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.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.” 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.
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.