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GoatLord

Objective truth

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I don't think it can be reached by any means. Even raw data, like the distance between two points, can only ever be approximated. The models we create of the universe are all approximations as well. Then there's the limitations of our sensory organs. I've tried to imagine how one could receive objectively truthful information, but it seems impossible. Thoughts?

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Phml is replying to GoatLord's "Objective truth" topic.

The above statement is objective truth.

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It kinda boils down to what the hell is truth. If you want a truth that is that objective.. it will no longer have any meaning to you once you've found it or gotten really close to it. You can have an objective truth, but it has to be one that is meaningful to you as a human being; one that is derived through some kind of sense, whether it's through the 5 senses or some kind of 'supersensory' means. I like the idea that truth can be arrived at by transcending the senses and tapping into some kind of intuitive realization of truth, like your mind opening up to a cosmic highway and "seeing" (experiencing) the truth, not with eyes or ears, but with a kind of knowing that goes beyond the Earthly human experience.

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Wow, both these responses are completely different and both are profound in a way.

Phml is right. There are certain things that are so obvious and impossible to disprove they have to be taken as objectively true. That I will agree with. I was talking more about trying to arrive at a truth based on measurement, since that's where it gets sticky.

Hellbent, I sort of agree with the transcending of truth thing. There are people who claim to have gone through such transformations. I won't say it can't happen just because I haven't experienced, but I do wonder how they know they have achieved such transcendence.

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Phml said:

Phml is replying to GoatLord's "Objective truth" topic.

The above statement is objective truth.

...and then GoatLord edited the topic name. Time frame, point of view and maybe even "are your memories to be trusted?" could constitute an interesting debate.

Hellbent's idea of truth as a pan-universal force you tap into when you encounter something truthful sounds like funny mystical raving of 6th century monks with too much free time on their hands, heh.

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You're probably correct that objective truth can't be conclusively determined, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist, and it doesn't mean we can't get a pretty good approximation of it.

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OK, I see a couple of problems here. First, there's no agreement about the meaning of "Truth". If we are to discuss if something exists, first we have to define it, I think, or we may never reach a consensus. Second, assuming we can define it, I think it's impossible to establish it in certain contexts, simply because we don't "know enough". So, my answer, at least for now, is no. So I agree with the beginning of your post:

GoatLord said:

I don't think it can be reached by any means.

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GoatLord said:

I don't think it can be reached by any means. Even raw data, like the distance between two points, can only ever be approximated. The models we create of the universe are all approximations as well. Then there's the limitations of our sensory organs. I've tried to imagine how one could receive objectively truthful information, but it seems impossible. Thoughts?


So, even what you wrote is not objectively truthful too? It is neither true nor false?
OK: you are a dog and I am a cat. True or false?

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Re the OP:
The search for objective(r) truths is necessary and valuable, even if its end-goal proves to be ultimately and fundamentally beyond the ken of conscious beings. You allude to this in your first post, GoatLord, but I just felt that I should add some value to the search itself. This is purely subjective value, but we are subjective creatures.

Too often do individuals who dwell on the philosophy of science come to the conclusion that nothing is truly knowable if it can't be completely knowable; that the search is fruitless and without meaning. This is a tragic side-effect of trying to take a human mind -- evolved to find food and mates; to stave off depression and insanity until its eventual demise -- taking that very precise instrument of survival, and now telling it to figure out reality from a universal perspective. A universe that cares nothing for humans, or meanings, or ends. Yeah, chew on that, little mammal, while you sit in your Total Perspective Vortex.

A couple things for this discussion moving forward:
#1 can we all agree that (objective) truth = things as they really are, irrelevant of observers?
#2 that hypothetically, this truth exists, even though we have no (present) way of knowing with absolute certainty?
#3 the answer to ducon's question is obviously "false," but the obvious follow-up question is, 'but how can one know for certain?'

This is of course a fairly pointless mental exercise that achieves nothing in the short-term......... Welcome to philosophy! :D

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ducon said:

So, even what you wrote is not objectively truthful too? It is neither true nor false?
OK: you are a dog and I am a cat. True or false?


I think he kinda got that idea after phml's post. If an an action or event occurs and I state "This action/event occurred", is that not objectively true?

In regards to measurements, I understand where you are coming from and I can agree. But to what degree of approximation can we conclude any measurement? Even if we used measurements on a subatomic level, is it not possible to go even smaller? I think that is more limited by our capabilities than anything else. To even get the most approximate measurements, is there an end to how small you could potentially go? Is there a bottom-tier of measurement or can we simply go infinitely small?

Yes, we use approximations. Why I've never wondered past that? Our "approximations" do the job just fine over the last few thousand years :P

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fraggle said:

You're probably correct that objective truth can't be conclusively determined, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist, and it doesn't mean we can't get a pretty good approximation of it.

Okay, I'll bite:-

How are we to know what a "pretty good approximation" of something we can't ascertain even is? Isn't it a little arrogant to make this presumption?

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If you accept that mathematics exists outside of human thought, its theorems, lemmas, etc are objectively true.

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I prefer the engineering approach: truth doesn't need to be objective or spot-on, just "within acceptable tolerances" to get stuff done.

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DoomUK said:

Okay, I'll bite:-

How are we to know what a "pretty good approximation" of something we can't ascertain even is?

By collecting evidence and forming theories to explain what we observe. In short, the scientific method.

I'd say we probably already understand 99% of what we observe in the universe. We already have a pretty good, consistent understanding of how the universe works. Taking the whole of science as a model of reality, if that model was wrong then our observations would differ from what we expect. But they don't. Gravity doesn't just reverse itself sometimes, for example. If it did then our model would be fundamentally wrong. Same with everything else. Sure, there are still loads of things we haven't explained (and that no doubt will be explained in the future), but at this stage I'd say we're in the details: that 1% we still don't understand. The broad picture is pretty clear.

It should be obvious that we understand things now far better than we did 400 years ago (or even 100 years ago). The classic example is Newton's laws of gravity, which gave an explanation of the observable universe that held up for ~300 years until we developed better tools for measuring things, and then Einstein developed an improved theory. Those sorts of developments are happening all the time, and each brings us closer to a "true" understanding of how the universe works.

You could of course make an argument along the lines of: what if the actual explanation is something that we can never observe? or what if we're just brains in jars experiencing a virtual universe that doesn't really exist? I find these kinds of questions are trite and not very useful. All we have to go on is our own experience - it's hard to see how else we could try to understand or make sense of the world we observe.

Isn't it a little arrogant to make this presumption?

Nope. Science works. The proof of that is all around you, even in the machine you're using to read this.

That's the "proof of the pudding", really: science doesn't just allow us to understand the world, it also lets us engineer things that would not work if the scientific theories were not correct.

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fraggle said:

That's the "proof of the pudding", really: science doesn't just allow us to understand the world, it also lets us engineer things that would not work if the scientific theories were not correct.


Good luck trying to get that through the thick skulls of terminal kooks....

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So basically, if it's all just shadows on a cave wall, well, we've gotten really good at identifying and predicting the movement of those shadows. :P

Anyway, I'm not arguing for absurdism, or anything like that, but I still think maintaining a certain level of doubt in all endeavours helps to keep the mind limber.

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Well, like George Orwell aptly put it in 1984 (just loosely translating from memory here, not an actual quote):

In religion and politics two and two might be able to make five, but when it was about e.g. designing a new weapon or airplane, two and two had to temporarily make four again, just long enough to get the job done, after which they had to make five once again, and the contradictory experience was naturally forgotten, thanks to the process of doublethink

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The point was that you cannot mantain a perpetual state of doubt without sooner or later stepping into outright denial or cognitive dissonance. "OK, so I have to accept the laws of physics so I can design an airplane with a weapon that will smite my enemies, who I also know to do the same. But after that I can go back to wondering whether it's all really real".

I can't imagine those two contraddictory states of mind coexisting in the same person, at least not if he was any good at either endeavour (either a down-to-ground engineer or a priest/philosopher of sorts, but not both). It would be sort of a leading geneticist who practically works with the mechanisms of selection and evolution everyday also being a hardcore creationist and leaving a doubt open about his trade. Not possible (or at least, not serious).

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You should keep in mind that almost all "truths" are also relative.

What is "up" for you is "down" for someone on the other side of the earth, for example. However, if you both were looking "straight up" into the sky, who is truly looking up? According to geometry, you both are looking in completely opposite directions.

Answer: Both of you are, at least when you consider the notion of relative position.

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Maes said:

I can't imagine those two contradictory states of mind coexisting in the same person, at least not if he was any good at either endeavour (either a down-to-ground engineer or a priest/philosopher of sorts, but not both). It would be sort of a leading geneticist who practically works with the mechanisms of selection and evolution everyday also being a hardcore creationist and leaving a doubt open about his trade. Not possible (or at least, not serious).


You underestimate the human mind's elasticity. But I don't think either of us want to talk about delusions.

Maes said:

The point was that you cannot maintain a perpetual state of doubt without sooner or later stepping into outright denial or cognitive dissonance. "OK, so I have to accept the laws of physics so I can design an airplane with a weapon that will smite my enemies, who I also know to do the same. But after that I can go back to wondering whether it's all really real".


I'm not even speaking of perpetual doubt, but the part you mentioned at the last bit there. The kind of thing one muses over when one is not particularly busy, perhaps while browsing an internet forum, to pick a completely random example.
Doubt as a constant outlook, I would call bewilderment. Doubt is not even a form of thinking I would call rational. You can't build anything on it, it's just there to poke at the weakest points in your actual rationales, and occasionally, help you look at things from angles you mayn't have considered. Granted it doesn't have much use in today's sciences, but when considering reality from a subjective perspective (namely, one's own), I think it's important to always foster at least a little bit of it.

Anyway, leave it to you guys to make me feel like some kind of navel gazing cult follower for having some doubt. Never thought I'd be on this side of the discussion... :P

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Rayzik said:

You should keep in mind that almost all "truths" are also relative.


Even what you wrote, that’s the problem with relativism. Relativism applied to relativism is real fun.

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I'm interested in what kind of thing you take the noun phrase 'the truth' to pick out.

Traditionally, truth is conceived of to be a kind of property. To understand the nature of any property, it is useful to consider the kinds of thing are that can bear it, and the conditions - necessary and sufficient - that they have to meet in order to do so. In the case of the property of being true, the kinds of things that can bear it appear to be (at least) three-fold:
1) sentences
2) mental states and episodes of various kinds (paradigmatically beliefs and judgements, but some people would also want to include, say, perceptual experiences)
3) propositions (abstract entities, that supply the contents of our sentences, beliefs, and judgements etc.).

Starting with (3), we can ask: For any proposition, in what does its being true consist? A natural response to this is to suppose that all propositions bear, or determine, truth-conditions - conditions the obtaining of which suffices for that proposition to count as 'true'. And so, for any proposition, if its truth conditions are satisfied, then it will count as 'true'. Simple example: the proposition expressed, in English, by the sentence 'dogs have five legs' is true if and only if dogs have five legs. Since - I take it - this condition is not satisfied, the proposition is false. We can then apply this account, of the truth of propositions, in answering the corresponding question - in what does its being true consist? - for the things picked out by (1) and (2). So, sentences are true if and only if they express true propositions, and mental states and episodes are if and only if they take true propositions as their contents.

Now, as to GoatLord's initial question, 'Can we achieve objective truth?' - and bracketing questions over the use of the word 'objective' in this context (there are different ways of construing the subjective/objective distinction, and I don't know which is supposed to be in play here) I guess the issue is whether the fact that we have finite minds and limited capacities supplies any good reason for us to doubt our ability to arrive at beliefs which take true propositions as their contents. My vote is: No. There a separate, epistemological issue, as to whether we can know that our beliefs are true - of course, we presume that they are, else we would not believe them - but since I've already gone too long, I'll just say: Yes, yes we can :)

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Let's try of a more restricted example, which is also at everybody's grasp, at least here on DW:

Can you deduce all of Doom's fundamental truths (its gameplay rules, engine limitations, monster behavior etc.) just by "living" normally in it, aka playing it through the intended controls? Does accessing it "from the outside" (e.g. by looking at its source code) tell you things that you cannot figure completely just by playing it? Does using different control schemes allow you to explore it in a different/more efficient way? Does playing in different game modes (e.g. co-op, deathmatch) reveal you things that you cannot see in single player? Do some PWADs reveal you things that you cannot observe in IWADs alone?

My take on that: you can guesstimate and predict a 90% of Doom's behaviors just by playing it long enough and taking detailed notes, but you won't be able to explain everything. With really extensive and varied play (exotic PWADs, DEH patches, TAS tools etc.) you might get another 2-3% closer to the "absolute" truth, but you won't have the 100% picture unless you also see the source code or dissect the IWAD data (e.g. could you ever guess that the arithmetic used is 16.16 fixed point just by playing?)

Now imagine that RL was Doom....yup, there probably are a lot of things that, once exposed to them through a revelation or something, might be obvious, but which you will never be able to figure out while immersed in it ;-)

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schwerpunk said:

Anyway, I'm not arguing for absurdism, or anything like that, but I still think maintaining a certain level of doubt in all endeavours helps to keep the mind limber.

Of course - this is usually called "having an open mind".

The gold standard should always be evidence. For example, I'm pretty certain ghosts don't exist, because they don't fit into our model of how the world works (and it's not clear how they ever could). But if convincing evidence can be presented then I will change my mind. To date I've never seen any.

As the saying goes: be open minded, just don't be so open minded that your brain falls out.

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fraggle said:

You could of course make an argument along the lines of: what if the actual explanation is something that we can never observe? or what if we're just brains in jars experiencing a virtual universe that doesn't really exist? I find these kinds of questions are trite and not very useful. All we have to go on is our own experience - it's hard to see how else we could try to understand or make sense of the world we observe.

I think as long as we can ask "What if?", then objective truth will always elude us. And ignoring the question doesn't make it go away. :p

I love science, too. But I just don't think the scientific method is compatible with questions like this, nor is science even concerned with addressing them. Historical connections between philosophy and science aside, they've become pretty disparate pursuits.

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DoomUK said:

I think as long as we can ask "What if?", then objective truth will always elude us. And ignoring the question doesn't make it go away. :p

With respect, that's nonsense. We will always be able ask "what if?" questions - it has no bearing on whether they're true or not.

Evidence is the only thing that can ultimately tell us whether we're correct. While we can ask an unlimited number of "what if?" questions, there are a limited number for which we can answer "yes". Evidence allows us to answer "yes".

In your specific example you're addressing the brains-in-jars issue. Again, I think it's not an interesting question. Theoretically, we could be brains in jars. But is there any reason to think so? And if we were, what difference would it even make? All we have to go on to understand our reality is what we can observe and experience. Theorising unfalsifiable things that we can't observe or experience adds nothing to our understanding of what we call "reality".

I love science, too. But I just don't think the scientific method is compatible with questions like this, nor is science even concerned with addressing them.

Not true. Science provides answers to all kinds of fundamental, existential questions: who are we? what are we? where did we come from? The answers we have aren't complete but literally nothing else provides any answers to these questions that we can trust with any authority.

Historical connections between philosophy and science aside, they've become pretty disparate pursuits.

Philosophy used to be a lot more important than it once was. There's a quote that I can't remember the source to, to the effect that historically, philosophy used to "be" science, but those parts of philosophy have been spun off and developed into their own subjects. What's left of philosophy nowadays is pretty much a shell that addresses fundamentals like how we reason about things. But it doesn't provide us with answers to the questions being asked in this thread: you can't conjure up an answer to these questions out of pure logic.

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GoatLord said:

I don't think it can be reached by any means. Even raw data, like the distance between two points, can only ever be approximated. The models we create of the universe are all approximations as well. Then there's the limitations of our sensory organs. I've tried to imagine how one could receive objectively truthful information, but it seems impossible. Thoughts?


If I understand this correctly, these are my thoughts:

If this hypothesis holds true, then by it's very own basis it cannot be objectively true; at the most, it can only be an approximation. By it's own criteria, it isn't objectively true, and would hence imply that there ARE objective truths out there.

Therefore, the statement ends up contradicting itself.

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Since you can't see the "source code" of reality, nor pause it and "debug" its innards, but only probe it during "usage" through a (by all indications) limited interface, you can only get to know directly what is allowed through this interface, and maybe infer something more by a-posteriori reasoning and conjecture. That's as close to "objective" as your limited means of survey will allow you to go.

Unless of course some entity lets you peek "behind the scenes" in a way that would otherwise be physically unattainable (discovering a new phenomenon which however ALSO forms part of the "rules", does not count, e.g. a way to view into the past in a limited form).

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