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Excluded Middle? - Keith?
Posted: 21 June 2008 09:12 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Keith.
I’ve been meaning to ask you this question for some time, so finally, here it is.
In your excellent proposal advocating our abandonment of the traditional concept of truth (Truth?) you seem to fall back on a rule of logic that from my point of view requires that a strong version of truth remain semantically relevant - that is “The Law of the Excluded Middle.”

Can we abandon ‘truth’ (in the traditional sense) and yet maintain “The Excluded Middle” as a logical restraint on our reasoning?

(Thanks burt for reminding me of my question in the “First Post…” thread.)

Bob

[ Edited: 22 June 2008 09:59 AM by CanZen]
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Posted: 13 July 2008 09:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Hello CanZen,

Weird as it may seem, I’m just receiving this, having been too buried to check the Forum beyond my own little thread for the past several weeks.

My concise answer to your question would be ‘Yes’. But to expand a little: It is from my side exactly The Excluded Middle that finally requires us to jettison our truth concept [Refer back to my first 6 points in ‘Truth?’]. TEM has also been invoked many times on the ‘First Post…’ thread. Most often by me, in my marathon attempt to get John B to propose some clear basis from which we could mutually rule his theistic proposals either in or out as knowledge. This recently ended in abject failure, but I continue to believe that John’s quotient of smarts x intellectual honesty will finally drag him - albeit perhaps kicking and screaming - into our camp.

To get back on track: If we apply TEM to ‘truth’ itself, then the concept either has some coherent meaning, or it doesn’t. My contention, which I believe to be pretty well established through ‘Truth?‘s’ first 6 points, is that it doesn’t. There are several places in the essay where I try to make this dichotomy horribly/inescapably clear. As in: “Dear friends, you either mean by this concept something more than I do by my alternative knowledge justifications (‘correct’, ‘observable’, ‘audible’, ‘reasonable’, ‘indicated by the evidence’, etc.) or you don’t. If you do then please go ahead and let me in on the secret. Exactly what is it that you mean? And if you don’t then please go ahead and abandon this concept, which you can now see to be adding only confusion and wooliness to your thought processes (in that my alternatives can be seen to be more transparent and informative, in actually indicating the human faculty that is being referenced as basis for the knowledge justification).” But people read my passages like this and then stroll blithely on. I’m trying to understand that, as it’s a little less than I was hoping for from my brothers and sisters in the community of reason. But I succeed better on some days than on others. This seems to be one of the bad ones.

Anyway, thanks for the good question.

All the best,

Keith

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Posted: 14 July 2008 02:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Thanks for the response Keith.  I did understand how logically foundational a role TEM plays in the abandonment of the traditional concept of truth but you have made that even more obvious.  I think there is still a difference when TEM is applied as the foundational method of reasoning as you do versus when it is used in a purely logical sense.  (I think of Bush’s proclammation that “Either you are with us or you are against us” in the precursor propaganda for the War in Iraq as applying TEM while remaining in some “deranged” version of the traditional concept of truth.)  It’s interesting that when one uses TEM while still clinging to the absolute dichotomy between “truth” vs fiction, then it can become a coercise and corrupting logical device.  But when you use TEM in the context of producing optimally meaningful proposals to begin with then it becomes the foundational logical feature of our epistemology.

What is also intriguing for me is that when TEM is applied as you have done in expunging a particular notion of truth, then it must be applied again and again in the process of proper reasoning and thus it becomes a practical tool rather than a purely logical device.  My concern (in my original question) was really unfounded therefore when the traditional version of truth is overturned by application of TEM, because it is the prior assumption that “truth” exists that makes TEM a dangerous epistemic/logical tool, but I guess I’m just repeating myself now.

Thanks Keith for clearing that up.

Bob

[ Edited: 14 July 2008 02:47 PM by CanZen]
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Posted: 15 July 2008 02:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Hope you don’t mind if I pop into this conversation, Keith and CanZen.  I was just thinking about sending you a PM as an addendum to my Post #499 in the ‘First Post…’ thread regarding the matter of epistemology and the object of your dialogue with theists as per the Introductory Post and happened to notice that you had finally been able to respond to this thread.  Please see below ...

keith - 13 July 2008 01:02 PM

Hello
My concise answer to your question would be ‘Yes’. But to expand a little: It is from my side exactly The Excluded Middle that finally requires us to jettison our truth concept [Refer back to my first 6 points in ‘Truth?’]. TEM has also been invoked many times on the ‘First Post…’ thread. Most often by me, in my marathon attempt to get John B to propose some clear basis from which we could mutually rule his theistic proposals either in or out as knowledge. This recently ended in abject failure, but I continue to believe that John’s quotient of smarts x intellectual honesty will finally drag him - albeit perhaps kicking and screaming - into our camp.

Before saying my farewell to dialogue in that thread, I had given the matter a good deal of thought.  What tired me in particular was your recurrent rejection of ancient texts of which our current post-structural swamp is the result on grounds that require too much of these texts (i.e. TEM-free, Miracle-free, contradiction-free, etc.). Let me point to a very early occurence of this from Post #64 in that thread:

keith - 30 January 2008 08:26 AM

Diotima was (if she was anything apart from Plato’s mental construct) a sexual guru. And her lessons were more about ‘beauty’ than ‘truth’. I’ll concede that she does argue pretty explicitly against the excluded middle, but her arguments are aimed to appeal to emotion and tradition, and so don’t seem to me to make much sense. They are mainly about the Greek gods and the interrelationship of their supposed characteristics. I think that we might as soon consider the number of angels that can be got onto the head of a pin.

What you could have done here is discussed Aristotle’s approach to the good which is very similar to Diotima’s and avoids the appeals to tradition.  But what is the point of dragging you through a discussion of Aristotle when you already demonstrate that you know little about the relationship between Plato’s approach and that of Aristotle? 

Your thinking that I will be dragged into the scientistic camp has as little chance of survival as the proverbial snowball in a proverbial hell (a little joke here smile ).  Scientism by its very nature precludes any progress in the area that you are attempting to address in Truth? for the very reason that you illustrate by your response above as well as the recurrent appeal to TEM.  The subject matter is not mathematics nor is it science as per the definition you are working with.  And this is why your dialogue with folk who have a quotient of smarts x intellectual honesty will never yield anything but the empty set.  I say this as a matter of clarification for your benefit and the benefit of the enterprise that I admire as far as it goes and in the hope that your quotient of smarts and evident intellectual honesty will improve the program you have undertaken.

Aristotle’s method for arriving at truth made a distinction in the quality of truth according to the subject matter which was being addressed. Consider for example the following statement which recurs throughout his works:

Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts. Now fine and just actions, which political science investigates, admit of much variety and fluctuation of opinion, so that they may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also give rise to a similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premisses of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each type of statement be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs. Nicomachean Ethics

This statement is about 2500 years old predating the rise of Chtistianity but evident of a methodology which was highly successful in cutting through the confusion of the Greek mythologies in order to uncover truth which might pave the way to the good life.  The method still holds this promise but will only succeed to the extent that it is followed.

“What will have to happen in order for my enterprise to suceed?” you ask?

I offer you two suggestions:

(1) I would encourage you not to require too much of the texts upon which religion is based; rather, take them as they are and consider the options of the great thinkers as the Christian/Islamic/Jewish traditions developed.  It is as important to look at what is excluded as it is to look at what is included (Heidegger calls these the said and the unsaid)

(2) I would encourage you to work with the theist rather than attempt to convert him to a scientism which is deficient in its method by definition.  You may gain some converts and feel that you are making great progress but those who understand philosophy will only tire of your claim that you have In this essay [proposed] final resolution [to the argument in the Theatetus] [by] arguing for a terminal form of Protagoras’ position. Basically; that we can see ourselves to be incapable of having any knowledge that we can coherently maintain or propagate as ‘truth’. In essence, you demonstrate your ignorance of the distinction between knowledge and opinion which began the philosophical enterprise in the first place.

I don’t expect you to take my word on this.  As I have suggested in Post #499, I have attempted to bring the ancient ideas into the sphere of psychological studies by referring to current research.  Similarly, if you want to grow in your understanding of what the Theatetus and other philosophical dialogues are about, why not consider purchasing Daniel Robinson’s lecture series called The Great Ideas of Philosophy.  I would be very interested in discussing these with you, should they be of interest.

In the meanwhile, I remain your friend and an admirer. Also, the door to discussion should not be considered closed.

All the best,

John

[ Edited: 15 July 2008 03:26 PM by John Brand]
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Posted: 15 July 2008 10:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Permit me to comment on your positioning of Keith into the realm of ‘scientism’ (a place into which you refuse to commit yourself) John.  I sense that you are using the category ‘scientism’ as it might once have been viewed by Vienna Circle types in its claim to have privileged access to ‘ultimate’ truth.  But that is precisely not where keith is located.  In his intention to show the meaninglessness of the concept of truth keith emerges with new vision of the scientific method and he is openly welcoming you to participate in the gathering of knowledge.  Unfortunately, you are unable to meet his criteria and unprepared to tweak his foundations so that your knowledge becomes acceptable (by agreement?).

Bob

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Posted: 16 July 2008 10:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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CanZen - 16 July 2008 02:16 AM

Permit me to comment on your positioning of Keith into the realm of ‘scientism’ (a place into which you refuse to commit yourself) John.  I sense that you are using the category ‘scientism’ as it might once have been viewed by Vienna Circle types in its claim to have privileged access to ‘ultimate’ truth.  But that is precisely not where keith is located.  In his intention to show the meaninglessness of the concept of truth keith emerges with new vision of the scientific method and he is openly welcoming you to participate in the gathering of knowledge.  Unfortunately, you are unable to meet his criteria and unprepared to tweak his foundations so that your knowledge becomes acceptable (by agreement?).

Bob

From my understanding of my conversation with Keith, your last sentence should read “the mythology/philosophy/theology out of which arises our current post-structural swamp is unable to meet Keith’s knowledge criteria ... because it is as it is there is no way to go back and change its nature so that it becomes acceptable to Keith given his current framework.”  I am calling this framework scientistic.

I provided a link to a discussion of Scientism which is a descriptor given to approaches similar to Keith’s by critics such as Luke Davidson in “FRAGILITIES OF SCIENTISM: Richard Dawkins and the Paranoiac Idealization of Science” (Science as Culture, Volume 9, Issue 2 June 2000 , pages 167 - 199).  The link I provided gives two definitions of scientism the first of which corresponds to what you are identifying.  However, the second reflects what critics are talking about:

“[Scientism] is used to denote a border-crossing violation in which the theories and methods of one (scientific) discipline are inappropriately applied to another (scientific or non-scientific) discipline and its domain. Examples of this second usage is to label as scientism the attempts to claim science as the only or primary source of human values (a traditional domain of ethics), or as the source of meaning and purpose (a traditional domain of religion and related worldviews).”  (see Scientism)

A major shortcoming in Keith’s argument is his demand for blood from a stone or scientific certainty in a realm where from the outset (i.e. Aristotle quote in my Post #3) this has been admitted not to be the case.  There are dozens of examples of this demand throughout my discussion with him and I have given the first occurence.

Another sentence in your above comment underlines one of my chief criticisms of Keith’s approach:

In his intention to show the meaninglessness of the concept of truth keith emerges with new vision of the scientific method and he is openly welcoming you to participate in the gathering of knowledge.

The new vision applies to what will be gathered in the future by the scientific method (i.e. ‘he is openly welcoming you to participate in the gathering of knowledge’).  He rejects as nonknowledge all gathering prior to the advent of the scientific method which does not meet his qualifications.  Not only is the concept of truth meaningless; most of history is meaningless as a source of scientific knowledge along the lines he is advocating.

I have suggested two compromises:

(1) avail ourselves of scientific validation of ancient knowledge such as that of Rollo May, M. Scott Peck, Jonathon Haidt and others; and

(2) endeavor to understand the Western historical development through men like Daniel Robinson.

I think that my response is reasonable.  I am not asking Keith to adopt a theistic position.  I am recognizing the post-structural swamp and the crisis in our modern religious situation.  I agree with much of what he has to say but am not convinced that we will not avoid future mistakes by looking at past failures in the west as well as other civilizations.  He has said that we have arrived at a ‘final fork in the road’ and, I agree.  Do we travel on together?  The only way we can do this is if I throw out post knowledge gathering systems or if he agrees to my compromise.

In a word, Bob, the problem as it is seen from an ancient persective is what Idries Shah calls the Commanding Self (aka ‘ego fixations,’ ‘maintenance of ego boundaries,’ etc.).  Why wait until future knowledge gathering to reach this conclusion?  How will the scientific method prove or disprove with certainty this type of conclusion?

I am interested in your reply

John

[ Edited: 16 July 2008 10:47 AM by John Brand]
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Posted: 16 July 2008 11:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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John Brand - 16 July 2008 02:37 PM

Examples of this second usage is to label as scientism the attempts to claim science as the only or primary source of human values (a traditional domain of ethics), or as the source of meaning and purpose (a traditional domain of religion and related worldviews).

In my experience, that label usually comes from believers who seek to claim religion as the only or primary source of knowledge about the physical universe. They use the label to create straw-man versions of not just scientism but science.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 01:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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John,
You begin with this statement, “the mythology/philosophy/theology out of which arises our current post-structural swamp is unable to meet Keith’s knowledge criteria ... because it is as it is there is no way to go back and change its nature so that it becomes acceptable to Keith given his current framework.”


In other words it does not meet with keith’s knowledge test based on: evidence, observation, coherence, TEM, and consistency.  However, the test keith applies is non-controversial and has the added feature of being universally applicable.  Given that incentive, I’d like to know what kind of test you would envision in deciding on the acceptability of claims to knowledge?  Whereas keith’s criteria can rule out negative human tendencies to mendacity, exaggeration, and delusional grandeur - how can your test somehow similarly streamline the agenda of acceptance?

What is non-controversial is that you already do accept keith’s criteria as containing acceptable knowledge, but you are not willing to accept those as the boundaries.  You wish to widen the scope of what passes for knowledge.  Your two compromises, “(1) avail ourselves of scientific validation of ancient knowledge” and “(2) endeavor to understand the Western historical development”  cannot be let through the doors in their present form (reminded of your Trojan Horse comment to me earlier) without destroying (compromising) the epistemic structure we are building. Your compromises depend heavily on interpretation and hermeneutics, and like the concept of truth itself they are fuzzy in the meaning department.  Even though science might still contain some interpretive errors - at least the method is refined enough to contain these to a minimum.  There may come a time when a scientific validation of historical knowledge does pass the test, but at present we do not have the tools to arrive at such an evaluation.

I do understand your worry that once we accept keith’s prognosis (re:truth) we must wholly reject all (or most) of human knowledge prior to 250 years ago.  And in addition we might have to leave to “scientistic thinkers” the job of determining our values and our ethical boundaries.  Philosophers like Husserl (circa. 1900) had these same sorts of fears stirred by the rise of positivism, so he attempted to formulate a new science and a more comprehensive and inclusive methodology.  He developed a rigorous method centered on meaning rather than on truth (and this is sort of akin to keith’s project), but ultimately his project failed.  We still require parameters by which we can universally decide whether some proposition is meaningful or not - and those “scientific” criteria offered by keith are generally acceptable to all. So while, like in Husserl’s Phenomenology, we can agree that ‘meaning’ is at the core of our knowledge, we must at the same time accept interpretive borders on our epistemic tableau.


What is also interesting to me is that as late as 1970 W. Quine (who still maintained and struggled to outline the validity of the concept of truth) wrote something to the effect - that if scientific knowledge becomes the standard demarcation between truth (fact) and opinion, then we are creating a scientistic elitism that might be just as dangerous as many other ideologies.  Imagine a world where only a certain small group of practitioners (accredited scientists) become the possessors of real knowledge (and power?) while the rest of humanity wallows in the lower domains of opinion and delusion. (Maybe he wrote this after reading Paul Churchland?)

What I find so egalitarian (re: value) about keith’s rejection of the truth concept is that while we retain it (the traditional idea of truth) then Quine’s nightmare is possible.  If however, we accept that meaning is at the core of our knowledge and we can put some universally acceptable boundaries on our validation of ‘the meaningful’ - then we move from a knowledge hierarchy to a broad and inclusive domain of knowing.

Here’s a thought on how a scientific approach might even explain something like human ‘conscience’ in a reasonable and rational manner.  What if we discovered that the same cognitive conditions that are foundational to our moral sense (the development of a conscience - knowing intuitively what is the proper action in a situation) are mapped onto the same cognitive conditions that allow us to use language in the way that we do.  These cognitive innovations (that we might have inherited and then refined from our ape ancestors) might include:
1)  An explicit awareness of yes (agree) and no (disagree) - choice.
2)  An ability to escape (dreamlike) from the present - freedom.
3)  An explicit awareness of intersubjective engagement (aware of a shared domain between self & other).
4)  An explicit awareness of time (recognition of a past and a future).

If these conditions create a particular cognitive blueprint that allows us to become linguistic creatures - then perhaps it is this same cognitive blueprint that also makes us into morally cognizant creatures.  So language itself (as a foundational cognitive process in humans) might also form the basic matrix of our ethical comprehension.  When we are faced with an ethical dilemma, our conscience (our linguistic cognitive structure) leads us to formulate a moral decision. Obviously, there is a Golden Rule at play in our ability to use a language that has to do with shared meaning.

Now if such a theory (or something similar) could pass the test, it might launch us into a new way of examining our moral behaviour, our moral capacities, and our moral complexities within a rigorously scientific method.  These kinds of investigations and experimentations are already happening (Ramachandran, and Marc Hauser).

What I guess I am trying to say John, is why do you have this fear that past “truths” might be lost completely if we accept keith’s conditions?  Perhaps like phlogiston and the ether, new formulations will destroy the mythological/theological “truths” anyway simply because they were just speculations.


I also understand your point about us (humankind) making the same mistakes in the future that we have already made in the past simply because we were oblivious to our history.  This is where we need the interpretive experts like yourself to assist us in establishing a fruitful future.  It is people like yourself John who can help us avoid the wasted time of groping around in the dark because your insights can illuminate paths that we don’t recognize or reveal pitfalls that we haven’t noticed.

Bob

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Posted: 21 July 2008 09:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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What follows is not science, but philosophy. The edifice I construct will naturally be uh, be uh… creaky. Take it, therefore, with a grain of uh, of uh… sodium chloride in crystalline solid form.

CanZen - 21 July 2008 05:28 AM

What is non-controversial is that [John] already (does) accept keith’s criteria as containing acceptable knowledge, but [he is] not willing to accept those as the boundaries.  [He wishes] to widen the scope of what passes for knowledge.  [His] two compromises, “(1) avail ourselves of scientific validation of ancient knowledge” and “(2) endeavor to understand the Western historical development”  cannot be let through the doors in their present form (reminded of [his] Trojan Horse comment to me earlier) without destroying (compromising) the epistemic structure we are building.

It seems the main flaw is always an attempt to declare as “history” something that is “literature”. This is also what Bruce Burleson does, and a few others. I think we can learn from literature, as long as we put hermeneutics in its place. Perhaps we can even learn from “philosophy”, if it teaches us to be careful in our use of language, or teaches us its limitations. What we get from that is that “philosophy” is “theory of language”, and maybe it gives us some rules for reading literature other than for pure pleasure.

Some philosophers make no distinction between “philosophy” and “theory of everything”. I think that is over-reaching. For a scientist, constructing a “theory of everything” is a goal, but a scientist realizes it is not yet time to write down a “theory of everything”. This scientist’s theory of everything: Unless you submit some woo-woo for scrutiny in the laboratory, there is, for all intents and purposes, no woo-woo. That is, whatever TOE on which we labor contains no woo-woo. The woo-woo is always already somewhere in the excluded middle. Since everything is so big, there is, in essence, no “middle” in which to put it. So if you have some woo-woo, stick it where the sun don’t shine, and be assured of storing it safely there.

You might call this the “TOE TEM” pole.

CanZen - 21 July 2008 05:28 AM

[John’s] compromises depend heavily on interpretation and hermeneutics, and like the concept of truth itself they are fuzzy in the meaning department.  Even though science might still contain some interpretive errors - at least the method is refined enough to contain these to a minimum.  There may come a time when a scientific validation of historical knowledge does pass the test, but at present we do not have the tools to arrive at such an evaluation.

I don’t think we can read history as other than a special kind of literature, because it often seems that history explains the way things are now in a literary fashion. That is, it is the history of people. Since people are an idiosyncratic feature of the landscape (having not always existed) scientific study of people must take that into consideration. If we had (as E.O. Wilson and others suggest) a large collection of planets upon which human civilizations were proceeding, each with its own unique origins and contingencies, a scientific theory of history might be possible. Studying one-of-a-kind histories is not science, although history gives many fine examples of the kind of events that happen to people. Mainly, these events are disasters.

CanZen - 21 July 2008 05:28 AM

Whereas keith’s criteria can rule out negative human tendencies to mendacity, exaggeration, and delusional grandeur - how can [John’s] test somehow similarly streamline the agenda of acceptance?

Bob, you imply that “mendacity, exaggeration, and delusional grandeur” (MED) are bad things. Could you elaborate? They’re not a priori bad things as qualities of literature! Understanding the human capacity for “mendacity, exaggeration, and delusional grandeur” is much of the value of literature. Certain varieties of religious experience seek to deny that the experience itself is mendacious, exaggerative, and delusional in analyzing the human capacity for mendacity, exaggeration, and delusional grandeur. That is, religious narratives seek a monologic authority on these subjects. The warp and weft of John’s discourse is the establishment of a unique frame of reference within which to place MED under scrutiny. At the risk of seeming to make another personal attack, one might say that John is MED-icated, although he is eclectic in seeking MED-ical “knowledge” outside the geographic boundaries of the Mediterranean region.

CanZen - 21 July 2008 05:28 AM

So while, like in Husserl’s Phenomenology, we can agree that ‘meaning’ is at the core of our knowledge, we must at the same time accept interpretive borders on our epistemic tableau.

Until we have “mind-melding” technology, those amount to ego boundaries. People will continue to find that forcing meaning through a language filter is only about “making friends and influencing people”, and is not, in fact, about “knowledge”. If we cannot make friends and influence people with only an interpretation, maybe the interpretation is what is defective, and not the people we are trying to “influence”. The default places limits on interpretations with MED (otherwise known as woo-woo). Even if we have “mind-melding” technology, we still have to recognize where our interpretations are coming from, and it ain’t the “Great Beyond”.

CanZen - 21 July 2008 05:28 AM

If however, we accept that meaning is at the core of our knowledge and we can put some universally acceptable boundaries on our validation of ‘the meaningful’ - then we move from a knowledge hierarchy to a broad and inclusive domain of knowing.

“This will not stand, Man.”—The Dude, aka Lebowski, via Sander. “I like yer style, Dude.”

If you continue to insist that it is important whether or not a “knowledge proposal” is “meaningful”, you are taking a very literary (or broadly, esthetic) approach, pretty much to everything. The beauty of scientific knowledge proposals is that it doesn’t matter whether or not they are meaningful. Many people seem to think that quantum mechanics forces “meaningless” interpretations on data; nevertheless the predictions of the outcome of experiments are exceedingly accurate. The “test” proposed by Keith is not uncontroversial, and I am here to supply you with all the controversy you can stand.

It will not stand until you explicitly include the fact that meaning is only a part of the universe human beings occupy, and it is a very, very, very small part. If you don’t get that “meaning” and “knowing” are two different things, you will continue to get grief from me. “Meaning” will not be at the core of our knowledge once we have a scientific description of the brain states comprising “meaning”. We will find that “meaning” is also a kind of MED-ication. I give Keith grief about this, and I give John grief about this, and I see no reason not to give you grief about this as well. In the process of letting go of what is gone, grieving is important. Get on with it.

CanZen - 21 July 2008 05:28 AM

Imagine a world where only a certain small group of practitioners (accredited scientists) become the possessors of real knowledge (and power?) while the rest of humanity wallows in the lower domains of opinion and delusion.

It’s not as bad as all that. That is what is going on at present. The relativists, multi-culturalists, and Post-Raisin-Brannists have found their way out of their own swamp by deciding that wallowing is not really so bad after all. It certainly appears that those wallowing in the lower domains of opinion and superstition still have firm hold of the reins of power. Scientists do not, as a rule, want to run things. People who want to run things are generally delusional.

Do not underestimate the burdens of power. The only thing worse than being boss is not being boss. Being disinterested in who is running things, other than from where funding for research projects is to come is just what it is like to be a scientist. I know not many people are going to read this here, so eventually I am going to try to build my own web site with these ideas. But thanks for playing. The kind of nonsense I find here does help me to focus my thoughts, and to understand just to whom I am responding; that is, what are the concerns of people who cannot think scientifically, but think they can.

CanZen - 21 July 2008 05:28 AM

Here’s a thought on how a scientific approach might even explain something like human ‘conscience’ in a reasonable and rational manner.  What if we discovered that the same cognitive conditions that are foundational to our moral sense (the development of a conscience - knowing intuitively what is the proper action in a situation) are mapped onto the same cognitive conditions that allow us to use language in the way that we do.

What you might want to ask before you tackle this one is: What is the prize at the bottom of that crackerjack box? You’re still looking for “meaning” but think you are looking for “explaining”. You’re just asking why it feels better to agree than to disagree. Scientists don’t have this problem. They get off on their disagreements, because they realize they are learning something, and it is not about “truth”. People wallowing in opinion and delusion feel uncomfortable about their disagreements. Guess why that is! Could it be because they still see themselves as “truth-seekers”?

CanZen - 21 July 2008 05:28 AM

If these conditions create a particular cognitive blueprint that allows us to become linguistic creatures - then perhaps it is this same cognitive blueprint that also makes us into morally cognizant creatures.

If you really go ahead with the analysis here, as a scientist, you will find that “morally cognizant” is a nonsense phrase. If you want people to be friendly, instead being critical, keep attempts to explain (and thus repair) the (entire) world to a minimum. What people have in common with one another is obvious from the genome up to the organismal level. People who want to go after a fast-moving target such as “multi-culture” with vague phrases like “cognitive blueprints” are hunting fleas with an elephant gun.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Salt Creek - 21 July 2008 01:53 PM

Studying one-of-a-kind histories is not science, although history gives many fine examples of the kind of events that happen to people. Mainly, these events are disasters.

In essence, what you have done here is put all history outside the realm of science, for every event that ever occurred in the existence of humanity was one-of-a-kind. This includes not only disputed events such as the resurrection of Jesus, but also mundane events such as a woman going to a village well to get water somewhere in Macedonia on April 19, 326 BCE.  Every event is unique - maybe she wore tan sandals that day instead of her usual brown ones.

Obviously innumerable such events occurred. Someone “knew” about these events, and some of them were written down or passed along orally. The vast majority are forgotten, but occurred nevertheless. On the other hand, from time to time we come across writings or inscriptions that record some mundane event, such as how much a man was paid for fish that he caught. This adds to our “knowledge” of conditions that existed at a particular point in history, but is, as you note, outside the realm of science, and therefore outside the realm of the knowledge that can come through that endeavor. It is non-scientific knowledge precisely because it is unique, and can never be repeated in an experiment.

So historical evidence and knowledge differs in kind from scientific evidence and knowledge.  Some historical evidence may be subjected to scientific methods, such as testing the date of a particular parchment or ostracon. But the historical event recorded cannot be so tested, because it is unique. Yet, it falls within the realm of knowledge, unless you are saying that there is no such thing as “historical knowledge.” Then we have a problem, for then you are essentially consigning all of human history to the category of fiction. I don’t think you intend to do this.  I think you would say that we can arrive at a fair degree of certainty (“knowledge”) about certain unique historical events. Not 100% certainty, perhaps, but a high degree of certainty. Unless you require 100% certainty to qualify as knowledge, you have to accept the existence of something called “historical knowledge” or “historical evidence.”

So, there is such a thing as knowledge that does not come from science. And it potentially includes everything that has ever happened in the history of mankind, from billions of people relieving themselves on a daily basis to the great events that shape the course of our race. And the best access that we have to such information and knowledge is often the account of a witness, recorded in some way for posterity. It’s not science, but it can lead to knowledge.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 10:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Salt Creek - 21 July 2008 01:53 PM

The beauty of scientific knowledge proposals is that it doesn’t matter whether or not they are meaningful…the fact that meaning is only a part of the universe human beings occupy, and it is a very, very, very small part.

Dumb question - what does “meaning” have to do with knowledge? Meaning is merely a fancy type of opinion, a human-created thing that has little if any intrinsic connection to fact.

Bruce Burleson - 21 July 2008 02:33 PM

. It is non-scientific knowledge precisely because it is unique, and can never be repeated in an experiment.

How are you defining “knowledge”? Since the goal is determining what constitutes fact, we should be leery of any standard for knowledge that may water down the standard for fact, or that may mix fact and opinion.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 10:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Salt Creek - 21 July 2008 01:53 PM

What is the prize at the bottom of that crackerjack box?

My answer, not directed personally at SC? There is no prize, dammit! The only meanings are the ones that humans create. There’s no evidence that the universe cares about humans one way or the other. And this is directed at SC - would it be accurate to describe a search for a non-human-created meaning as a denial of the universe’s indifference?

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Posted: 21 July 2008 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Carstonio - 21 July 2008 02:47 PM

How are you defining “knowledge”? Since the goal is determining what constitutes fact, we should be leery of any standard for knowledge that may water down the standard for fact, or that may mix fact and opinion.

I am using knowledge in this sense: to describe the mentally justifiable conviction that something is so, that something is fact. Do you “know” that John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963?  How do you “know” that?  You were not there. Have you seen JFK’s corpse in person? Have you personally viewed the bullets or skull fragments? I assume the answer is “no” to all of these. But if I ask you when JFK was assassinated, you will probably respond, with some degree of conviction, that you “know” when it was - 11-22-63. You are not 100% certain of this, but you “know” it. Yet you do not know it scientifically.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 11:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 21 July 2008 03:01 PM

But if I ask you when JFK was assassinated, you will probably respond, with some degree of conviction, that you “know” when it was - 11-22-63. You are not 100% certain of this, but you “know” it. Yet you do not know it scientifically.

Hypothetically, I could set out to know it scientifically if I wished, given the quantity of evidence about the event.

Another logical approach is in terms of possibilities and probabilities. It’s possible that the event was staged with actors and that JFK has spent the last 45 years in hiding, or that everyone involved experienced a mass delusion. But since both would involves a massive number of assumptions, and there is no evidence for either, there’s no reason to treat these as serious alternatives.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 11:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 21 July 2008 02:33 PM

So, there is such a thing as knowledge that does not come from science. And it potentially includes everything that has ever happened in the history of mankind, from billions of people relieving themselves on a daily basis to the great events that shape the course of our race. And the best access that we have to such information and knowledge is often the account of a witness, recorded in some way for posterity. It’s not science, but it can lead to knowledge.

Once again, Bruce, you are pissing all over a perfectly good philosophical thread in an attempt to defend your bona fides and to release some pressure from your cognitive dissonance. My point about history is not to validate events some people regard as history because of their bona fides. If you got the drift of what John Brand is on about, you would go directly to trying to understand how narratives, historical or literary can be of much use to us. And you would get nowhere, because the “meaning” and “use” of narratives has to do with your aims.

That you refer repeatedly to a series of narratives with a truly abysmal content in comparison with canonically “historical” narratives and seek to elevate them to “factual” status indicates nothing about you so much as how rickety you feel the whole woozy edifice really is. You quite evidently can’t handle the notion that without the woo-woo, the narrative you revere looks like a giant pile of crap in which to hunt for golden needles, and that you have to adopt the woo-woo first before the narrative can look any different.

Do you really think that standing up for what you believe this transparently evangelical way makes you look erudite? Just like Johnny, you want to confuse narratives meaningful only contingent on one’s aims with knowledge that does not give a shit whether or not it is “meaningful” to the knower. It’s not “meaningful” that if you burn hydrogen in pure oxygen you get water, or that you will have something left over if you do not have twice as many hydrogen molecules as oxygen molecules in the combustion chamber. It may or may not be meaningful that you can send a spacecraft to Saturn using this knowledge. That the latter is not automatically implied by the former is something you don’t comment on.

What you cannot do is make anything coherent out of a story about some sandals, unless that is what you want in the first place. You have to enjoy tautology. Mankind is a temporary and contingent entity, neither necessary nor sufficient. Don’t make it out to be something important. Your subjective conviction that it is “important” is contingent on decisions you made a long time ago, and are peculiar to you. And “peculiar” is just what they look like to anyone who didn’t make those same utterly contingent, voluntary decisions. So to such a person, you look like a clown dressed in a three-piece suit, trying to make “meaning” into “knowledge”.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 11:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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All I’m saying about the historical record is that it records. It does not present a “meaningful” narrative in and of itself. You can take any event or series of events, and construct a “meaningful” narrative, but you cannot force it to mean anything to me.

Religious narratives in particular demonstrate the soaring idiocy of which human beings are capable when they take their self-awareness (knowledge of living and dying, for example) and project it into a rococo narrative that places the entire human species at the center of the cosmos and attempts to construct a Theory of Everything based on that.

Even the so-called historical record does not add up to anything, unless you think digital watches are a really nifty thing to have.

Now, I think it would be a pretty nifty thing if we discovered another living species with scientific knowledge, and see whether or not it has “self-awareness” or any soaringly-idiotic narratives about its purpose and the meaning of everything. You might have a cross between Carl Sagan’s novel “Contact” and Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”. This is what I mean about getting a second opinion about just how special or ordinary you might be (as a species).

[ Edited: 21 July 2008 11:49 AM by Traces Elk]
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