Foundations of Logic -knowledge, truth, science

Foundations of Logic thread

On a more GENERAL level: can science aspire to be a type of activity that pursues KNOWLEDGE (and that also ACQUIRES it reasonably often), and, at the same time, accept that its claims and theories are merely CONJECTURAL? According to the *traditional* analysis of ‘knowledge’, knowledge is — basically — “(rationally) justified/ warranted TRUE opinion” (where “justification” or “warrant-giving process” is taken as context-DEPENDENT or RELATIVE, while “truth” — as context-INdependent or ABSOLUTE)

I have a certain empathy with what Mark has written.
For me the evidence is overwhelmingly clear, that the simple hypothesis of the OP (Original Post ???) is invalid.
That the idea that one can know anything of reality with absolute certainty seems very probably to be false.
Similarly the idea that anything in respect of reality can be unchanging and absolute seems also to have been falsified.

Thus the idea that knowledge of reality is anything other than a context sensitive and probability based heuristic has, for me, been falsified with sufficient confidence that it seems extremely unlikely (Santa Claus and fairies order unlikely).

And viewed from an evolutionary context, the simple set of conjectures from classical philosophy was a reasonable first order approximation to something, a ladder to gain sufficient confidence to move up a level, and not a set of walls to lock oneself behind for all of eternity.

So in this sense, it is clear to me, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that the classical conjectures of logic and truth are not universals, but are simply the first and simplest of an infinite set of possible logics, and reality seems to embody many of them already, and seems to be exploring complexity spaces and instantiating new ones even as we communicate (at least to the degrees that we do).

For me, the idea of anything in reality being “ABSOLUTE” is almost certainly mythical.
The only thing that seems to approximate it is what seems to be a fundamental requirement of reality for some sort of balance between order and chaos, such that both exist and neither gets to dominate. And that seems to be something of a meta-meta-experience.

It isn’t simply Heisenberg uncertainty, but all of the many other sources of uncertainty including (but not limited to): maximal computational complexity, chaos, fractals, irrational numbers (like pi and e), computational theory, non-binary logics, etc.

There is no practical way, if one is interested in either science or mathematics, to maintain the childish illusion that classical logic can account for all things. That conjecture has been falsified beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.

It is certainly an interesting field to explore, and one needs to be able to explore higher order logics, with their increasingly profound levels of uncertainty, if one is to make any real sense of this experience we have of being human.

And none of that is any excuse for diving into any sort of relativism or nihilism.

Evolution is very clearly about survival in contexts, about the nature of boundaries and strategic systems that can actually achieve that in practice.

The set of the possible does actually seem to be infinite, and the set possibilities that lead to extinction seems to be a far greater infinity.

We need both profound respect for the dangers present, and profound courage to explore the unknown in the full knowledge of the risks that are present.
Both seem to be required.

[followed by]

Science is, to me, to ask questions about the nature of the reality we seem to find ourselves in and the nature of this experience of being we seem to have.

One does this by raising a series of conjectures that might explain things, then designing experiments to test which of the conjectures proposed explains all results of all observation sets.

Because some sets of systems seem to allow for infinite sets of explanations of ever greater complexity, we employ Ockhams Razor, which is really only saying that for survival’s sake we should employ the simplest possible computational system that accounts for all observations.

It is not any sort of test of absolute truth, simply a practical tool to allow us to account for experience as efficiently as possible.

Some classes of observations seem to have predictable patterns that allow for computation of future states in times shorter than their arrival, and some do not.

Identifying which type of system one is engaged with in any particular instance has great survival value.

I value survival.

I am very conscious of many sorts of systems that may not be predicted in any useful manner, some of which are deterministic and some of which are not.

Developing systems that allow me to reliably detect systems which pose existential risk allows me to develop sets of risk mitigation strategies, which may contain elements of avoidance, resilience, or influence.

I am currently conscious of the probable existence of some 20 levels of such systems instantiated in reality and am conscious of the possibility of the instantiation of more levels.

In the full knowledge of profound uncertainty, I build such confidence as seems appropriate to the context.
That is about the best approximation to knowledge that I have.

[followed by]

Andrei Mirovan

The bit you cannot seem to grasp, is that the very idea of traditional *knowledge* you seem to be stuck on seems (beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt) little more than a kindergarten approximation to the profound uncertainty present in reality.

Having two states of probability is better than none, and it is a very long way from infinite variation.

To me, the “strong traditional” sense of “knowledge” seems very probably to be entirely mythical. It is the simplest possible approximation to something profoundly more complex.

And I can see how that is almost impossible to imagine from within the bounds of classical logic.

[followed by – Andrei claimed not to support the OP]

Then why propose something that you have rejected?

Why waste time with creating such “straw men”?

What point this discussion?

Why not promote the best approximation to reality by always delivering your own best approximation you have available???

I am struggling to find either ethical or survival value in doing what we just did.

We are in a closed group.

I’m really struggling here.

Doesn’t doing what you just did appear even vaguely deceitful to you?

Wouldn’t it have delivered far greater integrity to start the discussion with a disclaimer something like:

I have dismissed the notions of classical logic in respect of *truth* as being most likely mythical myself, and I am interested in the reasoning and evidence of others in respect of this conjecture.

Can we discuss this proposition?

Individuals could then make a reasonable assessment as to how much effort they wanted to put into such a discussion.

And I have doubted to many levels, and come back with working probabilities; from the sub atomic back to bodies, many aspects of perceptions, simulations, systems.

Not many have gone deeper in any realm.

Certainly – I often take the devils advocate position, and rarely (if ever) without explicitly stating so.

Without that explicit statement it is not helpful.

Having had a long association with the NZ Skeptics movement, I have a reasonable understanding of Pyrrhonism.

One can reject an absolute as being universally applicable without denying its utility as a heuristic in certain contexts.

[followed by]

Hi Andrei,

I’m no fan of classical Pyrrhonism which seems to doubt everything simply because one can. That seems capable of spiraling into post modern nihilism very easily. I’m no fan of that, and I don’t see a lot of that in you.

I am far more pragmatic, using such heuristics as seem appropriate when necessary and doubting when it seems timely or opportune to do so.

So while I can acknowledge the existence of philosophical doubt about anything, I don’t bother doing so unless I have reasonable indications that it might be of some utility to do so.

In that sense of a pragmatic love of life and liberty, and acknowledging the huge benefit I enjoy from the cooperative efforts of many alive and dead, and my reliance on and love of many levels of biological systems, I attempt to be cooperative in acting in what appears to be the interests of the life and liberty of all sapient life (human and non-human, biological and non-biological). That approach seems most likely to deliver the highest probability of achieving some approximation to maximal life and maximal liberty (in our current context of exponentially expanding computation and information with no significant likelihood of serious matter or energy constraints any time soon {next thousand years}).

I don’t see a great deal of value in doubt for its own sake, and I do see a lot of value in being willing to challenge any “truth” or “supposition” or “heuristic” or “culture” or “paradigm” if there appears to be some reasonable probability of long term utility in doing so.

And I have a sort of fondness for something that emerged from database theory a few years back – that for the fully loaded processor, the most efficient search possible is the fully random search (which poses questions as to how one approximates randomness with all the biases of human neural networks).
It is an idea that seems recursively applicable across any level of abstraction, strategy, or interpretation.

[followed by]

Why use “or”.
We can keep doubting while we use the things we are most confident of, with the degrees of confidence we have.
In terms of things like gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, etc, that confidence is very high indeed. Definitely in the class of “not yet falsified with any degree of confidence”.

I would subject any evidence set that purported to falsify those concepts to the most stringent tests I could come up with.

I feel the same way about evolution in the biological and cultural contexts.

I accept such things “beyond all reasonable doubt” but not “beyond all possible doubt”. And in practice, I rarely waste time considering alternatives. And in terms of evolution, nothing would really surprise me in terms of the depths of simultaneously selected and interacting strategies present in any particular biological system. Serious complexity.

[followed by – nature of science]

To me the evidence for uncertainty is profound, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.
So many different levels of uncertainty.
What we get from science seems clearly to be successively better approximations to something.
And some of those approximations are already quite good approximations – to the order of 1 part in 10^20 in some cases. That is a fairly good approximation.

And we already have very strong confidence (know) that some aspects of things belong to types of systems that are not predictable by any method quicker than letting them do what they do, and other classes of systems are not predictable at all.

So it is complex.

[followed by in response to Basudeba Mishra]

True enough in a sense, yet it misses something essential.

Knowledge isn’t the thing itself, but a representation, a model.
All models are approximations at some level.
All models contain uncertainties of relation to the things they model.
Quantum uncertainties are present, and in most cases are such a small cause of uncertainty that they are swamped into insignificance by the many other levels of measurement errors and heuristic approximation present in the process of creating a mental construct.

Approximations tend to work at certain scales.

If building a house with lumber and nails a carpenter can use the model of the earth being flat and gravity being vertical and it works within the errors of measurement of that particular system.

That set of approximations fails if one is trying to sail a boat from Auckland New Zealand to Los Angeles for example. One needs to use some approximation to round earth to get somewhere near that target.

If trying to create a GPS system one needs to allow for relativistic effects on space-time as well as orbital distortions due to the gravimetric and electromagnetic anomalies present and ever changing.

What works depends on scale.

Is any of it *TRUTH*?

Doesn’t seem very likely to me.
A useful approximation to something in a certain set of contexts – yep – certainly that.
But anything more than that seems to contain an element of hubris that is dangerous if taken too far. Wolfram clearly acknowledges that in NKS (a New Kind of Science).

When you get seriously into the biochemical and systemic processes of signal generation and conduction, as part of information processing and successive levels of model building in the human brain, then it really does seem to indicate that degrees of humility are required in respect of everything to do with our understanding and action in reality in real time (as distinct from the far more abstract considerations of the probabilities associated with sets of experimental results).

The idea of *knowledge*, as used in practice by individual people, seems in most cases to be more accurately described as contextually useful heuristics. And that idea can be recursed through quite a few levels, to even the most abstract.

The idea of anything being true over all space and all time, that seems improbable.

I’m happy with useful approximations.
The idea seems to impose a sort of humility that is entirely appropriate, and seriously lacking in many domains.

[followed by]

Interesting how differently we can “see” things.

For me, having spent most of 50 years around biology and computational systems, the idea of consciousness being “universal and omnipresent” seems most probably to result from a misinterpretation of experiences resulting from lack of conceptual systems and evidence sets.

To me, it seem probable (beyond any reasonable doubt) that our conscious experience of being is a “software” entity experiencing a “software construct of reality” that is produced in the human brain by a predictive modeling system that is usually kept entrained to reality by sensory inputs, but can lose that entrainment for all sorts of physical and chemical and systemic “causes”.

It seems very probable to me that we never experience reality, only ever the model, and that there are many modifiers of how rapidly the model “refreshes” – which seems to be our personal experience of “time”. Thus “time” when driving a rally car at 250km/hr on gravel roads can be very different from “time” lying on a hillside staring up at clouds. The major chemical modulator of the refresh rate in those cases usually being adrenalin.

Because our experiential reality is the model, and not reality itself, it thus does not necessarily have the boundaries of reality. Sometimes that can result is unexpected experiential shocks, and disjuncts of experience, as the subconscious model is updated to align with new information.
Anyone who has pushed the boundaries of experience will have had such experiences, but most talk themselves out of them, as discussions of such things are not socially acceptable in many cultures.

[followed by]

The only way in which the notion of “collective mental construct” seems to have any reality is in the sense of the implicit constructs present in the constructs of language and culture more widely that we each accept as part of our individual growth.

It seems clear that this process leads to each of us as individuals embodying far more “knowledge” than we are consciously aware of.
Jaynes got part of this in his notion of “Structions”, and it seems to be far deeper.
JB Peterson seems to capture another level of it quite accurately in his “Maps of meaning”.

It seems that all any of us really has is what is in our own brains, and most of that will have gotten there through various modalities of communication, ranging from genetic to imitation to symbolic (including abstract conjectural). Very little of it seems to be actually internally generated novelty.

So in the sense of social communication and history, certainly there is a collective aspect.
In terms of conscious and subconscious communication in near real time, there is certainly a collective aspect, at least with the groups we interact with.
Anything beyond that seems to be conceptual over-reach.

[followed by]

Andrei Mirovan, John Case Schaeffer, Sigurd Vojnov
OK – took me two hours of reading and building relationships to get to this point in this thread – and to come to the conclusions below.

1/ *Knowledge* in the strong classic sense seems to be a falsified simplification of something.
If one starts on the premise that it might be true, and does experiments in reality, then one ends up at Heisenberg uncertainty, that states that full information about anything real is not allowed, which seems to imply that all “knowledge” (in the looser sense) of reality must be some sort of simplification or approximation to something at some level.

Thus one is forced to abandon the hard classical approach, and move to an approach to understanding and knowledge that is based in probabilities (which is what science does – for those of us engaged in science who understand probability as something more than simply a process one must do to get a paper published).

2/ Even in the realms of logic alone, Goedel incompleteness seems to say something profound about uncertainty in relation to *TRUTH*. And I spent 9 months working through Goedel until I was happy that I couldn’t see any errors in his work (the only person I can say that about, and the only one I have looked at who said nothing about “reality”), and am not going to say more than that here.

3/ Many people seem to be using logic and reason inappropriately.
When one looks at the evidence sets we have about history, cosmology, physics, biochemistry, computation, neurophysiology, higher order logics, complexity and computation in strategic environments, etc, then it become clear beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that all of our systems are heuristic at base.

Those systems seem to have been selected over deep time by the simple expedient of differential survival, at many levels, simultaneously.
The complexity is high – very high.

Naive attempts to use simple first order logic to understand or argue about them are a complete waste of time.

We must all accept uncertainty and chaos as part of our reality.

We must all accept that even in the presence of chaos some things can be extremely reliable.

We must all accept a degree of humility and fallibility and give respect to other individuals with value structures and conceptual structures that are very different from ours.

If we fail to do so, the probability of any of us surviving is not great.

In a certain sense – the emergence of Trump as a phenomena is precisely the result of the sort of arguments in this thread – trying to defend and justify one interpretation as being better than all others.

Sorry – that is no longer a logically tenable position.

We must accept and respect diversity.
No other option has any significant survival probability.
Of that I am confident beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt!!!

[followed by]

I like the sort of skepticism that puts probability estimates on all claims 😉

[followed by Pranav – But should we not be skeptical about skepticism itself as well?]

Absolutely – within probability bounds 😉

[followed by]

And evolution seems to have supplied us with about 20 levels of patterning systems – as our starting point (or more correctly our conscious awareness seems to be able to instantiate at about level 15, and others implicitly instantiate from culture thereafter).

[followed by – different subthread]

*TRUTH* must be abandoned by those who seek understanding.
It functions as a bias… One sees only what one expects to see 😉

[followed by in answer to What alternative?]

Heuristics.
Useful approximations to something that seem likely to work in the circumstances.

When push comes to shove – that seems to be what we actually have.

[followed by]

There is an old saying – “suck it and see”.

We don’t need *truth* – we need useful probabilities.
The more one actually investigates reality, and the methods of investigating reality, the more profoundly one gets to appreciate the idea of reliability or probability or uncertainty or confidence (all aspects of the same thing).

That seems to be what we have.
Might as well accept it, rather than throwing some sort of tantrum and demanding a simplicity that, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, simply does not exist.

[followed by 5/9/17 – what probability my statement?]

Hi Sigurd Vojnov,

A fairly high probability – something over 99%.
How did I figure it out? Something over 50 years experience, contemplation, exploration – far more than I can possibly communicate in any time I have available. A few years ago someone asked me exactly how I came to a particular conclusion, it seemed simple enough to me, so I started to write it out. After about 10 hours of writing it was clear that it would take at least another 40 hours, and it simply wasn’t significant enough to be worth the effort, yet that 50 hours of communication was available to me internally in under 10s.

My point is that it appears highly unlikely that 100% probability is ever applicable; and we may approach it in some contexts, with some heuristics.
So in the abstract yes, one could say that absolute truth is %100 probability, and in reality it seems highly unlikely that anyone would ever have access to 100% probability (even in discussions about abstracts), and thus the hard abstract sense of “TRUTH” seems to be unavailable – for all the reasons outlined in response to Andrei elsewhere here.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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