planck Length size domain. And I’m just fine with Christians calling the spirits between the Planck Lengths angels when I call them deities ;^)

    “This is undoubtedly LT’s perspective, and it probably derives from Christian thought. (See my first reply to Doug Freyburger’s blog The mistakes of Biblical literalism and inerrancy). So ingrained is it in our culture that it took me decades to realize that it is not at all how people talk.”

    Not all that many people study Plato’s Theory of Forms, even among the religious majority outside of the C/I realm. Besides, how often is it necessary to make a distinction between absolute truth and objectively testable fact? Science works wonders by expanding the domain of objectively testable fact and then handing it over to engineering to pretend it to be absolute truth and build civilization on that foundation of underlying assumption that works close enough to build civilizations on. We can land a probe on a comet by assuming special and general relativity are absolute truths. Hmm, not by assuming. Just by not addressing the distinction.

    “Before I met Keith I had speech mapped onto several axes, one of which I called ‘truth’. Nowadays I might say this is the ‘literal’ axis. Other axes are ‘desire’, ‘friendship’, ‘loyalty’, ‘cohesion’, and ‘humor’. This is probably not an exhaustive list, and the axes are not orthogonal anyway. Honesty and dishonesty are quantitative measures that may be applied to any of the axes (even ‘humor’ if you think about it long enough). “Leaving Truth” addresses only the ‘literal’ axis as the one that might in theory yield Truth – and concludes that it cannot do so in any coherent sense.”

    You’ve taken up using my metaphor of dimensional bases and to what extent they are normals to each other. Cool.

    “Getting back to “two arms and a head guy”, our position is not that it doesn’t represent our experience, but rather that the divisions of reality we take to be important (two arms and a head) are not necessarily reality’s own divisions. Mosquitos partition reality in ways that suit them. While they probably do distinguish different types of flesh, we can be pretty sure that the salient differences have nothing to do with their being on heads or arms, or with any other divisions that might be meaningful to us.”

    Should any Velociraptor’s had direct personal observation of Thor, their stories about him would have depicted him as a Velociraptor. That’s how perspective works. It does not make the existence of arbitrary divisions invalid when the results using them are consistent.

    “We view every statement, every conversation, from our own prospective. We are trapped in that perspective, and can evaluate the perspective of others only in its terms. Maybe we can “get” what they’re trying to say, but maybe we can’t.”

    This is the intersection of General Semantics and the epistemology used by science. Yes.

    “In parallel to the above, we can indeed ask Keith’s straightforward question, “What does ‘it is true that’ add to the sentence, ‘It is true that I have two arms and a head.’?” IF it is to add any meaning, it MUST mean that there is some external standard from which the statement “I have two arms and a head” may be judged.”

    It’s shorthand for the asymptotic approach and Newton’s method of infinitesimals applied to the statement.

    “Most people intuitively feel this to be “the real world” or “reality in itself”, but as shown above that standard is beyond our ken.”

    We don’t know either why and we have no way of knowing whether we can ever complete the set.

    “LT makes short work of revelation as a standard in Point 5, and I won’t bother repeating it here. But here is indeed where the danger lies – to our peace and to the planet. Revelation can but does not always mean Holy Scripture. Revelation can also be the argument terminus, “Because it’s true!””

    This is as much a problem with scientism as it is with dogmatic religions. Science says it therefore it must be true! Ooops, we didn’t take the error bars into account. What’s an error bar and how many carb grams does not of them have?

    “But what about the observation, “I observe that I have two arms and a head”? So to Hell with the mosquito, right?, this is what he observes. Good for him. And if enough of us humans observe the same thing, and talk about it in the same way, such that it meets the test of coherence (see future post), we have knowledge.”

    Once the mosquito has a model for arms and a head, mosquito experimenters will proceed to generate objectively validatable data about arms and a head.

    “It is the position of Popper’s Inversion that we should hold and express our beliefs simply and straightforwardly on the basis of how we ourselves arrived at them. If it’s a personal observation, great. If you read it in a book, tell us that – or even better, which one. There are many sources of knowledge. Keith lays out a 5 layer “knowledge selection procedure” toward the end of LT, but invites readers to work on their own. The salient point in all of this is that there is no need or place for “truth” in this system. We are literally “Leaving Truth” behind. Our contention is that our world will be a substantially better place without it.””

    Science – We’ve got no data on that.

    Scientism – Therefore it does not exist.

    Direct personal observation – Thor likes coffee. Not that you have to care about that.

    Fundamentalism – Everyone must offer Thor coffee because it is “True”.

  2. Allan Havinling

    Doug —

    I think your reply is a good example of what I’m talking about. You are so wrapped up in asymtotes and approaches and coverage that you see everything through that lens. My post started out that way precisely to show that’s NOT what I’m talking about.

    On the subject of Platonic forms, you make a good point. I see things through a Christian lens, and in particular how early modern scientists saw themselves as seeking God through understanding His “other book”; that being nature. It is this notion I trace back to the need of early Christians to distinguish themselves through right beliefs. As for it being the first time anyone thought of the “truth” concept, no it wasn’t.

  3. Doug Freyburger

    Let’s consider the results of on demand objective repeatable testing as a sub-set of the scientific method.

    It leads to successively better approximations of reality with no guarantee of complete coverage, even if the factor tested for is something as species specific as two arms and a head.

    Once the refinement process has run for long enough it can, but is not guaranteed to, approximate reality so closely there is no measurable difference between the predictions of the model and what actually happens.

    At that point saying the model isn’t true becomes a matter of semantics. We need to be open that it might eventually be overturned and we can definitely discard the notion that some guy making up a story has near zero chance of hitting that bulls eye off the top of his head. Test truth through on demand objective repeatable evidence and you have a better model for “truth” than asserting truth.

    Leaving assertions of truth behind leads us to on demand objective repeatable truth anyways. The definition of the word has changed but the results have not. Are not results the key to on demand objective repeatability?

  4. Allan Havinling

    “Are not results the key to on demand objective repeatability?”

    Sure. And once you and your alien exobiologists (still pretty anthropomorphic) and whoever else are all done counting “two arms and a head” why not just hold that knowledge on the basis of your observations and not a posited “reality on its own terms” (truth)?

    You have said that at this point the distinction is purely semantics. My own view is different than that, but not by much. Let’s not bicker here. As made clear in the “Gary’s Intro” tab, we wouldn’t be here were it not for the more insidious use of “truth”, that of lending bogus weight and authority to your pronouncements. This is actually the more common usage – NOT the affirmation of observational data we’ve been talking about. Soon after meeting Keith (I feel a “Kernels of ‘Truth?'” article coming on) I decided to do an experiment where I wrote down every time I heard someone say “true” or “truth”. The results surprised the heck out of me in how often it was “bogus weight and authority” over “affirmation of observation”.

    The issue is this: I am not going to say that all the evils talked about in “Gary’s Intro”, and that Keith talks about in the next issue of the newsletter, are the result of our “truth” concept, but we’re not going to fix them as long as people allow themselves to be lulled by baseless ideologies.

    These two kinds of “truth” are intertwined and cannot easily be separated in people’s minds. Since we don’t need truth in one instance, and it’s counter-productive in the other instance, it makes sense just to root it all out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *